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.


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.




Easter Season Sermon Series

easter season for websiteAs we celebrate the power of the Resurrection, we will be using the playful poetry of the Sufi poet, Hafiz, paired with the powerful stories in the Gospel of John to explore the power of JOY in our Christian journey.  Expect to be challenged, encouraged, and uplifted each week!

April 3 — GOD IN ALL CREATION — John 1:1-5, 14-18 

Poem by Hafiz — “The Moon is Also Busy”

God has revealed light and life through Christ, but also throughout all of creation. We will celebrate and explore all the ways we experience joy throughout God’s creation.

April 10 — WAKING UP — John 3:1-8 

Poem by Hafiz — “Laughter”

Hafiz writes about laughter as the glorious sound of a soul waking up.  We will explore the ways that God’s grace meets us throughout our life, helping us to wake up, just as Nicodemus did on the night he met Jesus in person.

April 17 — DISCOVERING OUR WORTH — John 4:1-30 

Poem by Hafiz – “A Golden Compass”

The woman at the well spent most of her time as an outcast, but on one fateful day met Jesus and discovered her infinite worth.  We will explore together Jesus’ affirmation of the wondrous spirit that lives in each one of us and the affirmation of our beloved and worthy status.

April 24 — LIFE WITH THE FRIEND — John 14:15-19 

Poem by Hafiz – “Cast All Your Votes for Dancing”

Jesus promised his followers that upon his departure he would send another, the Spirit, who would continue to guide them in wisdom and in truth.  Hafiz talks about “the friend,” in whose light we find that we are being healed of our ailments.  We will explore the call to a joyful life of walking in the Spirit!

May 1 —  PEACE AND JOY — John 14:27-29 

Poem by Hafiz — “You Don’t Have to Act Crazy Anymore”

In the midst of the chaos and challenge of life, it seems counterintuitive to think of peace and joy as a choice we can make.  But as Hafiz points out, “we don’t have to act crazy anymore.”  The spirit and presence of God with us presents us with the choice each day to choose joy and peace.

May 8 — COMFORT & PROTECTION — John 17:6-13 

Poem by Hafiz — “Keeping Watch”

Even when we head into seasons of great conflict and struggle, we are assured by Jesus that the Spirit and presence of God is keeping watch over us.  Even in these moments, this assurance can give us moments of joy in the midst of great challenge.


Poem by Hafiz — “I Will Hire You as a Minstrel”

The call on Pentecost Sunday is to share the good news of Jesus and the joy that it brings throughout all the world.  Hafiz writes that God has hired us as a minstrel to galavant across the land bringing the songs of joy to the people in greatest need.  We will be challenged to take this contagious joy and share it with others!


christ's entry Join us this week on an inward journey of spiritual growth as we follow Jesus into the valley and back up again, listening to his challenge to remove our masks and to embrace the wonderful reality of our true selves. We have reading suggestions, questions for reflection and Holy Week services to facilitate your journey. See our special edition newsletter here for more details!

February & March Sermon Series

Join us in the months of February and March as we continue our series, “Do Not Be Afraid–The Call of Jesus in a Culture of Fear,” on Sundays at 10:30am.

In a world where the media reminds us daily of the reasons we should be afraid, we choose to ground ourselves in the Good News of Jesus Christ as told in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus spoke to people who were equally, if not more, afraid of what the future held. He invited them to prepare their hearts and minds for the ways that God was working and moving among them… all the while reminding them – DO NOT BE AFRAID!

FEBRUARY 10 ASH WEDNESDAY Mark 9:30-37 – 7pm, Freedom Hub

Jesus challenges his disciples to discover that the journey downward is actually the journey upward. 


The rich young ruler struggles with the idea of what it means to let go of all he has.  We will have community discussion this week around privilege and faith.

FEBRUARY 21 – ACKNOWLEDGING OUR BLIND SPOTS – Mark 10:32-52 (Rev. Dr. Susan Smith Preaching)

When Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, it exposed the blindness found in those who had been following him all along.


Jesus’ parable is directed to the chief priests, scribes, and those in authority.  It is a direct affront to the injustice they are using to oppress people.

MARCH 6 – GIVING GOD OUR ALL – Mark 12:28-44

The scripture challenges us to confront our fear of giving God our all and trusting in the limitations and guidelines that God has set for us.

MARCH 13 – WATCHING FOR ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS – Mark 13:1-8, 24-37 (Pastor Robb Preaching)

Nothing is quite so dramatic as talking about the end of the world. We can get obsessed with predictions, trapped in fear, or even embarrassed by all the drama.  Yet Jesus found it important for his disciples to face the darkness around them and to hold onto the light....

MARCH 20 – PALM SUNDAY – Mark 11:1-11

Reflections on the humble Savior who subverted the power structures as he entered the city on a donkey. 

MARCH 24 MAUNDY THURSDAY 7pm, Maynard Ave. UMC, 2350 Indianola Ave.

Join our friends at Maynard for a reflective night of storytelling and singing about the last night of Jesus’ life.

MARCH 25 – GOOD FRIDAY – CRUCIFIXION – Mark 15:16-39 – 7pm, Freedom Hub (Jason Leighton Preaching)

 Jason will lead us in a reflective service around Jesus’ death.


Those who were there on that first Easter morning had to confront their fears to get to the place of celebration of the resurrection.

