Comfort in God

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

December 8, 2019

Isaiah 40:1-11

Over this past week I have become increasingly aware of how much I use words of peace on a daily basis. If you have received an email from me or read my sign off on my newsletter articles or the like, you will notice that I finish with the words “Peace in Christ.” On a number of communications in the past few weeks, I came to recognize that those words concluded a message that assured the recipient that I had something under control and they did not have to worry. In other times they were used to provide hope through a moment of crisis. All in all, these words are meant to instill a sense of comfort to those who hear it.  

When we pass the peace of Christ each Sunday, we use it as a way to enter into that attitude of worship as we honor each person present here. It is meant to be comforting and an avenue through which we are united together in this time. My hope is that as we greet each other, we might be ever mindful of how we seek to provide a place of comfort in which we can all encounter the divine. Clearing away those distractions, so that we can simply be present in this space seeking the divine. 

I am also aware that when I come face to face with someone experiencing crisis that while they may be seeking resources or assistance with the issues that they are facing, they are also seeking a sense of peace. They are looking for at least a moment when they can lay their burdens down and find comfort. There have been many times that individuals in crisis have just come into our building to find warmth and comfort. They come seeking the peace that God promises. 

When someone comes to me and pours out their struggles with the church or their faith because of the condemnation that they have received, they are not looking for a debate. They come and share with me because they know that I will provide a moment of peace and comfort. And to be honest, sometimes they are surprised when they find a place of peace rather than derision. 

Our text this morning comes out of the context of the people of Judah who are in exile, and have struggled and labored under the oppression of Babylon. As they are suffering and seeking those moments of peace, we hear these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” 

Declare to the people these words of comfort. Do not compound their suffering but rather declare their liberation. Do not pile on with condemnation and accusations, but rather lift them up out of the pit and embrace them. The people have suffered and it is time for them to find peace. Speak to the people and proclaim words of comfort for their suffering shall come to an end. 

Then we hear these words, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of our Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”

In my time of being a runner and cyclist, the one thing that I always dread seeing near the end of a long run or bike ride is a hill. Not just any hill but a steep incline that hides the apex. Or even a steep descent that requires my upmost focus unless I loose control and crash to the bottom. When my body is already starting to show signs of fatigue and strain, and in front of me is an obstacle to the finish line. A barrier to the sweet release that comes with being able to just sprawl on the ground as a sense of completion and exhaustion wash over me. It would be a welcome site to see the last stretch of a route to have been made even, no hills or valleys to deal with just nice and even. 

We hear out of this text the call to prepare the way for the Lord. Prepare the ground. Prepare the route, so that the obstacles that prevent us from encountering the divine are removed. Clear the way so that the people can know the peace and comfort of our God. Clear those barriers that have been set up between God and the people so that they may encounter one another once more. 

Earlier this week I was part of a conversation with other clergy about how we preach the Gospel out in our community, and primarily to the unchurched. Overwhelmingly the responses were about being present and removing those barriers that arise due to stereotypes. Removing the barriers by being another human being seeking to bring good news into the world by being in relationship with others. Removing those barriers to proclaiming the gospel by throwing out the image of the sidewalk preacher on their soapbox. Removing the obstacle that comes with that imagery, so that one can simply be present and in conversation based on relationship rather than an agenda. 

Removing those barriers so that those who are seeking to know the divine may find moments and places of peace rather than condemnation and judgement. Providing a relationship that reflects the relationship that we ourselves have with God. One based on love and forgiveness, acceptance and encouragement. 

As we prepare to celebrate our savior’s birth, are there those obstacles that we have set up, that prevent others from finding God’s peace in this time? Are there those barriers that we have ignored and left standing, even if they serve no purpose, that tell those in crisis or distress that they must change first? That they must first suffer and be judged so that they may change before coming to know the divine?

This summer we had an individual who after dropping off their sibling at camp declared that they wanted to go to camp. But there had been these unspoken barriers in place that made the question of if they would be welcomed valid. My response was, to say yes, as long as there was still room. What resulted in the removal of that unspoken barrier, was a youth who felt absolutely loved for who they are, and was able to experience a place of peace and comfort even if the rest of their life was not so. In declaring the willingness to welcome another in Christian fellowship we provided this youth with a place of peace that led to tremendous transformation. 

As we seek to declare the peace of Christ, each week, it is our responsibility to prepare the way for that peace. As we pass the peace of Christ we are practicing the removal of barriers and obstacles so that when we are in the world we can more easily pass that same peace. Let us prepare the way of the Lord and make a highway for our God to come close. Prepare the path so that obstacles are removed and those seeking after God may recognize the presence of the divine. May we recognize where those barriers are and push them aside. For as we do this, we make way for the Good news of Jesus Christ. 

Hope in a Promise

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

December 1, 2019

Jeremiah 33:14-18, Mark 8:27-29

  For the past ten or so years, I can remember an awareness of this duality present on tv during this time of year. The abundance of feel good movies and tv specials, that are entirely meant to make us feel happy and encouraged. That feeling of warmth as if we are snuggled up next to a fire with a hot cup of cocoa. The movies that try to make life seem more simple than it really is. Specials that bring forth our favorite Christmas songs and a few new ones that no one likes. Movies that try to remind us that the most important thing is to be surrounded by the ones we love and love us in return.

This goes against the news that we hear each day. The fear and dread about when and where the next mass shooting will occur. The sadness when we see horrendous tragedy in our world. The reminder that there is great poverty in our world and in our own communities. It seems like the Christmas movies and specials are simply an escape from the ills of our world. The struggles that we face when to comes to paying for our own healthcare within a broken system. 

Even some of our celebrations and parties become a way to escape from the brokenness we know is present. Look at who is invited. Usually people that you either agree on most of the contentious issues with, or an unspoken agreement to avoid such topics. We don’t invite those who are in different life circumstances from ourselves, because we don’t want to be reminded of the brokenness when we go to a party. When we gather together around a table for thanksgiving with family, most of us found our selves with those that remind us what we are thankful for, not what still needs to be mended. 

