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Reflection December 3

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 11:1: Isalah 64:4,7

Striking the right chord

Dear friends,

Advent is about anticipation, about waiting. How can there be anything good about waiting? Think of the hours we spend each month waiting at traffic lights or in supermarket checkout lines or worse on hold with some company representative who continues assuring you that your call is important to them.  There is no redeeming quality to the act of waiting.  Yet maybe we should rethink that.  Columnist Tom Friedman’s latest book is “Thank you for being late” (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2016).  Friedman claims that we are living in an accelerating world.  And he is right.  Our brains are being rewired as we speak because of all the the news gadgets and games that are now available. The climate is also changing at an ever rapid rate.  So when Friedman is sitting at a table waiting to meet some person he wants to interview somewhere in the world and that person is late, Friedman may not pull out his computer to do work, because that person could show up anytime.  But his minds starts working and he starts reflecting and before you know it there is all this new insight he would otherwise not have.

John Cleese, the comedic actor, did a video once on creativity and he claims that creativity is at its most optimal the longer you wait.  His advice when it comes to creativity is: procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate.  I have taken that to heart. I try not to write down a paragraph on my sermon until mid-day on Friday. The text needs to ferment until then.  So already there are two reasons why waiting can be good. But I am not done.  It is good to draft an email you write on the spur and in the emotion of the moment and then revisit it a day later after letting sit overnight.  But let’s face it, we do not enjoy the waiting. We want to get it over with; move on the the next thing, even though that next thing is not as meaningful.  It took me almost ten years to write my second dissertation because I was working full-time. It took me seven years to write a novel for the same reason, but maybe I should have waited another seven.  The last article I wrote took me five years. Without doubt you have examples about times when waiting turned out to be a good thing.

Friends, Chelsea, with the help of Ben, is doing an Advent hymn series. It starts at 9.30 for three Sundays and continues into the worship service as you have seen.  They are going to the hymns and while they are enjoying the melody, they are considering the words and where they come from. Today’s hymn is “O come, O come, Emmanuel” which means “God with us” in Hebrew.  It is a hymn of anticipation, of waiting, waiting for the redeemer.  It is the quintessential Advent hymns as Advent is the season and the discipline of waiting.  Now does that hymn strike the right chord for advent as the season of waiting or will next week’s hymn or the one the week after?  Which one will get it just right?  We could ask the same question for the verses for today, all of which from the book of Isaiah (although, as we have seen they are not all from the same period),  Does the Emmanuel passage on the cover of the bulletin get it just right or does the reference to the family tree of David as the origin of Emmanuel or does the hope of chapter 64 do the trick. Friends, how do we strike the right chord in waiting during this season?  Maybe this is for us to figure out. Perhaps we should say today to Jesus: “thank you for being late, thank you for giving us time to figure out what our attitude and focus should be.” In the end all the passages matter.  One provides the gravitas, the importance of the moment: God with us in Christ, the second grounds the coming of the Christ in history, the third tells us that despite the hardship of human life there is God. But how they fit into our lives, is something each of us needs to do during this time of Advent. So I advise you tor return to these passages in the next three weeks or so.

Friends, consider your lives and all the good things are people you had to wait for.  Consider this congregation too and how long it took for changes to happen and how things in the church never happen

suddenly or in spurts. In the moment it may seem that we just go through the seasons and the cycles, but over time when we review the highs and the lows, we can see an upward curve to a new and hopeful way of being the Church.   May God make us patient and bless our journey.  

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Coach’s Corner

Church Management Q and A

Dear friends,       

It is time for another round Q and A. You have told me you like that. I can imagine there are some questions you wish to ask me about what’s happening in the church, but you may be too polite to ask them. So let me try to think what they might be and answer them for you.

Q: Aart, now that we have a new office manager in Kris Sazaki, what will be different.? A: Of course we will all have grown accustomed to Donna not doing the work anymore and we all need to give her space. Don’t forget to thank her! Parkview family members have gotten used to her always being there on Sunday and over time the line between her job description and her willingness to volunteer has become somewhat gray in your minds. That will be an adjustment. Kris will not attend the church service so everyone will have to communicate by email ( or the church phone. Her office hours will be roughly the same as Donna’s, but I suggest that you send emails and leave messages between Monday pm and Friday noon so that you will get a response within 24 hours or so.  (Also Chelsea will have office hours on Wednesday.) On the other hand Kris has begun her work with a vision for Parkview’s presence in the digital age. You have already seen changes to the worship bulletin and you will see changes to the website. There will also be a google calendar that will be a planning meeting point online. I am very grateful to Lori Hart for engineering a transition in that direction in the way she has managed our website! I also expect that the new planning/coordinating group will take a more central role in tandem with Kris.

