Saturday, May 26, 2012

Responding When the Spirit Comes, Mountain View United, 5/27/2012 by Rev Steven Mitchell

Responding When the Spirit Comes By Rev Steven R Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 5/27/2012 Based on Acts 2:1-21 It is often said, “The only constant in life is change.” In the book “Future Shock” the author, Alvin Toffler explored the topic of “how much change can the human psyche handle before it has a meltdown? The Twentieth Century experienced radical shifts in social structure, dramatic shifts in global power. As we moved from industrialization into the “space age” we have seen radical change in the way we communicate with others. Times are not just changing, they are radically changing! Our lesson from Acts this morning is a story of radical change. Sometimes referred to as the beginning of the Christian Church, it is both the conclusion to and beginning of the next phase of God’s restoration of humanity. The conclusion is of the story about one man’s life, who was known as Jesus the Nazarene. Those who had become inspired by Jesus’ words and actions, now find themselves left alone, as Jesus dies and ascends into heaven. Yet Jesus had promised the disciples that they would not be left alone and in this story we see the coming of the Holy Spirit, the one that Jesus said was the comforter and guide. It is in the descent of the Holy Spirit that radical change is seen and through this change the disciples find the strength to start sharing the message that the “Kingdom of God” truly is alive in this world. It is no longer a concept of something to strive toward, but is a reality to live in. Modern Christianity has come to refer to Pentecost Sunday as an original title, meaning, on the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples it became known as Pentecost. In reality, the descending of the Holy Spirit came during the Jewish festival of Pentecost also known as Shavuot or Harvest festival or festival of weeks. This festival was the celebration of the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, which came fifty days after the exile. In Luke’s narration, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples came fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. You can look at these two events and say that the author was manipulating events, but I think it was a way of emphasizing the reality that God was once again doing something very dramatic in the world. Leading church historian, Diana Butler Bass in her latest book, “Christianity After Religion” proposes some startling similarities to where Christianity is at today and the story of Pentecost. We can say the word “Pentecost” in and of itself refers to, “a beginning period of great awakening at a spiritual level.” We have experienced this within the Christian Church periodically, the “Reformation” being one example. Historians of American religion generally recognize three significant awakenings in the United States and Canada: the First Great Awakening, 1730-60; the Second Great Awakening, 1800-1830; and the Third Great Awakening, 1890-1920. During each period, old patterns of religious life gave way to new ones and, eventually, spawned new forms of organizations and institutions that interwove with social, economic, and political change and revitalized national life. Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass, pg 29 The First Great Awakening marked the end of European styles of church organization and created an experiential, democratic, pan-Protestant community of faith called evangelicalism. The Second great Awakening ended Calvinist theological dominance and initiated new understandings of free will that resulted in a voluntary system for church membership and benevolent work. And the Third Great Awakening had two distinctive manifestations; the social gospel movement, with its progressive politics, and the Pentecostal movement, with an emphasis on miraculous transformation. Pg 29, Christianity After Religion I shared with those who met this past Tuesday at the Sacred Grounds study, my belief that we are in the midst of a new Awakening. One that isn’t just happening within North America but is happening worldwide, starting in the 1960’s, and in this country referred to as, “the Jesus movement.” Interestingly, it was stifled in the 1970-80’s with the reactionary rise of fundamentalism. So how do we recognize this new Awakening? It can be seen in the collapse of many of our traditional institutions ranging from fraternal organizations, to the lack of trust in our financial and governing bodies, and in the demise of “organized religion.” In a 2004 survey, the Barna organization found that young adults who are outside of church hold intensely negative views of Christianity: 91% think the Christianity is “antihomosexual, 87% say Christianity is judgmental, 85% accuse churchgoers of being hypocritical, and 72% say Christianity is out of touch with reality. Only 41% think that Christianity seems genuine or real or makes sense, while only 30% think that it is relevant to your life. Pg 86 Christianity After Religion How often do you hear someone say, “I’m spiritual, not religious?” Millions throughout the world are on a “spiritual” quest. If we compare a 1999 Gallup poll asking Americans whether they understood themselves to be spiritual or religious to a 2009 poll asking the same question, we see a dramatic shift in several categories: 30% Spiritual only was consistent over the decade, Religious fell from 54% down to 9%, Both Spiritual and Religious increased from 6% to 48%, and a stable 9% as Neither spiritual nor religious. Pg 92 Christianity After Religion What do we mean when we use the words Religious and Spiritual? Religious is a European definition which has come to mean a system of ideas or beliefs about God. In modern times, religion became indistinguishable from systematizing ideas about God, religious institutions, and human beings; it categorized, organized, objectified and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, us versus them. The root word of Religion is Religio which means faith – living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature. Pg 