Sanctuary Mission Team offers two educational sessions

The Sanctuary Mission Team has scheduled two programs to help us further understand immigrants in Dane County and beyond. 

The first program is March 4th @ 9:00 – 9:45am and will feature Fabiola Hamdan. She will be talking about the immigrant community in Dane County and her work with undocumented people. Baxter Richardson will facilitate.

Fabiola Hamdan is a bilingual, bi-cultural Senior Social Worker with the Dane County Department of Human Services. She is the first Immigration Affairs Specialist. Fabiola immigrated from Bolivia 32 years ago. She went to UW Madison and got her masters degree in social work. For 18 years, Fabiola has facilitated the Darbo Worthington Joining Forces for Families team comprised of 8 to 12 police, school, public health, and other human service professionals. The team provides collaborative service to specific families and implements community projects designed to improve quality of life in this neighborhood. 

 She will be discussing immigrants’ communication systems among themselves, the working conditions they face (often dangerous), and their methods of coping with current policies on immigration. Mark Beatty will facilitate.

Tekla is a Madison native with extensive knowledge of and experience with immigrant issues. Her husband is an immigrant, and Tekla is the owner and operator of a home cleaning company that employs immigrants. 

Wine, Women and … Whatever! (Ken Pennings) 2.18.18

Our Lenten series has been organized by a group of women from the congregation who cherish the way the Divine Feminine works in all of our lives. During this series, as we encounter Biblical stories of Jesus and first century women, we will also celebrate and honor the experiences and voices of other women through music, word, symbol and images. This morning, we sing music written by or about women, and in a moment, Sharon Goss will read her own midrash on the wedding feast at Cana, the Biblical story in which Jesus and his disciples attend a wedding where there is a shortage of wine; Jesus’ mother brings this problem to Jesus’ attention; Jesus then turns a large amount of water into wine, and not just any wine, but the best wine served at the banquet.

*In Judaism, the Midrash is a form of literature which contains early interpretations and commentaries on passages in the Hebrew Bible. The purpose of midrash was to resolve problems in the interpretation of difficult passages of the text of the Hebrew Bible, and to align them with the religious and ethical values of religious teachers. In Ken’s sermon, he borrows the term for interpretations of difficult passages in the Christian Scriptures.

 

I grew up hearing the expression, “Wine, Women and Song,” which usually referred to hedonistic men who indulge their desires to an extreme. Remember Loretta Lynn singing “Well I’m at home a workin’ and a slavin’ this way. You’re out a misbehavin’ spendin’ all of your pay on wine, women and song”?

Quite a sexist expression since we have no equivalent for hedonistic women. Who has ever heard of women given to “Merlot, Men and Melody”?

At any rate, I was tremendously amused to google this expression and learn that women have borrowed it for their own causes. Have you ever attended an event called “Wine, Women and Wellness,” or “Wine, Women and Wealth,” or my favorite “Wine, Women and Shoes?”

So, I’ve titled my message, “Wine, Women and … Whatever.”

Because in today’s Gospel story, and in Sharon’s midrash we find all three — wine, women and “fill in the blank.”

I’d like to fill in the blank with the word “wonderment,” because in this inaugural story of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John, the whole world is wondering about the prophet from Nazareth, the wisdom he shares, the love he expresses, the courage he exudes as he confronts the powers of hierarchy, patriarchy and empire.

Anyone who has read John’s Gospel knows that it is very different from the other three: the language and images seem farfetched and even more unbelievable than the nature miracles or healing miracles we read in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Scholars argue that John’s entire Gospel, and all of the stories and speeches in it, are richly symbolic and theological—and cannot be taken as literal or historical. More than any other biblical writer, the author of the fourth Gospel seems to warn against, inveigh against, and show the absurdity of that all-too-human tendency to seek to capture divine mystery in literal historical factual information. We need to keep this in mind as we dive into this inaugural scene of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s Gospel.

When we heard Sharon’s midrash of the Biblical story, we might have been tempted to compare it to the original, asking “How closely did she stick to the text?” or “How accurate was her story?” Instead, I’m hoping we simply held her story alongside the original, remembering that the original story probably wasn’t original. The story changed each time it was told until it was finally written down.

There’s no one right story. And the further we get from actual historical memory, the more the story changes.

What we know for sure is that all stories hold a special place in the heart and the head of the storyteller.

So what do we think was in the heart and head of those who told the story recorded in John 2:1-12?

The text reports a miracle, of course: the transformation of a large quantity of water (120 to 180 gallons) into wine.

But the meaning of this story doesn’t depend upon its “happened-ness.” Instead, it is a “sign,” as John puts it. Signs point beyond themselves; to use a play on words, they sign-ify something.

So what is the meaning of this story as a “sign?” What is its significance?

Many biblical scholars have tried to make sense of the details or lack of details in the story: “Why aren’t the newlyweds identified and how did they know Mary, Jesus and the disciples?” “Why does Jesus have this odd exchange with his mother?” “What should we make of the six huge water jars used for Jewish purification rituals?” and “Why did they run out of wine?” One scholar proposed, and Sharon’s midrash concurs, that it might have been Jesus and his disciples who were drinking too much, bringing the party to an embarrassing end.