Q: We still have questions about the residency program, tell us again where does the money come from.? A: The (regional) Presbytery of Sacramento is so supportive of our groundbreaking program that it has committed a maximum of $17,000 per year for a five year period on an as needed basis. As long as I have been at Parkview, we have always given about $7000 to Presbyterian mission. That money now stays home to supplement the Presbytery’s gift for resident stipends. Parkview also pays for utilities at the Kansha.

Q: When will the program end? The end of 2020. Q: When is Rola, the other resident coming? A: Tentatively: the 28th of this month. A: How long will Chelsea and Rola stay? A: I anticipate they will be her through May of 2019. Q: That would leave about a year and a half of Presbytery support after they leave, how will that time be used?  A: That is for the congregation to decide.   

Q: Say, Aart, how do we screen and manage our residents? A: There is a selection committee of four people (Titus Toyama, Maurine Huang, Carol Sakai and Jennifer Nishizaki). They review applications, set up interviews by Skype or in person. They talk to references. Q: Do they discuss personal theology of the candidates? A: Yes they do so at length. Q: How about political views? A: By law we cannot ask them about that, just as we cannot ask about age etc. However we have them sign a comprehensive contract, a new code of ethics and we have them answer the pledge during the worship service. Rola and Chelsea have also been thoroughly background checked. I spend about 5 hours week with the resident and they meet monthly with a supervisory committee ( Irene Uno, Lois van Beers, Maurine Huang).

Q: Since Chelsea and Rola will not become our pastors, how will we be using them?  A: I thought you’d never ask.  I think we are on the cusp of a huge opportunity here.  We will have two energetic, creative, compassionate, well-trained, intelligent young women. They will need to work within the boundaries of their job description (in Rola case that includes working with refugees), but I believe there is a real chance for us to take a leap toward growth. The key term at this moment is “INTER.” We have achieved the goal of becoming an INTERcultural congregation (I.e. a multicultural congregation where the different ethnicities truly engage with each other); We are now a year into becoming an INTERactional congregation ( that interacts and engages with the local community, both outside of our fence and in worship through community minutes).  This was a two-in-one goal that came out of the exploration groups. The other goal is for us to become truly INTERgenerational.  Now that we have  gone through a huge generational passing of the baton, we need to grow the church at all age levels. As I stated years ago, having residents is like hooking up a source of energy to the church network. We will have two of those sources in Chelsea and Rola. For this we should be hugely grateful to God’s grace. Fasten your seat belts! Thanks for your questions, concern and support, spoken or unspoken. May God bless our ministry, See you in church! Aart

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November 19, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Luke 7: 35-47

Attention and  Gratitude

Dear friends,

There is a song in the musical “Celebrate Life” that has a woman sing about Jesus. It paints a picture of the woman and her state of mind in today’s story in Luke. It is called:”He quietly turned to me.” Cynthia Clawson sings:”there was nowhere else to turn and nowhere else to go, my body knew all the pain, a body could know. When I quietly turned to you, I quietly turned to you, help of the helpless, hope of the hopeless, I turned to you.  There was no where else to turn and no one else could hear my cries full of anguish, my cries full of fear, Then I quietly turned to you, I quietly turned to you, hope of the hopeless, I turned to you.” Then she describes Jesus:”I saw you standing there, I saw the beauty from you beaming, I saw the peace, the joy, the perfect love that could be.  I saw you standing there. I thought I was surely dreaming.”  Next she goes on and describes her new state of mind after having been transformed.  “Your love love let me live again, your love set me free, help the helpless, friend of the friendless. ! quietly turned to you and you turned to me. “ (Celebrate Life Ragan Courtney and Buryl Red).

The song depicts a transformative moment in the life of a woman who could not face life, but because of Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness is made whole again.  She finds release and the experience is so profound, that she performs an act that costs her a fortune and that requires self-humiliation.  In a land of dust without asphalt or carpets, toilets or garbage collection, feet get pretty dirty and Jesus’ feet would have not been an exception. She anoints his feet. An act of great service and humility as there were no comfortable shoes in those days and feet were extremely sore from hour long walks.  Jesus clearly appreciates such things.

Friends, unless we go through life with some deep heavy guilt that tortures us, and some of us do, we perhaps don’t spend much time wishing for forgiveness. This is a narcissistic age. We do not give out apologies easily.  We actually think lots of people should apologize to us.  So does this text have anything to say to us then?  It may be hard to identify with the deep sense remorse this woman feels.  Well first, let us remember that we are all only one thoughtless act of stupidity away from lifelong remorse.  But beyond this, we can relate to this woman’s sense of despair and hopelessness. We know what it is like not to see a way out of a difficult situation. We know what it is like to feel caught. Sure not as much as others perhaps, not like the people on the news, but we are all keenly aware of the human predicament.

In addition I think there is another layer at which this woman experiences the power of Jesus’ presence. He really sees her.  Friends, maybe that is what really matters.  That he really sees her. You see, so much of our lives we are seen for what people want us to be, or how people stereotype us, or how people can use us (and this where harassment comes in), or how we are on the outside. People don’t really see us, we think.  There are so many filters they use to view us.

