Sunday, May 31, 2015

Choice of Purpose

Okay, I admit it, I thought I was done with this subject a couple weeks ago, like most blog posts that make the rounds with my friends the various "Let/Don't Let Your Kids Choose To Not Go To Church" posts came in a bunch and then we'd move on to whatever else someone thought was killing the church.  But NO, another round of "Get your kids into Sunday worship" posts are showing up. 

So, I've made my points on choice previously, but my issue with these are that they tie into everything I'm struggling with regarding this whole "church survival" culture. There are lots of points where this culture goes astray, but this recent series of articles hits two main ones.  1) Church = Sunday Morning Worship (or at least that large corporate worship is central to the idea of Church).  2) The objective of Church is to survive, and that means indoctrinating kids into the culture so that (maybe, hopefully) they'll find it essential to their adult lives. 

So let's talk about this: The church built around a large corporate worship as the only, best, or even "right" way to do church is dying.  Not for every congregation or context, but as a whole it is.  This is NOT what church is or what church needs to be in the new paradigm.  Worship will happen, but it's quite probable that it will happen in smaller groups, or at special times of the year, or both, or connected to mission and other parts of "Church," or who knows exactly, it should based on the new paradigm be contextual, organic, and relational.  And to be quite honest, for most churches, large corporate worship is not, and quite probably can not be that sustainably. 

So why then is this the drum that so many beat when it comes to the ideal of "helping our children be Godly?"  Probably in large part because it's what they know.  For many, Sundays at church was the norm, but it also was rarely (and most of the posts I've seen state this) the only way faith, religion, and/or spirituality interacted with their life.  The problem is that having spent most of our life in the Postmodern Transition, we create a false duality and over emphasize the roles of institutions which support our "truth."  This is not where we are today, and certainly for kids who have spent most of their life in the new paradigm is actually completely illogical.  Not saying that all kids who go to a Sunday large service of worship will turn against it, but coming to that will NOT keep anyone involved in the church or with their faith by itself.

If anything, for those who have spent most their lives in this relational paradigm of convergence, the separation of the world at the "worship hour" is going to present large issues with finding purpose unless it is supported by a connection to the rest of the world around us.  At some time in the near future there will be a tipping point where this struggle to maintain and survive will be the very thing that brings about an inevitable ending.

It is though the fear of this ending that I think causes us to write so many of the posts, to spend so much time reflecting on how to survive. Yet, it seems too often rather than being willing to risk letting things that we've always known and make us feel safe and connected to our ideas of "God," we think that we just need to focus on making others think the same way we do.  This is especially risky (in my opinion, as if everything we right isn't based on our opinions) when it comes to our children.  I struggle a lot with parenting, the ideas we ask our children to accept just because we hold them close to ourselves aren't always ones we should impose on our kids.  I started struggling with this with sports.  So often I see babies dressed in school or team colours, told to cheer on "our team" just because it's "mom's team" or "dad's team."

The thing is we don't stop with sports (and even if we did, I'd have lots to say, but that's a different post), we basically tell our children for years who God is, what God thinks, and sometimes go as far as to turn God into the global boogie man without meaning to.  We want our kids to think like we do, and we do it to the point of indoctrination.  That's a problem, I see it time and again at confirmation age.  There are kids who have never asked questions, they come to church because they're told to, they answer questions with certainty because they've been told what the right answer is, but when faced with realities that conflict with these answers, they don't know how to doubt, they don't know HOW to make a CHOICE! 

We've created a world filled with anxiety because these children have never existed within a world where there was a "right" path to a "single" truth.  Their world is relational and every thing that happens adds to the book they are doodling in (see previous blog posts for more on this) creating new understandings.  But we want faith not to be in THAT book, we want faith to be already written.  We want them to memorize the text book and never deviate from or question it. 

Have you looked at a GOOD children's educational book recently?  Many have more questions than answers.  Most new one's I've seen aim to put kids into the world their studying and then leave them room to go find more about the questions that matter to them.  We just finished our first youth literary circle here, they read the BFG by Dahl and they had so many different thoughts on the BIG stuff (Fear, Hope, Pain, Life, Ethics) that came from the reading it was hard to keep track of who asked what and who answered what and what all that lead to. 

We cannot indoctrinate our kids and expect them to survive in a world where the constant stream of information means that their reality is ALWAYS changing.  They need room to figure it out.  The things church provides are useful and important in that formation, but the idea that the other things of life are somehow less important, or even unequivocally less Godly than that Sunday morning thing is very misplaced.

