“Expectations in Waiting”

North Hill Christian Church

November 29, 200

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Isaiah 64:1-9

I have this vivid memory from my childhood of me sitting at the dinner table, with the Toys ‘R’ Us Christmas catalog circling all the toys that I wanted. As I look back, I know that I was not paying attention to how much things costed, or how much space they required, such as a full sized pinball machine. I had all these grand expectations of what I would get for Christmas, setting myself up for disappointment when I did not get those things that I wanted.

I hear these same desires filled with grand expectations in Isaiah 64:1-9 this morning as we hear it with an ear to awaiting the birth of our savior. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.” 

The text begins with these dreams of how God could make these grand gestures of power, like those of old. How God could break forth into the world, not with a gentle presence, but one that invokes images of mountains shaking, and the heat that causes water to boil. These are violent, norm disrupting images of power. All of which are meant to cause the other nations to tremble at the mere presence of the divine.

Until verse 5 there is not hint of self examination or reflection of the people’s needs and relationship with the divine. What is at the forefront of the mind as we hear those first verses, is for God to solve the problem of those outsiders who once held them in exile. Those outsiders who worship other Gods. Those outsiders who invaded the promised land and destroyed the temple. They should pay. They should be afraid for we have God on our side. 

And yet, this imagery, while wanting to call forth the power of God as heard through the scriptures, is tempered when we recognize that those actions of those other nations was precipitated by the people of God forgetting their covenant with the divine. Forgetting their own sin, and simply want God to solve and prevent all of their problems with other nations. 

In my mind, I have these images of Aslan from “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C.S. Lewis, who has great power to utterly wipe out any of those what would do harm to Narnia, and yet so much of Aslan’s actions in those books, requires relationship between himself and the people. This connection that goes beyond knowing and affiliation, but deep connectedness. A relationship that requires Alsan and the people to work together side by side, helping one another. When the people forget their relationship with the great lion things go awry, but in those places where they are truly connected, things become knit together and brokenness is healed. 

It is no secret that C.S. Lewis wrote this series of books heavily influenced by his own Christian Faith. One begins to understand his theology and beliefs as you read through the entire collection. Aslan is the divine presence of the holy trinity. Aslan embodies this image of great divine power, that is tempered by the mortal’s relationship with the divine. 

As Isaiah continues, in verses 5-7 we hear this recognition of the brokenness, and sin that the people have caused. It becomes apparent that there has been a time of deep reflection on the history of the people. While it would still be grand if God would break through in a great show of power, there is this recognition that the people have sinned. That the people had fallen away from their devotion to God. That the people turned away and neglected their relationship with the divine. And in doing so caused great suffering and brokenness to befall the people. 

There comes this time as the people continue to await for all their prayers to be answered and their problems taken away, that they find themselves reflecting on how their own behavior and actions have made way for some of their problems and suffering. How their own actions have caused them to break their covenant with God. How they have not lived up to what the divine has asked of them, as they demand greatness from God. 

Here is the thing about waiting. Even when I was a little I began making my list of wants early on. As soon as the catalog came with the Paper on Thanksgiving, I was looking through it and circling items. But as we made our way through Advent, my mind let go of all those grand desires, and instead allowed me to be happy with the surprise in opening those gifts that I hadn’t yet shook or gotten a sneak peak of prior to Christmas morning. 

The time of anticipating what is yet to come, gives us the opportunity to sort out our priorities, to reflect upon our own lives, past, present, and future. The time of waiting tempers our expectations to be somewhat more realistic, while we also take up some of the responsibility as well. Even though I would often go through the Christmas catalog, knowing I was asking for these gifts from my parents, I would begin to remember and consider what I would be giving to my parents on Christmas morning. 

In the final verses of today’s reading, we hear the author remember the people’s relationship with the divine. “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the works of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember our iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.” 

We have this remembrance of the people’s connection with the divine. Their father, their creator, the one that has brought them into being, and asking that God not remember their brokenness forever. Hoping for forgiveness, hoping that their relationship may yet be healed and brought back to what it once was. Hoping for a way forward as the people of God. 

In this season of waiting. Waiting for this pandemic to be over. Waiting for things to return to “normal.” Waiting for the birth of the Christ child. Waiting, waiting, waiting. In this season, let us temper our grand expectations, while we also reflect on our responsibilities to other and to the divine. Let us reflect on mending those relationships that we have let dwindle, and heal that which separates us from the divine. 

“A New Covenant”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

November 22, 2020

Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28, 31:31-34

We have a number of ways that we dispense of news or information that we don’t like. We can easily delete emails, ignore text messages, unfollow or block people on facebook. But none of these have the tactile experience that we hear from Jeremiah, as King Jehoiakim takes a pen knife and slices the scroll with unfavorable news for him and his people. As he cuts the scroll down the middle and summarily throws it in the fire, he makes his point that he refuses to hear this bad news of what is to befall Judah if they do not repent. 

Now we know something is up with the relationship between Jeremiah and the king even before he cuts the scroll. We hear that Jeremiah isn’t even allowed to enter the house of the Lord. Jeremiah has already been blocked from direct contact with the people by the king, and so Jeremiah has to use a third party to declare the word of the Lord.   

If this were to take place today, Jeremiah would be creating a second facebook account, finding a way to disguise his phone number or borrowing someone else’s phone. Taking excessive steps so that the message that God has declared to him is heard by the people, and especially the king. But even as we hear all that Jeremiah goes through to declare the word, it is still destroyed and tossed aside. These actions still speak to us and are relevant to us today. They have me thinking about all the things we do to avoid information that we don’t want to hear. All of those ways that we avoid those things that make us uncomfortable, or force us to examine our own actions that fall short of what God would have us do. 

