Finding God’s Favor

January 27, 2018

Matthew 5:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wandering With Faith

January 20, 2019

Matthew 4:1-17, Psalm 91

Commercialized Christianity holds and promotes an idealized view of how our lives will be if we just have faith. If you pray hard enough, or just right, all your troubles will simply go away and all your prayers will be answered. If you have faith your life will be easy without stumbling blocks and struggles. If you turn everything over to God, then everything will be taken care of. If you believe and pray just right you will have all the money and stuff that you ever wanted. 

Granted there are a number of different theologies and stereotypes thrown into this mass of popularized Christian themes. But there is a reoccurring theme in all of them, which in practice causes more harm than good. If you have the right amount of faith and practice it just right, then God will take over so you don’t have to do anything. If you walk in faith just right then you won’t have to struggle in any way. If you do things just right your salvation will make everything perfect all the time. 

This whole idea misses the point of the countless lives of faith that are listed in the Bible, who even though they had faith they struggled. None of these individual’s lives in the Bible turned out to be perfect. No one within our scriptures lived their lives without struggles, even as there are countless texts that tell of how God will watch over you and protect you. 

“Psalm 91”

The scriptures are filled with these encouraging texts and words of promise for those who are seeing the assurance that God is with them. Scriptures of if one relies on God, then they will be protected. But there is still that element of struggle. An element that even the faithful will face problems and temptation, but the Lord our God will still be there. 

When I was running cross country in High School I would often recite a portion of the text from “Isaiah 40:28-31”. I didn’t read it so I could run faster or be without fatigue. Instead I recited it to find encouragement. To remember that I was not alone. To find a different source of energy that helped me continue on in those places where I just wanted to stop and rest. 

Today’s gospel text reminds us of Jesus’ own temptation before his ministry kicks off. As Jesus has spent a prolonged period of time out in the wilderness, fasting both day and night, the tempter comes to him. While his body is at its weakest, the devil comes to tempt him and lead him astray. We have the temptation to satisfy the bodily needs of bread. Then The temptation to test God’s word. Finally the temptation of absolute power. 

The first two temptations utilize if-then statements. If you are indeed the son of God then.,, Then you can turn this stone into bread. Then you can simply throw yourself down from this high place and the angels will protect you. In all three of these temptations Jesus responds with scripture. The first recognizing that the bodily needs are not all that we need, and the second addresses the misuse of scripture on the devil’s part. Matthew utilizes Deuteronomy for reference regarding the testing whether or not the angels will protect him. While this is true, Jesus responds in such a way that recognizes how scriptures should be used. We can find justification to do many things for our own benefit, but that is not the way of Christ. 

The final temptation is that of power, that the devil presumes to have authority. He presumes to be able to determine who has power over all the kingdoms of the earth and offered it to Jesus for his loyalty and devotion. Jesus responds with a the commandment to, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The end of Matthew concludes with Jesus commissioning the disciples to go therefore and make disciples of all nations The power over the earth lays with Christ not the devil.  

In this text we recognize that even Jesus had to deal with temptations. Even Jesus had to deal with bodily hunger and struggles. And because of his humanity, he struggled with the people. He struggled amongst the people. He was not separated from the ills of this world rather he was neck deep in the struggles of this earth, with the people. We can hope that at our best we can be as strong as Jesus at his weakest. We can hope to find strength to do what is right, as we follow the example of Jesus Christ. 

We are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ as we seek to shrug off the temptations of this world with the help of the divine. We are called to do this in relationship, not just with the divine, but with those around us. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t one of individualism, get your self fixed and go along the way. Instead it was a ministry of community, a ministry of being with the people who are struggling, so that we can provide a helping hand.

Even as we find ourselves journeying on the way with the divine and one another. Let us not be diluted in thinking that all our struggles will simply disappear if we have enough faith. Let us instead recognize that the divine strengthens us to keep going. Encourages us when we feel beaten down. And gives us a shoulder to lean on when we feel we can’t go on any more. And as we find strength, we are to share it and use that encouragement to bring others up out of the muck as well. 

Gifts for a King

January 6,2019

Matthew 2:1-23

The popularized image of the magi coming to present gifts to the Christ child fills us with such great joy and excitement. We celebrate the gifts that they have brought to this child, even if they don’t make sense for a young child and a simple family. And yet, we are compelled to look past the facade of three magi presenting gifts to the child in a stable, to consider the ramifications of these individuals searching for this new king of the Jews when there is already someone sitting on that very throne. A declaration that causes the holy family to flee from their homes, out of fear for their own safety and the life of this child, to a foreign land, only returning once the threat is gone. 

