Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Way...the Highway...God's Way?

The slightly longer version for 8 and 10am

 

The book of Genesis is one of the most important books of the Bible. In it we hear the ancient stories of our Judeo-Christian ancestors. These stories resonate with human experience through the ages. Tales of how the world began, of God invested in all creation, of human beings growing in self-awareness and wisdom, struggling through suffering, pain, and joy. These are family stories of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and brothers. They are ripe with emotions of jealousy, greed, love, anger, hope, faithfulness, risk, and what it means to be a people of God.

The stories in Genesis reflect the rich, mythic culture of Mesopotamia in the 6th Century BCE. An oral tradition of stories was shared and passed down through the centuries until they settled in written form about three thousand years ago. Ancient Israel emerged out of this culture of wise courtiers, wisdom traditions, collections of proverbs, and manuals for reading omens and interpreting dreams. Unique to the Hebrew people was their emphasis on a single God. Gone were the many gods of other belief systems in the region. The regional myths were recast through the perspective of a single God in relationship with God’s people.

Today’s reading jumps from the creation story we heard last week deep into the story of Abraham and Sarah, the first family of God’s people. We have skipped much of the Abraham and Sarah story. Now at the age of 90 they are facing a dilemma. Sarah, despite God’s promise was unable to have children. So Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, Sarah’s slave, resulting in the birth of Ismael. One legend says that Hagar was an Egyptian princess. When Sarah and Abraham were in Egypt, Hagar witnessed Sarah’s faith in God, which inspired Hagar to leave Egypt and become Sarah’s servant.

Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, the son of Hagar and Abraham, Sarah suddenly conceives and gives birth to a son. Thus, Isaac is born and God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham is fulfilled. However, Ishmael, as the oldest son, is supposed to be the one who inherits his father’s estate, but Isaac is the child promised by God to be the inheritor. So Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael be sent off on their own. Although Ismael is not the son God chooses to build the Hebrew family,  God does not abandon Ishmael and Hagar. Instead, God builds another great nation through Ishmael - Bedouins and followers of Muhammed claim Ishmael as their founding father. Another legend claims that Ishmael’s daughter marries Isaac’s son, Esau. Esau is the twin brother of Jacob. Genesis has several stories of their sibling rivalry. In other words, this is a very complicated family dynamic.

The Hagar and Sarah story highlights the tension between human beings taking matters into their own hands with discerning and living into God’s desires for our lives.

Hagar and Ismael represent what can happen when human beings doubt God and take matters into their own hands. Doubting God’s promise Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar arrange for Hagar to become the birth mother of Abraham’s long awaited child heir.  Isaac represents the surprise of God intervening in unexpected ways, exemplifying what happens when we open ourselves up to God’s spirit.

This story invites us to reflect on a couple of points: God is with us and in God’s time we can rest assured that all will be well; doubting God and taking matters into our own hands is part of human nature; even when we our decisions are contrary to what God may desire for our lives, God remains with us and works to bring forth good in all ways.

As people of faith we have a responsibility to do our best to discern what God desires. Sometimes we will be off the mark, and misunderstand.  Other times we are too anxious to discern God’s desire. Discernment requires a willingness to take risks, to explore options, to pray, to listen, and to have patience.

The moral of the story: Trusting that God will work with us and our decisions enables us to live with less anxiety. Having less anxiety enables us to listen to God more closely. Listening to God more closely helps us follow God’s desires more intentionally. So let us remember that when we are getting anxious about something, the best response may be to consider all our options, take them to prayer, and  listen for the pull of the Holy Spirit.

Spend some time this week reflecting on the role you played in creating the Ishmael’s in your life, those times when you may have insisted on having your way instead of listening to what God was calling you to do.

The shorter version for the 9am outdoor service

The book of Genesis contains stories that resonate with human experience through the ages. Tales of how the world began, of God invested in all creation, of human beings growing in self-awareness and wisdom, struggling through suffering, pain, and joy. These are family stories of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and brothers. They are ripe with emotions of jealousy, greed, love, anger, hope, faithfulness, risk, and what it means to be a people of God.

Today’s reading jumps from the creation story we heard last week deep into the story of Abraham and Sarah, the first family of God’s people. We have skipped much of the Abraham and Sarah story. Now at the age of 90 they are facing a dilemma. Sarah, despite God’s promise, was unable to have children. So Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, Sarah’s slave, resulting in the birth of Ishmael.

One legend says that Hagar was an Egyptian princess. When Sarah and Abraham were in Egypt, Hagar witnessed Sarah’s faith in God, which inspired Hagar to leave Egypt and become Sarah’s servant.

Hagar and Ishmael represent what can happen when human beings doubt God and take matters into their own hands. Doubting God’s promise Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar arrange for Hagar to become the birth mother of Abraham’s long awaited child heir.  Isaac unexpected birth represents the surprise of God intervening in unexpected ways, exemplifying what happens when we open ourselves up to God’s spirit.

