A Great Capacity

pottery smallJanuary 29, 2016

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

There is a good amount of dust around here these days. In the busy activities of building walls in our unfinished spaces, we’re naturally tracking dust from one end of our facility to the other. But the messiness is a sure sign that we are moving forward. After a successful capital campaign, getting bids and signing contracts, we are well underway in the construction phase of our projects. How exciting! The tangible work stands as signs of generosity, vision and community.

So many gifts are coming together so our ministry has the space to grow. Making the connections between the projects and the gifts of faith, hope and love are important in renewing our witness. Otherwise our activities lose sight of the greater purpose and the good reasons. The readings for this weekend bring an important word into this season of projects.

The apostle Paul gave powerful and persuasive language to a love which continues to inform us. The unfolding, surprising and resilient love we know in Christ constantly shapes not only our closest relationships but our community of faith as well. When Paul addressed the congregation of Corinth he was keenly aware of matters of tensions and disagreement that grew from competition there – the kind that makes comparisons whenever people come together. So he took time to define a love that has the capacity to hold up under such things without causing division. This is a love that impacts us in most tangible and practical ways. Remarkable!

The familiar chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks to a love that is necessary to make authentic community not only possible but vibrant and transformative. Even now as we hear these familiar words we feel the wonder of such a gift, ever present and ever at the center of lives setting us free from the many things that disperse our energies away from what is ultimately important.

As I walk through the dusty halls and take in all the progress – I think about the way love comes toward us always forming faith and shaping the very character of our identity as the church. I think of the many and varied activities and the work of the Spirit that somehow pulls it all together in marvelous ways for us to see!

(Love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7

Pastor Randy

Fulfilled in Your Hearing

Fall SignDo we really want what Jesus is promising?

Luke 4:14-21

Imagine for just a moment, that the world has been completely transformed according to the words Jesus speaks in this passage. (take a moment if you need and read them)

Your turn on the TV, and see images of large crowds.
The poorest people, in the poorest places in the world.
Dancing, celebrating, smiling, tears streaming down faces.

Suddenly, those scenes are interrupted by a special report—not only have political prisoners around the world been released, but the doors of the prisons in this country are wide open, as well.

Changing the channel you now see glasses and contacts and white canes discarded on sidewalks. A reporter tries to interview a confused looking optician at the 1 hour eyeglass place—no comment.

Again, breaking news interrupts with footage of deserted sweatshops and empty farm fields and abandoned mines all over the world. The camera then cuts to store after store, shelves empty.

Flipping to the next channel, the screen fills with images of razor wire fences torn down, walls falling, crowds of cheering people clamoring over the rubble, armed guards stepping aside to let them pass.

Once more, a newsflash interrupts with reports of large crowds of students gathering, burning their loan paperwork in a large heap. In another city, another crowd gathers around an industrial shredder tossing in their medical bills, their mortgage notes, their credit card statements.

All the while, the ticker at the bottom of the screen reveals that the stock market is in free fall.

Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

This can’t be what Jesus meant…or can it?

When the crowd at Nazareth first hears his words, they are full of excitement. All speak well of him. That is, until Jesus goes on in the following verses to flesh out what the fulfillment of these words looks like with a couple of stories:

Foreigners, pagans, enemies receiving God’s favor. The Israelites get nothing.

This is not what the people of Nazareth expected when they heard: good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the oppressed go free, the year of the Lord’s favor. The way these words are brought to life through Jesus, it’s not what they had in mind. Now, it doesn’t sound like good news to them at all. And so, the people of Nazareth try to push Jesus off a cliff.

The good news in Jesus may not be what we expected.
It may not sound particularly good for us, depending on who we are.
But if we can resist the temptation to push Jesus away, just maybe, we can find the patience to follow and see where he is heading with this.

Pastor Sarah

Seeing the Signs

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John 2:1-11

The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese hangs in the Louvre. The massive painting depicts a multitude of guests at the wedding celebration of John 2:1-11. Jesus sits quietly in the center of the scene, while a servant pours out some of the miraculous wine in the bottom right corner.

Hardly anyone is paying attention. Some are distractedly watching the people around them. Others are lost in their own thoughts, seemingly a million miles away from the action in their midst. The chief steward is the one person appreciating the wine—and yet, he stands with his back to Jesus. The only people who look at Jesus are the disciples.

Very few see the sign. Even fewer understand what it means.

