Pastor Robb's Sermon - 7/17

Learning Healthy Helping Sermon - Luke 10:38-42 As Bailey mentioned, the Enneagram personality type were exploring

today is number 2 - commonly called “The Helper.” While this summer has

been about looking at the unique inner journeys and powerful

transformations God can take us through for each of our personalities, this

type is also one that many people can relate to some of the key aspects of

- especially what we saw with Martha in the scripture today. We’re all likely

to believe strongly in the value of service as part of our walk with God -

Jesus himself said he came not to be served, but to serve - but serving, or

helping, and all of our expectations and feelings around it can get pretty

complicated pretty quickly.

Today we’ve met characters, C3PO and Martha, who are trying very

hard in their circumstances to do the right thing and be helpful, and are

getting pretty stressed about whether other characters with other things on

their mind, R2D2 and Mary, might be messing everything up. We also met

Amos McGee, who seems to have found a peace and contentment in his

helping identity that makes him effective in his work, and comfortable when

things don’t work out the way he’s used to or the way he might prefer.

When we see these characters held up next to each other this way,

probably a lot of us can remember times we’ve felt like C3PO or Martha,

and wonder what it takes to feel more like Amos more often. This might be

because the Helper is our core personality type, or those of us with other

personalities might just have a particular project or relationship in mind

where we’re in a helping, serving, or supporting position and we’ve ended

up feeling stressed out or stretched thin.

I really want to make sure we consider these issues deeply and

carefully, though, and invite God to move and begin to shape us in some

potentially unexpected ways this morning. On first pass, I think we’re prone

to reading this scripture and picture Martha running around a kitchen or

dining room huffing and puffing, and Jesus’ words to her when she asks

about Mary are about not being so worried about something that doesn’t

need to be as perfect as she thinks... or that busyness is keeping her from

connecting with God in the way that she should... or sometimes the feminist

in us sees this as Jesus not just keeping women in the kitchen but giving

them a prominent place as disciple usually reserved for men.

These are all good lessons, but I think if they stay on the surface,

there’s also a danger of getting into new traps. I think we always need

something more than just the admonition - “Don’t feel worried.” And while

staying rooted with God and overcoming mere busyness are important, I

also don’t think that God is looking for us to only pray or read the Bible and

never do service in our life of faith, or just doesn’t really like Helper

personalities. And lastly, reading this passage through our evaluation of

how liberated Martha was or wasn’t may actually betray some patriarchal

assumptions we’re making about her in the first place. There’s things going

on in this passage that I think show God us wants to look even deeper

within ourselves on issues that impact how we serve and the expectations

we put on ourselves and others in a lot of circumstances.

First, let’s go deeper than just seeing this verse as an encouragement

to not feel worried about or get overly busy with tasks that only we think are

that important. Luke is actually trying to make this story a helpful lynch pin

for how we understand all kinds of service - even and especially that which

we’d think of as most important and valuable. For instance, the word to

describe what Martha is doing in this story, diakonia, is sometimes used to

mean something like table service, but is also where we get the word

“deacon” and was used by the early church to refer to all sorts of important

ministry. We don’t have to read this story and see Martha trying to get

Mary to steam a bunch of doilies or fold all the napkins into swans - it could

just as easily be referring to Martha organizing the care of sick people who

had come to have Jesus heal them, or recruiting people to come listen to

Jesus’ teaching, or managing the financial gifts that would be shared with

the poor, or getting a delegation of disciples ready to appeal to the

Pharisees or other powerful people who would be coming by about

injustices that needed to be addressed. This story speaks to us if we relate

to any of those things too, and also tells us we need perspective about how

we can help and serve healthily in every setting, including those that are

often seen as more of a big deal.

Here’s the thing, 2s on the Enneagram, Helper personalities are

wonderfully gifted both practically and relationally. They recognize what’s

needed in situations, can respond confidently, and are good at setting their

own agendas aside so they don’t get in the way of the bigger context.

These are great characteristics and it’s a good thing when we have a little 2

in us this way when we serve if we’re a different personality. However, we

can also get fixated on needing to be needed in an unhealthy way, or letting

our own or other people’s expectations entangle our service and

compromise what is really best for us and the situation we’re in.

The apparent tension between Mary and Martha shows us two

foundational temptations for us when we seek to serve, and both are

related to rushing and having imposed expectations.

In Martha we see her operating out of her own preferred expectations

of service, or perhaps assumptions she made about what other people

would expect of her, and her feeling that she was serving and being

selfless the right way kept her from stopping to consider if there were other

options for her to serve that would actually be better for her, and made her

turn those expectations on Mary without considering if another option was

best for her sister.

On the other side of the coin, Mary could have felt that pressure from

Martha, and in trying to seek affirmation from her sister through serving, run

after something that seemed more popular, or urgent, or likely to get

recognition, instead of pursuing what fit her calling and personality best.

This has implications for us in all types of serving, from small tasks

and interpersonal relationships, to how we respond to big national or

international issues and wonder what we can do. You may have situations

you are dealing with pop to mind where the pressure of expectations has

caused you to approach helping in a way that ended up being draining or

not very effective. Or maybe you can think of a time when you were

serving in a way that was very important to you, and you caused some

conflict by telling other people that they had to serve exactly like you too.

It’s worth noticing that Jesus did not chide Martha for her service, or

even tell her to stop. Instead he was concerned about how she was taking

on certain expectations and then also imposing them on someone else. It

is common for us to think about serving or helping as limiting ourselves or

putting ourselves under other people’s control, but I think this story shows

God intends service to actually be freeing and empowering as it takes a

central part in our life of faith. The Apostle Paul summarized this really

straightforwardly in his encouragement to the early church in Galatia: “You

are called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge anyone’s

selfishness, but serve one another in love.”

Again, hopefully God is finding ways to give all of us encouragement

and guidance about this in our daily lives and relationships, but I do want to

take a moment to reflect on one way this might apply to all of us. Right

now, we are seeing very clearly all around us heartbreaking, significant and

complicated social problems that I imagine we all feel like anyone and

everyone should try to do something to change, but I imagine a lot of us

also feel very overwhelmed about what we can and should actually do in

our own contexts. I think we can take this story about Mary and Martha,

and be encouraged out of two traps we might fall into as we try to respond:

First, we should not allow our current busyness to be an excuse not

to discern if God wants us to take up a new way of serving that is most

needed or where God is especially moving.

Second, we should not chase after a way of serving that seems the

most urgent in the moment, or will get the most recognition or approval

from other people who are serving in their own way. Nor should we allow

ourselves to be pressured by people who want our service to look exactly

like theirs in order to be seen as valid or valuable. And if we’re in the

position to encourage other people’s service, we should be very careful to

make sure we’re helping them serve best how they are called, and not

making others look like copies of us.

And this is why Mary’s model of sitting at the feet of Jesus is so

important. This takes intentional discernment and wanting to be steered

more by God’s callings and giftings than our own or others’ expectations or

preferences. I have been wrestling with my own tendencies towards both

of these traps a lot lately, and probably will be for awhile, but I hope we can

be a community where we do that together in God’s presence.

And our Amos McGee story today actually gives us a fun example of

this type of mutually serving and affirming community. There’s no worry

from anyone about only being served or always being seen as the one that

can help and never needs anything. There’s no pressure that service look

a certain way other than how what someone can do fits what’s needed, but

still a great desire to mutually help and empower each other out of love and

not just stand on the sidelines. I think C3PO and Martha would have been

blessed by this - released from the stress of pressures and more opened

up to seeing their abilities and purposes used in new ways that enabled

better connection with R2D2 and Mary.

And I hope we can bless each other with God’s help like this, too.

Might we uphold and encourage each other when we’re feeling stressed or

know we’re causing others stress as we try to serve and help in our

personal lives. Might we find together the particular call God has for us to

contribute to transforming even the biggest and most complex injustices we

see around us. And, to be honest, as we enter Fall and Pastor April’s

sabbatical when there will be a lot of ways for all of us to serve and help to

look at - may we be a community that doesn’t follow our own preferences

or other people’s pressuring, but steps up in following God’s callings and

giftings to do what is needed and be a loving and mutually empowering

church. And if people are worried or self-conscious, I feel like I can be the

elephant so you can be Amos or the penguin, or the tortoise or the mouse

or whoever.

Freedom School Sunday 7-10

Friends, It is good to be here together on a Sunday morning after the difficult week that we have had in this nation.

 

To the families and scholars and staff, I am so thankful that you are here.

 

As you heard earlier – Harambee means “let’s come together.”

 

And today, more than ever it feels important to come together across our diversity and find places where we can work together toward a different future for our community, for our country and for our world.

 

But I want to be clear that coming together means more than just being together and holding hands for a moment during a time of grief and singing Kumbaya.

Those moments are nice – but to come together must take us another step further.

 

The Scripture that Paris just read to us was originally a letter.  It was written to one of the earliest Christian churches during a time of chaos and violence and deep division.

 

Most of the early Christians were Jewish.  They lived under occupation of the Roman Empire.  They were the minority – an oppressed group of people who were treated by outsiders as if their lives did not matter.

 

People who were not Jewish were referred to as Gentiles.  This group would have included a lot of different people, including Roman citizens and people of other ethnicities and cultural heritage.  Some might have also been part of a minority group but many Gentiles enjoyed significantly more privilege than Jews did in the Roman empire.  There was a difference in power.  A difference in privilege.

 

But when the early church was founded, it was clear that the distinct barriers that had kept one group in their place, isolated and often dehumanized – that Jesus had called for these barriers to go.  The Christian church would be one that would begin with the oppressed Jewish community but it would then go out to include others – the Gentiles.  The people of power and privilege as well.

 

And the New Testament is filled with all the evidence that shows us how challenging this was. The author of the letter to the Ephesians writes to a church who is struggling to figure out how to live in community with one another.  Struggling to know how to come together.  Not only across all the cultural differences but also across differences in power and privilege.

 

Which makes the words today particularly powerful.  You are one group.  The wall of hatred that has divided is gone.  And a pathway to peace has been made.  So, therefore, conduct yourselves with gentleness, humility and patience.  Accept each other with love.  And make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit.

 

These words were written to both the Jews and the Gentiles in that early church.  They would have heard them differently.

For the Jews to accept the Gentiles in love – to make an effort – meant that they had to be willing to accept that God might be opening a door for relationship with people that they had previously despised.  People who had possibly benefited from their oppression.  People who had enjoyed power and privilege.  They had to accept that God might be calling them to love and be gracious to the Gentiles.

 

But the call to the Gentiles was possibly even greater.

For the Gentiles – those who had enjoyed power and privilege are asked to clothe themselves in humility.  To accept fully the people in love – to make an effort to preserve the unity with an oppressed group meant that they would have to be willing to lay down some of that power and privilege – to place themselves in solidarity.  To listen fully to the stories of their brothers and sisters in bondage.  And if they were truly unified – to do whatever they could to lift up their fellow Jews and to work for justice.

 

The coming together would require some shedding of previous notions and a true willingness to remove the barriers of power and privilege that had kept the groups so well separated before.

 

As we read this Scripture on a week like we have had in the US.  After a year like we have had in 2016, it seems as if we could substitute the words Jews and Gentiles for Blacks and Whites, Muslims and Christians, and Civilians of Color and the Police.

 

The world we live in wants to pin us against each other, but the call of the Gospel is indeed to come together.

 

Marshawn  -

 

And I stand here as a person of privilege.  Who has directly and indirectly benefited in my life from the systematic racism against people of color in our nation.

 

So, we people of privilege must name that – but then we also must do whatever we can – to utilize our positions to lift up our brothers and sisters.  To listen to their stories and to give them a voice to share what is real.

 

So, in such a time as this – I felt more than anything – you needed to hear the voices of our scholars.  Voices of our young people processing the events of this week – reflecting on the heartbreak and hurt and calling us anew to think about the work we must do – whether we come from a place of privilege or not – to come together – to work together to live into the call we have received from God.

