Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Problem Child, by Rev Steven R Mitchell for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12-29-2013

The Problem Baby

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/29/2013

Based on Matthew 2: 13-23


This past Friday, I was able to hang-out with my eldest daughter and her family.  She has six children ranging from 15 ½ down to 8 months old, five of them boys and one daughter.  In one of our discussions my daughter told me among the many things that she is trying to expose my grandchildren to, is an appreciation for music of the 1980’s, my daughters era of course.  I was reminded of conversations I had with my kids as to why can’t they listen to Disco, and of my mother’s conversation with me about how the Beatles were not writing music. 

        This tension between parent and child, was humorously dealt with in a song from Bye, Bye, Birdie titled, “Kids.” 

Kids! I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!  Kids!  Who can understand anything they say?  Kids!  They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs!  Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!  While we're on the subject:  Kids!  You can talk and talk till your face is blue!  Kids!  But they still just do what they want to do!  Why can't they be like we were, Perfect in every way? What's the matter with kids today?  Kids!  I've tried to raise him the best I could.  Kids!  And while we're on the subject!  Kids!  They are just impossible to control!  Kids!   With their awful clothes and their rock an' roll!  Why can't they dance like we did? What's wrong with Sammy Caine?
What's the matter with kids today!

Now can’t you just see King Herod singing this song to his religious advisers as he learns from the three wise men who study the stars and have learned that there is a new King of the Jews?  No, I don’t think Herod was worried about a generation gap.  Herod is worried about his throne.  Herod hears this news with such fear that it disturbs the whole palace. 

When you stop to think about it, the whole story about Jesus’ birth seems to be pretty disturbing, to just about everybody involved.   Staying solely with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, the first two people that we learn about is Joseph and Mary, who are engaged to be married.  The first problem arises with the news that Mary is with child and Joseph is pretty sure he isn’t the father.  Joseph loves Mary and doesn’t want her to be publicly ridiculed so he was going to call off the engagement quietly.  Then he has a dream telling him not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife, for she is going to have a son who will be called Emanuel, “God with us.”  So they get married and she delivered a baby boy by the end of first chapter.

At the very beginning of the second chapter, we are introduced to two more sets of people, the wise men of the East who have come looking for the new born Jesus and King Herod, who lives in Jerusalem just a couple of miles from Bethlehem where Jesus was born.   The wise men were looking for the New King of the Jews, for they had seen his star in the East and had come to worship him.  This was a huge surprise to Herod.  After confirming this prophesy with his own religious leaders, Herod calls in the wise men and asks one little favor of them, that they after finding the child come back and share the news with him, so he too might go and pay homage to this new king of the Jews.  Again another dream, this time to the wise men telling them to go home a differing route and avoid Herod at all costs. 

I’m not sure how many of you with children have ever thought about your newborn child as “being a problem”.  Oh sure, there are going to be those broken windows resulting from a stray pitch, or those fights with the neighborhood bully, and even those broken bones from falling out of the tree, but to be considered a problem to the point that the city sheriff, or the mayor wants to have your child killed?  What was it about this child that would attract attention of three learned men in a far off country and compel them to make the long journey to pay homage?  What is it about this child that at his birth caused the most powerful man in Israel to fear him?

        The problem with this child is that he is a threat!  If Jesus was truly the new King of the Jews as the wise men describe him to be to Herod, then this means that Herod was no longer an unchallenged ruler.  The problem of this child is that once he is a grown man, he would become a threat to the Emperor of Rome.  This baby was perceived as a threat, so much so, that Matthew tells us Herod wants him dead and is willing to kill a number of little male boys to insure it.  Again, Joseph has a dream and is told to take the child and his mother to safety in the land of Egypt.  Then another dream tells Joseph that it is safe for them to return, but to go on into Galilee and raise Jesus in Nazareth, an obscure little village a long way from the eye’s of the Herod’s.

When I look at my two youngest grandsons who are 8 months old and 2 years old and then think about this morning’s scripture, my blood runs cold.  How could anyone want to harm little ones who are so innocent?  I don’t know if this story that Matthew tells is factually accurate, but it does speak to the darker side of humanity.  A darker side that still goes on today with ruling powers who commit genocide and what they justify as ethnic cleansing. 

This story about Herod’s fear still speaks to us today.  It speaks to us at the levels of social justice.  Last month I watched the movie The Butler, which tells the story of a young black man and of his life from the 1930’s up to the election of President Obama.  At the end of the movie I was so moved that I couldn’t speak, because my throat was so constricted by emotion.  I knew going into the movie that I was going to be taken down memory lane of the civil rights movement of the 1960, what I didn’t realize was how much emotion I carry from that decade.  I think the greatest “aha” moment that I had in that movie was in watching the news reels that dealt with the violence heaped upon those civil rights marchers and activists as they marched out against the inequality found in this country.  What I saw was that those who wanted to hold onto inequality, to hold onto the power of oppression were those who acted out in violence toward those who protested peacefully.  I recall how civil authorities brutalized demonstrators who spoke out against the war in Viet Nam.  I was reminded that those who gain something from those who cannot defend themselves usually react violently to try and keep it.