Any one of these details might catch our attention and take us on a wild goose chase, but the primary focus of the author here, I believe, is to identify Jesus as a unique individual who brings God close to God’s people, as a bridegroom is united with his bride.

Is it possible that the story of the wedding feast at Cana is more than the details read or imagined? Might it signify something else happening between God and God’s people, something at least as marvelous, mystical and magical as the union of a bride and groom on the occasion of their wedding?

In the imagination of the early church, the coming of Jesus was like a wedding. In his presence was abundant joy; savoring his words was like tasting the very best wine; experiencing God’s love in, with and through him was like discovering true love with one’s life partner or spouse!

The story of the wedding banquet in Cana may signify all these wonderful things, and more!

We learned in our summer series of the book of Acts that the early church was constantly reaching back to their own Hebrew Scriptures to make sense of and legitimize the new Christian movement. Thus, in the NT, scores of quotes and allusions to Hebrew Bible.

I see this happening with the story in John’s Gospel. I have a hunch that early Christian writers reached back to their own Scriptures to create the story of the wedding banquet in Cana.

Centuries earlier, the prophet Hosea announced God’s intentions to take wayward godless Israel as his bride, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20).

The prophet Isaiah declared that God was Israel’s husband who would lovingly deliver his wife from exile (Is. 54:4-8). Hear, oh Israel, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you“ (Is. 62:4-5).

And if Hosea and Isaiah announced God’s marriage to Israel his bride, the prophet Amos described what it would be like for the happy couple. “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…. (My exiled people) will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit” (Amos 9:13-14).

Really, how could these beautiful hopeful passages from Israel’s own Scriptures not be in minds of early Christians when the story of the wedding feast at Cana was created?!!!

In John’s mind, the disciples would treat this feast at Cana as a “sign” that the marriage of heaven and earth had begun; the messianic age was finally here in the person and ministry of Jesus; they would never run out of wine; their joy would never end; and the best had been saved for here and now!

What happens when heaven is wedded to earth and the two become “one flesh”? What does this look like in the real world? How does this marriage affect our economy and ecology, our social structures and institutions, our worldviews?

When God marries God’s people, the world is turned upside down:

  • the first are last and the last are first;
  • the mighty get off their thrones, and masters wash the feet of their servants;
  • women and children are as valuable as men;
  • the wounded and sick are healed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are sheltered, the hungry are filled with bounty, the thirsty are given to drink, the unemployed and underemployed are paid living wages; sinners are forgiven; immigrants and strangers are embraced; and prisoners are visited, released and welcomed home.

I believe all this is going on in a Biblical story of a superabundance of wine at a wedding feast. This story is pointing to something rich, marvelous, and magnificent that happens in society when God and God’s bride unite in marriage, pledging, in the language of the Song of Solomon, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.”

Earlier, I urged us to step away from the details of the story to imagine what the story may signify on a larger scale, namely the marriage of heaven and earth.

But now I return to one detail of the story that I don’t want us to miss.

The mother of Jesus notices that there is a shortage of wine, and brings it to Jesus’ attention. He replies, “Woman, what have you to do with me?” Or in another translation, “What do we have in common?” Still another, “Why do you involve me?” Or in Sharon’s midrash, “Mother, this is not a good time.”

I’m wondering if this wasn’t a crucial moment in Jesus’ development as a representative of the realm of God. Crudely, I’m wondering if the line “What have I to do with you?” really means “Why should I be concerned about women’s work?”

It took a woman, Jesus’ own mother, to bring him back down to earth, and remind him that the reign of God is as much about tending to the simple, practical, yet essential needs of people, like what they will eat or drink, where they will sleep, what they will put on, whether they show up at family functions, as it is about confronting systems of injustice.

Clearly, Jesus responded well to this reality check, for he took responsibility for providing more wine for the wedding guests.

By the end of John’s Gospel, we find Jesus actually doing what was considered women’s work by washing the feet of his disciples.

I like to imagine him changing diapers before his mother got finished with him!

What then is the connection between what I call “Wine, Women and Wonderment” and Sharon’s midrash, in which we heard about a worried but devoted mother and her sometimes surly and rude son, who lacks social skills, is a bit reckless, and has a problem with authority figures?

I’d say Sharon’s midrash provides a reality check for my sermon.

Yes, when heaven and earth unite in marriage, when God and God’s people enter into the bond of holy matrimony, all things are made new! But someone has to state the obvious, “They have no more wine.”

 

Prayer of Response, by Sharon Goss

Holy One, Creator and Sustainer of all life, today, as every day, you invite us to partake of life’s feast. But sometimes, in the hurry of life, we fail to hear the invitation. Sometimes, in our darker moments, we’re not sure we deserve to be guests. Sometimes we make a brief stop at the party, then let our obligations send      us quickly away. Sometimes we come and pay attention only to those who matter, ignoring the least among us. Saddest of all, sometimes we stay and drink our fill — without noticing that the cups of others stand empty.

Help us, O Divine Spirit, to feel your joy in our lives — even in the face of life’s real sorrows and struggles, to hear the music, to get up and dance, to laugh and make merry.

Help us today to appreciate more fully all that we have, the many ways our cups overflow.

