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Sunday, July 5

Today’s reflection/sermon was offered in a different style. Instead of presenting the scriptural passage in its entirety and then giving my reflection at its conclusion, I broke the passage into two parts: Mark 6:1-6 and Mark 6:7-13. After each section, there is a brief reflection.

Mark 6:1-6 (The Message)

He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. "We had no idea he was this good!" they said. "How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?" But in the next breath they were cutting him down: "He's just a carpenter—Mary's boy. We've known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?" They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. Jesus told them, "A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child." Jesus wasn't able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that's all. He couldn't get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching….

As many of you know, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the national gathering of the United Church of Christ last weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The gathering - called General Synod – is a glorious time when delegates from around the country gather for a time of worship, spiritual formation, mission, and fellowship.

Since I had never attended a General Synod before there were many experiences to which I was looking forward – and one that I was NOT. The thing I was dreading? The committee meetings.

You see there were 16 resolutions that had been put forth for the delegates to consider. The delegates were divided evenly into several committees so they could tighten up the resolutions before they were voted on by the entire group. Delegates had no control over which committee they were assigned. And to make matters worse, there were approximately 100 delegates in each committee. You ever try to get 100 UCC members to agree on something? Let’s just say it isn’t pretty. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to serving on a committee.

When the committee assignments were finally handed out Sunday morning, I was pleased to see I was assigned to a committee that was to deal with what I thought were two straightforward matters: a resolution urging the UCC to support a document called the Accra Resolution – a statement opposing economic globalization that had already been supported by 213 other denominations; and a resolution concerning about global hunger.

“What sort of person could be against those resolutions,” I thought. “We’ll be done with our work in half an hour - tops!”

Two hours into our first committee meeting, I was going out of my mind – for a controversy arose that I hadn’t expected. You see the organizers of the national gathering were committed to making our Synod a green event. This meant they refused to print copies of the documents. They left it up to the delegates to download and print copies for themselves. Well there was a faction on our committee that felt it was wrong to ask delegates to vote on a document that had not been printed out for them. The two sides went back and forth about whether or not we should even vote on the resolutions.

As I listened to the argument, I felt a tinge of what I imagine Jesus must have felt in the first half of today’s Gospel reading. I had entered a situation where I expected to deal with substantive issues that would effect healing and reconciliation in people’s lives; instead, I found myself in a situation where folks were missing the point.

As our committee meeting hit the 2 hour mark, I thought to myself, “It’s time to shake the dust from my sandals and move on. There’s no bother in me returning to the committee meeting in the morning – for the community is holding me back.” Like those who would twist the moral of Jesus’ teaching in the first half of today’s reading, a part of me began to think, “It would be best for me to leave my community in the dust and live out my faith alone - on my own terms.”

But is that REALLY the lesson Jesus left us with? That we are meant to go it alone?

Mark 6:7-13 (The Message)

Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: "Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. "And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. "If you're not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way." Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits...

Okay, Okay. I get the point. The message from today’s FULL passage is a bit more complicated than I realized at first. I kept the second half of this week’s passage in mind last Monday morning as I trudged back into the meeting room for what was supposed to be another 3-½ hours of work.

And then something remarkable began to happen in our committee. The log jam began to break. Overnight the environmentalists and the social justice folks had reached an understanding that they could live with. This was nothing short of a miracle! And the semantic changes that seemed tortuous just 12 hours earlier – changes about whether to use a semicolon or dash in a particular sentence, and how to order the clauses in the resolution – suddenly started to make sense. In the span of just 2 hours, our committee did the unthinkable: we produced 2 resolutions that were so much stronger that the ones we had received just one day before.

As much as I wanted to hold onto my warped reading of the first half of today’s Gospel lesson and use it as an excuse to withdraw from community and live out my faith on my own, my experience in Grand Rapids last weekend showed me a much deeper, more profound lesson. As Christians we are stronger when we gather together as the body of Christ than we are when we go it alone.

And no where is that lesson about the importance of community more clear than right here – at the Communion Table. For when we step forward to the Communion Table, we do so not simply as a collection of individuals; we step forward as members of a Community. Members - granted - who don’t always see eye to eye. But members who can lay aside those differences and allow ourselves to once again be re-shaped: not in our own image, but in Jesus’.


