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 peverhart@niwotumc.org or click on the link below to comment here. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Super(she)roes"


Jeremiah is prophetically offering condemnation to those who have oppressed their people and saying a time is coming when God will send “a righteous branch” to execute justice and righteousness in the land. The branch that is coming is Jesus, a leader who will be unlike any leader before because he will understand all people, not just a few.
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them… The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. –Jeremiah 23:2, 5-6
Luke begins with Jesus being crucified at the hands of the rulers, begging God to forgive them for their acts, and ends with him beckoning a criminal into paradise with him.  Jesus dealing with what was happening to him and extending a hand of grace to those who oppressed him.

Since the scriptures this week seem to point to God always being on the side of the oppressed and God always seeking ways to offer righteousness and justice, it seemed like a good time to discuss the super”she”roes of our faith, women who have stood strong for their faith and for justice, despite the deck stacked against them.

Joan of Arc was a young peasant girl in France who claimed to hear the voices of saints charging her with a mission to save France by helping to restore the French leader to power and driving out English rule. She became a soldier and wore male clothing and although she inspired soldiers to courageous and successful battles, she was accused of witchcraft, imprisoned and convicted, and eventually burned at the stake. She was 19. Part of what convicted her was her adamant belief in the voices she heard and her refusal to give up wearing male clothing.  St Joan has the distinction of being both a saint of the church and someone who lived life condemned by the church.

Georgia Harkness was one of the first high-profile female theologians and was a strong supporter of the movement to gain ordination for women in the Methodist church. She was the first woman to achieve full professorship in a US seminary and was a leading figure in the ecumenical church, believing all should know and understand the Christian faith.  She had to stand up to plenty of angry men and women in her fight for women’s ordination. But she stood strong. Her witness paved the way for all of us who are ordained clergy in the Methodist church, though she herself never became ordained.

There are countless women of the faith, both from the biblical account… people like Mother Mary, Esther, Ruth, and all the way through to modern day. But often, the history of the church gets told without them. We remember the male disciples, but not the female ones. We remember fathers in our faith like Bishops Coke and Asbury, and forget the witness of all those women who led class meetings and kept the church doors open.  
It is important to remember the very real contributions of women to the faith and how we would not have made it to this point without them. Sunday school teachers, our grandmas, and all the rest.

It is the end of the church year, this week. This is the day we remember Jesus dying on the cross as a Crucified King, remembering his message of love and inclusion that leads to his crucifixion.  Let us also remember the witness of all those women of the faith who also helped pave the path of our Way of the Cross and are still paving it today.


What women in your faith journey have made an impact on your life?  Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking the link below.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Today's sermon 11/13 "The Call to Be a Savior" (Superman Returns)

“The Call to Be a Savior” (Superman Returns)
Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 21:5-15
Niwot UMC
November 13, 2016

Our acolyte Olivia gave me an idea a while back to focus a sermon on some dialogue in the movie Superman Returns.   I did not consider when I planned it for this week, that we would actually need Superman to save us, but it turns out we do. In my lifetime I have never seen the aftermath of a presidential election lead to what we are currently experiencing. Acts of hate speech going on all over the country and people living in real fear for their lives.  This is not a partisan statement. It's just fact. KKK marches of victory, Swastikas painted on black churches,  gay people having rocks thrown and epithets uttered about then, a list of all sorts of awfulness that has bubbled to the surface, though sadly it has been simmering in our country all along. That's not to suggest that this hasn't happened before, but it is clearly happening with increased frequency right now.  And no matter who we voted for we are going to have to deal with what is going on and do better. And we the church must lead the way in helping the country to find love and peace somehow.

