Monday, May 31, 2021

May 30, 2021 - Black Is The Color of my True Love's Hair - LDR Region 1 Disaster Preparedness Project Manager Dave Brauer-Riecke

Romans 8:14-16

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Isaiah 6:1-8 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

 Gospel is John 3, The Story of Nicodemus

LDR Region 1 Disaster Preparedness Project Manager Dave Brauer-Riecke, in his current 5th Sunday sermon, cited and preached concerning the above scripture readings. Preaching, not just with words, but giving physicality to what he said. Intermittently fading to black to remind us of the Gospel's Nicodemus night session. He held a container of water when he quoted the words of Jesus to Nicodemus of being born of water and the spirit. He also burned a piece of paper as he read Isaiah's description of seraph touching the coal to his unclean lips and showed the Oregon adoption documents that made somebody else's child his son. 

This Trinity Sunday Dave saw the above passages from scripture as concrete metaphors for both God's identity and ours as we go through a transition from what was before to what is yet to be. I have been thinking of transitions all week as we plan our current worship service to what we are transitioning into when our worship will have some of the congregation online and some worshiping in person. 

In the next part of the sermon Dave defined the adoption triad which is composed of the three groups of people whose lives are joined as immediate members of an adoption family story. The first group in the triad is the birth parents. Even if one or both parents are unknown, they are still vital members of the triad. Children who were placed will always be a part and forever linked to their birth parents.

The second part of the triad is the adoption parent or parents. These parents will be the main caretakers of the child who has been placed, and will have a very important role to fill. They are linked forever to their child through adoption, just as if they had conceived that child.

The last and most important part of the triad is the child placed for adoption. This child will be bonded and joined forever with both birth and adoptive parents. Adopted children will have traits of both families and will always have a connection to each in a deeper way than any other member of the triad could understand. 

Dave used this as a way to examine the Holy Trinity. He spoke from personal experience and from the conversations and work of Sarah Kruger, an associate in his Region 1 Disaster Preparedness and Response work He moved also the hearts of those in the congregation who had adopted children, Dave compared God with the birth parent whose child is taken from her because of the circumstances surrounding the adoption. The adoptive parent is the Holy Spirit who walks with the child and feels the child's grief and joy. Jesus becomes the adopted child of the adoption triad.

Understanding the Holy Trinity through the prism of the adoptive triad is useful. The adoptive parents, despite their best intentions and particularly if they are the adoptive parents of a child of color, can't help but become complicit in the grief that child experiences. This is expressed, in Isaiah passage as one who has unclean lips, living in a land of people with unclean lips. Even when the coal blots out the guilt and sin they know this that through their thoughts, word and deed they will sin again.

They must do the work. To move from one level of understanding, love and empathy to another. This echoes with what the congregation heard last week from Juan Carlos. The Holy Spirit, the advocate is made known when we experience the grief of the child and the grief of God, as adoptive parent, feels at he disappearance of the child.

Dave declared Jesus' blackness is where his power and purpose is centered. Yes, for me, this is where the words and stories of Jesus touches my humanity.  

Sunday, May 23, 2021

May 23, 2016 - Pentcost Sermon - Juan Carlos La Puente, Oregon Synod

When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place. As a congregation we are acutely aware we are not gathered in one place right now as we work towards hybrid church; online and in person worship.

Juan Carlos spoke from his heart in the sermon today about what came to him as he read today's Gospel reading from John 15.

I wasn't sure when he started where the story he was telling was going to to tie in with the Gospel. On September 26, 2014, students from a teacher training school in rural southern Mexico commandeered some buses. Their ultimate destination was Mexico City for a demonstration. But those buses never arrived. And 43 of the students went missing along the way and were presumed killed in and around the town of Iguala. Their remains have never been found, their deaths were variously blamed on corrupt local political and police officials, as well as higher-ups in the Mexican military and the government and, of course, the drug gangs. These official versions were unsubstantiated or obvious fabrications.

