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Eastertide

April 18, 2016

In our congregation‘s worship time yesterday, an appreciation for our local climate was expressed. In this part of the country we typically experience distinct seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. Most years, each season receives its due time-even if winter feels like it lasts much longer than the others, and even if we do get April snow once in a while. Each season offers a gift if we choose to accept it-a gift of time.

We also have seasons in our spiritual life. The current season in the Christian Liturgical year is traditionally called “Eastertide,” meaning “Easter time” or “Easter season.” It’s a time to celebrate-Christ is risen! It’s a time when we we are most likely to say the word “indeed.” We believe that the resurrection of Jesus was the incredible institution of everlasting life. Easter helps us to envision and embody the new life Jesus taught his disciples to pray for. I like how my friend Drew Hart described it:

Everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. It is the game changer. Much more, it is the initiation of a new order of justice & peace.(1)

How are we noticing new life? How are we participating in the new way of justice and peace? We celebrate this resurrection and new life on Easter Sunday…and we keep going.

One day is not enough time to celebrate Easter.

The early Christians seemed to agree. They gathered for meals and worship on Sunday, the beginning of the week. The gospel writers all noted that the world changed on “the first day of the week.”(2) Each Sunday then, no matter what time of year, is a celebration of resurrection. We probably need more than one day to celebrate, to learn how to notice the new life around us, and to live into our role in the new creation.(3)

Throughout Eastertide this year our congregation has been looking for signs of new life and creating space to share these observations with one another when we gather. In the course of our meal liturgy yesterday, I was reminded of one that brought the Easter story to life for me in a new way.

Shortly before Easter Sunday, one of our church members told me that he had to move the “stone of help.” Our congregation has a stone that we use as an Ebenezer stone (1 Sam 7:12). During a worship gathering each August we write on this stone all the ways God has helped us in the past year. Then the stone is placed in a garden near the entrance to the meetinghouse, as a weekly reminder of what God has done. This practice helps us remember that God is our help, and is a way to reaffirm our commitment to be the church in this community—to live as Christ’s Body, offering healing and hope.

The thing is, where the stone had been placed last August was a spot where this church member thought something was going to happen. So he moved the stone. And sure enough-as if creation was also observing the Liturgical year (4)-the spring flowers started to return.

EastertideRollTheStone

Photo by Chris Nickels. April 17, 2016

Literally, the stone was rolled away and there was new life!

Indeed!

Alleluia!

I took a picture and share it here as a visual for inspiration and meditation. If you like, comment below and share:

What signs of new life are you seeing?

Blessings to you this Eastertide!


(1) Drew G.I. Hart, Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/Drew.GI.Hart/posts/939092022873289?fref=nf

(2) See Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1.

(3) See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.

(4) Apparently creation is pretty “high church” in this part of the country.

 

Holy Saturday Living

April 6, 2016
DroneProtest1

Photo by Chris Nickels. Taken on March 26, 2016 outside the drone war command center in Horsham, PA.

I’ve rarely done anything special on Holy Saturday. As a Christian pastor Holy Week is normally full of worship services and and events that help the congregation trace the steps of Jesus to the cross, as well as preparing to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Saturday is often a time to rest, reflect, and catch my breath in the midst of  the season (and to try to answer the questions about Jesus’ death that my inquisitive children are now beginning to ask).

The bible doesn’t say much about Holy Saturday, though some passages can be helpful for reflection on this day (the lectionary offers Lamentations 3:1–9, 19–24, Psalm 31:1–4, 15–16, 1 Peter 4:1–8, and John 19:38–42). Whatever happened on the original Holy Saturday, we know that Jesus entered into the reality of death. Though we look forward to Easter Sunday, perhaps Holy Saturday could be a formational instrument for followers of Jesus.

Christopher Hays suggests that Holy Saturday should be thought of as a day of quiet and of mission to those who are suffering(1). Claudia Highbaugh notes that “[Holy Saturday] is a day for us to witness to the reality of suffering, even as we call out for God’s presence”(2). I like these ideas and the possibilities for actively living into the Holy Week story.