As we return from those moments of celebration and distraction, we are constantly reminded that our world is in need of something more, and it is our God that reminds us time and time again that there is indeed something more. It is in the promise of the messiah, that we are assured that there is one who can bring healing and wholeness into our world. That there is an answer to the cries of poverty, and violence. There is the promise that the least of these will be cared for. The promise that the cries for justice will be answered. 

But here we are at the beginning of the season of Advent where we are remembering that expectation of what is yet to be. That expectation of our savior and anointed one. The expectation of that reminder of how God broke forth into the world to bring about healing, and wholeness in the world.  We are awaiting the fulfillment of God’s justice and righteousness. But sometimes we get distracted or misplace our hope for what is possible. 

I am well aware that as we are making our way through this season of waiting for the birth of our savior, we also find ourselves waiting for our newly elected officials to come through on their promises. Their promises, that they will clean up downtown and reduce the crime rate. Their promises of what they are willing to do that their competitor would not. Their promises to improve our quality of life without us experiencing a rise in our taxes. Their promises to solve the problems of homelessness. 

As we wait for these newly elected officials to take office, we have this hope for what they are able to do. Placing maybe too much hope in the promises of their campaigns. But we also have this dread in the pit of our stomachs of what if they don’t live out those promises, or do so in a way that goes against our morals. 

Even as we hope for what is possibly by our elected officials, we have an even greater hope in the one who has consistently been true to their word. We look to the scriptures that remind us time and time again that God has stayed true to the covenants, and God has not left the people. There is a continual promise throughout the texts that God will continue to lead the people if they will follow. The promise that if the people stay true they will know the divine justice for all the people. The reminder that as God provided for the people in the wilderness, God will continue to look after the needs of the people. 

But we forget. We forget to look and recognize the places in which God is moving in the world, to care for those in need. As the days get shorter and the nights become darker, we can get bogged down by the ills of the world. We can get weighed down by the struggles of others who are seeking to make ends meet. Our hearts get heavier and heavier as we witness the brokenness in our community. 

As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth we find ourselves identifying with the scriptures of the old testament. The need for God to break forth into the world and establish true justice and righteousness. But we also look forward knowing where the story of the birth of our savior leads. It leads through a life of ministry and sacrifice that continues on through us. We can recognize those places in which the promise that we hope will come into full realization, is already breaking through into our world. 

In those places in which we see the best of humanity. In the face of tremendous tragedies as communities come around those who are mourning in support of one another. As we witness poverty in our community and find ways to respond. As we learn about and support those organizations that are well suited to answer the needs of our neighbors like Family Promise of Spokane or Cup of Cool Water. As we collect food for those who are struggling and hats and gloves for those who are cold. 

I see hope when I witness communities of faith wrap their arms around the broken and outcast. When God’s love is declared loudly to those who have been shunned. When, as we respond to needs in our communities, we are also willing to ask about the underlying cause of that need, so that we can create real change change. So, that we can declare God’s justice as we work towards the Kingdom of God.  

I find hope in the world where the messiah is recognized. When we go beyond the cute little sayings of the season that make us feel all warm and cozy, to pursuing the transformational nature of the good news that Jesus declared to all who would listen. Hearing again the promise of the messiah is one that should bring us hope even in the darkest of spaces. God has continually remained faithful and continues to declare true justice for the world, if we are willing to follow. If we are willing to declare the good news of the messiah, we will become messengers of that same hope here in this place. 

Responding to God’s Presence

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North Hill Christian Church

November 3, 2019

1 Kings 18:20-39, Mark 9:2-8

On this Sunday, each year, I call us to remember those whom we have lost in the past year. To remember those who have gone before us in death and who we continue hold in our hearts. In preparation for this Sunday each year, I have found myself remembering the memorial services that I have been a part of, remembering the stories that have been shared with me about the lost loved one, and reflecting on the legacies they have left upon us. As I go through this time of remembrance I am reminded of how their lives have left an imprint upon my own. Through the memories we shared, the times where I have learned from them, or the times that their own life has left a desire within me to do better. 

As we find ourselves remembering those whom we have lost over the past year, it is helpful for us to consider the memories that we will leave behind. The marks upon the world that will last long after we are gone from his earthly world. How will we be remembered when we are gone? How have we been a transformational force in the world? And importantly how are those legacies that we will leave behind, reflective of the God whom we have encountered throughout our faith journeys. 

Which leads us to our texts for today. Both of these texts are instances in which God’s presences is revealed, and serve as a reminder not only the power of God but what we do after we encounter the divine. Recognizing that as the people encountered the divine within their lives, they had the choice to make, to change their ways to reflect this truth that they have found, or go forward with a nice memory but no changes. 

The text out of 1 Kings can be titled, battle of the Gods and along with much of Elijah’s story could be made into an epic movie. In this section of the text everything is set up in favor of Baal, yet the Lord our God prevails. Baal had 450 prophets in his court, the challenge was well suited for a God of Thunder and Storm, the prophets had all day to make something happen, and Elijah put himself in even more of a disadvantage by soaking the sacrifice and filling a trench full of water. Yet, the Lord our God prevailed and reminded the people of Israel who they should be following and worshiping. 

The prophets of Baal went as far as cutting themselves with swords and lances to seek to curry favor with Baal, to no avail. The people had a choice. To follow a foreign God whose followers are encouraged to harm themselves in acts of worship, to gain favor. Or to follow the God that brought the people up out of Egypt, out of slavery, declared that they should not be slaves any more if they will worship the Lord our God only. The God that provided for the people in the wilderness, and gave them the promised land. And has now done what Baal could not, even with all the added disadvantages. God prevailed. It was time for the people to make a choice. 