Help us to believe in the miracles that happen in so many unexpected places, and in so many unexpected ways, at the hands of so many unexpected people. Help us to be grateful for those who hover in the background, finding courage to speak the truth when truth needs to be spoken.

Above all, help us to recognize ourselves — as did Mary — as servants to every guest, that all at the party might partake of life’s goodness.

Then may each day become — for us and all people — a cause for celebration, a full and overflowing cup of blessing, a miracle forever unfolding. Amen.

 

Rising: Spirit, Voice, Stirrings in the Movement for Justice – March 17 at ORUCC

A joint program offered by Orchard Ridge UCC and Good Shepherd ELCA.  Led by Regina LaRoche (see her bio below)

Saturday, March 17

8:30-12:30

Cost – $20.00

Click here to pay/register 

RISING integrates performance and some media offering with simple group movement and story activities; as well as community response and conversation. The focus is on issues of justice and inequity, and the strength of intersectional justice movements… And, depending on where the conversations go, we explore being human and a citizen of a world/earth community.  The concept is that the community building activities pave the way for connections to yield honest conversation; and that the artistic offerings open us all and invite deeper responses. We hope these responses translate into the rise of just and healing action.

“Rising:  Spirit, Voice, Stirrings in the Movement for Justice”
This four-hour offering includes:
performed song, dance, & story/spoken word;
media excerpts;
reflection;
community building using simple movement and story sharing;
interaction and conversation.

The themes represented range from slavery, to the Civil Rights Movement, to Black Lives Matter, to the Women’s March, to Native American Stands, and more.  The convergence and intersectionality of these movements for justice are examined as a hopeful sign of healing in our world.

This offering is an invitation to engage on multiple levels the narratives and strength of marginalized communities.  It is also an invitation to discover and deepen the connections between us all.

About Regina…

The offerings of Regina M. Laroche, of DIASPORA ARTS rise from the intersection of art and the unifying stories of humanity, earth, and those with whom we share this existence. Regina’s story, dance, creative guidance & work are shaped by her life of small scale farming, family, and community on the edge of Lake Superior. Furthermore her life and art are influenced by her mother’s rural South Carolina upbringing, her father’s Haitian Afro-Caribbean culture, the Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, her own travel and cultural experiences, training in spiritual direction, InterPlay, worship with a variety of churches, and a theatre degree from St. Catherine University.

She guides retreats, workshops, classes, and celebrations. Regina has worked with a wide range of ages locally, throughout the country, and overseas.

Regina believes that our bodies and stories are the common ground from which to dance our connections with ourselves, the earth, each other, and all that is.

 

Loving our Enemies, Really (Winton Boyd) 2.11.18

For about 15 years, one of my weekly rituals has been a run on Saturday morning at the UW Arboratum. 7 a.m. near the Seminole Highway entrance. 4 seasons. Anything above zero or that wasn’t a thunderstorm. I’ve shared this run with multiple running partners and it’s been something I cherish; something that grounds my week.

And yet, recently – because of the cold, travel and illness, I haven’t been out there much. In fact, yesterday was only the second time since mid December. And the thing about running – even if you have practice of running 6 miles a Saturday for 15 years – a few weeks away from it and you lose much of your fitness. So, while I had muscle memory, I didn’t have the fitness I would have liked. I have to work back into it. Past training isn’t for naught, but it doesn’t make today’s run magical.

It struck me that this is like a spiritual discipline or a spiritual practice – however long we’ve practiced them, if we slide away, we have to work ourselves back into them. That could be meditation, prayer, spiritual reading, singing…we need to keep at the practice for it to ground our lives.

 

In 2011, a friend and mentor of mine, Parker Palmer, wrote the book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. Some of you may have participated in a small group book series we held with this book. In addition, there was later a statewide effort sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Churches using the same book– Season of Civility. Barb Hummel of this congregation, and I, let several workshops on the material for other faith and community leaders around the state.

The goal was to encourage congregations to sponsor discussion and action groups – within their congregations and/or communities. Over 400 people where trained, and there were some fun anecdotal stories.

But honestly, I don’t know how effective the effort was. I don’t know about others, but for me the reason was I viewed the trainings as an engagement STRATEGY. Like others, I was looking for tools, tactics and even worse, promises. I wanted something that would show me how to cross the divides. In our worst moments, some of those 400 people were looking for a spiritual justification to call their enemies stupid, out of touch, or mean hearted.

What I didn’t calculate was MY PART IN THE DIVIDES, then and now. It was easy to see the divides and it was easy to see problem areas in the perspectives of others. What was more difficult was my ability to see the degree to which those things that are central to my life and faith are part of the problem.

This is where our ancient Scripture text comes back to help us.

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Mother who is in heaven… If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors (or conservative) do the same? And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles (and Republicans and Russians)  do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Mother is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

 Mahatma Gandhi found the Sermon on the Mount – from which this passage comes- so important that he read twice a day for the last 40 years of his life. He considered these texts the greatest writings on nonviolence in the history of the world.

