Wednesday, January 13, 2021

January 19, 2021 - First Sunday after Epiphany - Stepping into the Yes

Pastor Janell introduced this service as follows:


"Baptism of Our Lord is always the first Sunday after Epiphany. At Epiphany, we remember how outsiders sought out the Christ child while the empire plotted his demise. At Epiphany we recognize the brilliance of love made flesh. We hold these truths as we encounter John and Jesus at the river Jordan.


John is clear he is not worthy to untie Jesus sandal and yet, John says YES to baptize Jesus. This is a striking contradiction. Something else that has caught my ear is the voice declaring Jesus Beloved as he comes out of the water."


Baptism symbolizing purification or regeneration is often stressed but that is no longer my experience during a baptism. Ever since my son's baptism I have experienced this as a sacrament concerned with a dynamic relationship with God.


This time reading Mark's account the description "He saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending on him" was a verse that carried more weight than my usual reading. I thought about individual versus a public experience and how the public experience feels like it has been regarded as verified where a private experience cannot be "verified".


I tried to imagine "the heavens torn apart" in our shared world could be describing. What came to mind first was violent thunder and lightening but torn apart are not the words I would normally use to describe that sky. What associates with torn apart for me, in this context, is the curtain being torn in the temple. The ministry of Jesus has something being torn at the beginning and end. Before and after Jesus' ministry domething will never be the same again. God continues to break the ways humankind feelimg comfortable to contain the transcendental in some sacred place.


What Pastor Janell found was how God inspired or approved of Jesus and John without them needing to prove they were up for the task ahead and before they had "done" anything  

Many say that God in the Bible is a God of the desert. God for me in my epiphany is not a God of the desert but a God that comes through the rain that can satisfy our thirst at times. The rain that fills the well that the Samaritan women draws from, for example, and opens her mind to what Jesus is teaching her. 

Pastor Dayle always use to preach that she would try to remember her baptism when she splashed her face with water. Rain reminds me of baptism today for the reasons I noted above. We are bound to each other by this life-giving element and God, through Jesus, is bound to our God with us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January 3, 2021 - Epiphany - Many Epiphanies on Epiphany

Pastor Angela Shannon of All Saint’s Lutheran Church in Bowie, Maryland. presided over our Epiphany worship. Her sermon sparked an important, new epiphany for me.

First she admitted to being a closet nerd and a "star gazer". She observed that many of her pastoral colleagues are closet nerds. I admit to being a nerd as well. As evidence for this I will point out that I am posting this on January 6, 2021's actual Epiphany day.

The important epiphany on Sunday came for me with Pastor Angela's label "star gazer". This label tied some old associations with some new ones. The old one was from Pastor Amanda of Central Lutheran on a podcast about Jesus' Ascension when she was talking about her first call, This podcast gave its audience an opportunity to learn more about the importance of the Ascension and contemplate what would have happened had Jesus not ascended to heaven. 

I was uncomfortable for years with the Acts 1:9-11 Ascension account. I fancied it as a supernatural reason to explain what happened to Jesus' body. Imagining Ascension, as a physical event, was awkward for me and questions naturally arose. Is the physical body of Jesus really going to heaven as physical as earth? Do I have faith in that kind of heaven? I shied away from contemplating the Ascension and from any uncomfortable questions.

Pastor Amanda presents a different and powerful view of the Ascension's importance for us today. After the Ascension God's mission, that continues in our world, moves from a resurrected Jesus to a collective and mutually accountable mission for believers to follow our call to be the body of Christ. 

Pastor Amanda pointed out the Ascension tends to be downplayed because it is far easier for people to "star gaze". This reference is what called this podcast to my mind during Pastor Angela's sermon. A new insight for me that rings completely true. We like our stars and prefer looking to one savior who is perfect and beyond us rather than looking to the body of Christ as it exists today to bring about the kingdom of God.

I recognized myself at the end of the podcast as mostly being a star gazer. My vision of the Ascension, as just described, attests to my star gazing. My mind's eye attempted to look only to the physical body of Jesus in the sky and not to the body of Christ on earth, All this inspired me to read John 3:16-17 and understand these verses from a different perspective and a more Trinitarian view. Our eyes can train on the true body of Christ that still physically resides on the earth.  

The new associations came from Creator's recent Advent sermons including those which focused on the Annunciation and visiting Pastor Nick's Advent sermon on the importance of the geography of God's kingdom. 

