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Reflection January 29

Published on February 9, 2017 by in Reflections

Micah 6: 8; Mark 5:6,7,8

Do you feel lucky….or blessed

This week we are remembering Mary Tyler Moore.  I think it would be hard to find anyone who disliked her.  First there was the likeable, quirky and sometimes silly Laura in the Dick Van Dyke show.  Then the more mature single woman who was building a career in broadcasting.  I would imagine many American women would have wanted to be her in roughly first half of her life, a kind of icon of American womanhood in the sixties and seventies, and the rest wanted to date her.  I mentioned the first half of her life, because she suffered a lot in the second.  Even though she grew up with an alcoholic mother, we would consider that young Mary because of her looks and the opportunities that came to her was lucky, in her career at least. Sometimes it’s timing. Would Mary Tyler Moore have succeeded had she been born fifty years later?  Would she have had the right voice? Sure she had talent, but success also comes with a lot of luck.   Look at any person who made it big in entertainment or sports or politics, there has to be an element of luck.  When I still played tennis, a tennis partner of mine once said that in sports you make your own luck.  But do we think that’s true. Sure you can set yourself up for luck, like the bridesmaid who stands just in the right place for the bride’s garter, but can you make it?  But, friends,  luck is so deep in the human psyche. The idea of making our luck.  It’s kind of magical thinking and it can easily lead to obsessive compulsive behavior.  But there are lucky numbers and lucky shoes and lucky whatever else…

Roughly a billion and a half people celebrate Lunar New Year again this weekend.  Envelopes of lucky money are being passed around.  We sent some off to our kids already, small red envelopes with crisp new bills. Family members are on their best behavior. Great movements of people are taking place.  The stage has to be set for the New Year.  Luck is an important concept, luck and how to guarantee it.  We all have a little bit of that lucky thinking in us, but also very few of us would bank on the lucky numbers and behaviors paying off for us. We really fall back on them to lessen our anxiety.

This made me think about the difference between luck and blessing.  “Blessed are the ones who…,”Jesus preaches. Mary Tyler Moore, who was lucky in her career, taught us something about being blessed also.  She challenged the idea that single women without a man couldn’t be happy and fulfilled.  Society didn’t believe that kind of woman was blessed then.   Society has a lot of those assumptions. Linda Schiphorst McCoy (sermon notes)writes: “Happy are those who have lots of money and can go anywhere, do anything, have anything they want. Happy are those who are successful and well acclaimed in their businesses or professions. Happy are those who are healthy, or those who have good marriages, or who have perfect children. “Happiness is, in John Powell’s words, an inside job.” If we stop to think about it, we are all smart enough to know that happiness does not come as a result of money or material possessions or from any external source. Sometimes we let ourselves believe that having all the outward looks of happiness actually means we’re happy. However, being blessed doesn’t have anything to do with external circumstances. The point Jesus is trying to make is that being blessed is not found where the conventional wisdom of the world would have us believe. In essence, Jesus turns things upside down, and offers the reverse of what we might expect. The feeling of being blessed can be experienced in some unlikely places, and is a byproduct of our manner of living and our attitudes toward life.  Part of the assumption here is that God wants us to be happy. That’s God’s intent for our lives. Jesus knew that unhappy people tend to be self-focused, and look on the gloomy side of things. People who feel blessed, on the other hand, have different characteristics, and tend to be more energetic, decisive, flexible, and creative. They tolerate more frustration, are more forgiving, and tend to be more willing to help those in need.”

In the end, friends, luck is a tenuous thing, and may be dependent on a lot of factors.  In the end luck we cannot control.  If we could, we wouldn’t be able to call it luck anymore.  Being blessed is totally different.  Feeling blessed is not dependent so much on what happens to us. Luck is.  Being blessed is an inside job.  It is about acknowledging God’s grace in our lives.  That is why those who suffer can be blessed, not just because what will happen to them in the future, but because they have discovered an inner light.  We have all met some amazing people I am sure who have shown us that you can feel blessed even though their lives appear to be so miserable. May God make us see our blessings.

 
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Reflection January 22

Published on February 9, 2017 by in Reflections

Jonah 3:15,20; Mark 1:14-20

Leadership is very much on our minds these days.  Leadership is an important ideal in American society.  Following is not an activity that has a positive connotation.  Everything is about being a leader. Go to any bookstore and you will find a big section on following.  There are plenty of books with ten to twelve points or principles for leadership.  Often these methods are not more than an inch deep.  I think it’s a pretty good guess that you will find no books on following.  A funny cartoon shows a pack of scraggly dogs following the head of the pack in a single file.  Says one dog in the middle of the pack to another:”unless you’re the lead dog, the view is always the same. “ I’m sure you can get the picture of what the dogs who are not the leader see.