But even as humanity has developed ways to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable, we know that God has continued to call to God’s people into lives of righteousness, using different methods and approaches over the generations. Even before King Jehoiakim tears up the scroll, God makes a declaration of what is yet to come in chapter 31:31-34.

“The days are surly coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” 

Even as God continues to call the people into right relationship through the use of the prophets, we hear this promise of what would be to come. We hear that God would be doing something new and different so that the people may truly know God and not be reliant upon the written laws. Those things that can easily be discarded, ignored, or destroyed when it no longer serves the people who are to follow them. 

We recognize that the fulfillment of this promise of this new covenant is embodied in Jesus Christ. The one who taught us, not the letter of the law but rather how to live and embody the law that calls us to live righteously through his own life and death. The one through his own example shows us that it is indeed possible for us to live a life that remains faithful to what God would have us do. This is best wrapped up in that abbreviation that became popular, as I remember, back during the 90’s, WWJD. What Would Jesus Do. I even had a bracelet with those letters on it, to serve as a reminder as I lived out each day. This acronym has become overplayed and used in so many settings that it seems to have lost its punch, and yet at the heart of it, we are called, not to remember the laws, but rather to remember the example of Jesus’ own life and seek to embody that same truth. 

Our faith in Jesus the Christ as our teacher, savior, wonderful counselor, and Son of God, calls us into deep connection with the divine. Recognizing who God is and why we are called to live lives of justice and righteousness. We can’t call ourselves Christians and ignore the ministries that Jesus started and called us to be a part of. We can’t look at the table and the cross and dismiss those actions as unimportant and meaningless. Instead as we remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are bound to the divine in deep relationship that does not allow us to ignore the calls and instructions of the divine. Instead the relationship that we have with the holy draws us in, wanting to learn more, wanting to be better, wanting to do justice, love kindness, and continue to walk humbly with our God. 

While we can still ignore those things that make us uncomfortable. We can turn the channel on the TV when the news isn’t to our liking. We can block phone numbers and facebook accounts. We can ignore texts and emails. But as Christians we cannot ignore the calling of the divine as we continue to be in relationship with the Holy. The law that is written on our hearts is based on our identity of being followers of Christ. 

“Too Much Grace?”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

November 8, 2020

Jonah 3 & 4

I have this dual memory of the story of Jonah.  One story, is the one I heard in Sunday School growing up, and the biggest take away I remember, is that of the giant fish that swallowed Jonah, even though the fish is only a small part of this narrative. The second memory that I have, is the process of translating the whole book from Hebrew into English which forced the class to wrestle with Jonah’s actions that sought to limit God’s mercy and grace to those in Nineveh. A memory that highlights God’s steadfast love and compassion for humankind, even when we don’t like it. 

So, let’s set the scene. We have Jonah, a faithful prophet to the God of Israel, who is called to declare a message to the city of Nineveh, a capital city of Assyria who had a hand in the exile of the Israelites from their land. There is great animosity to be had against Nineveh a once great city that has fallen to wickedness. Knowing this, we hear God calling upon Jonah to declare God’s judgement upon the people of Nineveh. 

A mixed bag of emotions is going on here. We could see Jonah being afraid or a bit resentful to those in Nineveh and not wanting to go there. But wouldn’t there also be the possibility for Jonah to derive some sort of pleasure, walking into the city, up to the king, and declare God’s judgement upon them. Facing one’s enemy and declaring that they are going to be punished by God. Wouldn’t there be some possibility of enjoyment? 

But that is not what happens. Jonah runs away. More than that, instead of traveling to a city that is comparatively close by, Jonah tries to run to the other end of the Mediterranean sea, to the borders of the known world, trying to escape God’s calling. We all know it doesn’t work that way. And yet, Jonah runs away from what God is calling him to be and do. 

In the running, there is a moment of evangelism on the boat. As the storms rages up around this boat. All the mariners, trained sailers, became afraid and end up trying to figure out whose god was responsible for the storm. A storm that has them all calling upon their gods, and trying to discern who is responsible. In that moment Jonah admits that it is his fault while also naming the God of Israel as the one who has the power to call forth this great storm. The God of the Hebrews, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. In Jonah’s proclamation, and subsequent actions of being thrown overboard, he converts the mariners to the God of Israel. In running away from declaring God’s truth, comes a moment that he once more declares the truth of who God is, and the sailers come to believe. 

Then comes the fish. The large fish that swallows up Jonah, “and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Now here is the thing. In scripture, numbers have meaning and in this case, we can derive the significance of the three days to be that time it takes to travel to or from the underworld. This time of traveling in death, that we connect most notably with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The important part of this section is not the fish but this time where Jonah is on this journey between life and death.

Now while we imagine that Jonah is sitting in the belly of the fish, a repeated image comes to mind. That of a man sitting in prayer with nothing else to do, and one would assume that the prayer would be of repentance since Jonah is the one who has been running away from God. And yet, in the second chapter of Jonah, we hear a psalm of thanksgiving. No where in all of the psalm does Jonah repent for his actions, but rather gives thanks for what God has done in his journey. A man who, as we know is about to declare God’s judgment and a call for repentance in Nineveh, who refuses to recognize and name his own sins before God. 