“Endless war” is a name for a manifestation of suffering and death in our world today. I was a delegate at the Mennonite Church USA Convention last summer, and there we passed a resolution concerning endless war defining it as,

a different kind of war, without traditional armies operating under rules of war. The entire world is the battlefield. The enemy is shifting and ill-defined; sometimes it is a group with a history of recent collaboration with the U.S. Often the enemy is described vaguely as “terror” or “insecurity.” (3)

War becomes a constant state, and one of the ways this is carried out is through drone warfare. The resolution linked above names some of the terrible consequences of using these death from a distance machines. As a follower of Jesus (an innocent killed through state violence), I believe that war is not the will of God and that these tactics which create the opposite of God’s shalom should be exposed for what they are-a path that leads to destruction (Mt 7:12-14). Additionally, many citizens are likely unaware of what is being done in the name of their “security,” the effect this has on innocent people abroad, as well as the consequences for drone operators at the controls.

The resolution had three action steps. The first was to call congregations to renewed the emphasis on trusting God and the way of Jesus instead of violence. The second calls our denomination to “ministries of healing and renewal in response to the moral injuries experienced by those who feel the guilt for having killed in the name of security and experienced by those who feel no guilt for the killing done on their behalf.” The third action step involved seeking public ecumenical witness(4), demonstrating the spirit of Psalm 20:7:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Since the resolution passed I’ve wanted to find ways to begin living it out. One way I do this with my congregation is through participation in a local church and veterans network. Through this network we have had members trained in trauma awareness specific to veterans (and their families), and we have also participated in coordinated public witness to show love to veterans who are suffering from tremendous burdens. I have also felt the desire to personally commit to a more active peace witness in light of the harsh realities of “endless war.”

So on Holy Saturday this year I attended a protest. The base where the drone command center is located is very familiar to me, as I grew up nearby. Here I met a number of faithful peacemakers who instantly welcomed me into the cause. For a few hours on a Saturday we held our signs at one of the Philly suburbs busiest intersections as hundreds of vehicles passed by. Some drivers showed their displeasure with unpleasant comments and hand gestures. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the greater number of travelers who honked in support of the witness or gave a thumbs up. I also noticed some drivers slowing down to read the signs and banners as they drove past. If they become interested in learning more, then perhaps this was a small sign of renewal in these brief moments.

I’ve tried to put myself into the story of the original Holy Saturday, thinking about what it would have felt like from the perspective of those who were there. Being touched by tragedy, feeling completely overwhelmed, and not having the benefit of knowing what would happen on the third day, means I would just have to live into the reality of the present day. Though I might have an expectation for God’s kingdom to come in Christ, it sure feels like death is winning the day. Life probably kept on going for many other people. And yet it still feels like we should be doing something, no matter how small or insignificant.

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Lk 23:50-56 NRSV)

Joseph went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And a small group-Joseph and the women-lived into Saturday as they intentionally cared for Jesus. When you believe that all life is precious then when someone dies you acknowledge them, remember them, and faithfully care for them. Perhaps your action could be a witness to the governor-who might learn that even the life of his supposed enemy is precious.

The folks I met at the protest reminded me of these faithful friends of Jesus. They are waiting and working expectantly for peace-some of them have been for decades. They are faithfully doing what needs to be done in the Saturday of violence and death.

I noticed that if a driver yelled an obscenity or made a derogatory comment, the gentleman standing next to me would calmly respond by offering the peace sign to each detractor. As I drove home I continued to think about his simple action and witness. And while on a stretch of route 202 I was reminded of the risen Jesus, who walked around a fearful world offering the greeting, “Peace be with you.” This gentleman was doing a small thing, but it made a significant impact on me. Standing up and offering a word of peace is part of the work on Saturday.

In reflecting on the above Luke text, N.T. Wright offered the following:

“Our part is to be prayerfully faithful in the small things that we can see need doing. We cannot tell what God will then do.” (5)

I met folks at the protest whose witness for peace totally puts mine to shame. They inspire me and give me hope. So I’ll be back again to join them, because there will be more Saturdays and more small things to do to promote peaceful alternatives in the face of fear. And I’ll wait expectantly for what God will do.

Peace be with you.


(1) Christopher B. Hays, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Kindle Locations 11000.

(2) Claudia Highbaugh, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Kindle Locations 11150.

(3) “Resolution: Faithful Witness Amid Endless War,” http://mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Faithful_Witness_Amid_Endless_War_Resolution_English.pdf

(4) Ibid.

(5) N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 112.

