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