Church of the Beloved – A Sent Community

Sermon by Ryan Marsh – 7/17/2016

In only a few weeks I will start a full time residency as a chaplain at the UW Medical Center.  That means my role at Beloved will reduce to simply preaching three times a month and providing some leadership oversight.  Things like music and liturgy, pastoral care, outreach events and other duties will largely be in your capable and creative hands.  This will be a year that defines who we are as a community.  There will be changes for us to grieve together.  And there will be changes for us to celebrate. For instance, worship services wont look the same.   They will take on a far more collective flavor.  This change will require you to do that thing that maybe only you can do, because this community will need you to do it.  I’m talking about that thing that kinda makes you kinda special, and a little weird.  I’m talking about that thing that other people think is life draining, or have absolutely no imagination regarding, but for you it’s, it might be hard, but it’s a good hard, it’s life-giving.  It’s a thing you were made to do.  I’m talking about vocation.

These changes will continue to move us from pastor-centric models that characterize most churches, to becoming a Church that is truly ‘for the people and by the people,’ a community led church empowered by God’s Spirit.  This will require trust that the Spirit is going to call out the unique gifts of this community and we will become far more ourselves.  Vocation was hugely important to Martin Luther and the Reformation Movement, which turns 500 years old next summer.  Luther was best known for lifting up “justification by faith through grace,” but more recently scholars have noted that in his writings and sermons Luther equally lifted up vocation.  These were the two main platforms of the Reformation Movement: Grace and Calling.

Beloved, as we enter a season of change, with challenges, as well as great opportunities, let us look to both the Grace of Jesus, and the vocation to which we are called.  Within those two things our most essential identity is held.

I think that is what we see when we look at today’s Gospel story.  Jesus speaks of a Harvest to which he sends seventy of his followers.  What is the harvest?  We might assume that a harvest in the Kingdom of God must be the “conversion of people” to our faith, but that’s not exactly what we see in this story.  What we read in the Gospel is this:

– The “harvest” is when we are welcomed by people, when we are the guests of others, sharing food and drink together.

– The “harvest” is exchanging peace with someone you were scared might reject you.

– The “harvest” is being motivated by the grace of Jesus to bring wholeness, and trust, and liberation in the world, when before there was sickness, and fear, and oppression.

Paul talks about the Harvest in the epistle as “working for the good of all.”  No doubt in Paul’s mind is the Hebrew concept of Shalom, the spreading of God’s peaceful reign.  And then, when people experience it, taste it, become well by it, then being able to name the weight of the moment, by saying, “Wow, God is so close to you.”

I don’t think the harvest is the same for everyone.  It’s not a generic harvest, because your vocation is not generic.  It’s a particular harvest that is particular to you, because your vocation is particular to you.  Of course your calling has something to do with “loving God and loving your neighbor,” but how? The “how” part of your vocation is as custom to you as your DNA.  Your calling is as idiosyncratic as your life’s story, and the triumphs and tragedies that mark it.  So this is a vital question: Do you know your vocation?

Do you know what God is appointing you for and sending you to be and do this week?

Here’s a hint from the Psalm today:  “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and do it?’”  No.  Your vocation is found in the relationships that surround your life.  Are you a neighbor?  Are you friend?  A wife or husband, mother or father? Are you a sister or brother, co-worker or manager? Your vocation is found in the relationships that surround your life.

The importance of vocation shapes how we be church with one another.  It means that the purpose of the time we spend here for these few minutes every Sunday evening is to clarify and strengthen our vocation in the world.  This community is a support group for one another’s vocational calling.  We’re here to help each other better understand and live out all the unique ways in which God sends us out into your week, into our homes and jobs, schools and gyms, and neighborhoods, so that there, in the mundaneness of our lives, we can uniquely proclaim, “God is here.”  No longer view Church of the Beloved so much as a place to gather, but a community of people sent by God.

Today’s gospel passage about the sending out of the seventy has been an important story for our community.  It’s helped to define us as a sending community.  When Mary and Patrick and Solomon left on their immigration tour, or Charis went to start Echoes Church in Bellingham, or Jim and Donna moved back to their hometown as changed people, or Sarah went back East to be closer to family, or, there are many….

for each of these people we gathered around them and we blessed them and we sent them.  We could have interpreted these events as being left, as losing people who are so important to us.  But God has defined us as a sending people, a people sent to live out our vocations, whether we stay or whether we go.

