Beauty First, Then Salt and Light

Bulletin for traditional reformed worship for this reflection: Bulletin-01-29-2023 E4 YA

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-16

Let us pray:

In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Spirit Wisdom, to discern the calling of our Lord’s voice, that, with you, we may follow and do God’s will.  Amen.

I referenced in the Weekly E-newsletter that going through pastoral transitions creates a mixed emotional landscape. Know that each of us brings with us to this journey the mixed emotions of this present time, all of which are influenced by the relationships we have built and enjoyed over the years. It is good and natural to be aware of our feelings – however mixed they may be; it is also important to be aware that others around us are also experiencing their own web of emotions.  So I urge you in all love to bear with one another, reach out a hand of support to one another, and bravely walk together into this new chapter of congregational life.  Fear not, friends, for God, Emmanuel, is with us.

For just such a time as this new beginning, we turn to the first public teachings of Jesus when he set out to gather disciples and settle into a new role as Rabbi in Residence. According to Matthew’s account, this pouint of transition is found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Today’s texts may be familiar to many of you, but I’d like to draw your attention to them through the lens of your Epiphany star word – and with the lens of new beginnings.

Jesus began his teaching as an itinerant Rabbi in the region of the Gentiles, called Galilee. In the fourth chapter of Matthew, we witness Jesus specifically calling ordinarily overlooked people to “Come and follow, and I will make you fishers of people.” He engaged in his itinerant travels, and gradually the twelve followed him as he moved through the region. Then he changed tactics: Once his notoriety had been well-cast, he “went up the mountain” as Matthew records, and began to teach any who came to him.  This is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, at the point of transition between itinerantcy and what grows into a new movement. What might we draw out from these familiar texts for such a time as this?

Jesus shifts here from Itinerant Rabbi to Seated Sage. He begins this Sermon on the Mount by teaching the Beautiful Sayings, what many of you more familiarly term, “The Beatitudes.” Something to keep in mind about these sayings: Each of them specifically critiques contextual realities poorer Hebrew people experienced day to day. In them, Jesus critiques both Roman Empire privilege and elite Jewish establishment.

“The Beatitudes are spoken to those groups whom God deems worthy, not by virtue of their own achievements or status in society, but because God chooses to be on the side of the weak, the forgotten, the despised, the justice seekers, the peace makers, and those persecuted because of their beliefs.”[1]

This is important to note because it shapes the next level of inquiry for us and our work here in Corvallis: Who are modern day equivalents?  Whom would God choose among our societal context today and who would fit the examples of the Roman Empire and elite Jewish establishment?  Hold that in your mind for a moment and consider this:  identifying Biblical characters as well as modern day iterations frames for us to whom Jesus is speaking for the rest of his sermon.  It is not too difficult to discern that those ancient listeners are in the same position we are: disciples whom Christ has called, those in the crowd who have come and followed, and those to whom he will eventually give the mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near to others.

This is particularly important for us today, in our context, in our moment of transition.  No matter who resides in the office of pastor or any other staff positions, the mission of the church remains the same, and you are the church, the body of Christ!  We are in this together, and we all have a part to play.  In the next several verses following the Beautiful Sayings, Jesus provides commentary on just that; in verses 5:13-16 he teaches:

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

In these two metaphors, Jesus “describe[s] and prescribe[s] who his followers are and what they do for and in the world.”[2] First, they are to “elicit goodness on the earth.”[3] Second, we learn from the context of the scripture that this is enacted in community, becoming like a mirror of God reflecting out to God’s people the justice and mercy implicit in God’s love, which is God’s Heavenly kingdom lived out in the world. That goes for the time of Jesus, the time of the present, and for all times to come.

Let us pray:

Thank you, Lord, for this glimpse into your heart. You who love all people, all beings, indeed all Creation; hear us as we wonder and pray: instead of casting ourselves upon you to be transformed, instead enter into us so we might see through your eyes. Grant us the grace to learn how to do ministry not to others, but with them; for even as you have been born in us, so too you have come to and are transforming others. Invite us into your heart and your work, that we might better serve you and your unfolding purposes. In Christ’ name we pray, and all God’s children say, “Amen.”

[1] Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective, Matthew 5:1-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[2] Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective, Matthew 5:13-20” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[3] Ibid.

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Bearing the Light in Challenging Times

Bulletin for this Reflection: Bulletin-01-08-2023 E YA

Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Let us pray:

In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Spirit Wisdom, to discern the calling of our Lord’s voice, that, with you, we may follow and do God’s will.  Amen.

We entered into a new year this past week, and 1st Pres Corvallis is entering a new chapter of its life and ministry. Are you ready for it? There are several tasks ahead of us. One task, as always, is to breathe new life and meaning into the ancient scriptures handed down to us. How?  Facilitate movement from the spiritual disciplines of prayer and preaching toward spiritual formation and action in the world.

We chose to bring to light the Epiphany passages, used for January sixth, today as we begin to identify how this congregation will live into its new life together. Epiphany passages illuminate the greatest gift we can bring to the world around us – God’s love incarnate through us, shining for others. In today’s Isaiah passage:

“God’s transformative light appears…in at least three ways.  First, we are reminded of the place of the prophetic imagination in the work of hope, as the prophet’s voice helps prepare the human heart for God’s transformations. Second, we are reminded that power, to be truly of God, is attractive rather than imposing; God’s light shining through us will be a beacon to all nations, and will bring forward to good and sacred use the gifts of the earth. Finally, we remember that the darkness shall not last, neither as the dark days of winter nor as the dark days of the soul, for the light rises now just over the horizon.”[1]

One salient point of caution is worth holding up to the light in today’s passage from Isaiah. “All churches struggle to avoid having their labors become bogged down in the difficult realities of communal life.” It would be good for us to hold this caution close lest we give up in despair over so many changes in so little time.  I urge you, be courageous, and look at this time as an incredible opportunity for regeneration.

Today’s passage is really one of hope. When taken through the lens of our understanding of Christ’s teachings,

“the church’s work continues in the knowledge of God’s faithfulness…however humble the reality of our ministry may appear…, participation in the work of God casts us in the full radiance of God’s light in the world…[thus] there is no failure, no waste in the service of God.”[2]

As some of us may know from personal experience, once downtrodden and faced with challenges, goals that initially are exciting visions become harder and harder to realize, requiring continual encouragement to maintain hope and spirit in the upward struggle toward transformation and new growth.

