Sunday, November 22, 2015

Celebrating God!, by Steven R Mitchell based on Psalm 111, final sermon for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

Celebrating God!

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 11/22/2015

Based on Psalm 111


The Psalmist tells us that we are to Praise the Lord, to give thanks to God with our whole heart, in the company of the faith community!  This is what we are going to do this morning.  We are going to celebrate God through worship.  Worship consists of a wide and varied spectrum, ranging from music, to readings, time for reflection, opportunities for confession and re-assurance of God’s love, space for prayer, for welcoming into the community new life through baptism, a time for social affirmation of old and new friends as well as a time to say “goodbye” to those we love.  Worship is celebrating God in our lives! 

The psalmist gives us reasons as to “why” we should come and celebrate God. We celebrate God because of the works that God has done. We celebrate God because God is righteous, gracious, and merciful!  God provides for our basic needs and never forgets the covenant made with all of creation.  We celebrate God in the good times.  We celebrate God in the sad times as well.  For we recognize that God is with us, walking along side, sometimes in Spirit, other times physically through friends and family.  All we have to do is look around us and we see the power of God’s work.  As I look upon you, I see the power of God’s work! 

This is my last Sunday to celebrate God with you as your pastor.  It may seem strange that I chose to reflect about celebration on my last Sunday.  But celebrating God is about celebrating life.  Life has an ebb and flow, there are beginnings and there are endings; that is the cycle of all life.  Beginnings are generally welcomed because they are filled with joy and excitement.  Good-byes are not so easy, generally filled with mixed emotions, especially when significant bonds have developed.  For almost four year, we have prayed together, sung together, come to Christ’s table together. You have sat week after week listening to my reflections on scripture.  It has been a great privilege serving as your pastor.

Since worship is to “celebrate God”, what are some of the things we celebrate this morning?  I have seen a number of you grow in your spiritual hunger and growth. We have had the opportunities to discuss some very deep personal questions about life, of learning how others see God, heaven, community, and spirituality, and how all of that ties together with our own experience.  As a congregation, we have been working on bringing God and the outside world together into this sacred space of worship.   We realize that when we enter the doors to this sanctuary, we do not check our problems at the door, but bring them into the sanctuary and lift them up to God.  As Thomas Parker, Theology Emeritus of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, Ill. says, “To live as if there were no God is to live in a space too small for our souls to grow and flourish. It really is all about cultivating a sense of the presence of God. God is not just in this sanctuary, but is in our living rooms, at our work, even at a Broncos game.

The greatest joy that I celebrate this morning is the sense that ministry is happening here.  We should “celebrate God” for what has been accomplished during these three plus years together.  We have seen an outreach to the larger community through our Hot Cakes and Hot Topics; bringing awareness on many social justice issues and becoming a teaching congregation for the larger community.  This is possible because we formalized our passion for social justice by creating a staff position designed to reach outside of the congregation and through Pastor Wayne Laws, be our voice among a number of secular organizations that also work on social justice issues.  We are a part of the coalition to end gun violence.  Mountain View is now working with a network of churches that minister to homeless women.  For some churches this would be enough, but Mountain View is more than a church, you are a faith community and I am confident that God will reveal to you more opportunities to present God’s love to the Metro area.  Because as ambassadors of God, that’s what we do – share God’s love to the larger community.

        Let me close with why I “celebrate God” this morning.  I celebrate God for the existence of Mountain View United, as a specific faith community.  You have not just allowed me to serve you as pastor, but you have allowed me into your lives, a space that is so very sacred.  You have let me stand beside you at the hospital. I have buried you, married you, baptized you, and eaten at God’s table with you.  You have shared your hopes, your pains, your losses, your fears, and your joys with me.  We have prayed together, laughed together, and cried together. Your pain has been my pain, your rejoicing has been my rejoicing.  My life has been deeply enriched by serving you.  

I celebrate God because I have watched a group of faithful believers grow in strength, in confidence, in hope, and in spiritual wisdom. You invited me in and allowed me to show you my understanding of God’s love, of God’s forgiveness, and of God’s inclusiveness. You have given me freedom to develop worship experiences that pushed the envelope of traditional styles. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but the important thing was, the willingness to explore.   

I celebrate God, for I see a congregation that is living out Psalm 111, “The reverence and awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”  Let us all continue to develop in reverence and awe of the Lord.  Let us all “celebrate God” each day of our lives!  New ministries await both you and me; let us celebrate the God that honors these diverging paths.  Amen

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Listen for God's Voice, by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Jonah 3:1-5,10 & Mark 1:14-20

Listen for God’s Voice
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora 11/15, 2015

Based on Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 & Mark 1:14-20



I have already started watching Christmas movies, much to Paul’s dismay.  I love these stories not just because they remind us about faith, hope, and love, but they are also filled with what many would call sappy sentimentality.  One classic Christmas story is Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol.” 

In the Dickens story, a man named Scrooge, who for various reasons turned away from helping humanity to that of serving money, is confronted by three Spirits of Christmas.  With the help of the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge is reminded of the love and nurture given to him in his younger years.  In the same way, Scrooge is confronted with his hard-heartedness as the Spirit of Christmas Present shows how lonely and bitter he has become compared to the warmth of love and community of those his life intersects with.  Then comes a profound revelation with the Spirit of Christmas Future when Scrooge asks, “Spirit, these things that you show me, are they the shadows of the things that will be, or of the things that may be?  Men’s lives lead to certain ends.  But if those lives be changed, will not the end be changed?  Tell me that is true.  Tell me! (There is silence on the part of the Spirit)  Why show me this if I am past all hope?  I will change my way of living.  I will live in the past, the Present, and the Future.  I shall never forget the lessons that they teach.  Tell me that this will change my future. 

