What are you waiting for?

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

May 24, 2020

Acts 1:6-11

If I were to do a time study on the amount of time that I spend waiting, before taking action on various projects, I would care to guess that amount of time would be alarming but not all too surprising. We spend a good deal of time waiting on others to take care of their part of a project or responsibility. I find myself waiting on responses to emails, waiting to get an essential widget for a project, waiting on access, waiting on a slow computer, waiting on updates, waiting on data, waiting… waiting… waiting. But what do we do in the midst of this time of waiting? What do we do as we wait expectantly for a promise to come to fruition? 

That is exactly where we find the disciples at the end of our text for today. These disciples have been following Jesus around the countryside as he brought forth the good news of the Kingdom of God. They hoped that Jesus would bring it to completion right now. They have watched as their messiah was arrested, tortured and crucified. Their hopes were seemingly dashed as their dreams of the kingdom started to fade. Then they found new hope in the resurrection, as they began to understood just how powerful Jesus was. “It may just be possible that the kingdom of God will become a reality.” And then they find themselves taken out away from the city, and bluntly ask about what they have been waiting for all this time.

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

They had been waiting all this time for the messiah to make everything right for the Israelites, missing the much larger promise of the Kingdom of God. They had been waiting, as they rode a roller coaster of emotions, for the Kingdom of Israel to be restored. They were waiting for the messiah to do everything. They were waiting for the chosen one to make everything whole. They were waiting for the savior to heal the brokenness. 

The people had been waiting on a great judge and warrior to come forth and drive the Romans from their land. To drive all the gentiles from the land. To drive all the occupiers out. To purify the land once more. To secure the safety of the people of God once more. 

But that is not what they found in that moment. Instead Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” Don’t worry about the timing. Don’t worry about the waiting. Don’t focus on all of that. Because…

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Don’t worry about the restoration of Israel, because you have work to do. Work that they have already been a part of and are practiced in doing; spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God. Starting with Jerusalem and the spreading out like ripples in the water until the whole world has heard the good news.

But the disciples needed to be jolted out of their surprise and back to reality, as Jesus ascended into the heavens. Each year as this text comes around I am excited because I love the imagery of the disciples staring up into the sky, mouths agape as they realize but refuse to admit that, what they have been waiting for isn’t going to happen the way they expected or wanted. The kingdom of God isn’t just going to suddenly happen. Instead as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven, those hopes and dreams were dashed and the gears in their minds may have begun to turn as they realize the work they have in front of them. 

But as they are staring up into the sky they are suddenly brought back to reality by the sudden appearance of these two men, whom we may read as angels. These men startle the disciples when they say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” 

Why are you just standing there, you have work to do? Even then they had to wait some more for the Holy Spirit, but once they were stirred from their paralysis, they got to work doing committee work. Choosing Matthias to replace Judas as one of the twelve. 

While you are waiting on the Kingdom of God to be known in all of it’s glory, you still have your part to do. You still have your own pieces to take care of. 

When I find myself, waiting on those things that are seemingly out of my control, I don’t simply sit at my desk, twiddling my thumbs. Instead, there are always other things for me to do. There are other projects for me to work on. There are other responsibilities that I can take care of while I am waiting on other things. 

As we find ourselves continuing to wait on others, waiting on leaders and elected officials, waiting on teammates, co-workers, committees, we still have our work to do. Even though we cannot safely gather a church in person, we still have work to do as church. We still have work of spreading the good news through our words and actions. We still have our responsibilities in caring for the least of these. We still have our tasks for bringing wholeness in our circles. We still have work to do, as we pursue the kingdom of God. 

Even though we are not gathering in our building, we are still church and we still have work to do for the Kingdom of God. 

The Good Shepherd (part 3)

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

May 17, 2020

Psalm 23

Today we find ourselves with the third and final installment of this series on the 23rd Psalm. We have made our way from green fields and calm waters, through the dark valleys filled with danger, to these final two verses which in their own way sum up what we have already heard, with a little more added. 

Now, the fifth verse is one that leaves me asking more and more questions. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” At the face of it, it is summing up the first and second verses of this psalm. All our needs are cared for. We have our food provided for, our cup overflows, and our safety in ensured. But the first question that I have no real answer for but some ideas, is “Why is the table prepared in the presence of my enemies?” The sense of the Psalm does not make it feel like there is any danger to be had from our enemies, and yet there is a table prepared. 

One image that comes to mind is a grand banquet table where many are gathered, both friends and enemies, and yet all have been invited to sit in peace, and eat what the Lord has provided. 

Each time I find myself contemplating on the nature of the invitation to the communion table, I recognize the wide breadth of the invitation to come to the table. Those who have argued and fought, are all invited. Those who have strong disagreements and resentments have been invited. Enemies and allies have been invited. All have received an invitation, not to continue that which separates, but to celebrate something that can bring unity and promote safety in that time.