There are several key differences for us as Christians bring this Hebrew text into our time and circumstance. In the Jewish Study Bible, to be true to the prophet’s intent, is to understand that “God’s glory is completed in the glorification of God’s people….” Which is a surprising turn-around from the expectation of a single Messiah king descended from David to rule them. “…their [corporate] radiance is essential to any bright future of God’s own imagining,”[3] writes Barbara Brown Taylor. This is a prophesy not for a descendent of the royal house of David, but for the city of Zion, [that is, Jerusalem] and Israel as a whole. [Quoting the Jewish Study Bible, we find] “The prophet does not look forward to the arrival of a human Messiah to liberate the Israelites or a human king to govern them. Rather, God will rule the nation directly in the future, and the whole nation will enjoy royal status.”[4]

For Christian believers reading this text, the spiritual return is exponentially magnified to mean Christ’s coming. It was chosen for an Epiphany text for this very reason.

“This poem calls the church and the synagogue to use our imagination to see what is not yet true and act as though it already were true.  In spite of the world’s indifference to it, the church can arise and shine, acting under the assumption that God is still at work through both church and synagogue [all three Abrahamic faiths I might add] offering light, healing, and reconciliation to the world…”[5]

A world in much need of all three, even as we are.  As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, in the end there is no contradiction between interpretive Jewish and Christian epiphany proclamations.

“Jesus comes to bring God’s own light into the world, not to keep it for himself.  He comes to set other people on fire, not to burn like a torch all on his own. In the same way that Isaiah declares the rising of God’s glory on all God’s people, it is possible [for us] to declare the shining of Christ’s light in all Christ’s kin.”[6]

What will this particular Christian community become in this new year? How will we embody (dare I say “incarnate?”) God’s light, healing, and reconciliation in our time, in this community and beyond? The answer is up to all, together. I am convinced that as community continues to be built among us, God’s light will shine; and the light God provides will illumine the way forward.

May all glory be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

In Epiphany when the magi make their great journey to see the Christ Child, we see Jesus drawing all creation to the divine life revealed in him, and we see the realization of God’s dream of reconciled creation. In our own way, we are each endowed by the Spirit with unique and precious gifts for sharing God’s healing love in a good but often divided world. What spiritual practices do you engage in that allow you to stay peaceful, courteous, and develop a respectful regard for difference? How do you stay present and create openness for finding, revealing, and activating God’s reconciling love in the world?

Household Prayer: Morning

Glorious God, each day provides opportunity to awaken to the radiance of your presence, and to welcome your blessing into my life. How often I forget that I am your home! Help me to draw more closely to you, that I may manifest your love more deeply in the world. May every bright place and darkened corner grow ever more luminous as I bear your light this day. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Holy Jesus, I thank you for sharing your life with me today. As darkness comes and blankets the earth, be with all who suffer from sickness, hunger, or lack of shelter. Kindle in them the warmth of your presence, and surround them with your steadfast care. I am grateful for the blessings of this day. And in the light of your love I rest this night. Amen.

[1] Emily Askew, “Theological Perspective, Isaiah 60:1-6” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective, Isaiah 60:1-6” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[4] The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 903.

[5] Charles L. Aaron, “Exegetical Perspective”

[6] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective”

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Love Has Come

Order of Worship to go with the following reflection: Bulletin-12-18-2022 A4 YA

Scripture: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Let us pray:

O Divine Mystery, as we prepare for your coming, open our hearts and illumine these scriptures by your Holy Spirit – that we may learn and do your will, following in the way of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Mary knew something about love. I would hazard a guess that many first time mothers and fathers do; it involves a deep and compassionate acceptance of who we are becoming as parents and the overwhelming state of bringing a new life into the world.  For Mary, however, there was a whole other level.  She was pledged to Joseph, yes. But she also pledged to become the handmaiden of God, chosen vessel of God’s child, God’s incarnate life on earth! I imagine upon reflection she may have been a little bit more scared than her initial “let it be unto me as you have said.”

Here I depart for a moment from classical commentary on this scripture.  Where can she go for wisdom, insight, and support?  For confirmation that she can do this? To whom can she turn, her mother?  Especially if word gets out about irregularities in the accepted roadmap for marriage and the beginning of family life in her culture?

We read, “In those days Mary set out and went with haste.” Where does she go? To Elizabeth, also unusually pregnant, married to a priest serving the Temple.  Elizabeth, of more years and experience, becomes for her a “safe” haven as she finds out what to do, and what she may need for her own impending life’s journey as mother – mother not only of a child but mother of God.  Mary stays with Elizabeth all during her first trimester of pregnancy.  Scripture tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home; no doubt soaking in all the wisdom offered by a family tied to the Temple yet at the same time the practical lesson of witnessing the final trimester of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  But why do I share all this homey illustrations?  Isn’t there a deeper meaning for our faith in this story?

Devotional writer Emmy Arnold once wrote, “Wherever the Christmas Child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins his earthly life anew – that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again.”[1]

I am reminded there are times in our lives when we feel like love has gone dormant.  Those are not easy times, and often require us to seek the blessings of help in learning to love again.  Similarly, there are times in the spiritual life when it feels like God – who is love – seems far away from us, and we wonder, why?  Why does God not stay with us and keep us safe in love for always?  Perhaps the answer lies in the metaphor of dormancy. Not that God has gone dormant, but perhaps in our very finite human moments, our hearts have gone dormant.  God has not left us, but perhaps our ability to perceive where God is for a time leaves us – when we find ourselves in challenging times of transition, where often some necessary pruning takes place in our lives.

I wonder, what would it mean for us to bear God’s love into the world today?  Johann Arnold has something to say about that:

“It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.  It means choosing generosity over greed.  It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.  Finally, it means being ready to die again and again – to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.”[2]

The revolutionary words of Elizabeth and Mary speak to this.  Mary’s magnificat is a turning upside down of the status quo.  Rich going away empty, the hungry filled with good things, powerful knocked out of their thrones, and the lowly lifted up.  For them, it is hope for a reversal of real and present poverty as a subjugated people. For the underdogs of the world, the text can be music to the ears. However, to the seats of power, this is a tough reading, easily counter to the design of holding on to power indefinitely.

We are, in many cases, the victors and the powerful, as such we have three tasks here.  One, admit how it is.  Two, seek justice for those who need it. Three, seek the deeper message we can relate and share: the perspective of a spiritually subjugated people.  Where are our own spirits most tied down in current times?  Where can we find wholeness in this busy season and in these times?  If God sent us a prophetic message today, what would it be?  Could we even hear and understand the importance of the prophet’s voice: “From you, O Bethlehem, shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel…” (Micah 5:2)?