There are many stories within scripture that tell us of similar situations, where God is intervening in someone’s life and that person has to make a decision as whether to listen and follow or to ignore and go their own direction.  The story of Jonah is one of these great stories.  One of the cool aspects about Jonah is how it shows us more of the human side of a prophet’s life, one that helps us realize that even though one is called to be a prophet for God, one doesn’t always willing follow orders. Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh and tell them they have only forty days before they are destroyed.  Jonah being the devoted prophet that he was immediately turned and ran the other direction.  But just like in our own life, the decisions that we make affect more than just ourselves, Jonah put the lives of people on a boat in danger. 

Realizing how badly he has messed up his life, and has endangered the lives of others, Jonah asks God to take his life, for he couldn’t possibly go back in time and change his decisions.  Then God answers by coming back to Jonah a second time, and once again telling Jonah to go to Nineveh. So with much fear in his heart, he travels into Nineveh and delivers the message that God told him to deliver. To his surprise, the Ninevehites hear the word and repent and their city is spared by God.

In the first chapter of Mark we again see God approaching and this time speaking to four fishermen.  Through Jesus’ invitation to join him in his ministry, God’s voice was asking Simon and Andrew, James and John to leave the lives that were familiar to them and become a part of something that was new.  There is no indication by Mark that these four fishermen had any prior knowledge of Jesus or of his mission, only that when Jesus asked them to drop what they were doing and in following him, they did this believing that God had asked them to do so.

 For the people of Nineveh, they were not told of why their city was going to be destroyed or by whom, nor were they instructed to repent.  Only that in forty days Nineveh would parish. They just inherently knew that they needed to repent from their actions.

The main focus in today’s readings asks us to ponder upon the suddenness to which we can change when God speaks to us.  Barbara Brown Taylor, professor of religion at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia writes: Much has been written about the response of the disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. Why did they do something so drastic, and how could they up-end their lives so dramatically, and would that really be a good thing for us to do, that is, if we could "manage" it?  

Could we measure up to the standard of those disciples, and drop everything, too?  We might wonder why and how those first four disciples could do such a thing, without even a stirring sermon from Jesus, or maybe a dramatic miracle, or better yet, the sky opening up and a voice announcing that this was God's own beloved, and that they should listen to him.  Such an incident would have provided some clear explanation for their sudden abandonment of everything to follow Jesus. What did they know, on that seashore that we don't know? 

We're missing the point if we linger on such questions. This is a story about God, not the disciples or us. To focus on what the disciples gave up (and whether we could do the same), is "to put the accent on the wrong syllable." This "miracle story," is really about "the power of God - to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before." Sermon Seeds, 1/22/2012  

I realize that to many of you, my decision to end my time as pastor here at Mountain View seems rather sudden.  In some ways it is, and in others it is not.  I selected today’s scriptures because it speaks to how God has been speaking to me over the last year or so.  Like Jonah, I was not willing to listen to God saying, “I have something new in store for you.”  I love Mountain View and see great promise here.  I also love my home and would become ill at the thought of moving from it.  So I ignored the voice from God.  But like the story of Jonah, God is very persistent and eventual I came to terms with His beckoning.  Like the story in Mark, I am striking out on this new adventure not knowing where it is going to lead me, but it is my faith in God that draws me to drop what I have been doing here and to follow. 

Because of the changes in my life, this means there will be major changes going on within this community of faith. With my leaving, you are going to be called to listen more closely to what God is trying to tell you.  I think this is where the statement from Ebenezer Scrooge becomes so helpful.  Men’s lives lead to certain ends.  But if those lives be changed, will not the end be changed?    Do we truly believe that God has the power to lead us, like the fishermen, will we be willing to drop what we have been doing and change course in order to follow God?  Or will we act like Jonah, sizing up the request as being too expensive, too risky, and fall back on the false sense of "prudent paths of action" or worse “I like how comfortable things are” and try to run away from doing what God is asking of Mountain View?  

We stand at the threshold of new choices, you and I, of Listening for God’s voice. Will we run from the challenges and continue to “do it our own way”, or will we like Scrooge begin to “live in the past, the Present, and the Future” by      taking up the call of God and follow in faith, trusting that God has many great things in store for us?   Amen

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Pleases God? by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Hebrews 10:5-12, 14 and Mark 12:41-44

What Pleases God?
By Rev Steven R. Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 11/8/2015
Hebrews 10:5-12, 14; Mark 12:41-44

Today I would like to speak a little about how we serve God.  One of those ways is through our money.  We are very quickly approaching the time when we will be asked to present a pledge card indicating the amount of financial support we are willing to commit this next year toward the ministry that will take place here at Mountain View.

I often wonder what motivates us when we sit down at the kitchen table and think about that magic figure that we put down on our pledge cards (this is assuming that we give some thought to this process.)  Do we sit with our spouse or partner and discuss with one another what we are willing to give based on what our household budget is; or do we direct our discussions through our heart and ask questions like: How has God blessed us? How much have we been blessed by attending this church? Or, if I give this much money to the church, what can I expect in return?  If you listen closely to the way that I have asked these questions, you will note they all stem toward, “self” or “what’s in it for me”.  I don’t think we intentionally mean to think this way, but it is a natural human process of thinking. 

