“Shaped Like the Earth”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

July 18, 2021

Jeremiah 18:1-10, Genesis 1:9-13

As we are making our way through the narrative of creation out of the 1st chapter of Genesis we hear these words, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on each that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” 

Normally as I come to this creation narrative I focus on the spoken words of God and how everything is so orderly and precise. But as I hold this text along side our text out of Jeremiah I can’t help but imagine God standing at a workbench with a mass of clay standing there. As the holy thrusts their hands into the clay pulling up the dry land and forming the earth. Creating the plants with intention. Paying close attention to the most minute of details, keeping in mind how these structures and plant systems will make way for the animals and human beings. Creating plants that will bear fruit and seeds. 

A part of me wonders what this part of the creation text would look like, if instead of hearing God simply speaking things into existence, we imagined God forming each piece by hand? When plants didn’t live up to the requirement of bearing fruit, would they simply be reworked, or put aside? 

It is this very imagery that we hear in Jeremiah. We get this imagery of God sitting at the pottery wheel working this mass of clay, that is the House of Israel. Constantly working it and reworking it to be what the divine has in mind for them. 

Of all the different materials that I have worked with over the years, wood, threads, yarn, reeds, and clay; I have found that clay is the most forgiving. If something fails, you can fairly easily rework the same material, fixing or remaking what fell down. You can keep adding material back if desired. With wood once you make a cut it is cut and requires much bracing and hardware to come close to restoring. Clay allows you to bring material back by simply using water. 

A mass of clay that has been worked over and over again on the pottery wheel sometimes needs to be put off to the side as it has become so wet that it does not want to hold its shape. So, wet that it has become a slurry rather than moldable clay. A piece of clay that doesn’t want to move the way you want it, sometimes needs to be set aside until it is ready to be worked again. Not out of site or out mind, but still be watched till it is ready. 

Now unlike a mass of clay, humanity has free will. The free will to choose how we live our lives. Free will to choose what kinds of fruit come out of our actions and behaviors. 

As I hear  the words of Jeremiah I hear this tension between God and the people. God at the potter who has formed us and shaped us, hoping that we will be shaped the way that God hopes. Planning for how the people may bear good fruit, as we contribute to the whole of creation. But the people of Israel just like all humanity, sometimes has other ideas. Wants to move in a different direction. Wanting to do something different. Wanting to do that which provides quick and easy gratification, rather than looking at the long term plan that God would have for us. 

Throughout the years I have found comfort in the imagery of God as the potter. This imagery of our Creator God forming us with great intention. Holding in mind what kinds of fruits we may bring forth for the world. Having a plan in mind for each one of us as we are formed. The great amount of intention that God puts into all our being. But if we leave it there, then it is easy to blame all the ills of the world on God. All the things that go wrong in our lives we could blame on God. All the brokenness can be blamed on God. 

But as we have free will, we impact not only how we turn out but also the systems that we are a part of. Like all the plants of the earth are impacted by one another and of the animals of creation, we impact those systems as well. We bear responsibility for how we respond to God’s guidance and movements in our world. We bear responsibility for if we bear good fruits or not. 

So, as we continue to work with our idea of God as creator, let us not forget the imagery of God as the potter. The one who has formed each one of us with intention. The one who is continually working the clay until it is just right. The one who needs to set the clay to the side from time to time to rest until it is moldable again. But in the midst of understanding God as creator let us remember our own responsibility in how we bear fruit and allow ourselves to be shaped by the divine. 

“Refreshed by Water”

“Refreshed by Water”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

John 4:4-15, Genesis 1:6-8

This week is the beginning of a 4 week series focused on elements of the first creation story within our scripture. This week we find ourselves considering the life-sustaining aspects of water for our physical being as we are reminded of God’s sustaining power in our spiritual lives. We begin this series with these words from Genesis 1:6-8, “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

One of the defining characteristics of this creation text, is how God brings forth order out of chaos. What is more chaotic than a world’s worth of water moving freely without any limitations. A massive amount of water that due to its chaotic nature is nothing but destructive. Yet once the lights have been turned on we hear, in this telling of creation, that God spoke order to the water. Binding the water to the earth and the clouds in the sky. Brining order to what was utter chaos. Order that now allows the water to help sustain and nurture all life on Earth. Even as water can continue to be destructive when rivers overrun their banks or as hurricanes form out at sea, there is still some sense of order.

After the past couple of weeks of high temps and lack of moisture in the air, I find myself even more aware of our need for water. Not just for us to drink but, for all the produce of the land to grow, and animals to flourish. Water as we know it sustains us. Quenches our thirst, and sustains our bodies. 

It is with a multi-level thirst that we come to the well in the gospel of John. We come to the well as the sun is high in the sky, beating down on us, as the heat of the day has enveloped the air around us. Our bodies need the water. Our mouths are parched needing respite. But also we come knowing the brokenness of the world. We come as we hear of the Samaritan woman, we know of the deep divisions between her people and the Jews. We come knowing of the poverty that is in our city. We come knowing the divisions that have created deep conflict within families. We come seeking that which will sustain us and bring order to the the chaos all around us.

I find myself constantly hyper aware of the imperfections of church communities, as we seek to live and bring forth the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. As we struggle with barriers to participation and engagement within a community that has baggage whether we acknowledge it or not. We seek to also name and address the broken systems in our world. We seek to address the pain and hurt that has and continues to be present in our community and world. 