When that One comes, will we once more learn what true sovereignty and kin-ship is supposed to be?  Or has that One already come, into our own hearts and set our souls to singing?  What is your song this Advent season?  “There is more love, somewhere…” A year of change has brought you this far; now rest and wait in love’s patient stillness for Christ’s coming.  Let us all offer ourselves to be vessels of our Creator’s love to the world once more – in the name of Jesus, Mary’s son.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Emmy Arnold, “Christmas Joy,” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 2001). 129

[2] Johann Christoph Arnold, “Be Not Afraid,” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 2001). 156-157

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Hopeful Peace

Bulletin for this reflection is available here: Bulletin-12-04-2022 YA

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38 *

*Note: Not RCL year A – Utilized in Generation to Generation: A Sactified Art Advent/Christmas curriculum, 2022) which the church I’m currently serving opted to utilized this year.

Let us pray: May the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts guide our understanding, O Holy One.  Nurture us we pray, as we grow into who you would fashion us to be.  Amen.

Contemporary Mystic Cynthia Bourgeault wrote,

“The journey to the wellsprings of hope is really a journey toward the center, toward the innermost ground of our being where we meet and are met by God.”[1]

Every so often I have to be reminded that contemplative prayer is useful to allow us access to that which lies hidden in our souls. Messages from God, implanted in our very beings, are placed there for us to discover when we are most truly ourselves.  Yet, how do we get there; especially if contemplative prayer isn’t our strong point?  Last week, we began our Advent journey with the theme of Hope, lighting the candle of Hope. This week we travel deeper into Advent to discover Peace.

Where or how do you find your greatest peace? You heard some of our collective answers earlier.  Whatever it may be, this time of year with Christmas – that is, the secular version – preparations and family gatherings on the horizon, it is often difficult to stop. Breathe peace.

For me, these final days of golden yellow-orange leaves falling daily to the ground for me to rake can sometimes be a doorway to that peace.  Similarly, when the carols of the season begin to waft through the air, a corresponding light-heartedness creeps into my being, despite the daily challenges and occasional sorrows that try to intrude.  I am convinced in those moments when peace is palpable, a window to our inner being is opened for a moment and the deep Shalom of God is kindled in our very souls.  From there, if we let it, it can creep steadily through our whole body-beings, much like sunlight illuminating the hillsides to the west an inch at a time as it rises each day in this season of dark.

For all these I am grateful.  Grateful to rest for a moment, if only brief moments at a time within the day, knowing that Christ’s peace always waits, eternally ready to bloom in us if we but pause to give it space.  It waits; Christ waits; for our soul doorway to open.  Then, if we are but open to it as Mary was open, our hearts, too fill with Emmanuel presence, God-with-us presence! This is the gift of Christmas!  This is what we wait for in this season of Advent waiting! The filling of our cup.

It has been observed that artwork through the centuries depicts variously characterized Marian responses to the angel Gabriel – some fearful, some wondering, some demure and subservient, some assertive, even one with Mary and Gabriel talking together like old friends.[2]  But I wonder what it was really like for her – and what her internal response really was.  What kind of deep attentiveness to peace must she have learned to practice to even be able to receive such a heavenly messenger and accept her God-given role?  I can only imagine Mary knew and must have practiced regularly how to open her soul’s doorway and allow hopeful peace to enter in.  How else could she have received the angel as she did, knowing the radical ramifications for her social standing in both her present and future family?

Bringing “The Annunciation” home to us, what kind of peace do we need as we search our own hearts for a place to let Christ’s peace be born again?  That deep peace surpassing all understanding, all woes, all conflict and striving, all troubles and tribulations, all shifting comfort zones and lives that are astir with change?  “Fear Not!” The angel said. We would do well to listen to this heavenly messenger’s voice: For no matter where you are in your journey of faith, this Advent Peace we anticipate is both the Advent of something new and the Christ Presence planted in, as Cynthia wrote, “the innermost ground of our being where we meet and are met by God.”[2]

Here is a question for you to consider as we move to making art and fellowship together after worship today. Were you ever taught, in your journey of faith or life, how to find and rest in this Peace?  How might we nurture this kind of peace in ourselves?  How might we teach it and pass it on to those generations coming after us?  In worship, yes, when we gather in this place to offer thanks and praise, confession and sorrow, supplication and a listening heart.  In worship through the songs we sing, the bread we break, the cup we share. In worship when we hear our many storied scriptures spoken and reflect on, and enacting behaviors of hope, peace and justice woven through our every day to day. Use our fellowship time today to ponder with one another – and especially those not in your own generational cohort – the deeper things of God and how God has touched your lives and given you new life, new hope-filled peace.

I would be remiss if I did not point out the other side of this, Christ’s peace, we should bear in mind.  Peace does not always equal serenity.  In fact, sometimes it is serenity we seek, not God’s peace.  The peace of God can also mean readiness to face hard trials, willingness to go against the grain, and yes, even the way of suffering, as Jesus showed us with his passion. He came that the power of death would be swallowed up; and a heavenly kin-dom be established.  But this also means there is an unbreakable connection between the manger and the cross.

Standing firm in the Spirit of Truth that God has shown us in and through Christ, and in the integrity of our place as representatives of the House of God, means that we must live in Christ’s peace even when it is not easy and the world loves us not.  Being filled with hopeful peace in the midst of tribulation is being firmly rooted in God, firmly growing the heavenly way, standing on the mountain of God and the valleys of Earth and holding our hands up to Jesus, who is the Alpha and Omega, the righteous branch and the living tree.

Hope-filled Peace is also a bend in the road; Beginning the journey in hope, finding ourselves enveloped in God’s peace, we can continue on toward joy, knowing that somehow in the mystery of God, we become leaders and guides along a road less taken in these days; and eventual partakers in the heavenly banquet to which we are called.  Behold! The time is coming and has now come:

When the mountains and valleys are silent,

When the waters before you lay still,

The Voice of Creation will whisper:

“Listen with all of your will.”

Around you the wind will murmur,

A freshness from silvery air.

The Breath of the Wind is an answer,

To long unspoken prayer.[3] 

~ stc

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Lanham, MD: Rowland & Littlefield, 2001).

[2] Cynthia Rigby, “Theological Perspective, Luke 1:26-38” in Feasting on the Word, Year B (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014).

[3] Scott Crane, “Breath of the Wind,” Poem. Accessed 12/1/2022, https://scottrick.me/poetry/.