I have posts describing the Sunday School vision of these birth narratives that affect my emotional understandings of these scripture texts. For years I understood the "Christmas Star" as a directional sign, guiding the wise men to the Bethlehem stable. Yet this is not God showed Moses and the Israelites the way to the Promised Land by appearing to them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Using a star in the sky to determine a specific location on earth is problematic, together with what the text, rather than tradition, tells us.

Most of the details we know of the Epiphany story are not part of scripture. We don't know the royalty, names or the number of the magi who visited Jesus. Nor do we know when or where their visit took place. The term magi suggests they were followers of the Zoroastrian tradition. Zoroastrians were not traditionally trusted by writers of the Bible. When read closely it is much more likely the star was not in the sky when they stood before King Herod, or he would have had others follow the star.   

Rather than the star being a directional sign, I understand it today as a devotional sign. When King Herod asks where the Messiah is to be born the answers come from reading scripture to determine the time and place, not looking to the star in the sky. Verse 9 and 10 read, "When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy." Yet I cannot imagine a star moving and stopping in the sky providing this kind of direction to a particular place like a stable.

As a devotional sign I find the Epiphany story and the Ascension functioning as beautiful bookends to the Gospel texts of Jesus' life in the world. The "star gazers" turn their attention to a human child born of a woman as recorded in the nativity narratives. The story of the Ascension records how the normal tendency would be to have the attention move back to the sky.      

Instead a legitimate alternative would be to focus on all believers who now constitute the body of Christ as we can perceive that body on earth today. As I write this America watched the marchers who feel the election was stolen from them and their leader are in the Capitol building.

January 3rd I experienced illuminating epiphanies. January 6th brought a sadder epiphany. Currently I am on Facebook live for the ELCA's 2021 Epiphany Worship Service and praying for the church and the world. Bishop Laurie's Prayer of the People was moving but how should believers who are the body of Christ act in the world at this moment? How will the body of Christ, with God's help, knit a divided America together? 

These questions have no obvious answers tonight.   

Friday, January 1, 2021

January 1, 2021 - A Personal Synopsis of Creator's Life and Worship in 2020

"And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."
Rainer Marie Rilke

As we look forward to 2021 what is in my mind is what I was thinking about a year ago. The, when writing about Creator's Epiphany Sunday worship, I started with the Rilke quote above. For me, at the time, this was a quote full of hope and promise. Obviously, at the end of this year, I read it now with a knowledge and experience of what happened in 2020. There are a handful of years in life where there is a certainty, when looking back of events that occurred, that life will be viewed as what happened before and what happened after our lived-through events. 2020 was certainly one of those years.

 "Know that I am with you as you journey to the cross this Lent, and know that the Lord is with you, too."
Pastor Ray McKechnie
This was how Pastor Ray closed his letter in our March monthly newsletter. On March 22, 2020, he passed away from a sudden heart attack.  Our community obviously felt and continues to feel this loss deeply. On the same week concerns about the pandemic stopped us from physically gathering for worship. Creator's first ever Zoom meeting was our community processing our emotions and thoughts about Pastor Ray's death together with we would do in response.

The 23rd Psalm came to mind for many that day, both preceding and during that Sunday' Zoom meeting. Particularly the words "He leadth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul" and yes, the King James translation is still one I can repeat by heart. This was, coincidentally, the Psalm reading in the Sunday lectionary.Yet most of us did not feel at the time we were being led beside the still waters. 
Pastor Ray was beloved by so many of us and his sudden death was like being tossed in the rapids rather than by the still waters. Our sure footing also seemed threatened as we, at the same time, began to learn about coping with the coronavirus. Despite all this we remained hopeful that God was watching over and leading this community, together with those around us, to support living life and loving beside those still waters.

Josh Stromberg-Wojcik led us the next Sunday in our first online worship through Holy Week. Everyone wondered when things would get back to normal or we were lamenting living in this "new world" we found ourselves in.

Easter and Lent were full of the death and life. Easter is a season for thoughts about this but for Easter this season as a congregation we were more directly engaged and obviously didn't know the amount of death that was to touch us from the pandemic. What was obvious last April was that the grief, joy, isolation and togetherness that were involved with Easter 2020 meant that this congregation would not be the same congregation we were before. We found we vacillated between our lamentation and hope.