Once the stewardship committee receives our pledge cards, they meet with the budget committee and work out a budget for the upcoming year, based on the total pledges made and estimated income from other sources that are normally received.  This is the way it generally is done in most churches.  It seems to be a very practical way to be fiscally responsible.  Yet I have to ask myself, is this the way God wants us to be serving him? 

From my Baptist roots, we talked about financial commitment all the time.  Generally we were asked to give what we felt we could.  This was a comfortable way to approach financial stewardship, as it allowed us to approach giving to God our leftovers, not making us stretch too much in our financial commitment toward our faith community.  I’m not sure we really thought too much about our financial commitment as a part of how we serve God, but more of how we support the institution.  In the Hebrew Testament, the understanding of honoring God was to give a Tithe.  A tithe was the first 10% of your income and giving it to the synagogue, leaving you with the other 90% to live on and do with as you wished.

When I think about ministry that is done through the structured organization of a faith community, I wonder if we go about preparing our budgets backward.  I recall while serving my first church in Washington state, working through some potential programming with the church council.  They would choose their projects by the cost of the project.  I challenged them to step back and re-evaluate this approach.  I suggested that they look at each potential project based on its merits, choose the one that most excited them no matter what the cost might be, and then figure out how they were going to pay for it.  When they started approaching their budgeting differently, amazing things started to happen.  Interest grew, participation grew, and achieving the goals grew. 

This often meant having to think outside the box.  As an example for us: We have almost two acres of vacant land – how can we turn that into incoming cash to finance our ministries?  One suggestion could be, to rent it out to a promoter who handles farmer markets or flea markets.  This not only would bring in an income, but give great exposure to the church, especially when coupled with some outdoor activities on our part.

So I have to wonder if the reason some faith communities stagnation comes because it bases its ministry on the cost instead of what they want to achieve.  I wonder if more faith communities would be more vibrant if they first sat down and worked on what they wanted to achieve over the next year, or two, or three, then figure out what the budget would be to achieve those goals, present those goals to the congregation and let the congregation figure out how to fund their desired ministries. 

Scripture says: 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched… then a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. Giving out of her poverty, she put in everything—all she had to live on.”

        Is Jesus telling us to give everything to the point that there is nothing left to live on?  I don’t think that is the point of his observation.  What I believe Jesus is pointing out is not the amount that we give, but in “how do we give?”  When we are thinking about how much to pledge do we think about what comforts we are or are not willing to forgo to promote the mission of our faith community?  Am I looking out for myself first, or do I give based on what God asks of me, that of giving my first fruits?

        In our prayer of confession, there are implications that, “While we do not willfully disobeyed God’s commandments, our own short sightedness and impatience leads us to make choices based upon our immediate needs over God’s desires, choosing desires and unnecessary wants over potential ministries that as a collective could accomplish.  Some questions that come to mind around this implication are: What are the long term goals for Mountain View?  What is our church to this neighborhood?  Why do people come to Mountain View or better yet, why would they come to Mountain View?  And the ultimate question: What is the potential that we can offer them? 

Another part of our confession is: “We know you created this world with enough for everyone. Yet, in this land of plenty people know deprivation. When we think about financial commitment to our faith community the truth is, it evokes fear.  Are we guilty of letting these fears overwhelm our faith and trust in God?  How do we use our money, not the money that we give to the church, but that portion that we don’t give to the church; how do we use it? The Apostle Paul wrote, “In Christ, we are no longer slaves to fear.” 

Ministry is what we call the thing that we do here at Mountain View. My challenge to you this morning, is to honestly examine your heart and see how you envision the minister of this church, and to what extent you are willing to support that vision, and I don’t mean just financially. Ultimately – I hope the answers that you start to come up with will be based through your relationship with Christ, saying to God, “Here I am, I have come to do your will. For no ministry truly exists without the Love of God at its heart.   Amen

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Giving Honor to Those Before Us, by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Revelation 7:9-17 and 1 John 3:1-3

Giving Honor To Those Before Us

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 11/01/2015

Based on Revelation 7:9-17 and 1 John 3:1-3


        This morning is All Saints Day.   This is the day we in the church take time to honor those who have preceded us in death.    As a part of this day, we in this congregation have brought pictures representative of those we love and light a candle in their honor.  It’s a small thing that we do, yet it is also a most powerful act on our part.  The light from the candle represents the gift of life, wisdom, and nurturing that they gave tous. 

        I think it is safe to say, that most of us have some sort of believe or assurance that life goes on after we leave this physical world.  What this belief or understand maybe, varies widely however.  Some cultures believe in the soul recycling it’s self many times over.  In the Tibetan book of the dead, they even believe that as a spirit, you chose which parents you plan to be born to.  There are people who believe that life continues as pure energy, existing in the universe.  Within the Christian traditions, we believe that once we pass from this life, our next is lived in accordance to how we behaved and what we believed in this life.  The book of Revelation speaks quite vividly to how souls are either rewarded or condemned. 

        In this morning’s scripture we are assured by the author that for those who are on the side of God, they will live in the presence of the Creator, “never again to by hungry; and never again will they thirst.  They will not be plagued by scorching heat due to the sun beating down on them.”   Over the centuries of the church interpreting scriptures such as these, we have come to believe that they are addressing what life will be like in heaven.  In fact, a large portion of the modern church has pretty much come to believe that the book of Revelations deals solely with Heaven.