We have seen the photos of refugees fleeing into Europe. We have seen photos of those who wish to seek asylum within our own country, but we don’t often consider why are they making this journey. Why are they risking their lives to seek safety, to seek refuge, to seek asylum in another country that shouts in loud voices, that they are not wanted? They are fleeing a place that is not safe for them or their families. Some are being hunted, others persecuted, others trying to get out of situations of violence, hoping to find safety. And I would ask, “Was the holy family welcomed with open arms into Egypt, or looked upon with scorn.” 

The Magi come to King Herod asking to see this child who has been born king of the jews. A king that is not Herod. A king who’s very existence is a threat to Herod’s reign which was already on shaky ground. These Magi, from another land come seeking to pay homage to this king who has been born, but need directions first from the current king. They bring forth gifts that hint to his greatness, in wisdom, healing, and divinity. Gifts are offered in proclamation of who they knew this child to be. And that was not good news for Herod. 

Throughout the history of the church, throughout the history of the world, when the declaration like this of the Christ Child is made, in the face of authoritarian regimes. In the face of dictators, and oppressors, it does not bode well for the one declaring this truth, and in this case does not bode well for the savior. 

In Nazi Germany the honest and truthful declaration of Jesus the Christ as messiah, savior, redeemer, was one that pushed back against the authority of Hitler. And so it was suppressed. In China this same declaration is a contradiction to the perceived power of the government. And so the churches are regulated. Yet suppressing the truth of the christ does not make it any less true. 

Herod’s response to hearing the proclamation by the wise men, plays out like that of many science fiction, or dramatic movies in which there is a savior figure. The one who is to bring peace, and stability. The one who will make everything good and right. The one who divinely special. Once those in power have heard about their existence, instead of embracing them and asking for their guidance and help, they are hunted down. Their lives become increasingly difficult. But they still win out. 

As Herod hears the details of when the magi first saw the star he sends out an order to kill all the children in the Bethlehem area who were two years of age and younger. He throws a wide net, hoping to capture his prey and eliminate the threat to his reign and power. But the holy family escapes to a foreign land where they can be safe for a time. 

Between the actions of the magi and the holy family, I find my self pulled into two directions this morning. The first is that of the magi’s confession of faith. To confess Christ as lord, Christ as king, Christ as savior is to say that others are not. They were taking a risk in even proclaiming this truth in the face of king Herod. 

Now while the Disciples of Christ, don’t have a creedal confession of faith on which to measure one’s beliefs we do have an affirmation of faith. “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the World.” For us to declare this truth, also declares that those who call themselves by these titles are not. For us to declare this about Christ, is our declaration that others who would call themselves savior, lord, messiah, are not. 

While I was in college, in Canton, MO I worked in the chaplain’s office, and it just so happed to be a presidential election year. As I was talking with some of the more seasoned employees of the college, the name of the candidate I voted for came up and my identity as Christian was put into question by this person. Because I voted “wrong”. The idea of if you are truly a christian you will vote for this person, and not the other. The idea that if one is to truly be a Christian one must give allegiance to this person over another. 

In Nazi Germany there were many churches that gave their allegiance to Hitler even though they knew somewhere in side that what he was doing was wrong. Yet they still hung his flags on the altars and sacred spaces. 

There is a problem when those in power demand unyielding loyalty and allegiance. But the confession of faith that we say each Sunday is a statement in which I find strength. It is a reminder of where the real power is in the world. It is a reminder of our calling to seek something higher and more amazing, than expecting one person, one leader to do it all for us.  

The second is that of our response to the plight of the holy family. Later on this Spring we will be looking more closely at the Matthew 25 text of the judgement of the nations. But it is key here. This is not a question of what would Jesus do, but rather how would we care for the holy family? How would we treat them and how do we treat those who find themselves in the same situation? 

In the Matthew 25 text we hear of the Son of Man as he returns in all his glory separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep are those who cared for the least of these. For those that did it to any of the least of these also did so to Christ. The goats were those who refused to tend to the least of God’s children for in doing so they did not do so to Christ. 

