November newsletter

november 2013 pdf

“WE BELIEVE” is the theme of our Stewardship Campaign throughout the month of November. Be sure to come for worship each Sunday and hear a special testimony.

Meet in the Middle

We celebrated our second week of Meet in the Middle yesterday.  There is something special happening with the blessing of children and the amazing gifts shared with our volunteers.  This is what meeting in the middle is all about–and church happened.  It happens with the joy around the table carving pumpkins together.  Then we all meet around the table with over fifty, young and old, breaking bread together.

This is just the middle of the evening.  We then share together with our youth and the best group of leaders.  So proud of our young people that are digging deeper, asking good questions, and hungry to know God better.

Come and meet in the middle with us on Wednesday nights.

Persistence

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18: 1-8

A parable from the Berenstain Bears:

“Look! Look!” shouted the bear cubs. “Little rubber cats that stick out their tongues when you squeeze them!” [Hold up and squeeze a squeaky toy, if you have one].

“Cubs,” said Mama, “that will be quite enough! I don’t want to hear another
word ….”

“Oh please!” they shouted. “May we have them? Please! Please! Please!”

Papa decided it was time to put a stop to all the fussing …. “Of all the outrageous, disgraceful, EMBARRASSING behavior I have ever seen,” he roared …. “Brother and Sister have the worst case of the galloping greedy gimmies I’ve ever seen!” [1]

We have today a parable of persistence.  But whose persistence? 

Jesus was speaking to the disciples, telling the a parable “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

It is through persistence, God hears our prayers.  And it is through persistence, that we hear God.  Yet we could all share many reasons for a barren prayer life.  As we see throughout our story, sometimes we become distracted in our success.  It is a funny thing that in the peaks we can get lost in the clouds.  And other times, it is through our persistence that we reach a point as echoed often by the Psalmist, that we cry “Why have you abandoned me.” 

And even another reason for a non-existing prayer life…often—faith has lost trust. 

And it is in our peaks and in our valleys, Jesus shares about our need to pray always and to not lose heart. 

But whose persistence?  The parable is encouraging ours, but as we look closer at the parable that our persistence is in response to God’s persistence. 

About God and about us.

In the city, there was an unjust judge.  A judge that neither feared God nor respected people.  And there was a widow who would not stop knocking on his door.  (Quite a familiar setting the last couple of weeks if we were to consider our public representatives and our marginalized calling out).  She would cry out, grant me justice over my adversaries. 

Our two characters are a judge—one with power.  And consider the widow.  In ancient Near Eastern power structures—a widow was to be provided for through the husbands immediate family, or through their local community of faith.  The lack of family or community to advocate for this woman would have spoken volumes to the original audience hearing this parable.  Why is their no family or community?  Either she had none, or she had been cast out.  The contrast is great, a powerless but persistent widow crying out for justice to an unjust power authority. 

And the reply would have turned heads, likely followed by a chuckle accompanied with a laugh track through the unlikeliness that  her persistence pays off.  Unlike the Berenstain Bears, the judge gives in saying—okay, but please quit bothering me. 

Throughout Old and New Testament-God is unshakeable.  …we can be persistent in trusting that God brings justice. 

Be like this widow, who keeps coming to the judge.  Be like this widow who exemplifies what it means to pray without ceasing.  Through persistence, pay attention.  Paul shares, Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.(Romans 8:26)  Pray always and not lose heart.  In our prayer, the Spirit strengthens us, encourages us, feeds us, and helps lead us—for God is persistent—and just. And when we find ourselves doubting, may we look again at the justice that culminates in a just love on a cross.

Hearing this story—this ancient story of the persistence of the powerless that gains attention of power brings us to full attention—for we have been there.  We have been there doing our best, praying, knocking at the door…and no one answers?  I have been there in the living room in a prayer circle praying for the healing for the young mother, one who died weeks later.  Did I not try hard enough?  I have been there, and the Parkinson’s progresses.  We have been there—and the child we love keeps on making bad choices.

This story doesn’t resolve the mystery of unanswered prayers. 

Yet, in our struggles, our times we cry out where are you O lord, it seems that Jesus understands.  It appears questionable at first when he responds to our dilemma wondering  aloud, that on the day that I return, will anyone remain who has faith?  But he turns this upside down saying—stop waiting and start praying.  Living in between the already and not yet—I am hear with you.  It is in our ceaseless prayers that we hear.  It is in our persistence that we see.  And it is in our persistence that we find God is just.  We recognize every joy, the little things, the child, the need of a neighbor, the wonder as the leaves begin to change.  In praying without ceasing, we are participating to the witness that God is with us. 

