Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have arrived at Holy Week.  I write this to you on Monday of Holy Week—yesterday having been Palm Sunday.  The faithful experience of Holy Week essentially means tracking the events of Jesus’ activities during this week:  Sunday to Sunday—Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
The Church has claimed that three days are most important.  They are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  Indeed, these three days contain some of the most significant events of the Christian faith, but certainly not all.  In the Gospel of Matthew, this week of Jesus’ activities starts at chapter 21 and continues to the end of the Gospel, chapter 28:20.  In those chapters, Jesus teaches us much.  He speaks often of the kingdom of heaven (that is, God) and tells parables teaching of its eminent arrival.  He tells us to be ready and prepared.  He tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  He takes on, again, the religious authorities of the Temple, first some of the money changers and later the authorities themselves.  He institutes Holy Communion, the Lord’s supper.  Starting about the middle of chapter 26, the events of his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion are narrated.  At the end of chapter 27, Jesus dies and is buried.  Finally, in chapter 28, Matthew’s story concludes with the narrative of the resurrection of Jesus.
“Tracking” these events can mean something as simple as reading the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—for instance, Matthew on Monday, Mark on Tuesday, etc.  It could mean attending the Holy Week services provided by our churches.  It could mean being in prayer at noon each day.  Basically, it means paying attention to the days of Jesus “final” week.
After the tracking of these events comes the exploring of these events.  For example, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?  Who is Jesus and what is my response to him?  Do I ever betray him like his disciples did?  When I receive holy communion, what happens to me?  Am I the servant he told me to be?  What do I make of the lessons he taught in that last week?  Am I part of his resurrection now or am I waiting for death?  Do I ever crucify Jesus with my behavior toward God or neighbor?  Can I trust God even a percentage of what Jesus trusted?
Trying to answer these questions (and many more) is the work of Easter and all the weeks that follow.  Following Jesus through Holy Week really is the beginning work of following Jesus in the resurrection.  May God’s grace and strength be with us all.

                                                                                  Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you read this, we are on the very cusp of Palm Sunday.  So starts the most important days of the Christian calendar of the holy events we observe.  You who are reading this know the events of that fateful and faith-full week very well.  It is almost impossible for most persons to be unaware of the general nature and experience of the events of this upcoming week, whether one is Christian, of another faith, or claims no faith at all.  Our story has become a genre in literature, i.e. a pattern, for literature.  The story of a murdered hero vindicated is familiar to us.  There are so many aspects and stories patterned after this one story that it is almost easy to forget its purpose and power.
Every year we Christians gather in groups for worship and rehearse,  that is re hear, the story that is our identity—the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ.  When Jesus asked Lazarus’ sister Martha if she believed that he was the resurrection and the life, this is the question for every Christian.  Even though Martha said she believed, at the tomb of her brother, she faltered when death’s reality attacked her very sense of smell.  Yet God’s glory was revealed by life’s triumph over death in the voice of Jesus.
The great truth here is that life (God’s greatest gift to each of us) triumphs over death in the voice of Jesus.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “…the sheep hear his voice…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” John 10:3-4.  Jesus goes on to say “I am the gate for the sheep” verse 7, and “I am the good shepherd” verse 11.  When Jesus talks about his voice, I understand it is not his physical voice to which he’s referring, but rather to his spiritual voice, the voice that leads us in the way, truth, and life.  Jesus calls and we follow.  He calls us to be triumphant when we see in him the vision of God’s kingdom.  He calls us to the meal he shares with us—we who have sight restored, born again, drinking living waters.  He calls us to his trial as we witness in deed and courage.  He calls us to his cross as we die with him.  He calls us to his life as we are resurrected with him.  He calls us to his life as we live with him.  We trust his voice because it speaks words of eternal life.  We trust his path because he shows us the way.  We trust his words because they sound as truth.  We trust that this holy week journey is necessary because he said “follow me.”


Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers for 4.09.2014

Dear Friends,

Paula Huston in her book Simplifying our Souls, Lenten Practices for Spiritual Renewal encourages us this week to work on simplifying our relationships. Ha! Good luck with that, Paula! The clip that we showed at the 9:00 service captures both the complications and the complexity of relationships: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg

This clip makes me laugh every time I watch it! Probably because Jeff and I have had these conversations before!