Our hearts are torn when we see images of refugee children, especially in Europe. But we find ourselves faced with the same opportunities. As we recognize there are individuals waiting on our southern border seeking asylum, seeking safety, seeking refuge from dangerous situations. How do we respond? Do we remain silent because this doesn’t effect me. Do we remain blind because we don’t want to get involved. Or are we willing to speak out. Seeking to declare God’s truth, and push the power that be to make available options for their safety. 

The declaration of the magi was one that we should not take lightly. The declaration of who Jesus is in the world is one that we should hold onto without wavering in the face of those that would seek to take over the savior role. As we hear the confession of the magi, we also hear of the danger posed to the messiah. Danger that never fully subsided as Jesus’ existence threatened the powers that be. We recognize the injustice done by those who oppress the people through fear and intimidation, and are called to respond when they seek sanctuary. The confession of the magi is much more than bringing three gifts to the holy family. It is a confession that brings danger and truth. 

Come to the River

January 13, 2019

Matthew 3:13-17

As we come to the river, figuratively or literally, we come with expectations. We come as we are. We come because we have heard a calling. We come, for something special that we know may change us if we let it. We come just as those came to John the Baptist who was crying out in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of God is close at hand, come and turn aside to find it. Come, change your direction, and seek that which has come near. 

That warning of “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” in too many ways has been taken as a threat; an omen of the end of the world. A statement that is to strike fear into the hearts of sinners. While instead, if we recognize the truth of Jesus the Christ that this warning declares. The truth that lies within the heart of Jesus’ ministry, love, compassion, and healing, is instead one of encouragement for those who hear the call. 

As I remember my own journey towards being baptized, it wasn’t one wrapped in fear and dread, but rather one that celebrated what I knew of the divine. I remember this sense of invitation, not condemnation or pressure, invitation to come as you are to seek the kingdom of God. Give your life to the divine for something far better. Since that moment I have also recognized within myself the responsibility within that decision. There is a responsibility within our choice to be baptized. It is a responsibility to continually seek the kingdom of God and strive to make the truth we know in Christ a reality in on earth. 

As John cried out in the wilderness, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near…I baptize you with water for repentance…” The baptism wasn’t the one and done end all cure for the brokenness within the people’s relationship with the divine. It wasn’t the final solution to cure all ills. It was just the beginning. It was a choice to change one’s life direction. It was a choice to come and seek the kingdom of God. The baptism became more than a simple ritual cleansing and washing, to something more. A starting point in one’s new life with the divine.  

It was an action of turning to the Kingdom of Heaven that even Jesus found himself engaged in. Each time I have found myself engaged in a community Bible study on this text, I have almost always receive the honest question of, if Jesus was without sin why did Jesus choose to be baptized. 

This week, the answer to this question for me is wrapped in the word of repentance. It is a word that goes much deeper than simply seeking forgiveness for one’s sins towards requiring something more. Requiring a change in one’s direction for their life. A conscious change in how one chooses to live their life. In the case of John the baptist, baptizing in the river, it was in connection with the kingdom of heaven. Calling the people to change their ways that would bear good fruit for the kingdom of heaven, rather than for the kingdoms of this earth. 

The scriptures are filled with those intentional moments to come and seek the divine. Changing their direction in order to follow where the divine was leading. We have Abraham and Sarah who heard God’s promise and followed wherever he was led. Moses out in the wilderness noticed a burning bush off in the distance and changed his direction to investigate. Samuel, who heard God calling in the night, and with help answering the call. The early disciples being called by Jesus along the lakeshore to put down their nets and come and follow. There is a defining point within the scriptures where individuals had to make a decision. Turn from their current life to seek God or not. 

As Jesus comes to be baptized by John, we see this intentional decision that he makes to pursue the kingdom of heaven. Before this point, except for in Luke, we don’t hear about Jesus’ life through childhood or as a young adult. At this point, which appears before Jesus’ ministry officially begins he intentionally comes to John, a humble act, to be baptized. A decision to orient his life on the kingdom of Heaven that will be revealed in his ministry. A visible sign to all those who are watching of the choice that Jesus is making. In doing this all the people hear of who Jesus is as he arises out of the water. “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  

Our baptism is our intentional decision, to repent, seek forgiveness, seek the kingdom of Heaven. It was not the final step in being made whole with the divine but rather the beginning. Our journeys towards God did not end when we decided to give our lives over to the divine. Our lives in Christ simple began, because now we have a responsibility to the divine to pursue and bring forth the kingdom of heaven how ever we can. 

