Promote

24 05 2011

This is the second in a multi-part series to explore the mission and vision statements of the Gudgell Park congregation. I invite you to share your responses to these posts and to generate conversations about what matters most to our congregation as we journey together in our discipleship. We encourage visitors to this blog to share as well.

Our mission is to “proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” This is the mission of every member and every congregation of the Community of Christ throughout the world. How we go about accomplishing this mission differs from congregation to congregation based on how it discerns God’s call. The how is called vision. Our vision is to “respond to the active presence of God in our midst in ways that encourage radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission & service, and extravagant generosity.”

As we explore each of these statements I hope we will be able to catch a glimpse of their true meaning in our lives as individual disciples as well as members of our community of faith. Yet just as important is coming to understand them in the context of living them in our social contexts, exploring them in detail and going beyond theory into practical, meaningful expressions of God’s love and generosity.

Promote!

When we think about promoting something we probably think of an advertisement or recognizing a person for special recognition. Generally though, it means to put forward for the benefit of a group those things, ideas or ideals, that the group particularly believes in and identifies as worthy of their efforts. For the Community of Christ, promoting communities is of special significance.

As a community of faith we are bound together by the idea that God is real and active in the world today. Further, God comes to us as a community for the benefit of communities. In other words, God is active in the world through those communities that proclaim God’s presence among them. As followers of Jesus Christ we also proclaim the message and mission of Jesus as the way in which God’s presence blesses the world.

As Christians then, we have a unique and important message to proclaim and promote. In my previous message I spoke of having passion for God. It means being emotional about what we experience when we experience the things of the spirit. But passion needs a release. It needs to be articulated in some way, lived out.

We “promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace”. Our passion for God is lived out when we attempt to share what and how we experience God through these four ideals. Human beings are meant to have lives of joy. Joy is an exuberance for every aspect of life. Hope expresses, not a dread of the struggles of life, even death – rather hope is that inward urging to live life to its fullest, no matter ones circumstances.

Love is expansive when given freely. Love enables us to be joyful and hopeful. Love is liberating. Love is all this and more only when shared. Peace, God’s shalom, is both inward and outward. It is how we absorb life to the very core of our being that enables us to be examples of what it means for diverse people to be and live in community that blesses their world.  Be a community of joy, hope, love, and peace is difficult and yet rewarding. It proclaims Christ and promotes a way of life that is unique in many ways within our world and cultures today. It gives our faith meaning and purpose.

Questions for further reflection:

As a person, which of these four ideals best describe your life?

Are there other ideals that describe a community of faith?

If proclamation is about passion and promotion is about action how can each of these ideals be proclaimed and promoted best?

How do you promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace?

MH





Proclaim

6 04 2011

This is the first in a multi-part series to explore the mission and vision statements of the Gudgell Park congregation. I invite you to share your responses to these posts and to generate conversations about what matters most to our congregation as we journey together in our discipleship. We encourage visitors to this blog to share as well.

Our mission is to “proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” This is the mission of every member and every congregation of the Community of Christ throughout the world. How we go about accomplishing this mission differs from congregation to congregation based on how it discerns God’s call. The how is called vision. Our vision is to “respond to the active presence of God in our midst in ways that encourage radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission & service, and extravagant generosity.”

As we explore each of these statements I hope we will be able to catch a glimpse of their true meaning in our lives as individual disciples as well as members of our community of faith. Yet just as important is coming to understand them in the context of living them in our social contexts, exploring them in detail and going beyond theory into practical, meaningful expressions of God’s love and generosity.

Proclaim!

The word elicits passion, attention and intentionality. To say that we proclaim something means that we do more than just talk about it. It means that we declare it. We speak out of experience in a way that leaves others with no doubt  that we have experienced something that has left an indelible mark on us. It’s emotion, yet at the same time reasoned.

Proclaiming Jesus Christ conjures up preaching, doesn’t it? While that is a part of it, it is more that proclamation of scripture. Preaching is first and foremost, grounded in scripture. It is sharing with the world the testimony of those first witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Scripture envelopes us in the mysteries of Jesus’ acts and describe for us, sometimes in mythical terms, Gods action in the world through him.

While scripture is foundational, I think that proclamation abounds most from our own experiences with the divine. It is ultimately where we first encounter the ‘senses’ of our experiences. Let me explain. When I was a child, growing up in a Christian home (indeed in a home rooted for six generations in Latter Day Saint religion) I heard over and over the stories of Jesus, made understandable to us as children by simplifying the language of scripture. As I grew older, reading directly from the Bibles of the day, I learned new things about the life of Jesus. I gave my life to Christ as a teenager and yet was only beginning to experience him.

I strongly believe that true proclamation only comes when we speak of God, shaped by our personal experiences. Without that intimate relationship we only understand scripture intellectually. As I said earlier, the word proclaim “elicits passion, attention and intentionality”. All of these, particularly passion, is less about the brain or mind and more about emotion and soul.  To proclaim Jesus Christ then, means that we must be, in addition to intellectually engaged, emotionally engaged – vulnerable even, otherwise we are only providing what we think, not what we have experienced.