Pastor April's Sermon - No Pain, No Gains - 7/03

So, for the past few weeks we have been in a series focused on the Hero’s Journey.  We’ve been looking at a number of Bible characters and characters from children’s storybooks and movies and how their personal adventures and journeys lead them on a journey where they learn new things about themselves – and those discoveries help them to become transformed from the inside out.  

We’ve been using the Enneagram to talk about the different ways that we work through the longings and needs that are a part of being human.  The need to be successful, happy, safe, helpful, etc.

Each of us has a tendency to let certain needs drive our behavior more of the time and so the people whose lives we will explore today were both likely 7’s on the Enneagram.  King Solomon and St. Francis.

 

7’s have the need to be happy.  The type is called the Enthusiast because 7’s often have lots of things going at the same time.  They are driven by the desire to find contentment and enjoyment of life

 

We are going to start with some scripture from King Solomon.  Solomon, who was the son of King David, lived in Israel in the 10th century BCE and reigned for 40 years.

According to the Hebrew scriptures - Solomon built up the Kingdom to its wealthiest, most powerful and prosperous state of all time.

 

The first temple was completed during his reign along with many other building projects.

He was known for the excess that he had – 700 wives and 300 concubines,

And Scripture says he collected tribute in one year alone of 40,000 pounds of gold.

 

And yet we see in Solomon’s writings – the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes – this understanding that the material possessions and power are not really where lives real value is.

 

The first lines in the book of Ecclesiastes read –

Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!

 

And so Solomon is this interesting case of a person who both understood that happiness and meaning wasn’t to be found in the possessions and power and status of this Earth and yet – he spent most of his time and energy accumulating and seeking more of these same meaningless things –

 

So we start with a brief Scripture from Ecclesiastes 9 that Gina is going to reflect on

 

SCRIPTURE

 

I really appreciate hearing about Solomon because I think his struggle is so deeply relevant.

 

He wanted so much to find a place of contentment and happiness and peace.

 

And I think he knew that the stuff wouldn’t bring him the happiness that he sought.

 

And I wonder if he was ever able to discover that which he longed for most.

 

Whether he ever learned to appreciate the moment and the present and just be.

 

To not try and acquire but just to allow what is happening now – to be the gift by which God is speaking to us.

 

Kollum art – tell story.

 

I want to read you a story of one of the great saints of the church who has been and continues to teach me about this journey of appreciating and finding joy in the simplest of things.

 

In creation.  In beauty.

In kindness to others.

 

 

What do we see in his life that can help us to simply live and enjoy our own lives?

 

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Sammi Bickerdt's Sermon - June 19th - Finding freedom and humility

Children’s Time: How many of you have seen Harry Potter?

Do you remember who Harry’s friends are?

The part of the movie we are gonna watch is from the last book, The Deathly Hollows. In the scene, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are out looking for pieces of Voldemort, called horcruxes, and he is an evil wizard who is trying to kill Harry. They are trying to find horcruxes because they will stop Voldemort from hurting Harry. But Voldemort has made sure they aren’t easy to find and guarded them with all sorts of dark magic. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are running away from Voldemort and trying to find the horcruxes in secret but it is really hard and dangerous to find them. While camping, they are getting tired and frustrated because they can’t seem to find one of the pieces. Hermione and Harry are excited because they think they have a lead but Ron is fed up.

(Watch movie)

Ron get really upset in this part of the movie because he thought finding the horcruxes would be easier than it was turning out to be. He is upset because it is really dangerous and it scares him.

What are some things that you think are scary?

Part of why Ron is so upset and scared is because he doesn’t know what is going to happen and he can’t see what will happen next. Because he didn’t know what would happen he ran away.

Part of what makes things scary is because we don’t understand them or know what they are. And this makes s want to run away.

Ron is pretty cool though so eventually he comes back to find Harry and Hermione. He eventually decides to face his fears. Ron decides in the end to be brave for his friends. Ron’s bravery is because of his friends.

What makes you brave?

 

We all experience the power of God’s grace through the witness of Jesus Christ. And this power allows us to act as a light. As we leave this place remember that you are a light in the world and shed it in all the spaces you enter. Amen.

 

Scripture

The Investigator, that is the name given to type 5 of the enneagram. The investigator is described as independent, inventive, and innovative. They are also described by their preoccupation with thoughts and imagination. Investigators are generally highly cerebral or thinking types. They love to learn and gather knowledge. When they discover a niche interest, they often try to master it or learn everything possible about it. The investigator gathers knowledge for a couple of reasons: one reason is motivated by the desire to be helpful or useful. By being competent in a subject, they are more likely to be useful in relation to that subject. The second reason investigators like to learn is connected to their shadow side or direction of stress. They also love to learn as a way of distracting or disconnecting from the problems they may be facing. In other words, when investigators are healthy, they want to share their buckets of knowledge, when they are stressed, they want to hold onto it and live in it as a way to distract or disconnect from the issues plaguing them.

Thomas, like Ron, shows symptoms of a stressed out investigator in John 20. The first thing we learn from these verses is Thomas’ absence when Jesus appeared the first couple times in this chapter. Verses 19-23, describe Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples on the first day of the week. This story describes the disciples huddled up in a dark room hiding from Jewish authorities. Then all of a sudden Jesus shows up, ironically, shows the disciples his wounds, and sends them out to do his ministry before leaving them to their hiding once again. It makes you wander, where was Thomas that first day? The Jewish authorities were after him and all his friends and they were hiding out in a house. Why wasn’t Thomas with them? Did he have an important meeting to attend to? Maybe. Though we don’t have evidence of his whereabouts, we can imagine he was probably off trying to makes sense of the things he witnessed that week prior. His whole world, all that he had come to know and understand about the his savior was turned on its head. If we think of him as an investigator, he was probably trying to hold onto what he knew. Or at least, trying to figure out what pieces of his knowledge were left. We can imagine Thomas felt pretty helpless when Jesus died. He put all his efforts into following, learning, and practicing the life of his savior, a guy he thought would lead them to victory. A guy who was supposed to free his people from the oppression of the empire. He put all his resources on the hopes that Jesus would change things. And now, he has watched his king die.

When he finally gets back with the other disciples, they have probably been aware of the anxiety Thomas had around Jesus’ death and they were pretty excited to tell him about their little run in with Jesus. Thomas, after witnessing Jesus’ death, and living in his anger and sadness for several days, responds in such a way that many of us can probably relate to. He wants proof! He had so many ideas about how following Jesus would turn out and none of them probably ended with a miraculous return from death. He probably didn’t even think death would be in the picture! Or if it was, it would have been the other guys. Thomas wanted proof before he could accept what they were telling him.

Descriptions of investigators describe their ability to become very fixated on their subject of interest. When an investigator becomes fixated on something, they tend to lose a sense of perspective. Their reality becomes colored by the subject of their focus. Thomas has become so fixated on his understanding of who Jesus was supposed to be to him, he is unwilling to recognize what the disciples are telling him. Not only that, he is probably scared of what their suggesting. If we consider Thomas’ perspective, he probably is already thinking that Jesus has let him down according to his understanding of who Jesus was supposed to be. Thomas’ belief in Jesus is tied to his image of him and it is scary to consider that Jesus may be back and may let him down again.

Investigators often have a hard time trusting people. When they begin to trust it can be very damaging to have that trust to shaken. Thomas felt his trust was broken in these moments and he probably couldn’t make sense of what the disciples were telling him because he was scared that Jesus would betray his trust again. Thomas was scared to act on what the disciples were saying but instead wanted to see it for himself.

Investigators love to observe the world. They love to watch and discover the way things work. When investigators get too involved in observation, they often overlook the value of participation. When they are healthy, investigators are able to take the things they observed to participate in the world in unique and creative ways.

A week later, Thomas and the other disciples are hanging out again, and Jesus returns again. This time, he wants to talk to Thomas. Without hesitation, Jesus looks at him and tells him to touch his wounds. Thomas in amazement at the sight of Jesus simply says, “My Lord and My God!” In the end, it doesn’t say Thomas ever ends up touching Jesus’ wounds. His big talk of needing to put his hand on the marks on his hands and chest were only a distraction from what Thomas’ real issue was, his lack of faith. His fixation on the man he thought Jesus was and the wounds Jesus carried were simply a distraction from his real fear in his unwillingness to believe.

Expectations and reality do not often exactly line up. Generally, reality is not far removed from our expectations, especially if we know what we are doing, have done it before, or have learned about it. Reality becomes scary when our expectations are so far removed that we can’t seem to get a grasp on reality. When we have a hard time comprehending something, we become fearful of what it means or represents. Both Thomas and Ron Weasley are scared because their expectations and the reality of their situations are so far removed from each other that they can’t make sense of what is next.

In response, they make the choice to retreat. They no longer wish to participate in the events they are a part of. Fear has a way of keeping us safe but it also has a way of hindering us from action. When we can’t seem to make sense of something our bravery is hidden in the shadow of our uncertainty. Paralyzed by the fogginess of our reality we retreat into our minds to try and gather the pieces of our knowledge that help us to understand the reality that our world has been broken.

In the end of the scripture, Jesus says, “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Jesus is not saying that it is a bad thing to desire to see what is next or have clarity on where we’re going. He is simply stating that our ability to have faith that Jesus is present, even when we can’t seem to see it in front of us will sustain our happiness.

A couple days ago, I had a conversation with one of the many brilliant children at Summit about our fears. During this conversation we talked about being afraid of the dark. During this conversation, he told me that when it is light, his fears of the dark are so small, they are the size of a little pea. But when it is dark the fear grows so big it fills the entire church! As someone who grew up being afraid of the dark, I understand that feeling. Then we talked about how even a little light, like a night light or book light, helps to take the monstrous fear and shrink it back down.

In the movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore says to Harry at one point, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Fear of the dark is something we all know. It is fear of unknowing, it is fear of uncertainty; it is fear of a lack of guidance. Dumbledore’s wise words are speaking to our ability to have faith. When we remember that the source of our happiness is not tied solely to what we can see but also to our ability to have faith in the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we are able to shed light on the fear of the unknown.

Like a night light helps to dissipate the darkness, our faith helps to dissipate our fears and uncertainty. Maybe not fully, but enough to sustain us and keep us moving forward. So I may want to change up Dumbledore’s words a little; “Faith can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” When we remember that our faith is capable of fueling our bravery, we are able to act in ways that may seem beyond our understanding or known limits. When we remember that faith is powerful and sustaining, we are able to not only observe the world around us, we are able to fully participate and shed light into the darkness.

 

Pastor April's Sermon - June 12th - Need To Succeed

CHILDREN’S MOMENT:  

The movie is about a little girl named Riley and the emotions that live in her head.

Let’s meet them.

 

FIRST SERIES OF CLIPS.

Intro to Emotions

 

 

Memories and Personalities

 

 

 

Riley’s life is relatively happy until her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and Riley seems to have a hard time adjusting.

 

What emotions do you think you might be feeling if you had to move to a brand new place far away from all of your friends?

 

So, one of the things that we can sometimes have a problem with is being able to show our feelings.  So, I want you during this service to help me by choosing a couple of the emotions.  It might be disgust or fear or joy.

 

And put the sticker on the page of whatever emotion you have chosen and then draw us a picture of something that makes you feel that emotion.

 

We’ll show those at the end.

 

SERMON TIME:

 

So, let’s return to our story of the Emotions inside Riley’s head.

 

Most of the time, Joy is in control and tries really hard to keep Riley Happy –

 

Let’s see what happens on the first day of school for Riley.

