Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!

Help support the vision of Woodland Hills Community Church!
For those of you who would like to support the vision & ministry of Woodland Hills Community Church (the faith community I serve that continues to encourage me to minister outside the box), please click on the link just above.

Saturday, July 18

Today’s Readings: Psalm 63; 2 Samuel 2:18-32; Mark 5:1-13; Ephesians 5:1-14; Psalm 64

The words from Ephesians 5:2 immediately brought to mind an experience I had with my mother growing up. My mother was very artistic and had a lifelong dream of taking painting lessons so she could learn how to paint. She got married relatively early in life, however, so she had to put those lessons on hold for many years. Finally, when the last of my three older siblings finished high school she figured she would have a small window of opportunity to take those painting lessons before I reached junior high and high school and my needs started to increase. I was in the fourth grade at the time. So my mother quickly signed up for painting lessons with an artist in our small town. Shortly after she started painting lessons, however, I began to whine about taking piano lessons. “You let Karen (my older sister) take piano lessons when SHE was in school,” I observed. “Why can’t I take piano lessons NOW!” My mother could have created an excuse about why it wasn’t a good time for me to start piano lessons, or she could have said something like, “Because now it’s time for ME to pursue my dream.” She did neither of those things. Instead, she quit her painting lessons so my family could afford to send me to piano lessons. Talk about living into the words from Ephesians 5:2 – “[Christ] didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” Every time I think about what it means to love another from the depths of ones being, I think of that loving sacrifice my mother made. Perhaps you have had an experience like that in your life where a loved one gave something very profound that for you has come to define the act of giving in a Christ-like manner. If so, today I would encourage you to honor that person’s gift by finding ways you could love like Christ for another person in your life. Til next time…

Friday, July 17

Today was a travel day for my first day of a three-day vacation so I won't be able to write. I'll write tomorrow (Saturday,July 18). Til next time...

Thursday, July 16

Today’s Readings: Psalm 55; 2 Samuel 1:17-27; Mark 4:21-32; Ephesians 4:17-24; Psalm 127

It is extremely easy to many of us to read Scripture and read it primarily with our own particular interests in mind. Take today’s passage from 2 Samuel, for example. There are many in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community that suggest that the words attributed to David in his lament for Jonathan would suggest David was either bisexual or gay. “After all,” they would say, “the text tells us David said: ‘I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother, you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26 from The New International Version). While the text is clearly an expression of love felt by one man toward another man, I’m not sure we can exactly equate that love with our modern notion of bisexuality or homosexuality. I would be the first to admit I can understand the desire to do so. That’s because as a gay man I’ve had the Bible used as a weapon against me many times. The thought of being able to take a biblical story and use it in my favor is certainly very appealing. The challenge for me, however, is to remind myself that the sacred writings/stories of our faith weren’t created to be about us; rather, I believe they were created to draw us into relationship with something larger than ourselves and our circumstance. Perhaps you have been in a situation or life-circumstance where you felt tempted to use the sacred words of our faith tradition primarily either as a weapon against someone or a means of defense against an aggressor. If that’s the case, take a step back and ask yourself: “What is the purpose of the sacred narratives in my life?” A little honest soul-searching in response to that question might change the way you experience Scripture from this point forward. Til next time…

Wednesday, July 15

Today’s Readings: Psalm 58; 2 Samuel 1:1-16; Mark 4:10-20; Ephesians 4:7-16; Psalm 68

If I were to ask you, “What would you think of a person who tried to function in the world with a 6th or 7th grade level of math?”, you would probably say that person is in serious need of additional math skills in order to fully function in our society. If I followed that question up by asking, “What would you think of a person who tried to function with a 6th or 7th grade level of English?”; once again you would probably say that person is in serious need of additional English skills. And yet one of the ironies is that many Christians in the pews of our local churches haven’t regularly participated in Christian Education/Spiritual Formation programs since they were confirmed in the church in the 6th or 7th grade. Even worse, some have justified their lack of participation by saying, “It’s a good thing I don’t fill my head with those high faluting (sp?) ideas. I am content to hold on to the faith I have from my childhood.” Many folks who would say this equate being faithful with believing what you were taught in Sunday school as a child. That’s too bad. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Roughly two thousand years ago the author of today’s passage from Ephesians wrote: "No prolonged infancies among us, please… God wants us to grow up, the know the whole truth and tell it in love” (Ephesians 4:14 from The Message). So today I wonder where you are at with this notion of becoming “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without” (Ephesians 4:13 from The Message). Are you actively engaged in efforts to grow and expand your faith – the seeds of which may have been planted in your childhood; or would you rather hold on to the faith of your childhood and ignore your potential for spiritual growth and development? Til next time…