I think often when people feel under siege for whatever reason, and many people do these days, they think that the only people that get them are the members of their own tribe, like their race or ethnic group. That can feel really good, but it is also very dangerous. It creates an us vs. them mentality. What this church is all about right now is a statement of faith that we can “get” each other even though  our race and ethnic group are different as long as we are here not to serve ourselves but serve God and others.     

Friends, it is really important for us go understand that God really sees us, not just that God forgives us when we are truly sorry for something, but really notices us and gets us. We being seen for who and what we are and loved all the same. Friends,  Are you aware that God sees you?  Do you see God turning toward you. Can you turn to God? And can you really see your neighbors and truly turn to them. May God give us wisdom.

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Reflection November 12, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Joshua 24:14-17

Dear friends,

No matter how well we’re off financially, it is probably safe to say that we all have a lot of stuff that we don’t need. It is easy to accumulate stuff in this country.  Getting rid of it is harder.  Getting rid of things requires thinking.  The other day I couldn’t open a drawer in our house, because there was some small cardboard lid jamming it up. Rather than spending time investigating whether that lid should be discarded or whether it is meant to protect something of great value, I did the guy thing and stuffed it back in the drawer.  And I’m really not that messy.  I just didn’t have time to think about it.

Friends, to stop and think takes time.  I have been trying to get rid of my books. I concluded there are a lot of books in my office I haven’t look in for as much as ten years, so why not give them to people who would benefit from them.  Chelsea took a bunch, Grace Suwabe who is working on her Doctor of Ministry took a bunch.  On Thursday the pastor of the Burney Presbyterian Church which has just been through a split took another bunch. It feels good to do that. But it took a little thinking.

Friends, as we have already seen, Joshua does an odd thing: he makes people think. That in itself is not unusual.  What he asks the people to think about is: “do you still have use for God?”  It’s shocking and stunning.  “Do you still have use for God now that you have reached the destination of your journey? Or has God outlived God’s usefulness now that you have gotten to where you’re going.

During his message at Presbytery this week Jeff Chapman, the pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church shared a theory he had read about faith when people have it good enough to feel they control their destiny, when they are able to guarantee their own economic wellbeing, they lose “dependent prayer.” It is a kind of desperate prayer that so much of the world’s population lives with and lives on. Ours is perhaps more of “independent prayer” or “optional prayer.”  We figure, when We pray we’re okay, we don’t pray we’re okay.  It’s optional. For the downtrodden of the world, prayer will be a lot more like breathing.  They are desperately looking for signs of God’s grace, while we may barely even recognize that grace, except for the times when we do not see the light in our lives and find ourselves having trouble breathing.

But then come to think of,  are we really doing that well spiritually and emotionally?  We may have a bed to sleep in and plenty to eat, but we all hit the wall sometimes, don’t we?  That is the time that we may ask the question Joshua asked the people: “Do you still want God or are you done with God?” Maybe there are others gods or substitutes for God that you want to invest in.  There’s plenty available.

Friends, we live in a world of substitutes now.  There is a generic substitute for the brand medicines at the pharmacy.  There are vegetarian substitutes for chicken.  The other day I asked people if they knew of a generic substitute for processed wheat flower.  They sent me to the Coop. Wow, there is soy flour and rye flower and sorghum flour.  And I’m just getting started.  You and I substitute experiences too and sometimes even relationships.  Now in the ancient days of the Bible, they would substitute gods. It was very common. When it comes to gods, think local they thought.  But the Bible says that “God is a jealous God.”  It’s probably not a good word in English, but it is supposed to describe the relationship between husband and wife., with all the ups and downs. “Don’t substitute me,” says God. “I don’t take it very well.

When we dig a little deeper, the message from Joshua is: I dare you to try it without God.  In the end it is God underneath it all. God’s grace is the undercurrent of our life, even when we were moving along on top of the water, as if burning diesel in a motor boat. If there is no dependence on God’s grace we will not get very far.  And that is true for this church. Without God’s grace we get nowhere. Let us not forget that.

To stop and think is not so bad, friends. Even about our faith.  Does the old faith work? If we find ourselves giving away not just our books, but our Bible, then maybe we need to think a little more deeply.

Instead let us do what Joshua did when he said:” As to me and my family, we will choose the Lord.” Thanks be to God.

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Reflection November 5, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Matthew 18:6; Matthew 23 :1-4, 12

Is your faith making you thrive?

Dear friends,

Religion is a funny thing and more than ever it is a controversial thing.  It used to be that religious faith was an accepted part of daily life and its practices were generally seen as leading people to wholeness. In the United States. As long as people didn’t get hung too much in their identity as a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Baptist or a Roman Catholic, co-existence was possible in towns across America.  But somewhere in the seventies faith and politics got intertwined in such a way that it started tearing at the fabric of society.  Now young people who are not church goers are starting to have more of a sense of ethics than religious Christians. They are more tolerant of differences, less racist, more inclusive and more interested in social justice. This is an amazing development. They are creating communities that may not have a creed, but there is an unspoken value system  This a hard time for the main line church.