As I start creating a list of all that brokenness in our world, it is easy to feel absolutely overwhelmed with all that is wrong. Feeling overcome by the darkness in the world and knowing that by myself I cannot seek to create systemic change. But what sustains me is the God whom I have found in the scriptures and come to know in my own life. A God who pays even closer attention to those who are hurting and over burdened. A God who declares to those in power a responsibility for creating a far greater world. A God who calls us into partnership in bringing forth the Kingdom of God. I find myself refreshed, like a cool glass of water refreshes my being, in the example of Jesus our savior who showed us a still better way of being the children of God, as we are bound together in community. 

In a world full of chaos I find assurance and a sense of security in who God is, and whom we are called to be. Just as we need to consume water to be refreshed and sustained to keep moving forward, it is important for us to commune with the divine to be reminded of this path that we are on. Whether we find ourselves communing with God for the first time, and hearing that we are loved for who we are, as we are. Or if we have come seeking after God for years, finding assurance in the Gospels. Finding assurance in the example that we are to follow throughout our lives. 

“Let Everything Praise the Lord”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

July 4, 2021

Psalm 150

For a little over the past 20 years I have slowly accumulated a number of instruments. They are mostly all of there percussion variety and can trace their origins from around the world. They each have their own origin stories, their own tones, and intended styles. They each have something different to offer to a musician, and each have their own limitations. Yet I value each one of them for what they offer. And that offering, for me, is very much impacted by today’s Psalm. 

All of the instruments I have accumulated have been gathered in part to allow me to praise God more fully. You see, growing up I have always been self conscious about my own speech and voice, but I was able to find my own way of praising God during my youth through the playing of instruments in times of worship. An offering of a part of myself in praise to God. 

The first time that I can remember this text is when a friend of mine, in describing my actions during a backpacking trip, named this Psalm. As we sang around a camp fire I had picked up a couple sticks and started to play them on a log, adding myself into this time of praise. Adding what I could to honoring God in that moment. Offering of myself, what I could, to uplift the whole in those moments. 

Offering what I had to add to the declaration of who we know God to be in our lives. Of who we know Christ to be in our lives. To declare thanksgiving and praise to the one who has shown an abounding love and grace, while also continuously leading us down the path to the Kingdom of God. Offering what I could, even when I was emotionally exhausted and needed to be reminded that God was indeed present with me in this journey. Sustaining me as I journeyed on. 

As I consider each of my instruments, and how they each have something different to offer, I am mindful of a lecture provided by Rev. Otis Moss III as a part of the festival of Homiletics where he said something to the effect of, “Jazz is made up of instruments that aren’t supposed to play together and each has their own opportunity to play a solo.” Each instrument has the opportunity to shine. 

Communities of faith are made up of groups of people that may not otherwise fit together. Churches are a place where different age and socio economic groupings are brought together, not around the qualities we hold as individuals that unite us but rather by the one who has gathered us all here.

In jazz you have the trumpet, trombone, sax, upright base, drum set as the standard. These instruments aren’t always what you think of when it comes to a traditional grouping. The qualities of each instrument are not necessarily supposed to work well together, and yet it does. Creating an almost unpredictable music style. 

Turning to the Psalm, vs 3-5 names the broad breadth of the known orchestra. “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” 

Each instrument section and instrument is lifted up as having worth in praising God. Even more than that even to praise God in dance is lifted up as worthy. But moving even further on, the last verse names that the limits of praising God should not be just for humans but rather for all of creation that breathes. All creation that draws on the breath of life from the beginning of creation is to praise God. 

But I am mindful that if our sole focus of praising God is on how we lift praises to God in song then we are missing out on how we are called to give our praise to God in all other aspects of our lives. 

A text that comes to mind is Micah 6:6-8, “‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body of the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

What we offer in times of worship and praise is nice, but what is declared as good is how we live out those acts of praise. How we declare God’s goodness to the world. By doing justice, by loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. 

By offering what we have in this journey, down the path that God is guiding us. By offering ourselves to uplifting one another and the ministries that God calls us into. For each one of us this may look different. Much like each one of my instruments has a different story and something different to offer. 

My oldest drum is my djembe. It’s style traces back to West Africa and it’s name originates from a phrase that translates as, everyone gather together in peace. Due to my drum’s size it is meant to lay a foundation of rhythm for music. It isn’t meant to be played at high speeds as the deep tones get muddled together, but in simple rhythms sets the pace that can be felt by those around. I have often used it in places of calling people into worship, especially at camps.

Some of us are meant to be that steady beat, helping guide others. Helping to set a pace and stability that others can lean on for help and a cue moving forward. We help put things into place so that as we work together, adding input from each section we find a well rounded declaration of who we know who God is. Providing those guiding principles for the whole of the ministries of this congregation. Some of us find our selves in places where we can call others to come and know God more fully. 

Another set of drums come as a pair. They are the congas and originate from Cuba. Early on they were played individually, with each person playing one at a time but over the years it is commonplace for a single person to play 2 or three at a time. Each one of these has their own tone, but as they are played together find that they offer more together than separate. It is interesting to note that some of the defining names name the highest voiced drum as the lead and then we have the middle, and lowest from there. They have to work together in partnership, and as they are played their voices add something unique to the music around them. 

Some of us are comfortable being the focus of temporary attention. Adding our voice to a need or cause in our community. Speaking up when something needs to be done. Leading individual ministry projects or programs. But all that we do is done so that together our voices are lifted up in doing something wonderful. 

