Stewardship of Community

Rev. Chris Snow

North HIll Christian Church

October 10, 2021

Luke 10:1-12

As we are making our way through a month long series on stewardship, we started with an emphasis on self care. Of how we care for ourselves but also those within the local congregation. It is important that we not stay only in that mindset. While self care is important it is not the only way in which we are to express our faith. We are called to leave the comforts of our local church to serve where we are called. To help those in need and declare the good news of the Kingdom through our attitude and where welcomed a sharing of the gospel. 

I was taught from a young age that what the church is, is so much more than what happens inside the building. Instead what we do outside of the building says a great deal about what we learn to believe inside of the building. This concept went as far as hearing and remembering the phrase, “Spreading the gospel from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.” As I continually heard this phrase, most likely provided from a general ministry resource, I held onto this idea that the outward ministry of the church begins once we take that first step outside of the church doors. That moment in which we are directed to take what we believe and put it into action in the wider community. 

I hear the trepidation in the minds of the followers of Jesus as they are told in Luke 10, to go forth and declare the good news. Go forth and do what you have been taught. Go forth without a safety net, to do what I have shown you. 

We have this trepidation when we are told to go out into the community and do what you have been taught. Go forth as a child who has been instructed to love your neighbor as yourself. Go forth as someone, aware of the brokenness in the world and help bring healing for you have the power. Go forth and bring hope as you declare the good news of the Kingdom of God. 

I can imagine the questions of the followers. Where do we start? What problem to we tackle first? What community should we go to? Seeking direction on how to even begin. 

Jesus told the 70, of how they were to do ministry. By curing the sick who are present. To receive the hospitality that they find. And in being present among the people who have welcomed you, declare that the Kingdom of God has come near. 

The ministries that we are engaged in, have arisen out of discernment of God’s call upon our congregation, recognition of the needs of our wider community, and the relationships that we have with our ministry partners. Whenever I am asked about a new possibility of ministry for our congregation I have these words in the back of my mind from our mission statement, “we are a people responding to God’s call, building whole community, reflecting Chirst through our actions, and living into the reign of God.” 

With these words at the forefront of my mind, I recognize that there is a broad range of ministries that are possible. A range that spans from delivering meals with Meals on Wheels to providing citizenship classes in partnership with World Relief. 

Knowing that there is tremendous need within our wider community there is always the question of what is possible for us? As God has gifted us each with different gifts for ministry and different passions we are mindful of a need to prayerfully discern what is reasonable with God’s guidance. At times this means changing our relationships with various ministry partners. As our congregation’s ability to serve has changed over the years we recognized that it was not reasonable to be a host congregation for Family Promise, and yet we continue to remain in relationship with them as more specific needs arise. We also now partner with Transitions as we are able to collect clothing supplies for the individuals and families in need. 

As I have the availability, I show up in gatherings, such as the Spokane Homeless Coalition. I am able to show up in meetings and work groups as I seek to faithfully represent this congregation’s understanding of who God is calling us to be. 

In many of our ministry partnerships there is a commitment of bringing forth donations, or energies in service. But we also commit to financially support these ministry partners. As we have heard of needs from our citizenship class for flash cards and workbooks, we have stepped up as a board to approve the use of ministry funds. 

As we recognize that while there is great need within our world, we as one local congregation don’t have the reach to create change, and yet we partner with our larger church at the regional and general level to support the ministry programs that declare the Kingdom of God has come near on our behalf. 

By setting aside part of our general budget each year to go towards Bushnel University, (formerly NCU) to the Regional church, and the General Church, we make a commitment to support those ministry partners with whom we are in relationship with so that their ministries are our ministries as well. 

By supporting Bushnel University we are supporting higher education that helps to develop church leaders for the next generation. In supporting the Regional church we support those ministries that help our congregations remain connected and supporting one another in times of celebration and in times of struggle. By supporting the General Church we support those general ministries that reach all the way around the world declaring the Kingdom of God. 

Even though we may look out into the wider community with trepidation about where to begin in ministry, we are not alone in this journey. God continues to guide us through times of discernment. We continue to be impacted by those relationships in our community that welcome us as partners and see the possibilities for change to be realized. 

It is through constant discernment around our ministries that we seek to be good stewards of our resources. By not over reaching ourselves and the resources that we have to offer. But also recognizing that as we partner with others that we are able to magnify the effect of ministries that we are passionate about from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth. 

Self Care

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

October 3, 2021

Mark 1:29-39

For the past several years our congregation has made a shift in how we talk about stewardship. We shifted from simply talking about line items in the budget to instead sharing the stories that are made possible by that budget. Just the other day I was trying to explain to someone outside of the congregation of what this new process looks like, and I compared it to what almost every other non-profit has been doing for years and years. Sharing the stories of their success and how they have impacted the lives of their target demographic. But that comparison falls a bit short when we talk about a church. While we do reach out to our larger community and ministry partners, we also continue to seek to build up the community that we have built as this church body. 

Most other non-profits separate their volunteers and donors from their target demographic, while we as a people of faith are one and the same in a number of our ministries. We are a community that is called to care for each other, supporting one another, and asking for help when we need it. Which brings us to our theme for this week, “Self Care.” This concept that in order for us to be able to care for our larger community we must be ever mindful about our local community and how we care for our selves. Those who are volunteers and supporters. Those who give of themselves week after week to support the larger ministries of this congregation. How are do we care for each of these? 

In different times of the year as we read the text in front of us today, we would probably focus on all the people that Jesus healed and took care of. But today, a different aspect comes to the forefront of my mind. The care of the disciples and of Jesus himself. This text starts with a healing narrative of Simon’s mother in law. One who is close to the community. It also begins to come to a close with Jesus getting up early and found a secluded place to pray. A time for him to center himself and care for his own being. 

In these two examples, I hear this reminder that it is important for us to care for ourselves and our needs, so that we may then be able to care for others.