Jesus came as a revolutionary against the greed and injustice of his time and his message still threatens the greed and injustices of our time.  The promise of peace, the promise of justice, and the promise of love that comes through the birth of this baby also brings violence, resistance, and fear.  Think about how Gandhi threatened the Imperialism of India, or of the Nelson Mandela’s message of unity against the Aparti in South Africa, or of Martin Luther Kings call for equality in our own country.  It brings violence and unrest because it challenges those who use their power, their wealth, and their positions at the expense of those who are disenfranchised.

        The problem with this child comes by what Jesus asks of us to give up.  When we meet this baby, we all have a part of Herod in us.  We have things that we are afraid to give up.  At some levels we are afraid to turn loose of what we perceive to be our power and allow the good news that God has given us to enter into our hearts, freeing us to see others as equals in the eyes of God.  On the night of Jesus’ birth, there was a joy, a peace that filled the air.  In the pursuing months, there was excitement as the wise men came to meet this new born Prince of peace.  And there is also fear that accompanies the news of Jesus’ arrival; fear so great that it can drive men to murder to stop the promise.  And yet, this is a story of how God continues to help guide those who are willing to listen, like the dreams that came to Joseph and to the wise men so that God’s work toward justice for all people shall continue to unfold.  Amen

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Act of Gifting by Rev Steven R Mitchell, as part of Childrens Sunday before Christmas program 2013

Act of Gifting

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora 12-22-2013

Based on Matt 2:11 and Legend of St Nicholas

For Children’s Worship


Children sing their 1st song, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”.

        Explore with the children their understanding of what this song means to them. 

This song was by two men named John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie.  Their publisher saw this song as strictly a song for children and didn’t expect it to do much in sales.  In November of 1934 singer Eddie Cantor made this song an instant success and it has become one of the basic songs that we sing during the Christmas Season.  I learned this song before I even started school with my grandmother Mitchell singing it to me in the summer time as we would sing on the outdoor porch swing.

Who is Santa Claus anyway?

Back in the early days of Television, I use to watch everyday a program called Santa’s Workshop.  It was a special showing that started on Dec 1st and it would end on Dec 24th with Santa loading up his sleigh with all the toys that he was going to be delivering that evening.  Santa would talk about all sorts of things on his show which came direct from his workshop in the North Pole.  He would talk about how he had been reading all the letters that were sent to him by boys and girls just like you.  He would get interrupted by his elves with problems that would be taking place out in the toy factory, so he would show a cartoon while he would go and take care of those problems.  But Santa spent a lot of time talking to us about the true reasons for Christmas.  Can you tell me about the true meanings of Christmas?

I would like to share with you a story that talks about a man who we have come to know as Santa Claus.  I beat you thinks I’m going to talk about the baby Jesus as the person that we have come to know as Santa, don’t you?  Well, Jesus is the reason for Santa Claus, but he is not Santa; they are two very different people.

About 300 years after Jesus, there was a young man who lived in the country of what we now call Turkey, in a town called Myra, and his name was Nicholas.  Nicholas was from a very rich family who happened to be Christians.  Out of the teachings about Jesus, Nicholas decided to become a minister and eventually become a Bishop within the church.  This means that he was a very important person in the church.     

Even though Nicholas was very rich, he spent a lot of his time with those people in his town who were very poor.  Often he would help them with what they needed without letting anyone know he was the one who helped them out.  It is said that he became aware of a family who had lost all their money because the economy was bad.  This family had three daughters who were grown up enough to get married, but couldn’t because there was no money for their father to give to their future son-in-laws.  It was customary in those days for the family with a daughter to give a dowry to the future husband.  But without a dowry, none of the girls could marry and the family was too poor for them to stay at home. 

So one night, while they were all asleep, Nicholas walked by their window and through a bag of money into the house.  Because the girls only had one pair of shoes and one pair of stockings, they would put them in front of the fireplace at night so they would be dry the next morning.  When Nicholas through that bag of money through the window, the bag opened up and the money landed inside their shoes and stockings!  There was enough money that all three of the girls were able to get married.

Eventually people discovered that the gifts and help that they had been given had come from Nicholas.  Nicholas was especially fond of children and they were the first people that Nick would give special gifts to.  Back in those early years when Nicholas was a Bishop, he had to go to prison because of his faith in Jesus, because being a Christian had not be seen as a good thing yet by the Roman Empire.  After a few years in prison the new Empire Constantine became a Christian himself and made it okay for other people to become Christians if they wanted to and freed Nicholas.  In fact, Nicholas was one of the Bishops who was at the Council of Nicene, where all the books of the New Testament were decided on.

It was through St Nicholas’ loving examples of giving to others that over time, people everywhere started to give gifts on a particular day.  When the Dutch settlers first came to this country and settled on an Island that we know as New York City, they developed how we think St Nicholas would look like.  This image has developed in to the man we know as Santa Claus, dressed in bright red, with fur trim, a rolly polly man with a long white beard.  St Nicholas’ day was originally celebrated in May, but by the early 1800’s had become merged with the celebration of Jesus’ birth. 

(Children will sing “Jingle Bells”)

It was during this time that the song “Jingle Bells” was written.  The title was “One Horse Open Sleigh” and it was originally written for to be sung at Thanksgiving time.  But once again, it seemed to capture the imagination of the nation and it very soon became a standard to be sung during Advent and Christmas Tide.  It was a common practice in those days to adorn horses’ harnesses with straps bearing bells as a way to avoid collisions at blind intersections as horse drawn sleighs in snow makes almost no noise.  The rhythm of the tune mimics that of a trotting horse’s bells.