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Perseverance

Order of Worship for this Sermon: Bulletin-11-13-2022 YC P28

Scriptures: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts help guide our actions to be Spirit-led in the world, O Holy One; for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Every year I try to take an Autumn walk while the wind whips leaves off the trees, sending them like so many colored messages on crisp breezes to whomever can catch them.  Every year I try to catch some before they ever hit the ground.  Many times, the leaves swirl around me as I reach to grasp only to have them slip out of my hands to be carried further away.

An apt metaphor, is it not?  Sometimes when we reach for something, even trying our best, we simply cannot get quite far fast enough, clearly enough.  It takes time.  I find it true with people, careers, relationships, parenting; hopes and dreams from every sphere of life.  When those times come and our hopes and dreams slip away like falling leaves, what can we do?  What kinds of responses do we make?

Sometimes at those moments the response may be rage and anger at the goal just out of reach, or feelings of injustice as the wrong candidate gets into office, or yet another attempt to negotiate a benefit fails.  Sometimes, an alternate response might be a heightened period of creativity fueled by funneling our energies in positive ways.  Other times, we may wax philosophical and realize this is but one moment in a time of stretching and growing, learning and yearning; leading us through a period of rest knowing that eventually, we can try again to reach that which is set before us to learn.  At least this is true for me.

The same can also be true of our lives of faith.  One question that seems appropriate at this juncture might be:  What happens when life in the public sphere crosses over to tough times – does our life of faith have a way to fuel our response, acting in positive ways, or do we languish while we “wait for it to get better?”

Whether you are happy or unhappy with last Tuesday’s election results, perhaps we can be encouraged with these words from the Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.  Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others… Nurture strength of spirit to shield you… do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.  Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars… whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive [God] to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world…”[1]

I like to pair inspiration with practical. From today’s lectionary in 2nd Thessalonians: First, go about your work diligently.  It might look like industry, teaching, volunteerism, enjoying your retirement, celebrating long-term friendships and making new ones.  Be there for your family.  Continue to dedicate yourself to spiritual enrichment by going to church, reading the Bible as well as other uplifting and challenging texts to keep your mind sharp; after all, we need sharp minds in the time to come.

A second nugget from today’s text is this: do not weary of doing what is right.  What is doing right?  For those of us who take discipleship seriously, striving to live our lives in the footsteps of Jesus by definition leads us down the path of a higher standard; especially when the going gets tough – perhaps, like me, for some of you that is now – when we may be facing a difficult time ahead.

I urge you to exceed the challenge of living by example what it means to be children of the Light.  Living a higher standard by example includes embracing the teachings we have from Jesus and his Judaism that echo across the hearts of several major religions; teachings such as: “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” (Luke 6:31)  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18) and perhaps my personal favorites: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8) and its New Testament echo: “Live well, live wisely, live humbly, it’s the way you live, not the way you talk that counts” (paraphrasing James 3:13 in Eugene Peterson’s The Message).

When challenges rise up (and they always do), what will your response be?  Thinking ahead a couple weeks when we enter into Advent, for me, I will strive to live by example, to reflect the True Light that is coming into the world. Maybe, if I can possibly walk humbly enough, point heavenward enough, others may take note of it and ask what is it about me, and maybe, if I am brave enough, I will point out the way of everlasting, the higher standard by which I strive to live my life and from whom this inspiration comes.  In the end, I hope at least that I am able to somewhat reflect the love of God; and pray for each of us as to live into being God’s authentic witnesses in the world.

May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?

[1] Excerpts from the Desiderata – Max Ehrmann ©1952?

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Ordinary Saints

Full Order of Worship for the reflections below: Bulletin-11-06-2022 YC All Saints

Scriptures: Haggai 2:1-7; Ephesians 1:11-23

Children’s Moment: Two puppets, an older grown-up one and a smaller two-sided puppet.  The grown-up comes along and asks how the youngster is doing.  One one side, all blue and sparkly, the puppet answers “Fine!” The grown up puppet responds, “Fine, you say?  Tell me a little more…”  So the younger one talks about seeing beautiful fall leaves in the garden, but then stumbles over where the garden is, exactly; the child then says, “Actually, I’m all mixed up.  My grandma died.”  Older puppet: “Oh, were those colored leaves you were describing in her garden?” Child puppet nods. “You say you are all mixed up.  Do you mean your feelings inside?”  Child puppet nods. Turning the child puppet over to reveal the other side, which is in dark multicolored hues, grown-up puppet continues after a moment of silence, “I can remember a time when I had all mixed up feelings inside. It was like I had a mix-mash of sad, mad, confused, and maybe some others.  Do you think you have some of those?”  Child puppet nods, “Yes, those and some others.  She was always so nice to me.  I want to be like her when I grow up.”  Grown-up: “What an amazing thing! I have wanted to be like my grandmother, too.”  She was very busy with many things, but always seemed to have time for me.  Sometimes, I got to work in her garden with her, and I fed the birds.” Child: “I think she must be happy now with God.  But why is it so hard and sad for me?” Grown-up: “That is a very good question. I imagine it is because in your own heart, you have always known that she loves you, but now she isn’t there to show or tell you.  It sounds like you loved her, too.” Child nods; “Yes.” Grown-up: “Do you know, I think love keeps going, even when the ones we love aren’t there to show or tell us anymore.  I think love is something we can hold onto in our hearts for all time. I still remember my grandmother; and her garden, and the birds.  What do you think?”  Child: “My grandma baked yummy cookies for when I was sad.  Maybe I’ll ask Dad to bake some for us, to help us remember.  He probably feels mixed-up sad, too.” Grown-up: “What a marvelous idea!”

Let us pray:

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts guide our understanding, O Holy One.  Nurture us we pray, as we grow into who you would fashion us to be.  Amen.

Who are the saints that have accompanied you in the life of faith?

What makes them a “saint” in your eyes?  Have you taken the next step to emulate them in your own life?  Is anything standing in your way?  I offer these questions for your reflection.  Let me tell you a story or two.

One of my best friends and college roommates, Matthew Sailey from Myrtle Creek, Oregon, was a deeply spiritual person of dedicated Christian faith.  Not to a specific denomination or church, but to Jesus in a very personal way. He has appeared in two of my dreams, both of which occurred after his death in the first year we were in graduate school together – he on the east coast for music theory, and me on the west coast for elementary education.  In one of the two dreams in which he appeared, I asked, “What are you doing here?” He turned and looked directly at me and answered my question from beyond the grave, “I don’t know.”  In that moment I had a sense we both knew he was dead, I was alive, and somehow through the veil between this worlds-realm and the next, in God’s mystery we were communicating. It was a moment I have treasured ever since.