        Being more of a traditionalist, I am not sure that I would agree with many theologians about understanding the Book of Revelations as dealing with heaven.  And here is my reasoning why:  As a collection of writings, the books found within what we call the New Testament need to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus.  When you read what Jesus talked about, you will find very little teaching about Heaven in the way that most of us have been taught to think of Heaven.  What Jesus generally talked about was how life is to be lived here on earth.  Jesus tells us that the Kin-dom of God is present here on earth.  For Jesus, Heaven or God’s Kin-dom was a place where people lived in peace, looking after one another, making sure that everyone had enough to live each day.  This was the accusing finger pointing to Cain when he responded with, “Am I my brother’s keeper?  In Jesus’ understanding of Heaven the answer is “Yes” we are our brother/and sisters keeper.  

        So if we re-read this section of passage in light to how Jesus understands the Kin-dom of God to be, we would start to recognize that, “the never being hungry or thirsty again”, speaks to equal distribution of resources to everyone.  Of making sure that every person has equal access to medical care, of housing, of food, access to education.  When scripture speaks about, “not being beaten down by scorching heat”, it is talking about equitable wages and working conditions, where field laborers hold equal value to stockbrokers.  It’s a world that challenges the 1% type of behavior and the living by scarcity thinking. 

        Last year the former Secretary of Labor and presently a Professor of Economics at Berkley, Robert Reich, was featured in a documentary titled “Inequality For All.”   This film tries to explain the impact of the widening gap of wealth in our country and what the effects are having on our democracy.   What I found most informative as a Christian in this film was his sharing a personal story that he says changed his life forever.   

As a boy growing up he was very short and the bigger boys would pick on him.  Then one day Robert realized that if he could make alliances with older bigger boys to protect him, he wouldn’t get beat up so often.  This worked very well for him.  Then in the summer of his tenth year, one of his older protectors had gone off to Mississippi to help sign up voters.  This friend was one of three people who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the summer of 1964.  Robert realized that at that point, he needed to dedicate his life at trying to help protect those who had no voice from the bullies of our world.  He has in effect been ministering to this country through his knowledge and understanding of economics.  In that story, my mind was immediately recalling stories and actions of another man who fought against the bullies of his world, Jesus of Nazareth. 

        We come to this table this morning because of a man who fought against the bullies of his day, who went through great tribulation, and was murdered because he spoke up about God’s Kin-dom.  Jesus saw the inequality of his day; of how the Roman state took resources from the Hebrews for their own use, and of how the laws of God had become overly burdensome by misuse and perversion by their own religious institution.  For these reasons, Jesus began a ministry to those who suffered the most, giving them assurances of God’s love, and calling into accountability those who perpetuated a system that abused and denied justice to those without a voice.

        This morning we take time out to remember not only Jesus through the bread and the wine and of his teachings and his call to help build and reshape the kin-dom of God, but we are also remembering those people who were very important in our life.  Remembering heroes really, who we not only looked up to, but received those foundational instructions in which we have built our lives upon.  We call them saints, not because they were perfect, but because of the profound influence they have had upon our lives. 

        We come to this table because we believe in a man who spoke truths about what the kin-dom of God was like.  We come to this table, because we believe in the man who showed us how we are to live the kin-dom existence.  We come to this table because we believe in the man who was so passionate about equality, about justice, and about mercy for all people.  We come to this table to remember the Life and the teachings of Jesus and of his courage to stand up against those who felt they stood as equals to God.

It is God’s desire that we live in a world where everyone has the basic needs of life and that each person is not just black, or white, or brown, or yellow, gay or straight, or transgendered, or Christian, or Muslim, or Hindi, or short, tall, thin, fat, rich, or poor but that each person is related and connected in a real relationship of care, concern, and love for one another; for we are all the children of God. 

        As we remember those saints who have helped shape part of who we understand ourselves to be, we also have the assurance that we are still being shaped into who God wishes us to be.  And what is that?  His children!   Amen


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Surviving Change, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Jeremiah 291,4-7

Surviving Change

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/25/2015

Based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7


        How many of you have cell phones?  How many of you see them as a blessing?  How many of you see them as a curse?  How well do you understand all the functions on your cell phone?  How many times have you upgraded your cell phones over the past decade?  I want to show you a few of the cell phones that I have owned over my life time.  The first phone that I ever had, I made myself!  (show two tin cans with string attached)  This was the only thing I could afford at age 5! 

At that time the only type of phones we had were hardwired.  Then with the advent of the satellite we were able to talk wireless via what we now call a “cell phone.”  Like computers, cell phones have undergone many changes.  The first mobile devices looked alot like walkie-talkies.  But over the years they slimmed down to the size of the palm of your hand.  The oldest cell phone I have in my possession today is what we call a “dumb” phone.  All I could do on it was talk and for an extra fee, I could send or receive a text message.  The phone that I have had for the past 4 years is what we call an Android, or a smart phone.  This meant I could pay for unlimited calls, texting, and it has a camera where I can take pictures and actually send them to someone.  