In the passage in Isaiah 65, we hear words of hope in the midst of anxiety.
 Like the days of a tree will be the days of my people.... They wont labor in vain, nor bear children to a world of horrors, because they will be people blessed by the Lord, they along with their descendants. Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear. Wolf and lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but the snake—its food will be dust. They wont hurt or destroy at any place on my holy mountain, says the Lord.
  This passage is about  the people of Israel,  who after having been exiled for 60 years, finally return home, but 'home' is not what they remembered.  Their homes were no longer there and everything they thought they knew was different and strange.  Much like what we feel now, in the days post-election... It is a country that feels different and strange. And the entire world is reeling with uncertainty.  In the homeland of the Israelites in this passage and in our homeland today, we feel a common urge to pick up the pieces. Much like returning to clean up after a natural disaster, you have shock and dismay at what you see around you, and then grit and resilience.

I remember going into Lyons the first day they let people re-enter after the flood in 2013.  I was a bystander, but the people who lived there... ohmygosh! I felt for them.  We saw the river literally running through people's homes, cars turned upside down, houses leaning sideways as their foundations crumbled.  It was devastating.  But, the resilience and the grit of these people whose lives were being swept away in the waters was also on full display. Somehow you just knew that they would fight and grow stronger and build a new tomorrow together.
And they have.  And so can we.  From the brokenness of today's headlines and stark realities, we can look to American resilience to guide us to a new day.  A time when fear will not reign, but hope and love will guide us toward peace.

In Luke 21, we have Jesus telling the disciples that everything they have had their security in... the temple, the nation, their way of life... is coming to an end.  And he doesn't sugarcoat it either. He says
“As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other.

He doesn't say this to scare them, but to remind them that no matter what people or things of this earth we have put our trust in, they will not last and they will not stand on their own. Because on our own we perish. The only way we rebuild is by adding God to the equation.
Jesus tells those facing dark days,
This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. Ill give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict

He's  reminding them that in times when it feels like the apocalypse is upon them, their first order of business is to trust in the message of hope  he came to share. Being a church that is present when the world needs you requires channeling Jesus' message of love and trusting Jesus to give you the words to say to advance that message. Jesus suggests that in times of insecurity, we choose to trust him to give us the words to say.

So obviously Jesus is the Superman figure in our narrative as Christians.  Jesus lets us know that he came to be with us in the flesh as proof that God always walks with us on the way. He's that flash in the dark that comes to save us when we can't seem to save ourselves.

In the movie Superman Returns,  one of Olivia's  favorite quotes and mine too, is this exchange between Lois and Superman:

Superman: Listen; what do you hear?
Lois Lane: Nothing.
Superman: I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.

Superman hears the cries of the world and yet Lois does not.  Some people are fine-tuned to hear the cry and call of the needy and they remind us that even though we may not initially be fine tuned to hear it, we have the responsibility to figure it out. That we can't, like Lois, just decide that the world doesn't need a savior,  and so we can all fend for ourselves.  Superman reminds us that our call is to dig deep and find our inner convictions to love and care for all people.

One of the real life superheroes of the civil rights movement was the late Vincent Harding, a grace-filled soul that taught at Iliff for many years.  All his words are divine musings, but this one fits the bill in the aftermath of the election. 
 "My own feeling that I try to share again and again is that when it comes to creating a multiracial, multiethnic, multi religious democratic society, we are still a developing nation. We've only been really thinking about this for about a half a century. But my own deep conviction is that the knowledge, like all knowledge, is available to us if we seek it. --(Vincent Harding speaking to Kritsa Tippett.)

And that is where the real world differs from a Superman movie.  We need a superhero to save us, but we must seek him within ourselves.  And then we must do his work. As Superman tells Lois, The world is always crying for a savior. And as our superhero Jesus reminds us, we are to be his hands and feet in the world.

We all have our own version of apocalypse going on at any given time.  That's called life. And, we have been subject to this troubling and vitriolic campaign season and its aftermath that left us unusually unsettled.  And so we have work to do to save those who need us most.