As we in America become more accustom to blending St Nicholas with the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the visual concept of t Santa Claus was born.  There was a Theology Profession at one of the Theological Seminaries in New York City, who wrote a poem that has for ever set our image of Santa Claus.  Dr Clement Moore wrote the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1812 for his children.  This poem soon became know, “The Night Before Christmas’.

The last song that the children wish to sing for you became popular in the 16th century.  It’s origins tell about a tradition of wealthy people of the community giving Christmas treats to the carolers on Christmas Eve, such as figgy puddings.  Because of the message of wishing good tidings and happy spirits at Christmastime, it became tradition to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” at the end of their Caroling.

So, this is how we have come to combine the birth of Jesus, God’s greatest gift of love to us and the idea of giving a secret gift , from the acts of love and giving of the Bishop of St Nicholas in to Santa Claus visiting children on the Eve of Christmas.   Amen

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What Needs to Go? by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Isaiah 11:1-4a & 6-10, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/8/2013

What Needs to Go?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 12-8-2013

Based on Isaiah 11:1-4a, 6-10


        Harry Potter has become the most successful series both in literature and on film of this century.  Artfully crafted, the author JK Rowlings has brought to life a story that chronicles the life of a young wizard named Harry Potter and the hope of the future that only he can bring.  The first time that I actually heard about this series was in a conversation with my eldest daughter, Bobbie Jo.  She sheepishly admitted to me that she had been reading the Harry Potter series.  I thought to myself, what was so wrong with a twenty something girl reading this fantasy?  I later realized that I was confusing the Harry Potter series with that of the Beatrix Potter’s series of animal books, specifically the Tales of Peter Rabbit? 

        What starts with an evil wizard out to conquer the wizardry world and enslaving mortals, a young child survives a brutal attack that kills both his parents.  Harry is then hidden until he comes of age to learn how to use his magical powers.  As the series progresses, you eventually realize that JK Rowlings is using basic Christian stories in developing her primary character, Harry, to retell the stories of Jesus and his role as savior for humankind.  With each book, the stories become more dark and sinister; in the movie series, the photography becomes darker helping us to visually experience the power that the Dark Lord Voldemort brings to the world.  Harry’s character becomes blatantly the Christ figure, in a battle which looks a lot like Armageddon with Harry dying and returning as the only wizard who can defeat the Dark Lord and bringing peace and harmony to the wizardry world.

        Another telling of this basic theme comes in this morning’s reading of Isaiah.  Isaiah, has just finished telling the people of Israel that God will be cutting down the forest thickets with an ax.  Isaiah was sharing with his audience that there was going to be a complete upheaval of the world that they knew and loved, but that this upheaval wasn’t going to be the work of a foreign empire Babylon, but rather orchestrated by the hand of God.  Although the destruction may seem complete, Isaiah says there is hope for out of the stump; for out of the stump of Jesse will come one who will bear fruit and will possess the Spirit of the Lord, with the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of counsel and of power, and the Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-3a   So changed will the world be that the wolf will live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the goat, a child will play near the hole of a cobra and put his hand into a vipers nest; so changed will the world be that the Root of Jesse will be a banner that even nations will rally to him.  The desire for the type of world that Isaiah speaks about continues in the heart of humanity.  It has even appeared in a jingle in 1971 titled, Buy the World a Coke.  It had such a powerful message calling for peace and harmony that it soon hit the pop charts having eliminated the “buy a coke today” and helped inspire a generation to work toward ending war and challenged a rethinking of what is truly important in life. 

World peace, the end of poverty, justice for all truly sound like great goals don’t they?  But what is the price to achieve all of this?  Are these even real objectives or some dream that comes out of the end of a smoke pipe?  There are forces with voices so strong telling us that world peace is not achievable, that poverty will never be irradiated, and that justice is just an exercise in futility.  We are told that “self” is the primary object that each of us needs to be looking after.   Our laws are constantly written in favor of those who have the stronger voice without any consideration of the harm that can be done for those whose voices are weak.  The Lord Voldemort’s of this world seem to be in control and growing stronger each day.  In the Harry Potter series, I noticed that few of the adult wizards and witches seemed to be willing to stand up against the darkness that Voldemort represented, mostly out of fear. 

In the examples that Isaiah uses such as the wolf (who is by nature predatory), he contrasts with the lamb (who is non-aggressive), or the calf and the lion, again non-predatory verses the predatory, and all these will be lead by a child, not an adult, symbolizing innocence over calculating adults.  What is the message being given here?  Is it truly possible that the predatory nature that seems to terrorize the world can actually be altered to a point that there can be harmony, peace, and equanimity for all?  Is it truly possible, or are people like Isaiah just blowing smoke about a world that is only a daydream?

The world is mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most loved men.  Loved because he strove to enrich the world that Isaiah dreamed about.  Mr. Mandela helped the world understand that peaceful change could happen.  Mr. Mandela taught the world that the possibility of the wolf laying down with the lamb is possible, but at a price.  The price is the ability to let go of the Lord Voldemort’s value system of power.  Under Mr. Mandela’s Presidency the world saw for the first time an experiment in forgiveness as a stepping stone to peace between two races through the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”  For this experiment to have worked both sides of South Africa had to let go of the age old standard of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” mentality.  I would like to share several of Nelson Mandela’s most favorite quotes as examples of “letting go”: 

1)   “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

2)   “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”

3)   “Hope is a powerful weapon, and (one) no one power on earth can deprive you of.”