Tuesday, July 14

Today’s Readings: Psalm 15; 1 Samuel 31:1-13; Mark 4:1-9; Ephesians 4:1-6; Psalm 6

Christians in the United States have – from their earliest days on the continent – made a practice of separating themselves from those who are different from themselves. Almost immediately upon landing upon the continent, for instance, Christians separated themselves based upon skin color. Shortly thereafter, Christians made a practice of separating Protestants from Catholics. And not long after that, Protestants went berserk and started separated themselves along nearly every other line you could think of (i.e. geographical region of the country, country of origin, style of worship, language used in worship, you name it!!!). This means that over the last 400 years, we have nearly lost our ability to stretch ourselves and co-exist with other Christians who see things differently than we do. Sadly, this evolution represents a radical departure from the vision that was laid out for us in today’s passage from Ephesians. “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction,” the author states, “so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness” (Ephesians 4:4-6 from The Message). So how do we get back on track? How do we reverse the trend to separate ourselves from those who are different? The most comfortable way for us to accomplish this would be to bring resolutions to our denominational meetings that mandate this happen. Many of our denominations have already taken this feel-good approach. I think such an approach would be a HUGE cop out. Instead, I believe the effort to get the church back on track must begin with the people inside our local churches. They must stretch themselves and build relationships in their daily lives with people who are different from themselves. Next, they need to bring these diverse relationships into the worshipping community so that the relationships begin to effect change in the life of our local churches. Lastly, the witness of our local churches should create so much pressure on our denominational bodies that they are forced to respond to the changing reality. Living into the vision put forth to us from Ephesians must be a grass roots effort. Otherwise, those visionary words from Ephesians will remain what they have been in most of our local churches for centuries: empty rhetoric. Today, I challenge you to begin doing your part by cultivating relationships in your life with those who look, act, think, and worship differently than you do. That simple gesture of one person could help transform the church – both locally and globally! Til next time…

Monday, July 13

Today’s Readings: Psalm 142; 1 Samuel 30:11-31; Mark 3:19b-35; Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 138

Two years ago, I had an interesting experience that helped me live into a new understanding of today’s Gospel reading from Mark. You see my father had a sudden heart attack and was in the Intensive Care Unit for over three weeks. Unfortunately, I was unable to spend much time with him in ICU – for the day they discovered that he had had heart attack I had to catch a return flight to Denver. That meant for many days I was in a rather unique position. I was unable to visit my own father who lie recovering in a hospital bed some 1,100 miles away – all that while I found myself taking care of those individuals in the congregation I served who were ailing as well. During those trying days, I discovered a new respect for what it means to live out our faith as members of a larger family. I had to trust that my father’s pastor would tend to his spiritual care while I tended to the care of other people’s mothers and fathers in the congregation I serve. That whole experience gave new appreciation for Jesus’ words found in Mark 3:35: “The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (The message). For those of you reading this that are connected to congregations, I would ask you to contemplate the ways the people in your faith community have become your family members. After you’ve done that, give thanks that no matter where you live geographically, you’ll always be surrounded by family. Til next time…

Sunday, July 12

Before we hear this morning’s passage read, I want to take a moment and summarize the events that lead up to it - so that you can better understand the morning’s text.

The sixth chapter of 2 Samuel begins with a celebratory procession whereby Israel’s new king – David – wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the City of David as a way of establishing the legitimacy of his throne.

Somewhere along the way, however, the cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant was jostled a bit, and one of the attending priests – Uzzah – reached out to steady it. We are told that God got angry at Uzzah for breaking the command not to touch the Ark and struck Uzzah dead.

Upon seeing this, King David grew afraid of God for taking such an extreme act – so David decided to leave the Ark with Obed-edom as a means of protecting himself.

Funny thing happened. The house of Obed-edom prospered during the three months the Ark was in their care.

And so with that, let’s pick up the story with verse 12…

12-16 It was reported to King David that GOD had prospered Obed-Edom and his entire household because of the Chest of God. So David thought, "I'll get that blessing for myself," and went and brought up the Chest of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David, celebrating extravagantly all the way, with frequent sacrifices of choice bulls. David, ceremonially dressed in priest's linen, danced with great abandon before GOD. The whole country was with him as he accompanied the Chest of GOD with shouts and trumpet blasts. But as the Chest of GOD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul's daughter, happened to be looking out a window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before GOD, her heart filled with scorn. 17-19 They brought the Chest of GOD and set it in the middle of the tent pavilion that David had pitched for it. Then and there David worshiped, offering burnt offerings and peace offerings. When David had completed the sacrifices of burnt and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies and handed out to each person in the crowd, men and women alike, a loaf of bread, a date cake, and a raisin cake. Then everyone went home.