Proclamation happens in many different ways and in different settings but in all ways is passionate! We are called to “proclaim Jesus Christ…” and it is a call out of our timidity and insecurities. It is a call to declare to anyone you may encounter, your experiences with the living God through Jesus Christ.

Questions for further reflection:

How has your understanding of Jesus changed since you became a disciple?

How has scripture informed your experiences with God?

How do you work through those times when scripture seems to contradict your spiritual experiences?

How do you proclaim Jesus?

MH





Living Water

30 03 2011

Living Water – what does that mean?

One would think that all water is ‘living’ in some way. But what about the Dead Sea, or the Salt Lake? Nothing lives in these bodies of water does there? Can anything live in water with as much concentration of salt as these bodies of water have?

In the Hebrew language, the Dead Sea’s name ‘Yam ha Maved’, can be more accurately translated as ‘Killer Sea’. According to extremescience.com, the Dead Sea, at its surface is about 10 times as salty as the ocean and increases as you go deeper. But what about life? Well, it is true that no living animal or fish lives there but, there is life – bacteria. While that may be a fine distinction, life does exist in even the saltiest of environments.

It is interesting to me that the Hebrew people lived and existed alongside this enigma of nature. It may very well have influenced their understanding of living water. The story of the lame man who lay beside the still waters of the Shiloh well is a poignant reminder that water had to be moving in order to be considered living. It had to have ripples, waves, commotion, in order to transfer its mystical powers of healing and health.

For disciples of Jesus, we believe that he is living water. He as much as told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4. Unlike the woman, we understand this story as metaphor, not literally. Jesus, as a physical, human being is not water. The woman was hoping that he has some magical way of making her daily trips to the well for water for her daily needs somehow vanish, saving her the torment of the process that was a reminder of her lowly existence in her community life.

But Jesus meant something different. It seems Jesus always means something different than what we think he means. Jesus brought the truth of God’s love to this woman and by extension, to her community, whereby the presence of the Kingdom of God was proclaimed in their lives and in hers. Because Jesus refused to stop at the borders of conventional behavior by speaking to this woman, this adulterer, this Samaritan, he was able to prove God’s love to one who daily felt unloved in so many ways.

But more than expressing God’s love in their lives, Jesus expressed the real, refreshing, life-giving nearness of the Kingdom. It wasn’t some far-off, hoped-for event in the future. It was here and now and if only they would think less literally, hear with spiritual ears, see others with eyes of faith, they would encounter the God of Jesus in each and every moment of their lives. In the end, that is what she and others of her village did. They came to understand that Jesus was more than a prophet, greater than their ancestor, Jacob. He was God’s anointed one.

Belief in Jesus today means to think in terms of today, as opposed to tomorrow. God’s kingdom in not in the far off distant future – it is right here, right now. Many Christians look for future rewards for believing in Jesus Christ. I think we need to live and act as if we believe in him right now. When we do not act out our faith and beliefs in Jesus in the now then we perpetuate injustice in the world. When we fail to act as Christians, we neglect the poor, the hungry, the dirty and naked ones. When we decide that we only need to have faith, but not acts, we further alienate ourselves from the very people to whom God calls us to – the alien and forgotten in our midst – the very ones to whom Jesus himself was called – the bruised and broken-hearted, those enmeshed in sin.

If Jesus has living water to give to us, if he is living water for the world, then let it rush within us, let it pour over into our souls as the great and mighty waterfalls of the world; and may it empty out from us to flood the world with God’s love and compassion, and mercy, grace and generosity. MH





Led by the Spirit

23 03 2011

Adapted from my sermon on March 13, 2010

What does it mean to be led by the Spirit? How do we know when we are being led by the Spirit? Are there times when we think we are being led by the Spirit but we are really doing our own thing? How can we tell the difference? These are hard questions that are not easy to answer but that we constantly struggle with. The New Testament is full of examples where Jesus was led by the Spirit of God.

The stories of the temptation of Jesus provide a glimpse into how Jesus chose to be led by God’s Spirit by rejecting the power that he could have chosen to accomplish his mission. After reading from Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV) come back and read my thoughts below.

Each of the temptations of Jesus relate in some way to power. The first temptation is about using miraculous power to provide for ordinary material needs. Jesus could have turned that stone into bread and relieved his hunger but instead he subordinated his need to the word of God for his whole life. Ordinary needs can be met by ordinary measures. Jesus was making a choice about who he was going to be, forgoing the ordinary life for a life lived for others, which, in his time, and in ours, is extraordinary.

The second temptation is about using miraculous power to produce a sign. This sign would be a convincing display that would compel belief. Producing a sign of who Jesus is, as we see all throughout the gospels, is not how God has chosen to be revealed. Putting God to the test means we are asking God to do something to prove God’s own existence – something God never promised to do. This may satisfy our own doubts but it has nothing to do with a life of faith.

The third temptation is about using secular things in order to accomplish the mission of God. Jesus’ answer is swift as  he dismisses Satan. He quote from Dt. 6:13 and 14 and places secular messianism on the level of the worship of false gods. This is a lesson we should heed today.