Saturday, July 4

Today’s Readings: Psalm 2; 1 Samuel 23:1-23; Mark 1:1-11; 2 Corinthians 13:7-14; Psalm 36

The good news is that our website was corrected and I now have the correct daily readings. The bad news is because of a recent “improvement” to I can no longer copy and paste the links to the daily readings. Sorry about that.

Lots of people have a misconception about how a person’s call unfolds. They think that a person gets a call to do something and then (to use a biblical metaphor) the raging waters of life split and the individual effortlessly walks through those threatening waters and into their new call. This is especially true when people think about a person’s call to ministry. I wish I could say that was my experience – but it wasn’t. The process of living into my call was messy and involved a whole lot of effort. In fact, that process involved me uprooting my stakes and moving 1,100 miles away - to a part of the world I never dreamed I would travel; breaking ties with my home church; switching my denominational affiliation; and lots and lots of kicking and screaming on my part when I realized that call was taking me in directions I did not want to go at the time. During the process, I wondered if all of the messiness was reason to question my call. “After all,” I thought to myself, “if a call is really from God doesn’t that mean it comes together easily?” Thankfully I had lots of stories in Scripture to show me a person’s call doesn’t always come together easily. Today’s passage from 1 Samuel is a great example of this. In the passage, we hear the continuing story of David. Throughout David’s unfolding call story, he undergoes lots of traumatic experiences that make living into his call extremely difficult. The call to attach the Philistines and save Keilah in today’s story is but one example. David is called by God to lead an assault on the Philistines. David leads the assault despite his own men’s fears and doubts. Once they succeed in their efforts to defend Keilah, they then have to fend off the threat presented by Saul and his men. So much for the notion that answering a call is easy! All of this makes me wonder if there might be a call in your life that you are wrestling with – one that you were initially tempted to pursue, but then got derailed once some of life’s challenges got in the way. If that’s the case, I hope you’ll use David’s story to help you revisit that call. As you sit with the story, remember that just because you are called to do something doesn’t mean that it will be easy! Til next time…

Friday, July 3

Today’s Readings: Psalm 88; 1 Samuel 13:19-14:15; Acts 9:1-9; Luke 23:26-31; Psalm 6

Our church’s website accidentally posted the August readings rather than the July readings. Therefore, since I don’t have access to a list of today’s readings, I’ll use today’s readings as listed at the PCUSA website. Hopefully we’ll have the problem corrected by tomorrow.

When I was a child, I was fortunate to be raised in a faith community that had lots of amazing people who were quick to take me into their lives and hearts. One of my favorites was a man named Johnnie. Johnnie was one of the quietest and most humble human beings you could ever find. He had been involved in the lumber industry and had lost his left hand in an accident years before. He and his wife Pearl had raised 3 daughters; and they had settled into their retirement years just up the road from where we lived. Johnnie and I even had our birthdays one day apart! Needless to say I thought Johnnie was pretty cool. I assumed that Johnnie had always been the laid back, humble person I had known all of my life. It wasn’t until I was in my teen years, however, that I learned from my parents that was not the case. In fact, my parents said, Johnnie had been a hard-living person who had an edge to him when he was younger. “So what changed him?” I remember asking my folks. “Well,” my mother explained, “Johnnie was very close to a brother of his who was killed in an accident when Johnnie was in his thirties. That tragedy caused Johnnie to look at his life with new eyes and helped him become the person he is today.” It was hard for me to believe that this person whom I knew as a pillar of our faith community could have been so different. Like many people, I had a tendency of putting folks in a box and wanting to keep them there. Johnnie’s story helped me learn about an important concept of our faith called transformation. Of course Johnnie isn’t the only one who lived through an experience of transformation. Today’s reading from Acts tells us there was another person who went through his own experience of transformation: Saul (the one whom we know today as the Apostle Paul). If ever there was a person you would have wanted to write off, it clearly would have been Saul – for he was a man who had built a career around persecuting Christians. And yet who became the person most responsible for the spread of Christianity in the first century? That’s right. Saul! Today’s story of Saul’s transformation serves as an important reminder of what a mistake it would be to write someone off. Perhaps there is someone in your life whom you have written off. Maybe it’s a family member, a former friend, or a difficult neighbor or colleague. Whoever that person is, find time today to lift up that person during your time of prayer and/or meditation. Open yourself to the possibility that maybe - just maybe – that person might have an experience of transformation like Johnnie and Saul had. Til next time…