Friends, we often confuse ourselves with contradictory statements that we embrace with equal enthusiasm.   We value leadership, but we also value team players, meaning people who not feel they have to be out front all the time.  We expect both at the same time.  Again, I don’t think there are books that tell you how to be both.  Dear friends, how can we a follower and still keep our head high?  In our text in Mark, Jesus calls his disciples to follow. The text does not go into detail.  We wonder: did these fishermen really drop their work like that? What happened to their boats? What happened to their family’s livelihood?  That Jesus had enormous charisma and radiated personal power is beyond question.  The Gospels are full of people being awe struck by Him.  You and I, however, do not have the benefit of a personal face-face to encounter with Jesus. So how do we follow Him?  Perhaps we can learn from the experience of Jonah?  Jonah is a minor prophet, so minor in fact that is difficult to place him historically.  But Jonah’s story is without a doubt one of the greatest stories in the Bible.  He refuses to follow God, boarding a boat instead of heading to Nineveh.  He goes west instead of east.  Jonah doesn’t care about the job, doesn’t care about the people he’s supposed to rebuke.  Jonah’s not into following. As a result he winds up in a pickle, or rather a whale after having been thrown overboard.  As hard as he wants to escape his task, he winds up in Nineveh.  So in our Gospel text we have eager followers while in the book of Jonah we are introduced to the most reluctant of followers.  So, friends, where do we fit in?  Are we eager followers or reluctant followers of our God?  That we not be a question we often ask ourselves.  Earlier we saw the five characteristics of good followers: imagining being a leader/ recognizing that leadership is an important and difficult task, sharing a commitment to a larger purpose rooted in mission, cultivating relationship and trust, practicing the art of learning and giving good feedback, and keeping boundaries.  It gives us clues on how the be active rather than passive followers.  In a way to be an active follower is the happy medium between being a leader and follower.  Did you notice how in literature and tv there are many great active followers like Watson to Sherlock Holmes and Tonto to the Lone Ranger?  These are followers who do what needs to be done to improve the situation.  They do not just wait for orders.  I have always been impressed by the way Parkview family members step up when we special events.  You are active followers. You never have to be told what to do. You pay attention to what needs to be done next, which person is trying to pack away left over food or store a table on his or her own.  Active following is in intentional and attentional following.  The Presbyterian Church is set up for people to be active followers, because the congregations are led by representative known as “ruling elders.” The pastor is officially a “teaching elder.”  That creates a culture of participation in our denomination. This may answer the question of how we can be followers in this congregation.  This is both a practical and a spiritual question.  It involves the conscious decisions of “being ready” and “letting go.”  The Disciples did this and Jonah didn’t.  Being ready means that we are ready to pay attention to the nudging of God’s Holy Spirit and the subtle opening and closing of doors in our lives.  Letting go means not clutching to everything so tightly in our lives and insisting on always having our ducks lined up.  You see, our culture encourages us to be control freaks. Did you ever notice how many sitcoms have a control freak and a lovable disorganized person play off each other, going back at least as far as the Odd Couple?  I can tell you that whenever I think I have everything lined up nicely, something happens to mess it up. Usually I will do something thoughtless or embarrassing.  It keeps me humble and makes me more conscious of the power of God’s grace. That grace runs like a current through our lives. We can ignore at our peril, as in the Jonah story or follow it as the new disciples did by the lake. When we truly actively follow God is it never because of force or coercion, it is because of our being ready and our letting go. May God help us.

 
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Reflection January 15

Published on February 9, 2017 by in Reflections

Jonah 3:15,20; Mark 1:14-20

Leadership is very much on our minds these days.  Leadership is an important ideal in American society.  Following is not an activity that has a positive connotation.  Everything is about being a leader. Go to any bookstore and you will find a big section on following.  There are plenty of books with ten to twelve points or principles for leadership.  Often these methods are not more than an inch deep.  I think it’s a pretty good guess that you will find no books on following.  A funny cartoon shows a pack of scraggly dogs following the head of the pack in a single file.  Says one dog in the middle of the pack to another:”unless you’re the lead dog, the view is always the same. “ I’m sure you can get the picture of what the dogs who are not the leader see.