Then we have the text from Mark, in which we hear of Peter, James, and John’s experience of the transfiguration on top of a mountain where they are all transformed. Jesus is transfigured before their eyes, as Elijah and Moses show up and are talking with Jesus. The disciples are transformed by their experience and because of it want to set up camp in that place, missing the point of their ministry. They are forever changed by the experience, but have to be directed down the mountain so that others too may be transformed. 

But here is the thing, these texts aren’t just about how God shows up and the people are changed. They are also stories that invite us to remember the legacies of those who have gone before us. A legacy of those who had to make a choice after encountering the divine in their own life. A legacy that I hear passed along in these stories is best described in 1 Kings 18:17, “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’” You troubler of the status quo. You troubler and thorn in the sides of the powerful. 

I think that these characteristics fit pretty well on Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Moses was one who grew up with privilege but became one who became a thorn in Pharaoh’s side. Disrupting the status quo in Egypt that removed the Israelites as slave labor from the picture. Elijah, became a thorn in the side of the king of Israel by calling for a return into right relationship with God, and to turn away from Baal. Elijah called out Ahab and the leaders for their mis-deeds, the corrupting nature of Jezebel by bringing in foreign God’s, and declared a drought would fall upon the land. Elijah was that constant voice in a not so diplomatic way, nagging Ahab into right relationship that we have Ahab calling him a troubler of Israel. 

Then we have Jesus. The one whose message continues to call God’s people into a radical way of living. A way of living that seeks to dismantle oppression, seeks to uplift the marginalized, and bring healing to the world. It continues to be so radical, that if the sermon on the mount is read aloud without context today, that there is inevitably pushback and the claim that it is too political or socialist. Jesus preached the Good news to the poor, oppressed, broken, outcast, hurting, imprisoned, and least of these, and this gospel became a thorn in the sides of the Pharisees, and other leaders. 

All of the work of this three, was out of their knowledge and experience of the divine. Knowing what God wanted for the world and willing to work towards that end. We have come to know the Good News of Jesus Christ and are given a choice, to take it for ourselves, or to hear God’s truth and work for God’s kingdom in the world, even if it means being a troubler. Hearing God’s good news for the least of these and in turn seeking to advocate and pursue justice for the least of those in our communities. 

When we talk about being the thorn in the sides of our leaders, or being a troubler of the status quo, it may seem to be something that is far out of our reach. Something that requires authority and prestige to make possible. Seemingly to be out of our own reach. But that is a false assumption. We have power and authority to be the thorn in the sides of our elected officials. We have the ability to call out and name injustices in our world with our own voices. 

This past week as the Tuesday Bible study group was talking about these texts we found ourselves in a place, where we needed to recognize what we can do in the here and now. What each one of us is able to do, because we hear grand stories on the news of people doing great things, but how can we even come close to doing that? So, I shared this story; 

Almost two weeks ago I found myself in a position to be a thorn in the side of one who wants to be an elected official here in Spokane. Being the person that I am, I have been reading up on the various candidates that we will be voting on this week. Listening to the language they use regarding the issues that Spokane faces. Now, when I attended the ribbon cutting for the new Open Doors facility I was surprised by the presence of a candidate who has routinely spoken out against low barrier and emergency shelters and has used language that dehumanizes the homeless. I went on a tour with this individual, all along trying to think of a polite way to talk to this person while also raising my concern with the apparent confusion between their words and now actions. I wanted to respond out of my faith that tells us of God’s love for all human beings and a preference for the least of these. I got the opportunity later on in the day to ask this person a question on their campaign facebook page, which they did interact with me on. I asked, about the confusion that I saw and we continued to have an interaction in which I did name that Open Doors is a low barrier, emergency shelter, which this person apparently wasn’t aware of, and continued to call out their bias and misinformation regarding the homeless in our community. I do hope that by being a thorn in this person’s side that if they get elected they may be willing to look deeper into the issues of homelessness in our community, and recognize the benefit of low barrier emergency shelters in our community. 

We don’t have to have official positions in order to be troubler’s of the status quo, only the willingness to do what we can to call out oppression where we see it. Using our voices to call out injustice in our community and in the world. Using our fingers to call or write letters to our elected representatives. Using our voices when we hear language that goes against the truth of the Gospel. 

We have encountered the divine in our own lives, and we each have a choice as to how we are going to respond. Are we going to file those encounters aways as memories on the book shelf that we can call upon from time to time when we want to reminisce, or are we going to wear them on our sleeves, and be changed forever by living out the good news of the Gospel. We have a choice as to what legacy we will leave behind for future generations. 

Servant Leadership

October 27, 2019

1 Kings 12:1-17, Mark 10:35-45

One of my guilty pleasures is reading compilations of stories centered around the premise of individuals who are in places of power or just assume they are better than others, who then treat others with disrespect and there is some turn of events that results in the offending party being shamed. Part of me justifies this guilty pleasure in the reminder how important it is to be humble and treat others with respect, instead of finding joy in the shame of those that thought themselves to be better than others. However, I know the joy comes in hearing stories where rude and inconsiderate behavior isn’t rewarded. Where power and status don’t win the day. 

There is something about these stories that we find relatable. Stories where customers are incredibly rude to employees, or where a neighbor is caught up in their own assumptions that they forget that they do not live in a neighborhood all alone. We relate because we may have been in a similar situation, or been called out when we acted rudely to another. 

Stories like these can serve as a reminder of the shame we can expect when we constantly put our desires first and foremost above the needs and humanity of others. A lesson that the disciples needed to hear, and Rehoboam ignored to the downfall of the kingdom. James and John decided that they wanted the places of honor in the Kingdom of God, but did not understand what would be required of them to deserve such an honor. They didn’t understand that in order to find such an honor that they had to first humble themselves completely. 

The lesson that continues to remind us that the ministry that we are called into, the ministry that declares good news to the poor, the captive, the outcast, the oppressed, requires its followers to follow a humble path, rather seeking one’s own glory. The ministry that Jesus Christ started, was leading to the cross. It pushed back against the systems of power and oppression. It called out the hypocrisy of the leaders. And it declared God’s kingdom above and beyond any earthly kingdom.

