Monday, February 27, 2017

"Water"


John 4:5-15


This famous scripture about the woman at the well has a lot to offer us. We see an example shown by Jesus of how to treat a fellow human being.  He treats her kindly although based on the scenario, most men would not have spoken to her at all.  For one, women who were good and decent drew water in the morning, so she was an outcast if she's there at noon. For another, men didn't talk directly to women in such a way.  For a third, she is a Samaritan and he is a Jew.  But he shows her kindness.

Another thing this scripture offers us is a description of what Jesus is saying can happen if we follow him.  What Jesus offers is living water. Water that will be so quenching of our thirst that we will never be thirsty again.

In her book, Grounded, Diana Butler Bass uses this scripture and a lot of other descriptions of water to show us the deep connection we have to water in our lives.  Of course, our bodies are to a large degree made up of water, so there's that.  There is also the deep connection we make to the natural bodies of water in our world. She tells the story of  diving for a conch shell and the connection she has with the sea.

Of course we all know that water is essential to our survival. No possibility of our lives continuing if we don't have water to drink.  But there are so many other ways that water is essential to our existence. And so many ways that the water around us is actually not only essential, but sacramental, in our lives.  Water is holy and powerful and able to connect us both to the earth and to the Divine.

Here are some stories about water that you might find meaning in reading: http://www.takepart.com/feature/2015/03/22/charity-water-world-water-day

We are fortunate in the Western World to not have to work to get our water.   Many do not have that luxury, so while they need water to survive, they have to work very hard to get it.  And so they don't take it for granted.

I admit, water for me usually equates to fun and happiness.  I know I have a memory full of stories from my childhood trips to Myrtle Beach. My brother and I loved to swim and ride rafts in the ocean. And I loved (still do) walking down the shoreline with my feet in the tide.  What memories and stories can you share about water in your lives?   Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment by clicking the comment link below.


Monday, February 20, 2017

"Trail Mix"


Matthew 17:1-9


Transfiguracion del Divino Salvador del Mundo at Catedral Metropolitana del Divino Salvador del Mundo

The transfiguration scripture is a strange one indeed.  Jesus takes Peter and James on a hike up a mountain by themselves.  On the hike, he suddenly starts shining, like glowing from the inside out... and his clothes became dazzling white.  And then Peter and James saw Moses and Elijah standing with him there.  Peter, overcome, says they should build three shines to the three prophets.  And then God speaks, saying, just as he did when Jesus was baptized by John, "This is my Son... with him I am well pleased." and "Listen to him."

This whole weird surreal encounter certainly scares the heck out of Peter and James and they fall to the ground.

Jesus encourages them not to be afraid.  As soon as he says that, and they look up, they see no one except Jesus.

Then they go down the mountain.

Crazy set of circumstances. What exactly happened here?  We don't really know. But we do know that as they are alone with Jesus on the hike they are introduced in a profound way to the lineage of the faith tradition. They see the connection between Moses and Elijah and Jesus and they understand, though frightened, that this is a lineage that is powerful and filled with strength and light.

And this mountain hike happens just after Jesus has told them in Chapter 16 that whoever wants to be his disciple must "Take up their cross and follow him."  He tells them in 16 that they will need to embrace suffering because being his disciple is not an easy path.

This is some kind of 'diet' to feed his fellow trail mates. A trail mix of epic proportions.  Hard to swallow, in fact.  Tell them that following him is akin to suffering. Then taking them up the mountain and giving them this crazy weird experience where he glows and Moses and Elijah appeared.

What does this experience mean to Peter and James? Why are they exposed to a glow from Jesus and the vision of Moses and Elijah?  Is it to show them that they aren't just following anybody? To convince them that he is worth 'taking up their crosses' for because he is part of a greater lineage of prophets who have a path worth following?  Is it to share with them the echoes of walking in the way of justice that both Moses and Elijah followed?  No one really knows for sure, but we do know how Jesus told them to handle their fear of what is unfolding in front of their eyes.  He told them to not be afraid.