So what does it mean to be led by the Spirit for us today?

First, it means that our lives belong to God. God provides for us not through miracles or other manifestations of divine power, but by being present through the simple process of living our lives to the best of our abilities. It is up to us to either live in doubt, always asking God to somehow bail us out or reveal some deep mystery no one else knows about – or – to live in faith. Faith is not knowledge, secret or otherwise, but faith is believing and acting in trust in something that we cannot see. God wants to lead us. God wants to be in the front of our lives. For disciples that is where we want God to be as well.

Second, being led by the Spirit means that we do not need signs in our lives in order to be faithful followers of Jesus. So many of us want God to tell us what to do, to answer our prayers in specific ways, when all God wants us to do is to trust the one who created us and loves us perfectly and unconditionally. When I was traveling for a previous job I would pass by a billboard coming into a town in Kansas. On each side of the city a billboard proclaims this message in large bold text: “Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior” which is great sentiment, and one I can affirm – but in smaller text underneath it: “or live in hell forever!”

I believe with all my heart that this message is a false message of God’s desire to be in relationship with every person. It is an attempt to use the power of Satan’s second temptation that Jesus himself rejected, to coerce people into believing in him, or to compel them into discipleship. It is a false notion, and one I reject utterly. And I reject it because in those moments in my life when I am not living as a disciple, even then I do not escape God’s unquenchable love for me.

And third, being led by the Spirit means that we never look for it in the false gods of our secular lives. For me this means our government, any organization, or any activity, no matter how well meaning it may be. They may be good, our government may be good, but there can only be one God. We cannot worship God and something else.

The Holy Spirit is not some magical tool to yield when we are needful, but rather a gift of the presence and awareness of God in our lives. The Holy Spirit is not a weapon to be brandished because we think we know better or have God in fuller measure than anyone else, but rather it permeates our beings in such a way that God, not us, can touch the lives of those in our circles of influence because we choose faith instead of doubt. The Holy Spirit does not live in some institution of our making, governments, organizations, dare I say – religions, but rather the Holy Spirit lives in us – living, breathing, flesh and blood, holy and sacred creations that we are – simply because God loves us so much. Friends, God’s love is knowable only in small measure because of the gift to us of the Holy Spirit. It is the way in which God self-reveals to humankind the divine being.

So I affirm that when we are led by the Spirit the journey may not be as we imagined it. It may take us to difficult places where we struggle with being the person God wants us to be – compassionate, forgiving, reconciling – and friends, these are usually hard things. But I also affirm that the journey will be a wonderful and glorious experience if we trust God and act out our faith letting God lead. I suggest that being led by the Spirit is a journey worth taking. MH





What’s the Difference?

28 02 2011

Just yesterday the congregation had a conversation. We talked about the ministries that we are engaged in and whether or not we still felt called to provide those ministries to the congregation and our neighborhood. While I have yet to look at the notes the group facilitators made one of the questions we explored in each group is intriguing – so I share it here for your thoughts.

The congregation has five core ministries that we are engaged in: Hospitality, Worship, Faith Development, Mission & Service, and Generosity. But more that that our vision statement states these ministries in expansive and engaging terms. Our vision as a congregation is to “respond to the active presence of God in our midst in ways that encourage radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.”

The question each of these groups discussed is this: How does hospitality differ from radical hospitality? How does worship differ from passionate worship? How does faith development differ from intentional faith development? How does mission & service differ from risk-taking mission & service? How does generosity differ from extravagant generosity?

Does it really matter, for each of these ministries, to have some great sounding elaboration to it? Isn’t hospitality, in and of itself, radical in this day and age? As you ponder these questions I would be interested in your thinking, not only in how each expression of each of these ministries might be different, but how they might actually look like if lived out within a community. I am intrigued by the potential images that will be revealed as this conversation continues. MH





Let’s Talk

1 05 2009

Welcome to Conversations @ Community.

It is our desire that members and friends of the Gudgell Park congregation of Community of Christ will use this resource to have conversations about things that matter to our community of faith. It is our hope that this will be a place for us to talk, have conversations about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, how that discipleship calls people to respond and how we might discern what matters most for us as a community.

Steve Veasey, president and prophet of the church, has recently asked the church to abstain from letting things that do not matter interfere with the real ministry of the church. “So, after all that is said, what matters most? I hope it has become clear. The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most! What matters most is for us to become who God is calling us to become so the restoring ministry of Christ can be shared in every possible way in every possible place.”

President Veasey asked many questions. Here are are some.

  • Are we mobilizing to provide pastoral care and tangible help to individuals and families that are barely surviving because of economic pressures?
  • Are we responding to the increasing hatred and violence toward immigrants and ethnic minorities because others want to make them scapegoats for our common difficulties?
  • What about the children in your community? How are they doing?
  • What does it mean to be a prophetic people who speak and act in the name of God and Christ in times like these?

So this is as good a place to start as any. Ponder these questions. Take some time to reflect, pray and listen. Then respond and share your thinking. Share your thoughts and ideas. Then listen. Ask more questions.

Don’t forget proper etiquette. Review these assumptions.

Then, let’s talk. MH