Monday, January 9, 2017

“Turn and See Something New”

And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"

John baptizes Jesus and then he says he sees the Spirit descend like a dove and remain on Jesus.  Why does John use the language of water and dove to connect Jesus to being anointed to be the  Lamb of God?  It might be as a way to connect the Spirit that Jesus draws us toward with the very real and earthy components of nature.  The infusion of the Spirit into not only this singular man Jesus, but into all the earth. That is what I think of in the Pentecost story too, when it says "there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind" and it entered the whole room where the disciples were.  The scriptures are good at using the elements of water, air, earth and fire to connect us to the Divine with us.  That partly relates to the real connection ancient people made to their environment. But it is helpful even now to guide us to the reality that God is in and among all of life.

In this story, though, John shares with us that Jesus is the key to our life ahead.  He shares the baptism story and the miraculous way the Spirit alights particularly on Jesus like a dove.  And then the next day he shares  with two disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God.   Emphasizing the real and important role Jesus takes as a connector... bridging any divide between humankind and God. Perhaps we can connect the two.  Jesus as one who guides us to the Spirit and the Spirit's infusion in all of our life and natural world enveloping us in God's love.

What parts of our natural world connects you most to the Spirit?  When have you been in the natural world and felt for sure, without a doubt, that God is in that moment with you?  Have you ever been driving down the road and just had to pull over and catch your breath because the scenery around you was so breathtaking?  Or maybe the scenery wasn't breathtaking, but you felt God with you in nature in some way?

I remember a time I felt like that with some of you.  The day we had vespers at Rocky Mountain National Park two summers ago was not a good weather day. We had hail and pouring rain some of the day.  There were puddles all around us at the amphitheater as we gathered for the service.  But the service itself felt holy. And just before we finished, the sun peaked out from behind the clouds and trees. And I swear you could feel the Spirit descend like a dove and sit there among us.

Thoughts? Stories to share? Email me or comment below. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Turn and Follow the Light"

(Due to a scheduling change because of the weather and choir director 'auditions', the worship plan for Jan 8 and Jan 22 are now switched.)

In this passage we find Jesus studying the prophet Isaiah and seeing that his call is to bring light to the darkness.  John has been arrested and things are bleak.  So Jesus begins preaching and telling people, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near."   Repent would have meant both "change your mind," and "change your inner self,"  Perfect words for us to consider as we think about the New Year and all it brings. Also, Jesus asked people directly to follow him.  He tells him he will show them how to gather others into the fold.

We could use some help with this, Jesus.  How do we change our ways here at Niwot UMC and how do we learn to share the good news?

The heart of this story lies not in Jesus' calling, but in the fact that those whom he called FOLLOWED. They followed his message, they proclaimed the gospel per his instruction, they cared for the sick, reached out to those on the margins. They didn't say no. They didn't say "let me check my calendar," they didn't say "I can't commit to that right now, Jesus," they just followed him.

I think this passage says several things to us. You may think of more than these, but these are the instructions I see and hear in this passage:

1) Change our 'inner selves' so that we are more focused on God and what God wants from us. If we don't change ourselves, we can't follow what Jesus wants us to learn and do and be. But how? Perhaps through prayer or meditation or singing hymns or reading the Bible. Perhaps through feeding the hungry,  or caring for those in need.

2) Follow the light of Christ out the door and into our community. The fishermen by the seashore did not stay by the seashore and their nets. They returned to them from time to time, I'm sure, but they ventured out on a new path with Jesus and found a new way to 'fish.' Our instruction:  Find ways to bring Niwot UMC to Gunbarrel and Niwot area folks, instead of hoping they will walk in the door here.

3) Listen to what Jesus says, watch what he does, and follow him. Without delay. Without figuring out how it fits into our lives. Just do it.  The fishermen did not look around to see if someone was more qualified than they were. They didn't say, "let me think about it." We can't either. We don't wait for someone else who is more qualified or more available to do it. We spread the good news now. 

Thoughts? Comments?  Email me at or comment by clicking the comments link below. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"Turn, Turn, Turn"

