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