Service Recap; May 29, 2016

This week Caleb, our pastoral intern, led us in a thoughtful reflection on how to be at ease with oneself in the presence of a loving God. Remarkably, he culled his insights from an Old Testament narrative that is replete with pyrotechnics and violence. More about that in a minute. Caleb began his homily by graciously inviting us into a period in his life when he struggled so deeply with anxiety that silence became incredibly difficult - to the point that he had to have earbuds in all the time. He needed the sports podcasts or the tunes to tune out the nagging thoughts that he wasn't going to measure up as husband, or pastor, or you name it.

From Caleb's recent trip to Israel, taken on top of Mt. Carmel.

From Caleb's recent trip to Israel, taken on top of Mt. Carmel.

He jumped nimbly from that moment of transparency to a momentous event in the history of Israel, a day full of anxiety for many, but full of restful confidence for one man, Elijah. The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is immediately for Israel a cautionary tale, extolling the magnificence of Israel's God and warning against chasing after the so-called gods of Canaan. You can read the narrative of the events in 1 Kings 18:20-39. Suffice it to say, the prophets of Baal were anxious all day long, as they limped about in circles, raving and shouting, self-mutilating, trying their religious best to get the favorable attention of a god that never answered. Meanwhile, Elijah, without breaking a sweat, and after a running commentary, thick with sarcasm (maybe Baal is asleep - yell louder!) invokes the presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who promptly responds and consumes Elijah's sacrifice with flames from heaven.

The day of the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal begins with this question that Elijah puts to the people: "How long will you go on limping with two opinions. If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal then follow him."  God is jealous for our loyalty but not so that he can prop up his ego. God wants us to worship him and him alone because only in the gifts of his love, grace, and empowering presence can we be confident in who we are meant to be. The anxious voices in our head invite us to measure up to some ideal version of ourselves that is good enough to get God's favorable attention and merit the favor of others - may as well limp about all day waiting on an idol to show up and approve of you. Better to be like Elijah and take God at his word. The Lord our God is the one who accepts us as we are, forgives all of our sins, and sets our lives on the path of wholeheartedness.

Communion Song

Prayers

  • Pray for those who have lost their lives to war. Pray for families whose lives have been upturned by war and violence.
  • Pray for those in our own city whose lives have been upturned by violence.
  • Pray for peace.

Announcements

  • There will be a vote next week after church to confirm Elders and Deacons. All members are invited to vote.
  • There will be a potluck on June 12, and we will be hosting guests from General Synod.
  • Summer hours will begin on June 19th. Service will begin at 9:30am
  • HUNGER WALK is June 25th. Sign up to Volunteer to help out by responding through the church email this week!

Trinity Sunday Recap; May 22

"Bring me a worm that can understand man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Trinity." -John Wesley

This Sunday was Trinity Sunday. Talking about the Trinity can be a daunting task. It can often feel like the conversation depicted in this crass but comical video.

 

Talk of the Trinity is confusing, overly wordy, and perhaps worst of all, talking about the Trinity often seems entirely irrelevant. What is the difference whether God is 3 in 1 or 1 in 3  or 3 or 1.

The doctrine of the Trinity means, among other things, that God is "helpless but to love us." On Sunday, Bob focused on the internal communion that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share together. The early church fathers called this profoundly mysterious relationship, PerichoresisPeri means around and Chore is the root of the English word choreography. Dancing around. Diagrams fail us, but the image of the three persons in fluid movement and union offers us a picture of the three persons in loving relationship.

It is out of this loving communion, this perichoretic love, that God creates us. Bob pointed out that "there never was a time when God chose to love. God is love." The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that causes us to be sure that God is love. CS Lewis makes the point a different way, "If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love."

The doctrine of the 3 in 1 God affirms that God is love. It is God's nature to love us and to pursue us. It simply is who God is.

Communion Song

Prayers of the People

  • For families who have recently lost loved ones. Be with them as they manage the pain and the stress of figuring out life without them.
  • For the church in Chicago. We pray for unity and that our presence in Chicago would work for the flourishing of the city.