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, says the writer of Ecclesiastes.  Sounds like a time for reflection as we turn the page to a near year.  Reflect on what you would say to "fill in the blanks" on each of these lines...
A time to be born.... who was born to your family or friends last year, will be born to you this year? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (I had two babies born in my extended family last year, a cousin and a great-nephew.  This year a college graduate will be born into my immediate family) 
And a time to die.... who passed from this life to the next last year in your family? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________((In our church family, Chuck Sorenson, Jim Anderson, Sue Schoonover and Ed Freymiller. In my own family my granddaddy-in-law Bill Justis and his sister, my great-aunt-in-law Katherine, and our sweet cat of 15 years Moses)
A time to plant... what have you planted this past year? (actual or metaphorically)_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________What has our congregation planted this past year in the way of ideas, programs, projects? Is a community garden on the way? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(We planted a NUMC family mission trip to UMCOR West Depot, we planted an Outreach Fund, ...)
And a time to pluck up what is planted.... what have we decided to let go of this year ? We should name and grieve them.  ______________________________
(We applied for and were not selected to receive a Lilly Grant for Clergy Renewal.  Disappointing on many levels for me, personally.  We lost Karen Driver as our admin assistant... though we did gain Anna back.  We lost Susan Warren as choir director... though we did gain some good applicants. What else? )
A time to kill ... (what in the life of the congregation has been “killed?”) ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (We have lost some of our vitality and have not been able to fund wider mission in full most of the year. We have lost members to moves and death. We have lost needed income. What else? )
And a time to heal... what healing have you experienced in the last year? _______
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ (I have gained a personal healing, of sorts, of the pain I feel as the denomination continues to fight over LGBTQ equality in the denomination... through the election of our new Bishop Karen Oliveto.  Her election made me take a foot I had put out the door and place it back in the door for now.)
Let's take some time this week to both weep and laugh together. Speaking our truths in love and embracing one another as we turn, turn, turn and head to a new page... a new chapter that is, necessarily, imprinted with our struggles and disappointments of the past, and also our joys and celebrations.  Keep in mind, though, that the 'rest of the story' in this book we call Niwot UMC has yet to be written and let us resolve to make this the best chapter yet.
I invite you to print out and fill out the blanks on this blog post and bring it with you to worship this week.  10:20 on Sunday, 7405 Lookout Road.  Bring someone new with you this week, too.  There's plenty of room to spare in this new chapter we are writing.
Comments? Email at of click the comment link below.
From Bob Seger's song "Turn the Page," you might reflect on these lyrics:
Most times you can't hear 'em talk, other times you can
All the same old clich├ęs: "Is it woman? Is it man?"
And you always seem outnumbered, so you don't dare make a stand

Here I am, on a road again
There I am, on the stage
Here I go, playing star again
There I go, turn the page

Monday, December 19, 2016

Shining a Light in the Darkness

Luke 2:1-20 
Matthew 2:1-8

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

What do you do when you realize that you've sanitized Christmas so much that you don't even know what it means?  Did it hit you at all that Syria is part of this story?  Did that jolt you?  And what are you thinking now that you see it?  Do the people of Aleppo seem so distant from you that you can't see that Mary and Joseph were being directed to go to a new place and enter a 'registry' by a leader in Syria?

That same sort of jolt is what happens to the narrator of the story in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. She realizes that the Christmas Pageant her church puts on every year has left out the dark side of Christmas.  And even though they may have had a moment in the service when they read John 1: "A light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it" they have moved too quickly from Silent Night to Joy to the World.  And well, the pause is important. And believe it or not, it is the Herdmans who honor the pause.

The Herdmans come from nothing. And they live lives that are on the edge. And they don't know sometimes where their next meal is coming from.  So when they hear of King Herod's plan to rid the world of the Baby Jesus in the Christmas story, they don't gloss over it and throw it out of the story, the way we tend to do... they laser-focus in on it and get to the bottom of it. They find out all the bad stuff that Herod did to try to keep a Messiah from interfering with his power.

The side of this story that the Herdmans focused in on is the story is about the Herod and his plan of destruction. The pageant barely mentions it other than to say the Wise Men were instructed by Herod to come to him and tell him where the child is.

Easy for us who are comfortable to forget Jesus was born a refugee in a world of danger. Easy to forget there are still Herods in the world continuing to seek to  extinguish the light of joy and goodness in our world. It was true at the time of Jesus’ birth, and it’s true now. The dark side of this story is one of power, the power of love and light versus the dark power of political enterprise. You see, Herod really shouldn't be left out of this story because the Herods of this world continue to stay with us.

The song, “Star Child,” mentions all kinds of children who need the light of Christmas. “The street child, the beat child, the child with no place left to go. The hurt child, the used child, the unwanted child. The grown and old child, the sad and lost child, .” And yes, even the spared and spoiled child All children deserve our protection.

In the story, Gladys the angel runs down the aisle shouting, "Hey unto you a child is born!" and we get the point. Angels are elbowing each other out of the way to make sure that people know to see and protect this holy child.  So should we. Are we, in this new year, willing to become angel protectors to all of our children? Or are we complacent to remain with Herod, filled with fear and willing to use whatever means necessary to maintain the status quo?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Every Family Has Insiders and Outsiders, (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, week 3)

Isaiah 2:1-5
Luke 1: 47-55

The Herdmans in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever are really getting to the bottom of this whole Christmas story.  They are understanding in a way that the other children don't exactly how perilous this whole time was for Mary and Joseph and the newborn baby whose life is in danger.  They understand the threat of Herod. They go to the library to learn all they can about him since the sanitized version of the Christmas pageant at church doesn't seem to offer them the information they want.

You've heard the phrase "It takes one to know one."  In the case of the Herdmans, it takes an outsider living on the edge to know an outsider living on the edge.  They GET the grittiness of the real Jesus nativity.  And they are horrified and transfixed.

In Isaiah we read:  
God will judge between the nations,
    and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
    and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
    they will no longer learn how to make war.
Come, house of Jacob,
    let’s walk by the Lord’s light.

