Monday, May 15, 2017

Crossroad Transformations: Understanding the New Way

Sermon Series: June 4-18
Crossroad Transformations

June 4 is the next Sunday I will be in the pulpit. It's Pentecost Sunday, the perfect Sunday to begin talking about the crossroad at which we find ourselves.  One month from Pentecost Sunday, you will begin your journey with a new pastor and I will begin mine with a new congregation. We are indeed at a crossroad.  We have several possible ways we can all move to the next phase.  So it's time we consulted our inner GPS. Our God Positioning System.

The Pentecost scripture is familiar to us... the followers of Jesus all gathered together in one place.  Common ground. Community. 

 And suddenly like the rush of a violent wind, the Spirit enters the room.  Flames of fire seem to rest on everyone's heads and suddenly everyone can speak in languages that all of the diverse populations that exist among them can understand.

Sounds like a message to spread the good news to everyone. Sounds like the same message of diversity and extension of love Jesus always preached.  But how do we do it?

First we need to allow ourselves to be blown away by the workings of the Spirit. Those of us in the highly-intellectual world of Christianity sometimes shy away from the Holy Spirit in our faith lives. But this moment of Pentecost clearly shows that the Spirit is not just for those who are more emotional about their faith.

This moment of the Spirit entering the room happens simultaneously with the very learned and intellectual moment of understanding another language and interpreting another language.  Which is the second thing we need to think about as we live into this Pentecostal crossroad.  What do we need to engage our brains in, what do we need to learn that we haven't before that will connect us to someone else who doesn't think the way we do?

The crossroad this week is understanding...  At what point do we allow the Spirit to guide our understanding and our learning so that we can better reach someone who would love to have God's love in the ways we do here. 

What do you need to learn?  What do you need to let go of to allow the Spirit to work in  you?

God be with you in the days ahead. I will see you on June 4 and we can let the Spirit blow us away with God's plans for us.  We will head different directions, but God will guide us all.

Peace,
Pam

Future sermons and hymns:

June 11: “Taking the First Step”
2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
“For the Beauty of the Earth” UMH 92
“Down to the River to Pray” W&S 3164
“Go, Make of All Disciples” UMH 571

June 18: “Welcome Mats in Every Direction”
Psalm 89:1-4;  Matthew 10:40-42
‘How Firm a Foundation” UMH 529
“Pass It On” UMH 572
“In the Midst of New Dimensions” TFWS 2238

June 25 Susan Warren preaching


Monday, May 8, 2017

“Tomorrowland”



Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. . . . Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


This is quite a Sunday we have coming up.  It is going to be a wonderful day. We are celebrating the young people  of our congregation through the confirmation of Erica and Olivia and the presentation of third-grade bibles to Dash and Elliot.  We could not be prouder of our young people. They are fun to be around, dedicated, helpful, kind and generous.  They love to help out and they love to be part of things. And we love that they are part of our church family.  

With so much celebrating of our youth, it's a good time to reflect on the journey of faith we are on, directed by God's grace and mercy. 1 Peter says like a newborn baby, we desire the pure milk of the word... and with it we will be nourished and grow into salvation.

The Methodists call this journey sanctifying grace. We are first surrounded by prevenient grace, and then in our acknowledgement of what God is doing in our lives, we are recipients of justifying grace. The rest of our days we are headed toward what Wesley called "going on to perfection," heading toward wholeness and full salvation in God's grace... sanctification.

Big words, maybe, but the sentiment is straightforward.  God loves you when you don't even know God is God. And God walks with you in ways that make you finally realize God is God. And God continues to walk with you all the days of your life as you journey ever closer to being one with God.

We come to worship this week knowing to whom we belong. And giving thanks for those whom we are privileged to share our own faith stories with so that they, too, can grow in the faith.

And it is in this continuing nurture of the next generation that we will all receive our sanctification. Helping a young person to grow their faith creates a legacy... and also a future. It gives us the ability to walk boldly into tomorrow hand-in-hand with the God who loves us all.

Now you are God's people.  Now you have received mercy.  Thanks be to God.




Monday, May 1, 2017

"Commune-ity"

Acts 2:42-47

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) from biblegateway.com

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[b]and ate their food with glad and generous[c] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

As I stated a few weeks ago, when this came up in the Lenten series on Grounded  this is one of my favorite scriptures.  People so completely devoted to one another in the community and their shared mission to do good to one another that all who were touched by them wanted to join them.  The message of the Good News spreading to all who heard it.

That warm and fuzzy feeling of a congregation sharing all they have with one another. That is what we celebrate on this day.  The many ways large and small we have made a positive difference and will continue to make a positive difference in the world in the days ahead as the little church with a big heart. From Outreach funds and projects, to UMCOR trips, to refurbishing our building and sharing it with others, we have and are making a difference in people's lives.
Come join us as we give thanks, praise God, and share the good news and the table of God's grace with one another. 