 

SECOND SERIES OF CLIPS

First Day of School 

 

(I think the first one let’s stop around 1:38 – where Joy says, it’ll turn into a good day, a good week, a good year, and a good life)

 

(Then the next one would be about the 3:00 to the 5:00 mark until they get sucked into the tube)

 

 

More than anything, Joy really wants Riley to have a good first day of school.

So, she tried to keep sadness in the circle – she tried to keep Riley happy by keeping the sadness away.

 

Does it work?

 

We can’t become happy by pretending that we aren’t sad about something.

 

So in the movie – Joy and Sadness go through a long journey to finally find a way back to headquarters – just in time to help Riley realize how she is feeling so she can go home to her parents and tell them how she’s really feeling.

Which is sad –

 

LAST CLIP

Owning the Feelings 

 

– starting about 38 seconds in where she starts to cry and is honest about missing Minnesota

 

In the end, Joy learns that she has to be honest about how Riley is really feeling.  It won’t always be happy.  In fact, sometimes the sadness and the happiness go together.

 

What begins with deception as a means to accomplish her goal ends with the invitation to be honest.

 

Our series this summer is based in part on the Enneagram – a set of 9 different typologies and personality types that encompass the whole of our needs as humans.

 

This week we focus on type 3 – the Achiever.

Which – this will come as a shock to those of you who know me – is the type that I am.

 

For 3’s it is really important to achieve our goals.  And whether our goals are worthy or self-serving – we are often willing to deceive, cover up, and smooth over the truth in order to experience success.

 

Threes have a hard time facing defeat and an even harder time learning to be honest with themselves about the truth of how they are feeling.  We are really good at putting on a brave face and convincing others that we’ve got it all together.   And we are known for Taking control of a situation so that it works out the way we want it to.

 

When I saw this movie the first time, I really identified with JOY – since I behave like her an awful lot.  Good intentions – but willing to cover over the reality of the situation so that things will happen the way I want to.

 

And our biblical hero today struggled with the same thing.

Genesis 25: 21-34

So, our biblical character today is Jacob.  Now, Jacob is a twin.  When he was born, his brother Esau was born first and the bible tells us that when Esau came out, Jacob was grasping onto his heel.

 

Esau was a hunter, he was big and hairy and spent his time out in the wilderness hunting for game.

Jacob preferred to stay closer to camp and spend time with his mother.

 

The name Jacob means – deceiver.  And it turns out that early on Jacob lives up to this name.

 

There is one day where Esau comes back and Jacob has been cooking a stew and Esau is hungry so he comes up to his brother and says – hey, can I have some of your stew?  Seems like a reasonable question.

And Jacob says – Uh, sure, but first you need to give me your birthright.

 

A birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

 

Give me your inheritance and your rights as the first born.

 

And I’ll give you a bowl of lentil stew.

 

It’s a terrible deal, but Jacob the deceiver knows something about his brother.  That he is impulsive and prone to make poor choices particularly when he is starving.

 

And so Esau agrees to give him his birthright and enjoys the stew.

 

Some time later, the deception continues – Jacob’s mother is involved and knowing that their father  Isaac is aging and senile and is ready to share the blessing of the firstborn with Esau,

Jacob covers himself in animal hair and disguises his voice and prepares some supper while Esau is still out hunting, and he comes before his father Isaac and pretends to be Esau and receives the blessing.

 

When Esau returns to the camp and goes before his father and asks for the blessing – it is too late.

 

Esau and Isaac are both furious and Jacob the deceiver decides that he must get out of town.

 

So he flees the area and stops for the night to rest.  He is alone and he is afraid – and this is where our story picks up.

 

Jacob wants more than anything to have been the firstborn.  He wants all the things that come with it – and when he doesn’t have what he really wants – he takes control of the situation.  He sees an opportunity to get what he wants and he goes for it.

 

He’s an achiever.  And he will put on whatever face or costume or hairy fur – in order to get what he is wanting.

 

But I imagine that night that the pain and the stress of  all that had happened was more than Jacob could bear and once again – one of our heroes finds themselves in a place of vulnerability – a place of opening where God can work.

 

SCRIPTURE.

 

(Tracy shares some thoughts)

 

In this moment of vulnerability – where Jacob the deceiver has achieved his goals but is feeling the cost and the isolation that comes with it – God meets him right where he is – helping him to see that even in this place of deception, God can see him.  God sees him and knows him and even so – is able to walk with him.

 

And I wonder in some ways if this is the first time that Jacob is really able to begin being honest about how HE is feeling.

 

And to realize that the road back to wholeness and healing and home again – will be a journey he must take by being honest with himself.

 

Jacob and Joy and Tracy and myself – we have all had to learn the hard way – that if we can be honest with ourselves – particularly in our moments of failure and vulnerability and weakness –

If we can take off the masks and be honest about where we are – how we are feeling.

 

And allow God’s voice to say to us – I’ll be with you ANYWAY –

 

I love you and none of those things ever mattered anyway.

 

It was never about how much you achieved.  That was just your ego talking.

 

My greatest hope and goal for you is that you would know that you are loved just as you are.

 

And maybe as you start to have the courage to be honest about this reality and rest in me -

 

Coming to Peace with Imperfection _ Pastor April's Sermon - 5/22

Peanutscomics  

 

What is Lucy so upset about?

 

Things aren’t going the way she wants them to.

When things aren’t going perfectly - How do you think she feels about herself?

 

What helped her?

 

It’s a rare moment where Lucy realizes that what she really needs is LOVE.

She doesn’t need to be perfect.

 

Assignment –

What does it look like when we aren’t feeling love?

And when we are?

 

STORY OF SAUL – PAUL

 

So, this summer – we are beginning a series that we are calling the HERO’S JOURNEY –

And the series is mostly going to be an opportunity to do some storytelling –storytelling of some of the great hero’s of the bible – and storytelling from books, comics, movies, of some heroes from modern day children’s stories.

And part of what makes a person a hero, particularly for our biblical characters – is that they have some kind of event happen that begins to take them out of their comfort zone – and in so doing – they begin to learn some things about themselves.  And while some of our hero’s will actually take physical journeys as they learn and grow – the real journey is an inward one – where as they learn some challenging things about who they are – and often who God is – they find themselves changed – and so the outward journey looks different.

 

Now, each of our hero’s this summer must face a different but very human part of who they are in order for this growth to happen.  The basis of this comes from a ancient typology called the Enneagram.  In the Enneagram there are 9 different types and personalities – representing the totality of the true human longings and struggles.  And the Enneagram recognizes that as a part of our ability to meander and journey through this world – many of us find a default place – a pattern in which we find that things work best and we tend to then react and behave from that familiar place.  It doesn’t mean that we aren’t motivated by other longings and needs – but there tends to be a particular need that more often than not – will shape our decisions and our reactions – particularly in moments of stress.

Click here for the Enneagram Link

 

 

So over the summer, we will look at heroes who represent each of the 9 typologies – and my hope is that we will see a little bit of ourselves each week – some weeks more than others – and an invitation to go a bit deeper.

 

If you are interested in the Enneagram – you are welcome to take the free test online and see what number you are – we have been exploring these in our Tuesday bible study of which you are invited to join us! (link listed above)

 

So, our first biblical hero is Paul – who at the start of our story today is still named Saul.

 

And one thing you notice about Saul at the start of the story is that he seems very angry.  Saul is a Pharisee, raised in the Jewish tradition.  His father was a Pharisee – and one thing that was incredibly important to the Pharisees was upholding the laws and the traditions.  This was what was right and true – and as you will see in our story today – Saul – or Paul – (Saul was his Hebrew name, Paul was his Roman name) – more than anything wanted others and himself to DO WHAT WAS RIGHT.

And these followers of Jesus – were the epitome of what it meant to degrade and go against the laws that he held so dear.  The claiming of Jesus as the Messiah – that God had become human was beyond blasphemous.  So, with all the zeal and fervor and anger within him – Paul devoted himself to the relentless pursuit of all those who were followers of Jesus – or the WAY.

 

SCRIPTURE

 

If you are a person who struggles and longs to be right.  Not just in your own life – but in the world.  Nothing bothers you more than to see something or someone being done the wrong way.  If this is of paramount importance to you – then you know that nothing is more crushing and humiliating and devastating than the sure realization that you were wrong.  And not jut wrong but very very wrong.

 

As I imagine the pain that Paul must have gone through in his blindness – 3 days of quiet.  Coming to grips at whatever level he could – of just how very wrong he had been.

 

What a journey inward.

 

It’s an incredibly vulnerable moment – where after being literally stopped in his tracks – and told that he was utterly wrong – that what he thought was working toward helping God and restoring his house was actually hurting/harming/persecuting the Lord.

 

He finds himself in the dark, utterly reliant on others for everything.  Utterly reliant on God.

 

One of the things we will find in common as we journey through our series this summer is how often the most important and significant personal change arrives in our lives during moments of vulnerability.  Moments when things are not going the way we want, when we are at our weakest places, and where sometimes, we have literally been knocked off our feet.

 

For it is often in those dark places where we are finally open enough to see the change that needs to happen and to see ourselves and our own patterns and behaviors for what they are – desperate attempts to find meaning and worth – and simply unable to provide what we long for most.

 

In our comic, we see Lucy, who usually exudes such confidence, arrogance, and bossiness – telling others all the things that they are doing wrong and ensuring that things are going the way she wants.  Lucy has the rare moment of recognizing her own longing – and in the word from her brother realizing that above all – what she really longs for – is not perfection – but love.

 

It’s a humbling thing to have to admit that we are wrong – that we are often wrong – that we don’t have it all figured out.  Paul’s fear and perhaps Lucy’s as well – is that if we let down our guard for a minute – if we let anyone off the hook for a bit – if we admit ambiguity and mystery and imperfection – than our own sense of self and worth dissolves.

 

There is no other antidote for this than the humbling and true realization that we are loved regardless.  That our weaknesses are seen by God – and with grace and love that covers us – God is not concerned about those weaknesses – in fact, as Paul will proclaim later in his ministry – God will use these weaknesses to become strengths.

 

But the journey is slow – to recognize that the perfection we long for – will not ultimately fill us with peace.  But only the acceptance and assurance of God’s unconditional love for us

 

What must it have been like to be so sure you were right and then knocked off your feet – told you were utterly wrong.  Told you were persecuting God – and then have this voice say to you – and yet, you, the one who was so wrong – headed in such the wrong direction – I choose YOU – to lead my people to reveal to them my love and to show them the way forward?

 

It is such an extraordinary story of love and forgiveness.  The reminder that the perfection that God seeks in us has nothing to do with our ability to get it right – but everything to do with our willingness to let go and trust God to use what we have – and to ground our hearts in this assurance of unconditional love for us and the world.

 

That’s the thing that changes us.

 

So may you today find yourself surrounded in love.

Though you are not perfect.  And never will be.

 

May you be reminded that this was never the goal – and may it heal the anger in your heart and lead you toward peace and acceptance – for you and for others.

Contagious Joy - Pastor April's Sermon - 5/15

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  The day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the day that we celebrate the birthday of the church.  

A birthday in itself is a chance to pause and remember.  A chance to pause and remember the day in our history that something or someone new was born.

Birthdays give us a chance to remember not only the new thing or the new life that was born, but also to remember the story of the birth.

And the story of the birth always includes moments of great joy and wonder – but also moments of struggle, challenge, pain, and tears

 

Every year on Marcus’ birthday, I am reminded not only of the gift of his life – but also of the 39 hours of labor that preceded that birth.  I am reminded of the 9 months of pregnancy where we prepared for that birth.  And the long year of waiting to conceive – hoping that someday a birth would be possible.

 

A birthday is a chance to remember and celebrate the beauty that emerges from seasons of struggle and waiting – moments of tears and pain.

 

Our poem from Hafiz captures that beautifully today…  the new life, the new beginnings that emerge from our tears –

 

Take one of my tears,

Throw it into the ocean

And watch the salt in the wounds

Of this earth and men begin to disappear.

