Monday, December 6, 2021

December 5, 2021 - Second Sunday of Advent - Faith in the Wilderness and in Our Liminal Time

Bishop Laurie preached about the liminal time Creator was in both in our calling a pastor and, as a church, navigating our way through the pandemic 

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” This is the “crossing over” space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. ... One example of this kind of space Bishop Laurie gave was pregnancy, where a woman both is, and is not, a mother.

Bishop Laurie's sermon tied liminal time to the Gospel text as well. She emphasized Creator is currently on two liminal, wilderness journeys with both our pastoral call process and in being church during this pandemic. This is truly a time to hold each other in prayer and recognize the blessings and challenges of this moment in the life of the congregation. 

Seeing from the perspective of congregational life gave a special meaning to the second candle lit in Advent, called the Bethlehem Candle. The Gospel lays out another transition - from the powerful to humble as it shifts our gaze from an emperor's rule to a man living in the outskirts of a wilderness. The second candle is lit with the promise that our attention is moving towards Bethlehem, a tiny town resting in Jerusalem’s shadow where the world’s agony was pierced with hope as God drew his first human breath. 

As blessed as this time is there is likely to be a loss of focus, a fear and longing to return back to where we before our wilderness journeys. This becomes a stark and central question in Advent. What coming are we looking forward to right now? A return to what it was like before the pandemic or what Creator can become with the knowledge and experience we have gained from this time? The pastor that Creator will call at this time will obviously be part of our response to that question. Bishop Laurie pointedly posed this question for us to think about - what will Creator look like 2030? Crying out to God in the wilderness certainly includes wrestling with deep questions.

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness — especially in the wilderness — you shall love God.”

Creator's Ministry Site Profile was officially presented to the Bishop and the Creator Call Committee was installed in the service. During the installation, I reflected on how this ordinary congregation in so many ways, continues to influence my spiritual life.  I first posted a blog entry about Creator in 2006. I knew then what a special time and a special people made up this ordinary congregation. Together they offered the right balance of freedom and church tradition I am grateful for. Creator deepened my understanding of the God that was in my heart.

Certainly the times have changed. The people have changed. I have changed. Yet there is also a continuity. I talk to new members with unique ideas and enthusiasms about the future longevity of the congregation. Members are concerned about Creator's direction and I trust I will learn more about God and how to live in God's world today as a result of the prayers around those directions and concerns.

 "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness" in the Gospel reading also brought to mind how central the concept of wilderness became to Pastor Ray's spiritual understanding. In the year prior to the pandemic he would preach about the wilderness and the Promised Land. He firmly believed God comes to us, and works within us, when we are in the wildness.

He preached that the meaning of baptisms in the Jordan River was clear to those who followed John in his time. For them it represented a place of transition from the wilderness to the Promised Land, a transition to new beginnings,  After John this became the place where John baptized Jesus. In the Exodus story the seas parted for God's people to be free from bondage. Even though the partings happened in different places, for Jesus, God parted the heavens rather than the water.

At first this geography was troublesome for me. The Exodus story dramatizes the movement of God's people from bondage, to the wilderness, and finally to the Promised Land. Where were the people moving when John baptized them? They were coming from the same land that was promised by God in Exodus. So why would the people transition back to wilderness. This prompted another question. Why would knowing what the Jordan River meant to the ancients make baptisms meaningful in our lives?

Now, because of a renewed focus on transition, I think I know an answer. John's baptisms signified a transition to a new Promised Land. This emphasizes God's promise does not simply revolve around a plot of land in this world. Christians are baptized in spirit and in a holiness that can exist beyond place, beyond ownership.

Lastly, today's First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4 powerfully connected with last week's "End of the Age" meditation that mixed the fear and hope we have of end times. with verse 2 and 3 " But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

Monday, November 29, 2021

November 28, 2021 - First Sunday of Advent - Starting Advent with the Biblical End of the Age

Pastor Joel Schmitz preached at today's service. The Gospel was Luke 21:25-36. He also preached on the Second Reading. 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13. The liturgy was Now the Feast and Celebration and Pastor Joel sang the leader's part of the liturgy well.