The ministry through which we find salvation, lead Jesus to the cross, because it endangered the status quo of those who benefited from the systems of oppression. But that ministry did not end at the cross but continues through the resurrection and the moving of the spirit. Even though those that wished to end the movement tried to end it through the cross, the Kingdom of God is greater. 

In the case of Rehoboam, he is tasked with a choice. To ease the suffering of his people or not. To lessen the hardships that the throne has put onto the people or not. He hears the cries of the people and takes the time to make a decision. His first steps are to seek the counsel of the seasoned advisers who tell him to do what the people ask. They tell him that if he serves the people they shall be his servants in return. If he seeks to tend to the people they will return the favor. But not being happy with their answer Rehoboam turn to his friends who tell him to make the oppression even worse. 

Once again we can relate to this story. The story of a young guy who all of a sudden is given great power without much wisdom and experience to help him. So, he is faced with the first of many hard decisions and seeks out the wisdom of others. The first answer he gets isn’t what he wants so he turns to his peers who gives him the answer he really wants. 

We like to claim that this is the downfall of youth, who fail to listen to the wisdom of their elders. But I would push back on this as people of any age can be caught up in moments where they ignore the wisdom of those with experience and knowledge. Instead I would name that in this text there is immaturity at work that continues to lead Rehoboam down a path seeking his own power, and ignoring the cries of his people. 

A warning from 1 Samuel 8 that becomes fully realized. A warning that was made after the people of Israel demanded a king like all the other nations, forgetting that the Lord is the true king. A warning that human kings will forget their responsibility to the people and lust after their own power and authority. 

As I look back on my life, I recognize those places where my head got too big for my britches. Those moments where I did not listen to the advice of those with wisdom to offer. Those times where I absolutely knew what was best, and in each of those times where my own pride and ego drove me, I found shame. 

So, how do these texts come together for us today? We have people that are coming up as leaders, those who are supposed to serve as an example for others. Those that are to put God’s people and truth above their own interests, but they show their selfishness and ego, to the point that they experience shame and downfall. 

Who we are called to be is a shining light on the hill. A beacon of hope for those who look on. But if we find our egos getting too big, or our lust for power too much, then that light house on a hill becomes a Las Vegas Marquee sign. From a light declaring hope, to a shinny thing boasting about what is inside. 

We are called to serve the people as we declare the good news of the Kingdom of God. We are called to listen to the wisdom of those who have come before us, as we continue to pioneer a path forward seeking after God’s kingdom. 

Yesterday, as the Northwest Region gathered in Yakima to remember and Re-member the regional body, Sandy brought us a message out of Isaiah, that reminds us that God is always doing a new thing. That the ways in which God acted in the world wasn’t repetitive time and time again. But rather God acted in new and different ways throughout the history of God’s people. In the same way God continues to work in and through us in new and exciting ways each and every, day, week, month, and year. 

So, even as we are called to listen to the wisdom of our elders, and serve as humble leaders to God’s people, we are called into new and different ministries by God. 

Let us not be consumed by our egos, by our selfish desires for fame, glory, or fancy new things, as we instead seek to declare the good news of Jesus Christ, each and every day as we humbly serve our community. Let us hear the stories of those who have come before us, whose egos got too big for their britches, and let us learn from them.

The Cry of the Oppressed

October 6, 2019

Exodus 1:8-14, 3:1-15

This is our fourth sermon in a series around our identity as church. This week our focus is on the aspect of our mission statement that says we are a people who are “Reflecting Christ through our actions.” As I hear that as a statement of who we are, our relationship with the divine should define us so much so that, those who are looking on can come to better know the divine through our actions. 

But who is the divine that we seek to reflect in our daily lives, and is it the same one we are in relationship with? I ask this because one of the arguments regarding the hypocrisy of Christians is that we hold one set of standards for ourselves and a whole other set for others. That we find abundant welcome and salvation for ourselves and then, set conditions for others. So, we do need to ask ourselves what reflection of the divine are we intending to show? Instead of just looking at the Gospels to determine who Christ is that we seek to reflect, it is important to look at the whole of scripture regarding the relationship that the divine held with God’s people. 

In the end of the second chapter of Exodus starting with vs 23 we hear, “After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.” 

Not trying to gloss over the implication that God had forgotten the covenant that had been made with Abraham and his descendants, but it was out of the groaning and crying out that God was reminded of the divine’s relationship with the Israelites, and God acted. Where God acted in such profound way that it has been immortalized with the iconic depiction of Charleston Heston as Moses in the “Ten Commandments.” It is in the hearing the cries of the oppressed that God remembered the divine covenant with this people. 

But God doesn’t act independently of the world in rectifying the Israelites oppression. Instead God acts in relationship with Moses. God, calls a murderer, an exile, someone who benefited from the oppression of his own people, to bring them up out of Egypt. God worked through this imperfect, and flawed man to answer the cries of the people. And it is this man that has been used throughout the Old testament to compare the messiah to. A prophet like Moses. 

This also becomes a moment that defines how God expects the Israelites to treat others, especially the stranger or foreigner or alien. Explicitly in Leviticus 19:33-34, “Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” 

In the same way that the people are called throughout the Old Testament to treat the foreigner with justice, so too are they called to care for the least of these. Time and time again when issues of justice are raised it is with concern for the least of these that those in power should be mindful of the orphan, widow, alien, outcast, lame, and the other. Time and time the people who have the means are expected to be mindful of the least of these. There is the expectation that the people will keep their ears attuned to the cries of the oppressed just as God does. 

