Sunday, October 16, 2016

Stand! Places Please! by Rosie Best (with an assist by Karen Shepler)

Pray with me.

The following sermon is being brought to you by my biases, my interests, my knowledge, and my dramatic sensibilities.

Today we will not read the scripture. Today we will hopefully make sense of the scripture in a way that will bring it to life for us, so that we can apply it to our current situation in this very church. I know that this is the goal each Sunday, but I want to be explicit today that this is what I am trying to do. Today we will ENACT scripture, hopefully for our benefit.

Sometimes people struggle to understand the Bible, and they feel like they aren’t really a GOOD CHRISTIAN if they don’t. However, the Bible is a collection of different types of literature - each having its own purpose. So, in the same way that we don’t read the phone book for inspiration, we are going to use the scripture today, in the way it’s intended, for information to assist us in our current situation.

Let me give you a quick example to make sure you get where I am going: a recipe is essentially a list with information. You use the list part at the store to gather what you need, and then the directions at home to assemble the parts in order that you make a satisfying meal.

So lists are not essentially inspirational, unless we know how to interpret the data. The results of using the information found in a list can be very satisfying. We’ll come back to that thought in a moment or two.

Now, why am I specifically claiming that today’s word is for us in the here and now? Well, we are in a state of change at the Village church. We are building a relationship with a new pastor, as our founding pastor recently stepped down from ministry here at the Village. Before Cheri left us, we had begun a discussion about the fact that our numbers at the Village had been dropping. We had several discussions about events to invite people to the church. And yet, our numbers had been dropping…  leaving gaps where they had previously stood and served. In addition, we have been discussing some people in the church feeling burned out, over taxed and that some do all the work here, and how do we deal with that?

So, now we have to look at a project that was undertaken by an incredibly prayerful and organized leader… my main man, Nehemiah.

The walls – a symbol of strength and protection - had been down for 152 years. After Nehemiah mourns, prays, and comes up with a plan; He asks for safe passage to go survey the damage. Which brings us to chapter 3 of Nehemiah… and so I have to issue an activity warning… I am going to need YOUR help.

This list, which seems uninteresting, is more informational BECAUSE of the same details it drops into the regularity of a work order…

It is a list of who does what… but it is also a fairly repetitive piece of informational text. And yet… within it there are nuggets or gems of information which we may never have noted because we would be put off by the dullness of the majority of it.

I have some index cards and I would like you to write on this what your name is (and if you so choose, your heritage, or lineage) and then I want you to write what you understand your role to be in building the Village.

So Nehemiah begins, I’ve taken the liberty to reformat the text in such a way to see it for the list it is. Also, because we are not doing a genealogy study today, I’ve removed all the ‘son of’ references, except where that’s the only way we know them:

1.    High priest Eliashib + fellow priests
a.    PROJECT rebuild Sheep Gate: Consecrated it + set up its doors
b.    Consecrated to Tower of the Hundred and Tower of Hananel.
2.    Men of Jericho built next to Eliashib, etc.
3.    Zaccur built
4.    Sons of Hassenaah
a.    PROJECT build Fish Gate: lay beams, set up doors, bolts + bars
5.    Meremoth made repairs
6.    Meshullam made repairs
7.    Zadok made repairs
8.    Tekoites made repairs
but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.
9.    Joiada + Meshullam
a.    PROJECT repair Old Gate: lay beams, set up doors, bolts + bars.
10. Melatiah (the Gibeonite) + Jadon (the Meronothite) + Gibeon & Mizpah men under jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River
11.Uzziel GOLDSMITH made repairs
12.Hananiah PERFUMER made repairs
a.    PROJECT restore Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall
13.Rephaiah made repairs.
14.Jedaiah made repairs opposite his house
15.Hattush made repairs.
a.    PROJECT repair second section
b.   PROJECT repair Tower of the Ovens
17.Shallum made repairs, he and his daughters
18.Hanun + inhabitants of Zanoah
a.    PROJECT rebuild Valley Gate: set up doors, bolts + bars
b.    PROJECT Repair a thousand cubits of the wall
c.    PROJECT complete wall to Dung Gate
a.    PROJECT repair the Dung Gate: set up doors + bolts + bars
a.    PROJECT repair Fountain Gate: Rebuild and cover; set up doors, + bolts, + bars
b.    Build wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, to stairs that go down from the City of David.
a.    PROJECT repair graves of David to artificial pool + house of warriors
22.Levites made repairs
24.Hashabiah made repairs for his district.
25.Hashabiah’s kin made repairs
a.    PROJECT repair another section opposite ascent to armory at Angle
a.    PROJECT repair another section Angle to door of Eliashib’s house
a.    Repaired another section from Eliashib’s door to end of his house
30.Priests, the men of the surrounding area, made repairs.
31.Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs opposite their house.
32.Azariah made repairs beside his house
33.Binnui repaired another section
a.    Specifically: from house of Azariah to Angle and corner
34.Palal repaired opposite Angle and tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard.
35.Pedaiah + temple servants living on Ophel made repairs
a.    STOP at point opposite the Water Gate on east + projecting tower
36.Tekoites repaired another section
a.    opposite great projecting tower to wall of Ophel.
a.    PROJECT repair above Horse Gate
b.    Take section opposite your own house.
38.Zadok made repairs opposite his own house.
39.Shemaiah the keeper of the East Gate, made repairs.
40.Hananiah repaired another section.
41.Meshullam made repairs opposite his living quarters.
42.Malchijah, a goldsmith
a.    PROJECT repair to house of temple servants and house of merchants
b.    Stop opposite the Muster Gate, include upper room of the corner
43.Goldsmiths and merchants make repairs
a.    PROJECT upper room of the corner to Sheep Gate

Now, given that the walls had been down for 152 years, and there were over 40 sections of wall that were identified as needing some level of repair, isn’t it amazing that what had been in disrepair for so long was replaced in just 52 days?

As the Village church, we meet in this space, and today we are going to identify that our walls are down. We have been lacking in strength and protection and we need to all stand and do our part. Symbolically I would like the Lead Team to first take a place around the wall. And then others fill in the gaps. Let’s see how BIG we can make our circle. Identify the gaps that exist. We are in this ministry, this little place of god’s work on earth. And we need to stand next to each other to fulfill what God has called us to do.

My name is Rosie Best, and I hope God approved this message.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Life After Exile by Hafidha Saadiqah (with an assist by Karen Shepler)

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
         Years ago, the Children’s Sermon at a church I was visiting was based upon this passage, the story of the Ten Lepers.  The minister told the children that they should always be thankful, grateful for what they had and what others gave to them.  At the end of their time together and before they were dismissed to their classes, the minister offered each child a sucker, and as usual all of the children took one.  Just before the last child left the sanctuary the minister said, “See.  That’s what Jesus was talking about.  They forgot to say ‘Thank you.’  Inside I cringed and raged.  That was a cheap, cruel shot.  There’s more that could have been said.  There’s more in that passage than meets the eye.  I felt that the minister had missed an opportunity to tell the greater story; one that could be understood even by a small child.  I share that memory to say that to reduce this passage to a moralism on thankfulness is too easy and misses the deeper issue, that of how to live after  being exiled/excluded.  

         The emphasis of Luke’s gospel is that the Kin-doom of God is open to everyone – not just the Jews.  Women.  Children.  Tax collectors.  And, everyone else who fell under the category of ‘leper.’  Yes, it included those who had various types of skin maladies that were contagious.  But, it also was a label applied to anyone who the Temple priests and scribes, and others working for the Roman government deemed unacceptable – physically, mentally, and religiously objectionable to the community.  Those with skin diseases weren’t allowed to live inside the cities, only in quarantined areas.  They were not allowed to enter the Temple, and alienated in other ways.  And at any time they were coming near a town they were obliged to announce their presence from a far off distance.  This gave time for everyone to run and hide for their presence meant contamination and death.  Other ‘lepers’ were endured their share of stigmatization.  What kind of life is that to live, to be known by only one thing about you; that you have no identity other than some-thing you have no control over.  
         The good news for these 10 individuals, and for us today, comes early in the passage.  We read that they recognized already, up front that they were included in the Kin-dom that Jesus was preaching about when they called out his name “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us…”  Living in their self imposed ghettos, in exile, as foreigners they realized the new truth God was speaking through the life and mouth of Jesus of Nazareth.  It was by faith only, not purity laws or other conventions, they were invited just like everyone else to take their place at the welcome table prepared by God.  They realized that any other message was a lie.  “As they went, to show themselves to the temple priests, they were made clean.”  The priests didn’t have to do or say anything!  Their faith in the radically simple call of God in Jesus set them free.  As they went they were made whole.