Preceding Jesus’ baptism John is cautioning all those who have come to him for baptism. Warning them that simply washing and seeking forgiveness isn’t enough. They have to change their ways and bear fruit worthy of repentance. Having ones actions reflect the change in one’s direction, from those things of this world, to that of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

As we remember the baptism of Jesus Christ this morning, we are called to also remember our own baptism. To remember the decisions that we made to dedicate our lives to Christ. To remember that choice to pursue the kingdom Heaven, and evaluate how we are doing. Are we bearing good fruits or do we need to lay down some fertilizer  on our spiritual lives to get back on course to bearing abundant fruit. 

“All are welcome”

Over the past few weeks I have been surrounded by constant reminders of barriers that are put up around participation in worship. I have been constantly aware of restrictions on participation as one with disabilities and recognizing our church buildings and especially sanctuaries were often designed and built without the ADA in mind (or prior to the ADA). And yet those very structures limit the ways in which the whole congregation can participate and aid in the leadership of worship.

Then comes the reminder that the church has not always been loving and welcoming to those that don’t fit our understanding of normal and what may be helpful for the whole congregation to be active in worship. As I have been actively working alongside other clergy in my area to host an interfaith Pride service for the LGBTQ community, I am ever mindful that the church has not always been welcoming to this community. I say that we are hosting this service because it is not for us but rather for this community so that they may know they are loved by people of faith and that there are indeed places of worship that have their doors open to individuals that have too often been hurt by institutions of faith.

As I walked along the sidewalk prior to the Pride Parade with a rainbow clerical collar on, I recognized the grace that was known because of my presence in opposition to protestors who threw statements of hate and disgust at our community members. As I sat on benches and talked with members of the LGBTQ community, I understood their pain caused by religious institutions while at the same time their gratitude for being willing to show up and be present without asking for anything in return.

As I am reminded of the harm churches have shoveled upon the heads of the LGBTQ community I have been shocked by the many conversations and many posts on social media of people being hurt, shunned, dismissed by the church because of mental, physical, or developmental disabilities. It is too easy for churches to plan their worship and life of the congregation to be nice and tidy but that is not reflective of our lives. It is not even reflective of our culture or mindful of the brokenness that is present within churches themselves. We like to think of worship of being a perfectly planned out service, when instead the occurrence of a service with 0 mistakes or typos is rare.

Perhaps this ideal of a perfectly orderly worship service is a part of why churches struggle with welcoming everyone into their doors. By holding up our desire for a perfect worship service and to be the perfect church we forget about the messiness of our lives and the need for accommodations for those that are differently able and engage worship in different ways. Churches could easily put ramps up to the chancel of the sanctuary, “but won’t that cause us to move everything around to make it work.” Churches could provide sign language interpreters for deaf members, “but where will they stand and won’t they be distracting for other people.” Churches could…fill in the blank…and why “it won’t work.”

So, while churches too often seek the perfect worship service, this often goes in opposition to saying that everyone is indeed welcome. When seeking to be perfect, churches and cultures drive away anyone that does not fit into the norm. It drives away those that see themselves as imperfect or not good enough. In part the message that is sent when perfection is the goal for church life is that in order to be a part of this service or community you have to take care of your “stuff” first, then you can be spiritually fed here.

My mind is drawn to the first creation story within the book of Genesis which spans the entirety of the first chapter and the first 4 verses of the second chapter. We hear this very orderly account of the creation of all that we know. From the stars to the smallest of organism on the earth. It is so orderly in fact that it makes us forget about the messiness that is found in the world. Or better yet those things that we name as imperfections or abnormal. This creation text was written at a time of chaos and disorder when the people were seeking to understand how God is able to overcome that chaos. We hear that in the beginning there was a formless void. No sense of order nothing has taken shape. There was chaos and as each day progressed God spoke things into existence in a very orderly and methodical manner, and as each item was created God called it good.

We love this sense of order but as we look upon God’s creation today and reflect over the texts that include people that do not fit the understanding of normal either in their context or today, we forget that they too have been created by God. We love the order of God’s creation until we have to face the reality that God’s creation does not always fit with our understanding of normal or perfection.

We love the idea of God’s perfect creation and in some ways, we try to live up to that while at the same time forgetting that it is our mission to bring healing into the world. We seek perfection and in doing so we often seek to live perfect lives where we do not get our hands dirty, or don’t take risks to make things better. While this way of being may have, us living in our own little bubbles of perfection it causes us to disassociate with anyone that we see as other.