This has been an important Gospel story for the missional church movement in general, because what it does is flip the popular understanding of the Church as a place to which people come.  It flips that understanding on it’s head, and redirects the Church as a people whom God sends.  Look again at Luke 10:1, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”  Can you see how this passage reverses the idea that Church is primarily a place of hospitality, where we are hosts?  To be honest, I’d be a lot more comfortable to remain a host.  Hosts hold all the power.  We know how to navigate the space, we know where the bathrooms are, we know when to stand up and when to sit down and when to say things like, “The Lord be with you.”

Guests know a vulnerability that doesn’t exist for hosts.  I remember visiting a Lutheran Church once. There was a whole basketball team visiting too.  I knew this because they were all wearing their blue jerseys.  They stood out, all sitting in a row along the back pew.  When it came time for the Eucharist,

we were instructed to commune by “intinction.”  This is insider speak for the “French Dip” of communion.  When the 6’5’’ power forward in front of me got up to the chalice, he looked inside it with horror.  I could tell that he supposed all of those floating bread crumbs inside it were the backwash from the rest of the congregation.  He hesitated, his face pained and conflicted, and then a resolve came over him.  He grabbed the chalice from the server and drank it like a swig of cod liver oil.   Hosts hold the power.  There is great vulnerability in being a guest.  No one knows this better than the 65,000 million refugees worldwide, or the nearly 1million immigrant neighbors in Washington.

In todays Gospel story, Jesus sends his followers to be vulnerable, to be “lambs among wolves,” to rely upon the hospitality of others, to rely upon, not their own power and privilege, but upon the God who sends them.  So, as you live out your vocation in vulnerability, don’t be surprised by rejection.  That is what I told Mary, Patrick and Solomon before they left on their latest immigration tour.  Last trip they were met with rejection in a few places.  It was hard.  But don’t be surprised by rejection as you live out your vocation. Living into vocation will summon resistance from some.

In the previous chapter the disciples were met with rejection and Peter suggests “Lord, do you want us to call down lightening?”  Jesus knows we will encounter resistance. “Just shake it off,” he says.  It’s not really about you anyways.  Shake off the dust and move on.  The way it’s talked about in AA and Alanon is “differentiate with love,” realize that the only person we can control is ourselves, and anger is a sign that we’re hooked into a game we can’t win.  So sometimes love looks like shaking it off and moving on.

The people of God are a sent people.  The missional Church movement’s main message could be framed this way:  “God has a mission – and God’s mission has a church.”  Our God is a God who takes action.  God takes action in the Exodus, in prophetic voices and, most profoundly, in the incarnation, by being born into utter solidarity with the world, ate and drank with sinners, gave good news to the weak, and challenged the powerful,was ground up under the wheels of the Empire, but was raised to life in the great rebellion against Evil, Sin and Death.  And it’s this Jesus, the action of God, who empowered the people with his Spirit to continue his work of bringing peace, being agents of healing and wholeness, and then letting people know, “Hey, do you see it?  The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Because God has a mission and God’s mission has church.  Notice I didn’t say, “God’s Church has a mission.”  Rather, “God’s mission has a church.”  God is on this mission, whether God’s Church is on it or not.  That means the question is not, “Does God’s church have a mission,” but rather, “Does God’s mission have you, Church?”  Has the mission of God grabbed hold of you?  Does it move you?  Does it move you out and into places of vulnerability?  Can you see why this would be such a radical shift for the Church?Vulnerability is hard, and yet, that is where the harvest is.  The harvest is only in the vulnerability.

Now here is the promise.  Luke 10:2 “He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful.”  That’s the promise.  The promise is that there is plenty.  There is a lot of low hanging fruit out there that is ready to be picked. According to Jesus the fulfillment of God’s mission is not illusive, it’s not scarce. It’s right out there and there’s more than enough!  I feel as though we’ve discovered that recently with our tax crisis.  We discovered plenty and in nine months we’ll be free of those chains.

So if it’s not a scarcity of harvest, than what’s the problem?  Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  What’s scarce is those who pick it.  Not a lot of people are willing to simply go out and get it.  The fruit just rots in the fields.  Why? Because it’s so hard to move from our place of comfort and hosting, from our place of power and privilege.  What does Jesus suggest we do about this problem?  “Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Just ask.    God wants us to want it.  Asking requires our desire.  We have to want it.  Ask.  Do you know your vocation?  Do you want to?  This community needs you to know your vocation.  This neighborhood needs you to know your vocation.  This world needs you to know your vocation, and be about it.

Beloved, you are a sent people.  You are sent out to live more deeply into your vocation.  And when we are sent in vulnerability, the promise is that the picking is plentiful.  Go get it.

