Monday, March 20, 2017

"Home"

Exodus 6:1-8          Acts 2: 38-47

"To transform home is to transform the world. Domestic revolts are spiritual and political ones as well," --Diana Butler Bass

The transformation of what a home is and who lives in a home is changing.  In some ways, it is a return to the past... people are starting urban farms, learning to butcher meat,  raising chickens, etc. And in some ways it is a leap into the future. Skyping or FaceTiming so that you can join one another for dinner though miles away, creating economic alternatives like multi-family households, etc.

But what does "home" mean, really?  Home is not really a place. It is more of a feeling. A sense of belonging and purpose and identity that grounds you to who you are.  That is why the old adage "you can't go home again" often rings true.  When we move away from our childhood homes we often change in ways that alter our sense of belonging and identity and purpose and so 'home' can never feel the way it did when we were younger.  And yet, rootedness in that way of life will continue. Meaning your roots will never leave, but your sense of what 'home' is will forever be landing somewhere else.

The Exodus story is filled with painful and longing images of home.  Home that was ripped away from the Hebrews when they were forced into slavery by the Egyptians. Home as a promised land as they were led away by the pillar of cloud toward Canaan.  Home as an unsettled place during the diaspora.  And yet in Acts 2, we have such a beautiful sense of what Peter sees as the image of home for the earliest of Christians.  Home is people who devote themselves to a common purpose. Home is people who believe in sharing what they have with one another. Home is giving to everyone who needs it. Home is meeting together around the dinner table and discussing the ordinary with one another.  Home is a place that all are grateful to find.

The old hymn says it best... Home is not a place, home is God.
"O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home."

No matter how much life changes, our sense of home in the presence of God and God's people remains constant.

What are your favorite stories of 'home?" Would you come and share one with us on Sunday?

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


Monday, March 13, 2017

"Roots"


There's a great story in the book Grounded by Diana Butler Bass of feeling connected to a place you've never been before. She tells of taking a vacation with her husband up the eastern shore of Maryland to visit historical sites, on of them being the Third Haven (Quaker) Meeting House outside of Easton.  She describes her experience there and says she wanted to stay there forever. She later learns, during some genealogical research, that she has ancestors connected to that church. 

from the website: http://www.thirdhaven.org/index.php

Our roots form us. Our ancestors breathe our lives into future existence. They create who we are, even if we don't know who they are. When I read this chapter last year, I knew instantly that I wanted to have an experience like that.  I was writing a grant proposal at the time to take a sabbatical leave and added to it some travel to Northern Ireland and England to explore my ancestral villages.  Unfortunately, I wasn't awarded the grant and therefore, my travel plans were halted, but I do hope one day to be able to explore those villages and see if I, too, can have a connection like Bass does in that meeting house in Maryland. Some of you have told me that you have felt connections like that upon finding a great grandparent's house or visiting a European city that once was home to your ancestors.  I am anxious to know that feeling, too.  

There are reasons why the book by Alex Haley and later TV mini series Roots became so popular in the 1970s. And why sites like Ancestry.com has become so popular.  There are reasons why the Mormon Church has one of the world's largest genealogy collections.  There are reasons why the lineage of the Kings and Queens of England is steadfastly protected and why the line of Catholic popes traces itself all the way back to Peter.  Human beings wish to be connected to who we were and who we are.  Of course, there are other less-than-appealing reasons also, like maintaining patriarchy or racial or tribal purity.  But there is something profound about the way a story of our ancestral heritage affects us that is undeniable. We DO feel grounded in that knowledge.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 11
If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too.  If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you. --Romans 11:16b-18
It's not  you that sustains the root, but it's the root that sustains you.  We are not the sum total of who we have created ourselves to be, rather we are part of a larger equation that began being computed long before we found ourselves in it and will continue to be added to long after we are gone.  And all of what comes after is held to the same roots that have always held us to one another.  

That is true not only of our biological genealogy, but of our chosen families like the church and our neighborhoods.  What roots of church and neighborhood are holding us together now? What roots are influencing what we do and don't do in our locations even now?

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



Monday, March 6, 2017

"Sky"

Psalm 115:1-3, 16
Matthew 4:12-17

The conventional thought on God is in the heavens and man is on the earth is that God is somehow separate from man, living somehow above the world.  In the chapter entitled Sky in the Diana Butler Bass book Grounded, she describes her encounter with the deep dark night at Ring Lake Ranch in Wyoming and how the dark sky and its millions of stars affects her thoughts on sky.  I think this suggests we think of sky not as something separate from us, but as something that is enveloping us, all around us, part of all we are, but also much more infinite than we can ever imagine.

She writes of sky also being water in the clouds and light from the sun.  Sky encompasses all of life. So why wouldn't the psalmist describe God as being in the heavens?

The words of Jesus also remind us of this God both infinite and right in our faces.  He often talks of the kingdom of heaven as something we create here and now, not something we aspire to.  In the Lord's Prayer it says, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" which means the 'heaven' we speak of is something we are to aspire to create right here on earth.  In this scripture above, Matthew 4, we read of Jesus' relocation from Nazareth to Caperneum as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, which also says that those who have been sitting around in darkness need not do that any longer because now the sun has come up.  We have here the belief that a new day has come through the message and witness of Jesus.  Jesus says, "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
The heavenly perfection you desire to reach.... just look around you, it's right here.

I have a children's book called ""I've Never Seen the Wind."
"I've never seen the wiind, but I know it's there.
I know it's there because it lifts my kite into the sky. the wind blows my hair and chases off the dark clouds when the rain is over."
Sky is both a concrete concept that can be explained by science and an abstract one that encompasses much of our very being.  What if we stopped thinking vertically about our faith... thinking of God (and sky) as something way up there above us and started thinking more horizontally about our faith... God (and sky) are all around me, a part of all that is and all that has been and all that will be.

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




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.