I am mindful of the various gatherings of our larger church during some General Assemblies when the resolutions on the docket caused quite an uproar and heated discussions. Yet the church still gathered around the table in worship.

Those times that the universal church has found times to gather around the communion table, even while there were deep divisions. 

Those times when local congregations gather around the table, and everyone is invited to partake, even those who have been ostracized and those who have pushed people away. In all of these places, a table is prepared, for everyone even those that we have called our enemy or opponent.  

This is in contrast to another image that this part of the text can bring forth. A small table set up for the hearer with a great feast while the enemy is forced to sit and watch. While the Psalmist eats, the enemy salivates for what they can’t have. 

This works with the imagery of sheep being fed, and predators being held at bay. But as I see the imagery broadening to a larger illustration through the progression of the Psalm, I have to remember the care and attention that the Lord has for even those that we see as our enemy. The care and attention that we declare to be righteousness and love. That also is given to those whom we do not like, because they too are children of God. 

As the Psalm comes to a close the final verse leaves us with this grand comforting language that brings everything together. But depending on which translation you are looking at, the last verse can be a bit tricky. In some translations we hear, “Surely goodness’s and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” While others read more like, “Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life…” 

There is a subtle difference between these various translations. With the first version, we could infer that goodness and mercy, or kindness, will follow us where ever we go. Almost that assurance of good things seemingly raining down on us all the time.  We would greatly appreciate if goodness fell upon us all along our journeys. Where we would not face difficult challenges or struggles along the way. Instead we would like to have an easy life, where even our wants were taken care of. 

The second provides a bit more nuance. That the kindness and love of God will always be with us. It is this second approach that we should hold onto. The word present for mercy, is hesed, in other contexts it shows up in relationship to an attribute of God’s loving kindness. The Psalmist sends us forth with this knowledge that this shepherd who has brought us through this journey, providing for our needs, protecting us from harm, and has set a table for us, will also continue to go with us, showing us loving kindness all along the way, as we dwell and live in the presence of God our whole life long. 

That last verse, is a glorious benediction. As we go forth on our journeys, “Surely the Lord’s goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” 

The Good Shepherd (part 2)

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

May 10, 2020

Psalm 23

This week we are continuing in our three week series that is exploring the 23rd Psalm. Last week as we explored the first two verses that explicitly used the imagery of God as the Good Shepherd and how the divine cares for our needs. This week we find ourselves broadening our view of God’s role within our lives with a little influence of the Good Shepherd language. 

As we left off last week, we had found ourselves led to pastures of green, and calm and peaceful waters from which we could find sustenance and refreshment. We found that we are led by the divine towards places of sanctuary where we could find that which sustains us, but as we find ourselves reading the third verse of the Psalm, we find that it is much more than just finding that which sustains us, but restoration. The common translation that we are used to out of the NRSV reads, “He restores my soul.” Others use language of giving new strength, and refresh my life. 

This language of restoration, is more than simply sustenance and giving us strength to continue on. Instead of simply filling our stomachs with food and preparing us for the journey ahead there is language of restoring us to a way of being that is like new. 

Several months ago, I stumbled upon this show on Netflix called, “The Repair Shop.” It is this rustic looking shop, in the UK that specializes in repairing, restoring, and fixing all sorts of items throughout the generations based on what the customer wants. Any time they are tasked with a true restoration of a piece, there is so much time and effort poured into the piece to honor the original artists and the function of the piece so that it appears, or behaves like it was new once more. 

As I think about our own restorations, there is one word that comes to mind. Grace. That word that conveys so much forgiveness and dedication to build up a relationship so that it isn’t broken down by the flaws and imperfections of those in such a relationship. Grace, which leads to forgiveness, to wash away that which becomes a barrier to healthy relationship. Grace, which makes a pathway forward in a healthy relationship to repair those broken areas into something better. 

Then we come to the next significant word in this phrase, soul. The Hebrew word for soul in this text is “nephesh” and can be best understood in relation to one’s character. And so to restore or give new character to someone through the acts of the divine is to lift up that which has been present, into something new, different, or better. To remove those flaws and smooth over those rough edges to make way for something that reflects what God has done. To remove those scars, repair those broken edges, and replace those things that have broken down entirely. Which may appear like giving new strength to someone who has been burdened down by their mistakes and sins, and now refreshed to make way for something new. 

After this restoration we aren’t left to do what we will but like a good shepherd the divine continues to lead and guide us. Instead we are guided to follow the righteous paths, that reflect the nature of the divine who has brought us to places of sanctuary and has given us grace. Those path’s aren’t simply guidelines for ourselves but also ones that faithfully reflect the divine who continues to guide us along the way. We declare that our God is faithful and just. We celebrate the righteousness of our Lord. And this section of the text highlights that the paths we are guided along reflect the divine to whom we lift our praises. 

Then we come to the one verse that often comes to mind when the 23rd Psalm is referenced. “Even thou I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me (NRSV).” 