For years my feelings were it was somewhat counter-intuitive that Christians should begin the new church year and Advent contemplating the end of things. Particularly this Luke passage has this troubling verse "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

Troubling because to hope for something new something old must pass away and, instinctively, we don't want things to change. How do we keep the traditions, the life we want to preserve while, at the same time, ushering in what we hope for.

Also troubling, I think, because our lives are lived linearly. If "until all things have taken place" is read like "There will be signs... all these things must happen and then comes one final, apocalyptic outcome" then this Jesus prediction on its face seems wrong 2,000 years later. 

However, moving from the idea that the end of an age is a one time event is a possibility, Instead of a one time revelation and resolution or a singular rapture, imagine what history shows, that resolutions, revelations, and ruptures happen many times throughout human history. The opportunity remains available for every generation to bring and experience the kindom of God to earth.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

November 21, 2021 - Reign of Christ and Celebration of Yesterday's International Transgender Day of Remembrance

In today's Gospel Pilate does not know to ask the pertinent questions to Jesus. "Are you King of the Jews?", Am I? (a Jew?) and "What have you done?" will be three questions that are focuses of his three trials and the answers are revealing but do not reveal what each questioner is asking. Caiaphas worries Jesus has pretensions of being a Jewish leader. Pilate is asking if he is the right authority to judge Jesus and King Herod ultimately wants him to prove who he is by doing something. All of them miss the point.

The service focused primarily on yesterday's official International Transgender Day of Remembrance. 71 candles were lit and stories told about people transgender people who had died over the past year. 

Luka told the stories as we watched pictures of each individual, which made Creator's Transgender Remembrance today truly meaningful. What Luka contributed to us all with his experience, perspective and heart added a dimension to the experience. Just the amount of the stories we heard about each of these people both made them individuals and, at the same time, bound them together as a group.
 
Pastor Janell and Kim, as assisting minister, gave prayers and lighted a candle for each individual. Seeing all the lit candles at the end was beautiful but called up mixed emotions with the reflections of what they represented.

The whole service was moving. And, thankfully, we did remember.

Monday, November 15, 2021

November 14, 2021 - 25th Sunday after Pentecost - Following Mark's Gospel Through the Pandemic

Mark is a profound and jarring Gospel to follow for our lectionary texts, as we have during a time of trouble affecting us all, namely a pandemic. 

According to tradition, the author, Mark is not an apostle himself. Not one of the original disciples, but rather the follower of one of them. Traditionally, he's supposed to be the disciple of Peter We don't know exactly where this Mark was or where he actually wrote. However, tradition places him at Rome, but one more tradition also has him located at Alexandria, and it may be the case that the story that we call Mark's gospel, which supposedly derived from Peter, is also an example of this passing on of an oral tradition. It owes its history to Mark, whether Mark is the person who actually wrote it down or not.

Mark's is the first of the written gospels. It's really the one that establishes the life of Jesus as a story form. It develops a narrative from his early career, through the main points of his life and culminates in his death. And, as such, it sets the pattern for all the later gospel traditions. We know that both Matthew and Luke used Mark, as a source in their composition and it's also probable that even John knew something of Mark in tradition. So, Mark is really the one that sets the stage for all the later Christian gospel writings. 

As Diana Butler Bass referenced in a recent Sunday sermon on this text, this may be the most harrowing and gloomy talks Jesus gave to disciples. As they marveled at the size of the temple which was the hub and heart of their lives he predicts not a stone will be left on stone. He is saying this to a people who have lost everything under Roman oppression. He predicts physical, cultural and spiritual devastation (earthquakes, war and spiritual leaders guiding people astray) and is asked by the disciples the natural question, "When will all this happen?". No one wants to be around for the devastation when all this will take place.