Friends, we often confuse ourselves with contradictory statements that we embrace with equal enthusiasm.   We value leadership, but we also value team players, meaning people who not feel they have to be out front all the time.  We expect both at the same time.  Again, I don’t think there are books that tell you how to be both.  Dear friends, how can we a follower and still keep our head high?  In our text in Mark, Jesus calls his disciples to follow. The text does not go into detail.  We wonder: did these fishermen really drop their work like that? What happened to their boats? What happened to their family’s livelihood?  That Jesus had enormous charisma and radiated personal power is beyond question.  The Gospels are full of people being awe struck by Him.  You and I, however, do not have the benefit of a personal face-face to encounter with Jesus. So how do we follow Him?  Perhaps we can learn from the experience of Jonah?  Jonah is a minor prophet, so minor in fact that is difficult to place him historically.  But Jonah’s story is without a doubt one of the greatest stories in the Bible.  He refuses to follow God, boarding a boat instead of heading to Nineveh.  He goes west instead of east.  Jonah doesn’t care about the job, doesn’t care about the people he’s supposed to rebuke.  Jonah’s not into following. As a result he winds up in a pickle, or rather a whale after having been thrown overboard.  As hard as he wants to escape his task, he winds up in Nineveh.  So in our Gospel text we have eager followers while in the book of Jonah we are introduced to the most reluctant of followers.  So, friends, where do we fit in?  Are we eager followers or reluctant followers of our God?  That we not be a question we often ask ourselves.  Earlier we saw the five characteristics of good followers: imagining being a leader/ recognizing that leadership is an important and difficult task, sharing a commitment to a larger purpose rooted in mission, cultivating relationship and trust, practicing the art of learning and giving good feedback, and keeping boundaries.  It gives us clues on how the be active rather than passive followers.  In a way to be an active follower is the happy medium between being a leader and follower.  Did you notice how in literature and tv there are many great active followers like Watson to Sherlock Holmes and Tonto to the Lone Ranger?  These are followers who do what needs to be done to improve the situation.  They do not just wait for orders.  I have always been impressed by the way Parkview family members step up when we special events.  You are active followers. You never have to be told what to do. You pay attention to what needs to be done next, which person is trying to pack away left over food or store a table on his or her own.  Active following is in intentional and attentional following.  The Presbyterian Church is set up for people to be active followers, because the congregations are led by representative known as “ruling elders.” The pastor is officially a “teaching elder.”  That creates a culture of participation in our denomination. This may answer the question of how we can be followers in this congregation.  This is both a practical and a spiritual question.  It involves the conscious decisions of “being ready” and “letting go.”  The Disciples did this and Jonah didn’t.  Being ready means that we are ready to pay attention to the nudging of God’s Holy Spirit and the subtle opening and closing of doors in our lives.  Letting go means not clutching to everything so tightly in our lives and insisting on always having our ducks lined up.  You see, our culture encourages us to be control freaks. Did you ever notice how many sitcoms have a control freak and a lovable disorganized person play off each other, going back at least as far as the Odd Couple?  I can tell you that whenever I think I have everything lined up nicely, something happens to mess it up. Usually I will do something thoughtless or embarrassing.  It keeps me humble and makes me more conscious of the power of God’s grace. That grace runs like a current through our lives. We can ignore at our peril, as in the Jonah story or follow it as the new disciples did by the lake. When we truly actively follow God is it never because of force or coercion, it is because of our being ready and our letting go. May God help us.

 
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Reflection January 8

Published on February 9, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 42:1-3; Matthew 3:17; (Mark 1:7)

Living Faith and Keeping Faith

The Hippocratic oath that physicians are supposed to take, I am told, states:”First do no harm.” That may be a good way to approach the lectionary passage in Isaiah about the expected One. This expected One will bring justice, so He is supposed to have some earthly power and influence.  But on the other hand there is image of gentleness and compassion and those are the verses I want to emphasize today:”A bruised reed He will not break and a dim wick He will not extinguish.”  It is simple yet beautiful imagery.  A reed has been stepped on or has been hit by something and water isn’t going to make its way up to the top that easily anymore. One more injury and it will be done, rendered useless.  With all the problems churches have with their candles, we certainly can imagine a dim wick.  If you lose the flame you may not be able to get it going again.  Neither wick nor reed are crucial to us, but they were for people in the ancient Middle East in a time of limited building materials and no electricity.

But of course, friends, it is a metaphor.  The text speaks of maintaining and holding on to something that is at risk of being lost. It could be a land, it could be the people, it could me a memory, it could be a people’s spirit.