Announcements

  • Summer Hours start June 19th: On Sunday, June 19th, we will start our services at 9:30am. This will allow us to avoid traffic and stay cool during the summer.
  • Hunger Walk: Grace Chicago is walking in Breakthrough's Hunger Walk and providing lunch for all of Breakthrough's walkers. Mark June 25th on your calendars and talk to Caleb about volunteering that morning!
  • Wholeheartedness: This summer everyone is encouraged to read Wholeheartedness. Buy a copy today and email Ana to get plugged into a community group.
  • Potluck June 12th
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Service Recap; April 17

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!”

A man was worried about his aging wife’s hearing. He had noticed a significant decline in her hearing as they aged and so he called up his wife’s doctor to arrange an appointment. The doctor couldn’t see them immediately and so he suggested a homemade hearing test. The doctor advised,  “Speak at a normal volume at 40 feet and see if she is able to hear you. If not, move in closer until she can respond, and if she can only hear you at a close distance, you’ll know you really need an examination.”

So one evening when the man’s wife was in the kitchen he stood against the far wall of the living room, about 40 feet away, and said, “honey, what’s for dinner?” No response. He moved closer. “Honey, what’s for dinner?” Still nothing. He tried again at 20 feet to the same effect and then tried again at 10 feet, but she still didn’t respond. Somewhat shocked by his wife’s terrible hearing, he stood a few feet away and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” His wife looked up at him exasperated, “For the 5th time, Chicken!”

Andy opened his sermon with this clever little anecdote about the human tendency to project our problems onto others. In this week’s text from John (10:22-30) the Jews are asking Jesus to be clear about who he is. Jesus has told them. He has both verbally told the people who he is and his actions have spoken volumes. Still, the crowds want Jesus to say certain things in certain ways. They project their own expectations onto Jesus and it stops them from seeing who he really is.

This is the case for us as well. Our expectations of how God works and what his voice sounds like color our ability to actually hear Him speak. We interpret God’s silence as His absence. Or we expect God’s voice through scripture to give us the answers rather than the proper questions. Or perhaps you expect God’s voice to be a harsh one of judgment rather than the gentle voice of a shepherd leading you to cool quiet waters.

This week’s homily reminded me of the well-known quote, “God has made us in his image, and we have returned the favor.” Each of us has an image of God in our own minds that is tainted by past experiences, our own anxieties and fears. Sometimes our expectations of who Jesus is or who he ought to be, stop us from experiencing his presence or hearing his voice. We ask for what seems like the 100th time, “What’s wrong with me? Where are you? Why won’t you speak to me?”

“For the 100th time, nothing’s wrong with you. I’m right here.”

Service Recap; March 27

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

This is probably how the story should end.  A few women-those eccentric, emotional, unreliable witnesses-tell the faithful 11 that they have gone to the tomb and that there is no body, and in fact there was a messenger who reminded the women that this is precisely what Jesus said would happen. But, like they do today, the words seemed like an idle tale, not the sort of tale you actually believe in.

Bob pointed out that the language used in Luke to describe the disciple’s reaction, Idle Tale, is a little tame. More likely, the disciples thought the women were selling a load of wishful BS. More likely a fool’s story than the actual state of things. But something about the idle tale of the three women gave Peter pause. Something about the idle tale that the women were weaving sounded almost too good not to be true. Peter leans in to the women’s fantastical tale because it had something of Jesus’ own words running through them.

Today the words may strike us the same way. Some believe the tale of the women that Easter morning. Some believe it enough for it to count as faith. Others cannot bring themselves to believe a resurrection happened. Others have no patience for these sorts of stories. If the words seem an idle tale to you, that’s fine. I can’t blame you. The disciples thought the same thing. In fact, if you’ve never thought to yourself, “Hmmm…isn’t it more likely that this is an idle tale?” then maybe you’ve never really thought through the Easter claim: that a dead man did not stay dead.

Peter sprints off towards the tomb to see for himself. The words of the women seemed like an idle tale, but there was a glint of truth in their telling. The words of Mary, Joanna, and the other Mary, that idle tale of the women on Easter morning came to be called the gospel. And in a matter of days, it would be all the disciples would talk about.

Our Easter prayer is to have the courage of the women, and if we can’t afford that, then maybe at least the curiosity of Peter.

The good news is improbable, and I don’t blame you for calling it a fool’s fantasy. Frederick Beuchner puts it this way, “Maybe the truth of it is that it’s too good not to be true.”

