Category Archives: Featured

christmas_candles

Opportunities and Questions of Faith

How do I pray?  This question is a recurring one in my dialogue with people.  It is one thing to believe there is a God who is just and concerned about me and the world, it is quite another to figure out how to speak with and hear God. We’re encouraged to “pray without ceasing” but what in the world can that mean for me and my schedule? And more critically, how do I pray for the world much less myself when things seem so out of kilter?  In an effort to help you create a discipline of prayerful contemplation, the Pastor and Deacons have scheduled a Prayer Retreat for all day Saturday, June 3rd at Bon Secouer Retreat Center.  The cost is a mere $25 and includes breakfast and lunch.  Spaces are limited so be sure to sign up on Sunday where fliers will be available with more information.

Why must we suffer?  Right along with the question of prayer, this question is at the top of most people’s list.  Some religious folks simply accept suffering as God’s will. Others question how there could even be a God as long as there is suffering in the world.  Christianity has at the center of its narrative a story about a suffering servant messiah.  First Sunday Bible Study in both May and June will be a read and discussion of the book of Job, led by our Aspirant associate, Tonetta Landis-Aina.  The study takes place after worship on those two Sundays and as well, Tonetta will preach on the book of Job in May.  Mark your calendar, sign up with Tonetta and prepare to have a rich and meaningful study/discussion about a crucial human experience and question, suffering.

Our choir and music team continues to inspire us and we are grateful, particularly for Easter Sunday’s beautiful worship service.  If you have a musical skill, please let Lauren know.  As we proceed into the second year of our interim worship at Jefferson Middle School, we are talking about and working on how we might expand to a second service in our community.  If you are interested in helping us reach out to young adults especially and provide innovative ways both in schedule and mode of worship, please speak with Pastor Bledsoe.

We are a vibrant community. We are dedicated to loving one another and we have a vision that takes us into the future.

~See you Sunday

How To Begin Holy Week How to End Holy Week

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Holy Week begins this Sunday, Palm Sunday.
This is how to begin Holy Week: take one step toward Jerusalem, very carefully look for a Galilean whose face is set like flint and who holds in hand a trampled palm frond.
On Monday, be brave and ask him where he is headed.
 On Tuesday, offer him your pillow, because for three years, his head has rested on a stone each night.
 On Wednesday, do not say a word. Do not try to talk him out of where he is going.  Cry for yourself and all that is irretrievably lost in the world.  Then smell your favorite perfume or cologne and pretend you have anointed him for his burial even while he was taking bread from a leper’s hand.
 On Thursday, drink wine and rejoice in the presence of the Galilean and then look at it and think, this looks like blood.  Sing a hymn.  Worship with others if you can so you are not alone in the night, as he prays over there in the garden alone.
 On Friday.  On Friday.  On Friday.   Hammer a nail into a tree. In the evening of the Sabbath, weep because we killed the Son of God.
 Saturday, find some holy place in order to ponder how it is that humans always name holy ground after the most unholy things possible, like battle fields, cemeteries, and a hill of skulls called Calvary.
 On Sunday, when the sun dances along the edge of the horizon and birds sing doxologies worthy of Mozart, put on  fresh clothes and run to a holy place, so you can hear the news that Magdalene proclaimed first  . . . so you can hear the words that Magdalene proclaimed … so you can hear.
 Pray this all week long.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.
In the Name of Christ let us walk now, bravely, fully, into Holy Week. I will see you on the other side of Friday.  Sunday is coming.
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Christ: A Stranger in the United States

Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.  Soon, we’ll read post-resurrection texts and included in those will be a  passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus stands upon the shore, peering out to the lake where his disciples –soon to be apostles—are fishing as some kind of cathartic exercise in response to despair.  They will see a figure on the shore but he is shrouded by fog and distance, unrecognizable until that distance is closed by their urgent race to the shore. They leave their boats again to run to him because while they cannot see him, they can hear him.

John’s Gospel begins by saying that Christ came into the world and the world, though made by him, did not know him.  He came as a stranger. He was perceived as a stranger both by his own family and neighbors and the Romans who killed him.  Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.

That truth is likely why we end up with the admonishment from scripture to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” since you might unaware end up entertaining angels …or the Christ. Certainly we see this in the famous story in Luke’s Gospel about two disciples on the road to Emmaus who have no idea that the person journeying with them is the Risen Christ. He remained a stranger to them for their entire journey until at table, he blessed bread and then their eyes were opened. That is, they recognized him.

Once you are recognized or known, you are a stranger no longer.  This should be the point, or at least a point, in any religious response to the world and its residents:  close the distance, recognize one another as brothers and sisters.  The stranger who arrives in your midst may be the Christ coming toward you.  You should treat him or her as such.  Yet the early Church lived as strangers in the world—perhaps this is why the Gospels depict Jesus as a stranger and why the scriptures encourage kindness toward the stranger.  Hebrews 11 says that these people of faith “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth..”  That word “foreigner” gets variously translated as “alien” and “exile.” But it has the sense of illegal aliens, persons who arrived in a foreign country and sojourned there.