Once the psalm of thanksgiving finishes, God commands the fish to spit Jonah up on the dry land, and once again God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to declare God’s message. 

Now, the message that we hear is just a part of one verse. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” We can assume that what Jonah actually said was a bit longer, but this encapsulates the message of judgement and destruction upon the city from the hands  of the God of Heaven and Earth. The God of the Israelites. The God of the people that they had once oppressed who are now back in their own land. This God whom they have surely heard about is going to destroy this once great city in forty days. 

As word spreads of this proclamation, the people get organized to repent. They establish a fast and remove their fine clothes in exchange for sackcloth. Even the king puts away those items of power and authority to humble himself even to the point of sitting in ashes. 

In hearing these words, my mind goes to those practices that we undertake during the season of lent. We place ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday. Some of us participate in various types of fasting. We do things to intentionally focus on our own repentance. We find ways to intentionally humble ourselves so that we can focus more fully upon our relationship with the divine. 

Now what happens? In seeing what the people did, in repenting and turning from their evil ways, “God changed [God’s] mind about the calamity that [God] had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” God showed the people of Nineveh mercy, this city that Jonah despised for many reasons. And we find out why Jonah didn’t want to go there in the first place. Jonah declares in prayer, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” 

I can’t hear Jonah’s voice be anything but that of a petulant child, who feels that they have been drug all over the place, not recognizing the positive effects of his own actions. A voice crying out, “I told you so. I knew this is how this would go and that is why I didn’t want to come all this way.” Jonah confesses another truth beyond what he spoke to the sailers on the ship. Jonah confesses that God is gracious, and merciful. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. These are all great things and yet Jonah speaks them as if those words are poison on his tongue. Mercy and steadfast love are great for Jonah to receive, but not for these people in Nineveh. This place that has persecuted and oppressed the Israelites in their history. This place that is wicked, even if they did repent. 

Jonah doesn’t get that his calling to go to Nineveh isn’t about him but rather God seeking to change the people in Nineveh. It isn’t about what Jonah wants, but about bringing the truth of who God is to the people in Nineveh, even if they had done great evil in the past. There was still hope for that city.  

This is one of those stories that we often find highlighted in children’s Bibles, but we do not often address it as adults. This story of a man who has come to believe in the God of the heavens and earth. The God who is gracious and merciful. A God whose steadfast love endures. And yet while he believes all of this, his own animosity towards another has driven him to the ends of the earth so that he doesn’t have to watch those that he despise receive that same grace and love. 

This text should serve as a cautionary tale to all of us, not simply a fun story for our kids. It should be a cautionary tale to not let our own differences, and prejudices stand in the way of being a part of God’s grace, even if it looks to us to be too much. Even as we have made our way through a tough election cycle, not everyone is happy. And yet, here is an opportunity for us to declare the truth of God’s steadfast love and let it guide us through these days together. 

“God Provides”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

November 1, 2020

1 Kings 17:1-16

Each year we take a moment on this Sunday to pause and remember all those whom have passed on in the past year. All those whose legacies remain while the loss of their physical presence is acknowledged. This year more than others, I feel it is even more important to remember the legacies of those who have gone before us. In part because for many of those whose names I read off earlier in the service were not able to be mourned in our typical manner with a gathering of the community. But also, because as we are in this time where we feel the oppressive weight of the pandemic, it is important for us to look back on the legacies of those who have laid a foundation for us to stand on, that was built through times of struggle. 

The loss of my grandmother last month is still fresh in my mind as are the stories that were shared as family gathered to mourn and support one another. My grandmother who began her life during the 1918 pandemic, living through all the struggles of the Great Depression, World War II, The Civil Rights Movement, and so much more she provided that strong quiet presence that I remember. Through all of this my Grandmother studied and continued to learn all her life, while at the same time continuing to ask questions, probing deeper, getting to the heart of the topic without accepting the words from the teacher, even if they were her pastor. In the last few years of her life I heard her speak even more openly about family members who were gay, and friends who had transgender children. She gave me hope that even at her age she continued to live a life of faith, based on God’s love. In hearing these new stories, I began to understand the faith that my father grew up with and passed on to me. 

I am mindful of the loss of the Bellmans this year, as when I began to serve here as your pastor, they were a steady presence on Sunday mornings, until the past couple of years. They welcomed us all with smiles and a handshake. They served as not just greeters but our hosts when we entered into this space. But they also did much more than that. In listening to stories about Dick and Donna, I came to understand how they supported their community. By providing babysitting services, and offering what they had to help others. They volunteered as long as they were able, and even after that time had passed they continued to support us by simply being present. Even in the toughest of times, when simply being here was difficult, they continued to encourage us along. Even as they were struggling they provided that presence that welcomed all to come and be a part of God’s kingdom. 

Rocky’s life comes to mind, as one of service and dedication. An example that reminds me of my days in the boy scouts, in part because Rocky was that contact with our local troop who continues to offer help when we need it as we share our parking lot with them each May. When I think about Rocky, I think about his devotion to service and to building one another up. Even though he and I did not agree on many things, we did see eye to eye that we could all serve side by side for as long as we are able. A dedication to service that is cemented in the foundation of our faith. 

Joanne’s legacy on my life is focused on family. How she cared for all of her family, just as they cared for her. The amount of devotion that she took in raising her children, and following the lives of her grandchildren, and the children of our community. When we spoke, it often felt that each person we shared about was family, not just a random person, but a member of our larger family. For the past several years of her life, I was able to see how her family responded to her love from over the years. They cared for her and watched over her. They kept her connected with the larger family and loved her. Joanne’s legacy foundation for me is our connections of family in the body of Chirst. 