As this text appears early on in the Gospel of Mark , I wonder how Simon’s attention to Jesus would have been different if his mother in law wasn’t healed and cared for? Would he have been overly distracted? Would he have felt the need to stay home instead of traveling around the country side, learning from Jesus? Yet, we hear that she was made well, and that she also began to care them in return. 

There are those times within our own lives that stress and obligations seem to be overwhelming, and more times than I can count, I have heard individuals feeling guilty that they need to a step back in some way in their responsibilities in the congregation, so that they may take care of those things that need to be taken care of. Each time, I respond with understanding, and I want to encourage them to take care of themselves. Feeling bad that they are feeling guilty for needing to care for themselves. And knowing that all of us have had those moments that we cannot control when we need to take a step back so that we can care for those needs within our own lives. 

As we recognize that there are those things that are out of our control that may effect how we are able to give of ourselves to the ministries that God calls us into, we are also to encourage one another to follow Christ’ example in doing those things that help to sustain ourselves throughout the ministries that are a part of. As Christ gave of himself as he welcomed, healed, and cast out demons for the multitude that came before him, he also took the time to engage in those life giving activities that helped to sustain him throughout his ministry. This is not the only time in which Jesus slipped away for some solitude and prayer. Instead it was a regular occurrence for Jesus to do those things that we look at today as self care. Embracing those activities that help to sustain one’s being so that we may have the energy to continue on in ministry. 

Over the past several months as I have been meeting with our Pastoral Relations Committee, I have been encouraged to take some much needed vacation time, but also to pursue those activities that are life giving for myself. So, I will be taking two weeks of vacation later this month so that I can take the time to do those things that are life giving for myself that I can not always make time for. Also as the committee and I have been talking about opportunities to utilize a mini sabbatical grant offered by the region, they have encouraged me to do something that will help me moving forward. 

One of those things that I plan on doing is to enroll in a pottery class that will give me access to a space in which I can put aside my to do lists and be present in the moment as I let my mind rest and listen. 

We each have different activities that are life giving. Those things that help to sustain us as we seek to continue to follow down the path that the divine leads us. A part of the ministries of this congregation are meant to provide space for life giving, spirit filling opportunities. 

We offer times for worship, in which we can focus ourselves upon God at least once a week. Those moments where we can put our to do lists aside and focus ourselves on God’s presence within our lives and offer our prayers as a part of a community. We are able to do this in person, or in the case of this week entirely online. Making space where we invite all to come and intentionally be present with God for a short while. 

We offer times of study in which those who are interested can gather to discuss scriptures, or topics that are of interest. Wanting to grow their understanding as we find ourselves in safe spaces to ask questions, and gain insights. While also offering resources through daily devotionals, weekly moments of devotion online, and study journals for the kids and youth of the congregation. 

We offer times of fellowship, as we gather in large or small groups to be present with one another. Sharing what has been happening in our lives. Sharing our stories. And building our relationships with others. In doing so we find that when there is a need there is a community here to support each person. 

We have an ongoing prayer chain that continues to share the prayers of our congregation. Offering that reminder to take a moment to be in prayer, not only for ourselves but for others. The reminder that prayer is an important aspect of our faith lives that we should nurture, as it continues to uplift our spirits. This reminder that even in times when we may be physically isolated, we are not alone for there are those who are spending time in prayer for us.  

We continue to be open to new opportunities for personal growth and faith development. That while not everyone finds life giving and sustaining energy in the same activities we make space for new and different opportunities that people wish to try.

As we hear throughout this month about the ways in which we are doing ministry both within our building and out in the community, let us continue to be mindful of how we are being stewards of our needs as well. Let us be mindful that as we share of our gifts that we also find those places in which our gifts may be nurtured and developed through the ministries of this congregation. 

Blessings of God

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 29, 2021

Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23, 28:10-17

Today’s narrative is one in which we would like to distance ourselves from Jacob, but at the same time get all the same blessings. We don’t quite agree with the way in which he acts, but, he also gets the blessings from his father and God. But in receiving all these blessings, through less than ethical behavior, a question arises within my own thinking. Do we ever really deserve God’s blessings? Does anyone deserve God’s blessings? 

Nothing about Jacob’s narrative indicates that he deserves any sort of blessing, even from his own father. Throughout his life he struggles, wrestles, and conspires to get what he wants when he wants it. Even after we hear in Jacob’s dream of God’s blessing, Jacob continues to demand more of God. Just a few short verses later we hear this, “Then Jacob made a vow saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God’…”(Genesis 28:20-21, NRSV)

Jacob misses the whole point of God’s blessing upon his life and his descendants. He demands these things that will make his life easy and comfortable. And yet, as we continue to follow the narrative of Abraham’s descendants, life is not comfortable. Jacob’s life is not comfortable as it is filled with struggle and being on the run time and time again. Yet it is through Jacob that God’s blessing continues to build up the descendants of Abraham. 

As I ponder on the nature of God’s blessings within scripture, instance after instance comes to mind of God breaking into the narrative to provide a blessing to someone who is struggling, or to work through someone’s experience to do something transformative for others. There is never the promise of comfort and ease in God’s blessings. The individual is cared for, even though struggles continued. That through them others may be changed due to God’s actions in the world. 

I like to imagine that the blessing that Abraham and Jacob receive is that of a conduit through which God’s works are made known. It is through Jacob that others realize God’s blessings, as he follows where God leads. While others in the narrative, like Esau, are taken care of and have a long life, the language of blessing points to Jacob being a conduit through which God continues to do something wonderful.  

Now, we like to think that we are much better people than Jacob ever was, and yet I would care to guess that within our lives we have made choices that were less than proper. We went out of our way to get what we wanted, whether or not it negatively impacted another person. We have wrestled in our relationships with others to get what we want without regard for the other’s desires. And yet, I have a suspicion that we have used language to the affect that we have received God’s blessing. 

When we use that language, do we ever consider whether or not we deserve those blessings? Have we earned God’s favor in that moment? I do think that what we do with the blessing says a great deal about ourselves and how we understand our relationship with God. 