In an interview on Hard Talk, forensic novelist Patricia Cornwell recently shared her fears.  She said she agreed to come for the interview because she wanted to answer the hard questions. Although she is wildly successful with her novel about a woman detective and she even travels with an entourage, she is still haunted by her past as an abandoned and abused child in North Carolina.  She thought she was worthless.  But one thing she found out she was good at was that she could tell stories really well. She could tell stories, especially scary stories, so well in fact that she could make a whole bunch of boys cry on a parking lot. This empowered her.  But she says she is haunted by her past and things she has seen in the process of her crime research.  Also like many people fears what’s under her bed and in her closet late at night. I don’t know her and have never read any of her books and I am not much of a hugger, but I wished I could have hugged her.  She told me that one of the few people who really embraced her as a child was Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham.  Ruth really reached out to her. A bruised reed you shall not break and a dimly lit wick you not extinguish. Ruth got that. That’s what we should do when we are following Jesus. But there was hurt to come, because when she came out as gay and flew up to tell Ruth Graham first, Ruth just waved it off as impossible.  That was hard on Patricia.  But she understood that within everything Ruth had learned in the Southern Baptist universe in her life time, there was no room for that.  A bruised reed you shall break and a dimly lit wick you shall not extinguish.

Cornwell said something interesting. She feels that her writing is a way of healing people. I suppose this is so because the crime is solved and evil is exposed.   But she admits that she is never healed.  She says:”you can only heal yourself by healing others.”  That is beautifully said, but theologically it’s a bit problematic. I don’t if we can heal people really. We can help, but isn’t in the end God’s grace that does the healing?  And isn’t good helping ultimately empowering people?

There are two foreign movies coming out with the same actor: Isabelle Huppert. One is called

“Elle” and the other “Things to come.”  In the first she is the child of a serial killer who is a successful video game developer who suddenly has to face violence.  In the other she is a philosophy teacher who is betrayed by her husband.  Both movies, judging from the interview with her (with Charlie Rose), are about empowerment of a person who is bruised emotionally and at risk of being snuffed out.

Friends, perhaps Cornwell is right: we can only heal our bruises and our near despair when

we reach out to the ones with bruises who are dimly lit.  On the other hand maybe we can only help the bruised and the dimly lit if we too can face our bruised self and acknowledge the lack of light in us.

The verses are powerful in their simplicity.  The One Who is baptized by John and recognized by God , the One Who will save is also the One Who sees the vulnerable, walking as He were a cat on a table full of porcelain, never breaking anything that should not broken.  In our baptism we officially become part of the Messiah’s family and we commit to trying to walk, gingerly and full of attention and care, through life and among the people. May God help us to do so.

 
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Coach’s Corner

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Coach's Corner

Establishing connections

Let me start my thanking you for gifts and cards to our family over the Christmas season.  As much as they were not expected they were very much appreciated.  Once again, if you received no card from us, it is because no one did.  Sorry, this is not our strong suit.

Thank you also for all you all did during the past year to keep our church going.  People don’t realize how many volunteers and donations are needed throughout the year to keep us functioning.  In an earlier Coach’ Corner I talked about the burdens of our volunteer labor pool.  Most small churches have these challenges.  While you always come through, these many tasks limit what we can do in our outreach to the community.  This takes us back to our exploration group meetings of a few years back. Remember how one of the main visions that came out of the last meeting was to be partners in helping the less fortunate in our neighborhood and the city at large?  We have not forgotten about that.  This vision was one of the reasons to start a residency program: so residents could help us develop a network of service that the members of the Parkview family could be engaged in.

There are so many connections that make a city work. There are electricity lines and sewer lines and water lines and gas lines and telephone landlines and fiber optic cable. Some lines of connection are familiar and lasting. Others need to be updated. This is true of the church and its people. This is what Chakrita with the help of her husband Ben started doing during her last two months at Parkview: establishing new lines of connection. She visited a number of churches in our area.  She met with Family Promise, a group bringing together churches from different denominations who take turns housing a group of pre-screened homeless families for a week several times a year.  She went to Downtown Baptist Church and St. Andrew’s A.M.E., both on the east side of South Side Park.  The first is a congregation with a strict doctrine that picks up homeless to attend their church. The second serves a meal for homeless at Thanksgiving. St. John’s Lutheran has a much larger outreach for those with homes and Bethany Presbyterian has a food closet for hungry families.  There are still many churches and non-profits to visit who do their outreach in other ways.  Most of them could use our help.  Not every activity Parkview engages in has to involve everybody and be carried by the congregation.