 

Take one of my tears

And cradle it in your palm.

Mount a great white camel

And carry my love into every desert,

Paying homage to every Prophet

Who has ever walked in our world.

 

O take one of my tears

And stop weeping only for sadness,

For there is so much More to this life

Than you now understand.

 

The birthday of the church was certainly a moment where new life and beauty came from a season of struggle and tears.

A Day where out of those tears the disciples began to see and understand – that indeed there was so much More than what they understood before.

 

Now, to place this story in the right context, we need to go back just a bit.

 

The disciples had spent three years walking and learning with Jesus.  Hearing him teach them about the kingdom of God, watching him heal others, reach out to those on the margins, and feeding five thousand with only a few loaves and fish.  At the end of their journey together, Jesus had promised them that though he would return to the Father, and he would no longer be with them in the same physical way – he would send the Spirit.  The Holy spirit would live within them, a counselor, advocate, a Friend – who would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them and would bring them peace – no matter what they faced, so that they could share completely in God’s joy.

 

But the very next day after Jesus spoke these words, he was taken into custody and hung on a cross before all the city.  Executed as a criminal, an undignified and humiliating death.

 

And so we can understand how in their grief – the disciples could not remember the words that Jesus had told them.

 

And they were afraid.

 

And then the extraordinary happened – three days later – Jesus appears again.  He is not dead, but alive.  His appearance is different, but the scars are still there – and even those who initially doubt – come to believe that Jesus is in fact alive!

 

And for 40 days, Jesus remained with them – coming and going from time to time – sometimes appearing inside locked rooms and disappearing just as quickly.  But he was there.  They could see him and touch him again.

 

It must have been so healing and renewing and joyful.

 

But it was only temporary – he told them – he was returning to the Father.

 

Again – he reminded them – that when he left – he would send the Spirit.

 

Wait – he says, in Acts 1 – wait here in Jerusalem – until you are baptized in the Spirit and the promise is given.

 

And then he was gone again.

 

It’s hard to imagine how they must be feeling.  To have lost the physical presence of Jesus – yet again.

 

So, by the time our Scripture begins today – 10 days have passed.

It was the Festival of  Pentecost - the festival of the harvest.

Jews from all throughout the land had gathered in Jerusalem to bring their offerings and to be in celebration.

It would have been a time of great reunion – a time to catch up with others who they hadn’t seen in some time.

And yet – on this day of Pentecost

All the disciples are together in one room.

 

Which tells us that this waiting has been hard – they have needed to be together to support one another.  To cry their tears of sadness and wait together for what could possibly be next.  They aren’t feeling so festive.

 

The words (Act 2: 1-41) seem particularly fitting for this moment –

 

O take one of my tears

And stop weeping only for sadness,

For there is so much More to this life

Than you now understand.

 

Jesus had told them that the Spirit is coming – but they still don’t understand.

 

Until the wind begins to blow and the tongues of fire begin to descend and voices – melodious, joyful voices begin to fill the air – with praises to God – in every language – but they heard them in their own language.

 

By this time, the events transpiring could no longer be confined to one room – they were spilling out onto the busy streets – and people were gathering – people from all over the area – pondering in amazement what it is that they were seeing.

 

What a moment.  A moment of AWE.  And a moment of CONNECTION.  Where across barriers of language and ethnicity – the name of God rang out.

 

And they didn’t understand what was happening – some thought they must be drunk.

 

But then the most unlikely character of all – Peter – emerges above the crowd and begins to speak to the crowd.

Peter – the one who had denied that he even knew Jesus –

Peter – the one who had sliced off the ear of a soldier in a heated fury – the one who had walked on water but then started to sink – the one who wept for shame on the day Jesus died.

 

But this is a different Peter.   A Peter who as the poem says -

 

Has become like the Happy One,

O like the Happy One –

Who now lives Forever

Within me

 

When a drop from my Emerald Sea

Touches your soul’s mouth,

It will dissolve everything but your Joy

And an Eternal Wonder

 

THEN,

The Beloved will gladly hire you

As his minstrel

 

To go traveling about this world,

Letting everyone upon this earth

Hear

The Beautiful Names of God

Resound in a Thousand Chords

 

Peter – now filled with the Holy Spirit – has become a minstrel of sorts – and he stands and explains to the crowd –

 

This moment of AWE and CONNECTION you are experienced isn’t because of alcohol.  It’s because of God.

God’s spirit is here and moving.

Out of the death and tears of Jesus – he rose again.

And he promised that he would generously give us the Spirit.

That we would experience the same kind of peace that King David had – where God would be present with us – through the darkest of moments – through our times of tears – and in whose presence has brought us healing and joy.

 

This is the Spirit of Jesus being given and offered to us – that we might turn toward God anew and experience the new life and JOY being offered to us.

 

And Peter – as he stands before them talking – speaking through the power of the Holy Spirit – is a living breathing example of everything of which he is speaking.

 

For in this moment – something extraordinary has happened to him.

 

Peter was no longer looking AT God – with his limited understanding and his personal striving to try and get it right and his fears of the change that was coming…

 

Peter was now looking out at the world – FROM God.

 

Before – it had been all about following and trying to learn and do what Jesus did.

 

But now, the Spirit of the Living God was IN HIM.

And so – filled with the Holy Spirit - he could see things and understand things in a whole new way – in a way – much more in line with the way God sees the world.

 

And it changed everything.

 

And it seems that this joy that Peter had – this insight and this understanding - it

Was contagious –

For the people’s hearts were convicted –

 

What should we do?

 

Repent, change your minds, receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

 

So that you also – can look out at the world – FROM God.

See the world from God’s point of view.

 

And as the poem says –

Let the wounds

Of every lover of God who kneels in prayer

And comes close to your words

Begin, right now,

To disappear.

 

The joy was spreading – for 3,000 people – were baptized on that day.

 

The church was born – out of tears and struggle – new life was beginning.

The wounds were beginning to disappear.

A people of God – no longer looking out AT God.

 

But now – able to see the world FROM God.

 

So, I have to tell you how thankful I am for this Pentecost story – for this birthday remembrance.

 

As we remember that the story of our church began when broken, frail, disheartened and even fearful individuals – came into contact with the living presence of God – and were brave enough to let go and allow God to work within them.

 

To work within their tears and their struggle so that something new could be born.

 

Something that you and I are now the recipients of, nearly 2,000 years later.

 

It was the call of the church the very first hour of our existence – to bring our full selves – and to allow God to take up residence –

 

This morning – I woke up with this feeling in my chest – this feeling that was familiar – it was a feeling of fear – and dread – and worry –

 

Worry about the future of the denomination that I love – worry about the finances of this local church that has become woven into my heart – and worry about my own family and the struggles we may face –

 

And I heard in the quiet hours of the morning – a still small voice that said –

 

Oh April – these things that bring you fear – they are too big for you to carry alone.  Your small self cannot hold them – so why don’t you let me take it from here?

And stop weeping for sadness –

For there is so much more to this life

Than you now understand.

 

Oh, my friends – that we would have the courage of the saints – to recognize what we have within us.  Our legacy and our story –

 

That we might both listen and yield to that Spirit anew.

 

And that we might become minstrels –

 

Sharing the joy that we have known to a world that more than ever needs to know that they are not alone.

 

And that God is at work among us.

Summer 2016: The Hero's Journey - Amended

SUMMER 2016  The Hero’s Journey   Preview of “SUMMER 2016”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Journey Inward Transforms the Journey Outward

Summary of Series: The Hero lives in a world that they take as given and sufficient. Somehow they have the call or courage to leave home for an adventure of some type, to go beyond their comfort zone. On the journey, they find their real problem.  They are almost always “wounded” in some way and encounter a major dilemma, and the whole story largely pivots around the resolution of the trials that result. There is always a wounding; and the great epiphany is that the wound becomes the secret key, even “sacred,” a wound that changes them dramatically.  Their world is opened up, the screen becomes much larger, and they do too. He or she “falls through” what is merely his or her life situation to discover his or her Real Life, which is always a much deeper river, hidden beneath the appearances. The hero or heroine then returns to where he or she started, and “knows the place for the first time,” but now with a gift or “boon” for his people or her village.  They have found life energy and it is more than enough to undo the energy of death.

MAY 22 – Coming to Peace with Imperfection Scripture: Acts 9:1-20 Story: Peanuts Comic Strips – Lucy and her brother Linus. SUMMARY: Using the apostle Paul and Peanuts character Lucy Van Pelt, we explore our human striving for perfection that always leaves us angry and frustrated.  Only the humbling gift of unconditional love can open us up to accept ourselves and others and allow us to find peace in our own imperfections.

MAY 29 – I’m So Special Scripture: Genesis 37:3-11, Genesis 45:4-18 Story: Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems SUMMARY: Using the story of Joseph and Leonardo, we explore the human need to be unique and the temptation to compare ourselves to others in ways that damage our own and other’s self images.  Finding our foundation in our identity as children of God opens up our ability to be creative and loving because of our connection to God.

JUNE 5 – PRIDE INTERFAITH SUNDAY 10 year anniversary as a Reconciling Congregation with stories and testimonies of the way God has worked over time to create a place of inclusion and welcome for all.

JUNE 12 – The Need to Succeed Scripture: Genesis 25:21-34 – Jacob steals Esau’s birthright Story: Joy from Inside Out – clip on Riley’s first day at the new school - where she puts Sadness in a circle and they are sucked out of the tube into long term memory SUMMARY: Using the story of Jacob and the character of Joy (from the movie Inside Out), we explore our human willingness to deceive in order to get what we want and to achieve success.   It is only in experiences of great humility where we recognize the call to honesty and truth as the only pathway to life and peace.

JUNE 19 – Finding Freedom and Humility – SAMMI PREACHING Scripture: John 20:24-29 Story: Hermione from Harry Potter SUMMARY: Using the story of Thomas and the character of Hermione from Harry Potter, we explore the human tendency to desire to have all the information before taking a risk and experiencing things for ourselves.  The invitation of Christ to have faith and trust without fully knowing invites us into the uncomfortable opportunity for transformation.

June 26 – Avoiding Life Story: Marlon from Finding Nemo SUMMARY: Using the story of Peter and the Marlon, the father in Finding Nemo, we explore our struggle with fear.  The invitation of Christ to come out on the water and experience transformation despite our discomfort is the invitation to become courageous and faithful.

July 3 – No Pain, No Gain Scripture: Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, King Solomon Story: St. Francis by Brian Wildsmith SUMMARY: Using the story of King Solomon and St. Francis, we explore the tendency to avoid pain and struggle.  The invitation toward joy is a call to walk into the places of struggle and pain and find the presence of God there, in all parts of creation.

July 10 – Freedom School Sunday Join our scholars, families, staff, and congregation for an uplifting and meaningful service focusing on the powerful work of our 8 week summer literacy program, Freedom School.

July 17 – Beyond Our Doubts – ROBB PREACHING Scripture: Luke 10:38-42, Martha Story: A Sick Day for Amos McGee – by Philip C. Stead & Erin Stead SUMMARY: Using the story of Martha and Amos McGee, we are reminded of our human need to help and serve others as a source of pride and identity.  The invitation to us is to find humility and recognize our own needs, to also be helped and served and to find freedom and life as a result.

July 24 – Playing it Safe Scripture: Jonah 1 Story: Lion King – Simba – clip where Nala finds him and he is unwilling to go back and face the family SUMMARY: Using the story of Jonah and Simba, we explore our human tendency to avoid making decisions that we know we must make, instead putting them off for another day or even running away.  The invitation is to receive God’s love for us and for others which calls us out of our unwillingness and into action. Scripture: Galatians 2:1-11 (Peter tries to play it safe)

July 31 – Tearing Down the Wall Scripture: Psalm 51 – King David comes clean before God and begs for forgiveness Story: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems SUMMARY: Using the story of King David and our stubborn pigeon, we explore our human tendency to create walls between others and ourselves and to treat people as objects.   The invitation from God is to a place of vulnerability and love, allowing us to break down our walls and experience true connection and love with others and with God.

