Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve in Five Acts - 2012

Act 1 - Words of Welcome
La gracia y paz de nuestro Dios esten con todos nosotros ahora y siempre.
Warm and bright greetings to each of you on this cold dark night.
Tonight is the night before the church around the world celebrates the birth of Jesus.
Just as room was made for Jesus in the stable, let us make room for one another...if you need to shift around a bit in order to make space I’m sure that would be greatly appreciated.

Tonight’s Christmas eve service will consist of songs both new and familiar.
We will begin by lighting candles of the advent wreath and end sing silent night and lighting our individual candle, both times defying the darkness with light of hope.
Scripture will be read...messages will be proclaimed...prayers will be prayed
We will receive Holy communion
We will take delight in the children and youth as they enact the scene from years ago.
It is a night for celebration
It is a night when we long for peace...
and so let us leave behind all the worries that may have accompanied us here...
we are in sacred space.
We are before God.

Let us pause for moment...take in a few deep breathes. 

Allow a smile to come over your face...we are loved more than we can even imagine..
In that love, let us worship God.
The choir will sing: Still, Still, Still.

Act 2 - advent candles lit 

Blogger Rachel Held Evans reflected:

These little Advent candles sure have a lot of darkness to overcome this year.

The world did not end in 2012..and yet, there certainly were so many tragic events and endings.
From Superstorm Sandy to Sandy Hook elementary school,
continuing wars... warring politicians
environmental disasters...instabilities in our homes
So many images.. blurred... of all that has not gone the way we might have hoped this past year. 

And yet we gather in church, in the darkness of night, and light little Advent candles.

These candles glow, almost defiantly - in churches, in homes,  at midnight vigils,
they glow all across the world.

They burn persistently penetrating the darkness, pervasively reminding us of  God’s promises foretold millennia ago.

Look, “even the smallest light can chase away the shadows lurking in this world; that even in the darkest places, Darkness cannot overcome the light.“

We have grieved much this year; we all grieve in different ways;
and we must be patient with one another as we do...

It is during some of the darkest times, some of the darkest moments, that we wonder:

Is God absent?
Does God care?
Has God left us alone to sort it out ourselves?  

Grief can do that.

Seemingly escalating trouble has led some to suggest that God is disappearing or being excluded.

Some point to the “War on Christmas.’
When a check-out clerk says happy holidays, they emphatically respond:  “Merry Christmas”. 
[The irony - the word holiday is derived from Holy Day - thus it is still declared a holy time of year. ]

“Every gift purchased, every mall opened late, and every credit card maxed out must be done so in Jesus’ name…or else Christ will be taken out of Christmas.”

Some insist if we can’t keep God’s name in our pledge, on our money, and on our courthouse walls,
 then we can’t keep God in our country.

Put the name of God on our idols...
does that somehow make the worship of money or power right?

If the incarnation tells us anything, it’s that God does not need a nod from the Empire to show up.

Incarnation tells the story of God who showed up
In a barn, because there was no room...
In darkness...in the middle of the night

Christmas is hours away.... 
“If Jesus’ birth teaches us anything, it’s that God can be found everywhere:
in a cattle trough, on a throne, among the poor, with the sick, on a donkey, in a fishing boat, with the junkie, with the prostitute, with the hypocrite, with the forgotten, in places of power, in places of oppression, in poverty, in wealth, where God’s name is known, where it is unknown, with our friends, with our enemies, in our convictions, in our doubts, in life, in death, at the table, on the cross, and in every kindergarten classroom from Sandy Hook to Shanghai. 

Darkness cannot overcome the light

There are days when our doubt and anger make it hard for us to believe - Immanuel-
which is why we keep lighting these little Advent candles like religious fools...may they help us in our unbelief. 
May they shine shine shine.
May their flames be a reminder to all of us that in the midst of terrible happenings, God was there….
and here,
and in those swaddling clothes,
and on that cross,
and in that grave,
and on the throne.
For no amount of darkness can overcome the light.

Act 3 - Meditation and segue to Pageant

I was so pleased when I heard the pageant was going to be told from the shepherd’s perspective. 
Because I grew up going the church, the shepherd’s role was always my role!
Many a Christmas eve drive to church found me rehearsing: Let us go now, even unto bethlehem to see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us...
Of course, I was never able to finish my line completely before a jab from one of my older sister’s elbows landed in my rib cage.

Ah the shepherds. 

What a life...just chilling out with the sheep.  Perhaps literally chilling on those dark cold nights.

But, free. Free from so many worries of the world...they only had to worry about any number of lurking sheep invaders who come at night - wolves, bobcats,
and rattle snakes they might step on,
 and people who may try to rob them,
and perhaps the price of wool, maybe the price of meat....

I bet they were poor for the most part...

gee, and to think all these years I thought they had it made.

Still, how fitting that the angels appeared to them...only scared them half to death...
they’re kind of edgy out there in the middle of the night in the middle of no where, remember.

Angels appeared to the shepherds...the one’s who cared for the sheep, to tell them some great news...
The Shepherd Jesus had come into the world. 