Even to this day, I still do not grasp why or how we were able to speak to one another.  But it was incredibly poignant to realize and have confirmed that there is something else beyond what we experience now in the flesh.  That existence, like our own, is held within the mystery of God’s all-encompassing love.

Who are the saints that have accompanied you in the life of faith?

Why do I call Matthew a saint?  Because his very life, before and after death, has affected my own.  His light, his example, his friendship, his spirit have touched mine and in some way reminded me not only who I am but to Whom I belong.  Somehow, in the Divine Mystery, we are both held in God’s eternal now.

My second story is perhaps more normal for most of us to experience: The passing of a beloved older member of the family.  My grandmother, born just 49.1 miles west of here at the corner of 4th Street and Hwy. 101 when it was a gravel road, passed away in Salem at 96 in her graduating care apartment home with family present.

Unfortunately, I was away at the time, but her example, both in living fully and in struggling through her last couple of years of life, has also been a light and an example to me.  She was tireless in her support of my grandfather’s work as a forester, in raising her family of three, and when younger, attending her mother’s church, First Presbyterian of Newport.

She met my grandfather in college chemistry lab here in Corvallis, and eventually married and followed him wherever his career path took him.  Through it all she showed the strength of heart, mind, body, and spirit that flowed from our pioneering ancestry.  They eventually settled in Roseburg, Oregon, and I was privileged to be able to spend weeks at a time as a child and youth drinking in their presence and stories, and fostering my love of working outdoors.  In a sense, these ordinary saints contributed mightily to who I have become.

Now here is an amazing thing.  Jesus is not ordinarily called a saint.  But the way in which he enacted the love of God through his ministry, his acts of healing and compassion, his friendship and teaching echoes in a very real human sense, exactly what I just described through my own journey of faith and life.  Only, the sphere of influence that Jesus exhibited rippled outwards in a much larger circle through ancient Judaism – and eventually sparked a spin-off faith of its own, which we know call Christianity.  That is a powerful witness.

Each of us are heirs of ordinary saints – people either from within our families, or in cases of broken nuclear family relationships, from outside our families – heirs of saints who have led you through or to your faith. But that is not all.  Each of us also has the potential – no, the gift – to become ordinary saints for those who will come after us.  What kind of saint will you be?  In the larger communal sense, what kind of witness will each of you, members of this particular community of worship and practice, become?

At today’s crossroads of faith and witness, worship and practice, you have the gift of re-imagining what you will become.  Make the most of it friends, for who knows in the future who will look back and say, “Let me tell you a story about an ordinary saint…”

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

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From Reformation to Re-creation

A Dialog Sermon between Rev. Sharon Edwards and Rev. Dr. Scott T. Crane; the following text represents Pastor Scott’s side of the dialog. For worship bulletin and recorded online streaming of the service, please see the following links:

Bulletin-TL 10-30-2022 YC P26

Look for October 30, 2022 here: http://1stpres.org/sermons-and-services/

Sharon and Scott say: Let us pray:

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts guide our understanding, O Holy One.  Nurture us we pray, as we grow into who you would fashion us to be.  Amen.

Sharon:

  • list of changes in medicine/science

 

Scott: I’d like to begin with a quote:

“What Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire observes about Christianity is true of every faith tradition: ‘From the beginning, there has never been just one Christianity.’ Multiple Christianities coexist and often conflict, at times irreconcilably so.  Moreover, because religion is about power, about the source of life and hope, and about meaning and possibility, such power can be used for great good or can be misused, thereby causing enormous suffering and harm.”

The Reformation of 1521 began as an attempt to heal and redirect the Roman Catholic Church, which had become the most powerful force governing the everyday lives of people across medieval Europe, and even further into other lands and shores.  The Church of Scotland was born out of the Reformation.  The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a descendent of the Church of Scotland.  But what, and who, and how, did the people of Scotland and Ireland worship before that?

Almost a thousand years before legend tells us Martin Luther approached the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing his 95 revolutionary opinions causing the Reformation to begin, a council was gathered to address a widening gap between two opposing spiritualities within the Christian church.

Culminating in the Synod of Whitby in 664, Roman Catholic and Celtic Christian spiritualities represented two very different ways of seeing and ways of being. The Synod had drastic consequences for the faithful children of God among the Celtic peoples.  In short, a Roman Catholic perspective, tinged by years of being one with Empire, threatened a way of life lived in the Celtic Islands.[1]

Today, roughly 1500 years after Whitby and 500 years after the Reformation, we are beginning to see and experience spiritual reformation again – why?  Because we need it.

Sharon:

How do we get on board with constantly reforming?

Observe changes from a generation or two ago.  What has shifted? – Examples of multi-disciplinary points.

Move to examining the church – what has changed from the long-ago past, the recent past (1950s), and now?  Points within church life: language, stance on social justice, equality, who is God – does God change?  How might we, the body of Christ, reflect changes to reflect God?  God isn’t of northern or even middle western European descent – God is MUCH bigger.

Falling Upwards;  how faith changes and grows over time, too.

Brian McLaren connection to points that reflect a “new reformation”.  Four stages of perplexity – eventually all will move into harmony – that is change theory.

Scott:

I have been impressed with the concept made popular in the writing of the late Phyllis Tickle – she wrote of periodic repeating 500-year shifts in religious history spent answering the question: “Where now is our authority?”  She believed that we are, as I might say, ‘cresting the wave’ of one of those titanic 500-year shifts.  I interpret her to mean our understanding of spiritual authority is swinging away from Sola Scriptura, our heritage from the Protestant Reformation 1500 years ago, and toward a new reformation of sorts, one in which we are uncertain where our authority will rest.[2]

Closely dovetailing the 500-year shifts, Tickle relates a Jewish Rabbi’s theory of 2000-year shifts: roughly 2000 years focused on God Creator, followed by the past 2000 years of God the Son/Redeemer, a specifically Christian era, leaving us at the cusp of…what?  Tickle suggested we have been entering an “Age of the Spirit.”  This includes an interweaving of gifts from multiple faith traditions.  For example, “Namaste” is a gift from Hinduism.  It has been freely given to the world as a mode of building inter-relationship between all who bear their spiritual journeying into the world.  Translated, it means, roughly, “The divine in me honors the divine in you,” “The Sacred in me bows to the Sacred in you.”