This week I upgraded my phone to a Samsung Note 5.  I understand that people should respond with “awe”!  I have no idea what all it does, but I understand that with the correct “app” it will actually wash dishes!  Do you know that I don’t even have to send pictures via text or e-mail if the recipient is standing next to me.  All I have to do is hit a button on my phone, they hit a button on my phone, we place the phones together, they vibrate and voila, the picture has been exchanged.  Needless to say, there has been a lot of innovation since my tin can phone to my present phone.  It was tough enough to learn how to operate my last phone, but for this one, the merchant is offering 3 levels of classes (intro, intermediate, and advanced) to learn how to use it!  This new tech-knowledge is so overwhelming, I’m wondering “if I’ll ever understand all of the capabilities of my new phone.  

This morning I want to focus on surviving change.  Just because we know that change is inevitable, it doesn’t necessarily make it easy to adapt or accept.  In this morning’s text we find Jeremiah speaking to a people who were carried off from their home land, to a land far, far, a way.  It is a story of the Southern Kingdom, Israel, being carried off to the land of their captures, the Babylonians; a land where a different language was spoken, a land peculiar in behavior, a land with different ways of looking at life; a land with unfamiliar gods.  

How does one survive when life is totally disrupted?  Psalm 137 asks, “How can we sing the songs of Zion (of praise)”, when change feels like being carried off into a foreign land, where every aspect of life is so totally different than what one grows up learning and understanding? Within this particular reading, Jeremiah tries to address these questions as a way of giving comfort to those in the midst of change, and also as a way of giving hope toward a better future.

While living in Rock Springs, Wyoming, I had the privilege of becoming friends with a Jewish couple.  The wife, Liesel came to this country at the age of twelve as a refuge from Germany, because she was simply born a Jewess.  One evening at dinner Liesel wanted to show off a quilt that had been made by a friend, from pillow slips that Liesel’s mother had packed in Liesel’s suite case as she and her sister fled to Holland months ahead of their parents leaving Germany.  These particular pillow cases had been a part of her mother’s trousseau.

Liesel’s story of her family coming to America is a story that closely reflects the writings in Jeremiah. Their first home in America was in New York City, in Harlem.  Not only were they foreigners in a new land, not understanding the language very well, they were one of the few white families in the neighborhood and they were Jews, where even in America you were not well received.  They were very much like their ancestors, finding themselves having to cope in a land that was totally foreign to them.  At one point, Liesel’s mother made the comment to her husband, “and for this we left Germany?”   

How do we survive dramatic changes in our life?  Jeremiah speaks to those who physically had been carried off to a foreign land, but there are differing empires, those Babylon’s within our life’s that make today’s lectionary reading personal to us. Empires with names like fear, materialism, consumerism, violence in the home, mental illness, even loneliness to name just a few.  There are times in our lives when changing circumstances dictate our having to leave what is familiar to us and plunges us into a land that is unknown.  

There are all sorts of events in our lives that demand a change in what we are use to experiencing.  There are changes in our lives that sometimes we bring upon by our own actions, or times there are changes that are brought through the actions of others.  Most of you are aware that there are major changes occurring in my life with the ending of my time as your pastor.  When changes occur in a pastor’s life, those changes affect not just the life of the pastor and family, but also the life of the faith community that is being served.  Uncertainly, confusion, anger, possibly joy are but a few of the emotions that occur within the life of the congregation during these changes.  When we find ourselves in the midst of major change the question of, “how long will we have to put up with uncertainty” is at the top of the list of concerns.

As a faith community, questions like: how long will it take to get our next pastor; do we need to hire an interim or can we get by with pulpit supply as we search for our next settled pastor; what are we going to look for in our next pastor; what behavioral changes must we make as a faith community in order to move forward in our ministry are but a few of the topics that will need to be discussed as a congregation.  Change often seems painful in the process, but when seen as an opportunity to examine the positives and negatives, the end result will be a stronger and more productive community.

When God was telling the Israelites who had been carted off to Babylon to: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens; to marry and have sons and daughters; and pray to the Lord for peace, because if peace prospers, they too will prosper.  God was saying, do not just sit and complain and moan about how bad things are, but get in and make the most of it; in other words become the solution. 

For myself, I feel very much like the exiles from Jerusalem.  I am entering into a time of unknown territory.  As I leave Mountain View, I do not know where I will be moving to next.  But I do know that by embracing change, coupled with the knowledge that God is walking with me, I will survive this change and find myself in the setting that God see’s for me. 

So as a faith community, look for opportunities that will help you prosper and above all, pray to God and thank God for the unseen new opportunities, for it is through God’s guidance that prosperity will occur.  Change comes to us whether we want it to or not.  But the secret to successfully surviving change is to trust that God is in the midst of all the confusion and uncertainty.  Change provides opportunity for spiritual growth if we trust God enough to openly and honestly explore the possibilities.  In this way we can “sing the songs of Zion.”   Amen

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Finding True Security, by Mark 10:17-25 by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Finding True Security

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/18,2015

Based on Mark 10:17-25


        We started our worship today in a prayer that stated our understanding that God has created enough for everyone.  But do we truly believe that God has created enough for everyone?  We also asked to remember that all we have comes from God and to take Gods commandments to heart so we can do as Jesus asks of us.  But are we really willing to dig deep into what Jesus is teaching in the Gospels in order to live out the type of actions that Jesus says it takes to follow him?  These are the questions that the story of the rich young man is asking.

        Scripture that deals with giving up our finances are some of the hardest teachings to accept for the American consumer.  It is most interesting that much of the church in America has developed what we call “prosperity” theology – meaning that you live right and ask God for what you want and you shall receive it.  When in actuality, Jesus talks about giving away possessions, not asking to receive things beyond what is needed for today.