 

The moral of the story: Sometimes our impatience and anxiety cause us to take matters into our own hands and we end up with Ishmael’s, something that was not part of God’s desire for us. Trusting that God works with us and our decisions enables us to live with less anxiety. Having less anxiety enables us to listen to God more closely. Listening to God more closely helps us follow God’s desires more intentionally.

 

Spend some time this week pondering the Ishamel’s in your life.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Spirit Blessing

On my son’s 22nd birthday he requested a trip to the Detroit Institute of Art to view the Samurai exhibit. It was a really interesting exhibit telling the history of the Samurai, with beautiful art and displays of intricate armor, knives, and tea sets for the Japanese tea ceremony.

For some people art is decorative, something we hang on our walls or place on coffee tables to adorn our homes.

Other people consider art to be a commentary on our lives and the world. This is true of the work of Picasso and Dali and other great artists.

Pablo Picasso, the famous 20th century artist,was deeply impacted by the Spanish Civil War. Picasso’s paintings of that era expressed the devastation of the war through images that were abstract and distorted. This genre became known as “cubism.” Some suggest this technique depicted the world as if there were no God. Without God, without the divine vision, everything was wrong, abstract, and distorted.

Salvador Dali’s work is part of the Dada movement, also known as the Surrealists. Dali’s images depict the atrocities of WWI, conveying a world gone mad as the result of human behavior and absentee God.

Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to the challenges that knock us down, things just happen. Life is fragile and precious. As a people of faith, we believe that God remains with us through every crisis and time of chaos,  striving to work in and through us, sustaining us with grace and restoring us with love. However, seeing God’s presence during times of chaos is a challenge. Prayer is one way we know God’s presence.

An icon, unlike art, is not intended to comment on the world we live in. Nor is the icon intended to be just an adornment on the wall. Rather icons are intended to express something of the divine, of the nature of God. The spirituality of iconography is to help us see beyond the world to a place where God resides. The icon is not a picture of God. Rather, the icon is intended to draw us into prayer, and through prayer we come to know something of the essence of God. Here are a variety of icons, some of them written by Maryjane, some of them copies of famous icons.

In your bulletin is an icon of the Trinity called the Oaks of Mamre. It’s from an Old Testament story of three travelers who visited Abraham and Sarah. This icon was written by Andre Rublev in the 15th century in Russia. Rublev reinterpreted the travelers as angels who represent the Trinity.

In this icon the angels are gathered around a table beneath an oak tree. The middle angel is robed in purple with a blue cloak. Another angel is robed in gold. And the third angel is watching them. The wings of each angel is touching the wings of the others - they are all connected, one to the other.

Color is an important element in iconography. For example purple represents divinity, it was the color of royalty in the ancient world. Blue represents human nature and the world. Green represents new life, and gold represents the ultimate ideal - that which is holy and good.

The angel in the middle represents Jesus. His garment is purple and blue representing his divine and human nature.

The angel in gold represents God, holy and good. God is also wearing blue symbolizing that  humans are made in God’s image.

The angel on the left is the Holy Spirit. The outer garment is green, a light green, like new leaves, representing life. The Spirit brings about new life, breathes new life. Human beings are created by God and given life by the Holy Spirit.

Today the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday. It always falls on the Sunday after Pentecost. This day considers how God is present in our lives and our world. True, we never have the complete picture of who God is because ultimately God is mystery. But a mystery doesn’t give us much to work with, so Christianity understands God as a Being who is both mysterious and present. In particular God is a Being in relationship with creation; having a specific kind of relationship with human beings. We are made in God’s image and reveal God’s nature through our lives.

The Christian faith describes God as a being in relationship -  God the Father who creates, God the Son who redeems us and who is with us always, and God the Holy Spirit who works in and through us to help us live life fully.

God comes to us as a Being who desires to be in relationship with us. We know God most fully in and through our relationships with others.  This means our relationships with family and friends, but also our relationships outside our immediate family and community. God comes to us as one who seeks to work in and through us, enabling us to use the gifts we were born with, so that we can become the best version of ourselves possible. Moreover, God is a being of love.  We were made by God through love and we were made by God to love. Love is our purpose, the reason we were created. God who created us loves us to the very core of our being.

Soon we will go outside and bless our beautiful community garden. And we’ll conclude this morning with a great outdoor celebration of good food, music, dancing, fun and games. God calls to have fun, to take delight in the life God has given us, and to celebrate all our blessings.

Here at Christ Church God has revealed God’s self in and through us and in and through our many ministries. For example, God is very present in this building and this property. God is working through us, leading us in creative ways to develop the property further. We might say that the property is our canvas, a work of art revealing what God is doing in and through us. The property is like an icon, through which we come to see God, calling forth the fullness of our identity as a Community Centered Church.

 

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Pentecost: Let the Spirit fly

Friday Five: Recycle, Regift, Reflect


Between 2009 and 2010 people of Christ Church participated in a series of small group discussions. The purpose of these discussions was to understand who Christ Church was at that point in its history and begin to articulate some ideas for the future. This process was called the Charette Group. Out of it came our mission statement and our core values, which you should have received with your worship bulletin this morning. The process was then put on hold until the new Rector was in place and the work could be continued.