This week has been filled with conversations and social media posts by other parents of kids with disabilities that heavily focused on necessary resources being available or not. Hearing of a family who has felt the need to move school districts because they were not receiving the appropriate services that their child needed. And I am mindful and grateful that our school district has thus far been wonderful for my daughter. Hearing a familiar refrain of families with kids with severe disabilities having to choose between work and taking care of their child. Knowing just how broken our healthcare system is that require some families to walk that fine line between poverty and survival. 

And yet as I consider our experience with my daughter, there are a number of struggles but we have been lucky so far. The only way that I would consider our experience to be a blessing would be if through our experience of God placing those people and resources in our lives, that we can make the same experience possible for others. 

The blessings that God gives throughout the scriptures are not meant to make us comfortable or put us at ease, but through each person that God shows favor and blessing, the lives of others are forever changed for the better. 

As Jacob’s narrative continues, lives are transformed and changed. He continues to wrestle with what God would have of him both literally and figuratively. But as he comes to recognize that the blessings of God are not all about him, he begins to understand the nature of God’s blessing is to be perpetually moving from one person to another. Flowing down like a river impacting all things along its journey. 

As we continue to find God’s blessings within our own lives, let us not convince ourselves that we have somehow deserved all that God has placed within our lives. Let us humbly consider how we may be open to God’s movements in our lives to uplift and transform the lives around us. 

“The Cost of Discipleship”

“The Cost of Life”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 19, 2021

John 1:29-34, Genesis 21:1-3, 22:1-14

I find myself approaching today’s scriptures with two very different themes in my mind. On one hand there is a real tension with the focus on God’s demanding of human sacrifice. On the other, there is this theme of God bringing life and providing for the people throughout the texts that I am using for this month. This brings up even a stronger tension as I struggle with a text of God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his own son who is supposed to be the one through whom God’s promise to Abraham would be realized. This tension roots itself in how we understand what is required of us as we follow after God’s vision for life in the world. 

The Gospel of John openly utilizes language of Christ as lamb for sacrifice, and the one through whom we find life. This is language that for the most part we have become comfortable with in comparison to our text out of Genesis. Is this because seeing Jesus as divine, the Son of God, less relatable than a human father being asked to sacrifice his own son after he has already sent away is first son, Ishmael so that through Issac God’s promise could be realized? There are countless questions that come up regarding this text out of Genesis in the facebook clergy forms. What did Sara say when they reported back home? How do we handle the demand of a child as sacrifice. Where is the good news in this text? and the list goes on and on. 

For us to find ourselves in the shoes of Abraham or Issac we have to buy into the level of trust that Abraham had in God. Abraham’s story starts all the way back in chapter 12 of Genesis with his calling by God. We hear these words, “Now the lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’” 

At this time in his story Abram was already 75 years old and God led him from land to land, through famine and strife. Eventually Abraham and Sara have a son, Issac. God continued to provide for them and continued to reiterate the promise that God had made with them. Even though the journey was not easy and they had not been able to settle down and put down roots as they continued to travel as God directed them. Their lives could have been much easier if they had just stayed put, and yet God made a promise of an even greater life if they trusted in him. 

By the time that Issac was born 25 years of traveling and following God had passed. A few years later in the narrative we have the text of the binding or sacrifice of Issac which serves not only as a test of Abraham’s faith but also a passing on the torch to the next generation. You see, this is the first narrative that we have that includes Abraham and God after Issac’s birth, and it is also the last before Abraham’s death. 

With this in mind I can’t help but imagine how Abraham has instructed Issac in all that God had done for them over the years. All the ways that God has been present to look out for them and guide them. All the times that Abraham tells Issac to trust that God will provide. And then we have Issac carrying the bundle of wood that is meant to be the bundle upon which he would be sacrificed, and he asks, “Father…The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s response is, “God will provide a lamb.” No sign of a lie, only faith that God will provide. God will make way a path for life. And that is what happens. The knife is stopped at the last moment and a ram is present for the sacrifice. 

An alternative title for today’s message that has been in my mind all week is, “The Cost of Discipleship” which is directly related to a book by the same name by Deitrich  Bonhoeffer. A book by a German theologian during the rise of the Nazi regime on what he believes it means to follow Christ. A path that is not easy and at times costly. 

We like to think that to follow the divine should be easy with out any struggles, and at times this expectation of an easy life leaves us with doubt when things don’t go the way we think they should. And yet throughout the scriptures and the works of theologians like Bonhoeffer we hear this reminder that to pursue the life that God would have for us is not one of ease and wealth, but rather one that takes struggles with the promise that God will continue to be with us. That there is something much better in the life that God calls us into. 

As I imagine Abraham sharing with Issac the stories of his life with God, I imagine an elder of the church sharing their own faith story with the next generation. Sharing how at times they faced intense struggles and yet God was still there. Sharing the reasons that they fully trust in God. Sharing those moments that stick out in shaping their faith journey. All of this as the next generation is starting to form their own understanding of who God is in their lives. 

I remember those times of listening in as the grownups of the church were sharing stories of their travels and those moments where they were absolutely sure that God intervened because otherwise there is no other explanation. Those moments as I heard of modern day miracles happening in the lives of people that I knew. 

I remember those moments as I have shared my own faith journey with others. I rarely mention those things that I have given up to follow the path that God has for me. Rather I focus on those stories of how God has done amazing things in and through my life. Those moments when through a simple action another person knows that they are loved by others. Those moments in delivering furniture to a family who had lost everything in a fire, where they know that there is a community here to support them in the midst of their struggles. Those moments where I know there is good in the world where compassion for another person overrides their desire for money.