While I am able to share brief reflections on these five individuals whom I knew, I would encourage us all to also bring forth in our minds all those whom we have lost this year and all the years before. Each person who has gone before us have left behind their stories for us to share. Each person who has gone before us has left their marks upon our lives. Whether they were like Elijah speaking good news to those who were in desperate times, or if they were like the widow willing to believe those words that seemed to be impossible, and yet had faith. 

The foundation of our faith, is not simply Jesus Christ, but also in the legacies of those who have touched our lives and help guide us in placing the foundation stones of our faith. So much of our lives we like to think that everything we do is on our own. That our faith is solely built on Jesus, without any outside help. And yet how we practice our faith is influenced by those Sunday School Teachers, those pastors, our parents, our friends, and even those we don’t agree with. All of these people who have been a part of our lives have helped to shape our faith. 

So, as we come together today, to remember those saints who have gone before us. Let us also celebrate those legacies that they have left behind. Those legacies that have built up the foundation of our faith, that encourages us on, and reminds us of the unfailing faithfulness of our God to provide for the needs of God’s people. 

In the same way all those who have come through the halls of this church, have laid a foundation for us as well. A foundation that has provided a building for us to worship in. A foundation that seeks to address needs here in this community. A foundation that continues to allow us to be a beacon of hope for our community even during chaotic and troubling times. A foundation that helps us to declare the good news of Jesus the Christ, our cornerstone. 

“Faithful, Hopeful, Loving”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

October 25, 2020

1 Corinthians 13

For the past several weeks we have been building up to this text. We have been building up to Paul’s summation of how a community of faith is to conduct themselves. Declaring and living out one’s faith in God who has constantly remained faithful to their people. Hoping for what is to come even when following God’s guidance leads us to face changes and new opportunities. And most importantly, in all that we do as a people called to be community together, we are to live lives of love.  

Now, as we read today’s text, we must first recognize that Paul wasn’t writing to a community that had everything in order and was perfect. Instead, Paul spends the first three quarters of this letter addressing conflict and concerns. In chapter 12 he names the importance of the various spiritual gifts as essential to the whole body of Christ, and then in chapter 13, gives us a view of how we are to love others. A view of love that should continually call us to do and be better in how we live in community with others, especially with those that we profoundly disagree with. A love that should be reflective in how we practice our faith and our hopes for what is yet to come. 

We have found it important over the past several weeks to tell the stories of the ministries of our church, and of our own faith, but we recognize that this goes against our desire to be humble. We do not want to seem like we are boasting or being arrogant about what we are doing, but we do want to highlight and share how we are living out our faith. Hoping that as we share our stories we might encourage everyone who hears them to come along side in the ministries that we continue to live into. But as we have also looked back at how we have sought to faithfully live into the ministries that God has called us into, we recognize those changes that have become necessary as the world has changed, and we have become more aware of the brokenness that the church has at times reinforced. 

In those moments of required change and repentance, we continue to be called to practice grace and forgiveness as we seek to live into an even better way. Not forgetting the broken places of the past but rather learning from those lessons so that we can seek to avoid similar injustices in the future. But even recognizing those places of growth in how this congregation has lived out it’s calling, we are able to celebrate the long standing relationships with Family Promise of Spokane, and Meals on Wheels. Supporting those ministries that seek to help those experiencing homelessness, hunger, and loneliness. 

As we look towards the future of what God is calling us into, let us continue to be hopeful for the possibilities, even if change is required. Being hopeful, with open eyes, and a willingness to approach new things, that God is leading us towards. But it isn’t just about being hopeful for the possibilities for ministry that God places in front of us, but also hopeful for the ways in which we are able to share ourselves and our own gifts and talents to make our world a better place. Encouraging one another and all of our partners in ministry to work together for what God makes possible in our community. 

Over the past couple of years we have seen changes taking place in our neighborhood as we have also welcomed new members into our congregation. With all these changes have come changes in what school we are supporting throughout the year as needs at Willard Elementary have changed. We have also begun new ministries as different gifts and passions are lifted up within our own congregation. Namely, hosting citizenship classes for immigrants and refugees seeking to become full citizens of our country. 

I am hopeful for the ways in which we can and will continue to make a difference in the lives of our community members as we declare the kingdom of God, that we find in the Gospel, and declare through our actions. Hopeful that as we continue to seek to build whole community, and build our partnerships, we continue to have opportunities to declare the Gospel. We continue to have a presence here in our neighborhood with opportunities ahead of how we can make a difference for all of our neighbors. 

In all that we do, as we live out our faith we continue to let love be our guide. A love, that is patient and kind, is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. A love that does not insist on its own way. A love that is not irritable or resentful. A love that rather than rejoicing when we get our own way over another, we rather rejoice in the truth. A love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And above all never ends, especially when things get difficult.  

As I say those words, I can’t help but be mindful of the polar star of the Disciples of Christ; Christian Unity. That as we continue to declare the good news in our own congregation and work towards the kingdom of God, we do so in relationship with other congregations and denominations working toward God’s kingdom. That even as there are a number of approaches to living out one’s faith, we seek to uplift one another. We seek to encourage one another. And we do the best that we can in living out our faith as we follow where God is leading us in this place. 