Service Recap; March 20

By: Bob Reid

Luke tell us that Jesus began his public ministry by reading these words in the temple:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that at the end of Jesus’ public ministry the poor are front and center. It is the poor who accompany Jesus into Jerusalem the day we have come to call Palm Sunday.  We know this, Caleb reminded us, because Jesus enters the city on the East Side. Like most ancient cities and many still today, the wealthier people live in the higher parts of a city, while the poor live in its lower parts; the lower parts get the runoff, the waste.

Earlier in Luke's gospel, soon after Jesus frames his ministry as good news for the poor, he says this: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Matthew says Jesus said, “poor in spirit”. It would seem likely that he said both. The trouble is that the rich almost always seem to find it more difficult to recognize their (our) spiritual poverty, perhaps because they (we) are so seldom reminded of their (our) vulnerability and brokenness. 

Caleb reminded us that while Jesus was entering on the poor side of Jerusalem, Pilate was entering the city on the “Upper West Side”, not far from where the religious leaders lived. Luke’s geography paints a vivid theological picture for us. The poor welcome Jesus, and the rich and the powerful crucify him. What is so amazing about the gospel, however, is that God’s love is for all people, even those who resist him the most, even those who conspire to kill Jesus unjustly. Later, in the book of Acts, Luke tells us that among the many converts in Jerusalem were a  great number of the temple priests, an important reminder that the gospel does reach the Upper West side too. We serve a great God!

Service Recap; March 13

Our worship this lent has been wrenching. James and Davin have led us into uncomfortably honest places where, like in this week’s communion song we exclaim, “I want somebody to tell me what is the soul of man.” This Lent has been an invitation to listen to “sit in the dark and wait for the light.”

This Sunday, Jesus sat at the table of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Perhaps Jesus and Lazarus empathized withone another about what it felt like to be wanted. Lazarus, because he was raised from the dead, is undeniable proof of Jesus’ power and both men have a price on their heads.

The political and religious elite want both men silenced. They don’t know how else to respond to the inexpressible light that has just broken into their worlds. They are understandably frightened by the claims that Jesus is making and the actions that back him up. The brightness of Christ is blinding to them, not illuminating. It reminded me of a passage from Frederick Beuchner:[1]

“People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas…They are prepared for the potluck supper at First Presbyterian but not for the marriage supper of the Lamb…the good news breaks into a world where the news has been so bad for so long that when it is good nobody hears it except for a few.”

Mary is one of the few. She has sat in the darkness. She has wept. Listened. She breaks open a forty-thousand-dollar bottle of perfume onto Jesus feet, but Judas cannot see it as light. He sees it as folly, as waste, as the move of a pathetic woman who isn’t smart enough to use her money more wisely.

Bob suggested this week that often, the only faithful thing to do is wait in the darkness for the light. This Lent we’ve been waiting, sitting, listening. This Sunday we arrive in Jerusalem where we will experience great darkness, but we are also prepared to see extravagant light.

God in Full Sprint; march 7

I was in Israel a few weeks ago touring the sites and meeting the people of Israel/Palestine. Our group was schlepped around the country in a coach bus driven by a Palestinian Christian man named Maurice. On one of the mornings, our bus pulled over to the side of the road. Maurice jumped off, ran to one of the nearby shops, and sprinted back to the bus holding two large bags of fresh bread that would be our lunch. Heads turned to watch this grown man sprint back to the bus, bread in hand. Marlin, our guide for the trip, made the observation that for Maurice to run in public on our behalf was a great act of service and humility. Grown men do not run in Maurice’s culture.

And so on Sunday, when Bob read about a man running down a road toward his let-down-of-a-son, I saw Maurice.

The story is the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). A man’s youngest son flies the coop with as much cash as his father will permit, and the father has to live for years with neighbors who whisper about his disappointment of a child, his sorry excuse for a son, just loudly enough that he catches the gist of their judgment. The father loses sleep and prays late into the night.

It is clear that the younger child has disavowed his role as son. His ‘squandering’ of the estate on sex and booze is obvious offense. It is less obvious that the oldest child also forsakes his role as son. He is found with the hired hands. He is tired of his father’s prayers for the lost child because there is work to be done. There are fields to tend and crops to turn into cash. And when the youngest son comes back it becomes clear that this poor eldest boy is just as confused about what it means to be a child of the Father as his younger brother. Henri Nouwen, in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son writes, “There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.” Perhaps this is why the story of the prodigal is so poignant even in its hundredth reading.