That very action of disassociation goes against the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as our self. We are called to love all of our neighbors in spite of our imperfections. Yes, loving our neighbors is hard work, but I believe it has to start with recognizing that all of our neighbors are beloved children of God that God created in our mother’s wombs. Just as we claim the text from Psalm 139 to speak truth about our individual relationships with God we must also allow that text to speak the truth of our neighbors as well.

As we seek to live out our faith in this messy world we need to move away from seeking to be perfect in every way to moving towards making the world a better place. In order to bring about change in the world one has to show up and be present in the messy places of our world. We have to show up and provide a presence of grace as we recognize the harm that those that claim the same title of Christian have caused upon the LGBTQ community, and many other disenfranchised communities in our world.

Reflections on Peace

As I found myself preparing my sermon for the second Sunday of Advent, with the focus on the theme of peace, I couldn’t help but think about what peace would look like if it was truly for everyone, not just those in power. The image that kept creating to mind was the imagery from Isaiah 11:6-9; “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adders den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

I have seen paintings of this passage that reflect this lovely hillside where all of these animals are living together in peace without fear of being consumed by the predator. But over the past week as the country continues to be faced with headlines regarding the non-indictment of two police officers now who were directly responsible for the death of an unarmed African American male. I hear the need for peace and justice for all. But how do we go about achieving that goal when it seems that the system for justice seems to be flawed and biases to the point that race has become a factor that warrants harsher treatment. Where race coupled with a minor offense negates the value of that person’s life. Or even to a larger degree the value of a person’s life is still dependent on their race. As a person of faith who seeks to lead a faith community in living into the mission God has called us to work for the Kingdom of God, I am appalled at how easily those with the social power, as it is provided by the systemic racism that prevails our country, justify the death of an individual because of the color of their skin. It is far too easy for us as a society to value one person’s right to live in this world than another based on the color of their skin.

There is a system that provides more power to some while taking it from others. This system has to change if we are truly going to achieve true peace and justice. I say true peace and justice with a focus on the peace of God. A peace that is not brought about by violence or requires one group to be subservient to another. A peace that flies in the face of the PAX Romana, the peace of Rome, that was brought about through military conquest and remained in place through fear and the presence of the military force. Individuals had to become subservient to the Roman Empire in order to enjoy the peace that Rome offered. Peace brought about through fear is no peace at all.

Instead I look to the imagery from Isaiah where all these creatures are able to live together without fear of harm. But in order for this to happen change has to happens or it to be possible. Consider for a moment what has to be given up and by whom in the imagery provided by the text…

We have two groups represented in the imagery from the book of Isaiah, the predator and the prey, the powerful and the vulnerable. The predators had to change their manner of sustenance in order to be able to provide a safe space for the prey to live without the fear of being eaten.those who have the power and the strength must be willing to concede the essence of who they are that causes the vulnerable to remain subservient.

This begins with those who have the power, I am included in this as a Caucasian male, to recognize how we have benefited from this system and call attention to this imbalance in power. Recognizing that as we receive these benefits others are being oppressed because the balance of power and justice is not equal. Justice as defined by human beings is in no way treated equally across the board because of the systematic racism within our society.

There is still much work to be done as we seek to live in peace with all of God’s people. It will make some uncomfortable, especially those who have benefited from this unjust system. But if we are to ever make this a better world those with the power have be willing to become uncomfortable so that we can all work towards reconciliation.

Be the Signpost

Rev. Chris Snow
North HIll Christian Church
July 13, 2014
Titus 2:7-8, Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 28:16-20

Hearing the words of the great commission from the end of Gospel of Matthew we hear the instructions to go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded of us. This continues to be an important part of the mission of the church in the world today. While we continue to worship together, serve our community, learn and grow in our faith lives, and care for all of God’s children, we are also called to bear witness to all the world of who Jesus Christ is in our lives.

Each one of us has a role to play in bearing witness to our community. We are all signposts of our faith whether we like it or not. The question becomes what kind of signpost are we. What direction are we pointing to?

Last month as I was talking with some colleagues downtown before a parade I was reminded how important it is for the individuals of a congregation to be the signpost for the church rather than the reader board outside. I still have the words of a particular individual running through my mind. As one of my colleagues introduced me to her friend we began the typical back and forth about where North Hill Christian Church is, and eventually it came back to, “the church with the sign.” But continued with the statement, “You never know what a church is like until you meet someone from that church.”

