Month: September 2013

The Church in the World Today

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It helps, now and then, to stop and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are the workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Utener of Saginaw in 1979 in dedication to Bishop Romera

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I am finishing my final days of a doctorate class on Church in the World today. The objective of the course is to study the changing landscape of Christianity around the world and to think about ways we educate our congregations on these changes. We talked about mega churches, evangelical churches, churches in the global south, African churches, Korean churches, International churches, Reformed churches and home churches. We have fractured the church in so many ways, the body of Christ looks like shard glass. I wonder if all of these diverse and beautiful ways of worshiping and reading the Bible and praying was the purpose or the painful side of Pentecost. The more we break off, the more we need to stay connected. Ironically as difficult as it is to engage in inter-religious dialogue it is even more difficult it is to engage in ecumenical dialogue. How strange that we find ourselves in competition with each other.

I like big churches. I like small churches. I pretty much really like church. I am in no way interested in competing with them. I am interested in being in community with God’s people. I am interested in acknowledging our common interests, desires and hopes for building the Kingdom of God on Earth.

I think it would do us well to remember the words of Paul “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Did he know when he wrote this letter to the Galatians that we would still be trying to live out that vision today?

It’s a humbling truth that nothing we do is complete and the kingdom of God is always beyond us.

I have no idea where the church going, but I do know that our desire to please God, pleases God. I also know that we aren’t perfect. But we are enough.

We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Amen

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Birth Stories

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I thought my third birth story would be a piece of cake. Afterall, I was experienced, having given birth two times before. How different could it be?

I should have considered that the child within was significantly bigger than the previous babies.

I should have thought about what the stress of moving five months pregnant may have had on the birth.

I should have had the clarity to realize that every birth was unique.

After 20 hours of labor and the phrase, “lack of oxygen to the brain,” we had an emergency C-section. I have never known sheer terror like that. I have never known fear beyond reason. I have never gone into such a deep chasm of fear where I met God and said in the most sincere prayer of my life, “Take me. Take me. Please take me. Save him. Make him ok. Take me instead.”

Jackson was born. He was fine. He was big. But he was fine.

Today he is seven.

I struggled for a long time after his birth with that experience of fear and that conversation with God. I can go back to that traumatic moment like it was seven seconds ago. Yes, there is something about the frailty of life and the cliché to never take today for granted. But there is something more.

Gratitude.

Gratitude is the response to fear.

Gratitude that today all is well.

Gratitude for moments that bring us to our knees and show us what we are made of.

Gratitude that in our darkest moment, there is a Presence, waiting for us there.

I would like to go back and nurse and hold my sweet baby boy, one more time. There are no more babies in my house.

Instead, this morning, I will creep upstairs and find a big boy, sprawled out on his bed, surrounded by stuffed animals and Captain Underwear Books, and Lego’s and I will put my arms around him and kiss his cheek and whisper, “Happy Birthday.”

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The 100th Post: “A New Story”

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It appears that autumn, or the assurance of autumn has suddenly appeared. Like she was alway there, even on our hottest days, waiting to relieve us of our sweat. Transitioning into new seasons are paradoxical. They can be welcoming and painful. Suddenly the silk, summer flowers and wreath on my door look out of place. Suddenly I feel the need to wear a scarf, put away the sandals and buy a pumpkin latte. Suddenly things begin to change and there is nobody asking if we are ready. The change is before us, ready or not.

New seasons bring new stories.

This is my 100th post. I think it took me about a year to write a hundred entries. Thank for reading. If you are my friend in the real world, thanks for loving me and supporting me in my writing, and if you are a stranger in the cyber world, thanks for reading!

It’s been an amazing year of transition, birth, loss, grief, rebirth, joy, welcome, fatigue and moments of divine Grace. Moments when suddenly the presence of God has appeared, like the first gold leaf, and said, “Behold! I am with you always.”

Our Steadfast Companion, who comes in the gift a phone call, a friend, the Word, the earth, and the assurance that all things will die and will be reborn in new and exciting ways.

I believe that all people desire to be part of sacred communities where their stories are heard and their journeys are honored. So that on their 100th day, or 100th year, we may celebrate and give thanks for their sacred story.

Thanks for reading.

Below is a devotional that “happened” to be in my inbox this morning. I thought it was a perfect message of where our religious communities are today and where we are headed. My 100th entry was written well by John Hall. Please enjoy his writing below.

Peace be with you,
Shelly

– September 14, 2013 –
The New Story
By Jim Hall
We are living in a time when all around us old stories are dying and new stories are struggling to be born. It is by story that we understand who we are, how we came to be and what we are about. We all live by story, and we are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. New story emerges in many ways—as we let go of the old story and attend to ancient wisdom, to essence, to Sabbath rest, to dream, to song, to ceremony. Mostly it emerges as we try to live it out in the midst of the old story still around us, a process often filled with risk and conflict.