Friends, when we consider ourselves religious, the first issue we must deal with is the truth. We must accept a creed as true or at least as ringing true.  To say: “it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re nice” does not hold water.  What you believe or don’t believe will eventually lead to actions. and other consequences.

However, there is another way to evaluate religious faith and that is: “ how does your religion deal with your wounds?”  We all have wounds, you see. I don’t mean when you hit your thumb with a hammer or tripped on concrete steps or you had a gash that took forever to heal or a surgical scar that keeps hurting.  No, our wounds are the hurts and traumas we accumulate  along the way on the journey of life.  Like the wounds that Astros player inflicted in the Dodgers player with his blatant racism.  There are wounds because of losses and because of rejection or because we weren’t able to do something everyone else seemed to be able to do. There are wounds from well-meaning parents because of what they said or didn’t say.  There are wounds from marriages and courtships. There are wounds made of anger and wounds made of sadness and wounds made of anxieties too deep to reveal.  What religion does with those wounds can be an indication of whether you should stay away from it.  There is such a thing as toxic religion. We can find no clearer example of toxic religion than the religion of Isis which is different from Islam practiced by hundred of millions of peace loving people around the world.  The wounds of the driver, whatever they may be,  of that pickup in New York this last week had been exploited by an ideology that points to God but leads people to unspeakable evil.

Another way religion can handle our wounds is to deepen them.  This is what is happening in the Gospel readings. Jesus is berating the religious powers for pushing people down while their own practice is just skin deep.  He also warns those powers not to create wounds in the young, wounds of guilt and fear.  Our cover verse tells us that the truth of our faith will set us free, not hold us down and cripple us.

Another way our wounds can be handled is by ignoring them.  Sometimes religion glosses over people’s suffering as if it is nothing to be concerned. Not to be cheerful is bad. It forces their followers to swallow and hide their pain.  Religion can even disavow the wounds it has created.  Some of the best novelists in my home country grew up in restrictive, guilt ridden religious households.  They spent their lives trying to write it away.  Finally, religion can deal with people’s wounds by controlling them. And that is going on in our text also.  Because people are wounded they are more likely to yield to control.

Friends, is your faith making you thrive?  You know those Kaiser Permanent ads that always end with the word “thrive.”  It’s a good term, because this is what our faith is supposed to do: it is supposed to make us thrive.  We are not supposed to be controlled or exploited or hurt over again.  We are supposed to open like a flower and grow and make the world smell better.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deal with our own way of wounding others. We should face that and then we must accept forgiveness.

Friends, the beauty of the Christian message is that acknowledges the roundedness of the human heart and soul. In some ways it is all about the wounds.  The saving act of God comes through the wounds of Christ.  Theologically speaking in the communion we served today the wounds of Christ meet our wounds.  It’s like that old romanticized blood brother thing when the Native American and his white friend cut their finger and bring their wound and blood together. Not medically advised these days of course, but it is the meeting of wound and wound.

Friends, the celebration of our faith every week as a family is meant to make us all more whole and  because of that wholeness we will be better equipped to make the world around us more whole.  May God through the Holy Spirit empower us.

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Coach’s Corner

Introducing our new office manager

Dear friends, we are continuing our interview format for coach’s corner to make it a third month in a row. First I interviewed Chelsea, then Chelsea interviewed me, now Chelsea does an interview with our newly selected office manager, Dr. Kris Sazaki. I would like to thank personnel committee members Judy Fukuman and Bill Grissom for their diligent work. We had a lot more applicants than we anticipated, scheduled interviews for nine candidates of which six showed up.  The finalists were given follow up questions. Kris had the best qualifications for Parkview’s needs and for this day and age. We also concluded she is able to balance a people oriented and task oriented approach. Kris will be in the office November 2nd and will work alongside Donna for two months. In January she will start running the office.  

Tell us about your family?

I live with my husband, Neil, and my mother-in-law, Jane. Our terrier, Mr. Darcy, brings us great joy, especially now that our son Miles has moved out of the house. And, yes, Jane does spoil all of us!

What are some of your favorite things?

I love to read and knit. The one thing I don’t get to do often enough is travel. My dream is to one day take my son to visit New Zealand, the country of his birth. (We lived there for 2 1/2 years.) I am also a fiber artist and collaborate with my creative partner to make fiber wall hangings. (If you’ve ever been to Jane’s house, there’s a big wall hanging over her fireplace.)

I know that this congregation has been meaningful to you for a long time. Can you tell us about your connections to Parkview?

I’ve attended various types of services and activities over the years. When I married Neil in 1988, Rev. Masuno performed the service. I’ve volunteered here and there when I could be of help. My creative partner and I made a presentation to the PPW about different ways to creatively tell your own story. I had the most fun editing and formatting the 2012 edition of the PPC Cookbook. I joined the PPC Book Club in 2014. We’ve had some lively discussions accompanied by some great food! And here’s a fun fact: my father, Haruo Sazaki, made PPC’s communion table.