The last of my primary drums is the cajon which originates from Peru and its name means box, crate, or drawer pointing back to its early origins where slave musicians in the Spanish colonial Americas would use what they had to make music. 

Some of us find ways to be scrappy and use what we have to be creative and innovate new possibilities. Finding ways to declare God’s truth even when there are obstacles in our way. Looking around and seeing where there are gaps and possibilities for ministry and making them happen. 

I could keep going on with each of my instruments but the point I am trying to make is that as we are called to praise God with all that we have, and just like an orchestra, band, jazz group, or choir each person, has something to offer. Each person has their own story, strengths and weaknesses, but as we gather together we can lift our praises through song and through out our entire lives. Working together by offering our gifts and talents to uplift the ministries that God has called us into. This is a place that God has called us each into. To each play our own part that culminates in songs of praise, in doing justice, loving kindness, and together walking humbly with our God. 

“Mourning into Dancing”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

June 27,2021

Psalm 30

Today’s text is one, whose meaning may change when you take note of the superscription title that may show up in big bold letters or as a footnote in some study Bibles. This superscription reads something like . “Thanksgiving after recovery from illness.” 

With that simple phrasing our hearing of this Psalm changes drastically. As many of us have some form of experience with dealing with a severe illness, we can relate to the words of the Psalmist. Moving from statements of crying out for help and feeling as if we were close to death, towards celebration and dancing as the one who has been ill recovers. 

Even more than simply remembering an illness that we have dealt with as individuals, we are very aware of the state COVID restrictions will be lifting later on this week. As we can easily hear this Psalm as an individual we now also hear this Psalm as a collective community emerging from 15 months of restrictions, regular reports of case numbers and deaths, reports of best practices, updates about vaccine research and new precautions; all to battle a pandemic that has taken 603 thousand lives in the US and 3.89 million lives world wide as of June 24th.  

I can remember back to March of 2020 when we found ourselves scrambling to establish a plan moving forward. Hoping that we would make our way through quickly and without much impact. I can remember how I took to facebook live to speak words of encouragement, as I slowly began to realize that this would not be quickly over. 

How we do ministry has changed in some ways. We have lost friends and loved ones to COVID, and we have felt separated from still many others. 

There has been constant talk about the things we are missing out on. The devastation for some businesses and the looming impact for those who have not been able to pay their rent for the past year. The increased conversations about mental health as our support systems have been forced to go virtual. With all of this there has been this looming dread of what if we can’t make it through. 

But even as we remember all that dread, we can also remember those who have spoken words of assurance and encouragement. We were reminded time and time again that God has continued to be with us in the midst of this pandemic. As we cried out in desperation, in grief, in mourning, and in worry, we knew and continue to affirm that God hears our prayers. God continues to show up in these moments to comfort and encourage us on. 

However as I wrestle with this Psalm this, especially this week as we will see the statewide restrictions be lifted, I’m not ready to start dancing. I’m not in that space yet. I am not ready to dance with abandon as if all my worries and concern are gone. While I am happy for those businesses that have been impacted or closed for the past year, I know we haven’t seen the end of the pandemic’s impact on our lives. 

But as I hear the words of this Psalm I am reminded of all those things we should be thankful for and free to celebrate. Not just for helping us through this pandemic but continuing to work through the systemic sins of our world. Being mindful as June is pride month how far our society has come regarding upholding the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, but at the same time as I wrote those words, that I had a hesitation points to how much further we still have to go. 

We have reason to celebrate how far our country has come regarding Disability rights as I remember the story of Judith Heumann and her fellow activist who paved the way for the enforcement of disability rights legislation, but seeing first hand the barriers that are still in place, we still have a long way to go. 

We have reason to celebrate as we continue to see overt systems and signs of racism be torn down and condemned publicly, but we continue to recognize there are broken systems in our world that allow for racism to take hold and impact the lives of our brothers and sisters of color. There is still work to be done. 

So, as I continue to remember how far we have come, there is reason for celebration and dancing. There is reason to give God thanks and praise for bringing us this far. It is right and good to give thanks to the one who has not and will not abandon us in the wilderness. 

But let us not forget those who are still in the wilderness. Those who are still struggling through this pandemic. Those who are still struggling to take care of their loved ones and making decisions to keep the most vulnerable safe. Let us not forget those who are still struggling to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are. Let us not forget those who continue to struggle to engage fully with the world because of the barriers that are in place for those with disabilities. Let us not forget those who continue to feel the effects of racism still to this day. 

They may continue to be in the space of mourning and could use help with finding a reason to celebrate, to give thanks, and to dance with joy. 

This message did not turn out the way that I had hoped when I originally made plans for this text. In part, it is because I am not ready to shed the sackcloth. I am still in a time of mourning for the brokenness in this world. I am still in that space of crying out to God for help and guidance, for I know the holy hears my cries and has been there to comfort me. 

But I know there will come a day that I will dance for joy, whether it be for small victories, or grand brushstrokes. There will be those days that I will shake off the sackcloth and sing for joy of God’s faithfulness. 

“Finding Comfort in God”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

June 20, 2021

Psalm 23

Of all the Psalms that I am looking into during this series, today’s is probably the most recognizable. It is a Psalm that is often quoted during funerals, and beside hospital beds. It is a Psalm that I was encouraged to memorize as it would be a Psalm that would be requested in times of deep distress. This is a Psalm that has continually provided comfort to those who hear it. 