But as our social circles can insulate us from the brokenness of the world, simply because we are not aware of the cries within our community, or we intentionally ignore them because it is easier to live as if we don’t know about the ills of the world. I know at times it is easier for me to stay in the office than go to community meetings where I hear of the brokenness of the world. It is easier to limit myself to the immediate community because one can be inundated with the cries of the world that are too much for one person or local community to deal with. It can be exhausting to constantly hear and listen to stories of brokenness in the world, without having a good way to tend to each and every individual. But we aren’t expected to fix every problem or heal all the brokenness on our own, but to work with the divine to do what we can in our part of the world. 

Even though we aren’t expected to fix all the ills in the world there is still the expectation for us to encounter the brokenness in the world and hear the cries of the oppressed as we are called by God to work for justice in the world. We are called to reflect Christ through our actions, and some times we need to learn those lessons that Jesus had to learn according to the Gospels. 

We have the question before us that needs to be answered. Who do we say that Christ is? What are those names that we give our savior?… If we are to reflect Christ in our actions then are we not called to also reflect those names as well?

Now there is another text I would have you consider today, that points back to the issue of hypocrisy that I raised earlier. Matthew 15:21-28, “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”

Sometimes we are faced with those issues of the world that call us to question those walls that we have placed within our lives. Those standards of who is in and who is out. Who is worthy and who is not. Earlier this week in the Tuesday Bible study we spent some time on this text and I found myself summarizing the Cannanite woman’s argument like this, “Are you willing to withhold salvation for my daughter because I am not Jewish and you think I am not worthy even though I have faith?” 

Yes, my summary leaves out the dialogue between the woman and Jesus, but it gets to the heart of the debate taking place. And it points to those arguments that take place in churches all around the world today when we have higher expectations of others than we do for ourselves in regards to salvation. 

As we find ourselves being faced with the brokenness of the world, and even in those spaces where we are called to question those unwritten requirements to salvation, we are still called to reflect Christ in all that we do. We are called to be present in those places where brokenness abounds at the minimum. 

Simply being present with communities that are being oppressed, or shunned tells them that they are not alone. That there are people who are willing to hear their stories, willing to listen to their pain and be present, when they may feel alone otherwise. 

It means speaking up for change in our society, and uplifting the voices of the ignored. And speaking out against those who would seek to further oppress those in our community with false rhetoric or hate speech. 

To say that we are a community called by God to reflect Christ in our actions, is simple, forgets that the ministry Jesus calls us into is difficult and hard work. It forgets that as we are called to reflect Christ in the world so much so that others are able to better understand who the divine is because they know us, puts a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders. We should always be mindful of how we behave and treat others, especially how we listen to the cries of the oppressed and respond accordingly. 

Is this a Joke???

North Hill Christian Church

September 15, 2019

Genesis 8:1-15, 21:1-7

As we continue to ponder on the question of who we are as church, I invite us to consider our mission statement together just as the church board did so yesterday at our annual visioning and focusing meeting. We didn’t simply contemplate our mission statement as a nice fluffy statement about the mission of the church, but rather were invited to hear it as the reason for why we do all the ministries that we do together in this place. Why we gather together each week for worship and fellowship. Why we gather in times of study and service. Why we continue to publicly declare who we are in this place as disciples of Christ. 

Let us speak together and hear the reason why we continue to seek to be church in this place. “We of North Hill Christian Church are a people responding to God’s call, building whole community reflecting Christ through our actions, and living into the reign of God.”

For this week I want to focus on one single section, “Responding to God’s call.” All that we are doing is in a response to who God has called us and continues to call us into being. We aren’t here in this place because some person somewhere decided to plant a church in this neighborhood. Instead God called those original founders of our congregation to plant this church here. Jenn and I didn’t just move here because Spokane sounded like a nice place to live. No, God called and led us here. 

All that we do together here in this place is because God called us here, and we answered. Now, we may not have always answered the calling in the same way. There may have been times that we responded with great enthusiasm like Abraham, who picked up his whole life and followed where God led. While other times we may have questioned the sanity of where God has been leading. Or even gone as far as laughed at the thought of what God was saying is possible like Sarah. 

Now we need some context for the texts that we have heard this morning. To start off, Abraham has already heard the promise of children in the previous chapters, and we can know that Sarah has also heard this promise. It has also already come to pass that Ishmael has been born and a sign of covenant has already been made between God and Abraham’s house, which included the circumcision of all the males in his house. It has already been stated multiple times that Sarah was going to bear a child, even in her advanced age. But now, we get a more immediate timeline of when this will come to pass. 

Prior to the 18th chapter of Genesis, we hear of Sara making an end run around God’s plan. Trying to make sure that Abraham had a child even if it wasn’t with her. So she took God’s promise into her own hands in giving Hagar to Abraham. She tried to make the end result in her own way without fully trusting God to use her.

In the text from chapter 18, we hear of Abraham’s continued excitement and enthusiasm with hearing God’s calling and promise upon his life as he continues to welcome the messengers of God. On the other hand we have Sarah, who in overhearing the timeline and promise that she will bear a child within the year, simply laughs as it seems to be an absurd possibility. 

There have been those ministries in the history of this church that we took on without question and with great excitement. There have also been those that we questioned how God would make this ministry possible. And then there are those ministries that we have tried to force through rather than listen for God’s leading. 

One such ministry that we have recently approached with apprehension and questioning/laughter would be the XPLOR program. Prior to our first official year of being a part of this ministry, we had been talking and planning, and hearing God’s calling upon our congregation. We spent hours in meetings listening for how God is leading us here in Spokane. We spent time in conversation with different groups within our congregation and at Country Homes. The initial planning and discernment group even went through a questionnaire regarding the viability of this program. All before we got the call from the NBA (National Benevolent Association). But once we got that call and really started planning, there were those moments of questioning. Is God really leading us in this way. Are we able to do this? How is this even going to be possible? There is so much work to be done, we don’t know if we have the time or the energy to do it all. And yet, here we are beginning our second year in this program and remembering all that we have done, and looking forward to the possibilities in this new year. 