That’s good news!  And no matter how incompletely this story is told, it’s still good news to me, to know that all people are welcome in God’s new community no matter who or what they are; no matter what barriers are put in front of them.  Everyone belongs in God’s Kin-dom.  And, there is room for all of us to flourish.  There’s room for us to be more.  

         But, the story is not finished.  The remaining issue is the nine who didn’t return, but nevertheless, claimed their place among the community of believers/followers of the Christ.  Why didn’t they come back?  I believe that what they suffered from the same trauma that many of us wrestle with - fear that causes us to still see ourselves as unacceptable. 

I don’t know about you, but it is nerve racking and intimidating having to assert yourself upon those who have the power to declare you an outcast and make laws on how your life is to be managed.  It takes a load of gumption to declare yourself acceptable to God and others after years of being told that you were an outsider.  It takes a lot of gumption to stand up and  let others know that you are loved.  Perhaps the none who didn’t come back were still reeling from taking on the powerful Temple priests – no small feat!  It had to be hard to go through the questioning by the priest, face their judgment.  Maybe they were still shaking in their boots because they didn’t come back.  But, I’m also thinking they did not know how to live into their new-found reality.  They were living according to the old scripts that had ruled how they saw themselves and inhabited their life.  So many questions they faced:  Who were their friends and allies now that they refused to go back to the leper colony? Who would stand with and for them? What was possible for them that they refused to go back and believed in the Savior?  How do you live beyond this stigma, after being in exile for so long?  

The answers to the questions the Ten may have asked and those that many of us ask is right here in the text.  It is frustratingly simplistic, and easier said than done.  “And as they went, they were made clean.”  See.  Wake up.  Get up.  And go on your way.  Recognize that you are responsible for discarding the harmful scripts about ourselves – ones foisted upon us, by family and tribe and culture, and ones we take upon ourselves.  Old scripts and narratives are hard to give up, particularly when they have given us comfort and shelter; and harder still when they have ceased to do so.  We know how to live life on the offensive but to live free is new and different. This is a perspective, an attitude about ourselves that comes from within ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit.  No one can do it for us, give it to us, or declare it for us.  We live into it everyday, step-by-step, through prayer and action.

As much as this story is about life after exile for the individual, it has implications for the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ, even congregations like ours whose members and friends were sent into exile by other congregations.  As a community you’ve been thinking about what is possible for The Village in the next 6 months to a 1 year, 2 years.  How should you organize yourselves?  What kinds of programs should we have?  Who’s going to do what?  Like the Ten Lepers – as we move forward, the way emerges.  As we claim who we are, the way is shown to us.  Let’s ask ourselves:
1.   Are we a congregation of exiles, living as a lone tribe?
2.   Are we co-signing and reproducing the speech and behavior of people who have the power to exile and exclude others?
3.   Are we singing the song of the exile?

          I hope our answer to each of those three questions is ‘no.’  No, we are not a lone tribe, but part of a family, a world-wide community of followers of God made know in Jesus of Nazareth, even those who have gone before us and those yet to come.  We are reflection of all that God has made known to us in Jesus Christ, of the whole.

         No, we are not spending all of our time trying to prove to other people that we are not who they say we are as individuals and as a church.  We will not be quarantined.  

We will not quarantine ourselves.  We will not live small reactive lives.  We will not be a small reactive church.  We will reflect the image of God stamped upon us, in our time and place, and be the church that envisions its calling for the next 3, 5, 10 years.

         No, we are not singing the song of the exiled.  We are singing a song of people of God made free by the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, living into the ministry he passed on to us: the blind receives their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them!  How to do all that takes a lot of figuring things out. Who needs to be raised from the dead?  People inside and outside the church.  People inside and outside the church need to hear the good news.    