I love how JK Rowlings translates the Dark Lords desires as being held within Horcrux’s as a way of protecting his hate filled desires.  Each one of those Horcrux’s had to be destroyed so that Voldemort himself could be defeated thus restoring life to the way it was originally intended to be lived – that of peace and harmony.  In this Advent season, we need to prepare for the joy that comes with being in the presence of God.  Each of us hold basic horcrux’s that prevent the world that Isaiah speaks about, a world of wisdom, peace, and justice that is based on the knowledge of God.  We know that God exists, but what needs to be let go so that the vision of Isaiah and the vision of a child who was born in Bethlehem might truly be realized?  The Voldemort’s of this world tell us we are dreaming about Isaiah’s world, but the word of God tells us it is already happening, we have seen it at work in South Africa.  We are that branch from Jesses stump, we are capable of being the branch that bears fruit!  Amen

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In You I am Well Pleased, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United, Aurora (baptismal celebration)

In You I am Well Pleased

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, Co 11-17-2013

Based on Matthew 3:16-17


        In you I am well pleased.” I think these words are words that each one of us wishes to hear at some point in our lives.  When we are children, we are given a lot of messages of what our parents expect of us.  One common expectation is in our behavior, of having good manners: be sure to say ‘thank you’ or ‘no thank you’, many of us were taught to address our elders with ‘Mr. or Mrs.’, we were not to fight with our siblings in public.  Achievements in academics and sports are often expectations by our parents. 

As parents work at developing these expectations, they are often perceived by their children as nagging.  Take the B+ on the report card scenario: “Now you know you can make an A if you just apply yourself a little more.”  What children don’t often hear from their parents is the “I am well pleased” with you phrase.

        When I was growing up, my dad had a set of expectations for me.  None of which I ever seemed to be able to achieve.  His two older brothers had sons who were very adapted to sports.  I was not so adapt in sports.  I was also 7 years younger than my two cousins, so by the time I was old enough to play sports in Jr and Sr High, I was competing against my dad’s memories of how his two nephews played.  I remember not being allowed to play in the sports that I wanted to play in, because they were not fitting my dad’s image of what sports boys were supposed to play.  By Jr High, I felt like a failure in my dad’s eyes.  It didn’t matter what I did, it was never good enough in his eyes.

        When I surprised my parents about wanting to go to college, they were not very eager about that idea either.  But if I was going off to college, then I was suppose to study something of substance; again I failed them when I chose Music Performance as my major.  Then one day, something very extraordinary occurred, my father showed up for one of my music performances unannounced.  Dad wanted to meet all of my classmates, making a huge production of his visit.  What I learned later from my mother was that dad didn’t tell her that he was driving the several hundred miles to come and watch me sing.  It was the first time that I could ever remember where I was receiving approval of my dad.  On that day, it was like the story of Jesus being baptized, and the dove coming down from Heaven landing on my head as my father bestowed his blessing upon me.

        As I grew older, I was able to understand my father’s behavior better.  Dad was an eighth grade drop-out, over time he developed a drinking problem that interfered with his goals in life, he never had the advantages that were provided to me in communication skills or parenting practice, he grew up in a time when children were seen but not heard. My father didn’t possess the skills that were needed to nurture his expectations for me in a positive manner, and it took all the courage that he could muster to show me in that simple act of showing up on campus unannounced that he not only loved me, but cared about the choices that I was making with my life, and that he was “well pleased” with his son.  In that one moment my father gave me the confidence that I would need to act upon my dreams to this very day.

        As we celebrate the act of baptism of Cruz this morning, I think about all of the potential that he has in his future.  Will he become President of the United States, or a famous brain surgeon, a teacher perhaps, or maybe a mortgage person, or have a career in marketing?  I am sure that Jon and Laura each have certain dreams and hopes for Cruz; as parents it’s a natural thing for us to have high expectations for our children.  Yet I have to remember what Njeri Kingangi said in a conversation one evening over dinner, that the hardest thing for her to do was to let her son live his own dreams and be proud in his achieving them.

        Our scripture talks about another parent God, who I am sure had expectations for his son.  I can just hear Jesus saying to his buddies, John, James, and Peter as they were sitting around their dorm room at the Academy of Jewish Law: “Yeah, my dad expects me to save the world.”  “He expects me to be a great preacher when I graduate from this place.  What do you suppose, God really expected of Jesus?  For that matter, what do you suppose God really expects of each one of us?  Does he expect us to ‘save’ the world?  I grew up hearing a lot of conversation around the idea of “God’s will” for our lives.  That suggests that God has expectations of us, and it is our job to figure out what that expectation is.  Most of us will never do anything in our lives that will particularly “set the world on fire.”  So does this mean that we are not living up to our potential?