Friends, it turns out we are not just interdependent in running our church, but we can also function interdependently with compassionate organizations beyond our walls. A web of caring can exist inside but also expand outside. May we be faithful and creative in our wider vision. May God bless our ministry.  Aart

 

 

 

 

 
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Reflection New Year’s Day January 1

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Psalm 8:3,4; Matthew 25:44,45

Reordering our perspective

The first Sunday of the year should feature a question mark, so today I have a question for you: “How does your faith in God impact your relationship with other people in the world we live in on this New Year’s Day? In other words how does our faith reorder our actions toward others in this specific time?

I vaguely remember having talked about Burt Bacharach a number of years ago, but I don’t remember when that was and what I said, so I guess I can have another go at it.  Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs tried to make sense of relationships in their time in the sixties and seventies. Bacharach’s music was unique in that it operates at the edge of the voice range much of the time. The lyrics make you look at life in a new way. That’s what art is supposed to do. Tell the truth or a truth in a new way. Bacharach and David write about our relationship to each other and to the world, but also there is a spiritual dimension.  While most popular songs sing about the heart, they may begin with a chair. “A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sittin’ there. But a chair is not a house and a house is not a home. A room is a still a room, even when there’s nothin’ there but gloom. But a room is not a house and a house is not a home When the two of us are far apart.”  The song reorders the perspective on human experience.

In the song Alfie about a working class English Casanova, they get philosophical in examining the inner life. What’s it all about Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about, when you sort it out, Alfie?  Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind? And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it is wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what will you lend on an old golden rule? As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie, I know there’s something much more. Something even non-believers can believe in.” You see the spiritual side, the golden rule? Then there is the song “what the world needs now.” It is about love, but it’s vision of the earth as a place that will always be there for us no matter how much we abuse it: “Lord we don’t need another mountain, There are mountains and hillsides Enough to climb. There are oceans and rivers enough to cross. enough to last ‘Till the end of time. Lord we don’t need another meadow. There are corn fields and wheat fields enough to grow. There are sun beams and moon beams enough to shine. Oh listen Lord if you want to know. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of, What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some but for everyone.” We live in a time when we are aware of how fragile mountains and meadows are. A thinking person would not write a song that way these days.

Friends, we talked about at different times in the history of the world, New Year’s day had a different meaning. Like a hundred year ago or eighty years ago or fifty years ago. Each generation has to decide how to live life with faith in our time and act in a certain way toward others. All of this is never easy.  It begins with the problem of understanding ourselves in our time.  In each phase of life and especially at the beginning of each year when we are more introspective, we have to deal with who we have become, one year older and accept who we have become and think of ways to be better and more effective.  Around that central point are all our relationships.  As hard as understanding ourselves is, it is even harder to understand the people we love.  We may know them very well, each trait and attitude, each of their favorite stories, but we may not understand them.  We try and we come up with new angles and perspectives. Even if we have known people for decades, there is always something new to learn.  Beyond that are the people we know but do not know well.  And beyond all that but connected to us is God.  Our relationship with God changes as the years pass.  That will not come as a surprise to you.

The book of Genesis offers a great new idea for its time:”that humans are made in the image of God.” Psalm sing a slightly different song: “What are humans that You are mindful of them.” And then it goes on to say that in spite of our lowliness humans have been place just “below the angels.”  Then at Christmas, which we celebrated last week, at the beginning of the Gospels, God becomes one of us. Finally, in today’s lectionary  at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:”whenever you help someone in need, you help me.” So God has truly become the lowliest human.  It is a total reordering of the way we look at the world, even to this today, where the powerful, the well-connected and the famous are still the ones we aspire to be.  So the narrative of the Bible challenges all that. Friends, how can we challenge ourselves on this day?

Let me end with you the translation of some lines from a Dutch poem: “One star makes the atmosphere less threatening. One candle makes the light less dark. One hand makes the road less lonely. One voice makes the day less silent. One spark can start a fire. One note starts a song. One child is the start of the future.” Thanks be to God!

 
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Reflection Christmas December 25

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Luke 1:16-19; (II Corinthians 12:9)

The power of the fragile

In a Woody Allen movie the controversial actor portrays a physically powerless man who describes a fight he was in, somehow trying to spin the story (I am adlibbing):” Well first he hit my chin with his fist and then my stomach with his other fist but then I got back at him by hitting his knee with my eye.”