        As a product of my generation, these questions are really tough questions to answer if I wish to follow the examples and teachings of Jesus. I am what sociologist lable a Baby Boomer.  Boomers have also been referred to “The Silver Spooned” generation. It is descriptive of those born in a time of unprecedented prosperity.  

My parents generation is referred to as the “Depression Babies”, meaning that they were born during the time of this nation’s Great Depression. They grew up in a time when a new pair of shoes from the store, often hinged on the sale of a farm animal at the beginning of the school year and those shoes were to last you a whole year! It was a time when you rarely had “ready to wear” cloths from the store.  There was no such thing as eating out at the restaurant two or three times a week, just because you didn’t feel like cooking.  My parent’s generation tended to be children during the Second World War and experienced daily life with ration booklets. There was no longer the lack of money to buy things that you needed or wanted, there just wasn’t anything available to purchase, because all the natural resources were going toward the war effort, leaving only limited items that were necessary to survival.  

With the close of the war, America emerged a world power. With the dawn of the 1950”, America was entering into her zenith. A nation who had lived for several decades with very little was now poised to give its children, my generation, all the things that they were denied. Unprecedented housing development erupted; freeways were built to expedite commerce and travel; families grew into a two car household; Boomer’s were told to chose the job that made them happy, instead of working at one that didn’t provide self-gratification. Consumerism became the new religion and the phrase “conspicuous consumption” was coined to describe the mindset and lifestyle of where we as a society have arrived. 

The story of the Rich Young Ruler is often associated with Stewardship drives.  You are probably thinking right now, that this is going to be a sermon on just how much money does the church want from you this year, but you would be wrong. The story about the young man coming to Jesus and asking what more must he do to be insured “eternal life” is about stewardship.  This story is not about the “external” wealth of the young, but rather about the “internal” wealth of this person.  There is a huge correlation to this young man’s questions about internal happiness and the lack of satisfaction by many people living in a country as wealthy as ours.

From time to time, I get asked the question of, “How did I receive my call to ministry?”  It’s an honest question often asked by people outside the church.  My story goes something like this: “Even though I grew up as apart of the ‘Silver Spooned’ generation, my family was pretty poor. However, because of the general affluence within our society, I was able to utilize many of the advantages that were available with respect to educational opportunities. I had vowed to work hard and accumulate the wealth that I didn’t experience as a child.  

While in my twenties, I worked hard, went to college, saved, invested in real estate successfully, and by age 27 had accumulated a very handsome looking portfolio. I was well on my way in achieving the American dream and my goal of financial independence. Yet, I found myself suffering from insomnia.  At age 27 I had realized that I had accomplished my entire short, medium and long-term goals, yet I was still missing something in my life.  Not carrying for the accounting field, I found my way into management with a convenience store chain. I also had become the chairperson of “the No-longer Strangers Task Force” at church. This task force was responsible in working with World Church Services and helping resettle Southeast Asian refugees who were trying to immigrate into the United States.  I found this work very fulfilling.

At the same time, I became aware that many of my customers at the convenience store seemed to be discussing unidentified yearnings for something greater in their lives; something that would give them a deeper satisfaction and a sense of greater self-worth.  I grew to understand these to be “Spiritual” issues and I recognized that my own lack of goal setting came from “Spiritual” longings that were inconsistent with my previous mindset of finding “wholeness and security” through the amassing of wealth.

Once I connected all the dots and realized I should shift gears and go into parish ministry my insomnia stopped immediately.   But then came the wrestling over personal wealth and the desire to accumulate more, because we all know that being a minister is not the road one takes to get on the list of the Fortune 500.” 

Today’s questioning by the rich young man is really very similar to many of us. Here is a man who has it all. He was secure financially and was by all rights a very moral man; he followed and never strayed from the Ten Commandments, yet there was something missing in his life. If he had been satisfied, he would have never been asking Jesus the question, “what must I do to get eternal life?”   

The answer of “sell everything and give it to the poor” sent the rich young man off saddened because he could not release his reliance of security that he found in his wealth to a new security in following Jesus. This person, who knew that there was something missing in his life, was unwilling to let go, so he might live life more fully.  

Christians have historically struggled with the question of security.  St. Francis of Assisi, challenged the church of his day with the same issues as the rich young man had.  St Francis was a man of great wealth in a time when the church valued great wealth. When he gave all his wealth to the poor and lived as a beggar, rebuilding a church and providing a meaningful existence with very little, those in religious leadership couldn’t understand Francis actions. We as Christians struggle today with placing too much reliance on possessions, on money, and even on traditions while sensing that there is more to life. 

It isn’t the matter of giving our wealth away and living like beggars that is the lesson here. The lesson is stripping away the baggage that keeps us from reaching out to God in the innocence of children, to live by God’s call for justice. The lesson for us is not to rely on external possessions to make us happy, but rather to rely on the inner peace that comes through our relationship with God. For it is in our true poverty of self, that we gain our true wealth; that of the love of God and our ability to share that love with others. It is in our poverty that we are able to free ourselves from the sin of consumerism and greed.  It is in our poverty that we can find true security!  Come, let’s follow God! Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another Form of Community, based on Matthew 7:7-12 by Rev Steven R Mitchell,

Another Form of Community

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/04/2015

Based on Matthew 7:7-12


        Hear once again the opening lines to our Call to Worship, “We were created in relationship and for relationship.  We are created for community!”   Today is World Communion Sunday.  It is an intentional time of recognizing our relationship to the larger body of Christ, helping remind us that as a faith community we are not alone, that even with differing theological perspectives, all who call themselves Disciples of Christ are in relationship.  Many congregations celebrate their unity in this diversity with providing other types of breads representing inclusion with other cultures as we meet at Christ’s table.  In years past we have served a multiple choice of breads, this year we will be serving just two types, our regular American style loaf and Jeera (common to India), representing another Hemisphere.