I love the way the angel tells them they will know it is him:
The sign: wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger...

Was this an  inside joke...

I don’t know how that indicates the Great Shepherd has been born...seems like the angels appearing in the middle of the darkness with loud singing Gloria To Go Glory to God Glory to God in the highest!
would have been enough

Well, enough of my take..

We’re all in for a treat as we witness the scene of what it may have been like for those shepherds 2000 years ago...who night after night faithfully watched after their flock, until this night changed their lives...and changed our lives forever

Hermanos y hermanas: Who Got the Good News First, written and directed by Cindy Piatt and performed by gifted children and youth. 

Let us give glory to God as we celebrate the birth of Jesus by celebrating these children and youth:
Narrators: Lauren Moran and Dira Brugger
Shepherds: Grace Lee, Maya Chavez, Ruby Gene Topple, Micah Frisch,
Sophia Lee, Guinnevere Phelps, Oscar Walker, Christopher Moran
Angels: Megan Naranjo, Isabel Jurado, Lauren Moran, Emma Russell
Joseph: Forrest Taylor Mack
Mary: Isabel Chavez

And now turn to hymn 30 in the blue hymnal as we search for the meaning of that evening singing “It came upon a midnight clear” #30.

Act 4 - Communion


Chester (offering)

For tonight’s offering, we have an opportunity to give to the ministries of this church or to an offering called the Christmas Joy Offering,
which supports retired pastors and their families, and mission schools.
By giving may light shine in dark places.

Come, come, O Christ,
Come among us
as you did come, as a baby boy, in the midst of sheep, shepherds, your mother Mary and your father Joseph,
Speak peace...peace like that experienced moments after your birth....

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Great Creator Spirit from whom all life comes forth
We gather this evening with bread and with fruit of the vine
on an evening dark
seeking the light of your presence
in a hungry world
we long to be nourished
we hunger for wholeness in our lives
for unity on earth and for peace among nations.
Here we gather with bread and fruit of the vine, but with more than that...
We gather with creation’s elements all around us
with earth, air, fire and water still expanding through the universe
with the glory of the sun by day
the whiteness of the moon and the glittering of heaven’s lights by night
Here we gather with bread and fruit of the vine, but with more than that...
We gather in the company of friends and loved ones
and in so doing
may heavy hearts be made light
may lonely places be filled with joy
may our longings be your longings
as we become one with you and one another...
Here we gather with bread and fruit of the vine, but with more than that...
On this night, on this Christmas eve, we sing...
When the hustle and bustle of the season is over...we sing
When the impulses and pressures of commercialism and greed have subsided...we sing
For this child, your child, our savior, we sing the angels’ song,
joining all those who sing on earth and in heaven.
Santo, Santo…

We Praise you for this child, your son,
Bread of Heaven, born in Bethlehem - house of Bread.
swaddled in clothes in a manger, wrapped in a shroud in a tomb. 
Son of womanhood, born in humility,
raised to glory, companion of our soul
may we be sanctified, and all the world healed.
Great is the mystery of faith…or este es el misterio de la fe
Cristo ha muerto…

At night, with his disciples at the table, before his arrest Jesus blessed the bread y dijo:
“este es mi cuerpo, entregado por ustedes.

Break bread

At night, with his disciples at the table, before his arrest
Jesus blessed the cup y dijo:
Esta copa es la nueva alianza confirmada con mi sangre, la cual es derramada en favor de ustedes.

Pour cup

Have servers come forward..give those serving the cup the cups and they take their places...

Come upon us with your Spirit, O God
and upon this cup of unity.
May it set us free to love.

Give those serving the bread the bread and they take their places
Come upon us with your Spirit, O God
and upon this bread of the earth
May it feed our longing for peace.

Come upon us with your Spirit, O God
for we who walked in darkness have seen a great light! 
All is ready, all are invited, Come.

Near the tree and near the wreath will be standing two people who will have the candles for us to light during silent night.

In anticipation of the miracle of this night..let us sing together silent night

Close by singing Silent night…
After each verse, a light will be turned off…
After the first verse, begin to spread the light throughout the sanctuary.

May we go from this place in peace to love as we have been loved.
May we go into the darkness outside shining light, as Christ’s light shines in this world.
As with the shepherds,
 may angels appear before you to remind you of the birth of the savior.
As with the Christ, remember on Christmas the most significant gift of all, comes in humility, innocence, and with love for all the world.

Que la gracia….