Friends, you and I are hearing a lot of muscular talk these days.  And if you are paying attention it is not just in this country, but around the world.  There are lots of tough talking men who are going to make sure their country will stand up for itself.  It is all about the identity of the majority.  The last decade or so much of the world seemed to be moving more toward more diversity. Minorities, whether they be racial or religious or sexual have found the voice to express their unique identity.  But now majorities (and sometimes powerful minorities) are asserting themselves with shocking bigotry and authoritarianism.  The fights are going on in North Carolina, but also in Germany and Holland and France and Britain and Poland and Turkey.  In Russia the strong man has already won. China has never seen anything but strongmen. In Korea, corruption is fighting with democracy as it always has. After the gruesome truck attack in Germany’s capital, that country’s democracy is in grave peril. In moderate Indonesia, the Christian Chinese Governor of the capital region is now under fire by corrupt business men who are using the identity of the country’s poorly educated Muslim majority to squash positive change.  I saw a cartoon of a map of the world that showed not the name of each major country but instead: Russia first, America first, China first, Turkey first, Germany first.  What happens to the peace of the world when everyone wants to flex his muscles?

The child Jesus is born into a world where perhaps history’s greatest empire ruled the ancient world.  The child winds up born in Bethlehem because the emperor wishes to count his subjects. This weak child, illegitimate in the eyes of society with no room to be born, is the ultimate image of frailty.  All powers are threatened by Him.  It is weakness against power.

The story goes that after the Emperors of Austria died their coffin would arrive at an old monastery in Vienna and there the leader the procession would hit on the large wooden door with his staff. Inside one could hear the trembling voice of an old monk, who asked:”Who is there?” And the leader of the procession would say:”His imperial and royal, apostolic majesty, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary” and then some five hundred more of such titles or something. It would stay quiet inside. After this the leader of the procession would hit the door three more times and raffle off the same mind numbing list of titles three more times. Each time again the monk would ask:”Who is there?” Finally the procession would answer:”A poor sinner.” Only then would the doors slowly open.  It turns out that the powerful emperor-king passes out of life a poor sinner. It’s the only way to do it. All his gold and wealth do not make a difference. It’s just superficial, gold leaf, window dressing.  The only way he is going to find peace is as a poor sinner.   The emperor has no clothes. Friends, I just talked to you about the old monk in the Italian film “The Confessions.” He is a man with no possessions and no agenda but he becomes an influence in a group of the world’s most powerful economists.   Weakness becomes more powerful than power. Power collapses in on itself.

The Apostle Paul comes up with the mind bending saying:”when I am weak I am strong.”  See your program cover for that.  When a believer in Christ does not have power, she or he focuses on the grace of God.  That is the message of Christmas. Inside the fragile is hidden the love of the Creator God. This is an enormous comfort to Paul and to his fellow believers. It should be to us also.

Friends, in the commercial society we find ourselves in, we are told that we have power and control and yes there is a certain power in being a consumer.  Yet we are deeply uncomfortable with our own frailty and weakness. We try to hide it and cover up.  But deep down inside we are all insecure about our abilities and capabilities. We know the limits of our bodies and our minds and our energy.  Weakness is okay says Paul at his wisest, knowing more than most people know now.  Acknowledging your weakness opens you open to contemplating God.  The birth of the Messiah remind us that weakness can be more powerful than power, for this story has outlasted kings and emperors and other strongmen who are mostly forgotten and just poor sinners in the end. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection December 18

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 7: 14; Matthew 1: 22-24

God-with-us

Emanuel means “God with us,” “God-with-us.”  You and I we get the concept of God, although we have different opinions and visions of Who God is.  You and I also get the idea of “us,” although we may have different view of who “us” is.  There are many ‘usses’ in America these days. So two out of three of these words are understandable to us, but when you add the word “with” things get more complicated, much more complicated.  What does “God with us” really mean?  If you read the Old Testament it will become clear that the people Israel often assumed that God- with- them meant God was on their side and very much not on the side of other people.  They felt so strongly about it that they may have put words in God’s mouth indicating that their opponents would suffer a horrible fate at the hands of God.

                We are approaching NFL play-off time, so pretty soon some Christian player with bad theology is going to be thanking God in front of the camera for having his team win the game that so broke the hearts of their opponents.  I saw a cartoon recently with a football player saying something like this with a sad face:  ”I just want to thank Jesus for having us lose so terribly to the other team.”  We never hear that, do we?  Friends, what does “God-with-us” in our day and age mean?