The Struggle Is Real - Pastor April's Sermon - 1/31/16

The Struggle Is Real

Mark 6:1-29

Given by Rev. April Blaine on Sunday, January 31, 2016

Early Friday morning around 2:45am, two individuals, who had snuck into the church building earlier in the evening emerged from, most likely, the Freedom Hub and began to wander around the building.  They set off the alarm, of course, and not knowing the access code, they ripped the keypad off the wall – shattering it into pieces.  They went outside and came back in this time with a large brick which they then used to smash through the glass in Sile’s office, climb through the window and start rummaging through the boxes of the staff and others who work here.  They were obviously looking for cash since they left all the checks unharmed.  Unfortunately for them, we A – don’t keep cash lying around in our boxes and B – don’t have much cash to begin with so they didn’t find much.  Also unfortunately for them – they cut themselves when smashing the key pad and so left a trail of blood on the floors and in the office.  Somehow, the alarm company didn’t think it prudent after the 14th trip of the alarm to call Lynne back and let her know that something very wrong was going on in the building (something to which we had a long conversation about Friday morning) -  so no police came.  And finally a little after 3:30, they realized that they weren’t going to find anything and out they went from the front door.

Needless to say when staff arrived on Friday morning – they were alarmed.  The police came out and took a sweep of the area, collected blood and fingerprints and along with the security company, helped us piece through what at happened.

We were all relieved that nothing had been stolen, but we were all a little shaken.  Knowing that I had been the last one out of the building – along with Ekundayo, our new Freedom School Executive Director – and that as we were doing the final walk through and checks… they were already there.

We’ve been talking this month about the call Jesus makes – Do Not Be Afraid.

But Friday’s events reminded me that this call to Not Be Afraid – comes to us in a world where there are lots of things to be afraid of.

A world where, unfortunately, our fear is not always unwarranted.

Where there are real dangers.

And people who wish to do harm, to steal, and even to do violence.

The Struggle is REAL.

So, what is the call for us as Christians in the face of real danger – in the face of those who wish us harm?

How does the phrase, Do Not Be Afraid become more than just a cute phrase – and really address the real fears and dangers of the world we live in.

So, in our Scripture today, Jesus and the disciples have recently learned of some really horrible and horrific news.

Their brother and friend, John the Baptist – who had been taken into custody in Mark 1 for his preaching by King Herod.  John the Baptist, in a sick and twisted story of power and coercion, has been beheaded by Herod – in an attempt to appease his ego and his queen.

I can’t even imagine what they would have been feeling.  The grief, the sorrow, the fear.

And on top of this, our Scripture today tells us that the tides are beginning to shift for Jesus.  He goes home – to the place where he was raised and nurtured.  He teaches and preaches about the Kingdom of God.

And they absolutely can’t hear him.  They don’t understand.  Their hearts are not open.  Maybe it was the fact that they remembered him as the carpenter’s son, or maybe they just couldn’t be open to what God was doing.  Either way – the response was the same.

Just after this, Jesus sends the disciples out – in pairs for the journey.  He warned them that people would likely not always welcome them.  That there would be dangers and that some would not be ready to receive them.  Shake the dust from your feet – he said – and move on.

And so they went – and the Scripture tells us – that King Herod took notice and worried about what they were doing.  Thinking that somehow John the Baptist was rasied from the dead.

The reality of our lives and worlds is that we are not always safe.  We are not always emotionally safe – we walk into places and spaces where  others might judge or reject us.

And for some of us – there are actually spaces – where someone might actually wish to do us harm.

The struggle is real.

My African-American brothers and sisters and my Muslim brothers and sisters have shared with me story after story about what it is like to live in a world where they are not always safe.  Where their fears are warranted.  Where people seek to cause emotional and even physical damage and hurt because they do not understand and they themselves are afraid.

The struggle is real.

8 years ago, after a dear friend of mine was assaulted in her home one morning, she was too scared to come out of her door.  The fear was real and powerful.

Her struggle was real.

And fear is a powerful emotion.  It’s also a useful emotion.  Fear often helps keep us safe – it is what reminds us to lock up our cars and houses – it’s what reminds me to not walk alone around campus at night – and to not stand too close to the edge of a cliff.  We are thankful for the contribution that fear makes to our ability to make more sensible decisions.

But fear can also consume us.  It can skew our perspectives – It can cause us to build up walls  to protect ourselves, convincing ourselves that if we stay where it is safe, then no one else can hurt or harm us.

The problem is that when we are consumed by fear, it is hard for us to really heal from trauma and real hurt.

And so I find it so fascinating that in the face of real danger – in a world where it was not safe for Jesus and his disciples – physically or emotionally –

Jesus decides to send the disciples out on mission.  Instead of walling themselves up and keeping safe, Jesus sends them out – into the place of vulnerability and risk.

And he does two things that are noteworthy.

He doesn’t send them alone.

And He tells them that they must embody a life of trust.  Trusting that God will provide a place for them to eat and sleep every night.

It appears that trust is the antidote of fear.

And when, not if, people reject them and ridicule them – they are to shake the dust from their feet.

And keep on moving.

So, that is what we will try to do here at Summit.  We won’t be closing up our building or cease to provide hospitality.

We will be who we are and we will continue to welcome all people.

But we’ll also be smart.  We will rely on the support of each other.  We won’t lock up the building on our own.  We will trust that God will be with us.  And we will not let the actions of the minority impact the mission we have to do in this place.

So, in the face of the real danger that is present in our world – where is God inviting you to Not be Afraid – to surround yourselves with support.

To trust in God –

And to prepare to shake the dust from your feet when you encounter those who cannot accept your message of love.

Let’s pray.