As I have been meditating, studying, and reviewing this Psalm two images continue to go through my mind, all of which come from my time backpacking, in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico, during my youth. The first is a spot that would either be our first or last camp site in our journey through the wilderness, depending on which way we decided to go. It is called Beatty Cabin. While I never saw a cabin there, the image that comes to mind is a shaded area next to a gently flowing stream with fields of grass all around. The trees were spaced out enough that we didn’t feel cramped but could still enjoy the shade. The emotions that come to mind are that of complete comfort and rest. Everything that we need is present and close at hand. 

It is with that sense of peace that I find myself present in today’s Psalm. This sense that while we have had a tiring journey, we can find rest in this space. That while we may have had an elevation gain of 2,000 ft to get there, being able to lay one’s pack down and know what is needed is close by. A sense that we could trust in our leaders and guides. 

If we could trust in our counselors and directors that much, then imagine the amount of assurance we find in this Psalm, which opens with the statement, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” A statement that in less than 10 words, declares who God is within the contextual framework of kings being referred to as shepherds; critiquing the human rulers for not caring for their people effectively; declaring that as God is the divine shepherd we will not go wanting.

There is something freeing about a backpacking trip. While we are forced to intentionally consider what we pack, we create for ourselves a new understanding of wanting. We are forced to prioritize those things that are necessary, those things that would be nice to have, and those things that are useless. That last category was often those things that we would normally declare are necessary, but on a backpacking trip we discover how unimportant they really are. Mainly because there are no power outlets on a backpacking trip, and carrying a large number of batteries is impractical. 

As we continue to move through the Psalm we hear these words, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” 

That which is necessary for our physical and spiritual survival are provided for. As I remember back to all those backpacking trips I remember all the places we would camp. Almost all were in the midst of a green fields or open space close to water. The journey was planed out ahead of time to ensure our needs were met. More than that a day of rest was also included in the midst of our week of hiking. If a camp director could plan for the needs of those under their charge, how much more does our divine shepherd plan for our needs? 

Then comes the next phrase, “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” 

Right paths here refers to the path of righteousness and his “name’s sake” points to goodness and mercy that show up in the final verse. 

As we find ourselves in this journey, we are not left to find our way all on our own, rather  we are led and guided by the divine down the way that is best. For us we find the divine shepherd best embodied by Jesus. The one who journeyed with his disciples and defined the path of the Kingdom of God. The one who guided his followers and whom we continue to follow today. A way that encapsulates the loving kindness and mercy that are defining characteristics of who God has and continues to be for God’s people. 

The second image, from my backpacking days, that keeps coming to mind as I have reviewed this Psalm is that of following the path as the land steeply goes up on one side of the trail, and quickly drops off on the other, and there are trees pressing in on all sides. The trees block out the sun no matter what time of day it is, and you can only see so far into the distance before your view is blocked by another tree. 

This is the image that comes to mind as I consider walking through the darkest valley. Where one’s safety can’t easily be guaranteed if one is traveling alone. But as we would travel in a group, sharing information, helping one another over obstacles and the leaders making sure we all stayed together by leading from in front and behind. Comforting us with their presence as we were keenly aware of the dangers that lurked just off the trail. 

Even as we follow along the paths of righteousness there are still those times where it feels like we are in a deep dark valley. A valley where dangers could be just out of sight, or just off the trail, but we know they are there. Even in the midst of this we have this comforting reminder of God’s goodness and mercy. That God is continuing to watch over us, seeking to guide us through these moments. Teaching us to seek to be more like the shepherd each and every day. 

If we are continually being guided in the paths of righteousness, at some point we are called to take up the mantle of a guide for others. A guide that through their own actions points to the goodness and mercy of the divine shepherd. 

So often, as I hear this Psalm, I find myself hearing it as a singular person being guided by the divine shepherd. But in what framework would a sheep herder only be responsible for one sheep at a time, rather than an entire herd? As I continue to live with this Psalm, and imagining all the paths that are coming together, I hear of growing community all defined by God’s goodness and mercy. As we dwell together and support one another. 

On my very first backpacking trip, as our group had made our way into the wilderness over a couple of days, and spent days getting to know each other and building community, we were suddenly faced with an emergency. One of our adult leaders came down with High Altitude sickness, and needed to get down to lower altitudes as quickly and safely as possible. As the adults went off to make a plan, so to did all the youth. As the adults made a plan for getting her down off the mountain with the bare minimum of gear, the rest of us distributed what was left behind amongst ourselves. 

A moment where we embodied the nature of this very Psalm. A moment in which this group that had been brought together from a number of churches in our region to journey together, became defined by our shared faith. That as we shared the load we declared through our actions the final verse of this text. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, notes that a possible better wording could be, “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” 

That is what we did on that backpacking trip. We pursued our sick leader as we embodied our faith in the one who provides and watches over us. We followed her until she couldn’t walk any more at which point we put up our tents around her. 

Even as our human leaders fall short of watching out for those under their care, we continually have this assurance that God is the perfect shepherd. The one who is concerned with our welfare and safety. That the holy continues to be concerned with our needs. That the divine shepherd continues to seek to guide us along the paths of righteousness that will shape and form us as we seek to dwell in the house of the Lord our whole lives long with one another. 

“Pausing in the Lord”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

June 13, 2021

Psalm 13

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a sermon series focused on a selection of Psalms. But the Psalm for this week stands out from the others that I have and will be looking at in this series. It stands out because it is a Lament. The majority of this Psalm sounds like one who feels abandoned by God. It brings forth emotions of abandonment, loneliness, helplessness, and loss. These are not emotions that are typically addressed in our hymns or songs of worship. Even more than that, these are emotions that we have been indirectly taught that we are not supposed to feel as people of faith. And yet, here are those very emotions in this Psalm of David, and are often emotions that we express regarding our personal relationships with friends and loved ones, but for some reason are encouraged not to feel as a part of our faith. 

