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Posts Tagged ‘future’

Darkness falls fast in these autumn days and we know the darkness will continue to grow in the days ahead of us as we venture into the cold days and nights of winter. Yet, many people feel darkness has been falling upon them for longer than a season. Whether it is the news of the high infant mortality rate of Rochester, the continuing struggle to solve the education issues plaguing city schools, the rise in the suicide rate of middle age white males and veterans or the year-long election cycle that has been filled with hatred spewing forth on a daily basis with threats of jailing political opponents and deporting millions of people, scandal after scandal in a drip-drip-drip leaking of documents by a group caught in their own brand of self-righteousness or encouraging violence against people who are different as the answer to the frustration and despair of an economic prosperity that has become nearly unreachable for many people in this country regardless of skin color or ethnicity as has the myth of an American Dream created out of a model of unending consumerism fueled as Wendell Berry writes by a commerce of violence, or voter suppression by the government or public institutions being assailed as useless and cracked cisterns incapable of holding water let alone our society; all have contributed to the weariness and darkness many have experienced and may experience as fear of the future imprisons people.

This darkness seems to deepen with the images Jesus describes for his followers in this morning’s reading from Luke. The image of armies surrounding us, the need to become refugees to escape the violence of war, being hated because we are followers of Christ, the woe to women who are pregnant or who are new mothers, the enslavement of one people by another people, even creation will shake, rattle and roll as the Jerusalem Temple is destroyed.

Yet, all of us gathered in our own community of faith like gatherings of other communities of faith in Irondequoit, Rochester, New York State, America, The Northern Hemisphere and around the world know the darkness will be driven away by the light. Darkness, hate, despair, fear and hopelessness cannot overwhelm and imprison us because God’s light will not allow it to do so. This is the starting place of joy and hope that dispels fear because God promises to be doing an entirely and completely “new thing” that will not resemble the old or grow out from the old.

This is the promise uttered by the prophets and the psalmists, particularly during Israel’s exile when the promise from God was that even exile will be transformed into a viable place for life. This promise as Walter Brueggemann wrote in his book “Theology of the Old Testament  “which defies every logic, but which could not be devised by those who reiterated the oath, assures Israel that its life and eventually all of the historical process, is not a cold, hard enactment of power and brutality.” Rather, it is God’s powerful intention for well-being, abundance, justice and compassion to bring into reality a newness of life that cannot be extrapolated from the present, but is an utterly new life. The words of God the prophet Isaiah speaks tell of God’s promise to overcome all that is amiss whether caused by Israel’s disobedience or the untamed forces of fear and death. The newness of God’s new creation will touch every aspect and phase of life as every portion of life is re-created by the positive, life giving power of God’s love enacting wholeness, abundance and restorative justice for all human communities as hostilities at every level and in every dimension of creation will be overcome. In this extraordinary new creation the light of God’s love will drive out fear and darkness.

Perhaps this is the reason doctors without borders and nurses without borders risk their lives to tend to the wounds and disease of patients in places where medical services and medicines themselves are in short supply, but too often where the violence of war is abundant. Perhaps this is the reason for the Red Cross to bring food, clothing, toiletries and blankets to places like Haiti and Syria and Louisiana. Perhaps this is the reason why Hope Fellowship travels to re-build homes and communities in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Perhaps this is the reason why our mission team travels to communities to repair, re-build homes and lives each year. Perhaps this is the reason why the community garden has nearly doubled in size and may grow larger next year. Could it be they want to live in a world where babies are not born for sudden death, but live long full lives; where no more shall the sound of weeping or cry of distress be heard in the world because of hunger, disease or violence; where an adult lives a long full life filled with meaning and where people shall build houses to live within and will plant vineyards and vegetable gardens, whose produce the gardeners will eat and enjoy because no one will take it from them or force them to work for those who oppress them; where the shalom-the peace of predator prey living together in harmony and where violence no longer exists?

Could it be that the hope of God’s new heaven and new earth where peoples, habitations and nature are all woven into a complex relationship of wholeness has been heard as an invitation to take part in God’s creative transforming mission-Missio Dei- to the world? Could it be that when they have heard the prophet Isaiah proclaiming God’s intention to create an entirely new world where heaven and earth are to be one unified creation they were reminded of God’s creative capacity to create life anew because God’s creative word speaks a vision that comes to realization. This Missio Dei vision of a new heaven and new earth does not come out of nothing not does it come out of the ashes of a destroyed creation, rather it is the creation out of the chaos of human endeavors, of a spoiled and polluted nature and of everything in between. In this Mission Dei, God is transforming creation so thoroughly that the former things will not be remembered and will no longer influence or effect the present or the future.