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chirps off the Ol Block - Luke 1:68-79

Luke 1:68-79
Luke 1:68-79 The topic of this morning’s sermon is how the dreams of others shape our living... Pee Wee asks his friend Jeffrey: How is the baby bird like its dad? Jeffrey: How? Pee Wee: It’s a chirp off the old block. – Submitted by David D., Guyton, Ga.
A corny joke, a desperate attempt, to bring levity to what otherwise is a pretty heavy sermon.
How do you know who you are supposed to be in this world? How much are we shaped by our fathers and mothers, our families, those who have gone before us? Chirps off the old block? How much are we shaped by the dreams of our communities? Our society? By The American Dream--whatever that means to you? How do these dreams and visions determine who we become?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

All The Trees - Luke 21:25-36, Advent1

In the 1997 hit romantic comedy - fools rush in - staring salma Hayak and Matthew Perry, two young people who met by “fate”, and have nearly nothing in common, try to decide if they are meant to be together. As they are trying to figure out what to do, in kind of a bizarre scene, a priest on the street says to no one in particular....there are signs everywhere. Matthew Perry’s character engages him, What? What was that? There are signs everywhere, he says, then he points up...to a billboard sign... Signs signs everywhere they’re signs blocking up the scenery breaking my mind, do this don’t do that can’t you read the signs! Before Billboards, there were signs in the sun, the moon, the stars On the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. Look at the fig tree. Look at all the trees and their leaves.... who can read tea leaves? or tasseography as the kids are calling it these days... Where is the oracle to consult? Who possesses the chrystal ball, or in the very least the magic eight ball? Anyone have a deck of cards? I’ve been staring at my palms...someone help me out!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hospitality-Genesis 18:1-8