Catholic priest and theologian, John Dear writes, “We can never talk about this commandment enough. For me, it sums up Christianity. If we do this, we will obey Jesus fully, because it encompasses everything — reflecting God’s universal love, working for disarmament, seeking justice for the poor, practicing forgiveness, living in hope and trusting in the God of peace. I’ve long considered it the most radical, political, revolutionary words ever uttered. And by and large, for the last thousand years at least, we’ve done our best to avoid them and disobey them.”

I’ve never understood why Christians do not take this commandment seriously. We Catholics believe in transubstantiation, and never question that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. We eagerly obey the command, “Do this in memory of me.” But love our enemies? When I raise this commandment, the general response I get is: “Are you nuts?” When will we believe in the transformation of enemies into friends?

What’s so shocking is that Jesus commands us to love our enemies not just because it’s right; not just because it’s moral; and not because it’s the only practical solution; but because God loves God’s enemies. This is the nature of God. Jesus wants us to be “sons and daughters of your God in heaven, for God makes God’s sun rise on the bad and on the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.

The text uses the Greek word “agape.” Unlike any word in the English language, “agape” calls for deliberate, unconditional, non-retaliatory, sacrificial, all-encompassing, all-inclusive, nonviolent universal love, a love that lays down our lives for others.

Mid 20th century Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr also spoke to the power of loving our enemies by pointing out that it was it possible (and necessary) to address this task.

He critiqued the tendency to conceive of love as eros, which is ego-driven and thus limited in its ability to extinguish the hatred that invariably exists between those who oppose each other, making the demand to love your enemy not only morally absurd but psychologically impossible. In this understanding, the only way forward, then, is to avoid conflict altogether.

Agape, on the other hand, understands love as moving the individual beyond the ego to something transcendent — in the New Testament it is the kingdom of God; for MLK it was the beloved community, or simply a more perfect union.

Herein lies the genius Niebuhr saw: “We are not told to love our enemies because…they will love us in return, but because the good of our enemies is always bound to that transcendent ideal of which we are also a part.”

The only way to embrace that ‘transcendent ideal’ is to live with an awareness that such agape love is always a holy and sacred gift. It’s emergence in our lives is part of our spirituality, not our social strategy. It emerges from prayer, from letting go of our need to control and manage. It comes from embracing the mysteries that are outside of us.

Loving your enemy is not an act of will, but an act of prayer.  John Dear again, “In prayer, we feel the infinite love of God and are stirred to love ourselves and others, even our enemies. We give God our inner violence and resentments, our hurts and anger, our pain and wounds, our bitterness and vengeance. We grant clemency and forgiveness toward those who have hurt us and move from anger, vengeance and violence to compassion, mercy and nonviolence. In prayer the sense we have of God’s embrace is renewed and we are moved to pass it on to all others, whether they love us or not.”

Seeking to understand and live with an Agape love is neither easy nor limited to our Christian tradition. Recently, on the podcast, OnBeing, there was an interfaith conversation between a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim imam. Both were speaking to the challenges of our times, the rise in hate and the decrease in our ability to live peacefully amidst ‘the other.’

Imam Antepli was the first Muslim chaplain at Duke University, where he now serves as the Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs and as an adjunct professor of Islamic studies. In this interview he asked, “How do we rebuild our immune system? What’s hurting us more and what’s more and more visible is that our immune system is deteriorating. Our ability to resist and detect hate is declining; the wider community is losing its immune system. The ‘cancer’ of hate is not getting stronger, but it is making us weaker, (to the point that) even a small dose is destroying us.

A spiritual immune system speaks to the kind of community in which we live; and the practices and interactions of that community. Is our community seeking the good of all or simply decrying the evil of the other?

How are the surrounding systems of our lives boosting our immune system towards hate, and how are they fueling it with anxiety and agitation? What are we doing, individually and within our small world to explore the cancer of hate and division near us? This is a spiritual practice, even to ask such questions.

Boosting our immune system requires some honest scrutiny of our lives. Again, the Imam: “It’s not true to say that ISIS, people in ISIS, are not Muslims and that their ideology has no connection to Islam…The solution to the ills and the evils of our communities is not disowning them.

The solution is not to divorce ourselves from our moral responsibility. We have to own this cancer, and we have to confront it prayerfully and powerfully, … and we have to name the way it shakes the social, political, and cultural ground under our feet. Those well-meaning Muslims, whenever they say, “No, it has nothing to do with Islam,” they don’t realize how much they look like an ostrich hiding his head on the sand, unfortunately.

The real moral conversation is to put up an honest mirror, to put yourself into a CAT scan, and see what the report is. What is in you, in your community? How much true moral energy and commitment and drive is behind what you do, and how much of is this shallow politics, playing to fear and difference?”

We have to improve the level of self-critical moral awakening, moral courage, in our communities. Quite possible the greatest act of moral courage – is to see even in our enemy the reality of the sacred.

If this is true – the spark of God that is in me exists in the other. To say this, to believe this, is not to minimize the struggle. To own this, is however, to see it as a spiritual practice to be developed, nurtured, struggled through and embraced.

This is both a personal and communal journey. We do not ‘arrive’ at this practice of loving our enemies easily. The power of hate, the practice of othering, the pain of being hated are all too powerful, too present, too potent to be easily shed.

As we move towards the season of Lent this week – we are lifting up some themes and some resources we hope will help in this journey.