As I remember back over the years of my faith journey. I remember those moments in which God’s presence was revealed, but not so much in what I gave up to follow this path. But let us not shy away from recognizing those sacrifices we have made in life to pursue the path that God would have for us. A path where we recognize that God is always present with us, even in the midst of struggles. And even in those moments of struggles God’s blessings find a way to break through, providing light in dark spaces. Providing life where there seems to be nothing but despair. Providing hope when all other hope is lost. Providing a reminder of why we trust and have faith in the divine. 

“Light and Life”

Rev. Chris Snow

North HIll Christian Church

September 12, 2021

Genesis 1:1-2:4a, John 1:1-5

For the past year and a half we have found ourselves on quite a chaotic journey as a people. Not just as Washitonians, or Americans, rather as people of this Earth that we share. A chaotic time in which all sense of normalcy has been thrown out the door. When normal planning is hindered. When important conversations are postponed. A time when even the seemingly inconsequential norm is up ended for the purpose of reducing the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. 

All of this chaos comes to mind as I read today’s text out of Genesis. A text that comes out of a time of great chaos for the people. A time in which due to a conquering nation removing those with means from the promised land into a place in which they could not freely worship God. A place where they were forced to observe the rituals and customs of the land they were forced to live in. This was a power move of a conquering nation to subjugate and control the people. 

And it behoves me that I have to clarify that while yes at times during this pandemic our elected officials have made mandates that have impacted how we live, and within our specific context as a people of faith how we are able to gather together to live out our faith. With that said, the purpose of these disruptions have not been to gain power or to subjugate a people but rather to protect the welfare of the most vulnerable. If we are paying attention to the news reports regarding the hospitals just across the state line, to hear they are at a critical level of care due to lack of space and resources, we recognize that there is still a need to be mindful of the needs of others. 

Yet, the themes of chaos and utter disruption of the norms of life persists. We are craving some sense of stability and order. and that is where our texts come into play. The formulaic structure of the first creation narrative in Genesis, speaks to and celebrates that sense of order and control that God brings forth into the world. A sense of stability in which we can find comfort. 

We have the ability to find comfort in the imagery of God simply speaking and each aspect of creation comes into being. The sense of the enormity of God’s power over the chaos in the world. God’s ability to continue to work for creation and life even in the midst of the most chaotic of times. 

We find assurance in the language of God orderly speaking the world into existence Breaking through the chaos to bring life into being. But it all started with light breaking through the darkness. Light breaking through the void to illuminate all that is.

It is this imagery of light breaking through the darkness that I hear as we read our other text for today, (John 1:1-5). This is a text that I typically associate with the candle light Christmas Eve service in that moment of utter darkness. That moment where all the lights have been turned out and the light of the Christ Candle begins to illuminate all those gathered. A light that shattered the darkness and brings warmth and hope into that space. 

The John text is a reading that is the culmination of our journey through Advent. A journey based on waiting, and hearing the calls for God to break forth into the world. A time filled with readings from the prophets foretelling of the messiah while the people were also in times of distress. A time of year where the light fades away earlier and earlier each day as the darkness seems to take over. But in that moment of darkness we hear these words from John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5, NRSV)

All week I have been searching for a good visual that is present in movies or television shows. At first I kept running into imagery of what this is not. Images of vampires turning to dust in the sunlight, or the Trolls in the Hobbit turning to stone as soon as the sun rose. Images of light destroying what was considered evil. But it hit me as I considered the movie Moana. As the light was removed from Te Fiti and Te Ka begins to spread darkness throughout the islands. But in that moment of restoring the heart or light to Te Fiti. Immediately greenery and life springs forth. In the presence of this light that shone even in the darkest depths of the sea, life flourishes where there once was darkness, spreading to all the islands. 

Or as Aslan returned to the land in the “Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” even though the use of darkness wasn’t as prevalent, there remained imagery of endless winter. Pervasive cold and no harvesting. But as Aslan returned, a figure modeled deeply in C.S. Lewis faith in Christ, the winter faded into spring and sings of life. 

This light that we find in our scriptures isn’t one that simply stays put within a lantern but rather spreads. It becomes pervasive taking root wherever it can so that light can spring forth. The light that we find in creation is pervasive. It sets the space for all the plants and animals to flourish. The light that we find in John is the divine light in which John describes Jesus’ presence in the world. A light that shone for all people and continues to spread. A light that brings hope to those who are hurting, those who are struggling. Light that brings forth the Kingdom of God into the world as we are called to be a people who shine the light of life that we find in the divine. A light that declares a new life in the divine, where everyone is bound together with one another and with the holy.  

As we find ourselves surrounded by signs of chaos and disruption, let us continue to find stability in the Light that the divine brings into the world. The light that is pervasive in the narrative of creation, but also the light that we celebrate in Jesus Christ. A light that disrupted the norms of the day to bring forth the Kingdom of God. A way of being that is more focused on how we are bound together in relationship than pursuing our own interests at all costs. 

“Finding Grace in Community”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

September 5, 2021

Matthew 18:15-20

We now find ourselves at the end of a five week series on the sacraments of the church. Thus far we have heard about two practices of our faith lives in which we regularly recognize that God’s grace is present; baptism and communion. However, this week’s focus is one that I had to turn to a dictionary of theological terms to even begin to approach. The sacrament that I was presented with for this week is called the mutual consolation of the saints and its theological definition is as follows, “term used in spirituality for processes such as counseling, scripture study, and prayer, through which faith may be strengthened and Christian care and concern expressed.” I can boil it down even further within the context of today’s scripture by naming it as those ways within our faith community that we show and receive grace to and from one another, as we seek to build up our community. 

But what does any of this community grace talk have to do with our text for today? We can easily read our selected texts out of Matthew as a guide of what to do when you have been wronged. Almost sounding like seeking out justice or even vengeance for the offenses. In part because, at least for me, we read this text from the perspective of the one who has been hurt and wanting things to me made right. And yet, this text is buried within a chapter of the gospel that is all about preventing one’s self from sinning and forgiveness. It starts off with a section about what one must do to prevent themselves from sinning. At times going to extreme measures to do so, including plucking out one’s eyes or chopping off a hand if they cause a person to sin. Then we hear the parable of the lost sheep in which the shepherd goes off in search of the one sheep that had been lost in order to bring it back to the whole. 