Jesus answer is "do not be alarmed... all this must happen but this is but the beginning of the birth pangs."

Only two of the four canonical gospels, Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25) and Luke (Luke 2:1-7), offer  traditional narratives regarding the birth of Jesus. Of these two, only Luke offers the details of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.

This text, however, speaks to a true, important birth narrative in Mark, and to be aware of the inevitable birth of the kingdom of heaven that is happening as Jesus tells his disciples of the future. This then can become the first, and most important, of the Gospel birth narratives. Perhaps Mark's Gospel can bring us the most hope in our time of troubles.

November 7, 2021 - All Saints Day -

I focus on Mary in this Gospel reading of Lazarus. Mary Magdalene, of course, is mentioned in all four gospels as a witness of the crucifixion and empty tomb. In Matthew and John, she also encounters the resurrected Jesus. Only in Luke is Mary mentioned earlier in the story. Luke 8 refers to Mary, called Magdalene, as one of several women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples in Galilee.

 There is a Biblical scholar from Duke University, a woman who looked at the oldest Papyrus that exists of the 11th Chapter of John and found unusual corrections that added Martha to the story of Lazarus. She observed that the scribe who transcribed Papyrus 66 seemed to be working from two source manuscripts, one that wrote only about Mary and the other that added Martha. As she explored, she found more corrections in multiple papyruses that also corrected text to add Martha

She ended up with a complete text of Codexis before corrections. Why this reflection at this moment? We study the Bible which we often think of as a closed canon but here are new resonant words which open up new parallels between Lazarus and the empty tomb, between Mary declaring her belief in Jesus as messiah as opposed to Peter. We often talk about Jesus as a wisdom teacher. Christian faith is about lived commitment, not simply right belief.

 “Yes, Lord,” Mary says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27) instead of Martha she becomes much more of a major character in John.

So both Peter and Mary declare belief in Jesus as messiah.   Mary actually anoints Jesus (feet not head).  Peter is warned not to tell anyone and then rebuked for having human concerns rather than God’s.  Peter betrays Jesus.  Mary learns from Jesus.

Jesus asks Mary "Why are you weeping?" If we think about Jesus weeping in this text there is a totally different context given for the question. It is not an accusation of something that does not need to be done but an invitation, a holy question, to explore sadness in the moment you are feeling it, and not to bypass that sadness.

Does Easter start before the lilies of Easter morning? Actually Easter starts in the darkness of the tomb, before the lilies have bloomed. When the men looked into the darkness of the tomb they saw only the linen. Mary looked into the same tomb and saw angels because she was not unfamiliar with the darkness.

Mary looks at the resurrected Jesus and she sees a gardener. A holy insight. Jesus is bringing new life from the ground. When he says her name she recognizes his as teacher rabboni, an important moment that the scripture feels must be preserved and does not translate into English without the quoting the original word first.

When Judas criticizes Mary for spending money on the expensive ointment Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

This has so much resonance with the knowledge Mary was there on the day of his burial.

I thought of a prayer by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer - We are not lost. Already in the dark we have found each other. What astonishes is that there are so many of us, and already with our voices we are building bridges made of light.

Monday, October 25, 2021

October 24, 2021 - 22nd Sunday after Penetcost - Throwing Off Our Cloaks and Forging New Relationships

Bishop Laurie gave a powerful video sermon for World Hunger Sunday that was filled with truth and connection. The Gospel was on Jesus healing Bartimaeus, the blind man who cried out too loudly "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Her sermon started by reporting this is a time of "good news" and "bad news". She described the bad news by saying that we are in a time of deep transition where we are living between "certainties" - what some call a liminal space. We are swimming in rapid change where millions of our siblings have died due to the pandemic. She touched on climate change and a reckoning with racism in America that we have not seen in decades. We are polarized as a result as well.