This morning's sermon is about one of the greatest virtues of a Christian - hospitality. I remember the last time an animal was slaughtered because I was a stranger who happened upon a home. Trasie and I were backpacking in a valley of the Andes Mountains in southern Chile. It was our 7th day on the trail. We were tired, rain was coming in. Against my better judgment, we packed up the tent and pushed on. An hour into the hike we were soaked to the bone. We had hoped to find shelter a few miles down the trail, but it turned out to be an unwelcoming place; so we had to turn up the mountain where the guidebook indicated there were a few homes near a mountain lake. Two more hours of hiking up a muddy horsetrodden trail; we slipped, cursed, and willed our way to the top where we were met by a beautiful clearing of a pristine lake and a home where a warm fire was sending smoke out of the chimney. As we approached the house, dogs announced our arrival, and before we were at the gate of the corral, a woman was opening it. Without a word, she whisked our shivered bones into a smoke house were a warm fire was curing meats. Trasie and I warmed ourselves there for a few hours, until finally, the woman beckoned us to come into the main house. There we were set around the wood burning stove which was the main feature of the home and served hot matte. Eventually, as it came close to supper time, the adult son left the conversation, and next thing we know, he was preparing a young sheep. Which we shared a few hours later gathered around the table. We were given a bed in the son's room, as he moved elsewhere, and we rested so well that night. We'll never forget that family, and often think to ourselves how wonderful it would be to go back to visit them. No doubt I could find this remote home. What's an experience you've had of hospitality? Find someone sitting nearby and share a story of when you have received a warm welcome. It doesn't have to entail an animal being slaughtered on your behalf. What are some of the common themes from the experiences? As Christians we are called to be hospitable. We have an extraordinary example of hospitality in this morning's story. Running Abraham. The herdsman, removed from populated areas, receives a visit. The scripture is a little vague - it says he was visited by the Lord, and then immediately suggests that three men or angels are visiting. Was it their visit that implied that the Lord was visiting Abraham, or was it the Lord who woke Abraham from his noonday slumber in his tent to let him know...you're on! When he sees them coming, he gets up and runs to them..he doesn't know them but still he: -Bows before them, -calls them "lord" -fetches water for them - He runs to Sarah and instructs her to make some cakes - He runs to the herd and takes an animal and gives it to a young man to be slaughtered; - the men are served curds and milk, (corresponds to modern yogurt). And finally the calf, including the delicacy cow tongue dipped in mustard as one midrash explains ( B. Talmud Baba Metzia 86b ) "I'll have Grey Poupon. " He stands as they eat, ready to tend to their every need. Amazing! Jesus was a big fan of hospitality. When he was host of a meal, he washed his disciples feet. When he was guest, the Scripture seems to take note of when he was treated with proper hospitality, like when he went to Matthew's home, and when he wasn't, like when he was in Simon the Pharisee's home. He told many stories of banquets and wedding feasts in which there was an abundance of room and food and beverage -- "Welcome to the feast in the kingdom of God!". Jesus even said of hospitality, that when it comes to it, we're either like sheep or like goats. I was a stranger, he said, and you invited me in. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me. In as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me. As much as we may appreciate when we've been shown hospitality, and as much as we think it may be good thing for us to demonstrate in our own lives and in the church community, it's a challenge. However you choose to show hospitality in your own homes is something you must determine, but let's think about what it means to be hospitable as a church community...where it is more likely that we may find a stranger knocking upon the door. Is it more than just a friendly hello, how are you doing, during the passing of the peace? If so, how so? Is the church called to demonstrate radical hospitality - By radical: There are guests who are easy to show hospitality to. And then there are the not so easy guests. Radical hospitality doesn't Doesn't determine if some guests are easier than others. What does this mean for guests who may visit the church during the week seeking any number of needs? We live in such a needy world? How are we supposed to live up the the standard of Abraham? He just seemed to be so lonely, he had to beg those guests to stay. That's not really where we are. How do we fulfill the command of Jesus to welcome the stranger, when the number of strangers is more than anyone can handle, and their needs are so great? Like I said, it's a challenge. I struggle with really being gracious to strangers when they drop by. Back when I had time (no kids), it was not unusual for me to receive 2 or 3 guests a week at the church. I heated up many cans of soup and gave out any number of drinks of water, and had many interesting conversations... That hasn't happened in a long time... But I don't think being hospitable is prescriptive or a formula to fulfill when it comes to welcoming a stranger. Anyone of us can give out cans of soup until the cows come home, and may not show hospitality. As I've thought about this, I think that being hospitable, is a state of being.... similar to the way we've talked about prayer as a state of being, being hospitable can be a posture-- how we receive God and the world When it comes to God and the world, we may be open and receptive, or closed off and suspicious. The world is difficult, and God is unknown, so it wouldn't be surprising if most of us are pretty closed. Which is why prayer is a good place to begin to think about our own hospitality. When we pray, just by making the effort, we show an openness, a receptivity to God being part of our lives. When we pray, we acknowledge God's otherness - that we are Creature before the creator. We are the needy ones before the caregiver. Think about posture as you listen to what Henry Nouwen said of prayer: "To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with and increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, therefore, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises, and find hope for yourself, your [neighbor] and the whole community in which you live. (With Open Hands - 154) Being led by God means that when a stranger along, we ask, "is God calling me to do be present with this person?" And that is a major aspect of hospitality as well. Presence. Quite often we may feel hospitality means being obligated to do or give...but perhaps at it's most basic level, it is simply a call to be present to, with, and for another person. It was funny, at a recent JV soccer game. The game had started, and as the sun was bearing down on the field, one of the boys noticed that we had two tents shielding us from the sun, while the guest team had none. He suggested, "Coach, should we give the other team one of our tents." I said, something like, whatever... And then as I thought about it I said, "that a good idea." The other boys got behind the one who suggested it, and as they were clearing things out of the way and preparing to move the tent down to the other team's bench, one of the boys who wears a Jesus bracelet said, "this is the Christian thing to do." The irony is that the boy who suggested to take the tent over there is Jewish. The other team never asked for shelter, the boy was present to their needs... Radical hospitality - Being present to others - This means seeing something more than just what is on the surface... We are who we are as much as we are what our potential to be is. Rachel Remen, talks about this in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. p. 231: We are, in a certain way, defined as much by our potential as by its expression. There is a great difference between an acorn and a little bit of wood carved into a an acorn shape, a difference not always readily apparent to the naked eye. The difference is there even if an acorn never has the opportunity to plant itself and become an oak. Remembering its potential changes the way in which we think of an acorn and react to it. How we value it. If an acorn were conscious, knowing its potential would change the way that it might think and feel about itself. The Hindus use the greeting "Namaste" instead of our more noncommittal "Hello." The connotation of this is roughly, "Whatever your outer appearance, I see and greet the soul in you." There is a wisdom in such ways of relating. Sometimes we can best help other people by remembering that what we believe about them may be reflected back to them in our presence and may affect them in ways we do not fully understand. Perhaps a sense of possibility is communicated by our tone of voice, facial expression, or a certain choice of words. Holding and conveying a sense of possibility does not mean making demands or having expectations. It may mean having no expectations, but simply being open to whatever promise the situation may hold and remembering the inability of anyone to know the future. Abraham welcomed these guests, not knowing they were angels from God, who would reiterate the promise of a son for Abraham and Sarah. Seeing the potential in others in the Christian tradition, has often been said as seeing the face of Jesus in whomever we encounter. When we look for the face of Jesus in others, how does this change the way we interact with them? And maybe that's what we strive to do! With great expectation we pray that Jesus would come to pay us a visit on any given Sunday or any day of the week. Pray for it! Pray for the blessing of having Jesus in our midst! I came across a prayer from an old south African American church during the time of Slavey. Called Inasmuch as Ye Have Done It - Aunt Jane's Prayer [Prayer Tradition of Black People p 45], In thinking about hospitality, and welcoming the Stranger, I want us to close with this prayer "Dear Massa Jesus, we all uns beg [You] come make us a call dis yere day. We is nutting but poor Etiopian women and people don't think much 'bout us...but you is de one great Massa, greater dan Massa Linkum, you ain't shame to care for us African people. "Come to us, dear Massa Jesus. De sun, he hot, de road dat long and boggy and we ain't got no buggy for send and fetch You. But Massa, you 'member how you walked dat hard walk up Calvary.... We know you ain't weary for to come to we. "Come to we, dear Massa Jesus. We alluns ain't got no good cool water for give you when you thirsty. You know, Massa, de drought so long, and the well so low, ain't nutting but mud to drink. But we gwine to take de 'munion cup and fill it wid de tears of repentance, and love clean out of our heart. Dat all we hab to gib you, good Massa. "An' Massa Jesus, you say you gwine stand at de door and knock. But you ain't gwine stand at our door, Massa, and knock. We set de door plum open for you and watch up de road for see you. "Sisters," Turning to them, "what for you all ain't open de door so Massa know He welcome?" One woman rose quietly from her knees and set the church door wide open. "Come, Massa Jesus, come! We know you is near, we heart is all just tremble tremble, we so glad for hab you here. Dear Massa Jesus, whisper one word to we heart--one good word--we do listen--Massa--" And when we welcome others, we can expect a good word whispered to all of our hearts. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Zia Took Five Steps