Food and Faith 3 – Meeting the Stranger at the Table

By: Joanna Roddy


Movie Clips in this Sermon:

At 1:42 minutes into Sermon : stopped to watch Babette’s Feast movie clip (1:12:14 through 1:15:05)
At 7:04 minutes into Sermon : stopped to watch Babette’s Feast movie clip (1:36:49 through 1:41:05)


Food & Faith Series
:
At the table we meet God, one another, and the stranger. Food can be an idol, but also an expression of worship. It can cause us to stand in judgement of others, or it can be an encounter with grace. Food roots us in stories and heritage. Eating can even be an act of liberation!

I Am the Bread of Life

Week 1:  I am the Bread of Life – John 6

Series:  “I Am”s & Identity – Discipleship & Attachment in the Gospel of John

Ryan M. & Karen R.
April 12, 2015
Church of the Beloved

 

 

“I AM – WE ARE”
Discipleship and Attachment in the Gospel of John

We are going to take a look at the Gospel of John this Easter Season and specifically, compare the theological concept of discipleship with the therapeutic concept of attachment. We have a number of therapists in our community and Jackie and I have asked a number of them to help us with this task, so at the end of each sermon, instead of having a Free Form time, we will be in conversation with a different counselor each week in order to give us a different angle on the topic.

Introduction to Gospel of John:

Each of the 4 Gospels has a unique audience.
The books within the Bible are not written to us
but they are written for us.

Audience:
– Mark is written for a Greek speaking audience – one that needs explanation of Jewish custom and aramaic terms, but is familiar with Latin terms – possibly a Roman audience.

– Matthew is distinctly Jewish, with more Hebrew Bible references than any other Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the New Moses, the new law giver.

– Luke is written to “Theopholis” – translated means “the lovers of God,”
meant to be read aloud in the gathering of believers.

Mark, Matthew and Luke, all share the same basic structure and narrative flow.  If you’ve read them you’ll notice that in some places they are identical to each other.  But you’ll probably also notice that John’s Gospel is very different than the Synoptics.  Here’s a couple ways that John is different:

1. There’s no infancy narrative in John.
Instead of “Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem.”  In John we get “in the beginning was the word, the word was the light, the light was the life…”

2. John is a very cosmic Gospel.
Sometimes it feels like an LSD trip.  It’s a very mystical Gospel. You hear it in the way Jesus speaks.  He sounds like a Yogi in the Gospel of John.  Sometimes you have to read a passage five times to even start to understand what he’s talking about.

3. There’s also a different ordering of events in John –
For instance Jesus clears the temple right away, whereas in the synoptics Jesus clears the temple at the end book.

4. Much fewer miracles in John.  
Instead John is concerned with ‘signs’.  Miracles signal another reality.  The miracle itself is not as important as the thing it signifies. In John Jesus doesn’t do miracles, so much as Jesus is the miracle.

5. Lastly, there are no parables in John.  
The synoptics are full of parables, but instead, in this gospel Jesus embodies parables.
Like with the miracles, it’s as if Jesus is the parable in the book of John.

This book is made up of really long conversations, face to face encounters,
not the kind of single wise sayings of Jesus, but lengthy encounters with complex characters.  Remember the stories we told during the season of Lent? The woman at the well, Nicodemus the pharisee, the man born blind… they all come from John.
So we can see that this is a highly relational Gospel.  It’s deeply concerned with relationships.

This is one of the reasons why Marty Stortz, a professor at Pacific Lutheran says that John’s Gospel is a “discipleship Gospel”.

Chapter 21 says that the Disciple whom Jesus Loved – the Beloved, is the witness to this Gospel.  But it’s also the latest Gospel to be written, long after the temple was destroyed, probably around 120 or so, after John had died.  There is a lot of evidence to suggest that it was written by a second generation of Jesus followers, who were part of John’s community.  What John witnessed in Jesus, John passed down to others,
and they wrote it down, and passed that down to new disciples… and so on, till it came to us – this group of Beloved disciples.
    So it’s a discipleship gospel.

CONVERSATION – DISCIPLESHIP
QUESTION: What comes to mind when you hear the word disciple?

QUESTION: When have you been poorly mentored?

QUESTION: When have you been mentored well?

QUESTION: What would it mean for you to be discipled by Jesus, now in the 21st century?  (Given the complications of not currently being in human form before you)?

I’m hoping that the Gospel of John is going to give us some clues to this question of how Jesus disciples us.

 Discipleship in John is about identity. – Marty Stortz
Think about how parents worry about who their kids hang out with,
Why? Because who we hang out with shapes our character –
the Gospel of John is largely stories about hanging out with Jesus in lots of situations.
The call of discipleship is in Jesus’ first words: “come and see” in reply to Peter and Andrew, “where are you staying?” This echoes the prologue’s good news that “the word became flesh and dwelled with us.”