Each time that I hear these words I think of a deep and narrow canyon. So deep and narrow that the amount of direct sunlight available in a clearing is limited by the ridges on either side. And even when there is direct sun the trees have grown up to block it out. So, it does feel like a dark and remote valley in the wild. On top of that, keeping with the shepherding imagery, those would be key places for predators to ambush their prey from above. Where the predators can stalk their prey without giving themselves away and pounce when the time is right. 

Yet, even in these dark times and places, the Psalm declares, “I will fear no evil; for you are with me.” Even though we walk through our own personal and communal valleys of darkness the Psalm reminds us that we are not alone. Just as the shepherd walks with the sheep through the valley’s keeping an eye out for danger, and to spring into action, so too is our God walking with us with his rod and his staff. A rod which was more like a club to use as a defense against predators, and the staff to guide the sheep safely along the path. 

A few summers ago, while I was directing a camp, we took our campers on a hike in an attempt to find some waterfalls. (We never found them.) But along the way some of the adults and I noticed some paw prints from what appeared to be a large cat. It was in that moment that our senses were heightened. Our eyes were peeled for any indication of a predator in the woods, and we brought our group closer to one another. Ready to respond to a danger that never revealed its self. 

Imagining a divine who at the first hint of danger, circles up the sheep to provide protection. That at the first sign of danger, instead of us fleeing, each in our own directions, we find solace in being in the presence of one another and the divine. Coming together as a unit not only for our own care and safety but also to tend to the safety of others. 

Last week I mentioned that I had been watching a number of documentaries. In many of these it is amazing how many prey type animals found safety in the herd. That if they stay together they can mount a better defense against predators. How they can protect the weakest among themselves by grouping together. 

Sheep are not solitary animals, but are rather herded in a flock. We shouldn’t simply hear this Psalm with the imagery of a lone sheep making their way through the valley with the shepherd, but as a community. As a group, we make our way through the darkness with the shepherd who guides and watches over us, as we huddle together for support and encouragement. We journey together along the right paths with the one who has shown us each grace so that we may all be restored in healthy and right relationships with the holy. 

The Good Shepherd (Part 1)

Rev. Chris Snow North Hill Christian Church May 3, 2020
Psalm 23

When I was in High School I had a t-shirt with an altered version of the 23rd Psalm, named the 151st Psalm. Since I was in the marching band and I had purchased this shirt at one of our competitions, the language was changed to seeing our band director as our shepherd who provided us with variations of the whole Psalm. It was a fun shirt, that now reminds me of how we have many shepherds in our lives, and if they are trying to be good shepherds, then they are taking their cue from the divine. Looking out for the needs of those under their care. Protecting them from the dangers of the world. Ensuring the flock’s needs are cared for. Providing the sheep with the assurance that they are not alone in the darkest of times.

There is a reason that we read this Psalm most often during times of trouble. It is a comforting reminder that we are not alone in this journey, even in the most troublesome of times or places. It is comforting to hear that there is someone who is concerned with our most essential needs for food, water, rest, shelter, and protection. There is someone whose focus is on our welfare.

The imagery of the good shepherd continues throughout the Psalms, influenced by David’s boyhood occupation of being a shepherd, and then through the Gospels in the parable of the lost sheep, and other illustrations. All of this imagery of a good shepherd made sense to the original audiences of the Psalms, Parables, and illustrations. The main audiences of these texts would have had a strong understanding of the role of a shepherd in tending the sheep. An understanding that didn’t require a depth of explanations.

But as we come to this text this week, I want to take it slow. We may need to go deeper to hear what the Psalm is saying to us in our current world. We are going to be living with this text for a few weeks. For today, I would like to focus on the first two verses. Let us hear them once more but this time from The Contemporary English Version, “You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need. You let me rest in fields of green grass. You lead me to streams of peaceful water…”

Of this entire Psalm these two verses hold almost all of the language of a shepherd. These two verses use the language that directly connects the hearer to how a shepherd cares for the sheep. Without these two verses we may not make the connection of God as the Good shepherd. The rest of the psalm still conveys that sentiment but not with as much focus or detail.

The Psalm starts of with the statement that the Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. Now the different translations of this text differ on how they phrase the second statement. The NRSV and the King James Version both translate it as, “I shall not want.” While others translate it as, “I shall not need,” or “lack.” There is a sense of poetry in the language using want, because many of us who have memorized this psalm will use that word, and that may have influenced the NRSV and similar translations.

But in our current world, we recognize a distinct difference between the words, want and need. Often times we take up time debating what people need verses what they want, and see them as two different things. But for this text, within the context of a good shepherd caring for their flock, we should hear the language as providing for the needs of the sheep.