On Maundy Thursday there was no communion. In our hearts that was wrong, but there was no time to even imagine trying to make that work. We were told what is essential about communion could not be virtually transmitted. However, the command to love one another was made easier since we were able to see one another and share this holy day in many unique ways. A few of us were involved in setting up the camera and assisting in worship at the building.

Good Friday I experienced from home. This year's Good Friday felt far too real for words. The death and the darkness were more than figurative in a way I had not felt before. No imagined grief. There was the body count on the nightly news and death began to surround us.

Easter Vigil is a time for telling the stories. This year individual members told the stories of Creator. These stories captured and who we had been and who we are, Creator needed to be reminded of the roots of the church on Saturday and the service shared that well.
The Oregon Synod hosted Easter service for all the member congregations. Our Bishop  described this Easter Zoom Service as gorgeous chaos. Everyone was new to Zoom. When most of us did not break out smoothly into the breakout rooms it felt more like the Holy Spirit was present, not less. Bishop Laurie gave a sermon about the previous pandemic and the effect it had on her grandmother's life that touched us all, We were connected with each other and those who preceded us. At the same time we normally sing our triumphant holy day songs on Easter but what was in our hearts was more nuanced.
Lila, a congregation member, passed away on Easter and Linda, another former member died two days later. Many of tried to process all these deaths individually and many felt something was missing. We had not experienced this number of deaths in so short a time and because we could not perform the specific ritual we reserve for that process. 
Pastor Janell became our Interim Pastor and led her first service at Creator on April 19th, the Second Sunday After Easter. After the sermon, the Litany of Welcome was filled with the Holy Spirit and seemed to hint at possible directions for the big dreams that we hoped and dreamed of for Creator as we started our time of transition. Many times this year we have reflected on and refined those dreams.
On On May 25th George Floyd died and June was a month that awakened Creator's advocacy, as it did for so many in the nation. Creator had already planned an ELCA recommended commemoration for the Emanuel 9. Several other churches gathered for the occasion on June 17th.                                                                                 

What we ended up reacting to and planning was on June 3rd when we were told that Creator was on the route of students and others participating in the BLM Pacific March from the Clackamas High School to Happy Valley City Hall. Creator members both participated and handed out drinks and snacks to the crowd.

In June Creator's newly formed COVID Care Team began meeting and providing valuable information and recommendations on how Creator should act and make future plans for the pandemic. This team has balanced our reactions of complaint and compassion. We disciplined ourselves to comply with the regulations, but, intermittently, we have struggled to reach one, united response. The COVID Care Team has led us more to the more compassionate response over the immediate complaint.
On July 5th, inspired by Pastor Melissa Reed after a nationalistic speech given by our President at Mt. Rushmore, Creator decided to explore the history of the land Creator was built on to try to honor past people and their history with an Honoring the Land and People Affirmation in our worship. We are still exploring the history of the land that our church building occupies. 
On August 9th, 2020 many of us watched the Installation of Pastor Lenny Duncan at Messiah Lutheran in Vancouver with Nadia Bolz-Weber preaching. That event contributed to us choosing to read Duncan's book Dear Church together in our Book Group. Throughout the summer Creator, like many others, felt the need to act on the racial reckoning that was particularly occurring on Portland's streets. Creator helped organize a synod-wide group, Listen, Pray Act, that met in September, October and November to focus on inspiring some straight-forward action around advocacy.
In September also Creator's attention turned to local relief and support. The beginning of September brought wildfires to our state and county. Creator responded by offering our parking lot to anyone who had a motor home and provided tables and a large coffee urn to the effort to help the community at the Clackamas Mall. 
Of course this was triggered by an immediate need. It was only a part of what Creator has done before and since the pandemic. Our church continue to feed 100 homeless people monthly with meals for Our Father's Heart Street Ministry. We also cook for the Clackamas Veterans Village. Each month Creator supplies food and other household items to certain families from the Lot Whitcomb grade school. During the pandemic it has been critical for these families to receive extra food as the children are not in school during the day. We also made efforts to provide rent relief for vulnerable families and, as a congregation, we have been involved with the Oregon Food Bank through our giving of food items for Kings Cupboard.
Creator's newly newly formed Transition team began meeting in November. They will support the call process of our new pastor by completing a Ministry Site Profile. This profile helps fill in a snapshot of who we are currently as a congregation and what we will need when we call our new pastor.
December saw the rollout of our new website which was needed because the old website's foundational platform was no longer going to be supported in 2021. When Pastor Ray was first called to Creator he frequently expressed his wish for a better, more up-to-date website. He began the project in earnest this year. So, beside the necessity of the new website, this work was done as a tribute and a way to honor the memory of Pastor Ray.        
On Christmas Eve Pastor Janell asked the congregation a question to answer in the Zoom chat box, "What is birthing within us". What first came to my heart was, "A vision of the future for Creator and the providing hope for our neighbors". 
2020 was a year where Creator remained on our path to do work on both.
Valerie Kaur Quote