What are you most looking forward to about your new job?

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and seeing how I can best use my organizational and technology skills to serve Parkview.

As people get to know you, what do you think will surprise them the most?

They might be surprised to learn how much I love to learn languages. I have a Ph.D. in 19th-century German Literature, but I’ve also studied Japanese, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian. Please remember: studying is different than speaking! When I went to visit relatives in Japan last year, I really had to practice in order to remember some set phrases. In the end, it’s all about communicating, so that is probably why I am drawn to languages. Well, and I love to talk.

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Reflection October 29, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Misc.

Deuteronomy 34; Matthew 22: 34-40

Which way from here?

Dear friends,

Paul tells us that faith, hope and love are the only three things that remain.  They are what the Christian carries with her or him.  Those are what the Christian is supposed to tap into.  At the end of each conversation he has with a guest on television, interviewer Tavis Smiley (PBS) predictably says: “And as always, keep the faith.” How does Moses feel about keeping the faith at this moment on the heights of Moab as He can see the Promised Land his people had abandoned soooo many years ago? You can count on that: Moses cannot enter the Promised Land, frail and old as he is. The people must enter the Promised Land without Him. They have to depend on faith as they are there without their leader.  Psalm 90, from which we take our call to worship today, has as its heading that it is a “Prayer of Moses.”  It is a Psalm that puts our life in context as fleeting and temporary.  But it is also full of the hope for God to come and satisfiy us in that fleeting life.  So after faith, here is hope.

Because the leader is not allowed to go, he is just allowed to see from a distance, is symbolic. Now the people must go alone. Martin Luther King, in Memphis, appealed to the memory of Moses when he said: ”I have seen the Promised Land, but I may not get there with you.”   Because that is what Moses could say. In fact I can clearly imagine him saying that.   And I can also imagine the people after all their complaining suddenly feeling very insecure without their leader.  It is a clear journey they must take. The landscape lies clearly stretched out before them: they must cross a desert landscape, from the heights across the Jordan down to Jericho, one of the oldest towns and lowest places on earth and then climb up toward Jerusalem and then spread out over the land, each group of descendants of Jacob taking their place.  From there they will live a history that is even more volatile than the history chapter they are closing off.  There will be Judges and three kings under the united kingdom, then the kingdom will split into two, next comes a slow crumbling of the nation, two exiles to the east which will empty the whole country over again.  Then only a small number will return, making another journey home to a land they have never seen and they will settle and rebuild the Temple.   All along they have to keep their eyes on one great commandment: “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul.” The story of the Old Testament is pretty much the story of how well the people kept his commandment.   We too have that same commandment to follow: “Love the Lord with all you heart and all your mind and all your soul,” but Jesus in our Gospel reading on our cover adds another commandment to it “and your neighbor as yourself.”  Love for God Who loves us translates into loving our neighbor.  So after faith and hope we are back at love. Faith, hope and love are the principles we must carry on with, in this land we call America and the Presbyterian church USA.  But that is a narrow road to walk. It is not easy to do.  Loving a Being we cannot see is hard for most of us.  Loving the neighbors who annoy us isn’t much easier.  But the Bible throws out this challenge: “do these things and you will get it right every time.” And, friends, as Christians our lives are a record of how well we have done that.  

The Bible doesn’t say we can’t enjoy our lives, but it is still a narrow path. We are constantly losing the trail, veering left and right, high and low.  Right now we love in a age an fanaticism. David Brooks wrote a column entitled “how to engage fanatics.”(New York Times, November 2017).  He says:  “The only way to confront fanaticism is with love,” he said. “Ask the fanatics genuine questions. Paraphrase what they say so they know they’ve been heard. Show some ultimate care for their destiny and soul even if you detest the words that come out of their mouths.” It is not an easy thing to do, but it is what is required of us.

Friends, we too are the people, the spiritual descendants of the people of Israel. We always find ourselves in some bend in the road, some crossroads, in the valley or on the heights and we ask ourselves: ”which way from here?” Does the old formula : faith, hope and love still apply? Yes, it does: think of the alternative: cynicism, despair and violent hatred.  Faith, hope and love are what we carry and always will.  They need one another, for without faith we are alone, without hope we are stuck with no future and without love we cannot breathe.

It implies three things: one, that God exists, two, that God is reliable and three, that God is love, that God at the heart of it is loving.  “God so loved the world.” Everything begins and ends with that. As Paul so clearly states. May God inspire us. 