                We have pretty good idea what God-with-us meant in the times into which Jesus was born.  Here was a people who had bounced back from slavery in Egypt, many years roaming the Sinai desert, the Assyrian and the Babylonian exiles and now they were under the cruel thumb of the Roman empire.

They were sick of their own people allowing themselves to be used by the Romans and selling out.  They were sick of the routine crucifixion of opponents of the Roman regime.  Groups of rebels were forming all around. A group of purist who saw a coming age of justice called the Essenes lived in caves near the Dead Sea where they penned documents on scrolls that tell us about the spirit of that day.  Seventy years after Jesus’ birth the Romans would destroy the temple for good and set the city of Jerusalem on fire and exacted horrible retribution for the first Jewish revolt. The people of those days read Isaiah and saw the hope of a new time.  In general God-with-them meant an actual Messiah who would lead the people to freedom and justice.  Jesus was born into that expectation, that anticipation.

                Friends, what does “God-with-us” mean in our time?  What does it mean to you when you get up in the morning and you face the task of the day?   What does it mean when the days are not so good and the burdens of life press down on you?  Does it mean that every request we throw out at God will be fulfilled? Does it mean we feel God’s presence with us?  That may be different for you here.  What does God-with-you mean when you face illness and grief?

                Three days ago white supremacist Dylann Roof was found guilty on 31 counts for the homicide of unsuspected church parishioners attending a Bible study at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. What did it mean to the victims and to their relatives when the young gunman was invited into their midst, sat down, listened to the Bible study and then opened fire. 

                A video was released last week of orphans in Aleppo, Syria.  One of them pleaded for their life and for compassion from the world community.  Imagine that onslaught by the Syrian government bombers with the help of the Russians and the Iranians and imagine that going on for years until one of the biggest cities in the region is nearly reduced to rubble?  Imagine the voices in our country preventing us from taking these orphans in out of fear they may turn into terrorists one day? What does God-with-us mean to them?  Uncomfortable thoughts aren’t they?

                Friends, in Advent we anticipate the coming of the Christ child and we celebrate the hope for a new age.  In the child God becomes human; as the doctrine says: “fully human, fully God.” From that moment Mary gives birth, all that is God becomes exposed to all that is worldly and human.  God experiences all human suffering intimately.  If God can be crucified, then God can be mortally wounded in a mass shooting or traumatized in an aircraft bombing raid.  The coming of the child called Jesus is the ultimate statement and commitment by God that says:”I am with you.” Nothing can change that.  It will not stop the fact of human suffering in our lifetime, but it is an incredible hope and comfort that God chose to become one of us. God suffers in our suffering and God loves in our love.  God’s grace is all around us, actively, subtly and powerfully at work. Thanks be to God.

 
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Coach’s Corner

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Coach's Corner

Counting our blessings,

Dear friends,

On Thanksgiving Sunday, after the service, I was the beneficiary of a wonderful surprise, a celebration of my two decades at Parkview. When I visit one of our hundred year olds, I like to quip (to the relatives) that I have been their pastor for one-fifth of their life! That’s quite a while! There was an introduction by Titus Toyama and a slide show courtesy of Judy Fukuman and many kind words by a number of you. I am truly blessed to have had such a kind congregation to serve over more than twenty years. I think you all gave me way too much credit. There are so many things that could have happened to end my tenure prematurely which never happened. We depend on God’s grace working with and through our human efforts. I always remind myself there is no guarantee that anyone will show up on any given Sunday and no guarantee that we will get enough donations any give year. In fact you have always come as well as come through.

You have supported our latest project at the church, the residency program. That too, despite our best efforts is dependent on God’s grace. Changes in affordable insurance coverage may make recruiting of residents more difficult, but we are hopeful. I am grateful for the blessing Chakrita’s presence has brought. Especially in her second period at Parkview I think in the contribution is making the congregation is starting to see the dimension residents can bring to our ministry. Rev. Gail said that she thought it was interesting Chakrita uses her IPad in leading the worship service. “yes,” I said. “That’s just one way the next generation brings its own perspective to the church.” Chakrita is making an impact on our Sunday School in particular as she is inviting interested Parkview family members to a Sunday School teacher training later this month. She has also been meeting with other churches/church organization to help us develop a ministry network.

Speaking of Gail, I am grateful for the blessings of her pastoral concern and her love for worship. We should pray for complete recovery while not taking her for granted as she has been ready to step in for many years now. She has brought in a woman’s attention for worship detail as well as stability and predictability. Imagine having a different guest speaker every time I was away.