Maybe today you are the eldest child, working too diligently to lift your head and notice the Father’s proud smile.  Or perhaps today you are the youngest child, convinced you are better off on your own. We are all both prodigal and eldest, running in every which way. Morning after morning we must remind ourselves that God is like a Palestinian man sprinting down the road towards you, wanting to call you child, wanting to hold you forever.

Bob said it this way on Sunday, “We are those whom the Father will not let go of. That is who you are.”

Confronted By God; February 29

By Andy Rozendaal
Texts in view: Luke 13:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

“Thanks be to God.” We recite those words each week after the first and second lesson in response to the reader saying, “This is the Word of the Lord.” I chuckled a bit as I said these words this past Sunday because the scripture we had just heard was not one we would typically follow up with a recitation of our thanks to God. Lenten passages can sometimes drag us through rough places. It is easy to skim over or avoid the passages and read a much more uplifting narrative that offers practical and stimulating applications. It reminds us again that Lent is a time when we journey through tough lands in order to reach the empty tomb of Easter morning.

 Bob urged us on Sunday to not take God for granted. It is easy to take the grace of God for granted and hold a false assurance or over confidence that we have it all together. Bob shared a story of one of the first sermons he preached. A man came up to him after the sermon and said, “Preacher, thanks for making us all feel bad.” The man said it in a way that made it seem like Bob’s sermon was a breath of fresh air or like we don’t have the full experience of God if we don’t walk away feeling bad about ourselves. We have moments when we feel bad but it is God's desire to take those moments to reassure us of his love. It is in those moments when God confronts our jealousy and pride which stops fellow humans from flourishing. In those moments we are reminded that confrontation is God’s love and mercy offered to us. When we face the consequences of our decisions, we can repent and live into the joy of what God has done for us on the cross.

God is willing to do everything possible to get our attention. He does not want us to live in ways that hurt others or ourselves. To continue down that road would make us miss out on the love God has for us. May we all realize when we face the consequences of our decisions we can repent and live into the joy of what God has done for us.  

The Tears of God; February 21

Perhaps the angry preacher is familiar to you. He stands high on the stage and growls about those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ! Their end is destruction; their God is their belly; their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things! He wipes the sweat off his brow and pounds the pulpit. It’s an all too familiar picture for many.

This preacher has missed one slight but powerful phrase in the passage from Philippians that he is quoting. It is the phrase, “but now I tell you even with tears.” Tears are the context of this passage.  On Sunday, Bob reminded us of how dramatically the tears of Paul change the meaning of this passage and he invited us to think about a rarely mentioned attribute of God, His Sadness. The tears of sadness for the world that God loves witnessed in Paul, Jesus, and in true followers of Christ throughout the centuries provide the context into which Jesus makes his offer to save.

Paul weeps for those have made the suffering Cross of Christ their enemy. Jesus weeps for Lazarus, and on the cross he weeps for us. We cry for the things we love, and sometimes our tears precede our own awareness of our love. It is a gift of love to tear up when you hear a co-worker honestly describe her depression. Or when you hear about a shooting in Michigan that you have no personal connection to-other than that you wept when you heard about it. A mother cries with joy at the sight of her newly born daughter and years later she cries out of that same love when her daughter slams the door.

God’s sadness and His tears are reminders to us of His great love.

On Sunday Bob made an important distinction: “God loves you, not the idealized version of you.” This is the good news. I often compete with others and feel threatened by their success or prideful in their defeat, but more often, I am competing with a version of myself that wastes less time, thinks loftier thoughts, works more efficiently, is a little more handsome, and has a little more faith. I am driven towards self-improvement, sanctification, and perfection not from a place of surety in who God has created me to be, but out of a shame for not being all of those things.

But that 2.0 image of myself is not the version of me that God wept joyfully over at my birth, and it is not the version that God cried longingly over on the cross. The tears of God over Jerusalem, Kalamazoo, Aleppo, and Chicago are born out of love and offered in the real hope that they will know the cross-shaped love of Christ.

During Lent, we have referred on several occasions to a book called Wholeheartedness, which invites the reader to live beyond anxieties and performance and into your truest self. This is the self that God delights in. Check out the link for the book, or email caleb.schut@gmail.com to find out about getting a copy.