I was blessed to be raised by two loving parents.  I am not able to recall all that I asked for, but I remember some of my lofty wishes included a horse, an Atari game system, a moped…  The year I was sure I wanted to be a firefighter I had asked for a real firefighter helmet only to be disappointed to receive a plastic one in its place.  Now, as a parent myself, I understand in retrospect that the gift I received, not what was most wanted at the time, but what was most needed.  And the greatest gift was not the gift of the request, but the love of the giver—a generous and just giver. 

This, in a small sense, helps capture a glimpse of where Jesus is going with this parable.  But may we take it beyond our prayers of supplication—to the heavy stuff.  May we consider whom Jesus is speaking to. 

The early church prayed for many things—safety, protection, and deliverance.   In response to praying without ceasing, we find that while our prayers may not be answered in the way we asked, we receive a sense of God’s loving presence, strength, courage, and a life that is so much more.

Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the worst of the Great Depression and WWII.  One bitterly cold night in January 1935, the mayor appeared at a night court in the poorest ward of the city to relieve the judge for the evening and preside over the court.  Within minutes, a threadbare old woman was called before him with charges of stealing a loaf of bread.  She plead before the mayor that her daughter’s husband had deserted the family, her daughter was ill, and her two grandchildren were starving.  Yet the shopkeeper stood firm refusing to drop the charges.  “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor.  She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia audibly sighed and faced the woman explaining, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—ten dollars or ten days in jail.”  Simultaneously, he was reaching into his wallet and tossed a bill into his trademark sombrero saying “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.”[2]

The judge paid it for her.  The just judge takes her place.   We have hope in our prayers because God is persistent, because God is sovereign, and God is just.  If an unjust judge grants justice through persistence, how much more does God grant justice?  Like this widow, we have an advocate—the judge.  Pray always and don’t lose heart. 



[1] Stan and Jan Berenstain, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies (New York: Random House, 1988)

[2] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel,(Sisters, OR, Multnomah Publishers, 2000), pp. 92-93.

What do our church highlights look like?

People or projects? Programs or relationships?  What are we even doing this for?  A great blog post that helps us discern and be church.  http://achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/your-churchs-highlights/

Second Chances

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,  they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?  Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17: 11-19

Jesus is walking and has been for quite a while.  It’s hard to leave home, especially for the last time.  To leave the security behind, everything you know, and what to bring?  It’s not like he could call U-Haul.  For he is walking.  This long walk began 302 verses ago…including bear hunts, hanging in Sam’s office, huh?, being lost and found, some heavy lifting, trying to sit in the front row, getting bent out of shape…and much more if we were to walk back to when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. 

What would you bring with?  What do you take with you walking from Galilee with final destination Jerusalem.  What mementos, pictures, keepsakes do you bring with?  With his face set to Jerusalem, he knows what he must do.  Dead-man walking.  There is not going back.  But wouldn’t it be nice—home cooking, comfy bed… 

But there is no going back, as with his face set to Jerusalem.  Here we have embodied goodness with his face determined, set on a journey, destination—Jerusalem.

On this journey, he finds himself in this ungodly land.  This land that anyone in their right mind would go around.  But like last week, Jesus is determined, can’t go under it, can’t go around it, and only has he would do…with his face set, he’s gotta go through it. 

On this journey, he runs into a village, not your ordinary village, but a village of lepers.  Imagine, a whole town of lepers.  A leper post office—even a leper Starbucks.  After a venti double super skinny latte, ten lepers approached…keeping their distance (as lepers should), they called out saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Have mercy.  Isolated, rejected, marginalized, and cast out—like the island of misfit toys, they plead from a distance, please have mercy.  Imagine the cry?  Imagine their journey.  How many others have walked by—from a distance? 

A pastor shares a story of a children’s sermon.  The story went something like this:

There was this poor boy.  The family lived together in a small lien-to and the only possession they owned was one goat.  This little poor boy liked to dream.  He had this dream about one day meeting this beautiful girl.  Together, one day they were going to be married and have beautiful children.  This boy meet girl fairy tale included a six car garage to house his red convertible BMW, and his goat…with a shiny studded diamond collar. 

