Monday, September 22, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Paul writes from prison to the church in Philippi: “God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” Phil 1:29-30.

I don’t think of suffering as being a privilege. I would rather avoid it, thank you very much. I particularly don’t think of God as graciously granting the privilege of suffering. That’s not a gift I want. It is even worse when you know that the original Greek is saying that God has “graced” us with the privilege of suffering. That’s grace that I don’t get too excited about.

However, Paul doesn’t mean that God sends bad things that make us suffer. That’s not the issue here. I think Paul would agree with me when I say that God doesn’t punish us by making us suffer. So what in the world is Paul talking about?

I read an article in the most recent issue of the Christian Century that has shed some light on that passage for me. The article is entitled “From Survival to Love” by Bethany Sollereder. I’ll do my best to summarize:

Sollereder says that human beings have an evolutionary response to pain. When we are hurt, we are aggressive and defensive and retaliate. Evolution has taught us over the course of millennia that these reactions are necessary for our survival. Our primal, raw emotions of rage and hate are part of our instinctive reaction to being hurt.

These primal, passionate emotions are also very closely related to the passion of love. If you don’t believe me, think about how easy it is to be enraged with someone you love. It is the work of God whenever hate and rage are transformed into love; God at work to move us beyond our evolutionary, primitive response to pain.

The key to this transformation is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a decision to deal with our pain differently. It is the choice to accept the pain inflicted by another and to refuse to return that pain in-kind. It is a choice to end the cycle of violence. It comes at great cost. Our evolutionary impulses tell us to strike back, to fight or to flee.

It is much easier to react with anger or aggressiveness. To forgive can mean that we will suffer more because we do not have the relief of revenge. Love absorbs hurt and returns good. Jesus showed us on the cross what that sacrificial love looks like.

Sollereder writes, “From this evolutionary perspective, the ubiquity of pain in the world is not an argument against the love or goodness of God. Rather, it is the key to understanding our high calling of love. When we are in pain, more than any other moment, our passions are invoked and shaped. When our pain leads us to violence, hate, or revenge, our desires turn to evil. If instead, in the moment of pain, we choose to forgive, the power of pain is broken. It is not passed on in aggression or turned upon the self in shame. Forgiveness is the ultimate defeat of evil and freedom from it. While we may still be in pain, we may also find joy in the transformation of love. There is redemption in finding that without retaliation we can relinquish the role of victim and become the victor. The pain of the transformation is correlated with the joy that comes from the new power of love and possibility of healing, both for oneself and that broken relationship.”

Wow. Paul was right. We have been graced with the privilege of suffering: the suffering of forgiveness that transforms us – and the world.

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.
Contention seems to be a normal part of religion and of living.  Contention comes when people have different ideas about how to reach the same goal.  Most of us bring the best we have to problem solving and that includes problem solving in the Church.  Because people have significantly different life experiences, we tend to see differently and, of course, assume that what we see is valid.  We get into difficulties when we think that what is valid for ourselves needs to be valid for everyone else.  You can see the problem in this line of thinking.
This sort of difficulty happens in every walk of life.  The present political situation between many Democrats and Republicans is an obvious example of the result of this sort of thinking:  we go nowhere except to stalemate and obstruction.  This can happen in the Church, also.  In the UMC some would point to the issue of homosexuality as such a struggle.  Even in local churches of any size such struggles happen, often, resulting in very hurt feelings and loss of fellowship and love.  This is exactly the wrong outcome for which to work.  And the Apostle Paul would agree.
In this weekend’s reading from Paul (Philippians 2:1-13), he offers those who follow Christ a radical solution to these kinds of contentions and struggles… “with humility think of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3b).  Boy!  This is not easy!  My perspective is that most of us are taught and encouraged to “fight” for what we think is the right way.  It often seems like doing less is to proclaim to be inadequate.  Our cultural value currently seems to be “Don’t back up!”  Take no prisoners!  Scorch the whole place!  This is an attitude in great detriment to all concerned.  It is adversarial, destructive and, for me, opposed to God’s desire for us.