Christ clearly calls us to be on the side of the marginalized, to set the oppressed free, to be a voice for the voiceless.  It is the single clear and persistent message in the gospels. There is no question about that.  That means that the church and its people must lead the way in creating a more perfect union. We must speak up against hate speech, we must provide sanctuary to those who are afraid to live in this country.   We must offer love and compassion and open hearts, minds and doors without reservation to African Americans, Muslim Americans, gay and lesbian and bi and transgendered Americans, immigrants, undocumented, women. Anyone who feels degraded and targeted, Jesus calls us most especially to love.    That is just what being a Christian is.  If we are truly the Christians we claim to be, then that is our first order of business on this Sunday and for every day that follows.  Anne Lamott says, "Frequently, as so many poets and psalmists and songwriters have said, the invisible shift happens through the broken places.” God is love. And so God's people love the world through the broken places.  



Show us your mercy, O Lord;
R.    And grant us your salvation.
V.    Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
R.    Let your people sing with joy.
V.    Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
R.    For only in you can we live in safety
V.    Lord, keep this nation under your care;
R.    And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
V.    Let your way be known upon earth;
R.    Your saving health among all nations.
V.    Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R.    Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
V.    Create in us clean hearts, O God;
R.    And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.




From the Book of Common Prayer




Today's sermon 11/13 "The Call to Be a Savior" (Superman Returns)

“The Call to Be a Savior” (Superman Returns)
Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 21:5-15
Niwot UMC
November 13, 2016

Our acolyte Olivia gave me an idea a while back to focus a sermon on some dialogue in the movie Superman Returns.   I did not consider when I planned it for this week, that we would actually need Superman to save us, but it turns out we do. In my lifetime I have never seen the aftermath of a presidential election lead to what we are currently experiencing. Acts of hate speech going on all over the country and people living in real fear for their lives.  This is not a partisan statement. It's just fact. KKK marches of victory, Swastikas painted on black churches,  gay people having rocks thrown and epithets uttered about then, a list of all sorts of awfulness that has bubbled to the surface, though sadly it has been simmering in our country all along. That's not to suggest that this hasn't happened before, but it is clearly happening with increased frequency right now.  And no matter who we voted for we are going to have to deal with what is going on and do better. And we the church must lead the way in helping the country to find love and peace somehow.

In the passage in Isaiah 65, we hear words of hope in the midst of anxiety.
 Like the days of a tree will be the days of my people.... They wont labor in vain, nor bear children to a world of horrors, because they will be people blessed by the Lord, they along with their descendants. Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear. Wolf and lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but the snake—its food will be dust. They wont hurt or destroy at any place on my holy mountain, says the Lord.
  This passage is about  the people of Israel,  who after having been exiled for 60 years, finally return home, but 'home' is not what they remembered.  Their homes were no longer there and everything they thought they knew was different and strange.  Much like what we feel now, in the days post-election... It is a country that feels different and strange. And the entire world is reeling with uncertainty.  In the homeland of the Israelites in this passage and in our homeland today, we feel a common urge to pick up the pieces. Much like returning to clean up after a natural disaster, you have shock and dismay at what you see around you, and then grit and resilience.

I remember going into Lyons the first day they let people re-enter after the flood in 2013.  I was a bystander, but the people who lived there... ohmygosh! I felt for them.  We saw the river literally running through people's homes, cars turned upside down, houses leaning sideways as their foundations crumbled.  It was devastating.  But, the resilience and the grit of these people whose lives were being swept away in the waters was also on full display. Somehow you just knew that they would fight and grow stronger and build a new tomorrow together.
And they have.  And so can we.  From the brokenness of today's headlines and stark realities, we can look to American resilience to guide us to a new day.  A time when fear will not reign, but hope and love will guide us toward peace.

In Luke 21, we have Jesus telling the disciples that everything they have had their security in... the temple, the nation, their way of life... is coming to an end.  And he doesn't sugarcoat it either. He says
“As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other.

He doesn't say this to scare them, but to remind them that no matter what people or things of this earth we have put our trust in, they will not last and they will not stand on their own. Because on our own we perish. The only way we rebuild is by adding God to the equation.
Jesus tells those facing dark days,
This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. Ill give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict

He's  reminding them that in times when it feels like the apocalypse is upon them, their first order of business is to trust in the message of hope  he came to share. Being a church that is present when the world needs you requires channeling Jesus' message of love and trusting Jesus to give you the words to say to advance that message. Jesus suggests that in times of insecurity, we choose to trust him to give us the words to say.