Little girls growing up fast! This morning she took FIVE steps. With determination and grit, she puts her feet under her body and with all her might, lifts her wobbly body and bobbling head with a concentrating smile and furrowed brow.  She leans, she lunges and the legs move rapidly to catch up before the knees buckle and her bottom thuds to the floor. Way to GO girl!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bucking Bronco - Genesis 16:1-13

Genesis 16:1-13

NOTE: this is the relatively unabridged version of the sermon.  We actually did something else in the service than just me preaching. The congregation was divided up into four sections and each section was assigned one of the four roles in the narrative: Hagar, Sarai, Abram, and the Angel of the Lord.  The groups discussed the passage from their perspective and then shared/defended their perspective to the rest of the group, with David Anderson helping with the verdict.   This probably could/should have been the whole sermon portion, but I felt obligated to also deliver parts of "sermonette #2 and #3 below, which touch on being part of the household of abraham and domestic violence...WOW, try to squeeze all that in one sermon :). 

We begin a fall study of the old testament.
When’s the last time you picked up the bible and said, I’m going to read a little OT? 
And not just going to the Psalms or Proverbs.

A friend recently told me she doesn’t usually turn to scripture for guidance because when she did this in her past she ran into some OT passage that it just didn’t speak to her, or worse, left her confused or made her feel worse.  

There’s a reason Ben Franklin and many of us become selective about our bible canon,
but Harry and I and the group that meets for bible study on Tuesdays at noon thought it would be a fun fall challenge to check out the Hebrew Scriptures.
So they picked out some passages...
including this one...

So here we go into the Fantastic, Fearful, Far Out world of the Hebrew Bible!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hop on the Agabus - Acts 11:19-30

Acts 11:19-30

In this sermon, I suggest that we as a community of believers begin to look for more guidance from the Holy Spirit, even more so than scripture...

How come no one names their boys Agabus? 
I searched babynames.com 
And there were two boy names that began A.G.A. -  Agamemnon, and Agapito...no Agabus...

Agabus...I don't know that I'd really ever heard the name Agabus ‘til this past week reading the scripture we’re looking at this morning. 
I've even done the whole bible in a year thing.
I guess, the name Agabus had never really stood out...
nor his role in the formation of the early Christian community.
But it did this week:

Back when the church was not a building....
there was Agabus the prophet.

Let's see what he's up to...SCRIPTURE

The early community of Jesus followers,
as we've seen in this summer series on Acts, has been in the process of discovering who they are:
- A people with a particular calling - following Jesus and sharing his message,
- led by the Holy Spirit they find they are being pushed beyond the bounds of what they thought this mission was about. 

I wonder why this theme of pushing the disciples out beyond their comfort zones happens over and over again in Acts? 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

In Out - Acts 11:1-18

Acts 11:1-18

This morning's sermon topic is about who’s in and who’s out... and who decides..

How do we determine who is “in” and who is “out”?

What are some of the lines we draw?

Or what are the ways we find ourselves confined by the determinations of others?

Who is in and who is out - and who decides?

What kinds of lines are drawn or distinctions are made about who’s in and who’s out?


A few examples I thought about this past week.

I’m the new head coach of JV soccer at Santa Fe high..I prefer that you call me, Coach Topple from now on :).

Who’s on varsity and who’s on JV?

What else happened this past week that centered around the question who’s in and who’s out?

- Tens of thousands of young undocumented immigrants waited in mile-long lines across the country on Wednesday to take advantage of a new federal policy that may grant them legal status to temporarily remain and work in the United States.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Acts 9:1-19 - Instruments of God

Have you ever been nervous about meeting someone for the first time? ask What were the circumstances? A job interview? A date you set up through the internet? Our story this morning is about Ananias meeting Saul for the first time. But, this is no ordinary meeting. Ananias was a follower of JEsus. And Saul was one of the most brutal murderers of Jesus followers. How audible do you think God's voice would have had to have been for Ananias to do something like meeting Saul....? Walk right into a lion's den. It's not surprising Ananias was a little hesitant about meeting Saul... Think he was a little scared, worried? Picture him on his walk to visit with Saul...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prison Break - Acts 12:1-17