Perhaps such disunity is going on in Philippi.  Paul has heard of such goings on and writes of the way of the cross as his strategy for fellowship.  He says put yourself behind the other with whom you have conflict.  He says that in different ways.  For example, he says:  Don’t do anything for selfish purposes; watch out for what is better for others; think of others as better than yourselves.  Paul calls this the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.  Paul says Jesus emptied himself taking the form of a slave and humbling himself to the point of death on a cross.  This is a model, not a prescription.  What that means is we understand that the way of the cross says that your ideas are not the most important of all ideas.  Rather, unity in the Church is more important.  For me, that demands loving compromise to stay together and to stay in Christ.  This is not talking about abusive relationships between individuals.  This is talking about our ‘normal’ relationships inside the Church.  This is the hard spiritual work that Paul gives us as we live together long term as Church.
Failure to live up to this hope is region.  So, when we fail, we acknowledge our failure, ask for Christ to lift us up, ask God to forgive us our arrogance, to the other in Christ’s love, and try again for the sake of Christ’s Church.  When we function in such a way, Paul says, “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes” (Philippians 2:13).  It can’t get any closer to God’s desire than that.  Do not be afraid!    
                                                                      Pastor Jeff Blackman


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We’ve been sitting at Jesus’ feet, pondering his words in Matthew 18 about how to handle conflicts, differences and division in the church. Add Paul’s words in Romans 14:1-12, and we have a recipe for loving our neighbor – in the pew. A summary of how followers of The Way work through their issues might look like this:

  1.  If someone offends you or if you offend someone, go talk face-to-face. That is difficult to do. You might decide that it isn’t worth the effort. If so, go immediately to #5.
  2.   If the two of you can’t be reconciled (meaning to re-connect, to re-align), take it to our Staff-Parish Relations team. If they can’t facilitate reconciliation, it needs to go to our district superintendent. If you don’t want to involve SPR or the DS, go immediately to #5.
  3.   Bless those who leave the church by continuing to care for them and reach out to them.
  4.   If someone comes to you and is complaining about and criticizing another, ask them two  questions: Have you spoken to the person involved? If not, ask to go with them to talk to the person involved. If they are unwilling, encourage them to go immediately to #5.
  5.   Forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what another has done is ok. It means releasing them from your expectations. It means releasing them from the punishment they deserve. It means letting go. When we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are saying that we can only fully open ourselves to God’s forgiveness if we fully open ourselves to letting go of our grudges.


Whenever I preach, I preach primarily to myself. While it is always a little nerve-wracking for me, an introvert, to get up in front of people to speak publically about – of all things – faith, I am always deeply impacted by the experience. What may seem like a poor sermon to you sinks deeply into me and can’t help but change me. What I was most impacted by this week was Jesus’ story:
 A man owed a king a million billion dollars. The king asked him to pay up. The man said that he couldn’t and got down on his knees to beg forgiveness of his debt. The king released him and let him go.

You’d think the man would leave filled with gratitude, but he didn’t. He left grumbling. As he did, he saw a friend who owed him $25.  “Pay up,” the man growled. “I can’t,” said the friend. So the man imprisoned his friend in a world of hurt by his refusal to forgive. And the man descended into his own private hell, filled with anger and blame, resentment and grudges.

God whispers to me, “I’ve forgiven you a million billion times. Can you not offer what you have received to others?”

I’m trying. And what I realize is that church is the exact right place to try, to sometimes get it right and sometimes fail, to learn from my mistakes and to keep trying. Over and over, 7 times 70, and beyond.

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.
From Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes:  “Most important, live together in a manner of Christ’s gospel” (Philippians 1:27a).  In the period of the church year called “Ordinary Time” (the Sundays not focused on Advent/Christmas or Lent/Easter/Pentecost), the general theme is discipleship, that is learning what it means to follow Jesus.  These teachings take up about half of the year.  Why?  Because not only is it so important, but it is also so difficult to do it faithfully.
When each one of us experiences the power of Jesus’ presence in our lives, we are affected.  We can be affected in many ways, virtually all of them good ways.  As a pastor of 30 years, my experience tells me that for most people the first blush of the power of Jesus can wear off with time.  We still are converted to a new way of seeing, but the old way of seeing and being has enormous sway over our thoughts, words, and actions.  Most of the rest of our lives in faith is about shaping ourselves ever more on Jesus’ model.  It is simply not a very complete understanding to think “I’m saved and that’s all that matters.”
It is quite clear in our sacred stories that our salvation is about loving God and loving neighbors.  It is that second part that seems most difficult to many of us.  So in the Church we have lots of reading about loving neighbors, this, this week’s admonition from the Apostle Paul to “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.”
So what is such a manner like?  For me it has to do with grace—unmerited positive regard from God—what most of us might call God’s love toward us  That grace creates a sense of gratitude in my heart, soul, and mind that can make me able to live in a manner that comes close to Christ’s gospel.  As if to remind us of how difficult that gratitude can be to possess, we have two other lectionary stories about God’s people complaining and grumbling against God.  One story comes out of Exodus and has to do with the Israelite community wandering in the wilderness after their rescue from Egypt.  The other story is one that Jesus told about the impact of God’s generosity, i.e. grace, for others.