Imagine a totally new beginning for Irondequoit and Rochester where everyone has a place to live in safe and decent homes, where everyone can freely move about without fear of violence or the fear of driving through dangerous neighborhoods, where a person isn’t stopped by police simply because of the color of their skin or because they fit a certain profile, where no one is a stranger and where everyone has meaningful work and a living wage. Imagine buying your home and knowing you can keep it forever – no one threatening to take it from you because they want it, or because you’ve been laid off, or made redundant, or had your job shipped overseas. People can breathe again – really breathe – without fear that life will be snatched away from them.

Last year, I asked you to imagine this congregation being a totally new congregation, designing and planning its organization in new ways, finding new ways of getting things done,  discerning new ways for us to worship God, designing a new way of welcoming visitors by first getting to know them as friends, and discerning the way we reach out into the wider community around us based solely on Missio Dei-God’s creative transforming vision of a new heaven and new earth. Letting the past be the past without any power to control, determine or define the future. Letting go of all the ways we compare ourselves to other congregations because we are focusing on being authentically who we are. Letting go of the old paradigms and schemes for growing the church by focusing our life together on God’s mission for this community and for the world.

I challenged you to join the Israelites who came back to Judah from Babylonian exile and respond to your situation the way they did as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Their response was to rebuild the city and the Temple and to rebuild their community by once again committing themselves to centering their lives in God and God’s way of being a community where well-being, health, and growing and sustaining life was for every person. This is the hope contained within the promise of God’s new heaven and new earth, a hope inviting people to live today in God’s new heaven and new earth.

Interestingly enough,  this is the invitation to living the golden rule “do unto others as you would have them do to you” and being mindful that the yardstick by which we measure others will be yardstick by which we ourselves will be judged. Both of these are simply calls to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is the hope of the sacredness of life at every moment of life, of welcoming the stranger either the migrant or the refugee as sisters and brothers whose desire for a life of stability, of health and well-being and peace is the same as our own, of ending poverty and the immorality of homelessness, of encouraging all people to dream the vision of God’s new heaven and new earth then act on that vision.

We have made good beginnings in meeting this challenge of participating in God’s mission to the world through the continued support of the mission team, the Live Nativity teaching the real story of Christmas that is the birth of Christ coming as a gift to us of God’s love, the expansion of the community garden that grows community by growing relationships, the prayer windsocks and prayer shawls, the new opportunities of joining with other Presbyterian churches by using a $50,000 grant to change lives in metropolitan Rochester as well as the Love Thy Neighbor project.

While God will bring this new heaven and new earth to fullness as Jesus taught us that God will do, the call to be Christ’s body here in this place at this time challenges us to fully participate in Mission Dei- God’s creative transformation of the world, it challenges us to consider how to best use our increased financial and human resources in reaching out beyond ourselves into the community of Irondequoit and Rochester and the world, so whatever we do reflects God’s expansive and inclusive will for the world and not our limited vision of what is possible, challenges us to be an entirely new Summerville Presbyterian Church focused on creatively thriving knowing that as Paul reminds us that if God is for us, which God is, who can be against us, who can hold us back from living in God’s new heaven and new earth today? No one.

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Amos and the story of the Samaritan remind us to ask the question, “What kind of community are we?” The prophet Amos tells Israel of the Northern Kingdom that God is measuring their faithfulness to God and the covenant of God’s way against their unfaithfulness in the same way a builder uses a plumb line to measure a building’s vertical line and its ability to stand if its vertical line is true or the likelihood of it to fall down because it does not have a true vertical line, instead it is crooked.

The prophet tells the people God’s judgment is coming because they have failed to be the people God created and anointed them to be. Their community is highly stratified with the poor being bought and sold like commodities and are oppressed and crushed by those with wealth and power, that the merchants cheat their customers by using dishonest weights, the people worship idols of their own making or the gods of other people, the leaders-kings, priests, and the imperial prophets-have failed the people time and time again with the priests and the imperial prophets telling the king and the people what they want to hear as opposed to speaking God’s word of the covenant. The Northern Kingdom has become just like all the other kingdoms around it instead of being the distinctive people of God.

While Amos speaks a word of judgment and justice, the story of the Samaritan stopping to help the critically wounded man on the side road running from Jerusalem to Jericho is told to a gathered group of Judeans, some of whom are testing Jesus to see if he is orthodox enough to included in the community’s tradition. The story comes as a response to the lawyer, who began testing Jesus. The lawyer has asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers by telling the story.

Typically, we would focus only on the Samaritan story as an example to be compassionate to strangers in need without delving more deeply into the story and its significance for a people trying to comprehend what it means to be God’s people who “Love the Lord with all heart, mind, soul and strength and Love my neighbor as myself” while ignoring or somehow toning down the prophet Amos’ words and God’s justice, however the events of this past week and the steady, highly polarized drumbeat of stereotyping, blaming and violence demands we dive more deeply into both.