        What was it that Jesus had done up to that point in his life when he was baptized that made God say, “…in you I am well pleased.”  Well, he must have had some schooling because he understood Hebrew Scripture to the point that it amazed his elders.  When he was  12 yrs old, he ran off and forgot to tell his parents where he was going, and there are stories in Gnostic writings that say Jesus as a child got really made at one of his playmates and struck him dead by just speaking.  As the oldest son, he leaves his widowed mother with young children still at home, to follow some crazy cousin preaching outside of Jerusalem.  Some of these behaviors don’t sound like things that a “good” son would particularly be praised for.   In fact, they sound a lot like things we as “ordinary” people would be found doing.

        The key is in the very first part of the statement, “you are my child…  What parent can argue with this point of view?  When a new child is born, it’s not just the parents, but the community that becomes filled with joy over the new birth.  We oohed and awed when Mackenzie was born a couple of years ago; we oohed and awed when Cruz was born, and we will once again owe and awe when the next infant is born around Christmas.  We do this because we see the new potential, new promise in new life and it fills us with joy.  We are again able to dream for these little ones, a life that will be filled with such achievements; in these new little lives we are given Hope for the future! 

        Yet, even if that life filled with new promise doesn’t exactly full fill our expectations, we still can say to them, “you are my child, my beloved, in you I am well pleased.”  We can do that, because they are our children.  God said this of Jesus, and God says it of us

        Yet, I wonder if we really believe God when he is telling us, “You are my child, my beloved; in you I am well pleased.  Do you believe this or are you feeling that somehow you are living your life short changed?  I think God just wants us to be who we are – nothing more, nothing less.  But I know for a fact that God loves you and is well pleased with you, because you are his child!  There isn’t any more that I can say on this fact, other than ask you if you really believe that God is well pleased with you?  You don’t have to do anything for that approval, but just be yourself.  Whether we have gone through a formal baptismal ceremony or not, the fact is, that we are all baptized in God’s love, we just have to understand how happy God is that each one of us is his child.  Amen

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Privilege and Perceptions, by Rev Steven R Mitchell for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO. Lk 18:9-14

Privilege and Perceptions

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, 10/27/2013

Based on Luke 18:9-14


        Isn’t it marvelous that God is still speaking to us!  We can read a text of scripture over and over understanding it’s meaning the same way each time, then one day, you read a scripture and you see something entirely new in it; so strongly that it feels like the text has leaped out of the book and is slapping you across the face saying, ”did you finally get it?”  This is called “revelation”, that instance when you realize that the Holy Spirit has helped you understand something a new way.

        As I read today’s text in Luke about the story of the Priest and his prayer being compared to the prayer of the tax collector, I just about jumped out of my chair, because the text was slapping me in the face.  As I read this passage of the Priest thanking God that he wasn’t like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like the tax-collector, for the first time I see in this story a commentary on “privilege and it’s perceptions.”

        A few months ago, the topic at the Hot Cakes and Hot Topics was that of “White Privilege”, and of the perceptions of those with white privilege verses those who do not posses it, and how destructive it is to everyone who lives in this country.  Just a few weeks ago I watched a documentary titled “Inequality for all” which discussed our present economic situation and how we arrived to the shrinking of the middle class because of privilege of the 1% in our country, who are able to make the rules that benefit primarily them financially.  When Jesus says in the text that only the repentant tax collector went home justified, this film speaks about the eventual undoing of the present social and financial structures because of the privilege and perceptions by this small but very powerful group of people.

        For those of us who are lacking pigment in our skin, when we hear the word “Privilege” we generally think in terms of economic status.  But when people of color in this country are asked “what does privilege” mean to you, it is far more extensive than how much money someone has; it means words like “access”, “opportunity”, and “equality”.  For those who hold privilege, we do not think about those words because we are not challenged for those basic values.  We have all of these at our disposal simply by being born white.

When this country was formed, those who migrated to these lands came from a continent that held the Privilege and ruled the world with that mind set.  Our country has from its earliest inception not only practiced “privilege” but also has struggled to broaden the circles of who can become included to the benefits of being privileged; the struggle over slavery, the right for women to vote, desegregation within our public schools have been some of the landmark struggles.  Presently we see these battles between those who have privilege and those who do not being played out in our immigration issues, in equality of sexual orientation issues, currently focused around marriage status; even the recent shut-down of the government used the debt ceiling as a platform of privilege against health benefits for people who can’t afford it. 

Historically in this country, these types conversations were started and lead by faith communities.  Of late, the majority of these conversations have been started by the secular section of our society.  The church seems to be shifting into the role of the Pharisees found in this morning’s text.  Much of the opposition to health care, immigration reform, racial equality, or gay rights comes from our religious institutions.  Why is this?  Could it be that the church sees its role in this society as protecting a certain stand that benefits those who are in the privileged class?  Or have we become so righteous that we regard others with contempt, again as the Pharisee in our text is said to have had for those he was thankful for not being like?

Take a few moments and reflect what privilege means to you.  Within your own family structure who has access to the power?  Does this access come  because of birth right, income, position within the larger family setting?  Remember “privilege” consists of “access, opportunity, and equality.”  When you were not treated with the status of “privilege” within your family, how did that affect you?

You see, I do not think that the Pharisees in our text was particularly being hateful toward those that he mentioned in his prayer, but rather was truly thankful that he saw himself in favor with God.  It was through the understanding of Jewish law that gave him access and opportunity that one needs to come before God to find favor before God.  What Jesus points out is that God doesn’t recognize privilege on that level, rather anyone who approaches God with a repentant heart has access to God.  This really is a hard lesson for us in white America, because we do not realize that we are a part of a “privileged” class.