This suggests to us that it is God who can create peace and settle disputes, but that we are called to walk in that light.  God relies on us to listen to God's story and call... and in that message we will no longer make war, but peace.  I am sure that the Herdmans, who are filled with chaos and rabble-rousing, would have a few words to say about this passage, but perhaps it is because they haven't yet seen or experienced God's light that they live in warfare mode instead. But they are seeing God bit by bit.

I read this the other day and it certainly applies here:  "If we want to encounter God, we must walk with those who suffer. God is not found in the American dream, but in its shadow."  The Herdmans are shadows in our society. People who are outsiders, shunned, turned away.  God is found in the shadows of our society, thus it makes perfect sense that it is the Herdmans who ACTUALLY understand the real story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

Mary's magnificat takes on more powerful meaning when you think, for example, of Imogene Herdman reciting the words. In her context of poverty and abandonment and neglect, these words are amazingly powerful: 

 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Family Secrets (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever week 2)

Special Service Note:  This week, as a part of the service, we will have our annual Impromptu Christmas Pageant. Come and participate in the nativity.  Choose your costume as you head into worship. We have a lot of choices for everyone, no matter how young or old you are.  We are so thrilled this year to have TWINS as "Babies Jesus." It is going to be a blast!

The passage in Isaiah points to a child who will offer a sign. He will be able to refuse the evil and choose the good.  It is a word of hope to people who have lived in a land of exile, a time of darkness and oppression.  Perhaps after all, there will be some way forward.

The Matthew passage points to the complexity of issues surrounding Jesus' birth. Joseph is shocked to find out Mary is expecting a baby when they are not yet married.  This was disgraceful and he is going to try to end things quietly. He doesn't want to cause her any more shame, but is afraid to move forward with the marriage, also.

Families have burdens. Families have secrets. Families have shame.  It is a simple fact of life. Period. We are given examples of how grace can intercede in the midst of burdens, secrets and shame and offer a way forward.

The exiles Isaiah speaks are offered grace in the resolve to move forward, one trudge at a time, with heads up instead of down, as they seek their better way forward, as they head toward their release, as they dream of a Messiah.

 The grace that surrounds Joseph comes in the form of an angelic dream.  In that dream he hears a way forward. Mary's child is of the Holy Spirit. Stay with her. Be part of the miracle.

And in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever? How about those Herdmans? And the pageant?  It turns out there's some secrets and shame there, too. The Herdmans have child-like innocence about the Nativity story. They have never heard it. They know of their own shame of being poor and having no father. And even though they act like they don't care, they most certainly do.  So they connect in a visceral way with the story of Mary being pregnant and being shut out of the inn with no place to go.
Our word this week is JOY.  What struggles and problematic places have you encountered that have allowed you, even so, to find a sense of joy?  Email me at or click on the comment button below.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Every Family Has Conflict" (Best Christmas Pageant Ever, part 1)

Perhaps you’ve read the book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, or seen the film or the play adaptation.  It’s the best story I know to share the struggles that people go through in trying to be family to one another.  Immediate family, church family, community family… all with their own unique conflicts and problems, and joys and goodness.
This month we will look at what it means to create the family of God in and through our family struggles, using the prophets and the gospel readings from Advent as our foundation, and also wisdom from the Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  By the way, the Longmont Theatre Company is producing the play this month, see this LINK for more details. Our church will go together to see in on Friday, Dec 9 at 7 so sign up at the church to join us.  Our own Rachelle Bridgestock is in the cast.
So this week, we have Isaiah offering a prophetic word about what peace means. Peace means that opponents sit down together, that enemies get along, and that a child is the one with the true wisdom to show the way.  And we also have a quite different reading from the gospels, John the Baptist lashing out and calling the religious ones among him  a “brood of vipers” and calling for repentance and justice and punishment for those who have oppressed others.
What is the happy medium here? Between a vision of peace that happens if we all agree to sit at the same table together and a vision of struggle and conflict that shows rough edges that seem far from peaceful? 
Advent is a time of longing. Of hoping for what is to come. It is not a season of peace. It is a season of digging through the rough stuff, doing the hard work of justice, to reach the place of peace.  So it’s both/and… these scriptures this week, both beckoning us toward peace and showing us that it doesn’t come easy.
Like all our families…. They all have conflict.  So much so that some of us struggle just to be in communication with our loved ones.  And the recent political climate has in fact broken some family ties, severed some relationships, though hopefully they can one day be repaired.
Just like in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, there is a lot of rough and tumble, tough and dramatic conflict when the Herdmans enter the church family to participate in the annual pageant.  No one wants the Herdmans there… and they create anything but peace as the wreak havoc on the reheasrals and their interpretation of the events… and yet, in the end, no one has ever experienced the Christ Child’s birth in such a meaningful way.
The advent word for this week is Peace…. But it isn’t a word that should stand alone.  And it isn’t a noun for us in this context.  Peace is a verb for us this year, an action…. And it requires clear minds, open hearts and arms, and a lot of struggle and, yes, even conflict, to be achieved.  But we can do it.

Thoughts? Email me at or click on the link below to comment here.