Today’s topic is about recognition of the church in the world. Today’s not Easter Sunday, but let’s talk a little bit about resurrection. Resurrection - being dead and coming back to life. Resurrections stories are so meaningful. so hopeful. When things look hopeless resurrection promises hope. When there is nothing but despair, resurrection means future. We can’t get enough of stories about resurrection.... And today we have one: Peter, the person Jesus said was the church upon which he would build the church (Mt. 16:18)... He’s a prisoner. Captured by King Herod...he’s already MURDERED James, the brother of John. This is James, the son of Zebedee, who was with John fishing when Jesus called them to follow. THis is the James who was part of the inner circle who went up to the mount where Jesus was transfigured. This was James who could command fire from heaven. James, an original renowned disciple, had been murdered by Herod... People opposed to the movement, were delighted. If we can get Peter, that will be the end for sure.... Something we have to wonder....what was it about the time back when the church was not a building -- the early Jesus people that made people want to do away with them? People in many churches are concerned for various reasons, for a loss of societal position and influence in society, but maybe Jesus followers should be more concerned that they were so part of the establishment to begin with. So Herod releases the special operatives. Peter is captured. Clearly seen as a threat, he is surrounded by four squads of soldiers... And when the angel comes to rescue him, entering with a dazzling light..the angel has to rouse Peter from sleep...most likely he was a beaten and battered man. Hurry! Get dressed! Let’s move. Even though this is an angel engineering this jail break, the threat is still ominus. They push through the big heavy iron gate and move to an abandoned place. Peter, in a dream like state about all that is going on around him, comes to, and realizes he’s free. Out of jail free. The angel rescuer has moved on. Peter’s on his own. Where does the church leader go now? Mary’s house. Always a good choice to go to Mary’s house. There the believers--who surely had been praying for his release will be overjoyed to see him. All the subtle ironies in the next scene: Peter, who just passed through a locked heavy iron gate, is now banging on the gate outside the house where his friends are, and he can’t get in. Rhoda just leaves him there banging away she’s so dumbfounded that it’s him. When she tells the others, they don’t believe her...what up with folks never believing women in the bible?...For they did not beleive the women for their words seemed to them nonsense....was the disciples reaction to Jesus resurrection. And here, “You’re out of your mind!” (The Message) All the while Peter is knocking...knocking.... “Guys, it’s really me..” Hurry, they could come after me at any moment. “It must be his angel...” Some say. What was their thoughts on angels back then? “This is not my angel”, it’s meeeeee Luke brilliantly captures the drama, joy, and danger. Even to the end, Peter’s life is under threat. His friends are excited, but word can’t get out.. “Quiet down” He’s an excaped prisoner...the neighbors would quickly report the unusual commotion. And so, he gives a few instructions, and passes the baton if you will, to James and the brothers. And just like that, the story of Peter, the rock upon which Jesus would build his church....is gone. We don’t know where another place is. Maybe Luke didn’t either. With the exception of a brief mention of Peter in Acts 15, this is the last we hear of Peter. Peter, the rock upon which the church would be built, had been locked up.... Peter, the rock the church, came back to life, so to speak...and his people didn’t recognize him.... Peter, the church, was gone.... What would the church look like now? Without James, without Peter... In a world of persecution, and uncertainty... This is why, I think, there is so much emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts, because there was uncertainty, and definitive leaders were here today and gone the next. The church community was again and again reminded that they had to rely on God and the work of the Holy Spirit and not necessarily those who had lead them before, or the fledgling systems that had been put into place. This early church community, scattered across various parts of the Roman empire, with access to only shared stories told by different people, and varied understanding of who Jesus was and what he was about..had to depend on the Holy Spirit to know what God wanted them to do, and how to be God’s people in the world. And Christ’s church has always been diverse and varied in opinion what God wanted them to do, and how to be God’s people in the world, but trust in the Holy Spirit waned, and church authorities and herearchies were formed in order to have something more predictable than the Holy Spirit to lead. Something more certain and easier to control than the Holy Spirit. And in a sense, this work to outline, define, and explain the faith over the centuries, threatening hell as the fate of non conformists...something some churches still do, evidently, if you make bad investments on behalf of the church. In case I haven’t been succesful thus far in suggesting Peter and his predicament in prison and with his encounter with his friends in which they think it’s his angel who’s come to visit...I want to suggest that that scenario be a metaphor for the present day church. In a sense, the very church, the very institution that was so well constructed and became so very established as part of the establishment, has become it’s own prison guard and set up its own prison system, keeping those who want to believe and become part trapped in its dogma and doctrine. But what happens, when everything changes. What happens, when that established institution, is no longer really part of the establishment? What happens when clergy, the leaders, who once held a prominent role, are no longer trusted or respected in the society, be it for proposterous claims, hypocritical actions, or abuse scandels. What happens when life as we once knew it is no longer how it once was...and will never be the same? We rarely write letters anymore, most of our correspondence is through some electronic device. Most relationships are now beginning through online dating rather than meeting face to face. We live in an age of Pandora--where I can listen to whatever kind of music I want to online. We live in an age of the App Store, which is controled by an open-source network of ordinary people. We live in an age when I can listen to most any radio program I want to, from any where around the world, whenever I want to and wherever I want to through a podcast. We live in an age where oceans are rising...and where species are going extinct at an overwhelming rate. So many things are changing...so much of what was known to be truth, no longer is so. Pluto’s no longer a planet for crying out loud. Some people call it an age of crisis and fear what may be coming. Some see it as a time of great joy and renew and even a story of resurrection. And particularly through the lense of the church, the established institution that once was so meaningful and promenint and, where many people would proudly claim membership, has become in many ways irrelevant...as if it were locked away in a prison... What angel will come to her rescue? But when that angel comes and frees the church to once again be the hands and feet in the world focused on the mission of Jesus: to bring good news to the poor. proclaim release to the captives recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor That those actions become the defining mark of the church, not bible memory verses, not swift christian apologictic abilities not political party affiliation, and not social issue positions. Back when the church was not a building, the church was trying to make its way in the world, and even in the early stages, as they are praying for a miracle... praying for Peter to be released from prison, He shows up...perhaps he didn’t look like he had before-- it must be his angel! they thought. They didn’t recognize him. So what happens when the church which has been locked up and in prison by powerful forces beyond anyone’s control.. is suddenly rescued...freed, it’s a little tattered and ragged....weary from a tough time in prison.. but it is freed from behind a heavy iron gate by an angel.. An angle of the Lord, that brings it out. and the community that once adored the church... may not recognize her at first, but when it sees this re-imagined way of being in the world... it is overwhelmed with joy. We can finally go about doing the work we have been called to do, and not get caught up on all these issues about who is right and who is wrong. But instead who is willing to love with a deep passionate love.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