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

December 27, 2020 - First Sunday in Christmas - Four Perspectives

Juan Carlos La Puente, Bishop’s Associate for Inter-cultural and Inter-religious Mission on the Oregon Synod staff, gave today's sermon on today's Gospel from Luke. His stories about his experiences in Peru inevitably seem to open many people's hearts.

There are strong elements of liberation theology wrapped in the power of his stories with a secret sauce that is irresistible. He sees the liberation not only with the poor and marginalized but in the those who provide help. They are much more on a level playing field in liberation from roles and perspectives that trap everyone in roles that do not allow for their humanity.

This sermon showed the same power. Juan Carlos laid out his four perspectives on Luke. They were:

  1. Salvation Experiencing Light to help see reality
  2. Seeing with the Divine Light activates liberation
  3. Being seen by others with the Divine Light activates our divine dignity and liberation
  4. Exploring two practices connected to the experience of grace, experience of salvation

Juan Carlos moved back and forth between the Luke Gospel story of both Simeon & Anna and personal stories about his encounters the divine light. Those ardent readers of this blog will know this kind of description of the divine matches the way I understand the divine presence.This was written for last year's First Sunday of Christmas:

 "Faith and reason are hard to balance when exploring the nature of our relationship with God.  This understanding at present is different than described in scripture. Maybe we are different in how we perceive God than at many other times in humankind's history. Currently some might say they have a personal relationship with Jesus and that they can sense either his or God's physical presence.

I have some sympathy for, and I’m tempted to pursue, the physical relationship they describe. Maybe my personal experiences of God moments could be stretched to relate with that description but I choose not to. Yet I have never "heard" God's voice directing me to take some action. The closest I have come to feeling God's presence is a glowing, spiritual affirmation that some action I may have taken, even with some trepidation was, in fact, God working through my life."

This sermon also gave me a new idea about a song of Kelly Carlisle's we still occasionally play at worship, Nunc Dimmitus.

Kelly captured this Gospel text and a certain magic with this simple song composed of Simeon's words. it reaches a glorious crescendo with the words "A light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of Israel". I have always thought of this as an eternal light, the light that cannot be overcome. Yet in this context it may be a light that not everyone can see. Simenon saw that light in a particular baby. We can sometimes get trapped into thinking of this too generically. Every child shows us the potential light of the future, but I don't think that this helps us understand Simeon and what he truly recognized in the temple that day and how.

Juan Carlos talked about weaving our experiences with those who are vulnerable. What I find compelling in his stories is that no one is simply granting favors to anyone or, more precisely, everyone is favored and serving each other reciprocally. This takes away shame, fear and the cynicism that can creep into our actions if we measure how the world changes rather than ourselves.

Let yourself appreciate the way he tells his stories by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

December 20, 2020 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Holy Encounters

I can't remember when I first learned about the Annunciation. I was repeatedly taught or told the story by my family and in Sunday School. I was exposed to famous paintings or religious depictions of Mary and Gabriel every year. The scene was always calm and serene. The angel Gabriel, more often than not, wore wings, Mary was often represented with a halo. An obviously Holy Encounter moment. 

I took in the story literally and concretely. Marcus Borg once called this way of assessing how many children process Biblical stories as pre-critical naivete. At some point I moved, as others have, to what Borg called critical thinking. Did Gabriel have wings and did a halo around Mary "make sense"? I started to understand that artists may try to convey a complicated concept in a single image by using or creating common pictorial conventions. I accepted then accepted that more complicated truth.

Moving, with difficulty, into Borg's last stage in the process post-critical conviction I could not picture the Annunciation anymore. There was no image to replace the pre-critical one formed so many years ago. My critical thinking process rejected everything I tried and try to compose to replace that pre-critical naivete image. I don't think I am alone. Filmmakers, trying to show the Annunciation, now have turned to different conventions than wings and halos. They show Gabriel, dressed all in white, as appearing somewhat transparent and often radiating a bright light. They may also depict Gabriel as a regular man without special effects. All this requires believing convention as reality or being left to wonder how Mary recognized Gabriel as an angel. 