It’s a wonderful thing to think about story as a container for ancient knowledge and for self-understanding, really as a container for essence. It reminds me of what Oren Lyons, faith keeper of the Onandaga nation said to Bill Moyers years ago when Bill asked him how native people managed to survive all the hardships and repression enforced upon them: “As long as there is one to speak and one to listen, one to dance and one to sing, life will go on.” Stories, songs, ceremony—containers for essence.

How does this live in us as we wonder about a viable future for the Potter’s House, for Dayspring? Will we be here four more years? Will the cash be gone in two more years? Or will we, as Ojibway teacher Thomas Peacock has said, “be here forever because we are part of a much larger story”? One can examine the stories we are living by, and those we might live by in the future, at various levels: personal, cultural, planetary. There is much to learn about how to say good-bye to old stories that no longer fit, but served us well in the past. Our smaller stories are embedded in and shaped by the larger stories around us; our stories evolve over time. Hopefully they evolve, as Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has put it, from “life is about us” to “we are about life.” Over time we are invited into larger and larger stories. The earlier stories don’t drop away completely, but are contained within the larger stories.

Jesus lived a new story in the midst of the old. Into a story about obeying religious rules and keeping commandments in order to please God, came a new story: the rules are God’s gift to us, not our obligation to God. We are invited into God’s rest and order, not required to live up to a standard placed upon us. Dayspring, as Elizabeth O’Connor described it in Call to Commitment, is a place where we can enter into the rest of God. How shall we respond to this gift? Jesus shows us a way that is about passing it on, being loving and compassionate as God has been loving and compassionate to us. Jesus goes beyond structure to essence. Structures exist to serve essence.

Two primary stories: one self-serving and the other self-giving. Jesus could have spent his time trying to revise the old story, but he didn’t. He chose to act out his own authentic story, one about self-giving love and compassion. Living the new story in the midst of a very powerful old story involves considerable risk. If we are in pursuit of Jesus, we will be always moving from our own self-serving story to a self-giving story. In essence, we will be living a love story. How, as communities of faith, will we shift our story from “life is about us” to “we are about life”? How will our New Story be at its root a love story?

Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest, said: “The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, the gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. On that day, for the second time in the history of the world, human beings will have discovered fire.”

The New Story, for Dayspring, calls us to remember why we are here on these 200+ acres of woodlands, meadows, ponds and wildlife, and to remember our strengths: our roots in the long experience of The Church of the Saviour and its ongoing expressions; our long experience with shared leadership in worship and ministry; our deep spiritual base in silence and contemplation; our ministries, including a silent retreat center, a conference center, a creative earth ministry center, a mission group devoted to holding all of Dayspring and its challenges deeply in prayer, a developing permaculture market garden and a new children-exploring-Dayspring mission.

Yes, we face operating deficits; yes, fewer people show up for worship on Sunday mornings. I acknowledge this reality, but I also immerse myself in a story of abundance. The New Story, the love story, will guide us into an awareness of abundance, gratitude and entering into the Sabbath rest of God. The New Story ends very well.

Building a Foundation: Portion of Sermon on Luke 14:25-33

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I think one of the hardest things about being a Christian and being part of a religious community is overcoming the disconnect between what we do on Sunday and what do the rest of the week. Coming to church on Sunday morning, while for many of us may be a logistical nightmare in getting ourselves and our kids ready and out the door, is not the hard part of saying you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Further, this hour of contemplative worship, is not the hard part of being the church. No the cost of discipleship, the challenge of being the church in the world today, is far more daring than simply showing up.

In our scripture reading this morning Jesus lays it on the line. He has some final words to his disciples. It’s his rally day sermon. The disciples are getting ready to sign up for ministry, to serve in one way or another and Jesus is about to give them his requirements for serving. First he says, you have to leave home. You have to leave your family and you have to leave your possessions. The cost of discipleship requires putting the vision of God first in your life. Jesus probably met that both literally as well as figuratively. Being a disciple requires going outside of your safety net. It requires living outside of the familiar, the comfortable, and the protective space that gives you all you need and living with the people who share your DNA.

Therefore, being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires a measure of courage. Earnest Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Discipleship is easy to talk about, but takes far greater courage to live out.