Our identity gets shaped by hanging out with Jesus, especially as we come to see who he is.

Jesus offers a series of “I am” statements about himself.
He says, “I am the bread of life” in todays Gospel.
He says, “I am the way, the truth, the life”
I am the resurrection
I am the good shepherd
I am the gate
I am the world’s light
I am the vine…

Each of these tell us something about Jesus… but they are also relational revelations
I am the vine… therefore that means you are the branches.
It also tells us about who we are in relationship to Jesus.

TODAY’S TEXT:
So let’s look, very briefly, at the first I AM:  Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”

He says this in the context of a much bigger story in which he feeds thousands of people, and it says “then the crowd wants to come and take him by force to make him king.”  So what does Jesus do? It seems to me that Jesus is questioning their motives for following him – “Why do you want my disciples? Are you here for the show? the spectacle of miracles? Or are you here for the free food?  the bread? Or are you here for me? Jesus has thousands of followers and what does he do?  He grosses them out.
He says, “if you’re here for the spectacle – I’m it.  If you are here for the bread, I’m it.
I am the bread of life.  Here’s my body.  Here’s my blood.  Eat up you cannibals.”
And what do they say? “This teaching is too hard for us.”  Which is first century speak for, “You are off your rocker Jesus.” And all the thousands of disciples go away.  Only the 12 are left. He goes from 12 disciples to 5,000 and back down to 12 overnight. Worst church planter ever. Don’t you think it’s weird that Jesus thwarts his popularity?
What I think is going on in this story is what Jesus is always doing in every encounter he has.  Jesus is trying to get to the heart of their desire.  “Why do you really want to be my disciple?  What do you want out of it?  What do you want?
And this is the question I think Jesus is asking of us too.  Do you really want to be my disciple?  If so, why?  What do you want? Because when you become my disciple, what you get is me, Jesus. If you are here for the free food or for the miraculous… you’re gonna be disappointed. But if you are here for me… I’m here for you.
This seems to be the initiation into disciple in the way of Jesus.  There’s no bait and switch here.  There’s no rewards program or new users gift bag. Jesus is kind enough to repulse disciples who are in for the perks.
So what’s motivating you to become a disciple of Jesus? What does your heart say to you?  This is really important to wrestle with this question early.  Even, “why are you here at Beloved?  It can’t be for the big glorious programs…  So, are you here for Jesus?  To somehow get close to him.  To somehow become discipled by him?  If so, that’s where we’re headed this season.  But, on the other hand that might sound repulsive to you.  I don’t know.

(Move into attachment talk with Karen)

Feast of St. Francis. By COTB Member, Grace A. October 5, 2014

I have loved hearing stories of St Francis from the first. As a young person, I saw in him something that spoke to the very heart of me. I knew he knew something of God that I didn’t yet know, and that I needed to know. Something that made him careless of himself, fearless of poverty, fearless of wild wolves, fearless of earthly powers and principalities, parents and popes. I spent this week pondering what it is St. Francis understood about God that I am still growing into.

I have come to think that St. Francis believed to his very core that God is treasuring, delighting in and caring for every single thing God has created at every moment in time.

And … because of that, I think St. Francis believed to his very core that God is trustworthy

The gospel, says Sally Lloyd Jones, in the spirit of Francis, is a love story and an adventure about the setting right of a great wrong, the seeking of a great lost treasure. It is all passion from creation to redemption to restoration.

In the creation story (we just heard proclaimed) I have often heard the phrase “and God saw that it was good” in the same way I hear shop clerks saying “perfect” after I hand them my credit card. Sometimes I want to snap at the clerks “its just a stupid credit card! what is perfect about it.” And within my heart I find myself sometimes hearing God’s affirmation with the same irritated distrust and cynicism. The whole of creation appears to me as one sheer, cold cliff. I fail to hear the stomping of God’s glad dance. I fail to hear God’s giggles, God’s shaking belly laughs, or God’s exultation. YES! YES! I love you giraffe. Whoop, You’re soooo long! YES! YES!, RUN little mouse! Your scurrying feet give me the tingles! Even as I say it now, some part of me feels ridiculous—a laughing, delighting, stomping rollicking Jollymaking healing God? Can it be so? Can it be real?

Over and over and over the spirit repeats in Genesis 1 AND GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD. BLESSED! LOVELY! A DELIGHT TO God’s HEART. EVERY PART OF IT!