I compare the Annunciation to my mental understanding of a picture of the atom. In primary school I learned to think of an atom like a solar system where the protons and neutrons were the sun and electrons corresponded to planets. I later learned this is an inaccurate representation  Yet I have never seen a more powerful image of that new understanding so I basically default to the old image while knowing it is inaccurate.

This all came to my mind as I listened to the sermon today. Pastor Janell preached about Crystal, an unmarried mother who confided in her mentor Isabelle about the trouble she found herself in. Isabelle  told her the Annunciation story and Crystal was comforted by the words. She took from it that God could be in the midst of Crystal's situation while loving and supporing her. "Nothing is impossible for God." meant for Crystal that God would find a way to resolve everything that had gone wrong.

I wondered, is Isabelle functioning like the angel Gabriel in this story? What could make Isabelle an angel in this story is her concern and love for Crystal. There are differences, however, in the Crystal's story and the Annunciation. Gabriel is giving Mary the news that she is pregnant. Mary was not afraid she was pregnant before the angel's visit. Mary's fear is probably more centered around the angel visitation than her future pregnancy. Mary's question "How can this be?" indicates she barely can accept the news that she is pregnant.

What is "not impossible" for God is another difference in these two stories. Gabriel announces an event that defies how reality is normally perceived, a true miracle beyond normal experience, Isabelle, on the other hand, is giving Crystal hope for a better outcome from a situation than she currently finds herself in. This might be an unexpected outcome but not one that likely promises a supernatural miracle.

What is truly a Holy Encounter? I am left to ponder if we recognize holy encounters as often as they may happen in our lives.   

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

December 13, 2020 - Third Sunday in Advent - Voices

Pastor Janell preached this morning that this Gospel invites us to listen and that God is often heard in the silence and in other people's stories. She tied this into the call process that Creator is involved in right now. The voices we need to hear in each other and in our community together with the silcnce to ponder what is God's will for what we will do in the future.  

Three years ago Pastor Ray preached from these lectionary readings about leadership and showed the children gathered around him a flashlight during Children's Time. Just as John the Baptizer testified to Jesus as the "light of the world" drawing attention away from himself so Jesus, as he first stood up, reading scripture and preaching, testified that the spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus. Jesus drew attention away from himself while simultaneously acknowledging the spirit of the Lord within him.

Pastor Ray shone the light of the flashlight on himself and asked "Can you see where you are going when the light is on my face?" and followed that up with  "A leader cannot light the way for anyone when he is shining the light on himself". This was all about servant-leadership for both John and Jesus.

hen scripture readings awaken both head and heart there are often entwining echoes like there were for me in the Isaiah reading this morning. We sang this in today's Gospel Acclamation, "You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia".

Another voice speaking to this is in the First Reading. In Luke 4:21-30 Jesus reads the first four verses of this Isaiah passage in the synagogue. I posted once that it passed  the "shiver* test at a particular moment - there was a prickle at the back of the neck. I also wrote about this passage in this year's Advent Devotional.

Reading Isaiah 61:1-4 without referencing Jesus and in the context of today's Gospel makes you wonder about the identity of the person speaking. Who is this prophet? I doubt most people's impulse is to identify with the speaker. My first reaction is to shy away. I cannot proclaim God's good news. I don't see liberty of the captives or the release of those in prison in real life unless I perform some mental gymnastics,  Why, and is this good?

Yet something extraordinary happens in this First Reading. The persona adopts the Lord's identity in verse 8 of the reading "For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing". Reading this today I feel like the spirit of the Lord moves with these first person God references. This First Reading from Isaiah is an invitation to understand God in a new light with a different understanding of identity. I deepen that understanding whenever this passage is read. This is an important part of the transformation described in these Isaiah verses.

Having the spirit of the Lord upon us is a tremendous joy and can feel like an awesome responsibility.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

December 6, 2020 - Second Sunday in Advent - The Geography of God's Kindom

Today we welcomed Pastor Nick Doversberger as our guest pastor. He joined us from the Mexican Baja Peninsula. The gift of Zoom worship allows retired pastors to lead from a distance. 