This story came to him as he read John 16:7, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you."  What happened to these 43 students made people marching at the demonstration realize there were more. This same thing had happened to thousands in the past. When sorrow filled the disciple's heart when Jesus was killed; the broken, hidden stories of others were also able to become close to their hearts. They heard the Advocate or Holy Spirit.

A powerful, natural purpose for the church is to weave stories of injustice and marginalization into the predominant history of the culture. This allows what is said in John 16:13 about the Spirit of Truth to come to pass. 

I have been asked why the church should retell and come to grips with what we have uncovered in our Land stories over and over again. Ultimately these "Land stories" connect us with a past that contains stories of people that have been denied or buried. This is a natural purpose to the Christian church because this is what we have done through the ages with the story of Jesus.

We celebrate the truth of his story in communion.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

A Review of Lenny Duncan's United States of Grace


In his memoir, United States of Grace, Lenny Duncan writes in one chapter about hitchhiking as the last American adventure. This hitchhiking is described in romantic detail but the American adventure he is devouring is more wide-ranging than hitchhiking. He embraces an American love story that threads the events in his life together, and connects with others as well who believe in hope and a promise that fuels our country's aspirations.

His life circumstances and mine are different but I do hear the same siren voices as Lenny Duncan's calling me. He echoes and uses those voices to reveal the overwhelming love packed into this memoir. The holiness of Whitman's and Kerouac's words echo and spill out through this narrative, combined with the ecstatic jubilation conjured up by Allen Ginsburg and Grateful Dead music. 

Duncan's first book, Dear Church, reads like a letter from Paul to the church. There is both a love for the church together with a concern our aspirations should be higher as to what can be achieved. His story in United States of Grace addresses a larger audience; namely all the people of the United States who have shown grace and love when faced with intolerance and evil. He challenges his readers to do no less. In his words he inspires us to become, even briefly, the chaplains to the revolution. 

Envisioning the future of the church is inevitably hard. Coming out of a quarantine, like we are at this book's publication, complicates the writing about any future visions we may have. United States of Grace centers the work in front of the church in living into the future of engaging with neighbors, and on our widest sense of what neighbors are. He challenges us to be more and rise above our own navel-gazing.  

And, to this centering call, a voice within says "yes I said yes I will Yes".

Sunday, April 11, 2021

April 4, 2021 - Easter Sunday - To Hear Our Name

There was a longtime Creator member who posted on Facebook the joy of attending a "real Easter Service" at another church. 

What was meant by "real" for this member, and longtime friend, was a service where a congregation gathered live for worship instead of online. Last Sunday was the second Easter where Creator worship was online due, obviously, to pandemic concerns.

Our Easter Gospel was the account of Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener in John until she heard her name.

Some have not been hearing their names during Creator's online services - for a variety of reasons - for over a year. For them, our "zoom or Facebook worship experience" lacks something essential. Others have heard their names and are called to worship. There are definitely others who are concerned that those around them are not hearing the God's call online. Still others may not be sure whether they are hearing their names online or, perhaps, not as they did in the past.

There are many post-Resurrection stories where the "real" presence of Jesus is not immediately recognized. There is Emmaus, the fishing and breakfast on the Tiberias Sea's beach, Jesus' appearance with Thomas. and at Paul's conversion on the road. They all start with just an appearance first which led to a deeper understanding of his presence, many happened after a person's name was heard.

When I read the Easter Facebook message that started this post, I see many of us are currently on our own road to Emmaus. This is a road between the now and the not-yet. We don't know what worship will look like in our imminent future. 

That being said, I state here that the Emmaus question, "Did not our hearts burn within us?" came to life during various moments of Creator's Easter service. There was the virtual background that included congregation's Easter banner behind Pastor Janell as she preached that tied us to Creator's Easter tradition. There was also the Affirmation of Faith where our confirmands circled our beautiful baptismal font, connected by red streamers to each as they professed their faith.