Pastor Wayne in his current appeal on behalf of flood victims who have little access for help has been very specific in his use of language.  Although many wish to be helpful, we often speak from a language of privilege.  When we say the phrase, “We want to sponsor” it is language of the privileged, where if we say, “we wish to walk alongside you” we have now lowered our status to be not above but alongside.  When we use words such as “Lord, or King, or Kingdom” we are using language that speaks of privilege.  The reason why I have changed the word “Kingdom” to “Kin-dom” in the Lord’s Prayer is because it changes my mental picture of separation (kingdom) to inclusion (kin-dom).  Jesus often spoke words that were inclusive, words like “brothers and sisters”, “Father in Heaven”, and about the idea that God’s realm isn’t up there somewhere, but was here among us.

The hazard of being a part of the Privileged is it doesn’t challenge us to see a clear picture of who has access, opportunity, and equality.  Privilege sets up a barrier between us and them.  If we have come to a point in our faith journey that gives us comfort, then we are living life at the level of the Pharisee, unaware of how we are separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters, of those whom God would call beloved as well.  We become a stumbling block to those who wish to experience the blessings of God.  We are the log within the churches eye, not allowing us to see the needs of many, the inequality that exists even in our own church family.  Like the Pharisee, we don’t mean to be exclusive, but when we do things without understanding what “Privilege” brings, just like the Pharisee, we are not just excluding others access we are also selling ourselves short on receiving God’s full blessing.  Once we are able to live life where everyone has full access, full opportunity, and full equality, then we will be receiving God’s full blessing.  Amen

Sunday, October 20, 2013

God Is Our Prozac for Life, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United, Blessing of Our Pets Worship, 10/20/2013

God Is Our Prozac For Life

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/20/2013

Blessing of Our Pets Worship


        The other evening I was watching “The Property Brothers”, the one “reality” show that I find interesting.  The stars of the show are two brothers, one a realtor, the other is in design and construction, together they help educate the buyers on how they can achieve buying their dream home that falls within their budget, through purchasing a renovation property.    The buyers are first shown the “turnkey” property that is their dream home, only to find that what they want in a home will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars more than what their budget will allow for.

        Generally the buyers are looking at homes within the city, but this particular show had some buyers who were “horse” people and were looking for property out in the country.  What this program did for me, was to take me back to memories of living out in the country.  I was reminded about how peaceful the countryside is compared to that of the city.  Much of my adult life has been spent living in major metropolitans, but my childhood was spent in smaller rural communities and on farms.


        There is a difference in the energy level of those who live in the city verses those who live out in the rural countryside.  When you are visiting with someone who lives in New York City, they talk about a hundred miles per minute, where as when you are visiting with a farmer, sometimes you almost have to pull the words out of their mouth.  People in the city move much faster in their walk, compared to those living on a farm; folks who live in the country setting tend to understand that the pace of a stroll is not that of a speeding bullet.

I think one of the most exciting cities in the United States is New York City.  I love New York City, especially Manhattan.  When you walk down the streets or stand at the center of Times Square, there is such energy present, you can feel it electrifying your body.  Much different than when you take a walk through the wheat fields of Kansas, or through an orchard in Washington State where the only sounds that you hear is that of the wind rustling through the heads of grain or through the leaves of the trees. 

        For those of us who live in the city, we find a need to periodically to take time out to go to the country or up into the mountains to chill out, where those who live on farms or in small communities have less of a need to escape their environment in order to relax, unwind, or reconnect, because they are already living in an environment that provides that much needed nurture. 

        Jesus tells us, “do not worry about what to eat, or drink, or even about what to wear; look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet God feeds them.”  When we read the creation stories, we can gain a sense of how God made everything to co-exist with each other; night with day, water with land, planet to solar system, none exists by itself, but as parts of a larger system.

There is a deep relationship between humanity, the land, and with the animal kingdom that city dwellers often lose sight of.  St. Francis of Assisi’s, is considered the patron saint of understanding this relationship between humanity, the animal kingdom, and of the world.  Born into an aristocratic family, St Francis had a revelation while battling in the crusades, realizing how foolish it was to stress out over those things in life that really do not fulfill life; things like the size of our homes, or what new electronic gadget do we need to buy to keep up with our friends, or what are the latest fashions this year.  All of these are important, but they are not things that provide the true quality of life.

        St Francis realized that all of the things that we tend to stress over are things that detract us from what we truly need to be focusing upon, that of communing with God.  He observed that life in the animal kingdom was far less stress-filled than was life for humans.  St Francis also understood the connection that we as humans have with animals.  A revelation that we in the Twenty-First Century are beginning to discover is the healing effects pets have for us.  Assisted living facilities are now allowing community pets on site, because these pets provide deep companionship and much needed nurture for their residents.  The majority of homes in this country have some sort of animal that is more than just a pet; it is a member of the family. 

All things have been provide by God.  We find renewal to life when we go out into nature observing creatures as small as ants busy doing ant business to watching elephants and hippopotamus walking in the grasslands of Africa.  Our spirits are renewed in watching a humming bird feed or viewing an eagle soaring high in the sky.  We find calmness in watching gold fish in our ponds and excitement in seeing salmon jumping against the flow of the river as it makes its way back to its breeding grounds.