And as the boy was dreaming, a wizard showed up.  The wizard said he could make this dream come true, but there was just one thing.  For the beautiful wife, beautiful children, a six car garage, and his goat with a gold diamond studded collar—evertything beautiful—there would be one thing wrong with his wife. 

All beautiful, but the one thing wrong is that his wife would have a horn coming out of the middle of her head.   To be granted this wish, he could never speak of this. 

The poor boy didn’t have second thoughts as he accepted and was thrown into this beautiful world, with his beautiful family, his six-car garage with his red convertible BMW.  He was so blessed.  And life was getting busy, his beautiful kids were growing up, the beautiful goat produced more beautiful goats, the collars were getting expensive, and paradise was beginning to feel a lot like work.  In the stress one evening, an argument began…and escalated.  The poor boy doesn’t remember exactly what started the argument, and words were being exchanged, when he said it…”and that horn on your head!” 

It came out and you cannot take it back.  The wizard shows up and says, ‘back in your poor place’ and the poor boy found himself back, with his one goat, and alone.  It is a tragic ending…

Trying to tie up the message, Sammie was stretching her arm up high…you know that kid in the children’s sermon who tries to have the last word, the one where you smile and nod while trying to get control again.  This is not your story Sammie, this is mine…you can share the message next week, but before I can end, she blurts out…but you have to change the ending…. And I try to get control, and Sammie blurts out—you have to, everything disappeared—and we are in church. 

And the others got going, and they were siding with Sammie, the message was getting long, so not knowing what to do, and Sammie with her arm fully extended yelling out, you have to change the ending—we are in church—so I turned to Sammie and asked, “Sammie, how would you change the ending?”  

“Give him another chance, we are in church—this is a place of second chances.

A place where endings can change.” 

This is the church—a place for second chances.  We all have our own stories.  And together we share a story… and the nice thing about a story is that we have the chance to change the ending. 

Jesus with his face set towards Jerusalem, enters Samaria—helping change the ending.

10 lepers from a distance—cry out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!  And they turn as instructed to head towards the priests—and they are made clean.  The ten are healed. 

Only one turns.  One praises God and prostrates himself.  A foreigner.  The outcast of the lepers, the lowest of the low—finds himself in the presence of the living Lord—God with us–  Jesus shares with him, “Get up and go.” 

It is in the presence of Christ we come, it is in the presence of Christ we lay at his feet, and it is in a living faith that we come, and Jesus says “Get up and go.” 

It is with his face to his Jerusalem—Dead man walking, a man who knows what must be done.  It is a long journey, one that leads to a cross, where we find ourselves gathering to prostrate ourselves at the foot of the cross.  And it is because Jesus rose, that Jesus says “Get up and go on your way.” 

We are the church…a place where all can gather.  A place of belonging, of healing, of caring, of messing it up sometimes, and a place where Jesus also says to get up and go, your faith has made you well.  Go and share the good news.

Remember Your Baptism

In the promises we make, remember your baptism.

Baptism: Anthony

Beautiful day.

Baptism Khoi

Joy of baptism.  Congratulations Khoi.

World Communion Sunday

What a blessing to be sharing at table with our world on Sunday.

Going on a Faith Hunt

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

  “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?  Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?  Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”  Luke 17: 5-10

How many of us would like to ask the question, “Increase our faith?”  Or in this instance, a demand. “Increase our faith!”  And in weeks like this, may we add a definitive ‘Please!’  Who wouldn’t want this?  And how does Jesus respond?

So let us enter back, and seek faith.  May we go on a quest and enter through the eyes of a child and play the game, “Going on a [bear] faith hunt.” 

Going on faith hunt. (Going on a faith hunt.)

Gonna catch a big one. (Gonna catch a big one)

I’m not afraid. (I’m not afraid)

Look over there! (Look over there!)

It’s A miracle! (It’s a miracle?)

Really. No way. (Really, no way.)

Can’t go around it. (Can’t go around it.)

Can’t go over it. (Can’t go over it.)

So let’s enter into it!  (So let’s enter it.)