Many Christians –not all of course—feel especially alienated in the United States at this moment in history.  The Senate is about to have its remaining leg of bipartisanship removed by a man who single-handedly obstructed the Constitution and stole a Supreme Court seat; the Attorney General is about to roll back civil rights by obstructing reform of police departments across the country, this despite the fact that extrajudicial killings of African-Americans is a travesty in this nation and Gov Scott of Florida is reprising the role of Pontius Pilate with a vengeance; laws to protect the water and air are being rolled back despite the facts of and danger of climate change and a renewed effort to deny healthcare to the elderly and poor and sick is under way.  For Christians who believe in the Prince of Peace, who extol justice and protection of the stranger and immigrants, who believe the bible teaches stewardship of the earth and “creation care,” who know that the stranger Christ was brought into line by the police and soldiers of Pilate, this is madness that resembles the horrifying world of early Christianity.  Christ is a stranger in the United States.

My encouragement to you as we move toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week is to recall what Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage.  I have overcome the world.”  This Sunday, close the distance and cross the threshold of recognition so that we may no longer be strangers to one another and so in the coming days, we might work together to shelter as many as we can from the coming storm.  ~ See you Sunday.

 

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Still Point ~ Where to Go When the World Collapses

Last Sunday, I preached a brief sermon on Psalm 23.  Brief, because to say too much was to risk detracting from the self-evident beauty of that favored psalm.  This Sunday we will return to the psalms, focused this time on the lectionary reading for the day, Psalm 130.  It too is a favored psalm in and throughout Christian history.  It is one of seven “penitential psalms” that include psalms  6, 32, 38, 51, 102,  and 143. As lent rapidly moves toward Holy Week and Easter, one would be well-served to read these psalms as a way of entrance into the Light of Easter.

T. S. Eliot turns a phrase about light and contemplation in his poem, Four Quarters.  In Burnt Norton: IV he wrote:

…After the kingfisher’s wing                                                                                       Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still                              At the still point of the turning world…

When all around us the world seems unmoored, rising and falling and crashing upon wave after wave and our little boat of a life seems in peril, where do we go? how do we find respite and shelter? Where to go when the world collapses?  The 130th psalm is entitled, De Profundis, after its initial phrase, “Out of the depths.”  Out of the depths, I cry to Thee, O Lord…  Here is an entrance to the still point, where light has answered to light and the light is still. We arrive or at least, we can arrive at the still point of the turning world.

Each Sunday in a middle school auditorium at 10 a.m., we make our way to that still point.  I urge you to step into that hour of light answering light.  Walk, swim, paddle your way to that hour. Cling to a scrap of the shattered vessel if you must; navigate the perils of a twittered and maniacal rhetoric; but position yourself,  body and soul, into this light and stay a while.  ~See you Sunday

The Goats Are Lining Up

Jean Cousin, The Last Judgement

Jean Cousin, The Last Judgement

 ”I was sick and you took care of me…”

That is the statement made by the Son of Man at the Great Judgment. You’ll find it in a story told by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25.  Those who cared for “the least of these” would be separated as sheep belonging to the flock of God. Those who refused to feed the hungry, provide a cup of water for the thirsty, refused to welcome the stranger in their midst, visit the prisoner, clothe the naked and care for the sick were to be judged as goats and denied entrance into God’s Kingdom.

Today, Friday March 24, 2017, the President and the Republican majority in the House are prepared to deny millions of Americans healthcare.  Ironically, the Ryan-Trump plan is not cruel enough for the far right Freedom Caucus and thus, it may fail. Not because it is cruel but because it is not cruel enough.

The goats are lining up.  A nation is about to render a judgment but in the process, be judged.  They exchange human nobility for shame and wear it like a badge.  They would throw Jesus and his mother to the curb.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

addendum

The administration and House’s attempt to replace the ACA failed but given the President’s response that he will wait for it to “explode” should concern us all for a number of reasons. First, the President and congresspersons vow to uphold the law when they are sworn into office.  The ACA is, as they admit, the law of the land. To sabotage and undermine it so that it will fail is a violation of their solemn oaths.  It is also a naked attempt to make something fail and then to complain that it was a failure.  This is disingenuous to say the least. But above all, the effort to destroy the one plan in place to help citizens achieve medical coverage has consequences for the very lives of the citizens they represent.  Mr. Ryan himself lamented that the “good becomes the victim of the perfect,” wishing others would compromise to make the plan better.  Why, Sir, doesn’t this apply to the ACA? Why would you prefer the explosion of it to simply improving it?  Heed your own advice and for the sake of the nation you serve, get busy improving the ACA in a bipartisan way.   To quote the Roman statesman, Seneca, “I would certainly not describe as mercy what was actually the exhaustion of cruelty.” The Trump plan was manifestly cruel. Its failure is not necessarily a moment of mercy, as can be seen by the President’s tortuous logic and response.  Sick Americans and their loved ones deserve better than a promise of an explosion.