A part of our identity here in this place is as people who are constantly listening and responding to God’s call upon our lives. It isn’t something that we did once and now are all done. Rather it is a constant state of listening and responding as our community changes. As our neighborhood changes, as we ourselves change, God calls us into new and different ministries.

This is a big task for us to do. But the biggest reminder out of our texts from this morning isn’t how Abraham jumped at the change to welcome the messengers, or how Sarah laughed. Not it is that God followed through in the divine covenant. A child was born to Abraham and Sarah, even though they were well on in age and thought it was impossible. God followed through and kept the promise. 

Even when the calling that we hear seems to be absurd and impossible, we should always remember that if God is calling us, then God will make it possible for us to succeed in God’s own ways. Not by us forcing it but by listening and following where God leads us. 

Watching from the Sidelines

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 1, 2019

Luke 14:1, 7-14

For the longest time I found it difficult to watch soccer games on TV. Not that I don’t enjoy soccer, it was just that I wanted to be in the mix of the game rather than just watch from the sidelines. But as I have grown up and my body isn’t as young and spry as it used to be, I have found enjoyment in watching the matches, even if a part of me would like to be playing again. In a way my time away on sabbatical has been like being a spectator watching from the sidelines. Watching the goings on in the church and in people of faith, while intentionally taking time away from being immersed and active. 

Growing up on the soccer field, I recognized the importance of listening to the coach’s instructions, but my mind was still focused on my role on the field. So focused on defending the goal, or moving the ball up the field that I wasn’t aware of the patterns that the coach could see. Unaware of all the passing opportunities that were available because I couldn’t track all the moving parts. Yet now as I watch matches on tv I can see the whole field. I can see the movement of the various players setting them up for scoring opportunities or setting up for an offsides call. 

Taking time off for sabbatical allowed me the chance to go from being on the field to the role of a spectator seeing patterns and blind spots that one can loose sight of on the field. 

Each time I have preached on this text from Luke in the past, I have talked about the role of the guests and the host. How the guest should be humble and not assume that they deserve the place of honor, and that the host should not simply invite those who can return the favor. But what about the onlooker. The one who is watching from the sidelines, watching from across the street, watching to see what kind of party this is, and deciding if they want to join in. Watching the guests to see if they are fighting over the place of honor or find a seat and wait for the host. If the host is generous and kind in who is welcome to their table or simply surround themselves with people of means and power. 

This past summer I had the chance to be a fly on the wall for several different congregations. As I watched to see what they were doing, what made them unique, what their worship service said about who they are as a congregation, and how they welcomed the stranger. 

One congregation specialized in hearing and telling stories. The only part of their two hour worship that felt like a worship service was about half an hour around a communion table. The rest of their time together was in sharing a meal, listening to one another’s stories, and then providing a space for individuals to share their stories with the whole group. 

Another congregation’s unique identifier was its bold and vocal stance regarding issues of justice. From the banners and flags in the sanctuary, to articles in the bulletin, and the words spoken from the pulpit and during the time of prayer. 

Another congregation we visited, reminded us of the importance of signage and instructions for greeters, as visitors are welcomed. For this congregation we entered on the main level, or what we could assume was the main level. Immediately greeted by individuals with bulletins but we were left to find our way to the sanctuary which was through the fellowship hall, up a flight of stairs, and through the narthex before we found it. Luckily we were able to follow the sounds of the congregation preparing for worship. 

But something that all these congregations had in common, they did not have a huge attendance. Overall their attendance was about the same to 10 or 20 more than our average. These congregations didn’t seem to be dead or dying. Rather they were congregations who know who they are and continue to live into God’s call for them in their place. Now, I’m sure they all have those grumblings of only if we can attract more people. If only we can attract young families. If only we could do this or that…then maybe we could be as big as we used to be. 

We know these grumblings, and yet were are still called to be a congregation listening for God’s constant calling upon our lives to declare the good news as best as we can knowing the divine is there with us helping us along the way. We are not listening for God’s calling as if we are the same church we were 20 years ago, but rather as the church we are today. 

Several years ago this congregation set forth a vision statement that says: “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.”

The one constant of our worship and faith journey together is our time around the table. The words and actions that are shared at this table should embody all that we wish to be defined by. Where all are welcomed, all are invited, and barriers are removed for anyone who wishes to come. 

As I visited several congregations this summer and engaged in conversations, I have recognized that we can say we are welcoming, but our actions and traditions don’t always say the same thing to the on looker. The one who is watching from the sidelines to see who we are and if they are truly welcome. They are watching to see who is invited, and who is welcomed into the party that is our community.

In the coming weeks and months we will be asked how are we doing with living into this statement, and is it who God is calling us to be at this time and place. We will be in conversations about who we are as a congregation, what makes us unique and what are the ministries that define who we are. I hope that we will all continue to listen to God’s calling upon our lives and this community of faith as we take the time to discern what God is doing in this place. 

“God Makes us Clean”

May 12, 2019

Acts 10 1-17, 34-48

The church from the beginning of time and who knows how much longer has wrestled with the question of who is a proper disciple of Christ. From the question that arises out of Acts chapter 10, through the question of whether or not the various branches of Christianity were valid before the Council of Nicea, through the Catholic Church to the various protestant denominations, and even to the point of who is good enough to be a member of a local church. Whether or not we wish to admit it, we still struggle with the question of who is in and who is not. Who is good enough to be a Christian and who needs fix something first. 

At its core the question revolves around tradition and remaining comfortable with the status quo. A couple weeks ago we heard out of Matthew the commission for the disciples to go forth and make disciples of all nations, but up to this point in Acts they haven’t figured out the policies and procedures of how to do so. They haven’t figured out the ins and outs of how to make disciples of all nations, because they are entirely wrapped up in their identity as Jewish followers of Christ. That’s all they have known up to this point. 