But the tale of care, and delight doesn’t stop in the Genesis narrative. It is a river rushing through the valleys of psalms and the prophecies. God delights:

The Lord is good to all, he has compassion on ALL he has made! Psalm 145

He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call! Psalm 147

In Job, we see that God has not made and then forgotten his animals: He knows the details of their existence! Where they run, what they need. And he affirms that his authority is active over them, giving them strength to run and fly. This is more than rhetoric. God describes himself in terms of his relationship with creation repeatedly and in detail.

At the end of the book of Jonah, God is talking, (If you remember, Jonah was sitting under a gourd plant, in its shade, waiting for God to destroy Nineveh. Jonah grew very angry that God would not do it. Then the gourd plant wilts and Jonah throws a tantrum.) And God says “You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—AND ALSO MANY ANIMALS.” Do you hear that. And also many animals

God does not want to destroy THOSE ANIMALS or people. They are dear to his heart.

Then God comes to dwell among us, and he tells us –THIS IS MY PARAPHRASE of—

Luke 12:6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies. And I have never stopped thinking about even one of them. Indeed, the very hairs of YOUR head are numbered. Don’t worry you are worth more than many sparrows.

God says to us, “Do you see how I love and care for these creatures, who I made with the same sheer delight that I made you at the beginning. Do you think that I could forget you, to whom I gave the additional gift of being made in my image?” My love is so BIG.

Francis believed it. I know this because he stopped to speak to the creatures. He saw them sharing in the same redemption with which he was redeemed. He called the howling tearing killing wolf brother, and worked to reconcile it to the community, because he saw their shared identity in both wolfishness needing God, and lovely createdness desirable to God. He chose to walk with the lowest and the poorest, the outcasts of his time and place. He kissed lepers because he knew the same heart of the Father Jesus knew.

St. Francis said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men—“

Because, often, in its brokenness, humanity defaults to power hierarchies in which the lowest does not have feet or hooves washed by the greatest. Knees are used to scramble faster over, not to kneel before, the other creature. But the God Francis knew in Jesus never stopped kneeling before, washing, dying for, the whole of creation.

If we allow ourselves to imagine God as one who makes and forgets the “lowest” of his creatures, we may find ourselves eventually joining violent struggles to be great. But if we allow ourselves to imagine God as one who delights in all creatures, even those utterly dependent and perhaps completely unaware of him/her, then we may develop a trust that despite the sin and terror and darkness in this world, God’s very tender, very gentle hands are soothing and healing, and repairing all that has been created, and that includes us, no matter how strong or weak we are.

I will close with a rather longish quote by

George MacDonald:

“My friends, does God care for sparrows. Or does he say this altogether for our sakes and not at all for the sparrows? . . .indeed it would mean nothing to us if it were not everything to the sparrows. These words can not reach our door except through the sparrows nest. For see! What comfort would it be to us to be told we were of more value than ever so many sparrows if their value was nothing—if God only knew and did not care for them. Then all this saying would convey was that we were more of value than just nothing….

NO< not one sparrow. . .is forgotten by the Father of men and women. It shall not have a lonely deathbed, for the Father of Jesus will be with it. It MUST be true. It is indeed a daring word, but less would not be enough for the hearts of humans, for the glory of God, or for the need of the sparrow.”
~ Grace A.
Sunday, October 5, 2014 @ Church of the Beloved

 

Beloved Talk: Participating with God. By COTB member, Ryan D. July 27, 2014

You’ve all heard people say, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Today I want to explain why I no longer believe everything I hear about something in particular—God. What we believe about God—about who he is and how he works in the world—is hugely important. It forms the basis for how we view ourselves and the world and how we live every day. I want to introduce you to some fresh ways of thinking about God that have been liberating and encouraging to me. These aren’t ideas that I came up with myself, but they are nevertheless eclipsed by more commonly held views of God today.

Here is a widespread picture of God. God is the unique, all-powerful being who is perfect in every way. God is infinite, he exists outside time, and he is unchanging. God’s will for the world is ultimate and fixed and beyond questioning—“his ways are higher than our ways.” God, above all, is sovereign. He created the heavens and the earth to display his glory, and he is in control of everything that happens.

This is often presented as the definitive and incontestable picture of God. For most of my life, including my time at seminary, I was, for the most part, presented with this view. But where exactly do these ideas about God come from? They don’t all come straight out of the Bible. Some of them, like God’s changelessness, come from Greek philosophy. This way of thinking was influential in the early church, and it remains the traditional view of God today; and it influences the way we read the Bible. But this isn’t the only option for us. I’ve come to believe that in some respects the traditional view of God is not helpful on a personal level and that it does not match the God revealed in the Bible and above all in the person of Jesus.

Here is a different picture of God—one that is being recovered today and which is, I think, more in line with biblical thought.