 

Remembering Black History Month

February 29, 2016

 

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In recent years, in my small Mennonite congregation, we have made it a priority each February to celebrate Black History Month when we gather for worship. This celebration has taken various forms, through: singing African American spirituals (and learning context to the songs), sermons, intentional moments to highlight persons and events in black history, a testimony from a church member, or children’s stories (1). It is important for us to do this as a worshiping community whose membership is mostly white. The practice of celebrating Black History Month helps us to learn history we were not taught, to view the world from the vantage point of those who have been oppressed (and perhaps start learning how to incorporate that perspective into how we do theology), and to grow as neighbors and followers of Jesus. And it is also a small way to demonstrate that #blacklivesmatter, even if the forces of a white dominant society constantly seek to declare otherwise.

There were a number of voices which helped shape our worship time this past month, in which we also were exploring the life and ministry of Jesus during the season of Lent. Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and an activist, who helped us explore the kind of faith that Jesus (also an educator and activist) was developing in his disciples.

Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.

-Mary McLeod Bethune

With the help of Dr. Vincent Harding we explored the history of a familiar, and often misunderstood, song, “Kumbaya.” Far from being a passive and naive musical exercise, the song is about a deep spiritual truth that can inspire action. It’s a sincere plea for the Lord to “come by here.”

Whenever somebody jokes about “Kumbaya,” my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types to come and help in the process of voter registration and freedom school teaching and taking great risks on behalf of that state and of this nation. … In group after group, people were singing: “Kumbaya. Come by here my Lord. Somebody’s missing Lord. Come by here.”

-Dr. Vincent Harding (2)

Sheyann Webb and Drew Hart helped us explore the defiant and subversive ministry of Jesus as he marched toward Jerusalem in the pages of Luke’s gospel.

Jesus was defiant and determined to continue manifesting his subversive kingdom right within and under the jurisdiction of the powers until he clashed with the establishment in Jerusalem… He would not be turned around. A similar sentiment was expressed in the 1960’s when the people sang that they wouldn’t let anyone ‘turn us around.’ Jesus was on a mission. As his disciples living in a racialized society, we must reenvision what types of prophetic words need to be spoken in our day to unveil the hidden evil forces of oppression and hierarchy, which have been permissible in our society for too long.

-Drew Hart (3)

At this point, please stop reading this post and go order a copy of Drew’s fantastic new book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.

As we reflected on a Luke 13:31-35 we watched a clip from the film about Ms. Webb’s life, Selma, Lord, Selma, to help us imagine modern day expressions of this insistent, prophetic, and subversive way of Jesus.

On a personal level, there are two TED talks which have helped me grow and be challenged toward action. The first features Mellody Hobson and is titled, “Color Blind or Color Brave?”

The second video features Vernā Myers speaking about overcoming our biases and learning to walk toward our discomfort.

These talks invite us to pursue greater awareness-of self, and of the dominant racial frames that exist in society. Both messages are well worth one’s time and are a good invitation toward uncomfortable yet healthy action.(4) One of my responses is to commit to listen deeply and see how these messages can take root in my life.

How did you remember Black History Month this year? What are your favorite practices for celebrating in a congregational context?


(1) This book works well for a children’s story in a congregational setting: The Story of Rosa Parks (Candy Cane Press, 2007), http://www.amazon.com/Story-Rosa-Parks-Patricia-Pingry/dp/0824966872.

(2) “You’ll Never Hear Kumbaya the Same Way Again”, http://www.onbeing.org/blog/youll-never-hear-kumbaya-same-way-again/3860

(3) Drew G. I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, (Herald Press, 2016) 66.

(4) Both of these TED talks are part of a Black History Month playlist, which can be found here: http://www.ted.com/playlists/230/10_great_talks_to_celebrate_bl.

The Virtue of Forbearance

November 12, 2015

This weekend our Mennonite conference will meet together as a delegate assembly for our annual gathering. We will be considering a few resolutions about what it means to be church together when we sometimes hold very differing perspectives. In preparation I pulled out an old copy of Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, and read from her essay on forbearance-an important word in Mennonite circles these days.

The brittle and divisive climate within the contemporary Christian church has forced me to take more seriously the value of forbearance as a Christian virtue. A conscious forbearance of the sort that Jesus demonstrates so amply in the gospels, and Paul exhorts us to in his epistles… Forbearance may be what has helped the two most ancient forms of Christian community-church congregations and monasteries-maintain their precious and precarious unity. It may be that with good care such unity grows supple enough to withstand the demands for strict uniformity that so quickly produce division.