And today's message was strong with geography. Preaching on the Gospel of the second Sunday of Advent Pastor Nick emphasized John the Baptizer centered his baptisms around Bethany. Bethany was beyond the Jordan River for the crowds he was baptizing. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Pastor Nick's sermon focused on his evolving understanding of the word repentance and what he called geography 

Pastor Nick detailed what he has come to feel about repentance. He does not feel the message of Jesus is primarily about feeling repentant for what we did but more of a realization of what we could do. John's baptism was taking place outside the land those who were baptized knew and beginning again. This was a time of asking root questions that awaken realization and trigger a radical reorientation and a new openness to how are we doing and asking are we where God wants us to be.

John ate wild locusts and honey. He wore camel skins. He was dependent only on what God provided and did to look to men for approval. And he did not point to himself but one who would come after. He looks to Jesus who will become the pioneer leader of our faith.  Unlike the pioneers of the past, Jesus is a leader concerned primarily with faith and the Kingdom of God. He was unafraid when encountering physical or spiritual wilderness. Jesus also knew the demands and temptations of settling in a new Promised Land. He faced and navigated the new and gave us visions and ways to perfect our faith.

In this context,  John is particularly meaningful today as Creator mixes this year's Advent journey with our time of transition to call a new pastor.  The Jordan River in the Bible is important because the river demarcates wilderness from the new Promised Land.

The children of Israel crossed the Jordan River in the Old Testament to enter their Promised Land from their forty year long wilderness journey. In the New Testament John the Baptizer baptizes his followers in the Jordan, including Jesus despite Jesus being proclaimed by John as someone greater than himself. This is begins the reversals of what would be expected in Jesus' story.

Now add to that the followers baptized by John while thinking about wildernesses and Promised Lands. People flock to John come to the Jordan River - from the "wilderness" of a former Promised Land. These pilgrims are destined for a new Promised Land. Geographically this new Promised Land is not just a place contained by earthly borders.

For years I worked on an ELCA Synod Team involved in coming up with a future church vision. We lamented the fact that for generations the church had been The Place, the most important gathering place for those generations. Later church was A Place, one of a number of important gathering places for my parent's generation and perhaps my generation. Finally it was No
Place for many in the millennial generation. Many do not feel the same importance of church in their lives as their parents and grandparents.

No one argued how correct these assessments were but the team did not know what to do with these insights. Today's Gospel was revelatory in another way that was related to the Advent Journey insights on John and the River Jordan. The Promised Land beyond borders is No Place. Pilgrims like us can physically live anywhere and still be a part of the new Promised Land  Our spiritual concern has moved beyond an ecological concern only for the piece of land we inhabit. We know this is about the entire planet. Given this, how will life in this Promised Land be lived and how should this Promised Land be described? For one vision I quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers:

It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man’s life and goodness. As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved.

Belief in the resurrection is not the ‘solution’ of the problem of death. God’s ‘beyond’ is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties. Transcendence and new life has nothing to do with the transcendence of God over our lives. God is beyond that and in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.

That is how it is in the Old Testament, and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little in the light of the Old. How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I’m thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility.

Another vision of living in the Promised Land is expressed for me in the R.E.M. song You Are The Everything. These lyrics in particular paint a portrait of pilgrim and the Promised Land world as one:

All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
The stillness still that doesn't end but slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen
And they're there for you
For you alone, you are the everythin

Pastor Ray once preached about wilderness and the Promised Land. He felt God comes to us when we are in the wildness. He suggested some hold a belief that Jesus did not need to be baptized. If baptism involves only purification or becoming more acceptable in God's sight this may be true. I am, however, at this moment, drawn more strongly to the statement we sing with the hymn Waterlife:

A simple sweet beginning, a lovely place to start:
Christ began the singing that swells within my heart

There is the power of community and identity in baptism. Jesus' baptism is as important to that identity we are being baptized into as it is for all of us. Since Jesus was son of man as well as son of God, his need for baptism was the same as ours.

Pastor Nick ended his sermon with an inspiriting poem captured on the left. It is titled The Old Shepherd.

It was apparent to him that the poet that wrote this had spent a great deal of time in the presence of God.

What these words reminded Pastor Nick is that we need not be afraid of anything whethe as long as we have faith that we are held in the love of God and are confident that this love will not fail us.

January 19, 2021 - First Sunday after Epiphany - Stepping into the Yes

Pastor Janell introduced this service as follows:   " Baptism of Our Lord is always the first Sunday after Epiphany. At Epiphany, we re...