97 Christianity After Religion The word Religio is actually more in tune with our modern understanding to Spiritual. This then explains the major shift in just a decade to the majority considering themselves both Spiritual and religious. These people are using the institution (their denominational affiliation) as a part of their Spirituality. Our story in Acts ends with Peter saying, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The word salvation has come to mean “eternal life” in most religious circles, but the root word for salvation is salvus, meaning “whole,” “sound”, “healed,” “safe,” “well,” or “unharmed”. The spirituality that is found in the word salvation then brings us into well-being or an authentic sense of personhood, an asking of “who am I” in relationship to the “I am” who addressed Moses in the form of the burning bush. Pg 183 of Christianity After Religion The significance in this Pentecostal story isn’t in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, or that they were able to speak in a language that those who were in hearing distance could understand, although all this was definitely important. To me the significance comes in the act that Peter ceased the moment to tell onlookers what was going on. He didn’t just stand by, bathing in the moment, but rather shared with those who were observing, about God’s love for all people. What is happening within this story is the shift from God being found in the temple, to God acting outside the confines of four walls. The temple has now become established inside human bodies, being connected together through the Holy Spirit. It started with the story of God dwelling within the man called Jesus, and now has moved into all humanity through the person we identify as the Holy Spirit. Mountain View is in essence a story of Pentecost. We were formed as a radically new idea! Dare I say during the Jesus movement of the 1960’s! We are the recipients of a radical belief that as Christians of differing religious backgrounds, we can use the gifts, talents, and the wisdom that three differing denominations can provide to reach out as Peter did and begin a new conversation asking the starting question of “Who am I in God?” Truly we are a group of people who were planted with the understanding of “religio.” We are a people of longing to bind ourselves to God and others that enfold rituals and theologies with experience and wonder! A spirituality that enlivens the heart, opens the soul to others, and to creation. The world is in the early stages of a New Awakening. Mountain View is a child that was birthed in this New Awakening. The awakening going on around us is not an evangelical revival, it is not returning to the faith of our fathers or re-creating our grandparents, church. Instead, it is a Great Returning to ancient understandings of the human quest for the divine, reclaiming a faith where belief is not quite the same thing as an answer, where behavior is not following a list of do’s and don’ts, and where belonging to Christian community is less like joining an exclusive club and more of a relationship with God and others. A religio and experience of the salvus. I challenge you on this Pentecost Sunday to once again ask the question, “Who are you in God?” It is the beginning question on the journey of spirituality. Amen

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What's In a Prayer? Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 5/20/2012

What’s In a Prayer? By Rev Steven R Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 5/20/2012 Based on John 17:6-19 and 1 John 5:9-13 As my first child was learning to speak, her mother and I started teaching her some very simple prayers that we would say at meal time as well as at bedtime. Prayers such as, “God is good, God is great, let us thank him for this food we eat”, or “As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” Surprisingly, my mother-in-law was disturbed that we would be teaching her grandchild prayers by rote. As I inquired as to why this was not appropriate, I was informed that “prayer” was supposed to be spontaneous and from the heart. I had to agree, that prayer should be of the heart. I also felt that my child would benefit with specific prayers that were prayed for specific purposes: to create ritual and consistency, to understand that there was someone greater beyond her family or herself, and would have a foundation for augmenting prayers to fit her needs as she grew older, making them more personalized. There are many reasons why we feel the need to pray. In the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd…” gives us that security that God is walking along side of us, although we tend to use this prayer most often when we are experiencing periods of great strife and mega shifts in our lives, it is also a prayer that gives us comfort, strength, and insight during times of meditation. The Disciples of Jesus came to him one day and asked to be taught a prayer, just as John the Baptizer had taught a prayer to his disciples. The beginning instruction of this prayer is, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hollowed is your name…” On Easter Day 2007, it was estimated that two billion Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Christians read, recited, or sang this short prayer in hundreds of languages.[7] Although theological differences and various modes of worship divide Christians, according to Fuller Seminary professor Clayton Schmit, "there is a sense of solidarity in knowing that Christians around the globe are praying together..., and these words always unite us." Wikipedia Is anyone able to say that this prayer taught and said by rote, does not inspire the heart? If not, then why do so many people of faith say this prayer? In today’s Gospel reading, we have another prayer being shared, this time by Jesus petitioning for those who believe in him. We hear Jesus asking God to protect those who believe in him from the evil that dwells in the world. “15 I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one.” “17 Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth.” The writer of 1 John picks up this point by saying, “10 The one who believes in God’s Son has the testimony within;” “11 And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5: 10-11 And what is this truth? The truth is this: love is from God, because God is love. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son…. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. 1 John 4:9, 10, & 18 This prayer takes place shortly after Jesus has shared with his disciples that once they arrive in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, he would be arrested and killed. Jesus was sharing these things because he didn’t wish his disciples to be blindsided by what was going to happen. This foretelling by Jesus comes on the heels of the disciples and the seventy being sent out to the surrounding countryside to preach in Jesus’ place and returning in triumph of how they had done such wondrous acts in God’s name. The “good times” were about to end. Life for those who had been following Jesus was about to be turned upside down. The Gospel of John was written to those believers who had lost their place of worship, with the destruction of the synagogue and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and were being threatened by the Roman Empire, having to navigate in a world that was built by violence and evil. So from a prayer by Jesus for his disciples as they face the future death of their leader, Jesus was again speaking to those who follow his teachings as they face the cruelty and uncertainty that comes through Roman domination. As Rev Kathy Huey writes, “Don’t worry, Jesus tells them, turning to God in prayer, asking that they will be protected, entrusting them, and all who would follow, into God’s care. Jesus asks that they will be one that they will be made holy. More than that: that they will experience joy. In some mysterious way, perhaps all of that is what it means to abide: to trust, to love, to be one, to be holy, to know joy. And this is also what it sounds like when Jesus prays for us.” UCC Lectionary Study, May 20, 2012 by Kathy Huey At some point in our lives, all of us experience the crashing down of our world around us. Whether it comes through broken relationships, financial crisis, lose of health, the death of a significant individual in our lives, or through a faith crisis, we all walk through that valley of shadows, where we experience fear, uncertainty, and aloneness. It is through this prayer that Jesus has prayed for his disciples, this prayer that has been prayed for those who believe and trust in his “truth”, this prayer that was prayed for us, that gives us strength while we walk through our dark times and know that God is protecting us. It is through these experiences, that our knowledge of God is fortified and becomes our “testimony” about God’s unending love at work for us. The Rev Bonnie Miller-McLemore, professor of Pastoral Theology at Vanderbilt University of Divinity in Nashville, TN shares this observation about differing practices of “testimony” within faith communities. “After visiting a church with more orthodox beliefs, a youth in my own congregation observed, ‘they didn’t just say, ‘We believe.’ They said, ‘We know!’” Other youths felt uncomfortable with the certainty of those in a more evangelical and proselytizing tradition than their own. Many Congregations do not practice testimony, at least not self-consciously, in part for fear of inappropriately imposing beliefs on others. [I understand this.] Other communities keep it at the heart of their practice. [I understand this as well.] Lest we immediately assume that testimony involves the community only in Spirit-filled truth telling through word and song, some testimony moves beyond words and appears in concrete acts of compassion. Rev Miller-McLemore goes on to say, “I received a letter from a good friend asking for a contribution but she also testified: ‘I reached a point where I just couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand what was happening to so many children, women, and men…in large part because they were unlucky to be born poor.’ She is working to build a health clinic in a poverty-stricken town. This also testifies to faith in the promise of life – life given eternally through God in Christ’s love alive in the world.” Jesus’ prayer for protection of those who love God lives on generation from generation, in the stories, in the “testimonies” of his followers, in the testimonies and actions of you and me, as we walk in the path of God’s love. It is important that we share our stories with one another, whether through words or through our actions because that is what gives hope to a world that is constantly being brutalized by power, greed, and self-interest; a world willing to do harm to anyone that stands in it’s way. It is ‘truth’ that we are called to proclaim! And that truth is: God is love and love gives life. “What’s in a prayer?” We will find in prayer: hope, comfort, joy, solidarity. We find strength through ‘prayer’. It is through prayer we are able to “abide”, to trust, to love, to be one, to be holy, to know joy, and to testify the truth of God! Amen

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rooted In Love, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 5/6/2012