The good news is that God uses times of transition to make transformation. Bishop Laurie's great grandfather was a blacksmith who, she said, knew that iron and other metals are only forged into something new is when they are hot after being in the middle of a furnace. The only way thick metal can be transformed is through heat and that seems to be how God works. Throughout Mark, the disciples do not understand the road tot the cross anymore than we really can. The temptation is to make the best of life's circumstances and situations. The disciples squabble and attempt to be the best they can be in Jesus eyes. The intensity of what they are going through is the heat, It blinds them just as we are blinded as we try to cope with what we perceive as the hardships in our lives. 

It also leads to trying to divide people between "them and us". This is how Bartimaeus is portrayed in the gospel by the disciples, A man proclaiming Jesus a little too much and a little too loudly. He is ordered to be quiet because he is not behaving the way they do. Yet Jesus does not make that distinction. Jesus, instead, rewards him by calling to personally see Bartimaeus. Jesus is teaching the disciples on this journey to Jerusalem this lesson precisely because this is a time of transition that is moving them away from what was expected in life.

Bishop Laurie then moves to others in the Bible who are described in painful transitions in their life. She gives Biblical examples. For instance Saul's blindness as his former ego identity breaks down. He accepts Jesus and becoming Paul. And there is the example of Leah, as she becomes fully humble in following and loving God through her marriage to Jacob. She gives him four sons, which was of utmost importance in their world and, despite that she was not noticed. Both Saul and Leah dared to be vulnerable and connected in a true way with God and others. They were forged and transformed by their experiences.

This is where the details in the gospel about Bartimaeus comes in. He acts like a fool in the eyes of others in the hope of being transformed. With this in mind, Bishop Laurie turned to confession about her models of leadership which emphasized the power of vulnerability over the person who can do it all or lead people by the strength of individual vision. She had been encouraged to read the Gospel through the eyes of the most vulnerable. 

As she read today's Gospel she saw she wanted to be healed from blindness to her white privilege. She prays for the courage to be like Bartimaeus in what she is willing to do for transformation. She said as we invite a transition that some may think we are silly or crazy but the momentary judgement of our contemporaries do not matter as much as the possibility of a potential transformation like Bartimaeus experienced.

What does Bartimaeus do when Jesus calls him to come? He throws off his cloak, his protection, and what shields him from harsh truths of the world that he lives and operates in. He springs up and comes to Jesus. Not yet healed but now ready to ask fervently of Jesus "My teacher, let me see again." After Jesus pronounces him healed, his sight is restored. Afterwards he is able to, and does, follow Jesus on the way.  

So may it be for us in this time of transition to take advantage of the God-given opportunity we have to forge new relationships. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2021

September 26, 2021 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost| A Cello Élégie Gabriel Fauré, Élégie Op. 24 |A.J. McQuarters, cello

Our hearts soared at today's service with an Élégie and, at the same time, a sorrow simultaneously plumbed to those hearts to new depths. 

A. J. McQuarters was our guest soloist. He is connected with the Portland Southeast Youth. I was unfamiliar with the Fauré piece. However, for seven minutes I was taught something about today's Second Reading from James 5:13-20 as A.J played.

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 

The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. 

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

A.J.'s solo and this text explored my humanity and what I didn't even suspect I was feeling as I listened. This composition and performance was partly about suffering, and the feelings that have been so hard to process since this pandemic began caught up with me. At the same time it was a song of praise and a prayer that was powerful and effective. 

The Fauré specialist Jean-Michel Nectoux wrote that the Élégie was one of the last works in which the composer allowed himself "such a direct expression of pathos." And there is something else in what he wrote as well, and A.J captured it all in Creator's sanctuary today.

I encourage you to listen to today's service starting at the 42:00 minute mark at A.J.'s gifted performance.  Read the words that come to us from James and ponder them while the music invites your thoughts and feelings to follow new avenues about this moment in time.

Just about seven minutes of holiness.

December 5, 2021 - Second Sunday of Advent - Faith in the Wilderness and in Our Liminal Time

Bishop Laurie preached about the liminal time Creator was in both in our calling a pastor and, as a church, navigating our way through the p...