That statement is true for me personally. My longtime friend had, what I imagine would be, a similar experience being physically present for an Easter service. God comes to us in many ways. Pandemic worship has caused us to question and learn what is at the heart of our worship. Certainly we no longer take for granted what we once did. There are new, unimagined connections that we can now make to draw us closer to God.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Monday, March 29, 2021

March 28, 2021 - Palm Sunday - Two Processions in Jerusalem / Choices We Will Soon Make

There was a Muppet presentation put on video by another church that was played for our Children's Time. The background was filled with palms and signs against Caesar's rule of Jerusalem.

I was reminded of a book, The Last Week by Marcus Borg. Borg stressed the importance of seeing Palm Sunday as a counter-procession to a procession that was happening on the other side of Jerusalem proclaiming Caesar as King and Son of God put on by the Romans. Identifying Jesus as the true King and Son of God was an essential message of scripture that may not be as apparent today

The question then becomes which procession do we follow in our lives? Palm Sunday is an invitation to Holy Week for everyone.

A second year observing Holy Week worship online is a reminder of the disruption that happened to Creator's story a year ago. Creator’s ongoing congregational story was disrupted because of the death of Pastor Ray, the start of the pandemic safety protocols we are now under, together with Creator’s Holy Week observances, all of which followed closely upon one another starting last March. Indeed, Creator’s first online congregational meeting was called to process the congregation’s grief over Pastor Ray. Since then we have continued some traditions, changed others, and have seen throughout this year many old social consensuses, as to what constitutes cultural and religious truth, have ended.

This is not unique to Creator. Americans overall experienced a historical dislocation that this pandemic sped up and exaggerated. We are not where we used to be culturally and religiously. Yet we cannot quite imagine where we are going to be. 

Last year the importance of having online worships that Creator hosted felt imperative. We did not even consider attending online worship that other churches were hosting. This year we will be worshiping with other congregations in observing Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and East Vigil (also called Holy Saturday). We will celebrate online Easter Sunday hosted by Creator with the confirmation of our youth who have attended confirmation.

I reflect mostly on the upcoming Easter Vigil at this moment and remember last year's worship. Creator told our own stories of our founding, our faith and history. I wonder what we will tell as our stories next year. I can't help but think the way we will be welcoming people back to physically gather together will be identity stories. How Creator balances safety and welcoming people back will be important identity statements for us. 

We are constantly choosing which procession to follow.

Monday, February 22, 2021

February 21, 2021 - First Sunday in Lent - RE:alize - The Facts of Life

Pastor Sara Gross Samuelson presided today. She is the pastor at Storyline and will be leading a series that Creator will be following during Lent called me and white supremacy. She began today preaching on the topic and began with a poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama. I remember him quoting a favorite author of mine at a TED talk.

  “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” 

Anaïs Nin

By starting with this poem and what Pastor Sara preached today, this was a heartfelt introduction to this reckoning with racism that has been on my mind a great deal recently.  It is too easy to get lost in past injustice and our reactions to our history. The Facts of Life root us in some spiritual truths we can easily, but must not, forget.

Pastor Sara talked about the tensions in the poem and that, in Lent, we are all beginning a wilderness journey of repentance. Repentance isn't a one time and your done declaration. She and Creator as a congregation, Storyline, Oak Grove and other communities are committing to the process of repentance.

The first part of this repentance process is to "RE:alize". To realize means we need to be fully aware of something as fact The poem is articulate about the tension between facts and perception. This is an era where we are all seeking facts over perceptions when perceptions are often presented as facts. Facts are complicated and, in this time where information is widely distributed and shared, our desire is to simplify things to what we see are simple facts. Perceptions are often demoted when compared to facts but how is what is fact arbitrated? She quotes the author who asks "if someone says I haven't slept a wink since my husband was murdered thirty years ago." are you going to argues with them on the basis of facts?

What are the facts of our lives? 

The Facts of Life

By Pádraig Ó Tuama

That you were born
and you will die.

That you will sometimes love enough
and sometimes not.

That you will lie
if only to yourself.

That you will get tired.

That you will learn most from the situations
you did not choose.

That there will be some things that move you
more than you can say.

That you will live
that you must be loved.

That you will avoid questions most urgently in need of
your attention.

That you began as the fusion of a sperm and an egg
of two people who once were strangers
and may well still be.