        The words in our Call To Worship started me asking the question “what does it mean to be in community?”  There are many forms of community: there is family as community.  Organizations, whether social or professional are communities.  The boundaries of a city designate a community and within those boundaries are subdivisions of community.   With the capability of “internet” we have expanded our understanding of community through sources like “facebook” and “Linkin”.  I have read where NASA is developing a program to send a group of people to Mars and create a settlement, this then will expand our community in new ways with our sister planet. 

        It is pretty obvious that community then is based on relationship.  When we attend a play that Judy Rowe is producing, we are in community not with just Judy but with all those attending that production.  When we help send youth such as Zoee to camp, we share in community, not just with Zoee but with all those youth that she interacts with.  When Wayne attends various action groups that focus on social justice concerns, and does it as a representative of Mountain View our circle of relationship broadens.  We are in relationship with the larger gardening community through our community garden.  All these require a willingness to be involved relationally. 

        There has always been and continues to be a tension in relationships.   One aspect of this tension comes with questions that deal with degrees of responsibility in relationships.  Questions like “why should I be concerned about the “others” – those who do not quite meet to my standards?”   “Why should I be concerned about how people treat the earth?”  answers to these questions of who gets in and who stays out, the have’s verses the have not’s, when boiled down to a core question shows what our basic core values are that govern our response and our ability to look beyond current limitations of our boundaries.  One basic core value is: Do we view life through the eyes of “tribal” relationship which is restrictive and exclusive by nature, or is our understanding of community based on “egalitarian” value which recognizes equality between others and is inclusive by nature?

        The creation stories found in the first three chapters of Genesis, present a lot of challenge for many of us.  It is unfortunate that we so often look at scripture and start to proof text as a way of supporting either our “tribal” or “egalitarian” nature.   Yet when we read the progression of the two creation stories, what we find is a story about relationship and community.  God creates the heavens and the earth, from the earth God creates life: life in the sea’s, life in the air, life on the land.  Ultimately God creates humanity also from the earth.  The basic meaning of all three chapters tells about relationship’s, about community.  God has relationship with creation; creation has relationship within its self because of its relationship with God.  Humanity has relationship with that which has been created.  In other words, relationship exists between human to human, human to our planet, human to Creator, and Creator to all. 

        Jesus restates this relationship in the story about a traveler who is robbed and beat to near death.  Two people come upon him; one person representing the religious community and the other person representing the political community, both not wishing to be bothered ignore the beaten man and leave him on the side of the road.  A third person comes along of a differing culture, sees the beaten man, tends to his wounds and takes him to a hotel where he can re-cooperate and financially helps during the recovery time.  Through this story Jesus asks questions about responsibilities of relationship and community.

        I find in both the Genesis story and the story that Jesus told a challenge to think about how we view and respond in community.  Upon coming back from vacation this week, I learned that Meredith Ryan is a probable kidney donor. This willingness on Meredith’s part to give, once again broadened my understanding of relationship and community.  As Meredith embarks on this journey toward being a donor, she is bringing a very personal commitment of relationship to the one who needs a kidney.  As a member of our faith community, we too are a part of this broadening of relationship.  We are all supportive of Meredith and patting her on the shoulder about this opportunity to donate one of her kidneys.  But what is our responsibility in her actions?  Our response will come in our understanding of “relationship.”  This is an instance where the story of the Good Samaritan is being presented to our community of faith in a very real way.  Like the Samaritan who gave not just of his time, care, and concern, he also gave financially for the well being of this man who had been beaten and left for dead.  It is my hope that as a faith community we participate at a financial level in living out our relationship as active support in Meredith’s willingness to donate one of her kidneys. 

We are all interconnected.  In our prayer of confession we recognized our connectedness through the words Adam spoke: bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, bodies, you God have created.   As we come to Christ’s table this morning recognizing and celebrating our relationship of our world community, I hope we come recognizing that relationship goes beyond just words.  It involves our time, our talents, and at times our finances.  Jesus’ relationship to us came by his giving his life.  Meredith is acting upon her faith in humanity through the willingness to gift a kidney.  The closing verse in this morning’s text is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Let us join in community beyond words, beyond gifting money, let us join in community in our willingness to expand our boundaries of inclusiveness and recognize the vastness of sharing that comes through relationship.   Amen

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Crossing the Line, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Mark 7:24-30

Crossing the Line

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 9/6/2015

Based on Mark 7:24-30


        As we come before Christ’s table this morning, in light of this morning’s text as well as the recent events focused around professing Christian Kim Davis, county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky and her refusal to issue wedding licenses to same-sex couples based on her alleged Christian based values, I have to ask, “Who is truly invited to this table” and “what does this table truly represent?”  As much as Mrs. Davis’ actions disturb my sensibilities, I must admit that she brings another voice to the conversation of “inclusion”.  The question of: “where does one draw the line between acting within the law verses personal convictions?”  I think with the Supreme Court’s latest interpretation on the inalienable right to marry, our national conversation around moral values has not been so intense since questions on “conscientious objectors” during WWII and about abortion in the 1960’s;  all based in religious conscienceness.