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Reflection October 22, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Psalm 99:5; Exodus 33: 18-23

The holiness of the day

Dear friends,

Our lectionary text for today tells us about Moses wanting to know God approves of him.  At least that’s how he spins it.  Maybe after so much time in the desert, Moses wants to be reminded that God is not all in his head, that he hasn’t made this entire journey up.  As long as I have known this text, I have always liked it very much. But I never really stopped to think why I like it so much.  In some ways it is odd.  God is willing to show part of God’s body which is strange and alienating because God does not have a body. You cannot capture or define God. God is beyond all seeing, feeling, touching, except for Jesus of course, but Jesus was active for just several years and the people who would have a chance to see and touch him were limited to, say, the population of a small city. This all makes this event so unusual, so palpable. I think mostly it is endearing.  God by God’s nature is both glorious and invisible.  If God is anything we think it would be mysterious.  But that great mystery according to our faith is not indifferent, but also loving.  Moses presses the point. “If I find favor with You as You have told me, God, then please show me. And if as You say Your presence goes with us, then show us, for without Your presence we can’t go.” Not Moses’ exact words, but you get the idea. So here we have a situation where God’s love overcomes God’s mystery. The love wins out, although it is a complicated matter. God’s glory and God’s face cannot be seen.  It is so powerful that would wipe out anyone. It is like flying into the sun.  But God comes up with a solution: Moses can see the back of God. But the whole thing can happen only in passing. God passes by.  Whooossssh. In this moment God passes from mystery to visible, from the Eternal One to human form, and that’s of course the exact point the Gospels make in the coming of Jesus. This is the endearing part: God so wants to please the people God loves so much.  It is an act of extreme intimacy.  It is the intimacy not only God craves, but also humans. We seek it in so many ways, in relationships of all sorts.  But so many things get in the way: the body, sexuality, embarrassment, shyness. And years of emotional baggage.  No wonder people are so close to their pets. Pets seem like intimacy experts. Of course they are not.

And here is the crux, friends, I think.  The holiest moment happens in the coming together of the human who is at full stretch and God reaching down, almost trying to break out of God’s being. It is as if God is constrained by God’s own greatness and wants to break loose.  Well, maybe I’m reading into it. Yet maybe Michelangelo had this in mind in the meeting the finger of God and the finger of the human on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in Rome.  If you go to the Vatican museum, you wind through all these rooms and porticoes full of renaissance statues of nudes. They want to slow all the visitors down, keep you from getting to that ceiling, because there would be too many people there otherwise.  People can’t wait to see God’s intimacy with people and then they get there and there is this vast painting but it is all just about those two fingers touching. Just a few square inches. That’s all. On that huge canvas. But it’s holy and the visitors know that. That’s why they are there, at least most of them, perhaps without knowing

We’ve talked earlier how nothing seems sacred these days. It is the age of reality television after all. But then our thoughts haven’t been sacred for a long time.  Humanity in its ugliest and vilest just jumps off our screen on a daily basis.  We see no holiness there. But you could point at the megachurches on tv and say: what about that? But there is no holiness there.  It seem to be more about marketing and money and the cult of the pastor.  It’s veneer. Once in a while the true face of the preacher will become known and it turns out he’s not so holy after all.  No the text in Exodus has it right: it is the very human Moses stretching toward God and God reaching down that’s holy.

Friends, we cannot make the world holy.  But we can make our day holy.  We can start with our day, every day, and take a crack at it. We can start by stretching and trying to reach our true potential as a human being.  Stan Padilla, a Native American leader and artist, talked about what Native Americans instinctively know: the sacredness of the everyday.  He told us to know how important that is.  He said we should try everyday to be a complete human being. This includes kindness.  He calls it “seeing others with kind eyes.”  Friends, we cannot wrap our hands or our brains or our hearts around the whole world. But we can start with our day and try to make it a work of art.

Poet Mary Oliver write in “Why I wake early:” Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who make the morning and spread it over the field and into the faces of the tulips and the nodding morning glories, and into the windows of, even, the miserable and crotchety–best preacher that ever was, dear star, that just happens to be where you are in the universe to keep us from ever-darkness, to ease us with warm touching, to hold us in the great hands of light–good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness. (Mary Oliver, Why I wake early, Beacon Press, 2004.)

Friends, we can build sacredness into our lives, moment after moment. It is how we become fully human and make the world holy again. Maybe we then can create places of holiness beyond ourselves and allow God to reach down and make holiness come alive in ever widening circles in this nation and beyond once again. May God give us wisdom. 

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Reflection October 15, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Matt. 21:28-31 and Philippians 3:17, 4:9

“Actions Speak Louder”    by Chelsea Page

I wonder if you’ve noticed by now that we have been reading Philippians every week during Aart’s sabbatical. If you’ve come to church regularly you are probably tired of hearing Philippians by now. We’ve actually now read the entire letter together, minus a few words here and there. That’s a lot of words! 2,350 to be exact. The ironic thing is that despite all these words, when we read Scripture in church, it’s not actually about words all. What’s it about then?

Paul addresses this in the verses we read today. He’s taken the time to write the church at Philippi this long letter from prison, dictating all these words, and then at the end he turns around and says, whether or not you agree with me doesn’t matter, what matters is what you do with it. What will you do with this message as a community? Are you striving to live according to the example of Christ? Or is it something else you’re after?