Monday, April 24, 2017

“Dinner Table Extension”


While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  --Luke 24:15-16

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him...  Luke 24:30-31


This famous scripture called the Road to Emmaus is full of wonder and mystery.  Jesus, the Risen Christ, walks along the road with two of his followers and they don't recognize him.  Later, after they invite him in to their table, and he breaks bread with them, they suddenly realize who he is.

What a scripture this is!  How often do we not recognize the face of Christ among us.  How often do we allow the Christ in our midst to walk on by without a greeting, a word of comfort, a touch?  Fortunately for these followers, they did invite Jesus in for dinner.  And it is in the sharing of a meal together that they finally see who he is.

In this time of threatening church schism and unrest in our society in general, what might it be like to start recognizing that Christ is with us on the road? You know he's there. So you'd better expect to see him.  In an unexpected form.  Waiting for us to invite him in.

Perhaps it's time to extend the dinner table in our own church, in our lives, in our neighborhood, in our society.  Perhaps it's time we started sitting down together with strangers more often and breaking bread until we become friends.  Perhaps it's time to really see instead of pretending to see.

Please pray for our UMC, the Judicial Council, our bishop, our jurisdiction,  and our conference during this week when the validity of Bishop Karen's election is brought before the Judicial Council.   Who are we not recognizing as the face of Christ in the midst of division?


Monday, April 10, 2017

Revolution: With Women in the Sequel




What do we really focus on in the empty tomb and resurrection story every year? Is it the fact that Jesus defied all odds and rose again? Is it the terror turned to amazement and joy that the disciples feel when they realize he is resurrected? Is it the fact that he appears first to the women and allows them to be the messenger of this amazing news?  It is a complex tale of disciples trying to wade through grief and mourning and determine next steps once their leader has been crucified.  And when they witness resurrection in the midst of the sorrow, it changes everything about how they feel empowered to move forward.

Let's focus on these RE phrases this Easter: 
REsurrection
REcognition
REvelation
REvolution

It's important to remember what the REsurrection of Jesus points to in the distance. It points to a time when the systems that have oppressed the message will no longer be able to do so. It points to a day when the peaceable kingdom is actually achieved.  That is what the true REvelation of Christ is. The knowledge that the story ends in peace. It is important to note that the Bible itself does not end in heaven. It ends here.  With the angel of God saying (in Revelation 21) "the home of God is among the mortals" and that "all things will be made new."  Here. In this place.  

And for God to be at home among us, God must be seen in all of us.  The women see the Risen Christ standing before them in the garden and run to tell the others that they, too, can see him if they but look. In her book Grounded, Diana Butler Bass speaks of the word cosmopolitanism. She writes,
 "Cosmopolitanism is an inner awareness that our individual lives and national identities are playing out on a vast global stage. This implies recognition and a shift of perspective--of seeing and experiencing the web in which we live. Recognition, in turn, gives birth to empathy and the profound realization that we really, truly are in this together."  
When we have that REcognition that God is in our neighbor, when we see ourselves in each other, we grow in communion together. No matter what backgrounds we come from.  And we should be very clear of how this message is first spread in this Resurrection story. Christ comes to those with no voice, no power, no authority FIRST.  The women first receive the news. And Christ insists that THEY are the ones to GO and tell others what they saw. That begins a whole new REvolution.

What Christ points to in the REsurrection REvelation to the women is that God will be revealed in the days to come through all people. In diverse ways. By unexpected means. Even in stark contrast to what anyone might have heard or believed before. That seems to be, after all, one of the key themes of the biblical narrative.  As Bass puts it,
 "God's diversity in who is called to share God's message. She writes,"Even the book of Revelation describes a vision of diversity, of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation who gather in the New Jerusalem. In the holy city, we maintain our uniqueness while God dwells in our midst. Unity is experienced in love and friendship, not doctrine or dogma. There is no coercion of faith. "

I'm pretty sure this is what Jesus was promising when he goes to his death on the cross.  God will not let love die. Instead, Love wins.  It always has. That is the real REvolution that takes place on that morning long ago when some women see a REsurrection that changes everything.

Anyone who has a spiritual awakening or encounter, a sense of awe or wonder, leaves that experience wanting to share more goodness in the world.  That encounter with awe, or GOD, always leaves us breathless but eager to tell others what we experienced and looking for ways to draw others in.  It's like when we see God as all around us, instead of up above us or otherwise apart from us, we understand our common purpose together. 

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


Monday, April 3, 2017

"Commons"

Matthew 21:1-11
Philippians 2:5-11



In the triumphant march into Jerusalem, we see the story of Jesus entering the city... neighbors waving palm branches out in the streets and people everywhere seemingly joined in unison celebration. But not really. Right? Because if that were actually the case then the loud Hosannas would have kept on ringing rather than the ever so quick call from the street crowd to "Crucify" him just a short time later.  What was lacking there, beyond a lack of desire to hear Jesus' revolutionary message, was a lack of concern for the commons... what is good for all, collectively.