Over the course of the month I have spent a good deal of time while trying to put Ruth to sleep watching nature documentaries. Looking back on it now, none of them highlighted sheep. Sure they talked about goats and how they survived in mountains and alongside cliffs. Yet, there is a reason why sheep were not highlighted. They have been domesticated and in my general understanding don’t live in the wild, impart because they don’t have any defenses and rely upon the shepherd for their welfare. Relying upon the shepherd to sheer their coats or else they may suffer from overheating. Relying upon the shepherds for their every need.

To declare that the Lord is our shepherd is to put our complete trust and reliance upon the divine to provide for our needs. To trust that our needs will be taken care of, through the movements of the divine in the world, that we may not always recognize. To have faith that the good shepherd is watching out for us.

The second verse goes into a bit more detail of the care of the shepherd. “You let me rest in fields of green grass. You lead me to streams of peaceful water.” Once again we have disagreement between the various translations regarding why the good shepherd brings us to the green grass or pastures. In the NRSV and KJV they use language of makes me lay down, while in other versions, the language is more directed towards, lets me rest. This moves from language of force to language of providing the time and space for us to rest and find sustenance.

When we think of green pastures or green grass, if you are anything like me, I am thinking about well groomed fields, like that of a soccer field. Where the ground is still soft but the grass is not over grown.

While in college one of my pre-ministry classes took a field trip out to a sheep farm. The shepherd that we met there talked about the picky eating habits of her sheep. They didn’t like tall grasses but would prefer the shorter groomed grass. Where they could easily graze without having to work too hard for what they wanted.

With this in mind we see the good shepherd who brings us to these places where we can rest and find sustenance without requiring too much effort on our parts once we are there. There is still some work on our part as we travel to those green fields. Probably some struggles. But once we are there we can rest and find that which strengthens us. Once we find ourselves in places of sanctuary we find rest and rejuvenation.

The final line of this verse continues on with this sense of rest, as the shepherd leads us beside still waters. Now a better translation of the word still could be peaceful or calm. The word still, implies no movement of the water which leads us to think of stagnant, and disease ridden pools of water. But calm and peaceful leads us to imagine those points in rivers where the water has slowed and created clear pools of water from which we can easily find refreshment.

In my backpacking days, when we stopped for rest at the side of a stream or river, we would of course drop the end of our water purifiers into the water to refill our bottles. It works best if you can find a peaceful spot where the intake will stay underwater and not pull up much silt. It is best in one of those slow moving pools of water. But if one were to put the intake in the middle of rapids we would end up pulling up just as much air as water because of the sheer number of bubbles in the water. Making even more work for us to exert to get the same amount of water for our bottles.

In similar ways, sheep prefer to drink from calm and peaceful water. Dangers can’t be hidden and it is easier to find refreshment in those waters than in rapids.

As we continue to declare that the Lord our God is our shepherd we need to be mindful that if the Lord is our shepherd then we are to rely on the divine to watch over us and through the movings of God in the world, provides for our needs. But also in times such as these, God is leading us to places of green pastures and calm waters where we may find rest and rejuvenation. But we have to be willing to follow to find these places of sanctuary where God is leading us.

A Place of Healing

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

April 26, 2020

Acts 3:1-10

Over the past month and a half we have been on a journey like most other congregations around the country and the world. That feeling of being a people without a space we can gather. We are in this time of wandering, which we often associate with lent, but now we do so with the first century church who sought to understand how they could continue the ministry that they had been commissioned into, while also dealing with the politics of the temple. Politics that led to tensions and later the clear separation between the Jewish community and those who would become known as Christians. 

Yet through all of this wandering they still found ways to be a movement for healing in the world. They still found ways to be a mobile place for healing. Wherever they went, they brought healing through the power of Jesus’ name with them. Even to the gates of the temple. A thin place where the people to draw close to the divine, but there were walls and gates up, controlling who could come in. There were practices and traditions in place to prevent the unclean from entering…the unworthy…the outcasts…the broken.   

We have this interaction between Peter, John, and this unnamed man; who is only identified by being lame from birth. That is his whole identity up to this point. A man who has been lame from birth. A man who had long been a regular sight outside of the temple, where friends or family would leave him, because he could not go in based on his disability. But he is left at the gates of the temple, so that he can collect alms that will allow him to continue to live and survive in a world where he could not, at the time, be seen as a contributing member of society. 

As Peter and John come into the picture, they acknowledge that they have no silver or gold to give to the man and yet they will give to him what they do have to offer. Healing through the power of Jesus’ name, so that the man may be a full member of the community. Breaking down the barrier that has prevented him from encountering the thin places where he may know God, and so that he may be known as a full member of society rather than as an outcast. 

But we are mindful that not everyone has the gift of healing through the spirit. We recognize that we can’t all follow in the literal example of Peter and John, and yet, we as Disciples of Christ, hold up the ideal that we are a movement for healing in a fragmented world. We are seeking to bring wholeness into our world in what ever ways we can. 

As we continue to live in this world, hearing through the news of those in need within our community, or seeing on the streets those who are left outside the gates that lead to permanent housing, or shelter, we are compelled to bring healing through whatever gifts that we have. 