The late Henri Nouwen once wrote: “Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.” On this day when some commemorate the Reformation, how can we keep the faith while still being Reformed, always reforming? What if we began to see ourselves as an “ever-evolving spiritual community of practice?”  Gifts from our own edge traditions – be they Taoist Christian or Celtic Christian,

“Include within our Scriptures an awareness of earth’s sacredness.  We have inherited from Jesus a vision of nonviolence that could profoundly redirect our nations from conflict to peace. We have been taught practices of compassion for those who are poor and hungry and sick that could play a foundational role in the well-being of any society. There is no shortage of treasure in our household. What do we need to give away freely to the world and what do we need to receive from humanity’s other great religious traditions?”[3]

One of the things that is emerging, as our Executive Presbyter for Vision and Mission Brian Heron recently wrote, was that,

Something spiritual, something that smells a little like church, is forming out in the community beyond the church buildings. I can’t prove it, but I can definitely feel it. Many churches are just sick with worry that their memberships are in decline and that the spiritual values they hold dear are disappearing. I don’t think that is the case. I think God is showing up in more than one place at a time.”[4] 

He offers a quote from singer-songwriter Peia to reflect one such place:

“Music is comfort. Music is harmony, fellowship and prayer.”

What all of this seems to point to, I think, is room for incredible creativity ahead for the Church as it grows into a “new reformation.” For us in our reformed inheritance, I find this incredibly hopeful.  Our questions become, first, can we open ourselves to it?  Second, if so, what will it require of us?

I have a hunch it will include engaging ongoing transformation of ourselves in our journeys of faith, as well as the role this community of worship and practice can have as it re-imagines and reflects that God is indeed doing a new thing.

So what next? I encourage you to listen to the Spirit, feel the Breath of the Wind, be steadfast and faithful in your re-imagining process, and contribute your voice, your being, and your gifts as you live into this new chapter together.

May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1]  Ref. John Philip Newell, Sacred Soul, Sacred Earth: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2021).

[2]  Ref. Phyllis Tickle and John M. Sweeney, The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014).

[3]  John Phillip Newell, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publshing, 2014).

[4] Brian Heron, “A Pilgrim Diary, October 12, 2022” A Pilgrim Diary, Blog. https://apilgrimdiary.org/2022/10/12/somethings-happening/. Accessed October 27, 2022.

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Being Drawn into God

Order of Worship for this Reflection: Bulletin-10-16-2022 YC P24

Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:27-34; Luke 18:1-8

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts guide our understanding, O Holy One.  Nurture us we pray, as we grow into who you would fashion us to be.  Amen.

Commentator Bruce Boak writes,

“Jeremiah challenges the Jews in captivity, and us, to embrace the place where God has us and find ways to be faithful in our living, so that others might inquire about our inspiration, our resolve, and our trust, and thereby be drawn into relationship with God.”[1]

“Drawn into relationship with God….” I don’t know about you, but I would love to be drawn into a deeper relationship with God.  I have a hard time figuring out what that is like in a practical sense because I am merely human, but I can imagine some aspects.  Being drawn into relationship with God means God is the initiator – not because God needs us or wants us or needs anything or wants anything but simply because it is God’s nature to reach out and love unconditionally.  What an amazing gift! What does it look like to be drawn into relationship with God?  How does God reach out and initiate that drawing?  Is it like the still small voice Elijah hears in the cave?  Is it like the unjust judge who, even in the midst of his choosing not to grant justice finally does anyway – not because he claims a grounded spiritual life but because some unidentifiable movement of the Spirit prompted him to anyway?  Or is it a deep feeling in our hearts of being strangely warmed like John Wesley?  Or is it standing in quiet curiosity and thanksgiving as a flock of cedar wax wings flicker in the treetops above one’s head eating Autumn berries, listening to their quiet voices and rustling wings.

I wonder, if in our daily lives, in ordinary places, at ordinary times, we can still find ourselves drawn into relationship with God?  Do we have to be healed miraculously like last week’s lepers?  Or can we stop for a moment, look up and stand transfigured by the sunlight shining through the changing colors of the leaves, giving them an unearthly glow even as the chill wind of fall begins to blow.  If we can do that, then perhaps the next step is a mustard seed’s worth of faith to crack the door to a deeper relationship – maybe even a deeper love – with our spouse, our children, our parents, our grandchildren, our friends and co-workers, and yes, even God.

Like the Samaritan leper who was healed, like the persistent widow, let us live fully in the present, seek justice, love mercy, and give thanks for all that Jesus has done to get us this far; keep us peering through a Gospel lens to see what happens next, within and without, and allowing us to view our past, present, and future as a part of God’s whole Community of Creation. “For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; … I will be their God, and they shall be my people…34 they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest….”

Let us pray:

“Thanks be to you, O God, that you have made us in the image of your own mystery.  That in the soul of every human being there are depths beyond naming and heights greater than knowing.

Grant us the grace of inner sight this day, that we may see you as the Self within all selves.  Grant us the grace of love this day that … we may find the treasure that is unlocked by love and know the richness that lies buried in the human soul.”[2]

May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?

[1] Bruce G. Boak, “Pastoral Perspective, Luke 18:1-8” in Feasting on the Word, Year C (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[2] Adapted from Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter

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Our Hungry Hearts / World Communion Sunday October 2, 2022

Order of Worship for this Reflection; Bulletin-TL 10-02-2022 YC P22

Scriptures: Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26; 2 Timothy 1:1-14;  Luke 17:5-10

Let us pray:

O Keeper of our Souls, we pray that your Holy Spirit would breathe through us and fill our hungry hearts this World Communion day with words of Hope. Fill us with grain from Earth, bread from heaven; and fruit of the vine made for everlasting life.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts give us insight to your Holy Will, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.

On a day of Communion, when we feed both our bodies and our souls with the bread of life, perhaps it would be helpful to review different ways the Holy Spirit feeds our hungry hearts – and how we assist in feeding others. This month I want to recall four different kinds of prayer practiced throughout the world’s journeys of faith which are mirrored in the weekly rhythms and movements of our Christian community. These four ways to pray are Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. To help you remember these, the first letter of each spells out the word ACTS. These acts of prayer also help me to remember that when we are following in the footsteps of Jesus and the Disciples, we too are engaging in Acts of discipleship.

Adoration is a prayer of praise. In most worship services during or after the prelude, we light the Christ candle and immediately begin with a call to worship, a hymn of praise, and a daily prayer. Together these parts of the service gather and prepare us to be in God’s presence together, glorifying God and expressing our devotion. There are many Psalms of praise we can turn to for inspiration in these movements of worship. Indeed, often times excerpts from the Psalms are used for the Call to Worship.