Comfort and Protection - Pastor April's Sermon 5/08

One of the traditions in the Blaine family, is that every Sunday night is movie night. We've had this tradition since Marcus was about two years old and so over the years we've had a chance to see lots of different children's movies.  When Marcus was about three years old we watched the movie Winnie the Pooh for the first time. Now we had tried to be pretty careful up to this point to be sure and show movies that were not too scary for a three-year-old.  And so we thought, what could be more tame and fine and not scary than Winnie the Pooh?

 

I should start by saying **spoiler alert **since I'm about to tell you what happens in the movie - so if you were planning to watch this movie from 5 years ago and I'm about to spoil it then please feel free to cover your ears.

 

The drama in the movie is prompted by a note that Christopher Robin leaves for his friends in the 100 acre wood.  The note says simply gone out. Busy. Back soon. Unfortunately for the animals in the forest they cannot read very well.   So when owl reads the note to the friends, instead of reading "back soon" he reads that Christopher Robin is gone because he has been taken by a  bakson.  The animals all begin to imagine what this terrible bakson could be and this ensues the plot of trying to build a trap for the bakson.  Of course, the movie ends with the return of Christopher Robin from school and the easy explanation of how things got confused.

 

Now unfortunately when you were three years old you don't have much concept for spelling. And so the whole idea that the Backson was just something that was a mistake or a misunderstanding. Was completely lost on Marcus.

 

And so, for weeks and weeks after watching this movie Marcus would go to bed at night terrified and afraid that the Backson was going to come and get him.   No amount of logical explanation was helpful in this case and so each night Martin and I had to go through the room look under the bed open up the closet and eventually scare away the backs him so that he was clear that he was not allowed to come in to Marcus's bedroom at night.

Every night - we would tell him - don't worry Marcus - we will keep watch for the bakson and we won't let him in your room.

 

Nightime can be a scary time when you are a kid.  Things that you are brave enough to handle in the light of day all seem much different when the lights are out and when you are all alone.  I know I struggled with this as well as a child. At night,  what I wanted to know most of all to know was that I was safe and cared for and that everything would be OK.  My mother finished making this blanket just a few weeks after I was born and it remained with me nearly every night for a long time - including many years as an adult.  When I would feel scared or alone at night, I would hug this blanket tight, bury my face in it and breathe deeply.

 

When we become adults our moments of greatest challenge and struggle are not so easily divided between night and day - but the desire for safety, the need to feel as if we are going to be alright, cared for, nurtured, - it never really goes away.

 

For the past couple of weeks, we've been reading this section of scripture in the gospel of john where Jesus is speaking with his disciples for the final time.  He has told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  And in this section - he is praying for them.  He is asking for God to keep watch over them, to care for them, to keep them safe and to guard them for all that is to come.

Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy.

 I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one.

The prayer is beautiful for so many reasons, because at some level Jesus is praying for the child in all of us – who longs to know that someone is watching out for us – keeping the Baksons and monsters away and seeking to preserve and keep us.

But the prayer is much deeper.

He’s clear that he’s not asking God to remove the disciples from the world.

This protection and safety isn’t about stopping challenges and struggles and even the facing of evil.

Jesus is praying that in the midst of those challenges – that our hearts would be kept safe.

The poem illustrates this so incredibly beautifully.

Keeping Watch (click the link)

The Beloved Spirit watches over us while we sleep but more importantly each day lights anew our Spirit.

Ensuring that our hearts are guarded.  And that we are safe.

Jesus seems to know that the greatest risk, the greatest danger ahead of the disciples is not the adversity and opposition that they will face.

It is the very real danger that their hearts would become guarded and stingy and fearful and cold.

And so the prayer is like the poem – that each day the flame would be reignited and light would begin anew in their hearts.  Even in the face of challenges.

One of my favorite Christian artists is a woman named Sara Groves.  Her music speaks to my soul in ways that is so meaningful and helpful.  Perhaps a part of the connection is that we are about the same age and that she also is the mother of two sons.  One of her songs I find particularly lovely is called “Song for My Sons”

It is a song of advice from a mom – about how she tried her best to teach them and love them.  It is a song about her hopes for her boys.

But the chorus is where the heart of the song lies. And when the cold wind blows like I know it will And when you feel alone like I know you will Don’t let your love grow cold

The prayer of this mother and the prayer of Jesus is that in the midst of lives greatest struggles – which will come.

That the flame of love that burns within us – that was placed there because we were made in the image of God – a god of love and grace and compassion –

That this part of who we are would stay ablaze.

And we know how hard this is.

When life brings us challenges – and hardship and pain – it is easy to think that we are protecting ourselves and keeping ourselves secure and safe – by shutting down our hearts.  By walling ourselves off from feeling and experiencing and sharing love.

For some of us – our hearts have been entrusted into the hands of others and they have broken that trust.  And the pain that comes with that is difficult to bear.  So difficult that we want to never feel that pain again.

But Jesus knows and Sara Groves knows, and Hafiz knows and in honesty you and I know - that the truth is – that these walls that we think will protect us don’t really bring us the security and the peace that we long for.

That the only way to that kind of sense that all will be well is to walk into the places of vulnerability.  To run the risk of rejection and monsters – but to trust that the one who is greater is still keeping watch – over our lives –

But more importantly over our hearts.

And that it is here where we are ACTUALLY the safest.

Held perfectly in the love of our creator – with hearts of love – sharing in the JOY of Christ.

Yesterday I watched my friend the Rev. David Meredith get married to his partner of 28 years, Jim.  It was such a moment of joy.  The wedding was filled with beautiful liturgy, witnesses and testimonies, and some fantastic showtunes.

It was a day of deep abiding love.  And woven within the day was the reality of the struggle – of what it had taken to arrive at this place – and the great courage and boldness that it represented.  A deep love grounded in the trust of God.

And of course – within hours – there were fellow clergy in our connection calling for David’s suspension.  And calling for the pastor of Broad Street’s suspension.  And calling for the suspension of all pastors who have officiated same sex weddings because we had all broken the rules.

But the problem was I had just been in the presence of love and joy.  And the Spirit had been watching over my heart and lighting a flame.  So even when I saw the statements of venom – I still felt JOY.

And so what I will be praying for in the days to come – for me and for you and for our church.  Is that the God who made us in the very image of the living breathing God – not a static, passive God – but a living, dynamic, God of newness and resurrection of life and change – that this God would keep watch over us.  Over me.  Over you.  Over the nearly 1000 delegates headed to General Conference this week.  And that each morning they and we would awaken with the sense that we had been watched over.  That the monsters we feared weren’t there – and that we had been awoken with a kiss on the forehead – igniting in our hearts the depth of love – by which we could then go into the world.

The kind of love that would remind us of our connection to each other.

The kind of love – that no matter what came our way – allowed us to stay present to the JOY of the Lord.

May the Spirit of the living God keep watch over us.  Preserve us and keep us and guard our hearts to remain in this place.

Amen

Peace and Joy - Pastor April's Sermon - 5/01

One of the privileges of being a pastor is that I have a lot of opportunities to pray for and with people in this congregation and the community.  And when I ask people what they need most in prayer, hands down, the most common answer – is that they need peace.  Whether it’s dealing with an uncertain situation, a conflict, an illness, or something that is out of their control – we long to experience more peace in our lives.  And we long for it in our world – marred by violence and fear of those who we do not understand.  I know that this is true for me as well. But as we were talking about this in our Tuesday evening bible study, it seemed important to highlight what we meant when we said – that we wanted peace.

 

As a mother of a 6 and 7 year old – I have been known to say that I just long to have a moment of peace.

 

Which often means that I want a moment of quiet.  Where no one is around.  Where no one is asking something of me.  And where I can just be.

If that moment also coincides with my house being clean, with a resolution to any particular conflicts I might be dealing with, and with my family all being in good health and cheer – that is even better.

 

But as I read through this Scripture today – as Jesus promises peace to his disciples – the kind of peace that will remain with them.

I realized that unfortunately for me – he doesn’t seem to be talking about calm, serenity, quiet, and clean houses.

 

Our Scripture today is taken from a talk Jesus is having with his disciples on the last night of his life.

He’s already told them that when he leaves he will send this Helper, this Advocate, this Counselor, this Spirit – as we talked about last week, this Friend – to be with them forever.

 

And as they head into the hardships that the days ahead will undoubtedly bring, Jesus wants to elaborate on what this Helper, this Spirit, this Friend will do for them.

This Spirit, will teach and remind them of everything Jesus taught them.  So the learning will continue.

And this Spirit will give them PEACE.  So, even in the face of trials and struggles, they need not be troubled or afraid.

 

The literal translation here is “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  And do not be cowardly.”

 

We like the phrase – Do not be afraid, but we bristle a bit with the idea of not being cowardly.

 

But Jesus has, once again, gotten to the heart of the matter.

The very definition of cowardly is to be guided more by our fears than by our courageous trust.

 

And I certainly know for me – that when I am guided more by my fear – I make some pretty poor life choices.  And have been known to act a bit like a crazy person.

 

In the final months of my pregnancy with Marcus, I became increasingly obsessed with getting everything in the house orderly and organized.  In hindsight, I realized that the arrival of this child made me very afraid of the control that I was now losing in my life.  And so the desperate, frenzied, and crazy efforts to clean out every closet in preparation was a last ditch effort to hang on to some of that control that I feared I was losing.

 

The words of the poem rang helpfully true –

 

“You don’t have to act crazy anymore.  We all know you were good at that.”

But retire my dear, from all that hard work you do.   Of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.

 

And look instead in the clear mountain mirror – see the beautiful ancient warrior

And the divine elements you always carry inside

That infused this universe with sacred life so long ago

And join you internally with all existence – with God.”

 

Jesus reminds his disciples that he doesn’t give peace the way the world does.  It isn’t a false sense of peace brought back external circumstances.

 

The peace of Christ gives doesn’t change our surroundings – it changes US.

 

It doesn’t quiet the noise around us, it quiets the noise within us.

 

I particularly appreciate the word in the poem – “RETIRE.”

 

I’m a fair distance from retirement but I do know that the decision to retire from something is to let it go.  To move on.  To leave behind the energies and efforts focused toward one vocation and put them in a different direction.

 

Hafiz invites us to gaze in a clear mountain mirror – to remember our deep connection with God – and to allow it to give us a kind of strength – courage perhaps – to see the beautiful ancient warrior – who because of the very Spirit of God living in her – is able to walk forward into even the moments of struggle and uncertainty – with the assurance that God is with you.

 

It is because of this Spirit that lives in us that we move from making decisions out of fear.  And are able to make them from a courageous place of trust.

 

When I was in high school and college, I ran cross-country.  I wasn’t the fastest runner on the field but I did stay with it for a number of years.

My favorite pair of shoes to wear for one of our meets, particularly when the terrain was a little muddy or soft or hilly, was a pair of cross country cleats.  The ones with some spiky edges that could dig into the dirt, provide a solid footing and help me launch to the next step.

 

So, in seminary, when one of my classmates and I discovered that the actual Greek word for Holy Spirit is “paraclete” – we just couldn’t help but go there.

 

The word itself means – “the one who helps, the one who comforts, the one who exhorts and encourages.”

 

And so my friend and I had a lot of fun coming up with all of the ways that the Holy Spirit was like a pair of cleats – helping us navigate safely through the terrain that is uncertain – even through the moments of pain and struggle - and guiding our feet on the pathway toward life.   A pair of cleats that we can trust.  No matter what comes.