God created the heavens and the earth out of love, for God is love. God endowed human beings with real freedom to make choices and to act. He created them in his image, making them caretakers and rulers over the world and mediators between God and the rest of creation. In giving real freedom to his creation, God chose to limit his own power and involvement in the world to a relational power of persuasion, while retaining his own rights to freedom as Lord of the universe. In wisdom and power and love, God guides his creation to his desired end—not overriding our freedom but working with us, and sometimes in spite of us.

In this picture of God, God is not removed. He has an active relationship with his creation. He is involved and interested in what takes place in the world. He feels joy when we rule the creation well, do good, and demonstrate love to God and to other human beings. He is grieved when we destroy, do evil, and demonstrate hate toward God and others. He is influenced by our action, and he adapts accordingly. God is dynamic, not static. God’s purpose is to right all wrongs and restore his creation to its original good intent.

Let’s look at some specific examples. God says in the Bible, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mic. 3:6). In the traditional view of God, this statement is taken as evidence that God cannot be influenced or affected in any way by his creation—everything that happens results from God’s eternal decrees. Another verse says, “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind” (Num. 23:19). But does that really mean God never changes? Doesn’t God respond and interact in a real way with his creation? Exodus 32 describes just such a situation, when God, as a result of Moses’s pleading, decides not to wipe out the Israelites who have just started worshiping a golden calf instead of the God, YHWH, who delivered them from Egypt. Verse 14 says, “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” Those who hold to the view that God cannot change do interpretive gymnastics to say that God didn’t really change is mind, but it just appeared that way. For them, God’s changing his mind would imply some sort of weakness or deficiency in him. But a more natural way of reading the text suggests that God honors the freedom he gave to humanity and interacts with us in a truly relational way—he did change his mind.

For this reason we pray. Jesus taught his disciples to ask, seek, and knock and promised that our Father in heaven will “give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11). If, on the other hand, God has completely mapped out the future and cannot be influenced, why would be pray? I’ve come to see prayer as a genuine interaction between two free beings—me and God. I don’t mean to blur the distinction between Creator and creature—I don’t think for a minute that I am equal to God. So it is humbling to know that God values me and takes me seriously. When we pray, we pray to a God who is open to us in the way that God was open to Moses when he pleaded for his fellow Israelites. Prayer can make a difference because of the way God designed the world and because God interacts with us.

A related topic is miracles. I have a theory that no miracles occur without some form of human involvement. God doesn’t change events or circumstances in the world out of the blue. He works with people to accomplish his purposes. Examples of miracles are Moses and the ten plagues, Moses parting the Red Sea, and Elijah praying for rain after years of drought. Perhaps the most amazing miracle and evidence of the need for human participation with God is the virgin birth and Mary’s consent. Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” We are reminded of our own role in God’s plan every time we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done.”

Another thing often said about God is that God is not vulnerable, that he can’t feel emotion or suffer. Recently on the Catholic radio station (though it could just as easily have been a Protestant one), I heard someone say flatly, “God cannot be sad because God doesn’t have emotions.” This does not match the God pictured in Scripture.

Take, for example, the story of the flood in Genesis. The text says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth. . . . And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen. 6:5–6). In the traditional view of God, God, the Supreme Being, can’t be affected by finite creation; he is completely independent. But this verse clearly states the opposite. God took a risk in creation. He took a risk in creating people with true freedom. He risked being rejected, and he risked things going wrong.

God clearly interacts with us and responds to us—and in that sense God changes. But there is a way in which God is unchanging. God’s character does not change—he is always loving and faithful. He creatively brings about his redemptive purposes in spite of people’s disobedience. This God, in my opinion, is more good and more great than a God who rules like a divine dictator to accomplish his incontestable purposes, whether they seem good or bad from a human perspective. I personally breath a sigh of relief knowing that God is not the cause of all the bad things in the world or in my own life.

God demonstrates his care for us and his vulnerability in the most profound way in the incarnation. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and he was tempted like us, got hungry and tired like us, and felt sadness and anger. In his death, Jesus suffered humiliation and the cruel injustice of the world. At the same time, God the Father suffered the murder of his beloved child. The cross of Christ reveals a God who enters into the depths of human suffering and the darkest times of human existence, including the holocaust during World War II or the current devastation in Gaza, Central Africa, Iraq, or Syria. The book of Hebrews sums this up well: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In the incarnation, God identified with humanity in an ultimate and permanent way, showing beyond a doubt that God does feel and that he even suffers with us in our suffering, both as our loving Creator and as God with us and for us.

I’d like to conclude by discussing a word that sums up a lot of this for me: participation. We have an opportunity to participate with God in his work in the world. Paul says, “We are God’s fellow workers” or “laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). There is synergy between God and us.God acts, and we act. He responds, and we respond. The future is not locked into place; it is open to change. It depends on our working together with God.