They hadn’t gone through the whole process of figuring out who got keys to the building or to the supply cabinets. They hadn’t set up the procedures for church membership They hadn’t started looking beyond their own community to see how they would have to change. They hadn’t done the work for growth, but the spirit was growing restless. 

The struggle was about whether or not someone had to first be a Jew in order to be a Christian. So far everyone who had been baptized had first been a Jew and not Gentile. There isn’t any indication on if the early apostles had considered or talked about how to create disciples out of Gentiles. Someone who is not Jewish. Someone who was not a part of the core community. So they left it up to the Gentiles to take care of their stuff first and once everything gets sorted then they can be baptized.  

That is until the spirit decided to intervene and give Peter a push. Beginning with Peter’s vision on the roof top that highlighted the the perceived conflict of clean vs unclean, Kosher vs non-kosher, that Peter along with the rest of the disciples needed to wrestle with. It was that very struggle that had possibly held them back in bringing Gentiles into the fold. The strong sense that those who were not Jewish were unclean according to scripture and thus needed to be cleansed first. Yet Peter is led by the Spirit to go to Cornelius’ house where as he preaches before the gathered crowd something special happens. 

He is led by the spirit into an uncomfortable situation and place. A place that up this this point he had vowed would never happen because they were “unclean.” It wasn’t proper and yet the spirit was leading him and he followed. And he preached…until the spirit breaks in once more.  

The spirit descends upon the Gentiles and they exhibit gifts of the Spirit even though they were Gentiles, and even though they had not been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. And after witnessing the work of the divine they see no reason why these Gentiles should not be baptized. And that is the argument that Peter and the other believers took back to the other Apostles in Jerusalem. 

All the other apostles wanted an explanation of why Peter baptized the Gentiles and his response was, the spirit moved first. Up to this point they hadn’t seen the spirit move first. In Acts 2 the Spirit descended upon the disciples, and they went forth preaching and baptizing the crowds. After which the Spirit descended upon the crowds who had been baptized. 

This was new territory, and the question went from how do Gentiles become followers of Christ to, how can we deny what the spirit has done and place any barrier in the way that the spirit has descended upon. 

If you know anything of the history of the church even in the past 50 years you know that the church hasn’t gotten any better with responding to those places that the spirit has moved. In calling women into places of leadership of the church as deacons, elders and as clergy. Recognizing those with disabilities as full members of the community rather than individuals to be segregated somewhere else or off to the side to be invisible. Or in recognizing the spiritual gifts present in those of the LGBTQIA community. Or even seeing the homeless as equals in faith. 

It all comes down to recognizing those places in which the spirit is leading us out of the comforts of tradition, and our own conclaves of comfort towards something bigger and better. Something that embodies the full kingdom of God not just our little part of it.

For the past week or so, when thinking about how tight we hold onto the keys to the kingdom, declaring who is in and who is out, I am reminded of imagery from several different church women’s groups. And I will preface this as it is not a general statement of all women’s groups but a selection out of my own experience. Where the group had their own table cloths, and or dishes that no one else was to touch, without permission. Yes there was good reason for there to be control over those supplies, and yet it reminds me too much of how we try to control who is in the community and who still needs work. Who needs special permission to enter into the gates and who can just freely enter. 

Yet as the scriptures continue to remind us, the spirit will move where the spirit moves, and who are we to stand in the way of the work of the divine.

Bound in Forgiveness

March 10, 2019

Matthew 18:15-35

The statue in the image before you has an interesting story behind it. It was created by Josefina de Vasconcellos in 1977. It depicts a man and woman embracing and was originally entitled Reunion. 

Josefina describes the sculpture in this way; “The sculpture was originally conceived in the aftermath of the War. Europe was in shock, people were stunned. I read in a newspaper about a woman who crossed Europe on foot to find her husband, and I was so moved that I made the sculpture. Then I thought that it wasn’t only about the reunion of two people but hopefully a reunion of nations which had been fighting.”

Later it was renamed Reconciliation upon the request of the Peace Studies Department of the University of Bradford which owns the original. In 1995 (to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II) bronze casts of this sculpture were placed in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral and in the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. An additional cast can be found on the grounds of Stormont Castle in Belfast. To mark the opening of the rebuilt German Reichstag (parliament building) in 1999, another cast was placed as part of the Berlin Wall memorial.

The Coventry Cathedral where this one stands became the International Center for Reconciliation in 1940 out of the ruins of the destroyed cathedral in the second World War. The history goes that instead of seeking revenge for the destruction of the cathedral the center’s founders vowed to seek reconciliation in areas of conflict. 

Another significant act of reconciliation has come out of South Africa through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of Apartheid. As the victims of Apartheid were able to voice the wrongs done against them, to their oppressors so that the people could move forward, not out of revenge but reconciliation. Seeking healing from times of oppression and injury.

These historic moments of reconciliation out of horrendous tragedies in humanity’s history, are wonderful examples of how it is possible to find healing even in the presence of terrible brokenness and scars. Times when the harm that has been born out of conflict, or oppression, is brought to light so that a way forward may be found. 

It is easy to look at these as virtuous examples of healing out of harm. Of forgiveness for the wrongs that have been done, and yet, we struggle in those moments where we are to forgive. We can lift up these examples where peoples have been able to move forward in relationship, even after terrible injustices have been done. These historic moments did not just wash away the evils that had been done, but rather brought them to light so that the victim and the oppressor could hear and see the error of their ways. So that in recognizing the brokenness they have caused they could move forward through repentance. 

This past Wednesday, some of us came together to mark the beginning of Lent. This is a season where we are called to intentionally look within ourselves at those moments where we have fallen short, where we have sinned against God and one another. To seek forgiveness as we strive to be better followers of Christ. As we seek to heal the brokenness in our world. To heal the brokenness in our own lives. Yet if we are to seek reconciliation with those we have harmed, we are also called to find reconciliation with those who are seeking forgiveness. 