The people of a congregation are the ones who are the true indication of the character of a congregation. Our reader board outside may have witty and humorous comments each week but that does not reflect the full character of a congregation. It does not say how welcoming we are, or what our basic tenants of faith may be. It simply says that we have some sense of humor. It is the people of the congregation that are the true indication of all these things.

Our actions inside and outside of this building are a reflection of our faith and because of that we must live into the words of Titus 2:7-8, “Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teachings show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured…”

The phrase, a model of good works, can be simple and complicated at the same time. What defines good works? I would say that it is acting in a way that uplifts all people and affirms everyone a child of God, shows God’s love through our actions, and reflects the grace we have come to know through Jesus. In this way we take up a role within the parable of the sower.

Through our actions we are to be an affirmation of our faith and in doing so we begin to sow the seeds in others, often times without even noticing. We may sow those seeds in all types of soil and hope that something grows. But In those instances where our humanity and our selfishness kicks in we make it harder and harder for those seeds to grow in others. The parable of the sower is an indictment on those who have heard the good news and how through either lack of root or life choices the seed of faith is not able to flourish. But as I hiked up Mount Rainier this week there were a number of plants that flourished in some of the harshest of places as long as human beings did not trample on those plants.

Our actions can sometimes be those trampling feet that after a seed has been sown, hinder the growth. Imagine this circumstance for a moment; because a group of individuals was considered unclean, sinner, unworthy, broken, disruptive or different, they were made to feel unwelcome, unloved, and separate from the rest of the community. They were expected to go around the primary group, via different doors and stairwells. Having their routines disrupted or being personally offended or attacked without the slightest hesitation or consideration. They were expected to sit in different sections of the space, and to go unnoticed for fear of rubbing off on everyone else. Expected to live as second class citizens without the same rights.

These types of actions have been present from before the time of Jesus all the way through today. But, it is through Jesus’ ministry that we hear and see that these very people are the ones that need to be welcomed and affirmed by the people of God. Jesus made the broken whole, he reunited the outcast with the community, and he broke down the barriers of his time that affirmed everyone, especially the other are children of God. Yet we are still learning this lesson as we continue to see Sunday mornings as the most segregated time of the week. Even more than that the individual mainline protestant churches continue to become more reflective of a one specific demographic than being reflective of it’s surrounding community.

These churches, including our own do not reflect an openness to the broken, and outcast through not only our actions but also by our lack of actions. If we do not actively go out and actively show and demonstrate that each person is a beloved child of God. Being a model of good works that shows nothing less than the love and grace that God has shown to us.

Being the signpost for this congregation and our faith requires us to go beyond our selfish desires to recognize the desire of God that everyone knows that they are loved for who they are and because of that they are welcome and encouraged to find the truth of God’s love and grace at Christ’s table where all are invited. Not because any of us are worthy but because God calls us. Not because we are whole but because we find God’s grace in the midst of our brokenness. All are called because we are all children of God, especially those who have been relegated to a second class status because of who they are or due to their own humanness.

Let us be the signpost that points to our faith in God by being a true model of good works that our faith calls us into being.

First of Many

As I take on this new, at least for me, endeavor of blogging and sharing my thoughts in an open forum such as this I find myself considering my own expectations for my writing. Thinking about the goals that I wish to achieve through my ramblings and sharing my thoughts. Why wouldn’t I want to develop some goals?

So, for my first musing I present you with some of my hopes for my writtings. The first is that I hope to improve my writing skills beyond my preaching vocabulary. If you don’t know me yet there is a reason why I have two different vocabularies. Since I was born deaf and since undergone surgeries to improve my hearing, and before anyone asks, no I do not have cochlear implants. As a result of this I do have a speech impairment that limits what I can clearly convey through speech alone. I have learned what I can and cannot say clearly and adjusted my speech acordingly. Because of this my sermons are written using language that I am comfortable speeking, while in my writings I hope to use language that I have stored away because of pronunciation difficulties. I also recognize that my grammar is not the best and I ask for grace around that.

Another hope of mine is to enter into dialogue around issues that I consider from time to time. I do recognize that not everyone agrees with me on everything and that is perfectly alright. I welcome the opportunity to hear different viewpoints as long as it is in a constructive, non-judgmental way and I will seek to do the same. If you have any recommendations, suggestions, or requests feel free to send them my way.

Chris Snow