Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel reading this weekend comes again from St. John’s gospel.  It is another long and critical story about the ministry of our Lord.  The passage is the story about Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, more specifically the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
There are many phrases and fragments of this long 45 verse narrative such as:  “Lord, the one whom you love is ill” v. 3; “I am the resurrection and the life. …Do you believe this?” vv. 25-26; “Jesus wept” v. 35; “Unbind him and let him go free” v. 44.  Many scholars connect this story of the raising of Lazarus to John 5:21:  “As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to men” neb.  We who are followers of Jesus on the Way are convinced of Jesus’ life-giving powers.  We trust that the life we have with God through Jesus is never-ending but always changing.  We can rest in peace with that faith.
There is another aspect of this story that is a little deeper, a little more provocative to we who follow.  When Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” does that mean only after death?  I believe the answer to that is no.  In fact, I believe that the greatest aspect of this resurrection and life idea is resurrection in this life on earth which leads to real life now and forever.  When Lazarus is commanded to come forth, it is to this life, not an ascension to the next.  On the surface, Lazarus comes back to the same old painful world he left.  Jesus seems to have raised him to a new life here.  Jesus is presented in John’s gospel as the inbreaking of God’s kingdom now.  New life comes where Jesus is.  Where Jesus is, there is resurrection.

As with the stories of Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the man born blind, there is the surface level meaning and then deeper, spiritual insights that are offered.  This story of Lazarus can, perhaps, offer us the deeper level of looking at our lives now and to the degree they are bound up in death.  To that degree, death—brokenness, fear, self-doubt, sin, anxiety, addiction, anger, to name a few—has dominion over us.  Jesus calls us out of that world wrapping binding into a new world of compassion justice, courage in God, i.e. into a daily living relationship with God’s healing, wholeness, and life through Jesus the Christ.

I believe that this is the life-changing power of the resurrection that is demonstrated by Jesus.  This is the Good News that starts now, hee at the edge of the tomb.  Martha talks of the resurrection being on the last day.  Jesus looks at us and says “I AM the resurrection and the life now… Do you believe this?  What say you?
                                                                                   Pastor Jeff Blackman

A Mid-Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Jesus said to the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Sacred Rhythms, points out that each of us longs for more in our spiritual lives. To experience more spiritually is a deep desire, whether we recognize it or not; whether we name it or not. She says that to pay attention to our desire taps into the power of the spiritual life. Spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, study, helping others and generosity are sacred rhythms that open us to the transforming presence of God.

We are over halfway through the season of Lent, that season of introspection that prepares us for the celebration of the risen Christ. I think that one aspect of Lent is getting in touch with our desire, our spiritual longing. It is to hear Jesus ask, as he does of the blind man in Mark 10:51, “What do you want me to do for you?” Blind Bart replies, “My teacher, let me see again.”

This is a dangerous prayer request. To see is to grow in awareness. To see is to notice those aspects of life that have remained invisible. To see is to awaken, to recognize that which has been hidden or denied or overlooked. That’s where the season of Lent can become a whole lot more challenging than just trying to avoid chocolate. (Although I will admit, avoiding chocolate is plenty challenging!)

John Wesley would call it God’s justifying grace that helps us see where we have fallen short in relationship with God and others. He would call it God’s sanctifying grace that is at work to grow us into all that God has created us to be. This journey of Lent, this season of opening ourselves to the longing for something more spiritually, is God at work in the depths of our being.

I invite you to live with that question from Jesus: What do you want me to do for you? Bring that question with you to worship, to small groups, to mission work, to the ordinary unfolding of daily life. Open yourself to God’s still, small voice. What is your deepest longing?

The answer is part of the spiritual journey. The answer may well be transformative.

On the Lenten journey with you,
Carol


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The question of “sight” comes up in this week’s Gospel reading from St. John.  The reading is John 9:1-41.  The story is about Jesus’ sign related to the Kingdom of God.  Stated differently, when healing happens, there is God’s Kingdom.  The healing was given unrequested to a man blind from birth.
The story hinges on the question throughout John’s gospel:  Who is this man named Jesus?  Within the boundary of this story, blindness is not perceived as the result of a moral failure by Jesus.  Rather, it is the result of an inability to perceive Jesus’ identity as the “One whom God has sent.”  Throughout this story ‘blindness,’ thus understood, bounces all over the place landing on villagers, family, and faith community.
Driving the plot of the story is concern for Sabbath laws, as Jesus performed this healing on the Sabbath by kneading clay to form a sort of salve.  That kneading (and 38 other kinds) are specifically forbidden on Sabbath.
Of course, Jesus knew this and did so as to “poke the tiger” (my expression).  The ‘tiger’ is the authority to dictate acceptable behavior.  Jesus, in effect, challenged the Pharisee’s authority.  They, in return, rejected any possibility that Jesus could possibly have been from God.  The blind man who now sees was eventually expelled from his faith community for professing and maintaining the healing of the man named Jesus.  Scholars believe this story in John reflected circumstances in the early first century of Jews who saw Jesus as Christ and were themselves expelled from their faith community.
So the story raises a question about spiritual vision:  Why do we not all see alike?  The answer to that question may well diagnose our level of vision.