Both stories seem to capture well the struggles we all have at being grateful—that is living in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.  But do not be afraid!  We are constantly in God’s presence and that presence shapes and molds us ever into God’s people as we are open to it and willing participants in it.  It is what John Wesley called “sanctification”—the going on to perfection in love.
We, we are constantly reminded that God hears us, sees us, shapes us, forms us, loves us, saves us, and receives us so that we are enabled by God’s power to live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.  May it be so.
                                                               Pastor Jeff Blackman


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers


Dear Friends,

  had a great time at my Growing Group on Sunday!

 I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into my assigned room. Linn and JoAnne Adams, Gina Davis and her sons Nathan and Nicholas, and John and Kim Kluesner with Brandon and Lexi Hanson and their guest from Norway, Gard, were waiting for me as I made my last minute appearance. Lexi volunteered to lead our group and she did a fine job. (I wasn’t surprised. She was in confirmation last year and she brings lots of good energy to whatever group she is in.)

 The half hour flew by as we followed the directions on the table. There was much laughter. Big kids and little kids were valued, included and involved. There was so much excitement about choosing a service project that we decided to talk about it more next week. (And then did our own last minute service project as members of the group helped set up for the 11:00 service.) While I had known everyone but Gard in the past, I left the room pleased to have this chance to get to know the people in my group better over the next six weeks.   

 I have been in small groups in the church since my mid-20s. (A long, long time…) This is what I know about small groups: They have made a huge impact in my life. Small groups are the places where I have really learned what it is to share the journey of faith with others. It is where bonds are created. The conversation in small groups has helped me grow in my understanding of what it means to follow the Way of Jesus. I have treasured knowing that I am on this journey with others and not alone.

 I also have experienced small groups in which there is someone who is difficult for me. That can be a real challenge. (I have no doubt that I have at times been difficult for someone in my small group too!) I have come to understand that those people who try my patience are gifts from God to help me mature in my faith. And that’s also why it is good that our Growing Groups are shuffled after six weeks!

 A multi-generational Growing Group is new for me. The conversations will be different than what I have experienced before. I am delighted to get to know the children and youth of our church in this way! What a hands-on way of living out that vow that we all take when a child is baptized in our midst: to care for, support, encourage and teach our children!

 If you haven’t signed up to be a part of this exciting opportunity, it isn’t too late. You can either get in touch with Kendy or Linda, or come to the table in the Garden Room on Sunday morning.

 

On the journey with you,

 

Carol

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

The last prayer “bead” is a cross, symbolizing that we pray in the name of Jesus Christ or, if you wish, say the Lord’s Prayer at the end of our prayers. However, my cross has been missing off my prayer beads for weeks. I think I lost it over at the Dale Howard Family Activity Center when I was praying on the elliptical machine.

Peter had lost the cross too. He had named Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus was delighted. Jesus then began to teach what it means to be the Messiah: that he would suffer, die and rise again. Peter is dismayed. “No, no, no, not THAT kind of Messiah.” We don’t know what kind of Messiah Peter was hoping for, but we can guess that it was a Messiah who is a winner, successful, showing us a way that is easy and uncomplicated; NOT one with a cross. You can almost see the wheels in Jesus’ head turning: “Déjà vu all over again! This is exactly what happened in the desert with the devil tempting me to take the easy, winning, successful way. Nope, I’m not going to be tempted again!” Out loud, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:21ff)

Which sounds like a huge insult until you consider that the only way to follow Jesus is from behind.

We are Peter, even in our prayers. We want a Messiah who is a winner, successful, making the way easy, comfortable and secure. We want God to follow our will rather than the other way around. Typically, our prayers still manage to be mostly about us, our wants and needs, our health and our healing. Health and healing are important to Jesus, but it isn’t the sum total of what Jesus is about. When Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples, he made it clear that he is about so much more than just what we want. Jesus says to us, “Get behind me, Satan.” Not as an insult, but so we can follow from behind. Then he tells us what following him looks like: denying ourselves and taking up our cross.