To Hell With Your Money - Acts 8:9-24

Acts 8:9-24

Note: Were I to do this text again, I would focus more on the temptation to sell out and lift up the disciples as an example of not selling out.  Love the illustrations of T. Campolo about some of his former students. 
Intro:(From B Gaventa, Acts, p 137-39:)
“Having briefly depicted the gospel’s powerful arrival among the crowds of Samaria, the evangelist Luke turns to an individual whose response to the gospel is far more complicated.” Simon the magician is impressed by Philip, and by his teachings.  But it seems Luke does not have a positive impression of Simon.
By calling him a magician, he suggests he’s a charlatan.  Jews are strictly prohibited from any involvement in magical practices. (Duet 18:9-14), not just because it is deceptive but because it is associated with idolatry and with the demonic.
Making things worse, Simon has been preaching about himself and his own abilities, which is what the devil suggested Jesus do when he was tempted.

The Samaritans had been fascinated by Simon the Great Magician.
But when Philip comes on the scene they quickly change their allegiance. 
Simon is no longer the one who amazes; but, interestingly, he himself is amazed by Philip’s teachings as well; he believes and was baptized.

When Peter and John come to witness the profound movement of the gospel among the Samaritans; they lay hands on many people who receive the Holy Spirit. 

That does it for Simon. 
He reaches right for his wallet. 

How do the Apostles respond? 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Opposite - Acts 5:33-42

Opposite, by Chester C. Topple
July 1, 2012
Santa Fe
Scripture Acts: 5:33-42

Daddy tends to have knee jerk reactions when things aren’t going according to plan.  

Last Sunday for instance, we had a little tussle before leaving for MorningSong - the 8:30 rooftop worship service.  I was running behind, and she wanted some water.
Okay fine.
She then wanted to fill it herself
Okay fine
She then wanted to put the top on...the problem was that this top was a little tricky...clock’s ticking, time for daddy to do it his way.

Mistake #1 - don’t grab the top from your three year old -.
Mistake #2 - don’t then grab your three year old and try to get her in the car.  
Learn something new everyday, right?

That afternoon, Trasie introduced the concept:
Do the opposite of what you think you want to do; when you’re emotionally charged..  

….Does that just apply to life with a three year old?

Stretching it a bit, and going to the story from scripture today, I think this is the logic that Gamaliel uses when dealing with his fellow brethren of the High Council.
There are these stubborn pesky Jesus freaks around,
- don’t want to obey anything the High Council tells them.  
- It’s been awful for the Power people, since the healing of the crippled beggar back by the Beautiful Gate.
- This is the third time Peter and the other apostles are being called to the carpet!
- our wrist slap the first time didn’t work.
- The second time, They escaped...somehow...from jail
How are we going to shut these guys up?

Third time’s a charm... time to SILENCE them once and for all...

Wait, Hands OFF! says the Pharisee Gamaliel.  
There have been others who led masses - Theudas, Judas the Galilean, Jerry Falwell -when they died their following scattered.  
These followed...shhh...
“I wasn’t going to say the name, but these followed you know who.”
If it’s of God, there’s nothing we can do.
If it’s not, they’ll disappear  like water in the desert.  
Let’s do the opposite of what we think we want to do.
Let ‘em go.
After a good whippin’ of course....39 Lashes!

Shamefully dragged before the crowds, the disciples are stripped and the whipping begins.  

Maybe after lash #7 John wonders, what am I doing?
Maybe with #20, Peter wonders, is this worth it.
27, 28, 29...numbness...

37, 38, 39...That oughta do the trick....
one would think.  

I mean isn’t life all about avoiding pain?
IN our society it’s all about safety, saving face, and living free of suffering.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What We See - Acts 3:1-10

Acts 3:1-10
Look ahead,
Look behind.
Look to your left and to your right.
Look all around,

What do you see?
Do you see friends?
Do you see people who care about you
and care for you?