For some, have the gift of advocacy. Who go forth working on behalf of the least of these to break down barriers and seek to bring healing in a broken system. Others have the gifts of cooking, who are happy to help provide meals to the hungry. Others have the gifts of sewing, able to sew masks for those who want to care for themselves and others in this time. There are still others who have the gifts of volunteering, by putting themselves out there to offer a kind word, and declare there is still good in this world through their actions. Still others have the gifts of organizing. Seeking to bring like minded individuals together to seek to overcome obstacles and provide a way forward for those who have been left on the margins. 

I can go on, but I hope you get where I am going with this adapted list. We all have gifts of healing to offer, even if they aren’t the gifts of healing the physical body. We have come to recognize that there is tremendous brokenness in this world that needs healing and even though we are not currently meeting in our building, we as church can and should still be a place for healing. 

We all have seen evidence of those in need within our own community. And even as we continue to wander in the wilderness of this world and time of pandemic, we can still declare that God’s healing power is still here. We can still live out our faith, caring for all of God’s children, especially the least of these, the outcast, the abandoned, the downtrodden, the broken, and the lost wanderers. For in Jesus name we can make our way through those obstacles to create a still better world, made whole through the power of the divine. 

So, as we see individuals sitting at the gates of the temple, wanting to be a part of the community. Wanting to seek after and experience the divine. Let us take a cue from Peter and John, and declare there is healing. Let us be places and agents of healing in this world, through the gifts that the spirit has given to each one of us. 

Celebrating the Earth

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

April 19, 2020

Genesis 1:24-31, Psalm 8, 148, 1 Corinthians 12:14-22

One of the changes that we have seen in Ruth this spring from last year is the desire to be outside and touching the grass. A year ago, we could not even put her down in the grass for she did not want her skin to touch that prickly green stuff. Now she happily walks through the back yard barefoot. She is finding her connections with the earth. And as I watch her explore the outdoors, I can’t help but remember my own introductions to nature in my youth. 

I of course cannot remember back to those first experiences of playing in the grass, but I can remember the joy of running barefoot across the football field in High school after a long practice, and feel the cool grass underfoot. I can remember those weekends in the Ozarks of Missouri, when after my dad checking the river levels we would pack up the canoes and spend a day on the Niangua River. That feeling of being connected with the water and all the life that surrounded it. Those moments as I backpacked through the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico, where I was just in awe of the beauty of God’s creation. Of hiking on Mount Ranier and finding avalanche lilies popping up through the snow as Spring and Summer take hold not he mountain. 

I cherish these memories, where I couldn’t help but look beyond myself to recognize the beauty of all creation, and my connection to it. My role in picking up the trash that others have left behind. My role in staying on the trail lest I cause harm to the plant life that could be trampled underfoot. My role in ensuring that which I can control and nurture, is cared for. 

One of the texts that the regional church lifted up for this week, in recognition of Earth Sunday is 1 Corinthians 12:14-22, and it reads:

“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were and eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the hand to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” 

We often associate this text with the various talents and gifts of the Spirit present within the whole body of Christ, but it does also make sense for how we consider creation. We often ignore or dismiss how intertwined our lives are with the natural world all around us. How our heath is dependent on clean air. How our lives are dependent on the water that flows down from the mountains. How our sustenance is dependent on those animals that pollinate the crops. We forget to lift up and honor the natural world that we are dependent upon but rather like to state that we have no need of those things. 

We like to take the language out of Genesis 1:28, after God creates human beings we hear these words, “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”

We like to think that the instruction that we are to have dominion over the earth means that we are to do with it what we will, but a better contextual translation would be to rule it. To treat the world as if you were it’s king. Where the ruler has a responsibility for all those under their care. Where the ruler, if they are truly just, would look after the most vulnerable of its charges to ensure their survival. Looking at it that way, we have a mandate to look after the earth, rather than looking at it as a buffet for our taking. 

And as we intentionally consider God’s creation this Sunday, and all week, I am mindful of the language out of the last several Psalms regarding creation praising God, and especially the last line of the 150th Psalm which reads, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord.” These poems of praise don’t just limit human beings to being the only ones to praise the Lord, but rather for all of creation to lift praises to the creator. 

With this in mind I would like to lift up this poem by Ernesto Cardenal who was a Nicaraguan Catholic Priest, poet, and politician who passed away on March 1, 2020. 