The polarization that characterizes so much of American life is risky business in a church congregation, but especially so in a monastic community. The person you’re quick to label and dismiss…is also a person you’re committed to live, work, pray, and dine with for the rest of your life. Anyone who knows a monastery well knows that it is no exaggeration to say that you find Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh living next door to each other. Mother Angelica and Mary Gordon. Barney Frank and Jesse Helms. Not only living together in close quarters, but working, eating, praying, and enjoying (and sometimes enduring) recreation together, every day, often for fifty years or more. It’s not easy. But Christian monks have existed for close to eighteen hundred years, almost as long as the church itself.

How do they do it? They know, as one Anglican nun has put it, that their primary ministry is prayer, and that prayer transcends theological differences. They also have the wisdom of St. Benedict, who at the end of his Rule points out that there are two types of zeal; one which is bitter and divisive, separating monks from God and from each other, and another which can lead them together into everlasting life. Employing scripture (Romans 12:10), he defines this “good zeal” as acts of love: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other.”

Monastic people also make deliberate and repeated use of the tools that they believe Jesus Christ has given them to overcome the temptation to condemn one another. They say the Lord’s Prayer together at least three times a day, which is the minimum that St. Benedict sets forth in his rule for monastic life. He says he found this necessary because of the “thorns of contention” that spring up daily when we try to live with other people. Continually asking God to forgive us as we forgive others, Benedict suggests, warns us away from the vice of self-righteousness and also lack of love. [1]

I go back and forth with Mennonites and forbearance. There are times when we demonstrate this posture fairly well and I feel energized. But there are times when we seem incapable of it and I grow weary. I’ve heard the word forbearance used as a synonym for “compromise,” but I think I like Norris’ term better-a “virtue.”

In her description this virtue includes a true commitment to live together, with the tensions but also with the daily activities that are perhaps more spiritual than we realize (eating, playing, working, enjoying). It’s possible that this virtue could be a path to profound spiritual formation if we are willing to walk it.

This virtue also acknowledges a posture that allows for this commitment to one another to become reality-a posture of prayer. I’m being drawn to think about how this kind of prayer posture shows up in Mennonite life. In both denominational and conference settings we prioritize our confession of faith. The problem I’ve observed is that we Mennonites don’t seem very clear on the purpose of a theological tool like a confession of faith. I’m glad to see that one of the statements our local delegates will discuss this weekend names this fact. We lack a shared understanding (is it prescriptive or descriptive?/is a confession the same as a creed?). Which means there’s preliminary work needed if such a tool is to be most helpful for life in our faith community. So what if instead of quoting “the confession” all the time (at least the parts we agree with), we intentionally worked at developing a communal prayer life that might help us transcend our differences? And let’s not just stop at prayer-we can also eat together, play together, serve together, and work together.

Maybe with a different posture we could learn to love each other more in the process. That would certainly be a good witness in our communities.

At a recent meeting with my congregation’s leadership we meditated on a part of Romans 12, seeking to prayerfully let the words sink in and affect our hearts, minds, and lives. So as we continue to think about forbearance, I’ll close with those words and invite us to do the same.

love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. (Romans 12:10-12 NRSV)

 


[1] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998) 158-159.

 

Companions

October 27, 2015

 

 

[adapted from a sermon delivered at Spring Mount Mennonite Church on Sunday October 25, 2015]

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27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32 NRSV)

There’s something powerful and sacred about sharing food at a table.

More than any other gospel writer, Luke presents Jesus eating and drinking with people. 60 examples of this activity have been counted just in Luke’s gospel, so it’s not a stretch to say that Luke presents a theology of eating and drinking. But it’s not only in Luke’s gospel, so clearly this table activity was widely known as part of Jesus’ life and ministry.[1] Therefore, an important way to know Jesus and to join in his mission is to spend time at tables with others. #WhoWouldJesusEatWith?

As a congregation that has been actively exploring how meals can be an important part of spiritual formation I hope that this element of Luke’s writings might be both a challenge to grow further, and also an encouragement in our life together as we seek to display the kingdom of God in our community.