 

I can admit that a part of me still longs for the clean house and calm, serene family that I will probably never have.  But the

 

And so while a part of me still longs for the peace that is about my circumstances changing, Jesus instead invites me to trust every day more fully in this paraclete – this helper and Friend who walks with me into the noisy, chaotic, uncertain, messy, frustrating realities that make up our real lives.  And invites us to find, even in the midst of this – a peace – a peace that is deep within us – because the one who walks with us – will not only not leave us as orphans – but will see us through to the other side.

so that I can live with courage and not fear.  With trust and not anxiety.

 

With peace and joy.

Life With the Friend - Pastor April's Sermon - 4/24

In the words of a brilliant musician who left this life too early this week –  

Dearly Beloved

 

We are Gathered here today to get through this thing called Life.

 

Like many folks around the world after hearing of the death of Prince at the age of 57, I revisited some of his music – songs that had been a part of the soundtrack of my life during various seasons and stages.

 

Prince certainly had a mass pop music appeal, but his music also transcended genres. And the lyrics actually had quite a bit of depth. I was struck as I listened again to the songs with new ears – by the longing that I heard. There is a longing in the lyrics of his songs for a love that is real. For companionship and friendship that goes beneath the surface. That isn’t just a flash in the pan. But that has staying power.

 

Artists often have an incredible way of getting to the heart of things, of speaking on our behalf of the real human struggle and striving -

naming what we really at the end of the day want most.

 

I speak often of the image of the Holy Trinity – in the icon painted by Andrei Rublev. Largely because it reminds us that the very nature of God is community – intimate connection, love, and fellowship.trinity

 

And we were made in the image of this God –

 

And so when Prince sings Purple Rain - about the longing in his heart for a joy not just for him but also for the person he loves most.

 

He is speaking about our very nature as created children of God. Made for connection.

 

Connection with each other and connection with God.

 

In our Scripture today, we see Jesus preparing his closest companions for what is about to come.

 

They have been closely connected, doing life together daily for these past few years – learning and growing.

 

But Jesus knows what is coming and that his time with them is soon coming to an end in just a few days.

 

Jesus wants to be very clear about how that connection is going to continue.

 

Read Scripture

 

I always struggled a bit with understanding and conceptualizing the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Jesus made sense.

 

Even God the Father, I could wrap my head around.

 

But the Spirit – wind, flame, ethereal power or energy moving through the world, and as Jesus speaks in this Scripture – the spirit of truth living in us.

 

While I know I have experienced the work of this Spirit in many moments in my life, I always had trouble describing this to others – putting it into words.

(Click the link below to read the poem)

hafizpoems-week 4

 

The lyrics I quoted earlier were from the song, “Let’s Go Crazy”

 

Dearly Beloved

We are gathered here together to get through this thing called life.

 

The background music is kind of churchy/organ music and Prince speaks these words as if he is the preacher.

 

But then the song goes on to say that there is something better – something in the future – after we die that will bring us meaning and happiness and connection.

 

But since we won’t find that fully here – in this life – on this side of eternity – we might as well do our best to enjoy the ride – to cherish what we have – and to live to the fullest.

 

To try to get through this thing called life.

 

Now, I don’t know if this is still where Prince was in his thinking and religious experience by the end of his life – for he wrote this pretty early in his career.

 

But I hope somewhere along the way – he began to take in and understand and connect with the words of the Scripture today.

 

Which tells us that this relationship, this connection, this intimacy that we so long for with the one who created us – it lives in us. Now.

 

And so we don’t just have to try and get through this life.

 

We get to live it to the fullest.

 

 

 

Ready to Dig Deeper? -- Constructive Theology

Ready to dig deeper into this faith journey?  Ready to start finding ways to articulate and better understand who God is?  Join us for CONSTRUCTIVE THEOLOGY!

Many of us have worked hard to deconstruct the harmful ideas we were taught about ourselves and God.  This class creates the space for doing the difficult work of constructing a new theological foundation grounded in God’s love for all people.  The course will involve study, discussion, guided prayer, artwork, videos, and even a retreat.  Participants will be expected to do reading between classes and work toward the creation of a final project.

Join us on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month beginning January 19 at 7pm. The last class will be on May 17.

Location: Stonewall Community Center, 1160 N. High St.

Black Sacred Music Presentation

Celebrate Black History month and be inspired by our presentation of "Reflect, Reclaim, Rejoice: Preserving the Gift of Black Sacred Music" on Sunday, February 7, right after church service (11:45 or so), in the church lounge.  We will view a 30 -minute DVD with lots of recordings of church choirs who still practice these historic musical forms, share a little about our experiences with this music and SING! If you are unable to attend the presentation, it is available to view online at: https://vimeo.com/84870076.

 

Now Hiring - UAEA Seeks New Executive Director

Executive Director University Area Enrichment Association (UAEA), Columbus OH  

UAEA Description: UAEA exists to bring together the diverse people and resources of the University Area in ways that directly improve the quality of life for residents of this neighborhood.  We engage, educate, equip and build community leadership through the University District Freedom School, our 8-week summer literacy program for K-12 scholars, and our school year after school program.  Our Freedom School program has shown demonstrated literacy gains for our scholars.  We work with a great number of community partners and a wide network of supporters.  Our location in the middle of the University Area, at Summit UMC, continues to help us serve the diverse community and helps foster a tremendous pipeline to young talented leaders.  This year, our greatest focus is to establish the right leadership and standard operations for success both in our Freedom School and after school program.

 

Position Description: The UAEA seeks a paid Executive Director (ED). The position is part time (roughly 20–25 hours per week) with the possibility of becoming full time. The ED is responsible for: managing the overall operations of the organization; ensuring the organization’s endeavors align with its mission statement and are executed effectively; partnering effectively with the UAEA board, staff, contracted employees, and community partners to ensure the safety of all scholars in our programs; partnering effectively with the UAEA board, staff and contracted employees to ensure compliance with all federal grants; creating sustainable revenue streams through fundraising and working closely with the UAEA Board of Directors to do all of the above.

 

Skills and Experience

  • Successful candidates will have:

o   A demonstrated record of community empowerment and social justice; achievement and leadership; meeting deadlines and seeing tasks to completion; and project management skills

o   Excellent oral and written communication

  • Role requires collaboration and the ability to work closely with a team
  • A significant part of the position will be ensuring the organization’s compliance with federal grants
  • Successful candidates should be able to be attentive to the details, while also seeing the bigger picture about innovative ways to move the organization toward more sustainability

 

Salary: TBD (based on qualifications)

 

Application Details

  • Application Materials: If interested, please send a cover letter and resume to Robert Caldwell, UAEA Board Member, at Robert.Caldwell@theuaea.org. The cover letter should be one page or less, and it should explain why you would like to take on this role and why you think you would do well in the role. Please include three references with your resume.
  • Application Deadlines

o   Resume/cover letter—send in by close of business on 11/6/15

o   Interview(s) with the Board (if applicable)—11/15/15

o   Desired date of hire—12/1/15

o   Desired start date—12/7/15

 

Wrestling with God - Meghan Link's Sermon - 9/27/15

Wrestling with God Genesis 32:22-32

Given by Meghan Link on Sunday, September 27, 2015

Our scripture reading today is from the book of Genesis 32:22-32. This is the story of Jacob, who has been on the run ever since he wronged his brother, on the night before he will face his brother again for the first time in 20 years.

Genesis 32:22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”27 And he said to him, “What is your name?”And he said, “Jacob.”28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.

We’re continuing this week in a series of re-reading the Old Testament as the story of God’s love for all people, and though the story we read about Jacob wrestling with God may not seem very loving, I hope that by the time I’m done, you’ll love this story as much as I do. To understand this scene that we read from Jacobs story, we have to go back to the beginning. And since we don’t have time to read most of the book of Genesis, I’ll give you the short version.

Jacob had a twin brother, and the two of them struggled from the time they were in the womb together. In fact, Jacob was born grabbing onto the heel of his older brother, which is why they named him Jacob which means heel-grabber, but was also a word that meant deceiver or trickster. His brother Esau was a hunter, a hairy strong man who made his Father Isaac really proud. Jacob was not so hairy, and preferred to stay at home with his mother, and usually found a way to get what he wanted through manipulation. The two grow up into men and it comes time for their father Isaac to pass on his blessing which would go to the oldest son. This blessing includes a special role in the covenant which Isaac’s father Abraham, who we talked about last week, had made with God, where God said he would make out of Abraham a great nation that is a blessing to the entire world.

So Isaac tells Esau, the older brother and the rightful heir, to go hunting, so that when he comes back and a meal is prepared, Isaac can bless him and pass everything on to him. But after Esau leaves, Jacob and his mother create a plan to trick Isaac who is blind into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. And their plan works, Jacob receives Esau’s blessing, and when Esau returns, he and his father discover what has been done and they weep for how they have been tricked, and Esau decides that he will kill Jacob once their father has passed away.

His parents, not wanting Jacob to die, send him away and on the night after he leaves he has a dream. Yahweh comes to him to speak to him, not only confirming actually that the promise given to Abraham is now given to Jacob and all that entails, but also saying “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”We have to stop and appreciate this part of Jacob’s story, because this shows us that before Jacob has really had the time or the space to repent for his actions, and really to communicate with God in any way, Jacob already has God’s promise that someday he will be able to return and be reconciled to his family again. God is already at work within him, and within his situation. Even while the wounds are still fresh, Jacob is not alone. And when Jacob wakes up, he is amazed at what he saw and heard in the dream and he makes a vow that I think is the real beginning of his faith journey and his desire for reconciliation to his family, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then Yahweh shall be my God…”

After this brief moment of calm and reassurance, Jacob continues to go through cycles of struggle to deceit, back to some relative peace before struggle begins again. He is always struggling with something. ] He falls in love with his Uncle’s daughter Rachel and finds work with him, but gets tricked into marrying her sister Leah as well which begins another terrible family conflict. Tensions rise because of how successful Jacob is at working for his Uncle, so that his Uncle tries to prevent him from leaving, and when Jacob does leave, he manages to take off with most of his Uncle’s wealth and herds, which now basically makes him a successful man, but has the internal cost of how he manipulated his way there.

Jacob, goes through a lot, being deceived as well as being the deceiver, and in this cycle of constantly struggling against something, he probably often felt like he was fending for himself in a world that was totally against him. He probably did not feel much like God’s promise was with him in his experiences. He had worked up the skills to be able to take care of himself, twist things around in his favor and come out on top no matter what.

And so though we might think that at this point where he is leaving his Uncle’s with enough stuff to start a household of his own, that he could potentially finally have his life together, we can tell that instead there was a deep internal struggle happening in him because of all that he has done, and all that he has been through, and this nagging question of where God was in everything. So, while he could have gone off to yet another new place and simply settled down with his wealth and started over again, instead Jacob remembers God’s promise, and he decides that what he really wants to do next, is to head for home, and to find out whether or not reconciliation can actually happen there.

This is the Jacob who is traveling home to face Esau. A weird mixture of a proud, successful, and self-reliant man, and a repentant man hoping in God’s promises. Along the way, he decides to send out a few messengers, to test the waters of how his brother will take this return, and the response he gets is that his brother is coming to meet him…with 400 men. His worst fears become a very possible reality. If his brother still wants to kill him, he will easily destroy everything Jacob has gained, and the promise that God made to him will have failed completely. Jacob doesn’t have the ability to defend himself against an attack, but he still makes a few efforts, going back to depending on himself as he has always done in the midst of a conflict. He sends ahead his flocks as gifts for his brother, literally giving up all the wealth he has earned in exchange for a chance at making peace, and he divides his people into different camps so that if Esau does attack, some of his group might get away and survive. Probably feeling as if everything has been lost once again, finally, Jacob decides that he is going to spend the night alone.