Praise the Lord in your infinite variety all creatures, 

minute and enormous in your verity

whose particular and unique features 

are the context of his glory and his fecundity

Praise the Lord nebulae like grains of dust

silhouetted and fixed on photographic plates

Sirius, that dog star and his confederates

Acturus, Antares, Aldebaran, the red bull

God’s cup brimming over and ever full

Praise the Lord you his meteorites and comets

In your elliptical orbits and made planets

Praise the Lord atoms and molecules

Protons and electrons and all the stars

The minute protozoa, in their liquid, the radiolaria

Praise the Lord cetaceans and atomic submarines

For you are of God’s mind in your particulars

Birds, the eagle and wren, the aeroplanes

and prisms in emerald copper sulphate

in the electronic microscope infinite

Coloured flowers blooming at the bottom of the sea, 

diatoms and the diadems of the Antilles

Like a rose of diamonds, let all these 

and the unended maritime fauna

praise the Lord, and the Tropic of Cancer

storms of the North Atlantic and the Humbolt current, 

the dark, sweating forests of the Amazon

the shining island jewels of the South Ocean

volcanoes and lagoons and the Caribbean

behind the silhouette of the infinite palm

democratic republics, the United Nations

praise the Lord as even for police is appropriate

the students, the young, the beautiful, 

His glory surpasses the heavens, it is bountiful

telescope and microscope seeing near and far

It is he who has made the people plentiful

Who would not yield to the Lord the word hosanna?

Ernesto Cardenal, Earth Prayers: From around the world, 365 Prayers, poems, and invocations for honoring the earth, pg 216-217. Edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, Harper Collins Publisher, 1991.

Doing a New Thing

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

April 5, 2020

Psalm 118:21-29, Mark 11:1-11

Each year preachers are asked to do something new and creative with the Palm Sunday text. Some decide to expand it to include the cleansing of the temple, or the various texts within the passion narrative. Those texts that fall between Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem up to his crucifixion. We are asked to make an old historical account new again. But as I have been sitting in my quiet office throughout the week, learning how to do church in a new and different way because our circumstances have dictated it, I have found comfort in the old and familiar story. I have found comfort in the old and familiar hymns that we have been sharing the past couple weeks. I have been finding comfort in those things that are not that different. 

Yet, here we are doing something new and different with worship. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the old and familiar with a new, focus. 

For as far back as my memory can take me, I remember, the pageantry of Palm Sunday. The intentionality about the processions. The energy in the air, as we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The waving of palm fronds. The royal welcome that the people gave to Jesus. This energy that begins holy week, as we prepare to proceed through some dark and difficult texts before getting to Easter. The symbolism of Jesus riding in on a donkey or colt, as a political statement against the empire who would have had roman soldiers coming in with war horses and heavily armed. 

But as I remember back, one element that I can’t remember being brought up is the significance of the colt that has never been ridden before. There is the significance of colt or other small equine being ridden into Jerusalem, would not have been out of the norm for even royalty. But why one that has not been ridden before? Could we see it as symbolism that points to Jesus’ own ministry and how he is approaching his inevitable death?

What if we took this time usually set aside for the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to celebrate how Jesus was continuously doing something new, even through Holy Week towards his own ascension?

For the Gospel of Mark we start off with the Baptism of Jesus, where we are given insight into who Jesus really is. As Jesus comes up from the water and the spirt descends like a dove we hear the voice of the divine, “You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Even though others have used the title Son of God, this is that moment when we hear the divine making that identity known. 

Then as we move into the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and begins to recruit his disciples, just as any other rabbi or teacher would do, but Jesus does this in a new way. He doesn’t pick the best and the brightest to be his students and followers. Rather he calls those who have left formal education at some point and have learned a trade. Jesus, called the unlikely, followers and students. He calls those that the vast majority of the people could identify with. Those who can relate to the struggles of the people, and who would be commissioned to continue this ministry of the Good news for all the people. 

  As, Jesus begins teaching and declaring the good news, he doesn’t stick to the normal way of doing things. The way that the successful teachers have done before. He doesn’t live into what is expected of the righteous. In doing so he sits with and eats with sinners. He doesn’t just heal during the week but also on the Sabbath, breaking many of the rules that those in power had sought to strictly enforce, with no care for how it impacted the people. He heals the sick and casts out demons, not for his own glory but to help those who were afflicted. And importantly, he doesn’t stick to just the Jewish communities, but braves difficult journeys to declare the good news to the Gentiles as well. 

Time and time again, Jesus preached the good news to the crowds. He fed them, he sat and communed with them, and brought a new way of being the people of God to the world. 

Like many revolutionaries, he knew that his message of the Kingdom of God was dangerous. But unlike some, he traveled directly towards his own death, knowing that it would not be the end. He traveled across the countryside and after some time turned towards Jerusalem where he was greeted with a royal welcome. 

Throughout his ministry Jesus continued to break through the expectations of how things were to be done. He continued to declare a new way of being the people of God. He continued to break down systems of oppression through the use of scripture. He continued to call out the people in power, and declared the Kingdom of God has drawn near. 

Jesus’ ministry was something brand new to the world, and as the torch was passed on to the disciples, and over the years to all those who have come to believe in Jesus the Christ, new things have continued to spring forth. New ways of being church. New ways of worshiping together. New music is constantly being written. Old hymns are still sung. But even as the church continues to do new things in the world, there is one constant. We continue to declare the good news of the Kingdom of God has come near. 