What exactly are we doing here in church? Why do YOU come week after week? When we come together as individuals in this place, at this time, what do we add up to? The reason I wanted to read through Philippians together is because so much of the Bible is meant to be addressed to a community, and Paul’s letters make that really clear. After all, they usually begin with the phrase, “to the church at so-and-so.” I sometimes wonder what it would be like to read, instead of Dear Philippians, “Dear Parkview.” “Dear Parkview, keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in this proclamation, and the God of peace will be with you.” It’s like Paul is saying, I have shined a light for you on the path. What do you see? Are you going to step on?

I have enjoyed interpreting the word for you in my preaching, but I don’t feel it has been a message from my specific life spoken into each of your lives as individuals. Rather, God has provided the Scriptures for us to listen to together as a message for our Parkview Community. What has God been saying to us as a group during Aart’s sabbatical and this season of our church’s life, right here, right now?

First of all, I hear the Scriptures saying that the life of faith is about action, about living life in a particular way seven days a week. The parable from Jesus today is about workers in the vineyard. One worker is all talk, no action. The other worker doesn’t say the right things, but actually gets the job done. The second one is clearly more obedient to God’s will. So this made me think, if being a Christian includes action and work, is being a Christian like having a job? Do all of you who still work actually have two jobs, whatever you do for money during the week, on top of whatever you do for Christ during the week? I think most of you would say it’s more like they overlap. Being a Christian isn’t something you do separate from the other things you do. It’s more like a flashlight you carry with you everywhere stuck in the “on” position. If things around you are bright, your little light of faith probably won’t even be noticed by others. But when things get really dark, like how California was dimmed by thick smoke during tragic, terrifying fires this week, or like in the life-threatening endless power outage in Puerto Rico, everyone around you would be glad if you can show them a little light of faith. Think of how it would feel to be lost in a dark forest. You see a light in the distance, it gets bigger and bigger, and suddenly you realize it’s coming for you. Someone has come looking for you and you are not alone.

So I think the operative word in the parable today is “go,” when the parent said “go into the vineyard.” One son carried his light out into the blinding daylight of the vineyard and got to work shoulder to shoulder with others. The other merely said he would go, but instead stayed indoors in the cool dark and played with his pretty shining light all by himself. Remember Jesus was speaking to religious leaders, to Pharisees and priests, who had the status to appear close to God no matter what they actually did for other people. Jesus shocked them by saying that they were like the character in the story who they identified as being in the wrong. Because they are complacent with their religious title and think they have it made and have no need to go anywhere, no need to reach out, no need to walk a mile in others’ shoes. Jesus gets even more insulting and says that the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom before them. Those were folks who didn’t have a well-respected job to hide behind. They had to take their light and their love of God out with them into whatever kind of stigmatized jobs they could get.

How is your light today? Lately I’ve been taking my light into a place that is difficult for me in my daily life. I’ve been going to the hospital as part of my chaplain training and I find hospitals a really difficult place to be, full as they are of solitary suffering, family drama, and unfair life outcomes. As a person I tend to be shy, I’m private with my feelings and I hate being sick, so now my job is to talk to strangers about how they feel about their illness! In these situations I find my flashlight to both be essential, and to flicker. The other day a patient was praying for God to be her headlights, to show her just as much of the path ahead as she needed to see, but no more because she could not bear the thought of her possible death. As a chaplain I have the opportunity to help people see the light of God’s love for them. It’s like what Maurine Huang’s friend, a Yaqui artist named Stan Padilla, said at our Interfaith Council event here at Parkview this week. Spirituality is pointing out “the extraordinary in the ordinary.” I don’t get to be a chaplain just by wearing the chaplain services badge. I am a chaplain to the extent to which I bring my light into dark places to join with the light of others. Just like I am not a Christian by bearing the extraordinary name of Christ, but when I try to live like Christ in all the ordinary circumstances of my life. Do you know any non-Christians who act Christian? Who somehow manage to be trusting, hopeful, kind, inclusive, welcoming, forgiving and willing to share, regardless of whatever they say about what they believe? I know a lot of people like that. I find it easy to wear the extraordinary title of Christian and harder to act like one. Just like we’ve learned you can wear the title of President and not act like one.

So what are we up to at church? Who is God calling us to be in this place, in late 2017? I don’t know. That’s for all of you to express and to do. I suspect based on past visioning you have done that I have read about, and the fact that you hired a multicultural resident, that the call from God you’re hearing has something to do with outreach, diversity, and inclusion: a kaleidoscope of multi-colored light. I am excited to be part of living into the specifics with you. One thing that’s obvious to me is that we come to church to recharge the flashlights that we will carry back out with us into our weeks. But that’s not all, for as we have seen, even non-Christians have found ways to keep their flashlights charged. No, the significant thing is that together as church we bring a lot of light together into one place. With all these flashlights put together we make a bright light, even a burning light, but one that warms and purifies, not one that harms. You know how it looks to drive by a high school at night and you know there’s a football game going on, because the field is lit up with blazing lights? I picture Parkview church just like that. Can our neighbors see our light?