Thematically we will explore encounters with Jesus all season in which the subjects of the story are seen and heard and known in the deepest way possible. We’ll explore what Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book, The Wisdom Jesus, calls the ‘mutual recognition’ in encounters with Jesus. We’ll explore how just as Jesus saw to the heart of people – their reactions, questions and resistance often helped him define himself more clearly as well. We’ll listen to one another as we remember when and how we came to know the Divine Spirit moving within us – even if the customs and patterns of our own families and backgrounds tried to deny it. We’ll try to lift up that as all of us – biblical characters and us – see and name something holy within – we are more able and willing to see the holy in others. Even our enemies.

Secondly, we’ve created a devotional. Each day there is a very simple prayer/greeting accompanied by a picture. The prayer is offered as a simple way to start or end our day – remembering that there is something of God in all of us. The hope is that reading, absorbing and maybe even sharing that prayerful greeting with one another will be a part of a practice of prayer and intention.

We can’t promise miracles, but if Wisdom traditions, and the words and life of Jesus in particular, teach us anything, it is that if we are to ever embody love for enemy, we must start where we are, practice, reflect, lament, pray and start again.

We want it to be easy and clear. It will not be, it never has been. But might we be a community that honestly seeks something more loving than the culture around us? Might we be a community that is willing to address our own immune system before criticizing someone else’s? Might we attend first to our own spiritual practices as a first step in our resistance to the violence and hate around us? Might our life of prayer take us deeper into the practice of loving our enemies, rather than being a practice that justifies our positions and attitudes?

Who are the specific or the general enemies in your life?

Can we start with praying for them?

Can we start with acknowledging there is something of God in them?

Can we sit with that for a period of time, see what that feels like?

Can we feel the pulse of the Spirit in our hearts, the Winds of the Divine in our breath?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winton Boyd’s letter to the congregation – February 4, 2018

Tallis, Tammy, Rein, Winton and Kythie Boyd – 1999

Last Sunday at a New Member reception, I talked about what I call the “DNA” of this congregation. Since our founding, we’ve been a creative, experimental, open hearted, passionate, roll-up-the-sleeves, neighbor loving community. As one of your pastors, I stepped into this pool of grace, beauty, activism and love and have enjoyed nearly a generation of contributing to its unique progressive Christian expression in Madison. The Spirit we all feel, this DNA, long preceded you and me, and will continue on into new generations and new expressions of ministry after we are gone. At the end of 2018 I will be stepping down as your Senior Pastor, and stepping out to pursue other opportunities and ministries. In the parlance of my Executive Coach sister, I will begin to explore what “Act 2” looks for me, and the life Tammy and I share, as I complete 20 years here and as I turn 60 years old.

I love being one of your pastors, and I always have. I love our shared ministry and our sense of passion, joy and care for each other and the world. My children, as well as Tammy and I, have been deeply shaped and powerfully loved by this community. Nothing will ever weave itself into our very beings as you have.

I’m not stepping away because I have fallen out of love with you, but rather because the grace of these years together gives me the confidence to look creatively at my final years of ministry and service. Some of my time in the future will be devoted to more retreat work with the Center for Courage and Renewal, and some of it is still being defined. As I step into that uncertainty, I hope to do so with the same passion and care that you’ve so bravely modeled for me.

I’ve wrestled with when to share this news, but realize there is never a good time. I’m excited about so many of our ministries, and I want, in my remaining months, to do all I can to ensure their stability and longevity.

There are many aspects to this decision that will immediately raise questions. I will leave most of those for another day. I will say that in the past month, I recently began conversations with our leaders and my colleagues Ken and Tammy about this decision. Associate Conference Minister JoAnne Thomsen will be joining the Leadership Team at it’s meeting on February 20 to discuss next steps and the UCC search process. She will be a gifted guide for the congregation throughout that process. You will begin receiving information about what that involves in a timely way. Suffice it to say, there will be ample opportunity for input and information.

The long ‘goodbye’ process is designed to help the congregation undergo a search process sooner rather than later, thus minimizing the length of an interim period. The success of this year, that search process and a new pastor will be rooted in all of us doing our best in our roles here at ORUCC. I commit myself to full hearted ministry and appropriate distance from the search process. I commit myself to supporting our leaders and my amazing staff colleagues as we all make sense of the changes we expect and the changes that surprise us.

Finally, I know that I have had some time to make and process this decision, and that for you it is new and for most of you, probably surprising. I am also grateful that we will have time together for the necessary cycle of emotions and conversation. Today is just the beginning.

I love this congregation. I love we are, and I love who I am in your midst. And I give thanks to God for the way I feel her presence in our ministry together.

The Nuances of Salt and Light (Winton Boyd) 2.4.18

Nuances of Salt and Light – audio version

In 2004, a church in Davidson, NC erected a statue depicting the risen Jesus as a person experiencing homelessness, sleeping on a park bench. He is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the stigmata on his uncovered feet reveal his identity.

There is room on the bench to sit with him. The reaction from the community was immediate, and mixed. Some residents felt that it was “an insulting depiction” of Jesus that “demeaned” the neighborhood. Someone called the police, mistaking the statue for a real person experiencing homelessness. Others were open to living amidst this powerful image.