Certainly, both readings challenge us to describe the community we live within and the community we want to be. The Amos readings reminds us about the way God desires to order human life as a community of inclusion with  each person treated with equality without regard to their position or status in society and treated with the same restorative justice, that each person in the community stay connected to the resources of food, vocation and a home, so all have a share in the abundance of the community’s life, and that those who are the most vulnerable-children, the elderly, and the resident migrant- be kept safe and free from oppression and abuse while being treated with neighbor love as are all persons in the community. This is a community valuing integrity and the truth and faithfulness in all relationships between people and between people and God. It is a community where Sabbath rest is valued for all persons, animals and machinery as much for the need for re-creation and healing of a person’s body and the mind as for the recognition that endless work is unhealthy and destructive to each person and animal and machinery and will destroy the community. It is a community living together with each having all they need for life without falling into the trap of envy and coveting what their neighbor has. Indeed, it is a community where such envy is unnecessary because no one has more than their neighbor. It is a community where leaders focus on the well-being of the entire community without regard for reward or their own agenda. It is a community that articulates gratitude for the blessings received from God as the recognition that life is a gift from God and that they did not create themselves. Amos further reminds us that if we ignore God’s way of community we will be like the crooked building that loses its ability to stand. We will crumble and fall into complete destruction.

Just as Amos is a critique of the status quo of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, so too is the story of the Samaritan a critique of Judah in the first century because they too live in a highly stratified society with power and wealth exercised for the benefit of the few while leaving the poor and the marginalized of the community to fend for themselves, then the scribes, priests and Pharisees condemn them for not being quite good enough to be part of the community. It is a society that does not tolerate critique and sees critique as threat and rebellion with the only response by the state to destroy those who question and offer alternatives to the status quo. Into the midst of this society, Jesus comes teaching God’s desire for a community of loving God with hearts, minds, and strength and neighbor love that is inclusive and seeks ways to bring persons back into the community from the margins without hierarchy and which seeks an abundant life for all persons. The Samaritan story challenges us to ask whether we are content to walk past those neighbors needing compassion,  we are willing to stop and provide all the resources needed for the neighbor to regain health and well-being, or are we willing to receive the help we will need by persons we, too often, regard as inferior to ourselves.

Both Amos and the Samaritan story challenge us to ask what kind of community do we want to be? We are challenged to question and critique the prevailing cultural perspectives of Anglo-Saxon privilege and dominance, laissez-faire or mercantilist economic policies that privilege the wealthy at the expense of the poor, philosophies of ideological or religious intolerance in the name of purity and homogeneity, all the ways the community is divided into discrete demographic sectors that are viewed monolithically, and the drive to maintain or gain political power and control using whatever means will provide the outcomes desired. We are, also, challenged to name the issues or problems needing to be solved without making people the issue because if people are the issue or the problem the only solution is to separate ourselves from those people, which is not a solution that will achieve peace nor a solution God desires for humanity and creation. Finally, we are challenged to become the community God desires and creates us to be, a community where each person is equal and connected to each other in the dance of life that is the very image of the Triune God.

 

 

 

 

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         “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.”

            Mark Nebo reminds us with these few words that we, who choose to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, are all pilgrims. We are sojourners on a transformative journey whose final destination is far off into an eternity that stretches well beyond these Lenten days and weeks to the foot of Christ’s cross where we will weep our hosannas and shout joyous hallelujahs inside the empty tomb of resurrection.

            Now, you may not feel you are sojourners after all we haven’t physically traveled away from home toward some distant place, however the truth is we are all pilgrims in the same way that all Christians are pilgrims because the Greek word “paroika” means sojourner and is the root of the English word “parish” meaning a “congregation of pilgrims or sojourners” and second,  because the life of faith is a continuing journey with and to God that is not limited by geography, but rather is both an outward and an inward journey. 

            Indeed, you traveled outward on Sunday mornings when you leave your homes to come to a church to worship and in doing so you continue your sojourning, your pilgrimage to deepen your inward spiritual journey. Even a sanctuary is a place for traveling whether one walks up the aisles to find a place to sit and rest and to listen or one is invited to walk up the aisle to participate in the Lord’s Supper by intinction or to bring an offering to God’s table. Classic cathedrals have ambulatories, which are simply a rounded corridor at the very front of the church that is literally, “a place for walking.” I suppose every sanctuary could a place for walking around if they did some major renovations. Of course that might be a risky thing to do.

            Yet, risk is part of every pilgrim’s journey. My favorite psalm, Psalm 121 speaks to us of the risks of sojourning in its very first line, “I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?” Here is the affirmation that every pilgrim knows, the world is a dangerous place. The psalmist wrote those words to describe the foreboding sense of danger from nomadic bands of bandits or armies as well as the wild beasts of the wilderness taking refuge in the crags and crevices of the hills. However, the world is still a dangerous place shrouded in the darkness of seeking hidden answers to big and important questions such as, “how did life begin?” How do I find the purpose for my life? Where will I belong? Where can I be safe and find good food and shelter?