We also have an opportunity to participate in the very life of God. An early church father speaks of God’s two hands. God’s one hand is his Son, who sets us free from our bondage to sin and death and unites us to God. God’s other hand is his Spirit, who dwells inside us, showing us the way of Christ and empowering us to act. The Christian belief in the Trinity—that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is nothing other than a recognition of the way that God works in the world, which in turn tells us something about God’s identity. In seeing and experiencing God as Father, Son, and Spirit, we come to recognize that God is relational. Participation is part of God’s very nature, and God calls us to participate with him every day—every time we wake up in the morning, get ready, and step out into the world.

To me this is extremely motivating. It makes my relationship with God more meaningful to know that I have an open invitation to participate with him in what he’s doing in the world and that what I do on a daily basis actually has consequences for the future. As I said in the beginning, none of this is my own thinking. What I’ve hoped to convey to you is that there are valid views of God beyond the one we often hear. And these views have encouraged me to seek God more.

~ Ryan D.
Beloved Talk: “Participating with God”
July 27, 2014 @ Church of the Beloved

 

 

…Making All Things New: 4:36pm Service Time

It’s a new year and there’s a lot of new things happening at Church of the Beloved for you to know about.  Take for starters the new service time at 4:36pm.

 

Why 4:36pm?  Well, we could say, “It’s a small compromise to accommodate kids and families in our community” or “It’s a memorable time that stands out.”  But we’re not entirely sure.  Go ask your mom.

 

Now, even though the time has changed, it’s the still slightly odd, community oriented, creative worship service that you’ve come to love.  There is a space for children, both school aged and toddlers – in our worship, as well as dedicated ‘Godly Play’ time.  If you walk in at 5pm we’ll understand.

 

Hope to see you in the new year!

Cleaning House

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Our baptismal vow asks us this essential question:  Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

I wonder, “What could keep us from proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  Will it be persecution?  The threat of imprisonment, torture or death?”  Nah.  Probably nothing so severe as that.  The greatest threat to us living out our baptismal vow to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ is busyness.  Busyness is one of the most oppressive forces in our lives.  We are just too busy to be the body of Christ.

I was at an emerging Church conference a little while ago where someone asked a panel of church leaders, “How would you characterize these new generations of Christians?” and one rather crushing answer was, “Too busy to live out their ideals”.  As I looked around the room everyone nodded their head in agreement.  This is so true for me.  I treasure the silence and the solitude I experience in the half-minute walk I take around my car between putting Moses in his car seat and getting into the driver’s seat.  I walk s-l-o-w-l-y.  It’s like a 30 second sabbath.  We’re too busy to be the body of Christ, our lives are too full to be fulfilling and not empty enough to make room for what matters to us.

Social researcher Liah Greenfeld wrote:

“Americans who suffer from busyness today do not prioritize. They treat all their occupations– work, family, and even leisure–as equally important… [Americans] are busy not because our physical and economic survival requires constant exertion on our part, leaving us little opportunity for spiritual restoration–relaxing, getting rid of the sense of busyness–but because we are incapable of perceiving and taking advantage of the opportunities for repose. We are restless. And our busyness is an expression of this inability to rest, rather than its cause… We are veritably torn into pieces by all these simultaneous and necessarily conflicting demands that oppress us every minute of our waking life and eventually invade our sleep.”

I read that and thought, “Yep. We’re just too busy to be the body of Christ”.  But this story about Jesus clearing the Temple wants to speak into our busyness and say, “It’s not too late to clean house, because Jesus has some serious zeal for the Temple.  St. Paul makes this connection, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? …God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

So it’s really not much of a jump to say, “Jesus is consumed by zeal for you.”  He wants to clean house, clear out all the clutter and the busyness that keeps us from fully living when our lives start to look like an episode of Hoarders.

We don’t have to be afraid of this zeal.  Jesus is not going to harm you, even though things we mistakenly cling to will be challenged, and that certainly is scary.  But his is a protective anger on your behalf towards all the consumption that takes up room in you, but does not fulfill you and leaves no room in you for meaningful relationship with God or anyone else.

“Cleaning the Temple” is what it means to say, “No”.  Saying “No” is the energy to clean house.  Saying “No” creates the boundaries to hold that empty space.  Saying “No” makes room to decide what to give your “Yes” to.  So, without fear, wonder what space needs clearing in your life?  What “No” might Jesus be saying in your life in order that you might more fully say “Yes” to something else? These questions form the basis of the personal address of our Gospel.