The artist, a Canadian sculptor named Timothy Schmalz says he understands that his Jesus the Homeless is provocative. But, “that’s essentially what the sculpture is here to do. It’s meant to challenge people.” It attempts to visualize the New Testament and Jesus’ call to compassion for all people.

The statue has been offered to and considered by many prominent churches around the world, but its acceptance has not been universal. It did, however, find an admirer in Rome where Schmalz traveled to the Vatican to present a miniature version of it to Pope Francis. “He walked over to the Sculpture, touched the knee of Jesus the Homeless, closed his eyes and prayed. It was chilling.” A few years later a bronze version was completed on the avenue leading to St. Peter’s Basilica.

About the same time, the Westminister City Council in the Center of London (across the street from the famous Westminster Abby) rejected an application for the statue on the grounds that it would ‘fail to maintain or improve’ the character of the area.

Coincidentally, the Manchester City Council jumped at the chance to have the sculpture be sited outside their historic St. Ann’s Church in the heart of its city ‘to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless people in the city.”

What the ‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture seems to do in many places is reveal the priorities of our faith. Are they…

Decorum?

Respectability?

Neatness and tidiness?

Or might they be rooted in other qualities?

Compassion?

Community?

Reality?

Hopes and Expectations?

How do we pay attention to the guiding questions within our own hearts when it comes to living out Jesus’ call to enlighten or preserve the world?

Whether we are working with Heart Room, Grace Episcopal Homeless Shelter, or any other ministry that seeks to support marginalized – we still have to contend with our internal, and often unconscious priorities.

To say that we care for the marginalized, to say we want to help, is really only the first step. It’s a good and necessary step, but living into it often raises perplexing and humbling questions.

In the parlance of this famous passage from Matthew, what kind of salt are we? What kind of light shines from us?

I suspect even among Jesus’ followers, there wasn’t clarity or agreement about what constituted being ‘salt and light.’ The commandment and injunction is clear, but the details are up to us to work it out. How people responded to the statue is but just one example.

I remember in college, I became friends – through a campus ministry – with a handful of people who had some significant emotional challenges. At the time, I didn’t have the language or insight to understand their situations. I had a friend Priscilla, who I’m now convinced suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or was bi-polar or both. I hung out with Tom who was the first openly gay man I had known; and Kathi who was secretly lesbian and deathly afraid to share that with her Christian friends. I watched both of them struggle with depression as they sought to understand how to reconcile their Christian faith with their sexuality. Finally, I worked with Mel, an African American colleague who had grown up on the streets of Miami and lived then and now with a streak righteous anger about racism in this country.

My early adult years were a time when I lived with a bi-furcated faith that embarrasses me today. I wanted to care for these people – I wanted to share the light and salt of God’s presence in the world – but I consistently and stubbornly insisted that they understand that grace on my terms. I wanted Priscilla to get over it – the ‘it’ being her mental illness. I tried to convince Tom and Kathi to find peace in a church & society that offered them none, and I challenged Mel to approach social justice issues with my same spirit, one of ‘Minnesota nice’ born of a wealthy upbringing. I was pretty sure I knew what God wanted them to do, even if it was strangely reflective of the limits of my own imagination. Ironically, all of them resisted my ‘good will’ toward them; and naturally the friendships waned.

The challenge of my adulthood, even to this day, has been trying to reflect and celebrate God’s light and salt in the world, as well as the values of Jesus; while remaining open to light and salt looking and sounding differently than I might want.   I’ve been on a journey to recognize that God cares in ways I don’t understand, and to celebrate that others can find their path in their own way. I’ve been confronted time and again with my own arrogance born of spiritual piety and religious certainty. I don’t think I’m alone in this.   I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to be helpful, present, generous and useful – but all to often in ways that seek to control the decisions of others or the outcomes of their lives. I’m not alone in living with the arrogance that thinks that what works for me should be the template for how it will work for someone else. I’m not alone in simply being lazy with my spirituality, my compassion or my social analysis; wishing for and wanting simple solutions when often don’t even understand the problem.

There isn’t a single, ‘right’ response to those experiencing homelessness.

A rigid simplicity ignores the complexity of this social problem that many, many, smart people of good will care deeply about. But, as people who affirm in every new member covenant and every baptism that we “want to live a life of compassion –beautifully modeled and shown to us by Jesus” – we do have an obligation to ask the deeper question of values.

We do have an obligation to explore the values that guide our responses – and ask if our reactions are rooted in the love of Jesus for all people, the call of God to be salt and light – or in the reputation of our cities, the convenience of how we want to give help, or the desire for a vexing issue to simply go away. We do have to explore whether we are simply overwhelmed and apathetic, or on the other hand, prone to over spiritualizing a very real issue that is part of OUR community.

I celebrate the efforts we undertake to be salt and light in the world. I wonder if our reading this passage today isn’t just an opportunity for honest reflection, but maybe even a time for outright confession – either because we don’t believe in the power of salt or light; or because we seek to control and manage it on our own terms.