        Where do we draw the line on behaviors and laws that seem to violate our moral sensibilities?  How do we define the acts of crossing the line?  Are acts of civil disobedience actions that lead towards change for the better or are they simply obstructions of the law based on prejudices?  I realize that in Mrs. Davis’ particular case, she is an elected official who has sworn to uphold and abide by the laws of County, State and Federal, which differs in rights from that of a private citizen, yet as an individual, questions around moral values still exist. 

I remember in my first parish, there was one person whose understanding around how one does and who doesn’t interpret scripture differed greatly from my understanding.   I understand that when I read scripture I am reading it through the eyes of past sermons, from the variety of theological concepts that I studied in seminary, from my education in the public school system, from my family and local community value systems, and from my personal life experiences.  All of these and more influence how I understand what I read in the Bible.  The person that I would discuss this with maintained that she never interpreted scripture; she just read what was there.  To her, the words on the written page were not influenced by any of those areas of discipline.  The meaning of scripture means what the words say, period!  When Genesis reads, “And God created the heavens and the earth in seven days”, she understood the word “day” to mean 24 hrs.  She never understood that she had interpreted “day” to mean a value of 24 hrs. We never came to a mutual understanding on the issue that we all interpret scripture, just as we interpret events that happen to us day in and day out.

I believe Mrs. Davis falls into the camp that I was just describing.  She doesn’t comprehend that the way she understands scripture is based on multiple aspects of what she has been taught and has experienced.  It is through our individual experiences in life that creates the need for conversation, which can explain why conversation between two people can easily become over heated, because it is personal. 

How one interprets, is essential in how one answers my original questions of, “Who is truly invited to this table” and “what does this table truly represent?”  I first want to address the question, “what does this table truly represent?”   We say that this is Christ’s table, but what is the deeper implication in that statement?  The best way to answer that question is to observe what Jesus did and didn’t do during his life.  We know through this morning’s text that Jesus did not spend all of his time in Jewish settlements.  In today’s reading we see that Jesus has gone to the city of Tyre, which is a predominately Gentile city, where he encounters a Syrophoenician woman.  This is one of the most offensive stories in the New Testament, both to the first audiences who heard it as well as to modern-day ear.

The encounter between the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus comes on the heels of Jesus teaching and feeding the Five thousand, the arrest and beheading of his mentor John the Baptizer, encountering hostile Pharisees in his home town and his accusation of them, You have stopped following the commands of God, and you follow only human teachings.”   Jesus then goes on to elaborate that it is what is in your heart that either makes you clean or unclean.  Jesus uses the dietary rituals as the example of restrictiveness and not of God’s doing.  After all this, Jesus decides he needs to find some alone time and journeys up to Tyre and Sidon, which is outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. 

It is in this setting that we see a side of Jesus not seen previously.  Now surrounded by Gentiles, Jesus is faced with much of his teachings.  Most of us hearing this story would find ourselves offended by the way Jesus uses racist language and the refusal to help this woman.  The language is racist because the word “dog” implies the lowest form of existence in the Hebrew mind and he was telling this woman to leave him alone because she was not worthy of his attention.  Ultimately because of her persistence Jesus decides to heal her daughter. 

To the first audiences of this story, there are other levels of offenses going on.  First off, Jesus is staying in Gentile territory, secondly, a woman dares to approach Jesus, thirdly, this woman touches Jesus, all three of these bringing into question “purity” issues.  It is in this story that we see two people, Jesus and a woman, crossing over the lines of cultural prejudices and moral values, showing that the boundaries of God are larger than what society often acknowledges.  Coming to the table of Christ implies that there are no boarders, no boundaries, that God see’s this table as the table of inclusion.  This table represents the abundance of God’s love, it represents the existence of what is, the physical world that we live in.  

So, who then is invited to the table?  When reading scripture, we see that Jesus is the first in the New Testament stories to use the dietary laws as a way of explaining inclusion.  By telling the Pharisees that it wasn’t what you put into your mouth that makes you impure but rather it is what is in your heart, Jesus was expanding the circle of inclusion.  It is in the story of Jesus and this woman of Tyre that challenges cultural bigotry by showing that impurity doesn’t come from cultural differences but rather in the prejudices and bigotry within your heart that makes one impure.  Later in the book of Acts, Peter has a vision of a sheet of all animals dropping down from heaven and God telling him to eat anything from it that he wants.  When Peter argues about the dietary laws, God basically tells Peter, that all things are acceptable, again showing it isn’t the stuff from the outside but the stuff in the heart that makes one pure or impure. 

I think that when we enter into discussions such as immigration, issues around poverty, or around mental health, we would do well to think about the encounter that Jesus had with the Syrophoencian woman.  It is important to note that it wasn’t her faith that prompted Jesus to action, but rather her passion for her daughter, for her need, that crossing over the line that got Jesus to act.  It not only changed the lives of this woman and her child but more importantly it changed the life of Jesus.  I think it is in this story that Jesus comes to the full realization that the gift of God, even the crumbs  are there for all to partake.  This communion table represents the world of God and this food is the gift from God to all.  It is my prayer that people such as Mrs Davis, and we are all Mrs. Davis on some level, will learn the broader meanings of what Jesus was trying to tell us. Moral purity comes from the heart, not from the outside.  Amen