Immediately following our text we have these words in vs 21-22, “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’” Finally, the chapter ends with the parable of the unforgiving servant. A parable of a servant who had been shown grace by his master but refused to show even a portion of that grace to one of his peers. 

The context of our text for today speaks volumes about how a community is to be governed by the grace we have come to know in Christ. A grace that is present within a community that is made up of individuals who are more than mere acquaintances. The Greek word that has been translated in this text as church, is better understood in a more familial sense. A community that is more like family than those who gather together once or twice a week. It is within this type of community that we find God’s grace present and referred to in this text. It is a grace that binds a community together and instructing the whole on how we are to live together even when we mess up. 

As I read today’s text, I hear words not of retribution but a desire to bring individuals back into right relationship within a community when a wrong has been done. Making an individual aware of a way in which they have hurt another member and seeking to find a way forward. A process that slowly escalates who is brought in on the conversation, constantly making space for repentance and forgiveness until all other options are exhausted. 

In the essence of this set of procedures is the desire to heal a community, in any aspect that injury is being committed to any part of the body. Seeking to bring to light and address issues in a manner that allows space for grace to be present. There has to be this willingness to forgive the one who has wronged you while seeking repentance from the individual. A dedication for that person to seek to adjust their behavior once they know that they have caused harm to another. 

Now, something interesting happened this week as I was preparing the powerpoint for today’s service. I try to pick backgrounds that aren’t too distracting while also lend themselves to connecting a visual with the theme of the service. So, as I was searching for images relating to community I went to a free image resource and typed in community. What types of images do you think came up on my screen? (No really, I want to hear what you think showed up.) 

I saw a whole host of images embracing diversity and in support of the LGBTQIA community. I saw images lifting up work around combating racism. Images of advocacy around issues of poverty, homelessness, inequality. My screen was filled images that embraced the diversity of God’s creation rather than embracing divisions and brokenness. 

This simple image search brought to mind events like Unity in the community in which a multitude of agencies and organizations come together to offer resources to address those things that separate us while embracing those things that bring life to a community. But as I think about some of these resources my mind shifts to our reactions when our own sins are brought up. When we are confronted by another, accusing us of causing them harm? How do we respond when it is highlighted that we have benefited from systems of oppression? When we have benefited from systemic racism? Or how about those times when through our silence we allow assumptions of unwelcome to persist. 

We tend to push back, and say, “Not I. I am not like that.” And yet we hear these reminders over and over that there is discrimination in our society that we do have a role in. But as we consider how grace is to be shown within a Christian community, especially in light of our text out of Matthew, there continues to be opportunities for us to repent and move forward building up a whole community. 

Thankfully we are not alone in this work. We are not alone in the work of recognizing our sins as individuals, or as a community whether on the individual or systemic levels. And there continues to be those moments in which we are shown grace as we learn of the hurt that has been done to others as we seek to do what we can to bring healing. 

Our General Church has a number of resources through the Pro-Reconciliation, Anti-Racism ministries. Inviting those who are willing to enter into conversation and to make ourselves aware of how racism continues to be present within our communities. Calling us to sit down and talk about how racism continues to be an issue within our society. 

We also have an exciting resource coming up in our region on Saturday September 11th   called “Shining a light on the Table: Exploring a Wide(r) Welcome.” This event will be an opportunity to talk about how welcoming our churches really are, with a focus on the LGBTQIA community. Talking about why simply saying all are welcome is not enough because of the harm from Christian communities have caused for the LGBTQIA community by saying all are welcome but not living that welcome. 

I recognize that as I have wrestled with this concept of finding God’s grace in the ways that the church body behaves is difficult at times. It takes work. It takes practice. And most importantly it takes open communication. Being able to share when we have been hurt, but also being willing to listen to the ways in which we have cause pain to others. 

Perhaps this is one of the hardest sacraments for us to celebrate because we are imperfect human beings who do mess up. We don’t often like confrontation, and worry about how something will go if we bring up our issues. Yet, this is a sacrament that allows us as a community to live out God’s grace in how we conduct ourselves as community. How do we respond when we are hurt, do we bury it deep down and let it fester or do we instead seek a resolution based in grace? How do we respond when we hear that we have caused another person harm wether directly or indirectly, do we act defensively, or do we honor the hurt that someone is experiencing and seek to make changes to prevent it from happening any more? 

The sacrament of talking with and hearing one another around our pains is hard but through these conversations we are able to build a stronger community based in God’s grace. We are able to express through our actions the grace that we have come to recognize in the divine through Jesus Christ. 

“Finding Nourishment”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 29, 2021

1 Samuel 21:1-9, Mark 14:12-25

As we have been making our way through this sermon series on the sacraments of the church, I need to admit something. I didn’t organize or pick the scriptures or schedule it so that both baptism and communion each receive two weeks worth of attention. In my sermon planning I came across this series as an option for the summer and was intrigued by it; And so, here we find ourselves on the second weeks focus on communion with an intriguing pairing of scriptures. On one hand we have this text out of 1 Samuel in which David, who is on the run for his own life from King Saul, is famished. David and his companions had been running without anything to sustain them and they come to this priest Ahimelech asking for food. But the problem is that the only food that is on hand is holy. Set aside for God and those who have gone through the appropriate rituals.  

On the other hand we have our text out of Mark in which we hear of the institution of the last supper. Those words that we draw on week after week as we remember the sacrifice of our Savior, and the way forward in the new covenant. It is this pairing of texts that continues to call to mind words of nourishment, satisfy, sustain, and communion.

I know that there are some in our congregation that have a hesitancy to use words of nourishment within the context of partaking of communion but I find that it does fit if we look beyond the nutritional value of a small piece of bread and cup of juice. Rather if we look to that spiritual hunger that finds satisfaction in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. 