While I was in seminary my best friend and I would regularly load our bikes onto the car and head off for a day of riding. We would often times set aside our Friday’s to spend time outdoors trying to stay in shape and enjoying creation. But one of the other constants of our outings was the playlist that I had on my early mp3 player. Without fail as we would drive out to Castle Rock state park we would hear songs like “Find out Who Your Friends Are” and “If You’re Going through Hell.”

Now, in case you are not aware, these were fairly popular country songs back in the mid 2000’s. And both of them come to mind as I consider the 13th Psalm. They elicit this emotion of one who is in deep distress and the need to recognize those very emotions. Not to quickly gloss over them, but to honor what was being felt and to remind the person that there is someone by their side.

As my friend and I made our way through seminary, we went through our own personal struggles that at times elicited some of these emotions. Our outings allowed us those opportunities to talk about what we were experiencing, express support and a presence as we honored the emotions that we could not fix for each other. 

I say all of this, because the 13th Psalm, provides an insight into a nature of our relationship with God that we do not typically acknowledge in church, Sunday School, and especially in worship. We don’t have many hymns or songs that allow for lament, that also do not quickly skip to the last line of reason for joy. 

There have been those times in my life, where I have experienced great loss, or deep deep grief, and the only thing anyone could really do in those moments were to sit with me and listen. Those moments where nothing that could have been said would have resolved the emotions I was feeling. Those moments where, if someone would try to cheer me up, or hurry me through my emotions would have simply made things worse. So, the only thing that was helpful, was for my support system to simply be present and listen. 

That is what I hear in the first two verses of this Psalm. “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” 

There have been those times in my own faith life that I have expressed my displeasure with God and the struggles that I was experiencing. Those moments where I had to express what I was feeling, even though it did not line up with what I knew about who God is. Those moments where I needed to cry out in lament for I knew God would hear me. Those moments that I truly recognized the relational aspect of my relationship with God. Those moments that I was not held back by the niceties of what we are taught in Sunday School, and expressed my feelings and emotions to God, just as I would to a close friend, because I trusted God would understand the nature of my lament. 

Then as the Psalm continues we move into that stage within a relationship in which the person in distress asks for guidance. Give me something to be hopeful about. Open my eyes to the possibilities. O God, help illuminate my path so that I may see the path before me. So that I may see a way through the deep, dark valley. 

“Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” 

We have this shift in the Psalm as the David asks for an answer and guidance. Guidance that could illuminate a pathway that prevents the enemy from declaring victory. There is hope in the light of God as we imagine David is still surrounded by darkness. There is this spark breaking forth that may lead to something better. 

It is only after all of this that the final verses are possible, after times of deep distress and struggling. Even in the midst of tremendous struggles, taking a pause to express to God our deepest emotions makes possible the last words, even as we may continue to find ourselves in the midst of struggles. 

“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” 

I don’t hear these words as someone who has fully escaped the struggle but one who is continuing to make their way out of that deep, dark valley of struggle and despair. One who has taken the time to cry out and be open with the divine all the emotions that they are feeling, even those that we may think of as improper. But in doing so, relying upon the relationship that one has with the divine. A relationship that is not just for the good times or getting all the answers. But a relationship of presence. Presence to be with us and listen to us even in those moments where we do not want a response just yet. A presence that can be with us and recognizes what we need in the moment. A listening ear. Then a light to break through the darkness. Helping us. Guiding us. 

In all of this we are once more reminded of God’s unfailing love. Where we are reminded of who God is in our lives. One with whom we are in deep relationship, in the good times and bad. One who hears our cries and is present with us. 

“Praise the Lord”

Rev. Chris Snow 

North Hill Christian Church

June 6, 2021

Psalm 100

A few weeks ago I was reading an article commenting on the tension between what has been categorized as traditional church music, and contemporary church music. Out of everything that was put forth, the only statement that still sticks with me today is that both forms of music by themselves hold the capacity for meaningful worship. However, it is how we put ourselves into the music that makes it impactful for others. If we were to sing an older hymn with deep connection and emotion, then it calls others into worship as well. But even if we sang the most contemporary song with little effort, energy or emotion, nothing about that song would call another person to come along side and worship God. 

It is with this in the back of my mind that I have found myself focusing on our text for today. A text that instructs us on what we are to do before God, and also why. It is that second question that should be reflective in how we worship God. 

In this Psalm we hear two answers of the why should we worship God question. The first names how we are bound to God in relationship. “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” 

This statement is reminding us of the creation narratives, in which we were formed and molded. Reminding us that we are God’s creation. But also that we fall under God’s care and concern. I hear within the second phrase, that of a ruler over their citizens. One who is responsible for their well-being, as a shepherd is responsible for the welfare of their sheep. 

In the 5th verse we are again reminded of why we are to worship God. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” We have the definitive statement of God’s nature. Not that of an evil being but rather one who is good. That statement is then uplifted by remembering God’s own actions in the narratives of the people. That God’s never ending, never faltering love endures forever, and that God has remained faithful to all generations. That God has continually cared for the people with love and has not forgotten the covenant. 