                                                                                         Pastor Jeff Blackman

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We tend to be hard on ourselves. We focus on our failures, our short-comings, our confusion. We assume that God judges us as harshly as we do ourselves – perhaps more so. The season of Lent with its invitation to look inward and evaluate where we are on this journey of faith can become a time of beating ourselves into a bloody pulp.

I remember a season of Lent when I was in seminary. I was dealing with the reality of separation and divorce. I was racked with guilt and the overwhelming feeling that I should not be in seminary and I should not be a pastor. One of our assignments for a class was to keep a journal. I wrote of my raw grief and failure. The day that the professor handed the journals back to us, he said, “Lent is a season of truth-telling. Telling the truth about ourselves can be hard and painful spiritual work. It is the willingness to engage the truth in light of God’s grace that prepares us for new life.” I’m pretty sure he was looking right at me while he spoke.

In the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus doesn’t shy away from truth-telling – and neither does the woman. It is a scandalous story of God’s love that crosses boundaries and breaks down barriers. The Samaritan woman is drenched in the living waters of Jesus as he refuses to judge her or condemn her or call her a sinner. In fact, Jesus is ever so patient as she struggles to understand what he is saying to her. Her confusion, her questions, her growing understandings and misunderstandings are all received with grace and love.

What would it mean if we could trust that this is how God loves us? What if we could see that it is grace that reveals to us where we need to learn and grow and change? What if we understood that grace doesn’t judge or condemn or point harsh fingers but instead invites us to move forward and ever more deeply into this journey of faith? How would that change the faith journey for us? How would that change our attitudes toward ourselves and others?

John 3:16-17 says, “For 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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

That word saved means healed. God is at work through Jesus Christ to heal you, starting today. It is a healing that means that you don’t have to keep beating yourself up. It is a healing that invites you to live ever more fully into the person that God created you to be. It is a healing that immerses you in God’s living water – in order that you might offer living water to others.

So be kind to yourself this Lenten season. God is.

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Last Friday evening and all day Saturday, Kendall Clarke, Kendy Miller, Tim Smith and I joined the representatives of five other churches and the district leadership of the North Central and North East districts to learn about peacemaking circles. Our facilitator was Fred Liew, who is doing remarkable work in restorative justice and teaching peacemaking circles to many different groups, including school children. As you may have heard me say, Lyn Evans fed us well and her reimbursement from the Conference will be used to support our Wednesday community meals. People were so complimentary of the beauty and hospitality of our church, and I had many occasions to give thanks publicly for the generosity of the people of our church.

The concept of the peacemaking circle is simple: People are seated in a circle and share their thoughts and responses to a specific question when they are holding the talking piece, in our case a small piece of driftwood. When you do not have the talking piece, you listen without interrupting. When you do have the talking piece, you talk. The group creates shared values and guidelines that are followed. As Fred pointed out, this way of being together is as ancient as people gathered around the fire in conversation and story-telling.

Those of us in the circle experienced it as a powerful way to either create relationships or to go deeper in our relationships. It allowed for diversity of thought and opinion without devolving into “talking points” or “talking at” others. There was disagreement in the circle that did not threaten the relationships that had been created. It felt like the church being the church.

The motivation for this training, which will happen throughout our Conference, is the anticipated conversations concerning homosexuality within our denomination. However, as I learned and experienced sharing in the circle, I found myself wanting to be a part of a church that had “circling up” as part of its everyday life.

Tim, Kendall, Kendy and I are excited to share peacemaking circles within our church. You may have an opportunity to learn more and to experience peacemaking circles in Church Council or other small groups. We don’t want this to be just utilized for talking about difficult issues. We want this way of growing relationships to become part of the very fabric of our church. In fact, we talked about calling this way of being together “journey circles”. I have always found the language of “journey” an accurate portrayal of what it means to engage the life of faith. To add the circle and the fire feels like honoring the people who are such an essential part of the journey!

On the Lenten journey together,

Carol

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I had had a particularly stressful day that led to a poor night’s sleep the night before. I was feeling frustrated and upset and anxious. Now, in yoga class, I began to stretch. As I responded to Michele’s voice, as I let the music flow around me and through me, I began to relax. Some of the positions require strength that has taken years of yoga to acquire. (Some of the moves I still can’t do and probably never will!) As the class unfolded, I breathed a silent prayer of thanks for the growing strength and flexibility that comes from yoga, and for the inner calm that I find in that practice. Then I realized: If my back had never been injured nine years ago, I probably would never have discovered yoga. If I hadn’t been hurt, I never would have gotten stronger.