Over the years there have been those periods of time where I would go for several months between opportunities to partake of communion. And, as someone who grew up partaking of the elements weekly I began to notice a spiritual hunger building up within me. The desire to find a community in which I can partake of the elements with others. Looking for those times in which I could hear that invitation, to come and join with others at the table of the Lord. Come just as you are. Come, laying down your burdens and worries to be present at the table of the Lord. Come and enter into this sacred space and find your spiritual self nurtured by that which is a constant focus of our faith lives. 

As I was listening to a lecture on the Holy Spirit this week, my mind kept wandering off on the idea of the Holy Spirit as that part of the divine that is constantly causing change, constantly moving, constantly calling us in new directions. But in the midst of all this talk of new things and change, my mind wanted something solid. Somethings stable. Something that is constant. And then the communion table came to mind. The table at which we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. That moment and that space in which the nature of the Gospel is realized. Where all other disagreements, differences, and judgement are put aside to be present in the sharing of a meal. 

I love the comparison between the communion table and a pure community meal. A meal in which we are able to get past all those things that cause us to be separated to instead look one another in the eye, knowing each other’s stories, and serving one another. A meal in which God’s grace is on full display as we share with one another in a love that overrides those things that would otherwise cause us to argue. Those meals where we find that we have been satisfied more than just in our bodily hunger, but also in our need for connections. Our need to be in relationship with others. Our need for peace and stability within our lives. 

Now, I do recognize that the church doesn’t always get to this ideal of being absolutely perfect. This moment of getting beyond all disagreements and pain to these sacred moments. But if we are open to them we can often times get close in the observance of the last supper. There are a few moments in my own life that stick out to me. In being welcomed by a Catholic community in Nicaragua to partake of the elements as my fellow seminarians had that moment of questioning if we heard the translator right. Those moments as a gathered community passed around bread and a bottle of wine as we jovially celebrated the last supper. Those moments in which it was obvious that the elements were taken from what was close by and did not resemble what we are used to, and yet we shared with one another. Those moments in which a community that had been at odds with one another were in full agreement in sharing at the table, serving one another, and embracing one another. Those moments in which the grace of God that we have come to know as individuals takes over as we look at one another a recipients of that same grace. Those moments as an established faith community continues to break bread and share the cup with one another as we worship together. 

Each week as we gather together, we do so knowing one another’s stories. Knowing those ways in which we have been wronged by another. Knowing those things that another is struggling with. Knowing our own hungers for spiritual nourishment. And yet we come to a table that is constantly present. A table where we have been forced to make changes to our practice, and yet there remains those moments in which we can look one another in the eye. There are those moments for quiet conversation. There are those moments for us to sing along to a simple tune, joining our voices together as one. There are those moments when we find a space to lay down our burdens, our disagreements, so that we may simply be present and nurture our relationship with the divine and with one another.

It is in these sacred moments of sharing a simple meal with others that I find that which nourishes my soul. Those moments in which I am reminded of God’s goodness and mercy as I see it in one another’s eyes. Those moments when we find unity, around a table that calls a diversity of humanity to come and share. Come and eat. Come and serve one another. Those moments in which we set aside a part of our week intentionally to be with God in a sacred space. To be open to the moving of the spirit around a table that remains constant within our faith lives, no matter how much we may change. 

“How do We Come to the Table?”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 22, 2021

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Over the past year and a half myself along with my colleagues have had to struggle with our understandings around the communion table. For so long we have been comfortable with the status quo of having a static table in each of our sanctuaries, and for the most part expecting all participants to be present at least in the building. But once COVID hit we had this struggle between the importance of sharing of the elements as an important communal aspect of our worship services, and the need to adapt to a virtual setting. Is it still a communal act if we are not all in the same place at the same time? And it is that very question that points to how we, as people of faith, have tried to define the table in our own terms from the very beginning of the church. 

As we heard in our text from 1 Corinthians, we have this rebuke from Paul, aimed at the church in Corinth. This rebuke that provides a glimpse into how the early church celebrated the Lord’s supper, and how from the beginning it was seen as communal rather than individual practice. The Lord’s supper was and is supposed to be understood as a practice of remembrance from the community, of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Yet, I can still hear Paul’s rebuke being relevant throughout the history of the church, even as the manner in which we celebrate the Lord’s supper has changed. 

As we hear Paul’s words, it is important to point out that it was the practice of the first century church to join together in someone’s home for worship and a communal meal that was a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Those who were able to come early did so, and also began eating what was present, while those who were still working could only come once they had finished for the day and arrive to find what was left if anything. 

This meal which Paul taught this community about had gone from a communal meal, to more segregated or individualistic. There became this power dynamic that came into play as those who were wealthier were the ones who could come early and take their pick, and those who were likely day laborers had to depend on what was left. 

As I break it down like that, we can hear a description of a community that looks nothing like the community that Jesus gathered around himself throughout his ministry. We don’t hear language of everyone being fed and cared for. What we do hear is Paul’s reminder of the practice around the supper of the Lord, in which we remember the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

So, the question remains, how do we approach the communion table even in a time of pandemic which has forced us to find creative ways to use technology to continue to gather and worship together. I think the answer lies in those words that we hear week after week, “Do this in remembrance of me.” But what are we remembering around the table? Are we just remembering the last supper? His death? Or rather the entirety of his presence upon this earth? 

As I approach the table I am constantly mindful of the many ways in which Jesus showed and taught the people about grace at a multitude of tables. All the times that everyone was fed, instead of being turned away. The ways in which Jesus broke bread with sinners and tax collectors, declaring that they too are worthy of God’s grace. The parable of the great banquet where everyone was brought in off the streets to sit at the feast that was prepared. 

When we remember who Jesus Christ has been in the world, we don’t just focus on the words that were spoken at the last supper but rather we remember Jesus’ ministry of table fellowship, a ministry of healing, a ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God, a ministry of grace and forgiveness. A ministry that built up community rather than the separation of individuals. 