So obviously Jesus is the Superman figure in our narrative as Christians.  Jesus lets us know that he came to be with us in the flesh as proof that God always walks with us on the way. He's that flash in the dark that comes to save us when we can't seem to save ourselves.

In the movie Superman Returns,  one of Olivia's  favorite quotes and mine too, is this exchange between Lois and Superman:

Superman: Listen; what do you hear?
Lois Lane: Nothing.
Superman: I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.

Superman hears the cries of the world and yet Lois does not.  Some people are fine-tuned to hear the cry and call of the needy and they remind us that even though we may not initially be fine tuned to hear it, we have the responsibility to figure it out. That we can't, like Lois, just decide that the world doesn't need a savior,  and so we can all fend for ourselves.  Superman reminds us that our call is to dig deep and find our inner convictions to love and care for all people.

One of the real life superheroes of the civil rights movement was the late Vincent Harding, a grace-filled soul that taught at Iliff for many years.  All his words are divine musings, but this one fits the bill in the aftermath of the election. 
 "My own feeling that I try to share again and again is that when it comes to creating a multiracial, multiethnic, multi religious democratic society, we are still a developing nation. We've only been really thinking about this for about a half a century. But my own deep conviction is that the knowledge, like all knowledge, is available to us if we seek it. --(Vincent Harding speaking to Kritsa Tippett.)

And that is where the real world differs from a Superman movie.  We need a superhero to save us, but we must seek him within ourselves.  And then we must do his work. As Superman tells Lois, The world is always crying for a savior. And as our superhero Jesus reminds us, we are to be his hands and feet in the world.

We all have our own version of apocalypse going on at any given time.  That's called life. And, we have been subject to this troubling and vitriolic campaign season and its aftermath that left us unusually unsettled.  And so we have work to do to save those who need us most.

Christ clearly calls us to be on the side of the marginalized, to set the oppressed free, to be a voice for the voiceless.  It is the single clear and persistent message in the gospels. There is no question about that.  That means that the church and its people must lead the way in creating a more perfect union. We must speak up against hate speech, we must provide sanctuary to those who are afraid to live in this country.   We must offer love and compassion and open hearts, minds and doors without reservation to African Americans, Muslim Americans, gay and lesbian and bi and transgendered Americans, immigrants, undocumented, women. Anyone who feels degraded and targeted, Jesus calls us most especially to love.    That is just what being a Christian is.  If we are truly the Christians we claim to be, then that is our first order of business on this Sunday and for every day that follows.  Anne Lamott says, "Frequently, as so many poets and psalmists and songwriters have said, the invisible shift happens through the broken places.” God is love. And so God's people love the world through the broken places.  



Show us your mercy, O Lord;
R.    And grant us your salvation.
V.    Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
R.    Let your people sing with joy.
V.    Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
R.    For only in you can we live in safety
V.    Lord, keep this nation under your care;
R.    And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
V.    Let your way be known upon earth;
R.    Your saving health among all nations.
V.    Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R.    Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
V.    Create in us clean hearts, O God;
R.    And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.




From the Book of Common Prayer




Monday, November 7, 2016

"Superman: The call to be a savior"


For the next couple of weeks, we will take a look at superheroes and what they signify and why we 'need' them to face the world around us.  In the passage in Isaiah 65 in this week's lectionary, we hear words of hope in the midst of anxiety.  The people of Israel, after having been exiled for 60 years, were allowed to return home, but 'home' was not what they remembered.  Their homes were no longer there and everything they thought they knew was different and strange.  Much like returning to clean up after a natural disaster, there was shock and dismay, and then grit and resilience.

I remember going into Lyons with my pastor friend Emily the first day they let people re-enter after the flood in 2013.  I was a bystander, but the people who lived there... oh, how I felt for them.  We saw the river literally running through people's homes. We saw cars turned upside down. We saw houses leaning sideways as their foundations crumbled.  It was devastating.  But, the resilience and the grit of these people whose lives were being swept away in the waters was also on full display. Somehow you just knew that they would fight and grow stronger and build a new tomorrow together.
And they have.