Today we have an opportunity to once again reaffirm our dedication to the ministries that God has called us into, while also sharing an invitation to others to come along side to do ministry with us. What we are doing here in this place today, is not an isolated event, but rather a moment that is tied to the rest of the year. As we have, over the past several weeks, highlighted and shared stories of how we have and continue to live out our faith, I hope that you will be willing to share those same stories, along with your own, with your friends and family. As we commit our gifts and talents to the ministry of this congregation, we do so with hope for what is yet possible. We are hopeful for how God will lead us towards new possibilities for us to declare the good news. And in bringing forth signs of our commitment to this congregation, we all are coming together to offer what we have so that we may continue to do all things in love. 

“Loving”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

October 18, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-9a

A core part of our mission statement is around building whole community. That whole embodiment of our mission is reflective of how we understand the good news of Jesus Christ. As I consider those words, whole community, I hear them in direct opposition to the divisions and brokenness in our world, which leave too many of our brothers and sisters, in poverty, suffering under oppression, hungry, experiencing homelessness, stigmatized by mental illness, and the list goes on. But when I think about how we seek to build whole community it is about building relationships as we seek to answer the needs that we are faced with. 

We always have a choice as to how we respond to the needs of our world, and yet the text from Isaiah compels us to live out our faith, responding to the needs of our brothers and sisters, rather than simply observe the rites and rituals that have become a routine part of our lives. Isaiah was calling out those who simply did all the right things in their personal lives and expected that they would be seen is righteous. They did all the fasting that was expected. They humbled themselves but expected recognition for their actions. 

In our own lives this would be comparable to attending church every Sunday, going to all the special services throughout the year. Having a perfect attendance in Sunday School or Bible Study. Being the top of the top in leadership in the church and community.

The people did all the right things in their lives, and yet the voice of God through the prophet called them to participate in a different fast. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” 

To simply live out our lives of faith secluded with those of like minds, and practice our faith in seclusion from the rest of the world would be easy, and yet it falls short of what God calls us into. In order for us to live lives that loose the bonds of injustice requires us to hear and pay attention to the cries of the oppressed in our world. In order for us to walk along side those experiencing homelessness we must be willing to build relationships and hear their stories. To break down barriers and walls, we must open communication with those that have been separated by those very same walls.

And as I reflect over my past seven years of being your pastor, I can’t help but be proud of all the relationships that have been created in living lives of righteousness and love. During one of my first in person interviews before coming here there were conversations about this congregation’s long standing relationship with Family Promise of Spokane. And as the years have progressed, we found it difficult to continue on in the same way, and yet we declared that the work that they do helping families experiencing homelessness is so important to who we are, we continue to be in relationship with them through the XPLOR program. 

When we collect food and supplies for the Salish School, we don’t want to do just the minimum for that moment but continue to build our relationship with their leadership and students so that we are best able to respond to their needs, rather than our desire to be helpful. As August was coming to an end and the usual end for a school supply drive was approaching, there were discussions about how we were going to continue a supply drive. It wasn’t about when to end it but rather, how we might make it a regular fixture of our ministry. In doing so we seek to continue to support those in need throughout the year, rather than in those convenient times. 

Each Thanksgiving and Christmas we gather food for the holiday baskets that we send out. As we gather these items we insure that we are feeding each family, not just for that holiday but for the whole week. As families come to pick up “baskets” of food they are always surprised that they are getting boxes of food that will help them feed their families during the holiday breaks when resources may be limited. 

One of the quiet ministires that goes unnoticed throughout most of the year is our clothing barrel, that in partnership with Mission Community Outreach helps to provide clothing to those in need in our community. I regularly have the opportunity to deliver several large bags of clothing to this clothing bank to help those with insufficient clothing for themselves and their families. 

One of our newest ministry partners is with World Relief in providing citizenship classes and resources to those seeking US citizenship. This ministry is more than just classwork but also about the care and compassion our students find as we seek to build them up and encourage them in their journeys. In doing so we become bound in relationship. These classes become more than just tutoring around the legal process and preparing for the test. They are a time to share stories. They are a time of sharing in resources to support one another. And they are times in which strangers become family. 

The video that we will be seeing today is but a snapshot of all the stories that have been shared by a number of our students. All of which have come here for different reasons. Some are immigrants while others are refugees. Some come for opportunities and the American Dream, while others come fleeing from violence and danger. No matter why our students have come to our country and to us for help, they find love, and a people seeking to build community. 

As our congregation continues old and new ministry partners in our community, I am grateful that our congregation has empowered me to be connected with and speak out about injustices within our community. While each member of our congregation is passionate about different issues, and encouraged to serve in the ways that they are called, I am able to also be present, visibly as a pastor in our community declaring love to those who are oppressed, by standing with other clergy and faith leaders when there is an attack on any group of faith. Declaring the call for bonds of injustice to be shed, by continuing to listen to and remain connected with the Spokane Homeless Coalition. Declaring God’s love for all, by regularly participating in and marching with other Clergy during Pride events. Declaring, the desire for whole community to be built up, not only in our congregation, but through our community and world as I continue to listen to and seek to faithfully respond to issues of brokenness in our world. 

There is always more that we can do, and as we press on, we continue to ask how we might faithfully respond to the needs in our community. How we might be good stewards of not only our resources but also the gifts and talents of our volunteers to respond to the needs of our community. In all of the ways in which we live out our faith, may we do so with the love of God as our guide. Let us not become complacent with the rites and rituals, but rather be moved to seek forth justice in all things as the way in which we practice righteousness. 