Thursday, July 2

Today’s Readings: Psalm 109; 1 Samuel 22:1-23; John 21:20-25; 2 Corinthians 13:1-6; Psalm 141

One of the most important discoveries I made during my seminary years came at the very end of my studies. At the time I was taking a class called “Advanced Leadership” that helped me co-facilitate a group of first year seminarians. In that class we explored something called Family Systems Theory. It was a theory largely put together by a gentleman named Edwin Friedman. The crux of the theory emphasizes that the health of a community is largely determined by the health of the individuals within that community. In order to increase the vitality of a community, Friedman suggested, the individuals within that community need to do their own work. One of the many ways individuals do that work is by setting healthy boundaries for themselves in order to keep the focus where it belongs: on oneself and one’s behavior, and not on others and their behavior. (I would add parenthetically that if you’d like to hear more about Family Systems Theory and the way it can bring increased health into your life and relationships, please join us at Mountain View for our Thursday evening conversation group from 6:30-7:30 PM at the church as we explore Friedman’s book “Friedman’s Fables”.) Nevertheless, I was reminded of all of this by today’s Gospel reading from John. And what’s the passage have to do with Family Systems Theory and healthy boundaries? Well, in the passage Peter does his best to interject himself into a situation that had nothing to do with himself; he tried to get the inside scoop on what was going to happen to the beloved disciple. If Jesus had done what many of us - myself included - would have done, he would have gotten defensive or tried to rationalize his course of action with the beloved disciple to Peter. Jesus did neither. Instead, he kept Peter’s focus where it belonged when he said: “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You – follow me” (John 21:22 from The Message). What a powerful reminder to us all to tend to ourselves and our own issues. Today, I would invite you to use that reminder to see if there are places in your life where you’ve tried to interject yourself that have nothing to do with you. Perhaps you have done so as a way of avoiding your own stuff. If so, use Jesus’ words to Peter as a call to centering: “You – follow me.” Til next time…

Wednesday, July 1

Today’s Readings: Psalm 100; 1 Samuel 21:1-15; John 21:15-19; 2 Corinthians 12:19-21; Psalm 23

During my seminary years, all students were required to meet general requirements across a couple of tracks. One track was biblical studies; one track was Christian history; one track involved an array of ministerial duties (i.e. pastoral care and Christian Education); and one track was theology. While my favorite was the biblical studies track, I also enjoyed the theology track quite a bit as well. We had a chance to study some of the greatest theologians of all time – ranging from Ireneas to Luther to Schleiermacher to McFague. It was all very fascinating. There was only one thing about the experience of studying theology in seminary that frustrated me. As we studied each school of theology, many of my classmates started declaring themselves adherents of one particular theological camp. Some would say, “I’m a systematic theologian”; other would say, “I’m a liberationist theologian”; others would say, “I’m a womanist theologian”; and still others would say, “I’m a process theologian”. I never felt comfortable making such a declaration for myself because I had one strong conviction at the center of my faith: God is so much bigger than any limited human category we could create to think about God. If I declared myself a liberationist theologian, for instance, I would be minimizing the truth contained in systematic approaches; and if I declared myself a womanist theologian I could miss out on the fullness of the truths contained in process theology. In other words, I fought to keep my contemplation of God open so that it could transcend the limitations of human experience. I was reminded of this struggle as I read the Psalm 100:3 today. In that verse, the psalmist said: “Know this: God is God, and God, God. God made us; we didn’t make God. We’re God’s people, God’s well-tended sheep” (The Message). Theology (if poorly done) can represent an attempt to create a God in line with our limited human values and perceptions. Of course the field of theology isn’t the only way we human beings try to create God in our image. We can do it in our peace and justice pursuits, in our mission commitments, and even our spiritual practices. Today, I would invite you to examine your own spiritual life. In what ways have you tried to “make” God for yourself. Once you’ve examined that notion, spend some time in your time of prayer and meditation contemplating the One who is bigger than all our human boxes. Til next time…