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