“Hopeful”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

October 11, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

The year 2020 has become synonymous with a revolving door of crisis. From pandemic, to increasing attention to and protests around institutionalized and systemic racism, to an increasingly divisive political climate, historic wildfires in the West, and hurricanes in the Gulf States. The list goes on and on, and in the midst of all of this chaos we are still called to be church. Still called to keep moving forward in serving, worshiping, praying, teaching, building community, and proclaiming the Gospel, even if we have had to make changes and re-evaluate how we do ministry in this time. 

But change, even in the most harmonious of times is essential for a congregation to continue to move forward and thrive. Change is necessary, and yet Paul, writing to the Romans, reminds us of a core component of how we are to be people of faith living and declaring the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to; “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Paul continues on, but in this section of his writing love is the essential. To hold onto that compassion and love for one another, even our enemies. Even with those whom we greatly disagree with. Love is to guide our actions. Love is to guide how we continue to live into the vision that God has for us in this community. A vision that has continued to re-focus and evolve as our community and world has continued to change and develop over the years. 

I like that language of re-focus. Calling us to be mindful of focusing a camera, or set of binoculars. As the scenery changes there is that need to refocus the lens so that we may see clearly once more. As the world around our church building has changed we have been called to listen to what God is calling us to be. To re-focus our selves to recognize that the struggles of the world from a hundred years ago are not necessarily the same struggles of today. WIth God’s help we have continued to adjust our lens to focus on what God is calling us to be and do in this place. 

Our current vision statement reads; “As a community of people called by God, blessed by the Holy Spirit, and following Christ’s example, North Hill Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is bound in covenant to continually seek God’s guidance, to act and to take action in ways that embody the reign of God, and to serve human need wherever it is found. God calls us to be a whole community and we are a place where all people are welcome, all are accepted, and each of us has an opportunity to find and joyfully share our gifts, talents and passions through worship, prayer and mission. We seek God’s guidance in building up people who explore and expand the depths of their personal relationship with God. God calls us through relationship as a whole community to minister and live as examples of the present and coming reign of God.”

Nothing about this vision statement is static, but calls us to continually change and adapt to what is happening in the world around us. As our relationship with Willard Elementary was dwindling down, we continued to listen to the needs of our community and have since started a partnership with the Salish School of Spokane, who with our help are able to offer a needs pantry for the families that they are connected with.

As we found ourselves scrambling to understand how our worship lives were being effected by COVID19 in March, it quickly became evident that we could reach and build a larger worshiping community than that which is represented by our email list. Realizing that by answering a need within our own congregation to be able to access our worship services online, we are able to make our services available to those who may have different barriers to worshiping with us on Sunday mornings.

As we have found ways to continue to serve even as we are not all gathering in the same place at the same time, I am hopeful of the possibilities for service moving forward. We are still able to get the word out about needs within our community, and our building continues to be a central point for gathering items and people, as we also send those same resources out to be a blessings to our community. 

As we have worked with new, to us, technologies, I am hopeful for the possibilities for studies and classes that are no longer dependent upon everyone being in the same room at the same time, especially in times of bad weather. I am also hopeful for the possibilities of how the youth of our congregation and region will have opportunities to gather together virtually, to share and grow in their faith together. Meaning, for our congregation and others that have small numbers of youth, we can still support and encourage them through the use of technology and our regional support systems.  

As I consider all the changes we have gone through over the past year, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because we continue to seek to care for those who are in need. I am hopeful because through making changes we continue to widen the scope of how we declare the good news and make our worship services more accessible to more individuals and households. I am hopeful for the new ways in which we are able to teach and learn together. I am hopeful for what our church will look like after the COVID19 restrictions are lifted. 

I do not expect that we will go back to the way things have always been in the past, but rather that we will forge a new way forward taking with us the things that we have learned in this year of chaos. I hope that as we continue to focus our lens on what God is calling us to be and do in this place we will continue to declare the good news, teach, pray, worship, and serve in whatever ways that God is leading us. 

“Faithful”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

October 4th, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Over the course of each Sunday in October we will be hearing, and seeing the narrative about who we are as a congregation and how our stewardship does more than just pay for turning the lights on each week. Our theme for our stewardship emphasis month is, “Faithful, Hopeful, Loving.” And as you can see today we are focusing on Faithful.

Now, when the creators of our stewardship materials picked the scripture that we are using this week, no one had any idea that we would be hearing a text while in the midst of a pandemic, when nothing is as it was less than a year ago. Where we have this feeling of desolation and despair, as we grieve the loss of life, the loss of jobs, the loss of security, and the loss of normalcy. But this connects us even more with the text out of Isaiah. A text, that was speaking out of the voice to the Israelites who were returning to the promised land, returning from exile, to a land filled with ruins of what used to be. Filled with the reminders of what was destroyed. Filled with the reminders that things won’t easily become normal without a great deal of work. 

However, as we experience grief about the lack of normalcy or a clear timeline as to when we might be able to return to some of those ministries that have been put on hold, we as North Hill Christian Church, continue to have a presence here in this place. A presence that was started over 100 years ago, by a faithful group who saw the need for a church to be situated on the North Hill of Spokane. A faithful group that laid the groundwork for the ministry that we are able to accomplish today. A faithful congregation that has ebbed and flowed over the years, but in the grand picture of the congregation we continue to seek to answer the same questions about how we are to do ministry here in this place. How do we worship? How do we teach those growing in their faith? How do we proclaim the Gospel in our community? How do we serve? None of these questions are if we will do them but as a people called by God into formation here in this space, how do we do these things?