You see we think we know who we are collectively as a society, but we don't often really act that way. We don't understand that there is a 'commons' that can hold us together. We don't rally around what is good for all of our society, and choose to act in ways that only benefit part of our society.

In Grounded, Diana Butler Bass explains the difference in a neighborhood and a commons. A neighborhood, she says is "whom we live with, those next door, whether 'next door' is literal or virtual geography. . . At their best, neighborhoods are open tribes that practice hospitality and the Golden Rule."  She then says "The commons is not that. The commons, sometimes referred to in the singular as the common, is what we live for, the public world tribes make together--that serves the good for all."

Neighborhoods are made of people and the ways they interact with each other. The commons is the sense of morality and purpose, the sense of doing good for all people. Neighborhoods, then, can choose to have a sense of the commons, or they can choose to be inward focused instead. Same with people. And churches. Especially churches.

In the walk to the cross, Jesus feels ever so gradually alone. Shunned. Disregarded by first acquaintances, then neighbors, then loved ones.  He quotes portions of  Psalm 22 when he's hanging on the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me."  But is it God who is forsaking in this scripture, or is it the commons?

from Psalm 22:
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

Do not be far from me, (O God)
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.


The commons is gone. There is no sense of doing good for all. People have scattered and run trying to save themselves.  What do we do when we lose our sense of common humanity and being on the journey together?

Perhaps we should really consider the moral and salvation-inducing effects of believing in the commons. Of knowing that if one suffers, we all suffer. Of believing in the good of the whole, not in the winner takes all.  How do we do that?

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Neighborhood"




(I took this photo at the recent Open House at the Islamic Center of Boulder) 

I don't know why it often takes tragic events to make us feel like we need our neighbors, but often it does.  Over the weekend, many neighbors from all faith traditions gathered outside the Islamic Center in Fort Collins after news reports of its being vandalized. They were all there to show their Muslim neighbors their support.  "It's what neighbors do," I heard someone say on a news report.

Many of us can recall stories about how in the days after tragic events like wars or mass shootings or 9/11, people found ways to connect with their neighbors to 'do good' in ways they hadn't before.  
Many of you can recall such experiences, perhaps in more distant years,like the JFK assassination or the war years of the 1940s.  Times of intense public unity are often times of intense public trial.  We realize that we are not in it alone and that someone else is going through the struggle with us.
It's why people in communities tie yellow ribbons on trees to remember those gone to war, or when a child goes missing from the neighborhood, etc. It's a way to show the tie that binds a neighborhood. A common purpose.
But what constitutes a neighborhood? Is there an actual borderline on who is a neighbor?

In Grounded by Diana Butler Bass, she says, "People create neighborhoods when they gather together beyond family ties, live close to others, and choose to share certain resources (in the contemporary world, those resources include, for example, electricity, schools, roads, places of worship, stores and often a park or some other commons)."

And what of the idea that God is a part of the neighbor and the neighborhood around us?
"If we understand that neighborly relations are woven into divine love, then we can grasp that God is, essentially, a near-dwelling God." --Diana Butler Bass
It is worth noting that we say that God abides with us and that abide and abode are essentially the same word. Our home has God in it and God is also in the neighborhood.  It is important in a world that feels ever more isolating that we see the command to love our neighbors as probably the most important part of being faithful to God. Many religious leaders agree. In fact, Pope Francis has made the command to love God and love neighbor a centerpiece of his papacy.

And in this day and age of isolating lives and garage door openers and social media neighbors, the question "Who is my neighbor?"  is more complex and difficult to answer than ever.  Because of technological advances in who we connect to, our neighborhood is no longer tied to simple geographical proximity. And ironically, perhaps, it is that vast global neighborhood  that has led us to retreat to our homes. We are intimidated by the vastness of our neighborhood in today's terms.

The word neighbor comes from Old English roots and it means "near dweller"  Someone dwelling nearby, But in today's world, does that mean physically near? How has technology changed what a near dweller might be? Neighborhoods are made up of real people who already are, in one way or another, intersecting our lives. Whether they live near or far away.

"All of the world's religions make neighbors the central concern of spirituality and ethics.  Love of God and neighbor are absolutely intertwined."--Diana Butler Bass
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have passages in their sacred texts that point to an expanded definition of who we think our neighbor is.  In the Good Samaritan story, Jesus expands the idea of neighbor to include someone who is shunned by his own group. An outsider. He presses the point of neighborliness being tied to kindness and mercy, rather than what we have in common or what group we belong to. In the Qur'an, there is a scripture that says "Worship God and join none with HIM in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet. (Qur'an 4:36).

Who is my neighbor is an age-old question that people struggle with in each generation, despite the commandments of their faith traditions to love neighbor as self.