The whole of chapter 18 is about forgiveness and healing in one way or another. It begins by calling out the individual who has done harm to another and calls the hearer to examine their own life so that restoration may be found. Then we have today’s reading starting with verse 15, which first instructs the hearer in how to make the brokenness known to the one who caused it, and then how we are to forgive those who have sinned against us. 

And then we have this parable from Matthew 18:23-35. 

We begin by hearing how a master forgives his slave’s immense debt when he simply asked for more time. Now to provide some context here, a talent was equal to about 15 years worth of wages for a laborer, and he owed 10,000 talents. 15,000 years worth of wages. No telling how this slave was able to amass such a debt, not to mention how he could ever pay it off, and yet the master forgives him the debt. 

Then the slave goes to one of his peers who owes him a hundred denarii, a few weeks worth of wages. A mere fraction of what this slave had been forgiven by his master, yet when their peer is unable to pay, they are thrown into prison until it is paid. 

This parable isn’t about the exact amount of money but rather about the absurd amount of compassion that God has for us, and our response when others ask for a mere fraction of that compassion. 

Each Sunday we pray the Lord’s prayer and I hope as we say the words, we are reminded that God’s forgiveness of our sins and brokenness is tied up in how we forgive others. We celebrate through songs, and prayers the Love of God. We lift up our broken places seeking forgiveness, knowing that the Lord our God has compassion for us. Yet, we need the reminder of this parable. We need the reminder to forgive those who seek our forgiveness. It doesn’t mean forgetting the harm that has been done, but rather moving forward into a place of reconciliation. It doesn’t mean the person escapes punishment from the proper authorities. It does mean we don’t hold the burden of their sin over their head when they seek forgiveness. 

The International Center for Reconciliation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were not set up to simply forget the brokenness in our world through conflict and oppression, but rather recognized more good can come from healing than through revenge and retribution. More healing can be done as we learn, and grow from those places where sin has caused injury. 

As we find forgiveness in the Lord our God, we find a way forward, to be better, to bring wholeness into our world. In the same way as our peers seek forgiveness we have the opportunity to find healing and growth. A way forward together, rather than demanding retribution. Finding healing where there could otherwise be a weight, weighing both parties down. 

Finding God’s Favor

January 27, 2018

Matthew 5:1-12

From day to day I hear the word “blessed” thrown around with ease and without consideration for what we really mean. In most contexts in which I hear the phrase, “I am so blessed.” It is out of gratitude and thankfulness for what they have. Which is different from saying one is blessed. To be thankful for something means something different than how blessed is used throughout the scriptures. 

Some may take the beatitudes and switch out the word happy for blessed. “Happy are those who are poor in spirit it, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Happy re those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

The substituting the word happy or joyful seems to miss the presence of suffering and yearning within these statements. Those who mourn aren’t all of a sudden happy because they will be comforted. There may be assurance in that statement but doesn’t change their current emotional state. Being meek doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Being a peacemaker or one who works for righteousness in the world, doesn’t always equate to happiness just because. 

Instead to look at the presence of blessing in these statements is to recognize God continually showing preference for the least of these. In these statements we hear of God’s favor for each of these groups. God is paying special attention to those who mourn, those who are poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.  Whether their life circumstances have caused them to be in one or more of these areas, or through conscious decisions they have chosen to show mercy and strive for righteousness, or peace, their lives have been named as those that have God’s favor. They are blessed. 

As we also continue to consider how we speak to God’s blessing, I am always reminded of a conversation with my peers as we sat in a circle of rocking chairs as we were debriefing from a long day of learning through experience in Managua Nicaragua. It turned into a deconstruction of how we as North Americans overuse, or misuse the word blessed, when we instead mean, happy or thankful. 

We had spent days traveling around Managua, learning about the culture, and what the churches were doing in that area. We were listening to what they found to be important to their lives and their faith. But we also saw poverty, to a much larger extent than we know here in the US. We saw how greed caused immense harm. We heard of those places in which groups came into the area in response to a massive earthquake to help, but refused to listen and hear what was needed. We heard of the hundreds of families that live, work, and learn in the city dump. 

What does it mean when we say that we who have the means, and the ability to travel to other countries to learn and experience, from the safety of vans, compounds, and guides, to say that we are blessed in doing so? When we claim that we have God’s favor for having such an opportunity that is not afforded to others? We all recognized that we were thankful for such opportunities, and that we have been changed by them, but did we actually deserve to claim God’s favor for an opportunity that most do not have?  

The Gospel of Luke in chapter 6 has a similar text as Matthew with a significant change. In Luke we see both sides of the coin of blessings and woes. “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven, for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of your, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’”

In both Matthew and Luke, we find these texts at the beginning of Jesus’ sermon to the crowd that has gathered near him, after he has been at work in the countryside healing the sick, casting out demons, and working with the least of these. So those that Jesus finds himself speaking to include those that he has already been working with and declaring the good news through his actions. Others that have gathered are those that have heard what he has been doing and have drawn near to hear what he has to say. 

Jesus opens the significant teaching moments of his ministry, the sermon on the mount in Matthew, and the sermon on the plains in Luke, with these statements of blessing. Blessing the least of these, not those who have all their needs and wants cared for. Blessing for those who have been forgotten, and excluded by society. Those very people who have found themselves cared for by Jesus and drawn close. 

But how do we hear the beatitudes and the good news of Jesus Christ, that pays special attention to those that our society still ostracizes and pushes to the fringe. How do we hear the words of Jesus’ sermon when we still grumble when some one doesn’t fit our “perfect” mold wants to hear the good news? How do we hold the gospel close to our hearts if we grumble about the homeless in our community? For we are full now, we are housed now, we are happy now. 

The blessings we have heard this morning come with a warning for those who have enough. Those who are comfortable enough, those who are satisfied with the way things are. For in those places there is warning because there is still work for us to do, if we hunger and thirst for that righteousness and seek to be peacemakers in this world.