In reading a set of board minutes from 1941 I came across this comment from a congregational meeting where Mr. McQuary who was the new minister for our congregation, “He said he wanted us to solve all our problems in love, that we must work and plan and worship and serve together.” As I continued to read through the board reports and the Sunday School reports one thing continued to stand out. The overarching questions of how to be church are no different then, than they are today, just different approaches to worship, teaching, proclaiming, and serving.

As our congregation has changed over the past 109 years, we have sought to remain faithful to God, and the calling that we have here in this space. We celebrate through worship and teaching, the one who has always remained faithful to the people of God. The one who continues to watch over and guide us along the way. The one who has commissioned us to,
“Bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Even in the midst of troubling times the Israelites had reason for hope, because of the one who has remained faithful. 

Those words of mission have come to mean different things over the history of this congregation. We recognize our work in this place in living out that good news, that is also exemplified in Jesus’ ministry, is to do so in partnership with others. We have a long history of declaring good news to those experiencing homelessness as our praetorship with Family Promise of Spokane has changed and been expressed in different ways over the past 20 years. Even though we are not serving as a host congregation any more there are still ways we support them over the year, through the XPLOR program, and by keeping communication open about what they need at any given time. 

We declare good news to those suffering with substance addictions by partnering with Attitude adjustment. By making our building available, and now by myself being in conversation with their leadership as the COVID19 restrictions are in place, we still declare good news and support for those battling addictions.

We declare good news to those in schools who are in need throughout the year. We have previously partnerships with Willard Elementary, but as the abundance of volunteers and resources to Willard became evident we faithfully considered how we might redirect this ministry. As such we are supporting the Salish School of Spokane, with a continual supply drive for their Needs Pantry, and collecting food items for the Holiday Baskets.  

We declare good news to the homebound in our community as we have partnered with Meals on Wheels since 2003 to be a distribution site for our area of Spokane. Declaring that we care and are concerned for those who may not have any other interaction during the week, except for those moments when their meals are delivered. Declaring that their hunger and welfare is of our concern, as we partner with Meals on wheels. Not only do we deliver meals one week a month, but each and every week our parking lot is utilized as a distribution point for Meals on wheels. In simply maintaining our lot we are able to impact countless lives each and every year. 

We faithfully declare good news to the oppressed and marginalized as we constantly re-examine ourselves, our society, and our world with new eyes as we come to recognized systemic injustices and blindspots that we have become too easy to declare as normal. We have come a long way over the past 100 years, and have broken down many barriers to worship, leadership, and acceptance, but as we remain faithful to the ministries that God has called us into, we will continue to find the need to change how we live out our faith. But, the one constant in all that we do, is that we share of ourselves, our gifts, and our resources as we remain faithful to the ministries that God has called us into. 

Reconciliation from Brokenness

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 27, 2020

Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15- 21

I regularly use language of reconciliation and healing of brokenness in times of prayer, and conversations with others. I use these words constantly but at times I feel that the meaning behind them get lost. They have become so ingrained in our vocabulary that we forget that there are concrete experiences tied to them. We forget the stakes of doing nothing to pursue reconciliation and heal those broken systems of our society and world. And sometimes we use these words to make ourselves feel better about ourselves with the label that we want to make a difference, without any follow through. 

But what does all of this have to do with the scripture of Joseph and his brothers? 

My immediate reaction to reading this set of texts, in the current state of our country, was that even out of great brokenness, the relationship between Joseph and his brothers was able to be healed. The brokenness wasn’t uniform for all the brothers either, just like in our society today. Reuben protested the killing of Joseph, but was still ok with throwing him in a pit. Some of the brothers recognized that Joseph was their flesh, and yet were fine with selling him into slavery. All because, as the text indicates, they were jealous that Joseph was loved the most by their father. 

But as I thought even more about their reconciliation; it required the brothers to fully confront and have a real connection to their previous actions, and because of that they honestly sought forgiveness. Only after they had an experience of their own acts of injustice resulting in ill effects for them, they sought some form of healing of the relationship. 

Through the whole of the narrative between Joseph and his brothers, which wasn’t read today, Joseph continued to care for and weep in secret. Wanting to know how his father and family were doing. Wanting to be reconnected. Wanting the brokenness that had separated them for so long to be healed. Wanting to be one with his family again. 

As we consider the brokenness in our own world, the injustices that oppress God’s children, the systemic brokenness that allows the lives of some to be seen as more valuable than others. As we consider this and the atrocities within our history, we can hear the voices of Joseph and his brothers. We hear Joseph’s voice in those crying out for justice and healing. Those who want the brokenness to be torn down. The silence of those who failed to speak up when injustice was being done, they knew it was wrong, and yet they did nothing to prevent it. Those who spoke out against terrible actions, but instead proposed something less extreme. Those in realizing what has been done, who weep and rend their clothes. And those who simply acted for their own interest, without regard to how it impacted others. 

We must ask ourselves on a regular basis what role are we playing with regards to injustices in our world? Who’s interests are we advocating for? Who’s voices are we listening to? Are we listening to those crying out for justice, out of their own experience, or those “trusted” voices telling us to ignore them, it’s nothing? 

Are we listening to the voices of our African American brothers and sisters, who continue to cry out and tell us of the oppression that they experience on a regular basis or do we turn away saying, well that has never happened to me so it must not be true? 

Are we willing to listen to our Native American brothers and sisters as they tell us of the injustices that continue to befall them, as their culture continues to be broken down by oppression, or do we simply say that was a long time ago? 