If you are like me, there are relationships in your life that are filled with joy and deep rewards. There are also relationships (and memories of past relationships) in your life that bring sadness, guilt and regret. I don’t claim to have all the answers or to have reached perfection in my approach to relationships. I will, however, share with you how I deal with those relationships that hurt my heart:

If I am aware that I have hurt someone, I go to them and apologize. Unfortunately, I have to apologize to others on a regular basis. This does two things: it keeps me humble and it forces me to consider what I need to learn from the situation. This isn’t because I’m so wise. It is because I hate apologizing and I don’t want to make the same mistake again, if possible.

If someone has hurt me, I make an effort to talk to them about it. There are times that I have chosen not to talk to them because, from past experience, I don’t think they will be open to anything I have to say. If that is the case, I try to just give it to God and let it go. Sometimes I have to do that over and over, as many as seven times seventy!

I pray for those who have hurt me on an almost daily basis. I don’t think that it changes them, but it does indeed change me. 

I make it a practice not to talk in negative ways about other people. I make it a practice not to say anything to others about someone that I haven’t already said directly to the person involved.

I work to identify my own wounds, sins and weaknesses that I bring to relationships. (This is where the enneagram is helpful.) I also work to not take responsibility for others’ wounds, sins and weaknesses. To put it another way, my daughter Alyssa, who is a social worker, says that in relationships that there is “my stuff”, “their stuff” and “God’s stuff”. Their stuff and God’s stuff are out of my control. My stuff is within my control and I need to take responsibility for that and that alone.

Jeff and I have two rules in our marriage: we keep talking about an issue (even if we don’t want to) until we both have a sense of resolution, and we are honest with each other (even if it feels safer not to be). These rules force us to be vulnerable with each other. I have learned that out of vulnerability comes intimacy.

These are my attempts in relationships to follow the Way of Jesus. What are yours?

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I ALWAYS preach to myself. Someone at a preaching class once asked me when I knew that a sermon was done. I told them, “When I’ve found the Good News!” However, this last sermon on simplifying the schedule was REALLY preaching to myself. Actually, I went from preaching to meddling pretty quickly as I was forced to confront how poorly I do at simplifying my schedule.

I was very aware as I looked out at the congregation that our schedules are vastly different depending on our life stages. I looked at those of you with toddlers and babies and I knew that your schedules are in the hands of precious children who can’t even be reasoned with! Talk about complexity! I looked at others of you who are juggling the schedules of busy, busy middle school and high school students and have only compassion as I recall the challenges.  Each different life stage holds its own unique challenges.

Here is what challenges me: There was a study done in which people at a church were asked to list what they expected from their pastor. The resulting job expectations resulted in what would have been a 120 hour work week. I struggle with getting all the things done that need to be done – and wanting people to be pleased with the job I am doing. My sermon was a reminder that I’m not doing the people of our church any favors when I don’t take time off or routinely work long days. In fact, I tend to work more ineffectively and less smart when I am overtired. I have learned that I am more creative when I give myself the time that I need to relax and to play on my day off. My Sabbath isn’t on Sunday. It is on Friday. I don’t do a great job of keeping it holy, but I am truly working on it. I’m coming to realize that my life depends on it, just as surely as it depends on a daily dose of exercise and laughter.

There is a wonderful book that I highly recommend if you would like to get inspired to keep the Sabbath in your family. It is called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. Muller brings grace and humor to his discussions about ways to honor the Sabbath. His stories of shared meals and family time capture the importance of nurturing relationships. He brings creative ideas and suggestions for the different stages of our lives. Woven throughout his book is God and God’s good gift of rest. Keeping the Sabbath, in his understanding, creates vital, life-giving time for relationship with God and relationship with others. It is how we are made whole.

What can you do to simplify your schedule? What can you do to move more deeply into relationship with God and the people you love? Let me know what is working for you so I can learn from you!

On the journey with you,

Carol 

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend brings us to the last story in the Gospel of John that we will hear in worship of the ministry of Jesus before Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  This story tells of the illness and death of Lazarus, brother to Martha and Mary, and friend of Jesus.  The story also tells us that Jesus is victorious over death, even as the raising of Lazarus is the impetus for Jesus’ crucifixion.
This story is a complex story, full of misunderstandings of what Jesus says.  The passage, John 11:1-45, has many well remembered words in it.  For example, the shortest scripture verse is in this story—”Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  Also in this passage is Jesus’ statement:  “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
In the context of the church year, this story of life over death comes on the weekend before the powerful events of Holy Week.  We have heard Jesus say we must be born “again/anew/above.”  We have heard that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  We have heard Jesus speak about “living water,” God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  We have heard how Jesus “made the blind see.”  So now we come to the great story of life winning over death as we prepare for the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.