As we make a turn towards the communion table, I’d invite us into a time of prayer – as we all consider how our God calls us to lean in more fully to the values of the Jesus’ Way, to consider the ways we seek to soften the call because it makes us uncomfortable, or resistant. I’d invite us to pray for the courage and wisdom to seek the compassion of Jesus in our personal decisions and our communal efforts.

This sermon was inspired by a piece written by a friend, Ed Muir, in his company newsletter…

 

 

 

Super Bowl Blessing (2.4.18)

Often when he was teaching, Jesus said, ‘let those who ears to hear, listen.’
On this day when the national pastime involving grown and growling men comes to an end,
May the God of all beings cause your sprit to soar as an eagle gliding above the sea,
and May her presence ground you as a patriot – or loyal follower -of Jesus.
In the face turmoil may you know the spirit of brotherly and sisterly love,                                                    and may you know peace that floats like tea in the harbors of life.

To See and Be Seen – To Know and Be Known. Lent 2018

To See and Be Seen: To Know and Be Known

Experiencing the Holy through The Voices And Experiences Of Women

In a time in our culture when we in the progressive church are trying to celebrate and honor the experiences and voices of women, we have decided to focus on the what it means to encounter the Divine in our lives, in the lives of others and in the movements of the world. Through music, word, symbol and images we will hear from, listen to, learn from and cherish the way women historically and in our midst are teaching us about our faith.

In worship we will encounter stories of Jesus and women. Sometimes we’ll rewrite the text for emphasis. Sometimes we’ll listen to women from the congregation reflect on it. We’ll respond with creative readings. We’ll sing music given to us by women. Our series has been organized by a group of women from the congregation who cherish the way the Divine Feminine and the Father God work in all of our lives.

We’ve created a devotional of short prayers and photos designed to illuminate the ancient faith greeting, “The Christ in Me Greets the Christ in You.” A small group of us created 40 ways praying and living with that ancient mantra that we hope will be lifegiving.  This will be available in church beginning February 11. We will also post the daily offerings online on the church Facebook Page.

Sunday Themes

February 11:        Holy Greeting, Holy Enemies, Holy Help

                                   This last Sunday before Lent begins will help us turn our focus to the theme.

                                   Winton Boyd preaching.  Reading and Ritual by Jane Daley and Jill Westburg

February 18:      Wine, Women and … Whatever – Marriage at Cana (John 2:1-12)

                                   Ken Pennings Preaching.  Creative Scriptural Rewrite by Sharon Goss

February 25:       Deep Calls to Deep – The Samaritan Woman @ the Well (John 4:4-42)

We’ll hear from women of the congregation as they reflect on this story and how it connects with their experiences.

March 4:                Matthew 15:21-28

Tammy Martens preaching.  Baptism of Kaari Bjork                                             

March 11:               The Fragrance of Faith – Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-8)

The service will include a ritual of prayer and anointing

March 18:            God Speaks To Each Of Us As She Makes Us – Mary & Martha (Lk. 10:38-42)

Helene Nelson preaching

March 25:             Palm/Passion Sunday: A Mother’s Lament (John 19: 25b-27, Luke 23:49)

We’ll hear from the experiences of those who are mothers and how this impacts their faith and spirituality.

April 1                    Easter – The Dance of Faithfulness (John 20:1-18)

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday Observance

We begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday 

5:30 p.m. –  An open Labyrinth Walk.  

We have an labyrinth in the carpet of our Friendship Hall.  It will be open for walking meditation and prayer from 5:30-6:45.  There will be volunteers welcoming you and offering any guidance you might need.

7:00 p.m. – Ash Wednesday Service 

We share this service with Madison Mennonite Church.  It includes the imposition of ashes to remind us of our humanity and the celebration of communion to remind us of God’s grace in our lives.  All ages are welcome.

Partygras 2018

Don your beads and wear your masks for our annual PartyGras Celebration
Tuesday, February 13th, 5:30-7:30 pm!
Great supper of pizza, red beans & rice, cajun gumbo, and cajun jambalaya!
(donations accepted). But we need your help with the supper! Please bring
the following according to the first letter of your last name:
A-H dessert,
I-P fresh cut fruit,
R-Z fresh cut veggies.
We could use a few folks to arrive at 4 pm to decorate Friendship Hall. Our evening will include table games, dancing, “O When the Saints” parade, and a closing ritual in which we burn
last year’s palm branches. What a great way to kick up our heals and have
some fun as we enter the holy season of Lent and Easter!
Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Longing to Be Found (Tammy Martens) 1.28.18

Longing to be Found – audio version

 

You will be found. You will be found. When our daughter, Lily, was younger she loved to hear the story of The Lost Sheep and she loved to pretend she was the lost sheep. She would go and hide somewhere in our house and then I would pretend to be the Good Shepherd and try and find her. I would call out her name, look behind furniture and under blankets, and then the moment would come when I would find her. She LOVED that moment when she was found. And then she would ask to play it again.

The song that Tru Gumption just shared comes from the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. Without giving too much away, the story is about a High School senior, Evan Hansen, who suffers with a social anxiety disorder which makes it difficult for him to develop friendships. The musical takes on multiple issues including family struggles, loneliness, suicide, and the deep longing for friendships and human connection.