Even as we are forced to do things in new ways, missing the ways that we have always done, we continue to to move forward, waiving branches, palms, pom poms, signs, and our hands. We continue to celebrate those old words, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light.”  

Amen. 

Watch for the Glory

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

Psalm 102:12-17, Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

Over the past week and a half I have been waking up with a range of emotions, based on what news I was waking up to. At the beginning of this journey I was waking up tense and on the verge of an anxiety attack, as I would wake up to the news of the stock market dropping. This worry and panic of how would we, and the church persevere through this if the stock market kept plummeting. But as the days progressed, something in me changed. I started noticing more and more, the good that has been taking place in the midst of this journey. 

I have noticed how volunteers have stepped forward to make masks for our healthcare workers. I have seen as neighbors are caring for their more vulnerable neighbors. I have noticed, how words of kindness and encouragement have become more dominant on social media. I have heard more and more of people offering to help others as best as they can. I have noticed how there is a light shining through the darkness. 

As I struggled with the text for this week, I had the desire to pick something else. “We don’t need a dark and depressing text for this Sunday. We don’t need to feel like this right now. We need something hopeful. Something that reminds us of the good news.” But then I saw these words, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” 

The entirety of the 13th chapter of Mark has this apocalyptic language to it. Foretelling of the destruction of the temple. Telling of the desolation of Judea that will scatter the people. The language continues to get darker and darker until the 26th verse when we have the arrival of the Son of Man. The darkness is so pervasive that even the moon and stars cease from giving off light.

I can imagine this darkness being as thick as ink, that takes over all sources of light and covers it. A darkness that seems to flow into every crevice like liquid, and invades every space. It is then, in that moment that the Son of Man appears in the clouds with great power and glory. 

Now, each time that we hear of this description of the divine breaking forth into the world, showing great power and glory, we get this image of this brilliant light. Bringing with it hope and assurance. Why should it be any different in this text? In this time of great darkness, a brilliant light breaks through, where all other lights have gone out. This great light illuminates the coming of the Son of Man through the clouds. 

What an amazing imagery of hope in the darkest places of our lives. But this isn’t the first time that we use this image in our faith journeys. Instead we hear and practice this imagery every year before Christmas. This yearning through a time of darkness for the light of God to break forth. We yearn for the good news of our savior. We yearn for hope to break forth into the world. We cry out for the divine light to pierce through the darkness that seems to invade our lives.  

The language of advent is still with us. The imagery of advent, of waiting and yearning for something better is still with us. The hope of what is yet to be is still with us and we are crying out for it. And yet, here we are. We are nearing the end of the Lenten journey towards the cross. We know where our journey is leading us. Things are going to get darker before they get better. But the darkness is not in control. The darkness is not the dominant force in our world, or else it could prevent the light of the divine from breaking through. This text is set in such a way that it is preparing the disciples for, not only Jesus’ death but his departing from this world. Preparing them for the darkness that is still to come, and yet, there is still room for hope.

Then as the text continues we get into the section, where more often than not, the focus has been placed on verse 33, “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” But the text continues after this instruction to keep alert, to better instruct us on how we are to do this. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the door keeper to be on the watch.” 

As the man goes off into the unknown, those whom he has trusted with the work of his home are left to continue their duties. They are left to continue the work, each according to their own position or skills. To continue the work of the house until his return. 

It is with this instruction that my imagery of the all invasive darkness falls apart. Because, even as the darkness seems to invade our lives. Even as the text seems to declare this all encompassing darkness, there is still room for little lights of hope and goodness in the world. If we have been instructed to keep doing the work that we have been given, then we are to be bearers of the light. We are to go forth through the darkness letting our lights shine bright, until that time when Christ comes again. 

One of our elders raised the idea at our last meeting that maybe we can put candles up in our windows again. Giving hope to the world. Reminding one another that even in these dark times, there is still room for hope. 

However, we are called to bring hope into the world, let us stay strong. Let us continue to push through the darkness, spreading hope in our world, now more than ever. Let us continue to share and become stories of hope in our world, that bring light in times of darkness. Let us, bring the light of hope to those who feel encased by the darkness. Let us proudly bear the light of Christ in this time, encouraging one another on this journey. 

Love God, Love Others

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

March 22, 2020

Psalm 89:1-4, Mark 12:28-34

As we come together in this time of uncertainty, in new and different ways, we find ourselves confronted with this question from the scribe. What is the greatest commandment of all? What are those things that are at the foundation of how we are to live our lives? 

To love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. To love your neighbor as yourself. 

Over this past week I have watched as the world has responded to the corona virus in many helpful and caring ways. I can see those things that once divided us melt away while something unifying and more important takes precedence. I have watched as community members, organizations, and services step up to affirm the need to care for one another in this time. I can begin to see a truth that we as a community are willing to seek after in times such as these. Where we feel the need to put aside our differences and seek to keep one another healthy. 