You may have tried the prayer beads and, like me, found yourself impacted by this way of praying. You may have tried them and discovered that they didn’t work for you. That’s ok. Someone much wiser than I has said, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Keep experimenting to find what works for you. Whether you are using the beads or not, let your prayers be influenced by a structure that begins with praising and thanking God, share your worries, your concerns, your experience of God night and day. Spend some time listening to God and asking God about the next step on your journey of faith. Pray for those you love and love your enemies by praying for them. Intercede for those who need prayer, including your church. Pray for the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Prayer shapes us and forms us. It is how we learn what it means to deny ourselves. To pray by gathering for worship weekly and by making time daily to pray is to say that there is something bigger than our own schedule, calendar, preferences and agenda. In prayer we learn to stop insisting on our own way. We also learn to take up our cross as we begin to see others through the eyes of God. As we see others as God sees them, we join them in their struggles and suffering. As George McLeod said, Christ wasn’t crucified between two candlesticks. Christ was crucified between two thieves on a garbage pile. That is where the church should be found as well. That is taking up your cross.

Something else happens when we pray. Over time, we begin to discover the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ; a love that is passionate for the world.

My friend Jill Sanders was recently reminiscing about her favorite professor in seminary. She had come to the end of her seminary education and was deeply frustrated. As she and her professor sat together at lunch one day, Jill said, “I have attended every lecture, read every book, wrote every paper and I still can’t summarize the Good News of Jesus Christ. What is the gospel all about?”

Her professor sat silent for a long minute. Then he looked at her. “Four words. I can summarize the gospel of Jesus Christ in four words. Are you ready? God Is For Us.”

God is for us. This is why we pray. This is the love that grows us into our true selves. This is the love that changes us and changes the world.

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Meyer

Dear Friends,

As we come almost to the end of the prayer bead strand (or simply prayers, if you aren’t using the bead), we pray, “By the power of the Holy Spirit.” The bead that symbolizes the Holy Spirit is iridescent red: the flames of Pentecost. It is a pretty simply thing to let those words fall glibly off our tongues. After all, the Holy Spirit seems rather benign and pleasant. If you are familiar with John 14, you know that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as Comforter, Helper and Teacher. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit binds together the Church, the faith community, in relationship.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if the Holy Spirit functioned in a way that really got our attention? Sky-writing would be nice. So would voices or a text or Etch-A-Sketch. And how exactly does the Holy Spirit help and teach and bind together and create? Magic?

Our lectionary readings are helpful. In Matthew, Peter has the aha! moment of naming Jesus as Messiah. In Romans 12, Paul exhorts us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and to use our spiritual gifts to build up the church. In Exodus, we hear the story of Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives. Interestingly enough, the Holy Spirit isn’t named explicitly. The Holy Spirit works behind the scenes. You have to read between the lines to see the Holy Spirit at work, giving new insights and new understandings, giving spiritual gifts, reconciling brothers and sisters in Christ, birthing newness and creation. Often, in life, to see the Holy Spirit at work, you have to read between the lines.

The reading from Exodus tells us how the Holy Spirit works. There is a new king in town and life has changed. In a completely self-defeating and irrational move, the king decrees that all the Hebrew boy babies must be killed. The midwives, however, are determined to let new life come into the world; determined not to impede God’s new creation. They know that in the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, bringing creation out of chaos. They are determined to let that happen.

I believe that the Holy Spirit works by birthing newness into our lives. That is what Jesus told Nicodemeus in John 3: You must be born from above. That is what John Wesley called our new birth or justification: when we recognize the error of our ways and embrace God’s newness and life. My experience is that God’s birthing process is much like an actual birth process. It is a long process. There is grief involved as we recognize that our lives will never be the same. There is a sense of being out of control. God’s birthing process, like birth itself, can elicit fear and result in pain. There is hard work involved. It is messy. In God’s time, there is also new creation and new life.
We, of course, get to decide if we are going to open ourselves to God’s birthing process or if we are, like the king, going to choose self-defeating and irrational obstruction that makes new birth impossible.

I have told Jeff that I have the best job in the world. I am continually invited to go deeper into my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, deeper into self-awareness, deeper into spiritual maturity. However, when I am feeling squeezed or pressured or pushed in God’s birthing process, I can whine like a baby! It takes courage to open ourselves to the new life and new creation of the Spirit! It takes guts!

Hemingway said that guts equals grace under pressure. It takes guts to embrace God’s birthing process. Holy Spirit guts.

So what is happening in your life right now that smacks of change and newness? What is happening in the life of our church right now that looks like God doing something new?

Read between the lines. God is present and working to birth something new in you and around you.

By the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the journey with you,
Carol