        God provides for all of our needs and one of those ways can be found in our pets.  Our pets provide companionship, a source of love, and entertainment to us.  Our pets are one of the ways in which we are able to stay connected to nature.  Our pets help remind us not to stress over the daily cares of life, because in the end, God is the one who truly has the ability to provide what we most need in life.  We thank you God for what you provide and for our pets who help us realize that at the end of the day all that we really need is the ability to give love and receive love!  Amen

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Tenth Leper, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Lk 17:11-19, for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO

The Tenth Leper

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/13/2013

Based on Luke 17:11-19


        How many of you have ever had an experience that physically separated you from your peers?  Back in the dark ages when I was in second grade, everyone had to go to the nurse’s office for an eye examination.   It was a very anxious time for all of us, for if you failed that particular examination, that means that you would have to wear a pair of glasses, which put you in the group of “the untouchables”.   The news would spread rapidly if one of your classmates in front of you had failed the test.  I lucked out in that group screening – I had passed my eye examine. 

        A few weeks later, during class, I was called out by the school nurse to follow her down to her office.  This was a terrible event because now the whole class knew that something had to be seriously wrong with you for the nurse to pull you out of class.  In her office I was once again asked to take an eye exam.  I knew I was in trouble when the nurse asked me to read the first letter on the eye chart that was at the other end of her office, when I replied, “What chart?”  I had failed not only to recognize the big letter “E”, but I wasn’t even able to see that there was a chart on the wall.

        Once the news went public that I needed glasses, I was immediately shunned by many of my classmates.  There was a prominent believe that poor eye sight was contagious.  This was my first experience of what it was like to be different, to not be like the other kids.  The only refuge that I found for those first few weeks was that of those few other kids in my class who were already wearing glasses, those kids who just a few days before I too stayed away from.

        Poor eyesight is something that can easily be corrected and really doesn’t keep one separated from society, but there are many things that can and do separate a person from others.  This morning’s text tells us of an encounter that Jesus had with some people who were physically isolated from their community.  The passage says that Jesus was passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem, when he was approached by ten lepers asking for help.  Jesus takes compassion on them and tells them to go to the temple to be blessed by the Priest.  It is on their journey to the temple that they discover that they are healed.  Nine of them do as directed by Jesus and go to the temple, but one a Samaritan doesn’t go to the temple but rather returns to Jesus and thanks him.

        The question that I would like to pose this morning is “what separates us?”  What separates us from one another?  What separates us from God?  Are there justifiable reasons or realities that separate us from others?  Is disease that is communicable a justifiable reason to be separated, like in this morning’s text?  Is culture differences a good reason to be separated from one another?  How about mental illness, or social-economic differences, or religious bias, are these legitimate things to separate ourselves from another?

Virginia McDugall posted an interesting quote the other day on her facebook page, by an East Indian Philosopher and Spiritualist by the name of Jiddu Krishnamurti.  When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent.  Do you see why it is violent?  Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind.  When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence.  So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

Why do we continually insist on creating walls that separate us from others?  Could the origins be found in the stories of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden?  Is one of the major truths about our need to separate ourselves from God and other humans found in the story of listening to the deceitfulness of the serpent?  Can we find the need to blame and justify our negative behavior toward others in the story of Cain and Able? 

One of the realities of humanity is that we are “tribal” creatures.  We are wired through our DNA to be mistrustful of anyone or anything that is different from what we understand.  You cannot find a western movie that doesn’t emphasize this reality.  You see a farmer working on his wagon in front of his house.  He sees a stranger riding toward him from a distance.  The first thing the farmer does is reach for his firearm, in case the stranger might not be friendly.  We build gated communities, have doormen stationed at main entry  of our condo buildings.  You cannot enter beyond a check point in our schools, or board a plane without going through some form of security check.  We have put in placed “safe” policies in our churches for those who work around our youth.  All of these things have come as a result of violence.  We would rather go to war than sit down and learn about the needs of the other, be it on an international level or in a church board meeting.

All of these negative behaviors come because of separation.  In the story about the ten lepers, we can assume that nine of them are Hebrews.   The question that Jesus asked the one, who returned, the Samaritan, was “where are the others?”  One of the possibilities for the Samaritan returning, was, he was an outsider by his nationality.   The reason why Jesus was sending these people to the Priest was so they could be deemed healed, thereby being re-instated to society.  This would not have been a possibility for the Samaritan even being healed of his leprosy; he would not have been welcomed into the Jewish society because he was an outsider to begin with.  One could only wonder if the relationships built between him and the other nine, because of the common need to band together for survival was strong enough to have them move beyond those cultural hatreds and continue on with their relationship once they were all healed.

How much does “faith” play into our ability to break down those walls that separate or used to strengthen that separation?  We are beginning discussion, thanks to the work of Pastor Wayne Laws, about how we can walk beside those who have had their lives devastated by last month’s floods.   David Popham has indicated that through the UCC Conference phone calls to churches that serve in those communities hit by the floods, several church communities indicated that they or their members were unaffected by the flood waters, but acknowledge that just down the street there were families and business who suffered loss.  Their answers reflect a faith of “us” and “them”, of separation not inclusion with their surrounding community.