So, in 2012, during the annual Vestry Retreat, the Vestry and I took up this work and began to develop it further. Along with our consultant, Jim Gettel, the we discerned that Christ Church is a “Community-Centered” Church. By this we mean that our church building is used consistently by church members and various social, civic, international and community groups and organizations. Without the use of our building these organizations might not have a local and international presence. These include Chapel Day Preschool, American Association of University Women; League of Women Voters;  Creating Hope International (an organization that educates and helps employ women in Afghanistan); AA; Boy and Girl Scouts, Dance, stretching, and marital arts classes; voice lessons; many recital for local music instructors; professional music concerts;  and occasional local businesses who come here for meeting space.

In addition to those who come into our building and find a home; the people of Christ Church go out into the local Dearborn, Detroit, and SE Michigan area and work with those in need. Christ Church also has an international presence through refugee resettlement, wells in Africa, and the SCHOOL project in Liberia. We truly are a Community-Centered Church working to build community on many levels throughout our lives and the world around us.

Recognizing that our community garden is one of the most visible ways that we manifest our Community-Centered identity, the Vestry began to review our ministries using an organic garden model - what is a seed, what is being planted, what is being nurtured, what needs tending too, what needs to lie fallow for a season or two?

Rising up, in a most natural way, has been the development of our land from the community garden to the labyrinth, the memorial garden and the pet memorial garden, and soon, a butterfly garden. These have all arisen from the inspiration of many parishioners who are responding to the Holy Spirit moving within them. All of this work since the foundation of this church, and most recently the Charrette group and the work of the Vestry, has been an ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit calling us to live into our identity. We are Christ Church.

Take a moment to appreciate how amazing this is.

Let me tell more of why I think this is a sign of the Holy Spirit calling us to live into our identity.

A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine in Chicago. She and I were talking about church life and I shared with her some of the impact of the Lenten

Prayer Room curriculum that compared the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly with the formation of children and adults as Christians. She shared with me a story she heard on “Radiolab” about what happens during the chrysalis stage, the time when the caterpillar has formed a shell over its body until a butterfly emerges.

I don’t know if  you have ever really thought about what happens during the chrysalis stage. I guess I always thought it was something like hibernation - except during this hibernation the caterpillar grows wings. It turns out that the process is much more startling.

If one were to cut open a chrysalis one would not find a caterpillar growing wings. Instead one would find nothing but a gooey mess. It’s shocking, actually. The caterpillar completes dissolves and there remains no distinguishing features of either the caterpillar or the butterfly. Then some how this gooey mess reforms itself and a butterfly is released from the shell.

Scientists who have studied butterflies have wondered how this gooey mess becomes a butterfly. There is no firm answer to this and other questions. For example, are the caterpillar and butterfly two separate beings? Or does the butterfly retain some of its memory of being a caterpillar?

To figure this out scientist subjected caterpillars to a strong, offensive odor which made the caterpillar move away from the scent. After the caterpillar had metamorphosed into a butterfly they subjected the butterfly to the same scent, and the butterfly moved away from the scent. Despite all this disintegration into a gooey mess there remained some kind of conscious memory from caterpillar to butterfly.

In addition, if one were to slice open a caterpillar, before it formed the chrysalis, one would see that the inside lining of the caterpillar skin contains the beginning structure of the butterfly, its wings and skeleton. So when the caterpillar constructs the shell and disintegrates into goo, some aspect of the butterfly it will become is embedded within the walls and goo of the chrysallis.

The caterpillar contains everything it is and ever will be inside of itself just waiting for it to be revealed. Spiritual mystics of all faith traditions have alluded to this very idea for human beings as well. We contain within us all we will ever be, given to us by our creator, and it is revealed in and through our lives. As Christians we understand this as a process, a gift, of the Holy Spirit.

Our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles describes a similar startling experience of the Holy Spirit being revealed in and through people.  Sudden, with a rush of wind, the disciple are speaking in languages not their own, and they are understanding one another. Initially the disciples are stunned. But before long they move out of their fear, embrace the gifts of the sprit, trust in God, and follow the Holy Spirit. Two thousand years later Christians are still doing this - moving out of fear, trusting God, following the Spirit.

Especially when we live in anxious times, we cannot allow fear to stop us in the process or we will be like a caterpillar dissolved into a messy goo that never re-forms into a butterfly.

Jesus did not let fear or worry stop him. He followed where God was calling him through his life, into his death, and ultimately the resurrection. The disciples did not let fear and worry stop them. They followed God and  the Holy Spirit and a church was born. Subsequently lives have been transformed by God’s love for over two thousand years.

We too are setting aside our worries and fears and spreading our wings and flying in faith, following where God is calling us, even though at times we have no clear idea what the outcome will be. And amazing things are happening! Our ministries are blooming. The church building and property are buzzing with activity. We have much to be thankful for!

Soon we will go outside and bless our garden, which has been a true labor of love this spring as we expanded its size and built a fabulous fence to protect the crop.

On this day of Pentecost, let us give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the birth of the church which is celebrated on this day, and for all the blessings of this life.

 

Blogging Birthday One Year Old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Degree of Difference

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