Now those of you who know me, know that I’m usually a very dutiful person who restricts my focus to the section of Scripture designated as the lectionary text for the week. This means that if I stayed in character, I would restrict my comments to you this morning solely to the section of the text printed in your bulletin.

And I tried – oh, I tried, for five days – to pull together a sermon that did that. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do that. For the section of the Scripture I found most fascinating was the piece that appeared just before this morning’s passage: the section that talked about the priest Uzzah being struck dead simply because for reaching out to steady the Ark that was about to fall.

That little passage that was conveniently omitted by those who put the lectionary together raises a whole lot of interesting questions about the nature of this God whom we gather this morning to worship. If we don’t deal with those questions, we are likely to do what King David did – pull back from God and put as much distance between us and God as possible.

So let’s start this morning by throwing out some of the questions that account raises for us about the nature of God?

[Pause and let the people generate questions.]

These are all wonderful questions that relate back to something which we in the progressive church wrestle. You see we in the progressive church like to pay homage to a God that fits neatly into the preconceived boxes we have created. We like, for instance, to associate God with all things warm and fuzzy. Hence, we conceptualize God by using words like loving, compassionate, merciful, and grace-filled.

Given that those words are rather sedate and serene, we respond by creating spiritual lives that are rather sedate and serene. During our times of prayer and meditation, we sit – back straight and head bowed – and quietly wait for the presence of God to be manifest to us. We enter sanctuaries where the chairs are neatly ordered; sit down in our usual spots; and proceed through the worship order in the sequence printed out for us. And then we leave worship and engage in acts of service – often via church sanctioned agencies that deal directly with the recipients of aid for us. It’s all very nice and neat, isn’t it?

But is that all there is to God? Is that all there is to our spiritual lives? Or can there be something more?

Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard says basically, that there is more –so much more – to God than those four adjectives we have strung together. And in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, she explores the ramifications of these other dimensions.

“Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke?” Dillard began. “Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.”

See where our warm, fuzzy, sedate, and serene images get us.

She goes on to add: “It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet gloves to church; [instead] we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”

Now that’s starting to sound a bit more in line with today’s story. We’ve got some elements of that TNT out now.

“Hold on for a second, Craig,” you might be thinking. “I’m not yet ready to abandon my warm, fuzzy, sedate, and serene notion of God – only to replace it with a God who is cold, prickly, disturbing, and chaotic. That’s not going to work for me!”

I can certainly appreciate your concern. But I don’t think that’s exactly what Dillard is getting at: moving from one extreme to the other. Instead, she’s simply trying to create a more balanced way for us to think about God.

“Dillard’s reflection is not so much the description of a fearsome and punishing God,” Rev. Kate Huey noted in trying to help those seeking a more balanced image of God, “… it’s an attempt to convey an understanding of God’s awesome otherness, God’s transcendent power and glory.”

And then Huey hit the ball out of the park by noting how such an understanding – such a story as the one we grapple with today - can help us grow in our own spiritual lives. “It is oddly comforting,” Huey says, “in a very different way from the tamed and domesticated Comforter-God, that the universe is not spinning wildly out of control but is in the hands of a God so much greater than our imaginations.” So much greater than our likes and dislikes, I would add.

Now that’s the kind of God that lies behind this morning’s passage from 2 Samuel. The kind of God that can get 30,000 troops out of the bed early and head out on a tiresome journey simply to reclaim an Ark. The kind of God whose power radiates out of places we would call holy in such ways that can be constrained or predicted. The kind of God who motivates a grown man to strip down to his skivvies and dance jubilantly in front of a stunned public. That’s the kind of God we are hungry for.

Friends, I know it would be easy to walk away from this morning’s story and treat it as an anomy in our spiritual journey – eager to leave behind the Hebrew scripture and get back to the good stuff in the Gospels.

It would be easy to slip back into our safe and secure routines. It would be easy to keep God in those boxes to which we’ve grown so fond.

My word to you this morning is this: don’t do it! Don’t domesticate God. Don’t tame God. Open yourself to the dazzling, amazing, and transformative power of God.

I’ll be the first to admit those powers might overwhelm you at first. They might even scare you. But the good news is that our God is anything but safe and predictable. Our God can – and will – overcome any limitation place upon God: even if that limitation comes from us.