In discussions with the Pastor of St John’s UCC church in Greeley, Pastor Wayne has learned that we are the only church in the UCC Conference who has even inquired about how we might be able to reach out and help St John as they struggle to help those affected in the surrounding area of Greeley, such as the town of Evans, which is highly populated with seasonal farmer, many who are non-documented residences.  This speaks about how “faith” is working within our fellowship.  I am sure that we have many more lessons to learn about inclusion, but in our faith, we recognize that inclusion not isolation is the first step in healing and widening the circle of God’s love.   Amen

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Celebrating the Faithful, by Rev Steven R Mitchell for 40th birthday celebration of Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

Celebrating the Faithful

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/6/2013


        God is good!  God is great!  As I think about our gathering this morning, those are the two most promenade phrases in my mind.  As I was preparing for this morning’s worship/celebration I put out a panic call to Caryn Henson, Mary Royston, Red and Betty Couts, and Carol Braughtigan, as well as a general e-mail for help that would allow us all to enjoy our 40th birthday of God’s work through Mountain View United Church.  While Caryn was helping me review a ton of photographs, I shared with her how once again I was totally amazed at how the scheduled lectionary text spoke so specifically to this morning’s celebration.  This happens all the time, and one would think that the “awe” factor would just become old hat, yet each week, it is a “Wow” to me.  I contribute this to the reality that God is still speaking!

        I just want to comment on a few verses this morning, not with deep wisdom that can be mined from this text, but rather as thoughts about how this text, this letter to a young minister, is an encouragement for us here at Mountain View, both as a congregation and on a personal level.  Paul states, “I am grateful to God – whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did – when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”   Timothy was a student of Paul’s, and was appointed by Paul to lead the congregation that he had planted.  What strikes me in this segment is the connection Paul makes about “ancestors” and then re-emphasizes it with Timothy’s experience. 

Paul has no shame in worshiping the God of his ancestors, and Timothy is a third generation product of faithfulness.  The way of worshiping God for Paul was not in the same manor that he was taught.  Paul has taken the faith of his youth and remolded it to fit the call that he had received from Jesus.   I say Jesus, because Paul really never seems to point to God directly as giving him “the message”, but always refers to Jesus as the one who gave him his commission.  From the very first encounter Paul had with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul stays true to the understanding that his job was to spread the word of Jesus.  Paul develops a new vision of Jesus’ ministry as he expands his mission to share this “good news” to the gentiles, making it no longer just something for the Hebrews.

The text continues, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-disciple.  One of the ways of rekindling ones spirit is by remembering and celebration.  We do this each year with holidays such as, Christmas (advent) and Easter (lent), and through anniversaries (wedding/birthdays/deaths and so on).  Celebrations provide the space needed so we can recall not just our past, but through that past who we are currently, and sometimes gives us the opportunity to envision what we wish to become in the future. 

Mountain View was conceived as a vision where people of all faiths could come and worship together.  This was accomplished through the co-operation of three parent denominations, the Presbyterian USA, The United Methodist, and the United Church of Christ.  This vision was shared by a young UCC pastor, Jim Sherman, who was the founding pastor of this faith community.  By knocking on doors within our community, Rev Sherman gathered a core group of people meeting first in homes, then moving to Village East Elementary School.  With donated land located on Havana by the Methodist, the founders decided to trade it for our current location.  Then on October 3, 1973, ground was broken and construction started on the building that we currently worship in.  This was only possible because of a spirit of power, and of love, and of self-discipline.

As a side note, many a church has started in a home, and then grown into stand alone dwellings, but very few churches start out in a cozy home atmosphere and then build a space for worship that retains that inviting living room environment.  

Paul states of the establishment of the church in Ephesus in verse 9: “relying on the power of God, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.”   A Methodist minister by the name of Rev John Lee, while pasturing a church in Montana had a dream “of a wooden church, a place he wanted to go to, a place he would belong, a place that’s calling him.  It’s a small place, but the wood is warm and the people are warm.  They’ve carved their own cross and carved their own special mission.  The image of this place is strong.  Five years later, he was called as our second pastor.  God speaks in many forms, sometimes through people, sometimes through dreams, sometimes through…, well you fill in the blank.

This is how we began, through the dreams of people who believed that God see’s us all equal, that we have unique gifts and that denominations need not compete, but work together toward a common good.  We come from people who were not afraid to say, “Hey, I belong to this church and I think you might be able to find a home and new family there.”  We come from a people who held to the value that strength and support can be found in diversity. 

Paul closes this morning’s text with these words, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us!  When the handmade cross that hangs on the South wall was hung on the first Sunday that Mountain View worshiped in their new home, which was on Easter of 1974, it was flanked by two banners.  The one banner I think speaks to the commission given to us by not just our founding family of faith, but by Jesus himself, “Then Jesus said, Go out into the world and…”  As Paul broke away from traditional ways of understanding God’s love, so the founders of Mountain View broke away from traditional concepts of who can worship with whom.  Let us with the help of the Holy Spirit continue to guard the good treasure entrusted to us.  The open space on the original banner of “go into the world and…” is for us to fill in as we continue to live out the call of God with power, and love, and self-disciple!  Amen