            The world is, also, a place shrouded in the darkness of death from physical violence, emotional turmoil, unremitting and destructive chaotic change, disease, and fearful anxiousness leading to conflict. Think about how the survivors of the 8.9  and all the other 350 earthquakes and the tsunami and the nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan must have felt after more than a week of complete darkness and bitter cold with very little heat,  little water, little food while saturated with grief and despair? How can they not be lifting their eyes to the hills and wondering, pleading, crying out, “from where will our help come?”

            I imagine Abram asked that same question as he and Sarah and his nephew Lot began their journey from Haran to the place God would show them. Their sojourn comes as a response to God’s call, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you” but this was not an easy call to hear because it meant leaving everything that was familiar, that was safe, that was secure, everything that defined who Abram and Sarah were at a time in their lives when life should have been settled. At a time when their lives had become routine and when the shape of their lives must have seemed complete. Instead, they leave all of this behind them to begin a journey solely based upon God’s promises. This is very much like what the Irish monk Columba did around 563 AD when he set out in a coracle, a circular dish boat, without anchor or oars, praying God’s wind would carry him to a new life.

             What makes this extraordinary journey possible is Abram and Sarah’s being like open cups ready to receive what God was offering them. And, they had to be open. As Joyce Rupp writes, “Most everything needs to be opened in order for it serve its purpose. Clothes need to be opened before we can put them on and receive their warmth and protection. A book requires opening before the contents can be shared. A house has to have a door or window opened before it can provide us shelter.”

            It is the same with a cup. If a cup is full to the brim, nothing more can be added to it. If a lid is placed over it, nothing can be poured into it. The same is true for the cup that is our being and our life. God needs an opening in order to get our attention, to have a conversation with us, to nourish us and to stretch us toward greater growth, to revitalize and renew us as Rupp has said. This means we have to let go of some of the stuff filling up and cluttering our lives. I have to say this was very much on my mind when my wife and I bought a house and realized we didn’t have enough room for all our furniture, so we have to decide which of our possessions we have to let go.

Indeed, letting go, emptying ourselves of all that clutters our lives physically and spiritually is one of the demands sojourners with God need to do. We can’t take everything with us on our journey because if we try to hang onto everything we won’t get very far. We won’t be open to the new direction God may be calling us to go. As a matter of fact we may not be able to hear God speaking to us for all the clanging and banging of the stuff we are trying to carry with us. In addition, we have to willingly take the lid off our resistance to change, so we might be open to what God is offering to pour into us.

            You see, I believe God is offering us a new life that is not just an extension of the same old life we’ve lived, but one that will be transformative for each person’s life, for an entire congregation’s life, for an entire community’s life and, for the life of all humanity and creation.

            That is what is significant about the promises God makes to Abram and Sarah. Yes, God promises to show them the land that God intends to give them, but more importantly God intends to give them children and grandchildren who will be the foundation of a whole people who will be a blessing to the world. Abram and Sarah have no children when God calls them and they are in their eighties, well beyond children bearing. They have been barren for all of their married life and in their old age this translates into them not having much of a future. Indeed, this family’s barrenness had become a metaphor for human hopelessness because there is nothing Abram and Sarah can do to create their own future. Until God speaks a powerful word of life directly into their situation of barrenness with the promises for the blessing of new life through children, who are brought into being by the sheer grace they receive as a gift. Abram and Sarah did nothing to earn or deserve this grace, nor will they do anything on their journey to earn and deserve this grace. God does not depend upon the potentiality or actions of this family to bring the blessing of a new and transformed life into being because God’s word of life carries within itself all the power it needs to create life, to create a new people defined, shaped and molded like a clay cup by God’s summoning and life creating word. God’s Word on its own asserts the freedom and power of God to work God’s will to bring life out of death like situations or even death itself.

            Here in this beginning of Abram and Sarah’s journey with God is the resurrection paradigm of a call to sojourn to a transformed life by being open to receive, to be filled with God’s presence and in the willingness to trust God alone in a journey away from the status quo, away from the predictable toward the mystery that we will only comprehend in the light of hindsight when we taste the providential fruits of grace, which have been with us every step of the way as the psalmist assures us is the truth because our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth and it is the Lord who is with us always, in all our going out and all our coming in, today and for all our days..

            On this day, I invite you to pray with me this prayer from Richard of Chichester (1197-1253), “O Lord Jesus Christ, yourself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, grant to us who shall tread in your earthly footsteps a sense of awe, wonder and holiness. May our hearts burn within us as we come to know you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly.” Amen.

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