The next thing in the order of worship is Confession. The first thing I think about when I hear that word is the cloistered closet space where a penitent worshiper goes before a priest confessing his or her sins under the seal of the confessional and seeks absolution – a very Roman Catholic practice. Presbyterians and other Reformed traditions use more of a communal rhythm of confession and assurance. We usually pray aloud together a “prayer of confession” or “prayer of wholeness” that has been prepared.

Some worshiping communities include a moment of silence for personal confession and sing a short kyrie, then hear familiar words of assurance.  You may have notice I usually match the assurance with pouring water into the Baptismal Font.  I use this visual reminder to help us all recall who we are and whose we are – that we have been born anew.  This rhythm of confession and pardon or invitation to healing and wholeness is as ancient as the beginnings of formalized communal worship.

There is another meaning in the word “confession” however. When John the Baptist saw Jesus walking along the road, it is recorded that he said to those around him, “Look, there goes the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!” This kind of confession we often forget. When John spoke those words, he was confessing his belief – belief in Jesus Christ. Those that were with him and heard his words were John’s own disciples, or followers; When John confessed his belief that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah, his disciples left him and followed Jesus.  This kind of put John out of a job, eventually, but he still proclaimed what he believed, and indeed the scripture was fulfilled when John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The third kind of prayer is Thanksgiving, when we express celebrations in the life of the congregation and give thanks to God. We say a Prayer of Thanksgiving and Dedication, and we celebrate Communion using more formal liturgies referred to as the “Great Thanksgiving,” which is to say we are thanking Christ for his sacrifice on our behalf. Other times outside Sunday worship when we express thanksgiving may include when we rise each morning and thank God for the morning light, or when we give thanks before each meal for nourishment that has been provided for us. We may say a prayer at night thanking God for everything we have been given and for bringing us through the day.

Finally, the fourth kind of prayer is Supplication: this is when we ask God for help. Sometimes we pray for personal things, other times we pray on behalf of friends and family, their needs; others we care for, and even strangers we hear of but do not know.  We also sometimes ask prayers for our pets or even the Earth herself.  This kind of prayer can be done both in worship together or in our personal prayers.  In worship, it is often marked with a call and response such as, “Lord, in your mercy,”  “Hear our prayers.”

A.C.T.S. All of these ACTS of prayer are ways in which we can deepen our own prayer life and begin to satisfy hearts that are hungry for God.  There are many other ways to pray, too.  Movement, music, artistic expression, meditation, labyrinth walking or prayerful hiking.  This month I begin with A.C.T.S. because it is a way we can order our prayers if we are not used to praying on a regular basis. Much like an order of worship, we can begin with adoration, move on to either kind of confession, then give thanks to God, and finally speak aloud to God our requests.

There is something very important to keep in mind with these and all other kinds of prayer which we sometimes forget, however: yes, God always listens; but prayer is a two-way street.  In addition to offering our innermost thoughts and feelings to God, there always comes the need be active listeners as well. This may mean, as our ancestors in the faith knew, that we might have to sit down and wait; sometimes for a long time, before we understand how God is moving or has moved in our lives.  Sometimes answers are not what we expect or even hope for, but above all let us remember to listen.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

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In an Earthen Jar

Order of Worship for this reflection: Bulletin-TL 09-25-2022 YC P21

Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts give us insight to your Holy Will, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.

“Put them in an Earthen jar, in order that they may last for a long time….”  Jeremiah was in a difficult spot, wasn’t he?  The prophet of God, chained in the courtyard of his own country’s gubernatorial residence in Jerusalem, which is also supposed to be the spiritual center of the entire Israelite nation, and the Word of God comes to him: “Purchase-redeem the field of your relative.” In the economy of that time, this meant the land-ethic promises fulfilled through generational holdings remain within the family of the tribe of their origin, and allow for family members to buy out one another’s means of sustenance from the land at one time – with the intent that at another time when financial standings shift, those same family members could redeem their land back.  That way, they take care of the family as a whole and never cut off their means of gainful subsistence living off their promised land.

It is clear from earlier passages in Jeremiah and from a study of world history that at this time, the armies of Babylon were taking over the known Middle Eastern world; taking historically older and settled nations and removing them to other location of their conquered territories and forcing them to settle there, away from their historical roots.  Briliant on the part of Babylon to fulfil their perceived manifest destiny, but devastating for historically landed pre-existing peoples. That being said, I don’t think I need to draw any more parallels to empire-minded nation-states from more recent historical periods.

Focusing on the lessons we can learn from Jeremiah, we learn this: Chained, he is still God’s voice to the people, God’s chosen prophet for his time in the Biblical narrative. Even as Jeremiah and his whole nation will be uprooted and carried away into the Babylonian Exile, the voice of God comes clearly, and Jeremiah is compelled to speak.  Which leads me to wonder, is there ever a time to hear from a prophetic voice in these days?  Is God speaking to us and needing us to speak out for what the Spirit is doing today?

I find it fascinating this community of faith is faced with this passage from the lectionary today.  How appropriate – and how challenging.  Not that we are being forced from our land and our homes, but in my mind, it feels like all of Christianity has been and is being besieged, emerging from pandemic realities.  I wonder, is there a deeper lesson or lessons we can learn from Jeremiah that speak into this community today?

In Jeremiah’s time, his actions symbolized an assurance.  In our own weekly rhythms of worship we too have the opportunity to find assurance.  For Israel and the Judeans, God, through Jeremiah the prophet, assures them that they will “one day buy and sell houses in their dear homeland again.”[1]  That is to say, their life together in community will go on again in the future, despite Babylon besieging their city and deporting residents even as this transaction takes place.  At the same time, Jeremiah is signaling them to look for God – “who is near and active, even in the present circumstances of their exile.”[2] This means, “their own rebuilding as a people would happen both in exile and in Jerusalem…it is more than a coincidence that the redemption of land by a relative is part of the purchase process. This piece models what God is doing in the redemption of exilic Judah.”[3]

The end product of Jeremiah’s prophetic word is the challenge of hopeful action in the midst of change.  Similar to the challenge of Spring’s chaotic new growth as it emerges from Winter – or the brief chaos of a new school year beginning in a college town that suddenly has an increase of 25,000 young people and their energies added to a population of 60,000.  But the challenge is the same: we are invited to imagine, envision, and live into the challenge of hopeful action in the midst of it all.