We hold and constantly remember the continuation of this final verse. We come together to remember who Christ is within our lives. One who declared the good news of the kingdom of God. We hear the continuation of God’s faithfulness when Jesus stood before those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, reading from the scriptures saying, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) 

We gather to remember not only the ministry that continued to declare God’s love for the people but also remember that Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for the sake of the good news. But even death did not contain him for the power of the divine overcame death in the resurrection. Through all of this we remember the last supper, and hold fast to the declaration of a new covenant based on forgiveness of sins. Even though we do not deserve God’s forgiveness we experience God’s grace time and time again. 

As we remember why it is that we come before God, let us turn to the first two verse of this text. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” 

Out of all that God has done for us in our lives and in all the lives that have come before us God deserves nothing less than the joyful noise of all the earth. Nothing held back and nothing set aside. A joyful noise from the whole of creation. 

The next line follows with that same impact. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary notes that the word that has been translated as worship, is much more complex that to simply worship God. Rather a better way to read this is to, orient one’s whole self to God. That all that we are and all that we do should be oriented towards God. 

I find this understanding of worship to go hand in hand with repentance. To repent is to turn away. To make a change in one’s being. And to worship God is to orient ourselves to the divine. To point ourselves toward’s God. In all that we do we should reflect the one who has created us and has continually shown steadfast love and faithfulness to God’s people. 

When we gather together as a community of faith and go out as individuals, all that we do as God’s people should point others to who God is in the world. That as we gather in worship we give our whole selves and attention to God. That as we go forth we continue to orient ourselves on God’s kingdom as we continue to declare, “good news to the poor…release to the captive, and recover of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

In what ever ways that we find ourselves worshiping God, and proclaiming the good news let us not hold back. Let us put our whole being into worship or else it falls flat. Like the article regarding different types of worship music and its impact, if we do not put our whole selves into worshiping God in our whole lives then it falls flat and becomes unhelpful. 

“Happiness in the Way”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

May 30, 2021

Psalm 1

From early on in my life I have had a deep appreciation and fascination with naturally moving water. Finding great peace when I am able to stand or sit, rooted in place in the midst of water flowing around me. Being mindful of our dependence on the water as I would fill up my water bottles on camping trips. Reveling in the beauty of how water flows over and around obstacles, as it continues moving onward. 

It is with this appreciation that I approach this morning’s text. Out of one who has a deep connection with water that in many ways is comparable to my rootedness in my experience of the divine within my own life. 

Psalm 1 sets the stage for the entire book of Psalms by setting up this duality between the righteous and the wicked. In this duality we have those who are in a constant state of movement and those who are rooted. Those who are easily blown about, and those who have found stability in that which sustains them. 

In the first verse we immediately hear this language of what we are not to do. “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.” In the three aspects in this statement there is a sense of movement. The ability to be knocked off balance. And the labels placed on these three elements gets increasingly specific; wicked, sinners, and scoffers. It is that last term that leads us into the next verse. The term scoffer refers to those “who are arrogantly  unwilling to accept instruction.” (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary) 

Instead of following those paths laid out in the 1st verse we hear that instead, “their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” Now when I hear the term law, I hear rigid set of instructions or rules. This is good and this is bad. But a better translation of the Hebrew word torah in this context is instruction. Within the context that this was written this could easily refer to the first five books of the old testament, while sections do include rules and laws, it also contains the narratives of how the people of God have encountered and lived with the divine. 

We have a much broader set of text to lean on for instruction. And we can continue to hear the guidance of the Psalmist as we are tasked with meditating on it day and night. When I contemplate the thought of meditating on the instruction of the Lord day and night, I don’t equate it to simply memorization and regurgitation but with wrestling and processing. What does a given scripture mean to me and my faith in God? 

For this process I am mindful of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which proposes that through the use of scripture, reason, experience, and tradition we are able as individuals to mature and grow in our understanding of our faith. The typical visual is a three legged stool where the seat is scripture and the legs are made up of reason, experience, and tradition that all impact how we come to understand the scriptures. Through the use of church traditions we are impacted by how those who have come before us have interpreted and wrestled with scriptures. As we use our own experience of who we have come to know who God is in our lives, we have helped to shape how we read scripture. These along with reason, or critical thinking skills, we are able to discern through scripture how we come to understand who God is and how we are then to live out our faith in our lives. 

The process of meditating on the instruction of the Lord is not something that we are ever fully finished with. It is an ongoing process as we gain new experiences and new insights we are always finding something new in the scriptures.

As we continue through the text, verse 3-5 sets up the polarity between those who mediate on the instruction of the Lord and those who do not. First, those who do follow the instruction of the Lord are described as trees planted by streams of water.  

The more that we grow in our faith, as we mature and grow through meditation and reflection we put forth roots that thrive and spread into the soil. Soil that is constantly nurtured by the water that is God’s sustaining power and presence in our lives. 

Growing up canoeing the Niangua and Eleven Point rivers in Missouri, I spent a good deal of time looking around at all the trees that had grown up along the banks of the rivers. Constantly being nurtured by the water that flowed by. Water that provided much needed nourishment to those trees even in late summer. Water that deposited nutrient deposits all along its banks. Even as the soil eroded, the roots of the trees had continued to grow down providing much needed stability for those turbulent times when storms came through. 

As we find ourselves rooted in our faith in God, we find that we are sustained even in turbulent times. But as we continue to grow we are able to prosper and bear good fruit. Fruit that allows others to become rooted as well. We are able to provide shelter for those have come along side and are just beginning to lay down their roots. 