Each time that I have served at the table of the Lord, I have sought to continually reflect the broad invitation that Jesus shared in his ministry. An invitation that may change someone’s life, because they have been told they are unworthy for far to long. But around this table of grace, we hear we are all invited to partake.

While for most of my time in ministry has been within the context of serving in a traditional church structure, there have been those moments that I have witnessed the power of God’s grace in these elements. One of the most notable of these are when I have found myself serving the elements to community members at the close of the annual interfaith Pride Service. Serving members of the Spokane community who had been barred from partaking of communion, yet in those moments as tears are flowing out of joy and happiness of knowing they are welcome at the table of the Lord. 

Throughout the history of the church we has human beings have sought to restrict the movement around the table. Restricting who could serve, and who could partake. Making their various arguments to justify these policies. And yet I continue to hear Paul’s rebuke. This is not something we should control as individuals. We do not have control over who comes and receives God’s grace. We do not come to this table as mere individuals. Rather we come as a community of faith. A people gathered together to share a simple meal to remember the movement of God’s grace throughout Jesus’ whole life. 

However and whenever we gather with the elements of the Last Supper before us, let us be mindful that we do not come simply as individuals vying to get our portion. But rather we come to this table as a community. A community that supports one another. Makes sure everyone is fed. Makes sure everyone knows God’s grace as we gather together in worship of the one who has brought us together. 

“Making the Decision”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 15, 2021

Psalm 84, Romans 6:1-11

We now find ourselves in the midst of another sermon series. This one is based on various sacraments of our faith lives. The sacred moments that are common not only within our congregation but through many if not all Christian communities around the world. A brief understanding of sacrament that is provided by the Encyclopedia of the Stone Campbell Movement, of which our congregation is a part, reads like this, “Sacrament. A term applied in some Protestant traditions to the two principal ‘means of grace,’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

Last week, Rev. Sandy Messick, our Regional Minister started off this series with her words on baptism and in remembering who we are in our relationship to God. That no matter how much we mess up, we continue to find grace and forgiveness. It is in the waters of baptism that we are reminded of God’s grace. 

As Rev. Messick spoke to God’s grace that we find in our baptisms, I want to focus on how we approach and understand our role in our own baptisms. And with that comes the need to clarify or set an expectation of what I am referring to from here on forward. I need to do this because as some of us are aware, different churches and denominations do baptism differently. Within our own congregation we have those who were baptized as infants and others were baptized when they had made the conscious choice for themselves. I want to affirm that these various forms of baptism are valid. But for today I want to focus on that moment when a conscious choice was made, whether it was choosing to be baptized or choosing to go through a confirmation class or something similar. That moment in one’s life where a decision was made to be baptized or to affirm the baptism that they received as an infant. 

As I think about that moment in my own faith life but also in the lives of those I was surrounded by growing up a number of topics come to mind. The ritualistic nature with which we handle baptism. The age at which we are expected to make this decision. What we expect from baptism. The decision that we are making in that moment, that we also continue to make each day. 

In seminary a trend that was present some 20 years ago was constantly taught and supported. The trend that it is around the time that their kids are of the age to be baptized that young families will bring their children to church, and once the deed is done you won’t see them again. This trend that has since passed away for a multitude of reasons, but at the same time highlights how we have treated baptism as a ritual that is completed at a prescribed age. The words are said, the person goes under the water and comes back up, to applause from the congregation. 

I have this hesitancy to refer to sacraments as ritual, because what comes to mind with rituals are those things that have precise order. Precise wording. Precise actions. That if the officiant makes a mistake then it is all ruined. Now this may be a bit extreme, but I hope you get where I am going with this. The idea that with a ritual the focus is so much on getting it right that it looses some of its meaning. Where the focus is so much on the act that we loose sight of why we are doing it in the first place. Where so much effort is on the procedure that we forget that we are merely participants in an act where God is the one in control.  

In this idea of baptism as ritual, it is the act that matters rather than everything else. This concept of “My sins are all washed away, so now I’m all good.” No thought to one’s involvement in a faith community or how one participates in the larger body of Christ. Only, the ritual is complete and so I am good to go. 

As I have been reading through Diana Buttler Bass’ book “Freeing Jesus” and especially the section on Jesus as Savior, she talks about this experience in her youth with a Bible church and its focus on the question of “Are you saved?” This whole sections takes me back to a moment in my own youth when the “Power Team” came to town. For those of you who have no idea who the “Power Team” is, here is a quick rundown. It is made up of what appears to be a bunch of weight lifters that give inspiring talks and demonstrations at public schools, while at the same time giving powerful testimonies at the sponsoring church in the evening. 

The memory that comes to mind is how some children from my father’s church went to the church program that culminated in an altar call that resulted in the children breaking down out of fear. They were of the age that they weren’t yet ready to make that kind of decision and yet they were told that they would go to hell if they didn’t confess their faith in front of everyone else. 

When I think of my own baptism, there wasn’t ever this threat of hell, but rather this time spent studying scripture and this affirmation of who God has been and continues to be in our lives. I remember sitting in the church chapel as our class talked about our faith, about Jesus, and God. It was a time for us to intentionally consider what our faith is about and if we are ready to make the decision to choose to follow the way of Christ. 

It takes some maturity to make this decision. It is a decision that we hold onto within the memory of our faith lives. For many of us it is that defining moment in our faith lives, that we mark the beginning of our journey with Jesus. That moment when in declaring our faith in God our Creator, Christ our savior, and the Spirit our sustainer we declare for all those gathered our intention to live a life reflective of that faith because of who we have come to know the divine to be. 

Now, as I remember back to my own baptism, I had my own expectations of what would happen. These expectations that something profound would happen. That the skies would open up and I would hear God speaking to me. Well that didn’t happen The water stayed still, nothing out of the ordinary happen, and yet I was forever changed. 