Now it is important to take a quick moment to recognize the context of this text. It comes at the end of a line of questioning from several different religious authorities, who wanted to trap Jesus with their questions. If answered in the wrong way would cause problems and possibly end this movement. This question, for today, comes at a time when the opposition to Jesus’ movement is at a fever pitch. When the religious authorities are at their wits end and want a quick resolution to their problems. 

Then in comes this scribe who is seemingly friendly, but still set up as the opposition, asks Jesus a simple question. A softball question that seeks to get to the heart of what Jesus is all about. There is no sense that the scribe is trying to trap Jesus but rather wants to know what is the core understanding behind this movement. The answer is one that reveals that even if the authorities and Jesus’ movement are constantly on opposing sides, they are still unified by a truth that everyone who is a person of faith can get behind. A response that recognizes and affirms Jewish tradition, and sums up the commandments into two all encompassing statements. 

To love God with our whole being, and love our neighbors as ourselves. 

As people of faith, this isn’t a hard statement to get behind, and yet it can call out our own brokenness, if we are honest with ourselves. 

To love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength, doesn’t leave space to carve out a little bit of ourselves to keep from God. To love God with all of our being, doesn’t allow us to hold onto those vices that cause us to stray from the divine. To love God with everything that we are, doesn’t allow us to willingly, and intentionally stray away from the divine. Or to create idols out of our TVs, cellphones, or even public figures. It also means that we are willing to set aside time to nurture our relationship with the holy. To name our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our sins, and our failures, to acknowledge that we do need the divine in our lives. Naming those areas for which we need grace and mercy. Seeking God’s forgiveness to mend the broken places in our relationship. So that we can Live out our lives in such a way that affirms who God is to us, and why we seek to make space for the holy in the midst of a busy and chaotic time. 

To live a life where we love God with all our being, should resemble any other relationship based on Love, rather than one based on asking for what we want and hoping we get it. A relationship that takes work on our part, because scriptures continue to remind us along with God’s continual presence in our lives, that God has remained faithful to their children. But we at times tend to wander off. 

Giving our whole selves over to the divine in love, requires great devotion and hard work. It takes us striving to be better. Striving to stay on the path, striving to express the love that we have found in the holy.

The second statement of how we are to live in this world, can and has created some issues because of its brevity. To love our neighbors as ourselves. This statement has led to questions for clarification. Such as, “Who is my neighbor?” “How broad is that category?” “What if we have a hard time loving ourselves, should we then love our neighbor in that same way?” “What if there are two different groups of people that need help, which one should I tend to first?” “Shouldn’t they fix their behavior before I help them?” I will care to guess that you can hear some of these questions, and maybe even some others popping up in your mind.

But all of these questions seek to limit who we have to love, and how we love them. The questions we come up with are an attempt to deflect the blame of another person’s condition away from ourselves. Sure that family who has been traveling for months are hungry and in need fo shelter, but are they really my neighbor. I don’t even know them. Or, sure that person could use a kind word right now, but so could I. Why should I put another person’s need for kindness before my own?  Or, I am committed to helping this specific demographic first, before helping another, is that so wrong?

Hopefully you get where I am going with these excuses. If we name them out loud, in connection with the commandment for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, then they begin to sound rather absurd. They begin to show themselves as thinly veiled excuses, that let us off the hook of caring for another person. 

Most recently, our love of our neighbor means keeping a distance. Wanting to stay connected with one another. Doing whatever we can to help when we hear a need, but also, most importantly recognizing that we could be carriers of the coronavirus and so we take steps to keep others healthy. Not for our selves, but because we care for one another. 

As we take these steps to care for one another in this way, our eyes are opened to discover just how connected we all are. Whether it be through our friend groups, or hobbies, to how disease is easily spread through a community. We have found that the Corona virus, is a disease that has caused us all to evaluate how our actions, and behaviors can and do have an impact on our neighbor, even if we do not even know their name. 

It has caused our community in Spokane to seriously consider how to shelter all of the individuals experiencing homelessness. It has caused us to confront the importance of our schools, for not only education, but providing basic meals to the children in our community whose families are experiencing poverty. It has causes us to recognize and honor the importance of those who are working in the food industry, in the grocery stores, and all those who work behind the scenes to keep our lives moving smoothly. We recognize that they are the ones who are caring for us even when society has treated them as less than based on their hourly wages. 

I am also mindful of how quickly the agencies here in Spokane got together to create an updated resource list in this uncertain time. A list of what organizations are doing. Some of the ongoing projects and outreach has had to change. Of how because of how they are already connected through coalitions, they have been able to spread word about needs and set up TP drives to ensure all the organizations have access to the essentials even as the store shelves are bare. 

It is in times such as these that the truth of how we are to live our lives, becomes even more tangible and real. That we are to love God with all that we are, and to love all our neighbors as much as we deserve love from others, for we are children of God. 

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.