On the other hand the scripture describes those who are not rooted, but rather are like the chaff that the wind drives away. The chaff that is a waste product of grain harvesting. The chaff that simply gets blown away by the breeze because there is no heft to it to let it solidly fall to the ground and stay there. This description is clearly different from those who are rooted. There is this instability inherent in this description of the wicked. Easily blown about by the breeze. Not helpful in providing sustenance to others. 

Returning to the imagery of the flowing water, I am mindful of what happens if someone is rafting along a river and find themselves in an unstable position when proceeding through fierce rapids. If a paddler is not rooted in the boat and find their stability, they are easily knocked over the side. But those who are rooted are able to ride through the rapids. 

As the Psalm closes we hear, “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but they way of the wicked will perish.” If we hear this within the context of the rest of the Psalm, then we hear language of the righteous being sustained and nurtured, while the wicked have created a separation from that which could be life sustaining. We could easily jump to the idea of punishment when we hear perish, but instead, here, it is like someone who has traveled off into the distance away from a water source. Taken themselves away from that which is life sustaining. Not a punishment but rather a consequence of their decisions. 

As we will be working our way through a number of familiar Psalms over the next few weeks, let us not forget this Psalm as we hear the parallel paths of the righteous and the wicked. As we continue to meditate on the instruction of the Lord let us be joyful as we delight in whom we know God is in our lives. Let us find happiness in being rooted in the soil that the divine continuously nurtures. 

“Life in the Spirit”

Rev. Chris Snow
North Hill Christian Church

May 23, 2021

Galatians 5:16-26, Acts 2:1-13

Today is the final Sunday in our series on Galatians, and it is fitting that as much of the meat of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is focused on the Spirit, we find ourselves also celebrating Pentecost. Now, when I say Pentecost, some of our minds may suddenly jump to the images of Pentecostal churches. With an attitude of, “That’s them not us.” Yet, all churches are born from these moments of the Spirit moving among the people doing something new or different. For our own denomination’s history we point back to the Cane Ridge revival where people were moved by the spirit. 

In these moments throughout history we have the spirit setting the people free from what Paul coins the bondage of the flesh. Those things that hold us back from fully living for God. Those things that hold our devotion. Those things that prevent us from living into the fullness of the lives that God has for us. 

As we have heard our text out of the second chapter of Acts we are reminded not only of the movement of the Holy Spirit among the disciples but also how they were seen by the crowd that had gathered. We hear of a group of disciples who were holed up in a locked room waiting for something to happen while also possibly afraid of what the crowds may do to them. Still tense and filled with concern about the crowds that were not necessarily on their side. There was still this fear and apprehension within them, but through the rush of a mighty wind, the Spirit moves. 

They go out speaking in different languages with such life and enthusiasm that some believed that they were drunk. No longer held back by their worry and apprehension, they went out and declared the good news. They went out and proclaimed the word and about three thousand people were baptized. 

Now here is the thing about the movement of the Spirit. It does not always look like these grand moments that we hear of in scripture or in the history books of churches. Instead some may read like my own experience. It happened years after I had been baptized, but in a moment when I truly came to believe in the salvation in Christ, and the ministry that Jesus began. It was in a youth retreat that I have often referred to before. But what I haven’t disclosed is this change that took place within me that brought forth new life that was recognizable by others in my life. 

Prior to this moment of coming to believe and the movement of the Spirit, I had been wrestling with my own depression, self doubt and feeling of being isolated from others. While afterwards these things did not entirely go away, but rather my focus had been shifted. A focus that continued to remind me that I am not alone, that I have gifts to share, that I am a beloved child of God. A focus that led me to be a leader among my peers. 

This change of focus was noticed by my teachers and friends and became even more evident in my school work and other activities. This change that came to effect those around me in a positive way that allowed others to come to know the love of God that I had experienced. 

While not all experiences of the Spirit are grand light and wind shows, the movement of the Spirit moves us in life freeing and life giving ways. As I read Paul’s lists in the 5th chapter of Galatians I see a freedom from the works of the flesh toward the works of the Spirit. 

At first glance one would argue that Paul is just a buzzkill when naming the works of the flesh and those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But if we dive deeper we can recognize the harm that is created by those things that Paul lists. First he lists three things all associated with sex; fornication, impurity, licentiousness. Paul doesn’t argue against sex but rather lists those examples that are deemed to be sexual offenses. Those examples in which the desire of the flesh overrides what is deemed appropriate behavior. Where the desire of the flesh overrides the healthy nature of a healthy intimate relationship.

Then we have idolatry and sorcery which could refer to turning away from God as the source of life and worthy of our devotion. Seeking after power in things outside of the divine. A turning away from God and worshiping idols. This breaking of relationship with God. 

Then we have this listing of eight terms; enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy. These eight terms that each name in their different ways in which relationships between individuals and communities are broken down rather than built up. There is nothing life giving about these terms, but rather ways in which we separate ourselves and break relationships, especially within the body of Christ. Paul spends extra time in naming all those ways we put up walls between ourselves and others, instead of working towards building up those relationships that could be present if we worked for it. 

The final listing is that which is referred to in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary as, “Self-indulgent partying.” The words that Paul uses are translated as, drunkenness, and carousing. Nothing wrong with partaking of alcohol as long as it doesn’t consume us. As long as it does not dictate who we are. As long as it does not become our whole identity. 