         There is life after exile, and by God’s grace we will live into it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Unapologetically Christian by Hafidha Saadiqah (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

I am a Christian, and I do not mince words when I say this.  I am absolutely, positively, from the soles of my feet to the top of my head, Christian.  There was a time when I could not make that declaration; I was ashamed to, too embarrassed to say it because of all the baggage it continues to be saddled with.  Baggage like:
·      Incomprehensible doctrines like the Trinity, Election, and Hell
·      Ways in which it has functioned as a handmaiden to colonialism,
racism, slavery, misogyny, and homophobia

Nevertheless, as egregious as these crimes are for which it is truly guilty, I unequivocally proclaim that I am happy to be rooted and grounded in the Christian tradition.  Why?  For two simple reasons: First, Christianity calls to me and helps me see what is possible.   And second: this life of faith and devotion is not simply about me.  Here’s what I mean.

            Christianity is my first spiritual language, and try as I might, it refuses to let me go – and I it.  You see, in a very practical sense – and maybe this is your experience too – I am Christian because I was born at a time and place on this soil to parents who were Christian.  And their parents were Christian.  And their parents were Christian.  After that, I can’t say for sure.  So, there are powers beyond me that brought me to claim this faith as my own.  Yet in a deeper sense, in spite of all the appalling and evil ways that some have tried to twist the Christian scriptures and privatize God’s message in Jesus, I have found good news in this tradition.  And, this good news is dangerous, explosive, and profoundly radical.  In it, I see what is possible for myself and the world in which I live.  Not that all people must become Christian, but through it people can see that Christianity proclaims a way to peace and justice and right relations.  Through the thick mist of cultures, languages and customs, an array of writers and writers and truth claims, it points towards a condition of the heart, that can lead to a new way of seeing and being.  And even when I’m not feeling this faith, this faith somehow continues to hold on to me until I can hear it, see it, and feel it again. 

            I am unapologetically a Christian because as I have struggled and grown into it, I’ve realized that this life of faith, my life of faith, is not simply about me.  Someone is watching me – whether I like it or not.  Someone is curious to know if and how this Christianity can work.  I’m realizing it’s not about being perfect or knowing it all.  But, it’s about being aware and available to the Spirit so it can transform my often clumsy and hesitant witness into grace-filled words and behaviors that draw others to God. 

This is what Paul was reminding Timothy of in the passage you saw on the screen:
….rekindle the gift of God that is within you
            Guard the good treasure entrusted to you
Timothy was shown the faith through his mother, Eunice, and his grand-mother, Lois.  They were examples to him, and, they left a legacy for him to claim that faith and make it his own.
            Timothy was blessed.  And, I consider myself blessed because of the role models I had and have.  They weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but, they were the ones that God put in my path.  They are the ones who still help me see the compelling power and richness of the gospel and this faith that I call my own. Now, if you’re thinking that you are not able to say the same, that this is not your story, I ask you to think again.  If it wasn’t your parents, or Sunday school teachers, or anyone like that, then who was it?  Who was your Eunice?  Who is your Lois?  Who continues to influence you?  Who was/is it who might have said:

·      “Don’t give up on the Church, on God, on Jesus.” or,
·      “Just take what blesses you and leave the rest.”  or,
·      “It’s about love and grace and acceptance and enough room.”
Who came alongside you and helped you see through all the rules and minutiae of organized religion so that you could find a home for your head and your heart in Christianity – a religious and spiritual tradition that is as ever-new as it is ancient?

            Paul wrote Timothy to encourage him to claim his legacy and pass it on.  So this morning, regardless of how thoroughly you see yourself as a Christian, and how long you’ve been one, I ask to whom might you be serving as an example?  Who might be watching you?  To whom are you leaving a legacy of faith and love?  To whom will you be a Eunice or a Lois?  There are no easy answers and quick routes.   But, answers do come as we wrestle with God and embrace life itself.  The way is shown as we are becoming.  We become Christian as we continue to rekindle the gift of God that is within each of us, and as we guard the good treasure that has been entrusted to us.  I encourage us all to find someone, that you can come alongside in prayer, so they can rekindle that fire and spirit burning within them. Perhaps, just perhaps that rekindling and guarding starts again… today as we find our way to this table.   For in this table there is joy, hope, forgiveness, wisdom, and welcome.  In this bread and cup we can find what we need to unapologetically declare that we are Christian, for God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Claim it!  Amen!