That life isn’t fair.
That life is sometimes good
and sometimes better than good.

That life is often not so good.

That life is real
and if you can survive it, well,
survive it well
with love
and art
and meaning given
where meaning’s scarce.

That you will learn to live with regret.
That you will learn to live with respect.

That the structures that constrict you
may not be permanently constraining.

That you will probably be okay.

That you must accept change
before you die
but you will die anyway.

So you might as well live
and you might as well love.
You might as well love.
You might as well love.

Friday, February 19, 2021

February 17, 2021 - Ash Wednesday - Delivering Ash and Reflecting on Lent

At Creator there are many memories associated with Ash Wednesday including Creator's Mardi Gras / Shrove Tuesday celebrations which traditionally happened every year when David Lee provided our worship music until 2015. For years David invited a select group of musicians to perform upbeat jazz standards. Juxtaposing those joyous musical moments and camaraderie with the dust-to-dust Ash Wednesday services provided the congregation some unique perspectives and gave an unusual balance to how Creator moved into Lent.

This year snow and ice delayed some of us delivering ash and devotionals in Lent packets to the congregation. This was an invitation to become more focused throughout the day on what is meaningful.

Pastor Janell attempted something new today. She invited me to model with her how we might approach the Lent readings of Sister Joan Chittister and process the questions Sr. Joan asks in the devotional we will center ourselves in during this year's Lent season.

The scripture we centered on tonight was the admonishment given in Joel 2:13 - Rend your heart and not your clothing. 

Sr. Joan asked two questions. 1) What doors of your heart do you need to open this Lent? and 2) Do you think there are "worlds" you may have "allowed to go sterile" in your life. 

These questions gave me a new perspective on the Joel verse. I thought it was about choosing to change from the heart rather than changing from what you want to appear to be because it is often paired with today's Gospel verse where Jesus talks about not being a hypocrite and the proper way to fast. Like so much of scripture this scripture is worn smooth by tradition and with repetition. This can help make it sink in deep but it can also make easy to hear without grasping the meaning or the challenge.

There is a difference for me between rend or tear (your) heart and opening your heart. Opening the doors or eyes of your heart implies more choice and control of the inspired changethat leads to the better, holier life Sr. Joan writes about in this reading. Rending, to my ear, implies less control and also implies something that will forever change, cannot be taken back. There is more vulnerability. In the life of Jesus when God is close there is often tearing. 

Mark records "The heavens torn open.”The word that’s used here in the Greek is the word, “schizo.” It’s the word from which we get our English words “scissors” and “schism,” etc. “Schizo” means to “split,” to “rend,” to “tear apart” or “rip open.” It has almost a violent connotation. So the heavens were being “split wide open,” “torn apart,” when Jesus was baptized.

Matthew records "And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”When Jesus died, the veil was torn, and God moved out of that place never again to dwell in a temple made with human hands (Acts 17:24). God was through with that temple and its religious system, and the temple and Jerusalem were left “desolate” (destroyed by the Romans) in A.D. 70, just as Jesus prophesied in Luke 13:35. As long as the temple stood, it signified the continuation of the Old Covenant.

A change in how God relates to humankind has changed and change, again, is both freeing and frightening to us and we are asked "How is God changing my heart at this moment?" This passage is not about identifying and planning ourselves what will rend our hearts but being open to God's will for the opportunity to be vulnerable to a heart-rending encounter with the humanity in us.

The second question was about opening worlds that have gone "sterile" in my life. My wife Mary gave me an acrylic paint set and an easel. Lichtenberger's words are a prayer I will repeat this Lent as I try to live into this new endeavour.

In this season of Lent, consider this....
Fast from criticism and feast on praise,
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.
Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.
Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment.
Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.
Fast from pride, and feast on humility.
Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.
Fast from fear, and feast on faith.

Written by Arthur C Lichtenberger, a former presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church  


May 30, 2021 - Black Is The Color of my True Love's Hair - LDR Region 1 Disaster Preparedness Project Manager Dave Brauer-Riecke

Romans 8:14-16 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so th...