It’s been a pleasure preaching to you, but preaching and being your pastoral resident doesn’t make me a minister. Ministry is what we do together as a church, and what each of us does all week long, out there in our big uncomfortable world. It’s a pleasure bearing light with you and among you. Let’s see what God will do with us. Amen.

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Reflection October 8, 2017

Published on December 16, 2017 by in Reflections

Philippians 3:8-9 and John 15:1-2, 4-6                                   by Chelsea Page

“I am the vine, you are the branches. We are one.” Dear Jesus, you really want us to hear this. But it’s hard to feel what it means to be one. Thank you for being the kind of person who can look at your church, flawed as we are, and see something united with you. Help us to be that kind of person too who knows how to see the good, and see ourselves like you see us. Amen.

In our gospel story today, Jesus provides his disciples with a comforting, reassuring image. His disciples would have known the image of the grapevine because it’s used a lot in Jewish scripture to talk about how God lovingly tends the people Israel like a gardener.

But then he starts talking about pruning, branches getting cut off and thrown into the fire. That’s a little less comforting. Jesus’s disciples like us in Northern California lived in a region that grew grapes, so they knew what Jesus meant when he talked about pruning. Have you noticed when you drive through Northern California the way the vines go dormant every year? They are pruned over the winter and grow back in the spring. We trust that they will grow back, even when they look dead.

But do we trust that we will grow back, when life has pruned us down?

When have you felt pruned or cut back? Sometimes the pruned feeling is discouragement or fear. There’s been a lot of pain in our nation lately. When I read the news, I always fear that one difficulty happening in one place is a sign that something is wrong more systemically, and that it could happen here. But that pruned feeling I get, the pain and discouragement you may feel when reading the news, happens not because we’re powerless and disconnected, but precisely because we are connected. Love is the nervous system of the universe. We are a vine and connected to each other, meaning we feel one another’s pain and fear.

Sometimes the pruned feeling is disappointment or loss; not bearing fruit, and having to let go. Paul said about his own experience of being pruned, of having to let go of the status he had as a high-status Jew and Roman citizen, in order to become a Christian. To the Philippians he wrote, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” (Philippians 3:4-7) Going through a dramatic change of identity can feel like pruning or like being stuck in a dormant season, waiting for new life.

Jesus says “remain in me” or “abide in me” in this gospel passage. Jesus claims against any possible contradicting evidence that we are one with him. Are there any ways this oneness with Christ can help us get through our inevitable human feelings of discouragement and disappointment?

Why do vine-growers prune their plants? So that they will bear more fruit next year. How do you feel about the command to bear fruit, or the idea that our efforts can be judged by the fruit they bear? I personally have a really hard time with not bearing fruit. I am genetically prone to depression and there are times when it’s biochemically impossible for my brain to focus on the good. So when I’m stucking focusing on the lack of fruit in my life, the lack of beauty in myself, the difficulty I have in growing and being better, I do get to feeling like a branch that’s good for nothing but to be cut off and cast into the fire. I start checking out all the other branches around me in an envious or resentful way. Are they bearing more fruit than I am? If yes, then I deserve to be pruned down. If not, then maybe they ought to be cut a little down to size. It’s a no-win situation.

But that’s NOT the point Jesus is trying to make. What Jesus really wanted us to understand is that as a vine, we are sourced and rooted in Him. I really don’t believe that the point of our Christian life is the performance of one single branch, how well I as an isolated branch can love or not love. The point is what we all are together as a vine, that we are a community rooted in love.

I’ve even found that when I am in pain, I don’t actually need to will myself to love more or bear more fruit, because I have people around me to remind me that I belong, to love me until I’m able to love again. Until I grow back. I hope I can do this for others, too. Not when the other person’s goodness is totally evident; that’s not when it’s needed. When it’s needed is when our relationships have gone dormant and there’s no fruit anywhere and the weather’s gone cold, and we just have to believe in each other and remind each other of our goodness and belonging.

I think it can help if we take the idea of bearing fruit not as a standard, but as an invitation. Jesus invited us to stay rooted in him. This means we can remember that no matter what fruit we are showing, our goodness comes from our connection to Christ. This is what Paul was referring to when he said to the Philippians, “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”

This righteousness is an invitation to goodness, not a standard of goodness to measure up to. Remember, you are not the whole vine, you are a branch. You will go dormant and get pruned, but Christ, on the other hand, is the ever-living vine. At the same time, you are not just any old branch; you are a branch of the true vine—the vine of Christ who is rooted deeply in God’s love. So when you find yourself going through pruning season, may you trust that you will indeed grow back, if not through your own power, then through the power of the One you belong to. Amen.

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