Jesus leads them into the mountains.  There they experience strange and frightful things.  But Jesus says get up and fear not.  From the beginning of his life to the end, Jesus always seemed to lead those around him into unpredictable circumstances out of their control and sometimes fraught with danger. But echoing all throughout this story is "Fear not."  

The message for us, then, may be as simple as allowing the journey to unfold with courage and without fear.  Follow the way of Christ, even to the top of the highest unexplored mountain, although you might feel more comfortable in the safety zone.  And get up when anxiety and fear knocks you down.  Feed yourself on the words "do not be afraid" and keep on walking the trail.

What does this bizarre story say to you?  Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or click Comments below and leave a message there.


Monday, February 13, 2017

"Salt on Display"





Salt is used here as a metaphor for bringing God to life in our daily journey.  Salt is a seasoning. By itself it isn't very good, but add it to foods and other flavors and it enhances the taste.  In this scripture, Jesus is telling those gathered for what we call the Sermon on the Mount that they are to be salt for the world. That they will be the salt that brings out God's realm. That because they will add their own unique flavor to the New Heaven on Earth that they are creating, God will be magnified in many different ways.

Jesus goes on to say, "don't hide your light."  And Jesus also says that he has come to fulfill the law, to complete it.  He never once suggests that the law as given by God to the Hebrew people isn't valid. He says that his message, his purpose in being here, will fulfill that law.

But what does that mean?  I think it means that God's sending Jesus to us is a way to connect the dots for us to what it means to be fully human.... what it means to live into our own special seasoning, our own special light, our own special piece of the creation.  We are all created in God's image and yet we are all very different.

Jesus says in this passage that diversity is good. That diversity is the key to the Peaceable Kingdom. That diversity is life.  Jesus asks us from the very beginning of his preaching ministry to embrace all people and to also embrace exactly who we are.   To allow our true selves to be fully displayed as we seek to share God's love with the world. And that when we do that, we will fulfill the law, which upholds love of neighbor above all else. 




Monday, February 6, 2017

"Baby Food Beginnings"



Paul is talking about maturing in the faith here. He's making a point of saying that being a Christian is a  lifelong learning venture. That we don't graduate from Sunday School one day and know everything there is to know about Jesus' message to us. That we don't go to seminary for three or four years and graduate with a Master of Divinity degree and know everything there is to know about Jesus' message to us.  That it takes a lifetime to walk the way of Christ. That our struggles will be ongoing and relentless. We will learn a little here and learn a little more there, but there will always be something that we don't know.  

We come to our faith like babies being fed milk and no solid food. And gradually we are able to eat more solid food and different types of food and, all the while, we are experimenting and growing and changing and challenging ourselves in what it means to be Christian.

 
Photograph: WFP / Edward Parsons

Another thing that is challenging about faith development is it's cyclical, spiral nature, sometimes. It's important to know how little we know.  We can be 9 or 90 and both be at the same level of understanding about God. In fact, sometimes the youngest among us have the most profound sense of awareness of the Divine.  We start to get hardened and more cynical as we age, and sometimes faith is about suspension of what we think we know with our heads and recognizing instead what we know we feel with our hearts.  

We also learn in this scripture that we can't seem to erase quarreling from our faith walks with one another.  One group of people believes X to be true about their church, their mission, their purpose... and the other group believes Y to be true.  And so, rather than continuing to grow their faith and the community around them, they just shoot darts at one another.   But Paul reminds us that neither of us has the answers without God being in the center. In verse 7 of this text, he says

"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."

A reminder to us that the most important first step in our faith voyage is fully relying on God and not on our own understanding.  Allowing God to lead the way in this faith walk and not think that our way is the way it is supposed to be. But also not allowing someone else to stray us from what we feel is a right path to take,  Allowing ourselves to stop, look within and listen deeply for the path God and God alone wants us to take.