This was a dark night for Jacob, the kind of sleepless night where he might have been pacing, or lying awake in the silence, or speaking to God, asking questions like, “Why, God did I come so far, just to fall? If this was the right thing for me to do, why am I going to be attacked? Why, God did you promise me peace, and yet leave my life nothing but turmoil? Why am I always getting myself through these things just to come up against more and more obstacles on the other side?” Jacob honestly didn’t know if God was going to protect him or not, or if God was even paying attention to him after all he had been through. I think its possible he hoped for the best because he had the promise, but deep down he was probably just tired of all the running away and the manipulating and the struggling he had been through, and was preparing himself for another fight in the morning.

I wonder, because I like to let these stories play out in my head like a movie, how the wrestling we read about today would have began. Did Jacob see the man coming? Did he know that it was no ordinary man in the beginning? Did he think it was Esau? We don’t know, because the story doesn't tell us.

What I imagine is Jacob being completely blindsided. Sitting alone under the stars, in the midst of what was already a night of grief, out of no where, something hits him like a wall, and he is pinned down, wrestling, locked in yet another battle he didn't see coming. And to his credit, the self-reliant Jacob fights back hard. Despite at some point having his hip knocked out of it’s socket, Jacob puts up a fight that lasts all night until daybreak.

That means there were hours of wrestling in the darkness until the man finally asks to be let go, and at this point or perhaps before, Jacob understands that he is not wrestling some random stranger on the road and he is not wrestling his brother either, but he is actually wrestling with God. The struggle and the grief that was happening in his heart and mind had become a real, tangible, sweat and bruises battle with God-self in Jacob’s hands. And in a surge of what I imagine was him releasing all of his frustration with the illegitimacy of the promise he stole from his brother, and the fact that God’s promises to him did not seem to be working out, and probably some anger that this God also had the nerve to come and physically kick him when he was already down, Jacob demands that God really and truly bless him, once and for all, right there, in person, or he would not let go.

I imagine in that moment, a kind of softened expression must have come across God’s face looking at Jacob. Already knowing the answer, the Creator simply asks him, “What is your name?”And exhausted and hurting, his reply is, “Jacob”, deceiver, liar, manipulator, heel grabber, thief. My name is Jacob. And God says, “Now your name is Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”I think there was a long silence. This does not immediately feel like the blessing Jacob asked for. This is not another promise of peace or anything like the promise of a nation which was given to Abraham. But slowly, slowly it sinks in. Jacob, with all his shortcomings and wrong doings, now has a new name. And his identity will no longer be this reminder of how he has been a manipulator and deceiver, but how he has come through his struggle, met God, grown, and been transformed.

You see, Jacob was never holding God there with him in this fight, God was simply waiting for Jacob to come to a realization. Like a mother who quietly holds her child while they pound her with their fists and scream at her in anger, I imagine that God held Jacob while he came to understand that Yahweh had always known about his struggles and had been with him, just as was promised. When Jacob finally does respond, he asks for God’s name, but he already knew who was blessing him. The God that had come to him in the dream, who had promised him peace, was now and always had been present with him. Because of his struggles, Jacob had grown.

When we look to the Old Testament, I think we often look for good examples to look up to, but Jacob’s story does not give us that. He’s human, he’s got a rocky past and a broken heart, he’s not perfect, but God doesn’t expect him to be. It’s because of these imperfections and struggles that Jacob experiences and grapples with God and comes to find his faith. Not only that, but while all this was happening to Jacob, God had been at work in Esau’s heart as well. In the next chapter of the story, the one now called Israel limps to meet his brother Esau. And instead of the slaughter he had imagined, there is actually a tearful reunion of forgiveness between the brothers.

In a turn of the story Jacob never would have expected, the battle he needed to brace himself to work through was not with Esau, but with himself and with God. God had been working through everything that happened to him to prepare a way to bring him home again in peace. In spite of the fact that Jacob didn’t have it together at any point, God was at work. Jacob had not come through this wrestling unscathed or unchanged, or as the hero, but because of the Creator working in and around him, he and his family did find peace, and that is the story of his new name. This name of wrestling which would become not just his name, but the name of the people of Israel who would come after him, and who would strive with Yahweh for years to come, and the people through whom Jesus would come to once again blur the line between God and man. This broken person, and the messiness of his life, and his struggle to believe in God’s promises, is what God chose, and still chooses, to work in and through.

We like to say often that we know we are broken. That “nobody’s perfect.”And yet, I think by and large we still have trouble really coming to terms with what that means for us in relationship to one another. We still often simply expect people to live up to different ideas of perfection and the standards that we have for what people should be, and we can see the harmful effects of that at work in our world.

We can see it in the rainbow flags of the LGBT community who have to proudly proclaim that they too are humans who deserve equal rights and opportunities whether or not others understand or approve of their sexuality and identity.

We can see it in the experience of women and girls who struggle with the enormous societal pressure to be virginal, and the judgement against them when they are not that restricts their access to birth control and programs that prepare and enable them to make their own choices about their bodies and future.

We can see it in the tears of African American mothers who worry about their sons, and wonder whether the way they act or dress or simply look is going to get them hurt, or killed, or prevent them from having a job in the future, because they don’t meet the criteria to be respected by many.

We can see it in the tens of thousands of suicides each year that are the result people’s feeling the enormous stigma around mental health, and the embarrassment around needing help because you just can’t deal with depression and anxiety on your own.

We can see it on the boats of refugees, who just for trying to leave a broken country behind and find a safe place for their children, are being treated like invaders and prisoners, because their religion and ethnicity is foreign and threatening, not enough like ours,.

We can see it in the face of the poor, as people look down on them and decide that they are lazy, drug-addicts, expecting handouts, when really it is all too easy to fall behind in this world and there is so much work that still must be done by those who have the power to lift them up out of poverty.

We see it in prisons cells, filled with people who rather than being healed, rehabilitated, and encouraged, end up living endless days of the same brokenness, because they are not treated as if they could be and are better that what brought them there, and so they leave worse than when they came in.

We see it in the way that our country and our religion is divided into left and right, and how both sides demonize each other, not seeking to reunite through love and reconciliation, but pushing one another further and further away, shutting down and silencing those we don’t agree with, rather than approaching them with love in the face of how impossible our universe is to understand and how easily we all fail to see the whole picture.

These are only a few examples of how our lack of compassion for the real brokenness that is in all of us can be dangerous in the world, and of how when we see other humans truly wrestling and struggling with the worst, and the most messy moments of life, we can be quick to judge each other for not being perfect and forget that God’s response is grace and growth, in and through the struggles, not abandonment, and not condemnation

I don’t know how many of you know this, but a couple months ago I got my first tattoo. People get tattoos for all kinds of reasons: from taking a dare to artwork and beauty, but for some, and for me, sometimes they are an outward mark that represents a struggle we have been through. After being told I wasn’t a Christian because of my beliefs and feeling alone and confused for a long time, and through having to ask God “Why am I going through this when it doesn’t seem like any of it is going to work out?”I have come to find peace with the things that have happened to me and to be thankful for how they shaped me even though they put me through many dark nights and hopeless wrestling.

So I chose to have words from a hymn, “Bind my wandering heart to thee,”tattooed on my ankle. And sure, it hurt, but not as much as my heart had hurt when I was in the thick of that situation. It felt right to make visible that healing of internal scars and the wholeness I had found, by marking on my skin what was already a part of my soul.

Jacob’s mark, the broken hip, is a symbol of how his imperfection had transformed him in coming to know God. We are all marked by what we’ve been through in all kinds of ways. Sometimes by physical scars like Jacob, sometimes by our name and what we are called. Others of us have marked ourselves by chopping our hair off or dying it pink, by wearing a t-shirt, or a piece of jewelry, by embodying a commitment to help others, by the dirt on our knees and callouses on our hands, by every part of our identity, we carry with us the marks of our transformation by and through the struggles of our lives. In God’s eyes, what defines us is not our imperfections, but the wrestling that has brought us through hopeless times into peace and reconciliation.

We all have our experiences of struggle, but God did not leave us through any of it. Yahweh is the God of Jacob and Israel, before and after and during this wrestling and blessing process, God was always with Jacob, responding through presence, and grace, not abandoning him but making promises to him, not rejecting him for falling short but telling him that he was still never alone. If God does not abandon and reject us, then we cannot abandon and reject each other. We as humans are all together broken and our best shot at reconciliation with each other comes from our faith in God’s promise to each person that they can be seen through their struggle to the other side.

God has been showing us as Yahweh showed Israel that God is with us and for us. In the midst of our shortcomings the Breath of Life has breathed into our struggle a desire for peace and the things we need to eventually heal. Israel’s life continued to have highs and lows, struggles and sadness, but his faith was forever changed by this night he spent wrestling with God.

My hope for you is that as you look back at your life and at your marks, you may know how you have grown, and that during every step of the journey God was right beside you, making a way for you, and working in the midst of your darkest night. And that if you can vulnerable enough to see that work happening within you, that your eyes might be opened to how the same thing is happening in the lives of each and every person around you, because of God’s deep love for all people, so that rather than judgement and division, we might be able to become a part of God’s transformative work in the world and the lives around us. Amen.

God... Present with Us - Pastor April's Sermon - 9/20/15

God... Present with Us

Genesis 18:1-15, Genesis 21:1-7

Given by Rev. April S Blaine on Sunday, September 20, 2015

So, today we continue our journey through the story of God’s love for the people and we do so with a story that is very, near and dear to my heart.

 

Last week we began with the story of creation and the fact that we were made in the miage of God – as partners in creation – and that we were made for community, authentic, real, trusting relationships in community –

 

And then the story continues – there is some brokenness and loss that happens both between humanity and God and humanity and each other.

 

There’s a whole story about a flood – and a promise at the end – that this God will forever more choose to relate to us in a different kind of way. Our mess and our brokenness remain, but no matter what happens – God will choose to stay with us – to remain present.

 

And then shortly after begins the story of Abraham. This becomes kind of the cornerstone of everything else in the Bible. Abraham was living in the predictable urban world of Sumer. A land where it was believed that life was a circle. The future would never look different than the present. What was – had always been – and would always be – And a land where the gods existed up here and dictated what happened with the human pawns below. There was no relationship – there was no partnership that happened – no power or agency.

 

But Abraham broke the mold – for in the midst of this land of predictability – he heard the voice of God – calling to him, relating to him, and calling him OUT of Sumer. Out of the urban city – and into the wilderness. To a land that God would give him. To a future that would look different than the past. And so Abraham and Sarah left – they listened to God – they left the world where nothing new would ever come – and they held onto the hope that life would bring something entirely new.

 

But it didn’t work out exactly how it planned. There were people in the land that God was going to give them. So they take a detour to Egypt. And they are promised a child. In fact, promised that Abraham would be the father of a new nation. That so as there were stars in the sky would be his descendents. But with this hope and this promise that they have received is a whole lot of waiting and waiting and waiting.

Years, decades, pass. Where is the child?

 

And then we arrive at the story of today. Abraham and Sarah are elderly – very old – past the years of childbearing – and these visitors come to see them.

 

As would be the custom, they welcomed them in and made for them a generous and great feast. Or, should we say, Sarah made it – Abraham just barked out the orders.

 

And it soon becomes clear that these are no ordinary visitors – they have come to bring the word of good news –. Where is she? They inquire. In the tent – says Abraham. And they begin to tell him -

 

We’ll be back in a year – and when we are back – Sarah will be with child.

Sarah overhears them -

And under her breath – Sarah laughs.

Ha! Now that I’m old? I would finally receive this pleasure?

 

I think there is a lot going on here underneath this laugh.

I’m not sure it was just about the preposterous idea that an old lady might become pregnant.

 

I might be reaching a bit – adding a bit of creative license to the story here – but I’d venture to say that this laugh of hers - under her breath – was likely laced and layered with the years of pain and grief and unanswered prayers.

 

Now? After all these years? Now? God has chosen to show up? Isn’t that great?