Just like the Louvre visitors caught in the photo, we also take in the scene from a privileged distance. From our perspective as outsiders, we are able to notice everything that is taking place. We overhear the conversation between Jesus and his mother. We listen as he instructs the servants to act. We see the water going in to the vessels, and then the wine drawn out. We shake our heads as the chief steward misses the point—it’s more than just good wine! The bridegroom had nothing to do with it!

From this vantage point, we can see, we understand, we get it.

But, what about all those other times?

What signs might we be missing as we are caught up in middle of things?

What distractions keep us from noticing Jesus present and at work right here in our midst?

What can help us to be disciples who see—and as a result, come to a deeper trust?

Pastor Sarah


A Voice of Splendor

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I portaged along a rushing stream that emptied into a deep pool into the lake below. As I made my way I could hear my grandson talking to his dad. They were catching fish from the canoe at the edge of where the current slowed. There was something about their exchange that made me stop to listen. For a good while their voices carried across the water and up into the woods to where I came to rest. Their words joined the sounds of the wind blowing through the red pines that towered above us.

These weren’t just any words. They were the kind of words that in my memory now defined the trip. They spoke deeply of the very nature of how we form and nurture relationships.

The prophet Isaiah spoke words of great promise. They showed a way forward, filled with regard and delight: I have called you by name, you are mine... Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. They weren’t just any words but ones that form a sense of belonging with an awareness of being God’s sons and daughters.

It’s usually during the early weeks of a new year, and in the season of Epiphany when I begin to plan my next wilderness canoe trip. I start pouring over the maps. Much of where I decide to go next is determined by where I have been on past trips, who will be going with me and just how challenging I want it to be. I have learned over the years that it’s the splendor, like voices across the waters that keep me coming back. Such moments cannot be planned. But they always seem to put the inconveniences of rain, wind and cold in their proper place.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry was marked by his baptism and the voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” With such clarity and blessing Jesus began his work. Whenever we begin anew, the promise of our baptisms are there so we might trust the Spirit at work, leading, guiding and forever forming the persons we are called to be!

Pastor Randy

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters…
The voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.

– Psalm 29

Consider the Shepherds

shepherdsWednesday, December 23, 2015

Luke 2:1-20

A couple weeks back, my five year old donned a shepherd’s costume for the church Christmas pageant.

I tied the brightly colored band of fabric around his head to secure his head covering and straightened his little robe.

He was adorable.
And so were all the other little shepherds cavorting with the angels at the front of the church.

But the actual shepherds, not so much.

According to historians, most people would have regarded real shepherds with disgust. Not only were they smelly and absolutely filthy from living in the wilderness in close proximity to livestock, but they were also ritually unclean. Their work prevented them from observing the Sabbath, but regardless, they would not have been welcome anywhere near the Temple to worship. The Pharisees, those religious know-it-alls, considered shepherds to be in the same class as tax collectors and prostitutes—sinners due to the nature of their work. Shepherds were stereotyped as liars and thieves and all-around terrible people. In fact, many towns had laws on the books preventing them from crossing into city limits. Their testimony was not admissible in court.*

No one wanted them around.
No one wanted to hear what they had to say.
No one expected anything good to come from them.

And yet, these are the people that the angels deputize to proclaim the good news. The angels weren’t too tired to go all the way to Galilee and deliver the message themselves. It was part of the plan to have these degenerates, these low-lifes, these sinners proclaim God’s “good news of great joy to all people.”

From these unexpected lips comes the surprising news of God’s presence on earth.
This is just one of the many, many ways that God will continue to confound us and challenge our expectations. This is just one more way God uses the unexpected ones to tell the people something they need to hear.

Who might be the shepherds today?

Who do we find repulsive?
Who have we stereotyped?
Who do we push away or ignore?

Maybe it is the homeless man standing on the freeway on-ramp with a spray bottle and squeegee…
The undocumented workers bent over in the fields picking strawberries…
The child slaves (yes there are still slaves) in some far away nation picking the cocoa beans that will become the chocolate sold in our nation’s stores…
The Wal-mart employee who can only feed her family with government benefits and trips to the local food pantry…
The resettled refugee who, no matter what they did in their past life in another place, is now washing dishes in a Cheesecake Factory…

Consider the shepherds.

Then ask yourself, “what Good News might God be delivering to me, through this messenger?”

*Thanks Bishop Craig Satterlee,http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

Pastor Sarah