That is so true of our spirituality. Our sermon series on The Passionate Jesus spent time exploring emotions that are painful: grief, anger, fear, despair, hate. Over and over, we discovered that those dark emotions have something to teach us. They are the catalyst to move more deeply into our faith, into authenticity, into self-awareness. Our emotional injuries, our hurts, are a doorway to healing. As we do the difficult work of looking inward, we are also, by the grace of God, becoming stronger.

The season of Lent invites us to look inward. That isn’t always much fun. We see our shortcomings, our failures, our sins and our selfishness. It is easy to get discouraged. It is a temptation to either feel badly about ourselves or – since we feel so badly – avoid the inner spiritual work of Lent altogether. But what if we saw our hurts, our injuries, our wounds as an invitation? What if they became the catalyst to move more deeply into our faith, into self-awareness? What if that which we would prefer to dismiss became the gift?

My back pain made me desperate to find relief. In response, I began the practice of yoga. What if your pain were an invitation to begin a new spiritual practice? It might be more frequent worship or reading your Bible daily. It might be prayer or journaling or a small group. It might be serving others in a new way. One person in our church told me that she is cleaning out her home and giving away a bag of things she no longer needs daily during Lent.

Whatever the spiritual discipline, I can guarantee that if you are willing to practice it on an on-going basis, you will become stronger. That’s how God works.

I don’t think I have arrived at a place of giving thanks that I hurt my back all those years ago. I do give thanks for our awesome God who works for good in all things. And I do give thanks that in ways that are beyond my comprehension, God takes the hurts and the pain of life and, if we are willing, creates strength and wisdom and flexibility. I guess you could even call it resurrection.

On the Lenten journey with you,

Carol

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I grew up at a time in which I was unaware of religious violence.  I lived in a Kansas town of about 15,000 people.  I was aware, as a small child, that there was “something not right about the Catholics,” though I had no idea what it was.  We Protestants didn’t trust the Catholics but there was no violence per se.  In fact, in my youth, I had no real idea that religions ever had any trouble because everyone I knew was either a Christian or a back-slider.  Hardly anyone was anything else.
I graduated from high school in 1970 and, by then, I had started to hear that there had been troubles far in the past.  I learned about the Crusades but, of course, they were completely justified (again, I had no idea why) and they happened centuries ago.  The first time I realized there was religious violence was in college.  I heard about anti-Semitism and knew (and loved) people who had experienced it directed at them.  At that point I started to hear more and more negativity and even hate directed at Jews.  Then I learned about the Holocaust of World War II in Nazi Germany.  As an idealistic youth I couldn’t believe that people—especially Christians!—could perpetuate such atrocities against anyone, let alone on the people of Jesus’ own faith.

Now at the tender age of mid-60s, I stand in a world that is awash in religious fear, intolerance, and hatred.  In the past two weeks or so I’ve read of desecration of Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats to Jewish community centers, the murder (in my home state of Kansas) of a Hindu man and the shooting of a Sikh man who was working in his own driveway.  All of these are being investigated as “hate crimes.”  That doesn’t even mention all the anti-Muslim actions and rhetoric here in the USA.  I know now of many profoundly sad stories of religious violence.  I know now that the Crusades were not justified; that my own Church has tortured and executed more people than I can bear to contemplate.  As a Christian people we have turned our fear and consequent hatred on so many religious folks, people who claim Christ but differently than we; those who claim other faiths not Christian; even those who claim no faith at all.  I hear that some majority Christians work for religious liberty and, in the process, hurt and denigrate people perceived as different.

I think about this (thankfully) brief overview of violence by the Church (and that doesn’t mention so many who have been wounded by scandal, abuse, and disregard by Church leaders).  I stand in the midst of this powerfully negative part of our story.  Blessedly, there is much good the Church has brought to the world.  No one asks us to confess and atone for blessings we bring, only the terrible plague of human, religious brokenness.
It is the season of Lent.  A season of self-examination as well as Church examination.  I bring to you, fellow traveler, these things because of the readings for this weekend:  Genesis 12:1-4a and John 3:1-17.  In the Genesis reading God tells his people—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—that we will be a blessing “all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.”  And in this Gospel reading we are told that “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” John 3:17 ceb.  So far our attempts to be a blessing to the world have included violence, fear, intolerance, and hatred mingled with some hope and some love.  Clearly our efforts at hope and love are puny against violence, fear, intolerance, and hatred.
As a Christian preacher and follower of Jesus, I must accept the terrible truths of our witness and yet persevere in my trust of God and the redemption of the same.  I know we who claim Christ have different paths along the Great Way.  I know that God’s way is not very often our way.  Yet the Gospel stands, nailed to a cross and released from the tomb.
 Pastor Jeff Blackman