Now the second list that Paul puts forth is much more concise, but still names those gifts that are life giving and work towards building up relationships with God, others, and with ourselves; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

These lists are not stand alone concepts within the letter to the church in Galatia, rather I find it to be a part of a culmination of all that Paul is seeking to teach this community. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on vs 22-23 says, “Here in Galatians, [Paul’s] emphasis is on the peaceful and community-building character of the Spirit’s work.” 

Throughout the whole of the letter Paul is working toward this point of how we are to live in community with one another. First addressing those issues that separate the Jews and the Gentiles from living in community, towards now addressing those things that separate individuals within a community.

Paul advocates for the works of the Spirit he does so knowing both the good news of Jesus Christ that leads us towards the Kingdom of God, and that the Spirit is what continues to move us forward as we follow the way of Christ. We recognize the Spirit is our guide, our advocate, our sustainer. The one who continues to move among the believers toward the kingdom of God. And as Paul argues for these gifts of the Spirit we are reminded that it is through community and relationships that we find life springing forth with abundance and through those things that tear down relationships, we find pain, hurt, destruction, and death. 

As we continue to remember the day of Pentecost, let us not forget the freedom that the early church found in the movement of the Spirit. A movement that moved them past their apprehension to openly declare the good news. A movement that was so freeing that some in the crowds believed them to be drunk. The freedom in the Spirit that continues to this day as the Holy Spirit continues to move and work towards life giving endeavors as we continue our journey to the Kingdom of God. 

Justified by Grace

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

May 16, 2021

Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29

This week we continue in our series of text that focus in on the nature of the identity of the followers of Christ, and its ties to Paul’s understanding of salvation. As we have made our way from Acts into the heart of the letter to the church in Galatia, I am reminded of why I have oftentimes complicated relationship with Paul. I say relationship because there are times that I find myself arguing with him, and other times I find myself nodding my head with his arguments. There are those letters that are attributed to Paul that I have great issue with and yet I continue to wrestle with them. As such, as I hear Paul writing to a congregation in the first century, I continue to hear his arguments as being relevant for us today. 

In today’s text, Paul continues an argument that narrows his focus on salvation but continues to recognize the issue of identity, as he makes an argument of faith over acts regarding one’s salvation. This is an argument that numerous theologians and ministers have hashed out over the generations. Does one have to be a good person in order to find salvation or is it through our faith? It seems like a simple argument. We could fairly easily declare that it is through our faith, and yet over the generations the church has sent mixed signals regarding this very question. Mixed signals in the form of excluding those that don’t fit the norm of the Sunday morning crowd. 

Excluding the gay or gender non-conforming individual. Not making accommodations for those who have disabilities. Judging and running off the unwed mother. Sending nasty glares at the tattooed biker who had the gaul to come in and sit in that pew. There are many examples of the church seemingly placing a requirement on what kind of person you must be in order to get in the door. Taking on the role of the gate keeper to the gospel. 

Paul even names the dividing issues that the early church faced in listing off this dueling identities in one of the more recognizable statements from Galatians. “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female’ for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.(NRSV)” We could even add our own set of dueling identities from our own lives. There is no longer Democrat or Republican. No longer gay or straight. No longer black or white. There is no longer poor or rich. 

Paul doesn’t argue that these identities some how simply disappear but rather that there is a new overarching identity that takes precedence. It is that we are all through our belief in Christ Jesus children of God. 

But how does Paul get to that point in the 3rd chapter of Galatians? First, Paul goes all the way back to Abraham. The beginning point of the covenant that the Israelites point back to. In pointing back Paul acknowledges that the law wasn’t present then only Abraham’s faith in God. It is through this faith that there would be a blessing upon all of his descendants. All of the children of Abraham’s line would be blessed but also through them all other nations would be blessed as well.

The relationship between God and Abraham did not start with the law. That doesn’t show up until a number of generations later. Instead it is through Abraham’s faith that he was deemed righteous. In the same manner Paul argues with the early church of what caused the Spirit to come upon them. Was it their following of the law, or was it instead their belief? 

This is again a rhetorical question because we all know the answer. It is through our faith, and yet Paul asks this question because the people had been guided to live as if it were following the law that led to salvation, just as the church today continues to fall into this trap. That salvation comes first from correct behavior and dress, rather than through faith. 

But Paul does make a second argument in the end of the 3rd chapter regarding the law. He doesn’t simply throw it out as if it were meaningless. There continues to be strong guidance within the law of the Torah for the people of Israel. There continues to be strong guidance even for today, otherwise why do we even have those texts in our Bibles? 

In the New Living Translation Paul says in vs 23, “Until faith in Christ was shown to us as the way of becoming right with God, we were guarded by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until we could put our faith in the coming Savior. (New Living Translation)” That translation highlights this growing maturity of the people. This development that continued, but still held an importance on the law. I could compare this to taking Ruth on walks where I have to enforce the rules of walking near busy streets. We have this backpack harness with a leash. Often times it may seem to Ruth to be restrictive but it is important until she learns how she is connected with the world around her. 

Paul makes a final argument regarding the identity of the people in the early church. In vs. 26-27 and 29, we hear, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ…And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (NRSV)” These verses surround the recognizable breaking down of dueling identities that often separated the community. It is through our faith in Jesus Christ that we are all children of God. And through this Paul connects us all back to God’s promise to Abraham. 

Our salvation does not come from the works of our hands and feet. Our salvation comes from our faith in a God who has throughout history shown grace upon the people. It is God that guides us, and at times we need guidance on how we are to live our lives. But that guidance is not to be used as an oppressive tool to punish or ridicule. But rather to help and guide us as we consider how we are all bound together as Children of God.