So let's sum this up before the few people who have made it this far move on:
Going to church as a kid WILL NOT mean that they'll come to church as an adult.  This NEVER should have been our intent. I've seen in a number of posts the idea that when we have kids, people come back to church.  There were once statistics to support this, but that was mostly part of a modern way of thinking that became paramount in the postmodern transition to the idea that our truth was a truth based on a singular path.  The fact though is: if we're not going to be the kind of place that an individual thinks is important to THEIR OWN LIFE at any certain time, there was never anywhere to go but down, because as we are more able to see the complexities of the world, we look for places to engage our passions, and those places and people become most important.  The church CAN be that place, but we have to make it that place.  We have to let go of the idea that getting people in the door is our purpose, we have to let go of the things that make us comfortable, we have to stop trying to survive and become whatever it is our context needs most.  If we allow ourselves to be moved by the Spirit that envelops all things, WE will find our passions, our children can find their passions, and God's reign will move ever closer. 

<End Rant>

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Nicodemus has a question for Jesus, one he never gets to ask, but the setup suggests a common theme:
The question is likely something like “Who are you really, Jesus?” or “What's going on here, Jesus?”
Regardless of the question that never get's asked, Jesus obviously wants Nicky to think, not to just give him an answer that he can agree or disagree with. I think that's true most of the time we come to God with “big” questions, we don't get an answer, but rather new challenges and questions that make us think, work, create, and move from where we're comfortable.

Today is trinity Sunday, and while we see the words, Jesus, Spirit, and God in today's text, the idea of trinity isn't as simple as seeing the words and believing these three beings, who are also a single being are sitting around a table talking about life like on our bulletin cover.

A discussion of the trinity is best done in a similar way to our text this morning. A look at what we know, what connections are to be made, and most importantly how that affects us going forward.

The base question behind the trinity is “Who is God, really?” or “What is going on here, God?” We ask these questions hoping to understand the world and our place in it, hoping to be let in the mystery that seems beyond our understanding. At the end of the day the trinity is a mystery, but searching for information and understanding is obviously part of this walk of faith, even if certainty never can be.

So where to start: The best place to start is the Abrahamic understanding of God as ONE, we cannot be faithful to the God we claim to follow if we do not understand God as a singular entity. With that in mind, we have to seek what is most universal about God. The one expression we have that seems most universal is:

God is Love.
God is Love, we see lots of meanings behind this, God provides, God saves, God seeks Justice, God is I AM, God is filled with Mercy, God provides Manna, God is Love. Love, another of those words that we think we understand, but time and again we can't seem to fully express love. We build beautiful monuments, both physical and in our lives, we sing and study with all we have, we through all our emotions into what we believe, but just like in scripture, the monuments fall, the songs and learning are for naught as God calls us to actions, and the emotions change as God calls us to Grace, Justice, Manna, Mercy time and again, challenging us to move further towards our intended image of Love. We always seek to live in the Image of Love, yet we fall short time and again of our created intent.

Jesus Is The Word.
The Word is Love fully expressed.
God on earth can only be one thing, Love expressed in human form. The Word of God brings all things into being, and this same word walked a human life in the form of Jesus. The Word is the stuff that we're all made up of. When we are made in the image of God, we're also told we can move mountains, we can create, we can walk the life of The Word. We often get caught up in what we think scripture says, and pick and choose what we want to use within this book, but when we speak of The Word of God, we need to remember that it is not words on paper, but the life of Jesus, and the eternalness of that life continuing to interpret scripture, life, and all of creation just as The Word did when it created every part of existence, and created us in that very same image. The Word is always creating, recreating, and living within each and every one of us, seeking universal reconciliation that will resurrect God's reign, as it conquers even death.

The Spirit Is The Wind of Wisdom.
The Spirit is Love moving throughout all things. The spirit may have landed on the church at Pentecost, but The Spirit has always been here. The spirit blows through the world enveloping all things, changing them like the wind. Jesus has some great wordplay in our text today, as the word for spirit and wind are one and the same. Yet, it is fitting to compare the two, because the wind cools us on a hot summer day, but it can also move trees, bridges, and even mountains. When we talk about faith, we really are speaking about listening to and discerning what the spirit is doing and joining in that. That's why we are able to move mountains, because they are going to be moved, we just get to join in. This means though that we don't get to choose which mountains move, or where they move to, the Spirit is doing that, because the spirit isn't a single flame on my head giving me wisdom, but it is spread out among all of creation, enveloping ALL parts, and filling the world with Love irresistible.

We often speak of the relational nature of God, how these three parts relate with each other and how that means we're also relational by nature. Humans, always seeking to escape aloneness because we were created to be relational in the image of a relational God. Yet, when we see God as ONE, it goes deeper than that. We are created in the image of LOVE, Love that creates ALL, provides for ALL, connects ALL, gives ALL, reconciles ALL, and moves ALL.