I had affirmed the grace that I had learned about in Sunday School and the Pastor’s class. I affirmed my faith, and in that moment I had taken my first conscious step in my faith journey, being washed in God’s grace, with the whole congregation present to bear witness, and to celebrate with me as I joined with them on this journey. Each subsequent congregation I have been a part of affirmed that baptismal moment and sought to continue to encourage me along the path with Jesus as our guide. 

That simple moment when I was baptized became that moment that set off a chain of events in my life that has led me to this point. That moment began the journey for me to think critically about my faith to the point of wrestling with different issues and concepts. That moment of baptism began a series of opportunities and decisions. Each time asking will I continue to seek after the one who has shown me deep grace and love, who also calls me to show that same love to others? Will I continue down the path that God has illuminated before me, even though there will be difficult challenges? Will I continue to affirm each and every day that I do believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and proclaim him to be my savior? Will I continue to rely upon the divine Spirit for guidance and sustaining power even as there are challenges that still await? 

As we remember our own baptisms today and each day of our lives. Let us consciously remember, not the words that were said, or the actions we made, but rather remember the grace that we found in that moment. The grace that we affirmed as we agreed to be baptized when we were ready. And may we continue to affirm that decision each day as we seek to follow in the footsteps of our savior. 

“Purpose for Humanity”

Rev. Chris Snow

North Hill Christian Church

August 1, 2021

Genesis 1:26-31, 2:4-7

Over the past few weeks I have been working with a selection of texts that have been a focus of our region’s church camp curriculum. Now this curriculum takes the user through the narrative of creation as told in the 1st chapter of Genesis. However, for this week it pairs it with a selection out of the second creation narrative in the 2nd chapter of Genesis which reads, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” 

This is a markedly different narrative of the creation of human kind from what we heard out of Genesis 1:26-31. That is because these are two very different and separate narratives of creation. I’m not saying they are wrong but rather they are telling different narratives for different reasons. But when it comes to the creation of humankind we hear both, of God’s intentionality in how we are created, but also of the responsibility we are now entrusted with. 

Now, when I think of these two narratives, I tend to consider the wide overarching themes that are unique to each one. In the first chapter we hear of God’s power as the divine brings order out of chaos, simply by speaking the elements into being. In chapter two however we hear as humanity is a participant with God in the creation of the plants and animals on the earth. But in our readings today where we hold the two narratives side by side there is an overlap of themes when it comes to our purpose in God’s creation. 

First are the great gifts that the divine poured into our being. In chapter 1 we hear that humanity is created in God’s image. We hear this in not just one statement but three times over the course of our reading. When there is repetition it is time to take note. We don’t hear this language regarding any other aspect of creation, but in it we hear of God’s intentionality with us. 

When I consider what it would look like to make something in my image, my imagination goes straight to me looking into a mirror as I sculpt something out of clay. As I look at myself and am sculpting, I would be making an object that is a reflection of myself. This idea that at our best we are a reflection of who God is. That when we demonstrate to perfection who God made us to be, we are a true reflection of who God is. 

Now in the second chapter we hear different language but still a gift from God. We hear God gathering the dust of the ground to form our being, and then breathed the breath of life. God’s breath, God’s spirit is blown into our nostrils giving us life. Once more, this language isn’t used for any other aspect of God’s creation, but rather set aside for humanity. With each and every breath we take, we breathe the breath of life. 

However like any great gift there come great responsibilities. How do we respond to the knowledge that not only are we but everyone on the face of the earth are made in the image of God and hold the breath of God within them giving them life? How do we show compassion and care for others who we too easily see as others, when they are made in the image of God. When we share the same breath of life. If we hold those thoughts in our minds, how does that change our behavior towards others?

In some ways it begins with us each as individuals. How do we behave in recognizing that we are made in the image of God? Does this give us great confidence? Great hope? Encouragement to keep moving forward, trying to be better? It starts with that assurance that as God formed each one of us, God did so with intentionality. Pouring elements of God’s self into each one of us. And as I consider the breath of God, it causes me to take long slow breaths. At some points it becomes meditative. Imagining the breath of God moving through my airways, into my lungs allowing my blood to be oxygenated so that my body may live. 

Along with being created in the image of God, and the breath of life breathed into our lungs, these creation narratives add an additional layer of responsibility upon our shoulders. As the second chapter of Genesis continues, we hear this partnership with human kind and with God in continuing the creation of the plants and animals. There is this partnership that continues to this day as humanity works the land. Plants and harvests the crops while God works within the continual movement of creation.This second creation narrative focuses on the relationship between humanity and God when it comes to what comes out of creation.

The first narrative of creation holds a similar theme but is not shy about what God expects out of humanity when it comes to caring for God’s creation. We hear these words out of the 28th verse, “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.’” 

Now when we hear words of subdue and have dominion, some concepts that may come to mind are conquering, and having control over. These words of immense power and control. But that is not the only nature of those words within the scripture. You see these words are often used in the context of the responsibilities of the rulers of Israel. That while they have this great deal of power, they too have responsibilities to care for their subjects. They have a responsibility to look out for the least of these. To care for the marginalized. To tend to the weak and hungry. To be mindful of those who are unable to speak up and care for themselves. 

If we hold this context of scripture up next to the creation narrative, we hear this deep responsibility to care for creation. To tend to it and look out for those that are hurting or endangered. We have this responsibility to care for God’s creation that has been entrusted to us by the divine. 

As we hear the creation narratives let us celebrate in the gifts that God has given to us, but let us not forget that these gifts come with great responsibilities. That as we are created in the image of God, we have the power to reflect to others who we know God to be. That as we breathe in and out, we are sharing the breath of life that is within each person on this earth. That as we breathe our breath has power for life. If we let it. 

But also as we celebrate these gifts we recognize the responsibility we have to God, for we have been entrusted with the welfare of all creation. Even as God continues to move through the world, creating and forming, bringing life into the world, we are tasked with its care and protection. We are tasked with the responsibility to care for that which God has called good.