Faith walking, then, is a complicated journey.  One of my favorite responses to questions when I was in seminary, from just about any of the Bible professors, was "Well, we really don't know."  That's a tough pill for some of us to swallow.  We really don't know all the answers about why we are loved by a God who created a world of magnificence.  Oh yes, we can explain the science of the universe and its ongoing created order, and thanks be to God for our scientists who continue to teach us so much.  But we can't really explain the majesty and heart of it.  Except we all know that when we see a brand new little baby with sparkling eyes that a sense of wonder overcomes us all.  We know that somehow, someway, somewhere there is a miracle at work. A soul growing. A life building.  One baby food faith meal at a time.

What are your challenges in the Christian walk?  Who do you want to become?  What do you still want to learn?  Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or click the comment link below to leave a comment here. 


Monday, January 30, 2017

"Grapes for the Food Bank"

February 5: Grapes for the Food Bank



Wow. This list is hard core.  I don't even know where to begin.  Now granted this is Leviticus, a book that often gets verses ripped out of context for political and social debate, but you can hear echos of Jesus' message here, can't you?  In this passage it is the LORD speaking to Moses, offering a very clear message of saving something for your neighbor, not taking everything for yourself when you harvest... and being kind and not slanderous or manipulative of your neighbor in all the transactions of community life.  And it ends with "love your neighbor as yourself," which, of course, was Jesus repeated mantra over and over and over again.  

I love how this starts though... the very lovely way it reminds us to care for others more than self.  the LORD suggest to Moses that when the fields and vineyards are harvested it is important to not taking every single bit of harvest for yourself.  Leave some for people in need to harvest for themselves, as well.  Share with your neighbor the bounty of your harvest.  It's beautiful. A clear reminder in poetic, pastoral terms, that it is not all about us and what we want and need, but ultimately about building a sharing and loving community.

And on Sunday when we share in Holy Communion, I would like us to think about what it means to not only share the "grapes of our harvest" in terms of sharing our resources with others, but also what it might mean to share the "grape harvest" of our Holy Meal with others.  How do we take the grace and peace Christ offers in the sacrament and truly change our lives, our perspective, our witness in the world? How do we actually embody Christ so that when we walk away from the table and into the world we consider every action we make as a reflection of Christ?    Such a challenge.  So important,

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




Monday, January 23, 2017

"Turn and Bless"



I recommend a full reading of all of Matthew 5, to be honest. We will only look at the first 15 verses of this chapter, but all of it is a clear indication of what kind of world Jesus is trying to build.  One that respects and values neighbors of all walks of life. One that encourages people to tell each other the truth and to uphold commitments to one another. One that encourages people to work for peaceful relationships as much as is humanly possible.  One that suggests that we never hide who we are, but climb to the top of the highest hill and let the world see and hear about who God is calling us to be.

We focus mostly this week on the Beatitudes portion of this text.  Blessed are the.... fill in the blank, but not with who the world thinks is blessed...  instead, most people who are struggling in this world get an honored place in this blessed list.  The poor in Spirit, the meek, the grieving, the persecuted. Oh and also, blessed are the peacemakers.  Sadly, peacemakers, too often get reviled by the world-at-large.

Jesus tells all those who feel discouraged to rejoice for their reward is great in heaven.  He is dogged in his concern for the downtrodden as he shares with all who are gathered on that hillside to hear him deliver an instructional sermon about how to create a more perfect society.

Matthew 5 encourages us to look for a new view of God's blessings in this world.  It is a view that is 180 degrees from any prosperity gospel you will hear.  It is a view that elevates those the world chooses to trample or ignore. It is a view that offers those who feel discouraged a path forward to let their light shine, rather than their darkness permeate.

It should speak to all of us in some way.  We should hear warnings to us about the struggles we have in our society today.  We should hear encouragement about the ways we love one another.  There's something special about this sermon by Jesus.  He's shifting our vision from one perspective to another.  Being righteous and faithful is not like being successful in the ways of the world.  Look to see who needs a lift up, Jesus says, and then do everything in your power to provide the lift.  Shine your own light of goodness in a way that brings everyone to the table together.

What beatitude do you struggle with the most?  Which do you think our society could best pay attention to?  Email me at peverhart@niwotumc.org or comment below on the comments link.



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.