In Luke 21, we have Jesus telling the disciples that everything they have had their security in... the temple, the nation, their way of life... is coming to an end.  He doesn't say this to scare them, but to remind them that all of our material goods and our daily trivialities are not what life is about. Life is about living for God's way. Life is about trusting in Jesus' message of love. Life is about knowing that all we have to do is trust in that message and, no matter what, we will be secure. Because God will be with us.

Jesus is the Superman figure in our narrative as Christians.  Jesus lets us know that he came to be with us in the flesh as proof that God always walks with us on the way.

In the movie Superman returns, there are a lot of metaphorical references to Christ. I'll get into those more on Sunday, but one of my favorite quotes is this exchange between Lois and Superman:

Superman: Listen; what do you hear?
Lois Lane: Nothing.
Superman: I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.

The world is always crying for a savior. And as we head to Advent, we begin to be a world preparing for our savior to arrive.

We all have our own version of apocalypse going on at any given time.  Over the course of this year, beloved church members have died and we have mourned their loss and tried to trudge forward in a new way.  At the same time, we have been subject to a troubling and vitriolic campaign season that left us unusually unsettled.  But God has been in and with us through all of it.

As I told the confirmation students Sunday, there is no place that God isn't.  God is with us at school, at piano lessons, at drama club, everywhere. God is always there.  And we just need to stop, be still, breathe, and say "hey... glad you are here."   That will put our minds at ease and help our hearts to soar.

Our church is the best church I can imagine being part of. The love we have for one another is real and deep and true.  No matter what we are going through, we always have each other. Because God lives here with us.

Thoughts? Email at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking the link below.

Monday, October 24, 2016

"Building Bridges"

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Words in italics adapted by Pam from 2 Thessalonians, using words that fit our context:

 From (Pastor) Pam, (DS) Skip and (Bishop) Karen
 To the church of the people of Gunbarrel and Niwot, in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.


This community of faith never ceases to show its love one for the other.  We are all so grateful to share in a community whose love for one another increases day by day.  And we do so want faith in this place to continue to grow. To reach those we haven't. To be a vital church for not only today, but for a tomorrow fast approaching.

Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your doubts and concern in this time of decline that you are enduring.

So, we will share your name with joy to others wherever we go. See how those people of Niwot UMC love each other!!  See how they share God's love as a faith community! See how they seek out and find missions near and far to help in any way they can!  OK, so their numbers are on the decline, and their concern about that is on the rise.  So be with them during this time of uncertainty and concern, O Gracious God.

 To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We, your church leaders, therefore resolve to pray for you and to pray for this place. This special, sacred, holy place and its people called Niwot UMC... that we might fully and wholly become exactly who God wants us to be in this place, making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  We are praying for NUMC. We are part of you. We can, together, the church united, do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

How does our mutual love and appreciation for one another and the church help us to build bridges into our community?  What are some bridges we are already building that we can continue?
Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking the link below.



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Building Each Other Up"

1 Thessalonians 5:9-21

Paul is encouraging the church in Thessaloniki to stay of good courage and keep the faith. He encourages them to love and care for one another, just as they have been doing. He says do not stop no matter what is thrown your way, saying  "encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing."  He uses words like esteem, and respect, and peace, and patience. He says pray and rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances.

As we move forward into planning for a new church year, it occurs to me that this scripture is a great foundational tool to refer to going forward.  We have to continue to build on the foundation of care and trust and esteem and respect that we already have for one another as we seek to be a community that lives into the UMC mission of  making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Therefore, we need to hold ourselves true to the promises we have made to each other to uphold the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. When we hold each other up in respect and create a place of peace and goodness here by praying for one another, tithing what we are able to financially, showing up on Sundays regularly and working hard for the benefit of our community both inside and outside the walls on other days, we are showing God that the sacrifices of all who came before us matter. That the church of the future matters.

This year how can we build each other up in all ways so that we might build a future for this church and the community surrounding us?