                                                          Pastor Jeff Blackman
                       

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Mid-week Update from Pastor Carol Myers for March 26, 2014

Dear Friends,

In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus offers living water that will become “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Like the woman, we want that! We want to never go thirsty again; we don’t want to keep trudging to the well on a daily basis to get the water that never really satisfies us anyway (John 4:15).

So what is that living water?

Living water for Jews and early followers of The Way is water that was moving. Rivers and streams are filled with living water that is bubbling, splashing, gurgling, singing merrily. The ocean has powerful living water that rises and falls, pounds and slides, with a rhythm that matches the beat of our hearts. Waterfalls roar, flinging drops of water like diamonds in the sun. The opposite of living water is water that is stagnant, unchanging, unmoving.

Jesus offers The Way filled with living water as we follow: a journey that moves us forward, sometimes slowly and smoothly, sometimes laughing and singing, sometimes with tears on our cheeks like diamonds in the sun, sometimes roaring. Following Jesus is a rhythm that matches the beat of our hearts. To claim Christ is to be the opposite of stagnant, unchanging, unmoving.

It is no coincidence that this is the same definition of belief in the Gospel of John. Belief is not an intellectual assent or a feeling. Belief is a verb, an action. To believe is to do what Jesus does: include outsiders, bring Good News to the poor, feed the hungry, offer healing to the hurting, forgive enemies, practice nonviolence, care for the sick, challenge systems and structures that damage and destroy, gather with the community, give of oneself, wash others’ feet. To believe doesn’t mean that we are always feeling great about what we are doing. It does mean that as others watch us, they see God’s light and presence. To believe is to trust that as we live our faith, as we take action, God is at work to change us and grow us from the outside in.   

This is what Doug Anderson means when he says, “We don’t commit ourselves into participation. We participate ourselves into commitment.” Or, to put it another way, this is the power of spiritual practices (another verb!) like worship, Bible study, communion, prayer, small groups, mission and ministry in whatever form they take. This is why Paula Huston is inviting us to Lenten practices that, over time and with God’s help, renew our souls.
And the gift? Eternal life! A rich, deep, intimate relationship with God, beginning now (John 17:3)! Love that fills us to overflowing, so that we might overflow into the world that God do richly loves!

On the exciting journey with you,

Carol 

A Mid-week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Once upon a time, a man was born blind….  Such is this weekend’s gospel reading from St. John the Evangelist.  This story takes an entire chapter in John’s Gospel.  There are undoubtedly many ways to interpret this story.  One of the predominate directions is the movement from not seeing to seeing or not comprehending to comprehension, darkness to light.
Here are two basic ideas that come to me from this story:  1) Jesus gives sight, understanding, not in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical sense.  The sight Jesus gives  is of a spiritual nature, particularly the understanding of who Jesus is and what he offers; and 2) New understanding, new vision has consequences.  The consequences for the man blind from birth is that the world he had created for himself in blindness complete fell apart when he became sighted.  What you see (i.e. understand) shapes what you do and the events of your life.  When the man saw/understood anew, not only did his world change, but so did people’s perception of who he was change, primarily because they, the religious authorities, were unable to see differently.  They had to keep the blind man, not blind, but unchanged.  Specifically they thought blindness was a direct result of sin and they could not make the leap that if now he could see, they were either wrong to begin with or a new and amazing teaching had landed in their laps.  The religious folks decided it was better to stay with status quo, especially since it kept their own world in tact.  It is no coincidence that the position they took also kept their power in tact as well.
Are we like this?  Do we see evidence of God’s work among us but, because it doesn’t fit our theology or understanding of God we say it is not of God?  I think that happens a lot, especially if we are the beneficiaries of our rejection of what we see.  Although this story is about blindness and seeing, I think it would be a mistake to think it was primarily about the blind man.  The story seems to be much more about the effort we religious folk will make in order to not see what is in front of us.  In that regard, this story harkens back to the prologue of John where John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The fear and unbelief of family, friends, neighbors, and faith community is that darkness that John the Evangelist warned us about—darkness of fear and the resultant faith.  Even at the end of this story, some of the religious folk say to Jesus, Surely we are not blind (i.e. in the darkness)?  And Jesus says to them—and this is a paraphrase of mine—if you claim to see what you already see and not what different things God is doing, your darkness remains.
During Lent we are challenged as religious, faithful folk to look anew, past the darkness of what we “know” to be the new thing that God is doing and thus to gain sight, understanding, and resurrection life.  Such a challenge!
Pastor Jeff Blackman