We have been fortunate to have a parking lot to use for most of the period I was here and that has made attendance easier and fundraisers possible. We have been depending on the kindness of the old and new owners. I received encouraging news that the building on the premises will be leased to an architectural company. This may mean this will us more years of use of the parking lot. The use of that space too has been blessing, even though we also know it is fragile. We are dependent on the kindness of others. As we do not know the limits of their good will, we must be good stewards of their gift, but again we depend on God’s grace. Maybe this is good, for it keeps us from the illusion that the the future of our congregation is entirely within our control. It is not.

As we approach Christmas and a New Year full of uncertainties for our country and our planet, may we count our blessing and celebrate God’s working grace in our lives and in our world. Merry Christmas and New Year. Thank you and may God bless our ministry. Aart

 
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Reflection November 27

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 2: 1-4; Romans 13: 11-12

Happy New (Church) Year

Today we move into the brand New Year Church year and into a new three-year cycle of the church year with its lectionary readings.  So we’re into the first Sunday of the Advent season in year A, with the last Sunday in ordinary team of year C in the rear view mirror.  This is when it all begins: the anticipation and the proclamation of hope as we expect the Christ child.  The New Year in the Church comes before the New Year on our calendar.  It makes sense that the coming of the new comes first through the Church, because the renewal the Church proclaims, precedes all hope and renewal. It has done so for two thousand years and this renewal, this hope is the most consistent. It comes with the same promise every year.  We cannot say that about New Year’s day. It often comes with a sense of dread and anxiety, depending on the times.  On New Year’s day our hope comes from the confidence of people to do the right thing and of economies to improve and leaders to make the right decisions.  But we are really at the mercy of others.  The New church year comes in spite of all that happens. Consistently the music and the worship remind us that God has been with us throughout history. Isaiah speaks hopefully about swords being turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. A peaceful time will come.  In his letter to the Romans Paul talks about hope a time of light and how it important for us to clothe ourselves sin light and not in darkness.  Peacefulness and kindness are the mood of these verses.

Friends, at the same time, the work of God is not separate from history.  God’s working intersects with human history. It happens through our history, but we have to pay attention to make notice it.  The working of God’s grace is so subtle that we could reasonably deny it even exists or ever existed.

I know this is a very confusing time for our nation, but we have dwelt on this quite a bit already and I am sure it was a topic of conversation at family Thanksgiving tables. So let’s look beyond at the world at what kind of history  the world’s people are living and maybe it will tell us something new about what’s happening here at home.

Columnist Tom Friedman in his latest book “Thank you for being late” strikes an optimistic tone in spite of the problems.  He is always good at capturing the social, economic and technological tends that influence our times.  Friedman identifies what he calls “three accelerations” in our time.  One is the acceleration of climate change, the second is the acceleration of market change and third is the acceleration of technological change. These are all happening at the same time.  This is felt everywhere, for instance among the workers of the industrial Midwest.   Friedman also talks about visiting Niger in West Africa to see for himself the refugees from climate change with all the young men leaving for Europe and as they leave communicating on the wassapp application of their phone.  They are looking for work. This phenomenon shows all three accelerations: markets, technology and climate change.  These are not just changes, but they are accelerations.  We are getting more connected all the time and the movement is from nations in disarray to nations with order. Nobody can expect to survive if she or he is not constantly learning.  Lifetime learning is the key and more important lifetime learning on your own cost. Individuals and even families cannot change this. Only communities can make an impact.  Asked in an interview if he believed in hope, Friedman answered:” I believe in ‘applied hope.’” In other words he has hope if people adjust to the times when the climate will do wilder and wilder things and technology can exponentially perform and markets are constantly changing.  ‘Applied hope” is like ‘working hope.’

Well, friends, where does a small congregation like this fit in?  Well, we can ask, not what we usually ask: what will the future bring for our church, but how come we survived so far against demographic odds?  The answer is by being a community that kept reflecting and thinking about what our unique role was.  We didn’t just sit here and do the same thing over and over again and hope that things would be better and people would come. Our hope was a working hope and a reflecting hope.

In this uncertain time the question becomes: how can we as a congregation have a working hope.  How can we continue to be unique? I know this is a question I am always asking.  How can we be creatively faithful?  How can we be true to our faith but at the same time adjust to the accelerating changes.  And how can we do this by promoting the peace and the light the Bible speaks of instead of bigotry and discrimination.  So before we think of Christmas and New Year’s, let us renew our commitment to be creatively and hopefully working. Thanks be to God!

 
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