 

God has not seen it fit to grant me this desire of my heart in the last 60+ years – why, oh why, would today be any different?

 

You and I know what it is to have such a laugh about the hardness that life brings us sometimes. All of us have those things that we've been battling with, dealing with for years upon years, hurts that are long buried in our spirits and souls but every now and then get reopened…

 

I was talking to someone this week about the struggles that they have had with their daughter-in-law. We talked about the years and years of hurt, of rejection and the ways in which she tries to laugh it off, to use humor to dismiss the pain that still comes – with each new slight and dismissal.

On Tuesday night after our Bible study was done at Stonewall, Steven and I had the chance to sit with someone who was incredibly down on his luck. The hardness of life – years in prison, rejection by those who see him as a second class citizen, and the ending of a relationship with the woman he loved – the pain was raw and real. But “I’ll be alright” - no really, “I’ll be alright.”

 

Whether we try to laugh it off, use sarcasm, say its alright when its not, or even try to deflect our problems and pain onto others – so we don’t have to look inside and admit what is going on.

 

We know that behind Sarah’s laughter is the same thing behind much of our fronts that we put up – pain, grief, sorrow, and the need to heal.

 

Those of you who have spent any length of time with me probably knew a bit about this particular story – because this is the story associated with my most favorite Christian icon – it hangs in my office and of course – I could not pass up the opportunity to share it with each of you again today.

 

Andrei Rublev painted this icon in 14th Century Russia, during a time of incredible grief, violence and turmoil in Russia. During a time where people were experiencing great pain, sorrow, and grief – during a time where they wondered where God was and what the future might still hold.

Trinity

And the story of today was the basis of this Icon. The story itself suggests that it is the Lord with two angelic attendants, but Rublev imagines that these three visitors were in fact, the members of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – come to not only deliver the good news to Sarah and Abraham of the upcoming birth of Isaac, but to sit and be present with them – in the midst of their waiting – in the midst of their pain and their suffering.

 

They could have sent a messenger – they could have simply given a vision – a voice from the clouds - or even a word of comfort through another person.

 

But this God – who has promised to walk with us through all of our brokenness and struggle and suffering – has come to just be with Abraham and Sarah. This God comes to their home. To their dwelling place – to their tent – to dine and to be present.

 

The scene depicts the trinity at a table – which for the story would have been appropriate – because they were about to eat with Abraham and Sarah – and the icon is designed to be viewed from this vantage point where you can see that there is room at the table for others

 

A seat for Sarah or Abraham – or as Rublev intended – a seat for us…

 

Sarah’s laughter – under her breath – her years of hurt and pain are noted by the visitors – for the Lord says – Why did Sarah laugh?

 

I think this might have been the moment where she realizes that something bigger is going on with this visit – that this visitor is no ordinary visitor – she denies the laughter out of fear – but I think she knows that she has been seen.

Her grief and pain are seen – recognized – named – out loud – by these visitors by this God who has come to be present.

 

It is obvious that the visit left an impression on Sarah. For when the time finally comes to pass that Isaac is born – the name that she chooses is “laughter.”   A direct reference to this encounter. When God showed up in her home – to be present with her – in the midst of the pain and grief and cynical laughter – and to share with her a message of hope and renewal.

 

A reminder, each time she looked at her son, of the presence of God – the real presence of God with her – in the midst of her grief and struggle.

 

I don’t know about the things that you are battling in your own life – the things that weigh on you at night and keep you from sleeping – the things that have been there for years or the hurts that are more recent. Life brings us so many disappointments – so many hurts – both from each other and the ones we inflict on ourselves – and seasons and times of heaviness and grief that we carry with us.

 

And the unfortunate thing is that from the beginning – God doesn’t promise us that it will be taken away – that we won’t suffer - that it won’t be hard. Or that we won’t have to wait – and wait – for the things that we long for – for the things we might never fully see.

 

But in this story – in nearly every story from this book – God promises that we won’t be alone. That God will see us – our cynical laughs, our attempts to say we’re alright – and that somehow – there will still be hope.

 

Hope for healing.

 

Hope for restoration.

 

And the hope that the future might look different from the presence.

 

So, may you be reminded that the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow is still with you – present with you – in the place where you are now – and is seeking to help you see that hope remains.

 

Made for Community - Pastor April's Sermon - 9/13/15

Made for Community

Genesis 2:4-25

Given by Rev. April S Blaine on September 13, 2015

Six years ago, I had the extraordinary privilege of spending nearly 3 weeks in South India, as a part of a cross-cultural learning experience with my seminary. I had done a fair amount of traveling in my days before that in plenty of countries where the culture and language exposed me to incredible new things.

But nothing fully prepared me for how different life was in South India.

Certainly the brightly colored loud and noisy crowded streets and cities were a part of it. And the food, the remarkably delicious, but spicy food that is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But the biggest difference I found in India was people related to one another and understood their place and connection in the world in a way that was completely different than everything I had known.

After the third day there, I began to realize that everyone was calling me sister. Even though I would introduce myself as April, no one was calling me that. I thought that maybe they couldn’t remember my name, but then I would listen to them address each other. Aunt, Uncle, brother, mother, father, sister – no one used names for one another either.

I began to ask and inquire about this from Thomas Thandaraj, our beloved guide. And he said – oh yes, names are not as important here as they are in the US.

Your identity as an individual was certainly important, but who you were – first and foremost had to do with how you related to others. And you would be reminded of that in every interaction. You are not just April, you are my sister. You are not just an individual. You are connected to me and to all of us.

 

In the first chapter of Genesis, we hear this glorious story of the symphony of God – a symphony of words being spoken and all the creation comes into being. Let there be light. Let there be stars. Let there be trees producing fruit. Animals in the sea and sky. And Let us make humans in our own image. And all of it was good.

 

In the second chapter of Genesis, the story begins quite differently. God, it seems, is playing around in the mud. And God notices that there is no one to till the ground, to work alongside God in this creative work and so And while playing around in the mud, God fashions a human – and then God breathes into the human the ruha – the spirit of life – the breath – and the man became alive.

As creation continues, there are plants and animals – and this man, who has the spirit of God living in him is right there with God creating names and caring for what has been made. But then God seems to look at the creation and realizes that something just isn’t quite right. The created man has an intimate relationship with God, they are partners in the work. The created man has meaningful work to do – a purpose for existence – but God says – there is no suitable companion. And so God creates a woman – out of the rib of the man. For, God says – it is not good for the man to be alone. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh – these two equals – suitable companions form the first community – and they were naked and unashamed.

 

 

Last weekend, my cousin was released from prison after spending 18 months behind bars. He had managed to receive an early release because he had attended a 4 month boot camp, a military style intense disciplinary training period intended to test him physically, mentally, and emotionally. The day he was released, my uncle, his father, picked him up, and then they drove together for four and a half hours to our family reunion at my parents home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This is a gathering we’ve been having for nearly 20 years every Labor Day weekend – where my dad’s side of the family – the 4 brothers and all their children, grandchildren would gather at the lake for food, skiing, swimming, boating, a little bit of rowdiness, and some meaningful time of fellowship.

My cousin had been coming to this gathering every year since he was 8 years old. But for the past four years, he has been absent.

 

And I watched him over the weekend as he began to re-enter the family. As he was welcomed back into community. As he embraced the arms of his brothers and his grandparents. As he was reconnected to relationships that had been burned and hurt and broken both during the dark season that led to his arrest and the lonely season of his departure.

 

I watched as my two sons latched onto him – something bound to happen if you are willing to ride a tube and a waverunner with a 5 and 7 year old. And to proclaim each night, we want cousin Drew to read us a story!

 

I watched the healing begin – and a young man whose discipline and order had been restored – find his soul and heart and lifeblood again. Find that he mattered – that he had something to contribute – that he was beloved.

As we all could say – welcome, cousin, son, brother. Welcome home.

 

We are made for community. It’s hardwired in our DNA. From the first moments of our created being – our individual identities were bound together with our connection to each other.  When we enter the world, we literally do so from the labor and body and physical womb of another human being. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh – we are connected to one another – dependent on one another. Made for community.

 

Genesis 2 speaks to that connectedness that we were made for but it also gives us this picture of what the community actually looks like. Adam and Eve, who really aren’t mentioned by name – but instead are appropriately referred to in this scripture as the human and the woman – and then later – the husband and the wife. At the end of the story – when these two are together – it says – that they are Naked and they are unashamed.

 

It wasn’t a sexual or sensual thing. This wasn’t an exhibitionist kind of naked and ashamed. The Hebrew word is also translated – they were bare – there wasn’t anything held back. Nothing but their raw, true selves.

To be vulnerable before one another – and to not be ashamed. This was what the first community was like.

 

Our story as humans begins with our connectedness to each other and our need for real community – the kind of community where our relationships that go to the core of who we are and what we are really dealing with. Where we are not holding anything back – but we are honest and bare before each other.

 

That’s the part where we start to get a little bit uncomfortable – Amen. Because we are willing to acknowledge that we need each other – that connection with others is good. That being isolated is not good. We want to be in the presence of others – in the company of others – but we aren’t so sure about this whole – being laid bare before one another – because the last thing we want is for others to see me cry, or fail, or falter.   I don’t want you to see all of me – for if you did – I certainly would not feel Unashamed.

 

We aren’t so sure about this biblical sense of community that we were created for. We’d much rather create our own communities – on Facebook or Instagram where we can control and manufacture an image of ourselves that reveals none of our shortcomings or failures – that lets our “community” know that “I got this.”

 

With all of them incredible technology at our fingertips – too few of us have places and communities of real connection and relationship that we were created for. Where we can be naked and unashamed.

 

 

I have to admit that I am the proud daughter of a very independent mother – a woman who taught me that I could do anything I ever set my mind to – except pee standing up and I could probably practice enough to get that down as well. I am the queen of “I got this.” But I got to tell you – this Wednesday when I heard Bishop Palmer speak at our clergy renewal gathering – he asked us – “how’s that working out for you?”

 

The truth is – I need community. I need vulnerable spaces. I need reminders that the only way I am the best, whole, healthy April Suzanne Blaine when I remember that I am first a sister, a cousin, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a child of God… and when I can find true spaces to connect with others in relationship and to let down my guard, to lay it bare – to stop pretending that I have it together and allow myself to be vulnerable – And unashamed.

 

We often try to avoid them – but Whether we like it or not, the vulnerable spaces come – they came 14 years ago this week, when the twin towers fell and we wondered what the future held for our nation. They came just 3 months ago, when we saw the footage of our brothers and sisters in bible study and then shot in Charleston, SC because of the color of our skin.

 

Sometimes the vulnerable places come in seasons of challenge, transition, and newness in our life. The arrival of a new baby, the first semester of college, the job that we thought we were prepared for but is way harder than we imagined, a new romantic relationship, or the first experience of real failure, the grief and loss of a loved one, or an 18 month prison sentence. Something opens up in us and we realize – that we need one another.

that we aren’t just individuals in the world – somehow - we are community. We are brothers. We are sisters.

 

We don’t really prefer these spaces – most of us don’t allow ourselves to let our guard down until we absolutely have to. But when we can step into these vulnerable spaces – we are often more able to build real communities, honest relationships, and live with one another in the way that we were created for.

 

So, I wonder where you may need the reminder of your connectedness in the world – your status as brother, sister, cousin, aunt, or father.

 

And I wonder where God has been nudging you to let down your guard. To say and speak the thing you have been too afraid to say – to ask the question you haven’t been able to speak – or to be honest about the real struggle that is going on in your heart and spirit.

To be vulnerable with another human being in community and to be unashamed.

To admit that - “I don’t have this” – that I need my brothers and sisters - and I could use some help.

 

Where is the Spirit – who made us and breathed the breath of life for us – but also gave us suitable companions for the journey – inviting you to live into your created-ness?