We must always remember, that no one sees God except in expressions of love, that to be born of the spirit is to be born of this love, and love, and thus life, is made up of Grace and Justice, Manna and Mercy, the universals of God's reign. We must though also always remember that no matter how much we know, how much we remember, how much we learn, that God is always there challenging us to move beyond our selves, beyond our understanding, and into the newness of Love, continually being born again via the spirit that is always changing the creation of LOVE.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Simple Comissioning Liturgy

The call of Christ is to a willing, dedicated apostleship. Our apostleship is a manifestation of the new life we enter through baptism as we travel through the world. It is both a gift and commitment, as well as an offering and a responsibility. Today Alex Gilbert comes before us, as she begins her role as intern at the CROSS ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. At this time I invite Gail Gilbert and Brooke Bazemore forward to join me in commissioning Alex.

Alex, we commission you, representing your family, your friends, and your church:

We send you with the knowledge, the grace bestowed on you in Baptism is sufficient for your calling because it is God’s grace. By God’s grace we are saved and enabled to grow in the faith and to commit our lives in ways that serve Christ. God has called you to particular service. Show your purpose by answering these questions.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, showing his love in word and action?
I will
Do you welcome the responsibility of this service, To love neighbors, And to work for the reconciling of the world?
I do
Will you serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love,
Relying on God’s mercy and rejoicing in the power Of the Holy Spirit?
I will
Do we, the congregation of Harbor View Presbyterian, confirm the call of God to our sister to this service?
We do
Will we support and encourage her in this ministry?
We will
We send you not away from us, but as part of us, loved by family, friends, and faith. We send you with prayers, with promises to be here as you need us, with our blessing. Go forth and do that which God has called you to do. Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

No Choice

There is so much wrong with the recent posts making the rounds about kids and choosing church over sports and other things (or not letting it be a choice at all).  Issues include a twisted focus on family in faith, unhealthy parenting, and even some mixed signals regarding child development theory.  The biggest issue though is the focus on church or no church as a CHOICE, or a singular way. 

I have to say that the fear written into the post in question seems to be that of someone who spent most of their life in the modern paradigm and the post-modern transition.  The way the world works is not the same as those time periods and the fear of the author is one that echoes the anxiety of our culture that has yet to come to terms with how the world now works.

So, before we get into how the world works now, let's look at how the term "choice" came to be at the center of this issue.  For the sake of simplicity let's look at life as if it was literature.  In modernity we acted as if we were all in one story, one great novel, where all things were working towards one great end and all we had to do was find our place in the novel and play our part.  The problem is that at some point it became clear that there wasn't just one single ending, and we weren't all really working on that same story.  This is where Post-Modernity stepped in.  Suddenly we were all in choose your own adventure books. The choices we made created a story and once we made a choice we had to play out that story before starting over, or finding out what our ending was.  We were each working on our own story and those who chose like we chose were on the same path to the same ending. 

Of course, you can see where I'm going, can't you?  The thing is that the idea of this bianary choice (this or that) or even other limited in the moment choosing (this, or this, or this, or that), doesn't work when put to the test.  Life isn't about the choices we make.  Yes, they play a part, but the road we take isn't what gets us places, it's the traveling.  So as we travel we create the world we live in, that is the definition of the new paradigm, it is a place of convergence, a relational paradigm where whatever we create relationally defines our world.

That means that it's not about choosing something over something else, and that's hard because that means we have even less control over the outcome than we thought we did.  Yet, God time and again reminds us we're not in control, nor should we try to be.  We live, we interact, we create, we relate, just like a God who does the same things.  The fact is that the world is not a choose your own adventure book for each of us, nor is it a novel where we must find our place, it is an endless sketch book, full of blank pages. Each page we start working on may get finished or it may not, we may come back to it or we may rip it out, but each page we work on influences what we work on later, but there are no rules as to what we are to work on, we each get to create that, with the help of the Spirit of God. 

There is great freedom in this, and even greater faith.  We've treated faith like something akin to anxiety for so long, we've created a world where we compare stats, ask for choices to be made right here and now, and remove all context from everything we do.  Life isn't about this or that, it's about whatever we create and the God within that creation.  We need to stop worrying about the church's place in that creation.  Stop worrying that God can't create in ways we don't understand.  We need to embrace the beauty of a paradigm where a Creative God's image in each of us can come through without fear, without anxiety, without bounderies, but instead filled with the confidence to risk, to fail, to have to rely on grace, manna, and mercy and not on our own "Choice."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Confirmation over 2 Services (with session meeting in middle)