The song You Will Be Found speaks powerfully of our human need to be known, to be found, to be loved. Yet for many, this is very difficult to find. Millions of people suffer from social isolation and the loneliness that it fuels. Perhaps some of you have seen that England has recently appointed a minister for loneliness, a government appointed position, to tackle the isolation felt by more than one in 10 people in the UK. Most doctors in Britain see between one and five patients a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely. They are specifically focusing on the elderly and the health threat that isolation poses to the elderly. But we know that loneliness is experienced across the spectrum of ages and it comes with some pretty big health risks. Recent studies have shown that chronic loneliness is more life-threatening than obesity and smoking. Some have come to call the global trend of isolationism a “loneliness epidemic.”

Researcher Susan Pinker studied people living on the Italian island of Sardinia to learn why they had more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America. What she found is that it is not a positive attitude or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders alive so long—it is their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions. In other words, no one on the island was left to live a solitary, isolated life.

In another study done by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, similar results were found. Julianne studied over 300,000 people who were in their middle age years. She learned all about them—their lifestyle, their DNA, their behavior patterns, and then she and her team waited 7 years. They then went back to see who was still standing. And they asked the question of the people still living “What reduced their chance of dying the most?” The top two indicators had nothing to do with diet, exercise, or being the right weight. The two top indicators that helped to keep these people alive were: Close relationships—the person had at least three stable, close relationships; and social integration—meaning how much did the person interact with others during his/her day.

Studies also have shown the biological benefits we gain from having strong, social interactions which add to our overall health. Face-to-face interactions with people release a whole cascade of neurotransmitters that foster trust, release stress, kill pain, and induce pleasure. We can say then that we have a biological imperative to belong, to connect with others.

It is important to mention that our digital interactions, those interactions we are making online, via texting, messaging, etc. do not generate the same health benefits as face to face interactions. And this presents challenges to us because a number of studies are showing that we are spending an average of 11 hours a day online. We are spending more time online than we are sleeping.

So knowing this, I find it interesting to think about the role of faith and church as two very important lifelines in facing loneliness and social isolation.

First let’s start with our faith. The God of the Hebrew Bible, and the God that we know through Jesus, is a God who desires to be with us, is a God who seeks us and finds us. Jesus shares in the parables about the search to find the lost and the joy that God experiences when the lost are found. And we are searching people. We have this longing to find fulfillment, inner peace and contentment. St. Augustine who lived in the 4th and 5th century was very aware of this longing. He said that “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

There is certainly a mysteriousness of what goes on internally when we make this connection with God. We cannot explain it scientifically but this sense of belonging to God ignites our faith, gives us strength, and reminds us that we are not alone.

It’s always fascinating for me to read of people’s faith stories and how they made this connection. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, grew up believing that his salvation hinged on him doing good works. He spent his life striving to earn God’s favor, trying to live a morally upright life. This left him lonely, depressed and afraid of God. One night as he was reading scripture, he happened on an insight that utterly transformed his relationship with God. He came to the insight that it is God’s grace and mercy that connects us with God, nothing else. This transformed him from the inside out. He connected with God through grace and this brought him new life and a new orientation to faith.

For me it was the words in John 14 that Jesus shared with his disciples—he promised that he would not leave them orphaned, that he would send them the Holy Spirit that would live in them and be their comfort and guide. This notion of not being orphaned struck a chord in me as one who lost my mom to cancer when I was a young girl. I took to heart the promise from Jesus that I, too, would not be orphaned. Again, we often struggle with words to explain this internal dynamic of Grace but it indeed makes an enormous difference in our lives.

Now I’m not suggesting that just by having faith, one will be cured of their loneliness. We know many stories of great faith leaders and ordinary people of faith who have had experiences of loneliness and isolation. Yet our faith can be a road marker that leads us as we go through times of struggle and loneliness.

Second, our faith calls us to be gathered together in a church. Just a side bar here—a few weeks ago in our middle school time, I gave the youth (for fun) a True/False Quiz “What Do I Know About Christianity?” And one of the questions was True or False “The word ‘church’ refers to a building that Christians use for worship.” Most of the youth said this was true. But technically this is false. The word church translated from Greek means “out from among” and “to call”. Therefore, the church represents those whom God has called out from among the world and from all walks of life. The church is not a building, but a people.

The New Testament describes the Christian life as being lived in the context of the

family of God and not in isolation. Maybe God knew that it would be too difficult to live out our faith journeys alone. And Jesus certainly modeled for us a faith that is lived out in community. He didn’t go it alone. I can’t help but believe that Jesus experienced within his community joy, support, encouragement and trust. And even when he felt the stings of betrayal and misunderstanding within his community, Jesus stayed committed to his friends. He didn’t run away from them. In fact, he didn’t even seem surprised by their behavior. He knew human nature and he believed in the power of reconciliation. Jesus gives to his disciples and to us a new commandment for being together. He says “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, then to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This kind of love in community is how we are found. This kind of love says we are not in this alone. This kind of love enables us to be honest with each other, to trust one another, and to share our vulnerabilities with one another. This kind of love forgives, this kind of love challenges, this kind of love never gives up.

It is my hope that through faith and through church you will be found, I will be found, we all will be found. Amen.