How Jeremiah speaks into our contemporary times is to “remind us that God’s grace occurs in unusual places and even sometimes in contrarian forms.”[4]  What will this congregation’s hopeful actions be moving forward?  Material and prophetic?  Investing in renewal and refurbishment?  Service and stewardship?  A faithful reading of Jeremiah for us today is, as one commentator identified, for all of us to be “called to find analogies of collaborative, inspired, public, prophetic actions that speak the hope of redemption in unpromising places and times.”[5]

From my perspective, that is just the surface of what is going on in the scriptures – and by extension, I suspect just the surface of what is going on in our lives as well.  At a deeper level, the transactional nature of life in Israel as they have always known it is passing; to be replaced by a communal endeavor tied more closely to Spirit, signifying that, “Their com-munity is now comprised of those who band together to worship God, strengthen their commitments to live according to the will of God, and celebrate the commonalities created by their dedication…to the things of God.”[6]  In short,

“By purchasing the land in the midst of Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon and while he was imprisoned, Jeremiah defines what it means to have faith in [God]’s future.  He attests to his conviction that [God] is present even in catastrophe.  He declares that meaninglessness or nonbeing will not triumph. To [any] who suffer from hopelessness and despair of unexpected setbacks, Jeremiah underscores that, out of the chaos of change, [God]’s promises will be fulfilled.”[7]

Like this week’s season of Spring, I invite you to offer your thoughts and prayers, hopes and dreams, in this our third week of Rooted in Grace, Growing in Love. To add your voice, join one of the renewal groups this week or send your thoughts in to Kristin in the office to be included as we wait, rest, and dream for the future.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Stephen Breck Reid, “Theological Perspective, Jeremiah 32:1-3a; 6-15” in Feasting on the Word, Year C (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sharon Peebles Burch, “Pastoral Perspective, Jeremiah 32:1-3a;6-15” in Feasting on the Word, Year C (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[7] Ibid.

Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts give us insight to your Holy Will, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.

“Put them in an Earthen jar, in order that they may last for a long time….”  Jeremiah was in a difficult spot, wasn’t he?  The prophet of God, chained in the courtyard of his own country’s gubernatorial residence in Jerusalem, which is also supposed to be the spiritual center of the entire Israelite nation, and the Word of God comes to him to speak.  Chained, he is still God’s voice to the people, God’s chosen prophet for his time in the Biblical narrative. Even as Judah itself is about to be uprooted and carried away into Babylon, the voice of God comes clearly, and Jeremiah is compelled to speak.

I find it ironically appropriate for this community of faith to be faced with this passage from the lectionary.  How appropriate – and how challenging.  Judah was being besieged.  In my mind, it feels like all of Christianity has been and is being besieged in these days, emerging from pandemic realities. I wonder, what lessons can we learn from Jeremiah that speak into our time today?

In Jeremiah’s time, his actions symbolize an assurance.  In our own weekly rhythms of worship we have the opportunity to find assurance as well.  For Israel and the Judeans, God, through Jeremiah the prophet, assures them that they will “one day buy and sell houses in their dear homeland again.”[1]  That is to say, their life together in community will go on again in the future, despite Babylon besieging their city and deporting residents even as this transaction takes place.  At the same time, Jeremiah is signaling them to look for God – “who is near and active, even in the present circumstances of their exile.”[2] This means, “their own rebuilding would happen both in exile and in Jerusalem…it is more than a coincidence that the redemption of land by a relative is part of the purchase process. This piece models what God is doing in the redemption of exilic Judah.”[3]

Does that remind you of anything happening in our contemporary situation?  Let’s see, we’ve been mostly closed down now for two and half years; pastoral staff is in transition, hybrid technologies have changed how we meet and gather, and fellowship can be on a screen instead of in person.  I don’t know about you, but that feels a little like exile to what I’m personally used to.  Being fully present, in the flesh with your friends, neighbors, church family, and actual family cannot be replaced by any amount of hybrid or virtual gathering technologies.  Yes, they have kept us going during a time when we were exiled one from another.  But they are not a replacement.  As we emerge from isolating tendencies of the pandemic and begin to interact in the flesh again, we find we are coming back to what is somewhat familiar but also somewhat changed.  Or … have we changed?  Or … possibly both?

What this scripture has to teach us can be learned and felt on many levels.  The end product of this prophetic word is the challenge of hopeful action in the midst of change.  Similar to the challenge of Spring’s chaotic new growth as it emerges from Winter – or the brief chaos of a new school year beginning in a college town that suddenly has an increase of 25,000 young people and their energies added to a population of 60,000.  But the challenge is the same: we are invited to imagine, envision, and live into the challenge of hopeful action in the midst of it all.

How Jeremiah speaks into our contemporary times is to “remind us that God’s grace occurs in unusual places and even sometimes in contrarian forms.”[4]  What will this congregation’s hopeful actions be today?  Material and prophetic?  Investing in renewal and refurbishment? Service and stewardship?  A faithful reading of Jeremiah for us today is, as one commentator identified, for all of us to be “called to find analogies of collaborative, inspired, public, prophetic actions that speak the hope of redemption in unpromising places and times.”[5]

From my perspective, that is just the surface of what is going on in the scriptures – and by extension, I suspect just the surface of what is going on in our lives as well.  At a deeper level, the transactional nature of life in Israel as they have always known it is passing; to be replaced by a communal endeavor tied more closely to Spirit, signifying that, “Their com-munity is now comprised of those who band together to worship God, strengthen their commitments to live according to the will of God, and celebrate the commonalities created by their dedication…to the things of God.”[6]  In short,

“By purchasing the land in the midst of Jerusalem’s destruction by Babylon and while he was imprisoned, Jeremiah defines what it means to have faith in [God]’s future.  He attests to his conviction that [God] is present even in catastrophe.  He declares that meaninglessness or nonbeing will not triumph. To [any] who suffer from hopelessness and despair of unexpected setbacks, Jeremiah underscores that, out of the chaos of change, [God]’s promises will be fulfilled.”[7]

Like this week’s season of Spring, I invite you to offer your thoughts and prayers, hopes and dreams, in this our third week of Rooted in Grace, Growing in Love. To add your voice, join one of the renewal groups this week or send your thoughts in to Kristin in the office to be included as we wait, rest, and dream for the future.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Stephen Breck Reid, “Theological Perspective, Jeremiah 32:1-3a; 6-15” in Feasting on the Word, Year C (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sharon Peebles Burch, “Pastoral Perspective, Jeremiah 32:1-3a;6-15” in Feasting on the Word, Year C (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[7] Ibid.

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