But there’s also a wider address for our culture in this passage that we should not forget. The Gospel says, “Jesus poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” The reason why money needed to be changed in the temple was because pilgrims were traveling to Jerusalem from far away countries and the temple was making big bucks off of this dirty exchange of currency.  In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the JPMorgan of the time, who turned a blind eye to Bernie Madoff’s deception.

The Gospel says, “Jesus told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” In the Jewish Temple doves were the offerings of the poor purchased by those could not afford a lamb or a goat. In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the Wells Fargo of the time, who gave bonuses to loan officers who put minority borrowers into high-priced subprime mortgages—internally dubbing them “ghetto loans.”

The Gospel says, “Jesus told them, ‘My house is to be called a house of prayer for all nations’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”  In the Jewish Temple there were few places where Gentiles were allowed to worship and that’s where all this business was located.  All the buying and selling had pushed out any room for prayer – which the reason why the Temple was built. But buying and selling had pushed out any room for the Gentile to pray – instead they were treated like a commodity, like a profit unit.  In clearing the temple Jesus was saying “No” to the Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs of the time, who gave tens of millions of dollars of bonuses to their top executives while duping their own clients.

I can’t think of a better time than now to call upon the words of the prophet Amos, who said:

“Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land, saying,

‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain,
When will the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure, boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals.’

Your gig is up and it’s time for a clean sweep.

The Temple was full and needed emptying.  Our banks are full and in need of emptying.  And there’s a way in which we too are full and in need of emptying. We need emptying so that we might be a house of prayer to cultivate earnest relationship to God. Do you have room for prayer and relate to God? When’s the last time you cleared your schedule and just kept it that way determined to nurture intimacy with your God?  Like the Jewish Temple, this is what we’re made for.  This is the essential.  What’s stopping us?

And we need emptying so that we might be a place for ‘all nations’, a place to cultivate relationship with the ‘Other’.  Do you have room for strangers, for those who are outside of your family or outside your circle of friends?  When’s the last time you had someone over for dinner? (We all know your house is messy, no one cares about that except you – are you gonna let that stop you from the thing that God says is essential – that is, the welcoming of the outsider?)

We are too busy to be the body of Christ, but Jesus is consumed by a zeal for you and wants to give you the courage to say “No” to everything that wants to fill up your time and your energy but never really fulfills you.  It’s time to make a fast from busyness as usual and enter the liminal empty space of Lent. It will feel like the destruction of the Temple. It will certainly feel like death. But Jesus makes you this promise, “In three days it will be rebuilt.” Your whole life will be rebuilt, cluttered rooms of your life will be swept clean, time will bend to a new rhythm, priorities will reorder their importance, and life will unfold in a whole new way so that we can get back to being the body of Christ, so that we can answer “with God’s help we will” when asked “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.”

New-ish Music is Here!

It’s Here!

A brand new collection of 11 soulful songs from Church of the Beloved and the community who brought you “Hope for a Tree Cut Down”.

CLICK HERE TO PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY AND HELP US FUND THE PROJECT.

Remember that?

When we released our first album, Hope for a Tree Cut Down, we made a risky decision to offer it as a free download.  We wanted to share it with as many people as we could and we were shocked at how far it reached (over 15,000 downloads in 33 countries) and moved by how many people wrote to us telling us about all the lovely ways the music had been used (worship, yoga, marriages, funerals, baptisms, hip-hop remix, mission statements…).  The music seemed to meet people in some extremely deep places.

Do it again!

Well, a lot of new music has been bubbling up in us and it’s time to do it again.  We’ve selected our very best songs and are hard at work creating something truly special. We’re calling it, Songs for a Mystical Supper.  We want to release this as a free download again, hoping to get it out to as many people as we can and treating it as a gift to the world and a resource to the Church who is in need of thoughtful, soulful music.

That’s where you come in.

Over 40 people have been involved in creating this new album and, so far, every session in the studio has been “chills down our backs worthy” (See some pics of us in the studio below). We are really excited to release it, and that’s where you come in. Church of the Beloved is a small, but ridiculously creative community and we need your help to share this creativity with others. There are a lot of levels on which to contribute and some really fun rewards for your donation to this project. Seriously, any amount will help us reach our goal.

We have till November 18 at 5pm Pacific Time to raise $6,500. That amount covers the completion of recording, mixing, mastering and duplicating the album (it’s actually a shoe string budget for the level of quality we’re getting!). This is not something our community could fund if it was up to only us. But we don’t want to keep it to ourselves.  Give a little, get a lot, and let’s do this together.

Thank you + Thank God for you + Thanks be to God!

earnestly,

ryan, tara, and church of the beloved