Are we willing to listen to immigrants who come here searching for safety and a place to raise their families, or do we immediately ask if they came here legally, instead of hearing of the reasons that they are coming here? 

Are we willing to listen to those are suffering under our current healthcare system, or do we dismiss it as an issue that doesn’t pertain to me, my insurance is great, or I haven’t had any issues with my doctors treating me like that? 

Are we willing to listen to those whose lives are threatened by the current pandemic, or do we instead go on because we believe that we are low risk of ill effects? 

Are we willing to listen to those experiencing homelessness, or will we call them lazy and tell them to get a job?

Are we willing to listen to those who are struggling to find care for mental health needs, or do we tell them to buck up and move on?

Are we willing to listen to those who are experiencing sexism, or sexual harassment and abuse, or are we willing to chalk up those actions to the way things have always been?

These are the first steps towards reconciliation. If we truly want to work towards healing the brokenness in our world, it begins by us listening to those who are crying out. Listening to those whose voices have been silenced for too long. Listening to the stories of oppression so that these truths become real to each one of us. We must also be willing to explore our own misconceptions and privilege that we have benefited from without recognizing it.  

If we want to pursue reconciliation within our world it begins with us listening and examining our own biases. If we want to find healing in the midst of the brokenness of systems of oppression, it starts with us putting ourselves out there, being vulnerable to not liking what we find. But putting our selves out there to learn what is really going on, and how we can help advocate for change. If we want to keep using language that we are a pro-reconciling, anti-racist denomination and church, then we must be willing to become uncomfortable as we listen, learn, and advocate for change. Only then can we hope to find places where the whole body of Christ is truly one.

Fall to Salvation

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 13, 2020

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

For the most part we are familiar with the creation stories and the original sin. But I want us to take a look at this text with a new lens. A lens, where we call ourselves servants as we follow Christ. Servants to the Gospel, which declares our salvation and the salvation of all. Servants as we look at our relationships with others. 

To be called a servant gives a very clear understanding of roles and the limitations of what one does. One cannot be a servant and also have complete free will to do what ever they want. They are constrained by what it means in that case to serve their master. In the case of the creation narrative out of the second chapter of Genesis, due to the various translations of this text we have lost the servant language that comes into play with verse 15. Jacqueline E. Lapsley writes in her commentary on this text, “Even though the human beings’s appearance precedes that of other non-human animals, this earth creature is not given ‘dominion’ as in Genesis 1, but is called to serve’ [‘abad] the ground (2:15). Translations have obscured this fundamental relationship between ‘adam and ‘adamah…The verb ‘abad loses its semantic resonance (the root is connected to worship) when thinned down to ‘till’, ‘work’, ‘farm’, or ‘cultivate.’ In this context, as a transitive verb, it means ‘to serve’ the Garden of Eden, to ‘work for’ it.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4579)  

So much of land ownership through colonization has been built up around the language of tilling the land. Cultivating the land. Using the land to cause it to produce. Language that calls the owner to change the land for their own use. But the language of the first chapter of Genesis where we hear that human beings have dominion over the earth, connotes an understanding of responsibility for that which is under human kind’s watch. Here in the second chapter, that language is changed to that of servant. One who works for the land to care and tend to it. Providing us with the imagery of a grounds keeper, instead of one who has complete reign over the earth to do what ever they want. 

Add to that the rules regarding the Garden of Eden, “The Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’”

We now hear the limitations of human-beings in the garden. You can eat of all the plants, as you serve the land, but you shall not eat the fruit of this one tree. If we heard these limitations as one who has complete free reign over the garden, this single rule may seem a bit excessive and unfair, but if our perception changes to that of servant, we see it as simply a limitation of what we can do as we serve that which we are called, whether we understand the reasons or not. 

On the Working Preacher podcast for this text, one of the speakers briefly went into the complexities of the knowledge of good and evil. In knowing what is right or wrong does not mean that we will always do what is right. We simply have the knowledge of the options of what we can do. 

As I recognize the complexities of knowing good and evil within the context of serving the garden, one’s world view is much larger than simply serving the garden, but of all the things one can do instead. If all you knew was caring for the garden, and then all of a sudden you knew even more, what does that mean for your dedication to the garden? It probably means you are going to pursue other things and live much differently than that of a servant. 

If your whole world view was that of the Spokane, with no understanding of the world beyond the city limits and then all of a sudden you knew of the whole world, and how we are all connected. More than likely something about have you behave is going to change. 

As both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, we find their status as caretakers of the garden completely change. Their immediate perceptions of one another change from simply being present, to all of a sudden their concern for modesty and feelings of guilt. Their experience of paradise has been shattered because they now know more, and thus act differently in all of their relationships. Causing fractures and sin to take hold.  

But as we remember the narrative of the fall of human kind into sin and brokenness we are also mindful of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. We know that sin is not what binds us but our devotion to it. Sin is not what controls us, but rather it is our willingness to give in to those things which cause brokenness between ourselves and the divine. Between ourselves and others. Between ourselves, and what is good and right for us. 

However, there is a catch. If we are to follow Christ, we must be willing to become servants once more. If we are to follow in the path of salvation, then we have to be willing to give up those things that lead us astray and accept limits to what we can do, for the betterment of all. If we are to live lives that celebrate the ministry that Jesus began and has been passed down to us, then we have to become servants cleaning the feet of others. Recognizing that all of our actions have impacts that go far beyond our own bubbles, and for the betterment of all we have to be willing to accept some limitations on what we do in our lives.