Justo González writes,

Eating and drinking are not only a physical necessity, but also an important element in the fabric of any society. Even to this day, when we sit together with someone at a table, this implies some sort of relationship. It may be a matter of friendship, of business, or of simply trying to get to know each other better. But in any case, sitting with another at a table is both a sign and a way to create and develop relationships. [2]

People who we develop relationships with are sometimes called companions. If you study the origin of the word companion you find an interesting linking of food and relationship. It’s a combination of 2 Latin words: com (“with”) and panis (“bread”). So our English word “companion” means “with whom one eats bread.”[3]

González puts it this way:

“a companion is someone with whom we break bread. In some societies in which violence is frequent and life is unstable, sharing bread is a sign of friendship or at least of respect.”[4]

Sharing meals together creates opportunities, like breaks in busy schedules, maybe even breaks in conflict, and also creates space for deeper relationships to form. Companions can develop friendships, generosity, and comfort, while at the same time lessening fear, scarcity, and isolation.

With this idea in mind, let’s look at the story in Luke 5. To a 1st century Jewish audience, Levi was a despised outsider—someone socially and religiously out of bounds for a person of faith to relate to. But this despised person has turned and followed Jesus (i.e. he “repented”; v.27-28). And then, this despised person throws a great banquet for Jesus.

29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house;

Notice something important here—Levi gave the banquet for Jesus. And Jesus accepted and received this gift of hospitality from Levi. In our zealousness to serve others (especially people who might be less fortunate), do we ever come to the relationship thinking that WE are the ones who have something to offer and THEY just need to receive our help? Can a real relationship ever develop if it’s so one-sided: one side always thinks they have the gift to give and is less willing to also receive the gift from their neighbor? Do we understand the difference between a relationship of paternalism and one of mutuality? In the text, Jesus provides an example for all who wish to engage in service and mission, showing us how to practice mutuality, how to build relationships, and how to receive hospitality.

The key phrase that I’d like to focus on is in v.29:

“Then Levi gave a great banquet for [Jesus] in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.”

Who is the “them” who Jesus was sitting at the table with? “Tax collectors and sinners,” the despised friends of the despised Levi. It’s clear that these were people that the supposedly “righteous” folks looked at with contempt. It’s often easy for people who are welcomed within a group to have contempt for people on the outside of the group. The narrative of “Us vs Them” is a common and sad reality throughout human history.

Perhaps another reason this upset Jesus’ faith community had to do with what “sitting at the table” meant. The original word used in the Greek text is “reclining”—it could therefore read as “there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others reclining at the table with them.”[5] This reclining posture was common in ancient times. Some meals in those days were intended for deep conversation, and guests would recline around a table for long periods of time. This was no fast-food meal with a little small talk. This was an investment. Reclining at the table involved taking time to really be present with others, discussing important subjects, having conversations, while eating and drinking together.

Sitting at the table was a chance to develop companions. So I wonder if perhaps this was why the supposedly “righteous” folks were getting so uncomfortable? If Jesus was walking around our community today, where would he be reclining at the table? Who would he be eating with? Who’s hospitality would he receive? And who would be upset by his actions?

What can it look like to follow Jesus and live out this text? As we wonder about this, I’d like to share a creative expression that encourages the importance of eating together and developing companions in a diverse and fearful world.

Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that serves a menu from nations the United States is in conflict with. They provide information about these various global locations and host events and discussions. They seek to use

“the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.”

I definitely plan to visit Conflict Kitchen the next time I’m in Pittsburgh. [After worship on Sunday, one of the youth in the congregation came up to me and said, “Let’s plan a church road trip!”] I wonder what lessons congregations and denominations could learn from the Conflict Kitchen model, and how it might be an opportunity to bless our communities?

I invite us to imagine what it could mean to embrace Jesus’ theology of eating and drinking and live it out, and imagine what it could mean to sit at the table with others, as Jesus did.

Prayer for today:

Lord Jesus, by your Spirit may you help us
to be people who give and receive hospitality,
to be people who join in your sacred mission of eating and drinking with all neighbors,
to be people who continue to sit at the table,
that we might truly become companions with you and with others
in the abundant life you offer.
AMEN.


[1] Justo L. González, The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 77.

[2] González, 78.