9AM – Bibles
At the 11am service these confirmads will receive stoles that represent their roles people doing the ministry of God. But first, now, we will present them with their bibles. The bible represents each confirmand's role within the ongoing story of God's love, a god who created and cares for all things. As scripture was quoted on the day of Pentecost, we likewise hold scripture close, to be read and re-read, reflected on in times of need, to interpret and reinterpret through honest conversation with community, to follow in discernment. It is true as Paul tells Timothy that:
Congregation: Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

Friends: Chris, Jackson, and Sammy have been baptized and are members of the body of Christ. They have been nurtured within the Christian community and instructed in the belief and practice of the church. They come before us today to be confirmed in faith and affirm their bapism. Remember your baptism and give thanks.
By the waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit God claims us and calls each one by name. God unites us to Christ in his death and resurrection and grafts us into the body of Christ as members of the church. God washes us clean by forgiving our sin; commissions us to be a royal priesthood with Christ in his ministry to the world; empowers us to live in newness of life as people of the Word; and invites us to be renewed at the Lord's Table until we feast with him in glory. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.

Led by our confirmands let us profess our faith together:

Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

If we the church affirm these confirmands as essential in their roles within God's story, let us do so using the words that echo those of God as Jesus began his earthly ministry:
Congregation:You are our beloved sons, in whom we are well pleased.

10AM – Statement of Faith
Jackson: We believe in the creator god, who acts as nurse and loving parent to all creation. It is in the image of this god, known as love, that we are each made. Being made in the image of love means following the guidelines of manna and mercy in all we do, making sure each has what they need and treating all with respect and grace.
Chris: We believe that Jesus was this god showing us what it means to live as the image of god, how to live as love, not in fear. Jesus lived like us, fully human, but as a miracle worker showed himself to be fully connected to god. He showed us the path to redemption, how to overcome fear and selfishness even unto death. So, through Jesus we know that a life of love has no end, not even death can contain it.
Sammy: We believe in the spirit who is found in all things, and who is always with each of us, reminding and guiding us as we discern that which god would want from us.
We believe that god, as shown through the life of Jesus, and guided by the spirit wants us to live our lives to the fullest, taking risks without fear, living out love for god as seen in our treatment of others.
We believe in a church made up of diverse people, who find their unity not in uniformity but through compassion and grace shown to one another. In doing so we form a community which seeks to discern and learn ever more about god while sharing in one another's burdens and doing what we can for those who cannot do for themselves.
We believe that we are ever seeking the mysteries of life, but that we wish to do that as people of god, created in god's image, and living out god's life of manna and mercy, justice and grace.

11AM – Stoles
In the 9am service these confirmands received bibles of their choice. These bibles represent their role in the ongoing story of God's love in the world. We now will present them with their stoles. The stole is a symbol of ministry, and as these confirmads have presented their own statement of faith they now are ready to tell their own story and follow in the words that Jesus read in the temple:
Confirmands: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. You shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be ministers of our God.

Blessed are you, most gracious God, for you have given to us the gift of baptism. Through water and the Spirit you have claimed us as your own, cleansing us from sin and giving us new life. You called us into your church to be your servants in the world in the name of Jesus Christ. You promised to be present among us, to direct and defend your people by the power of your Spirit. And now we give you thanks, for your faithfulness to us and to these, who come to be confirmed and affirm their part in the covenant of baptism. By the power of your Spirit continue in them the good work you have begun that they may willingly serve you in love and joy with courage and truth.

Along with our confirmands let us confess our faith together:
1: We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for his Church by his Word and his Spirit.
2: God has done this since the beginning of the world and will continue to do so to the end.
1: We believe in one holy, universal Christian Church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.
2: We believe that Christ's work of reconciliation is made manifest in the Church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.
1: We share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind.
2: We have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptised with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one Name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope.
1: Together we come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ.
2: Together we are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity.
1: Together we acknowledge and bear one another's burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ.
2: We need one another.
1: We need to build one another up, admonishing and comforting one another.
2: We also suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness.
1: We pray together.
2: We serve God together in this world.
1: Together we fight against all which may threaten or hinder our unity.
2. Our unity appears as we obey Christ's call to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to one another for mutual benefit and blessing.
ALL: For Jesus Alone is Lord. To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honour and the glory for ever and ever.

If we as the church now affirm these confirmands as they go forth to meet God and join in the work of God let us do so with words that echo those God met Jesus with at the beginning of his ministry:
Congregation: You are our Beloved Sons, in whom we are well pleased.

Let us pray that those affirming their baptism may go into the world, giving witness to God's love and grace.

Let us pray that, Chris, Jackson, and Sammy may know the peace of Christ in times of trouble, doubt and sorrow.

Let us pray that they, with all of us, may remember our need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray that we may grow together in the knowledge and understanding of God's Word.