In his speech entitled, “Citizenship is a Republic,” Theodore Roosevelt declared,
“It is not the critic who counts; the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done the better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives, valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without err and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worse, if fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Jesus says, “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” It takes great courage to carry the cross. But it is only by giving up the things the keep us comfortable and carrying the load of that which makes us uncomfortable that we are able to respond our calling to be disciples. Jesus doesn’t lay this out because he wants us to suffer, or be uncomfortable, or be lonely. He lays this out because he understands that we often, often, often put our priorities in things that do not sustain us.

We rely on things that do not give us strong foundations upon which to place our life and it’s priorities. Jesus makes this point when he says, “it’s a fool that doesn’t first sit down and estimate the costs before building a tower.” Jesus gives us the parameters of discipleship so that we can be successful. So that we can finish what we started.

The task is not to make Christian discipleship palatable, but to recognize it for what it is. God calls us to a new kind of living. To be a Christian means to be grounded in grace, and surrounded by God’s love. It also means to be willing to give of ourselves for the world around us. It means refusing to focus on what’s best for me and my own, but instead focusing on how I might live sacrificially, so that others might come to know God’s love. It means not asking what I have to gain from this faith, but asking instead what I am able to give. It means wrestling with challenging beliefs and concepts – often times being called to stand in direct opposition to the world that surrounds us. It also means acknowledging our sin and the sins of the world and recognizing that our sin can only be forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ. We may not want think about Jesus in flesh and bones any more than we want to think about sin, but my friends that’s the beauty of what Jesus means when he says he abides in us. It’s that the grace of God gets down to the core of our humanity and sees us for all we are in all of our fleshy reality.

As I have come to the end of my second week as your new pastor, I have continued to listen to the stories of this congregation and I know you some of you are anxious. I know some of you are angry. And I know some of you are hurt. And I know some of you are hopeful. I know there is an urgency to get some things fixed.

I suggest we do this. Let’s start by building a foundation. Let’s start with asking ourselves who it is that God is calling us to be and what it means to be disciples in the world today. For every time we think about what we need at OPPC, let’s think about what other’s in our community and world need. For every time we wish things were more comfortable, let’s remember the cross. For every time we worry about what we owe, let’s remember what we have been given. We need to know why we do what we do, before we do it. We need to understand who we are as one body, as one church, as one mission, as one foundation, before we go start building different rooms in the tower. For a foundation that is built in parts will crumble. This church is built on one foundation. It’s built on the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what that means for us as a community of disciples.

This will require courage and it will require hope and it will require sacrifice. But fear not, for God is with us.

Never place a period where God has placed a comma. That is a pretty good description of how we try to live out our faith in the world. We live with other people who believe differently and we give them the benefit of the doubt because we try to “never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

This isn’t something new with us as a church. In 1620, just before the Mayflower sailed with its load of Pilgrims bound for a new land, their pastor, John Robinson preached a sermon to the departing company. He said, “There will be yet more light to break forth from God’s Holy Word.” In other words, “God is still speaking.” Let those with ears listen.

Devotional: Losing Yourself

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A stream was working itself across the country, experiencing little difficulty. It ran around the rocks and through the mountains. Then it arrived at a desert. Just as it crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared. After many attempts the stream became very discouraged. It appears there was no way it could continue the journey.

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Then a voice came in the wind. “If you stay the way you are you cannot cross the sands, you cannot become more than a quagmire. To go further you will have to lose yourself.”

“But if I lose myself,” the stream cried, “I will never know what I am supposed to be.”

“Oh on the contrary,” said the voice. “If you lose yourself you will become more than you dreamed you could be.”

So the stream surrendered to the drying sun. And the clouds into which it was formed were carried by the raging wind for many miles. Once it passed the desert, the stream poured down from the skies, fresh and clean and full of energy that comes from storms. (adapted from the Sufi Tales: Psalm Journal, Joan Chittister, OSB).

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Labor Day Devotional

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

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I met a young Latino woman with two small children at the park today. Her boys and my son ran around the playground together, while we chatted on the bench.

We talked about the weather, agreeing it was far too hot. We talked about having boys, agreeing it was far too crazy. She told me that she worked as a night security guard, every night, from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM then she comes home and sleeps for an hour and then her two-year old wakes up, and her day job as a mother begins. She said, “I am so tired, but I want to work that shift so I can be home with my babies.”

“Yes,” I said, “I understand.” She wore a beautiful crucifix around her neck. Her son wore a sparkly ball cap with the Virgin Mary on the front. He and my son ran and ran, with no burdens or worries in sight.

On this Labor Day weekend, I am thinking about and praying for the worker. Those who clean, drive, sort, serve, haul, plow, till, guard, and labor. All who make our communities safe, beautiful, clean, and whole. May they know good rest.

I love this poem by Robert Frost. I can sense his fatigue after a long day of laborious apple picking and his desire for good rest.

After Apple Picking, Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and reappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.