[3] Maria Khodorkovsky, “Etymology of ‘Companion'”. Beyond Words – Language Blog, 29 September 2008. http://www.altalang.com/beyond-words/2008/09/29/etymology-of-companion/

[4] González, 78.

[5] González, 80.

 

#My6WordStoryAboutChurch

August 2, 2015

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This summer in my congregation, the theme for our worship gatherings could be described as “church life.” We have reflected on a number of scriptures together as part of this theme (e.g. John 16, 17, 1 Cor 13, Col 1, 3), hosted witness workers who shared with us about the church in a West African village, and received reports from members of our congregation who attended the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City and the Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg. To put it simply: this summer church has been about church.

In worship today we celebrated the Lord’s Supper and reflected on the words of Ephesians 4:1-16.

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. 2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

7 God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. 8 That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.[a]

9 What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10 The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.

Our congregational response to this scripture reading (and to the summer theme) was to create a 6 word story about the church. We shared the stories on social media with the hashtag #My6WordStoryAboutChurch. It was a great way to do some creative writing and reflection, and to help us notice what the Spirit has been bringing to our minds about the purpose and calling of the church. Below are the stories we shared with each other this morning:

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

“Light through darkness; living the peace.”

“Jesus’ hands and feet in community.”

“Sharing God’s love with the world.”

“Supporting each other on the journey.”

“Growing in every way through Christ.”

“Sharing God’s love with each other.”

“Church brings me a great blessing.”

“The church provides healing and redemption.”

“I, you, we; salt, light encouragement.”

“Supportive/Sharing Christ/Fellowship/Friendship/Sharing”

“Place of worship, fellowship, and encouragement.”

“Jesus’ hands incarnated to the world.”

“Frail people partnering with God’s mission.”

“My anchor to God and life.”

“Offering hope to a broken world.”

“Being formed, being sent, by Christ.” (this is also our church mission statement)

“Playing, Surfing, God, Praying, Greeting, Meeting.” (the contribution from my 6 year old son)

I’m thankful for this congregation’s willingness to listen to the Spirit and teach each other today. My hope is that we will grow more and more into Christ, be observant to what God is doing and join in, and be a foretaste of the shalom that God desires for the whole world.

Reflecting with Howard Thurman

June 25, 2015

Despite all that has been said about the pattern of segregation in our society, it is my conviction that time is against it. In fact, much of the current effort to hold the line may be viewed as a back-against-the-wall endeavor. The more the world becomes a neighborhood in which time and space are approaching zero as a limit, the more urgent becomes the issue of neighborliness. Man can now circle the entire earth’s surface in a matter of minutes. Communication is now instant! This means that the external symbols of segregation-the wall, the ghetto, the separate locale as a mandatory restriction binding upon groups of people because of race, color, creed, or national origin-cannot survive modern life. The emphasis here is upon the two words “external symbols.” When I suggest that time is against the pattern of segregation, I am referring to the symbols. The walls are crumbling-this is one of the dramatic facts of our world. The fact itself is very frightening to many who have lived always behind the walls, within the walls, or beyond the walls. It is deeply disturbing also to those who have found the existence of the walls essential to their own peace, well-being, and security. Out of sight, out of mind-this can no longer be the case.” -Howard Thurman [1]

Even though Thurman was wrote this passage in the 1960’s it contains much wisdom for today. I’m reading it today in the midst of calls for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. I hope that flag is removed. But I also hope that the removal does not end the conversation about what that flag represents. We must still acknowledge the depths of racism and white supremacy in this country and work to uproot it. Otherwise we will still fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mindset that Thurman called for an end of. Even if symbols and walls crumble, what remains are the underlying anxieties and root causes behind those structures. On those realities we must stay focused.

I really like Thurman’s phrase, “the world becomes a neighborhood.” As I read that line I was reminded of the neighborhood where I grew up, where my parents still live. Today, many of my parents’ neighbors hail from places such as Egypt, Bangladesh, India, and Laos. The neighborhood’s library of religious faith-once consisting largely of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism-now also includes Hinduism, Islam, and Coptic Orthodox Christianity (and perhaps more). When I visit, I notice the tremendous amount of hospitality and care shown from one neighbor to another. People are becoming friends and learning from one another there. The “neighborliness” that is developing there gives me hope.

 


[1] Schaper, Donna, and Howard Thurman. 40-day Journey with Howard Thurman (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2009), 88.