Rooted In Love By Rev Steven R Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 5/06/2012 Based on John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4:7-21 “10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us…(V) 11 Dear friends,(X) since God so loved us,(Y) we also ought to love one another.” 1 john 4. This past week, I received an article on Facebook that I found quite disturbing. The first paragraph of the article reads: A virulently homophobic and anti-gay preacher on Sunday derided parents who don’t “squash like a cockroach” the gay out of their children. Pastor Sean Harris told parents they are “authorized,” and that he was “giving them a special dispensation” to attack their children. “Give them a good punch,” and “crack that wrist,” Harris told parents, if their four-year old boy, for example, “starts acting a little ‘girlish’.” Pastor Harris added that parents should tell their four-year olds to “man up, son, get that dress off you get outside and dig a ditch because that’s what boys do.” By David Badash, May 1, 2012, The New Civil Rights Movement In light of what 1 John is writing about “love”, I have to call “bull pucky” on Pastor Harris and anyone else who promotes this type of behavior. It matters not whether you are in agreement or disagreement with a person’s sexual orientation, or their politics, or religious affiliation as for examples, liberal or conservative, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or nationality or the type of fashion one chooses to wear, no one has the right or privilege to promote violence and hate. When those who feel like they have the responsibility to do so and also call themselves Christian, then they have violated not only the commandment that Jesus gave, “love one another as you love yourself…” but they most seriously misrepresent God! Yet many pulpits would condone such rhetoric. After the initial shock of the 9/11 attacks by terrorists on our shores, many pulpits started hate campaigns against peoples whose religion is Muslim. Anyone who wore a cap or a scarf on their head, if their skin color wasn’t white, became the objects of this same type of hate that Pastor Harris preached this past Sunday. From many pulpits, we were being told this type of violence against us was punishment from God for practicing acceptance of our children who were gay. I have titled today’s reflection, “Rooted In Love”. The two lection readings for today, speak about what “Love” produces and what happens in the absence of “love”. Continuing on in 1 John 4, verse we read: 12 No one has ever seen God;(AA) but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.(AB) So, what are some of the attributes of “love”, so that we might have some sense of whether our actions and our thoughts are in line with how scripture teaches about “abiding” in Jesus and thereby “abiding” in God? The word “discipline” often is misunderstood. Some of us were raised with the teaching by our parents that “if you spare the rod, you spoil the child.” So, spanking your child was condoned as an appropriate way of administering discipline. Maybe that’s what Pastor Harris is referring too. In the 1950’s, a new approach was introduced by the physician Dr Spock, challenging the former idea of discipline, and whether or not accurately interpreted, millions of families began to think of discipline as a negative tool in their children’s up bringing. Many parents stopped not only spanking their children but hesitated in setting boundaries in fear of “damaging” their children for life. In the Gospel of John we read starting of chapter 15: “I am(A) the true vine,(B) and God is the gardener. 2 The gardener cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,(C) while every branch that does bear fruit(D) the gardener prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.” I do apologize for “text proofing” but when I see the concept of being a vine and of producing fruit, and this vine because it is producing fruit gets pruned, I cannot help but relate it to the concept of Discipline. The idea of discipline is to develop a foundation of habits, skills and/or principles that will enable one to navigate through life experiences with desired out comes. This is a broad set of skills, such as language, mathematics, science, psychology, philosophy, manors. Most anything that we learn can loosely be labeled under the idea of discipline. The unfortunate thing is that somewhere we have understood discipline only in the negative and forget the positive aspects. Pruning is another way of presenting the understanding of discipline. Discipline is an act of love. There are people who think that it is okay to break a child’s arm as a form of discipline, as a way of trying to make a child be someone other than who they are, whereas we can read in both sets of today’s scripture that the act of pruning is done in order that more fruit may be produced. It is not done to change, but done to enhance. Parents are not alone in having preconceived ideas as to what is right and wrong for their children, the church also has preconceived standards of right and wrong, not only for it’s members but for the rest of the world as well, and because of these preconceived ideas, feels that it has the right and obligation to try and alter everybody’s behavior. As Christians, it is not our job to decide how a person is or is not to be. Our job is to do the activities that nurture others into becoming who they are meant to be. A dad wants his boy to be a quarterback in pro football, the son however dreams of becoming a concert pianist. The father who loves his son will put aside his dream , and will do whatever is necessary to help his son develop into that concert pianist, so that through the son, many others will receive the gift that the young man can provide through music. Somewhere in Christian philosophy, we have altered the message of God’s love toward humanity. In the story of the prodigal son, we see God’s love acted out in a father running out to greet and welcome the son who had left home. Most of us however, too often act more like the son who never left home, refusing to rejoice and understanding the concepts of God’s grace. In Rob Bells book, “Love Wins”, Bell states: Grace and generosity aren’t fair; that’s their very essence. The father sees the younger son’s return as one more occasion to practice unfairness. The younger son doesn’t deserve a party – that’s the point of the party. That’s how things work in the father’s world. Profound unfairness. Pg 168, Love Wins So just possibly, the fruit that we as the vine are supposed to produce is “unfairness.” The most profound understanding that anyone of us can have about love comes in the realization that “God first loved us” – Period! God’s love for us isn’t because we love God, but rather our love for God comes because of God’s love for us! And how do we know if we truly practice the love which God shares? By practicing “unfairness” toward others. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Let us live not in fear but in love! Amen