It’s cool to look, to really look and see...
Even for someone who is blind or visually impaired, there is a power in what the mind’s eye can see and imagine. 

What we see is how we experience life.

What did you see on your way to the church this morning? 
What did you see in your home before you left? 
What do we see happening in the world?

What do we see when we see when a person asks us for help...maybe for money?

What about when someone has a physical or mental handicap what do we see?
What do we see?

This summer, at the wonderful suggestion of Harry Eberts, who's in his sixth month being pastor of First Pres, and becoming a fast friend and great colleague, we're going to be looking at the first 12 chapters of the book of Acts. 
Both churches are looking at the early church.
What was the church like back then?
How does that inform how God may be calling us to be church 2000 years later. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sober Prophets - Pentecost 2012

Acts 2:1-21  (note: much of the framework and general ideas for this sermon were inspired by Tom Long's sermon: http://day1.org/3822-whats_the_gift)

I'm a bad gift giver and receiver.
Watch (stumble over someone giving me a gift)

See, how awkward I am receiving a gift.

And then, giving – watch (I really wanted to get you something in mexico, but I couldn’t find the perfect gift…sorry.  Here’s a sucker.)

My handicap for giving and receiving gifts doesn’t help my marriage….

I don’t know how well it helps me in my Christian walk either.  
And I reminded of this each Pentecost.
Pentecost – is the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the church.

And if I’m awkward about receiving a regular gift like a new shirt from my mother in law, how awkward am I about receiving the gift of the holy Spirit?

Uhh, thanks God…what do I do now???

And I’m not the only one who has some uncertainty and awkwardness when it comes to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The church has never really known exactly what to make of the Holy Spirit

The evangelist John describes the Spirit as wind that blows where it will...
Then later as a counselor (14:16) and then an Advocate 14:26),

At Jesus’ baptism the spirit descends like a dove.
And at Pentecost the Spirit descends as tongues of fire.

The Creed we recited earlier called the Apostle’s creed, written in the 6th century, says a few thing about God the Father, and about Jesus the Son;
but what did it say about the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Ghost….
And that’s all I have to say about that...”

We have yet to even dare assign any gender to the Spirit...
and I have heard people refer to the Spirit as an it!!  

Is the gift of the spirit speaking in tongues?
Have you ever sensed you were being led by the spirit?
What is baptism in the Holy Spirit?
What does it mean to be filled with the holy Spirit?
Something we just prayed would happen to Emma when she was baptized.

The church seems a little awkward when it comes to this gift of the holy spirit.  

Still we dress in colors of the flame and celebrate Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit and the birth of the church.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day 7 - Chill...Be still and Know That I am God

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42;
Genesis 2:1-3

Theme: Stillness and Rest.

Thanks be to Thee, O God, that I have risen today,
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to Thine own glory, O God of every gift,
And to the glory of my soul likewise.

O great God, aid Thou my soul
With the aiding of Thine own mercy;
Even as I clothe my body with wool,
Cover Thou my soul with the shadow of Thy wing.

Help me to avoid every sin,
And the source of every sin to forsake;
And as the mist scatters on the crest of the hills,
May each ill haze clear from my soul, O God.

On Day 7 God Rested.
On Day 7 God Rested.

Sounds like a pretty good idea.  
Could any of you use some rest?

What do you envision when you think of God resting?

A day on the golf course?
Did it include a morning in church?
Maybe God went to one of any of the recently created beach shores?
Back then there would have been no developments, no vendors, just pure sand, silent breezes, and crashing waves.
What picture do you have of God resting?

Rain Parrish - May you Rest in Peace

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 4 - Harmony

Scripture: Genesis 1:14-19
Theme: This morning’s sermon considers the Celtic practice of venerating the lights of the sky; and how such a practice might lead to a deeper self understanding of ourselves and of God.

I think the first song Ruby memorized was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star...much thanks to Dora, believe it or not, for that one.

Fascination, joy, appreciation, awe,
celebration of the lights of the sky: the sun, moon and the stars,
This is what Day 4 of creation in Genesis is all about.

“The unbridled wind of God’s creativity gives birth...now to the lights of the skies.  
The sun, moon, and stars, in their harmonies of movement and light, are further theophanies or [ways in which God is revealed].
Shining out of the darkness of space they express something of the inexpressible.  
“there is no speech, nor are their words,’ says the Psalmist,
‘yet their voice goes out through all the earth.’  (p. 51)

We are on week four of our look at Celtic Christianity as guided by a Minister in the CHurch of Scotland: Philip Newell.
On Day 4:
The sun by day and the moon and stars by night declare the mystery of God.

And the simple question that Newell asks is: What is it that they are saying?

Hmm: Have you ever wondered what the sun and moon are saying?

Like all that has been created, they have been spoken into being by God’s Word.
To not listen to them is ignore the self-disclosure of God. (p.52)

What do the sun and moon say?

    For this answer Newell looks to the Celtic tradition.
And there, Newell takes us in the direction of human sexuality!