Our first obstacle is miracles.  In our post-enlightenement and post-modernism, we are thankful for progress, thankful for the ability to think, and the many obstacles in front of us that open up endless possibilities.  But one obstacle that comes with enlightened, I want to know minds, is our skepticism of the miracle.  Yet miracles happen every day, all around us.  May we keenly embrace the miracle.  A miracle of being uprooted and transplanted.  And may we see them again through children’s eyes.  And may we help our children to continue to see miracles as they grow.)

Going on a faith hunt. (Going on a faith hunt.)

Gonna catch a big one. (Gonna catch a big one)

I’m not afraid! (I’m not afraid!)

Look over there! (Look over there!)
It’s a cave. . . (It’s a cave)
It’s cold in here. (It’s a cave)
I can’t see. (I can’t see.)

Our cave…abyss that makes it hard to see through this is ‘Worthless Slave’.  This one is a doozy.  And we can’t get around it.  Shouldn’t go around it.  So let’s enter into it.

Let’s enter into the text and ask what is going on? For Jesus, he is not promoting.  Slavery is not prescriptive, nor is he promoting a social order.  He is working within the realities in terms that would be understood.  By entering into this obstacle, we see that Jesus is talking to us about humility.  So let us continue our journey.

Going on a faith hunt. (Going on a faith hunt.)

Gonna catch a big one. (Gonna catch a big one.)

I’m not afraid. (I’m not afraid)

Coming to a tree. (Coming to a tree.)

Can’t go under it. (Can’t go under it)

Guess we’ll have to climb it. (Guess we’ll have to climb it)

Look around (Look around)

I am really big (I am really big)

The world is really small (The world is really small)

Do you see a big faith? (Do you see a big faith?)

No, not me. (No, not me)

So let’s keep moving. (Let’s keep moving)

 

Going on a faith hunt. (Going on a faith hunt.)

Gonna catch a big one. (Gonna catch a big one.)

I’m not afraid. (I’m not afraid)

 

I think I see something. (I think I see something.)

It has big green eyes. (It has big green eyes.)

A long fuzzy tail. (A long fuzzy tail.)

What is it ?

 

Wait?  It’s not a big scary faith!  (It’s not a big scary faith!)

It’s not big at all?  (It’s not big at all?)

In fact it’s quite small. (In fact it’s quite small.)

Exactly!  (Exactly!

Like a mustard seed.  (Like a mustard seed.)

They said to the Lord (They said to the Lord)

Increase our faith (Increase our faith)

You could say to the tree. (You could say to the tree.)

Be planted to the sea. (Be planted to the see)

You see, we come to this big and scary faith hunt, and what do we ask for?  We ask for a greater faith.  And what does Jesus offer instead?  A mustard seed.  He says instead, let the big guy take care of it.  We have it covered. 

For just prior to our big faith hunt, Jesus had been telling us that this was going to be a difficult journey.  Discipleship is not easy.  So in contrast to us wanting a big faith, Jesus us shows us contrast.  He helps in a beautiful way to encourage us, that faith is not ours to find, but that it is ours to receive and that it is God’s to give. 

Our faith is bigger, when we become smaller.  It says in John 3:30  He must increase, but I must decrease.  Our obstacles in our faith hunt come up when we separate our faith from the One whom we believe.  Faith is not increased through our efforts, but as the disciples get this one right…worried about what lies ahead, they request to Jesus, “Increase our faith.”  When the disciples ask for something big, Jesus replies instead by asking something small.  A faith that is trusting…a faith the size of a mustard seed.  And it is here that we have the humility to trust…in a big God.

It is here that we respond…  that we make a commitment knowing the road isn’t always going to be easy, but on that road, God is with us. 

And it is here that we meet this big God…humble, around the table.  It is here that we are equal, connected, and in relationship.

And it is here, at this table that we celebrate today baptism.  And in this big scary faith hunt…we too find the beauty in our baptism is that it is not about our baptism, it is not Khoi’s or Anthony’s baptism, but it is that we participate in the one baptism that began in the river Jordan, that walked a long road to Jerusalem, a road that led to a cross.  This one baptism is our sharing in the submersion in the Jordan, the baptism of our Lord’s blood, the baptism of going down into a tomb, and a baptism that rose again from the Jordan and rose again from the grave. 

This baptism is a sign and seal of our faith.  It is a gift, and one that we give thanks for sharing in, for living in, for participating in, and upholding one another in. 

We have this font today that gives us living water, and this table that nurtures us with the bread of life.  May we say together for our road ahead, Lord, increase our faith.

Amen.