This Week – 07/05/2020

This week.

Jesus said to the crowd, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
–Matthew 11.28-30

There are lots of understandable reasons to be weary from carrying a heavy burden. There’re reasons to be weary which result from being engaged and participating in life with others which can be exhausting sometimes. But there’re also reasons to be weary which come from disengagement and uncertainty. Jesus suggests the answer isn’t to withdraw but, instead, to take on more understanding.

Weariness, in the understandable way, comes from exhaustion and loss. When we’re exhausted we’ve been active, overly active, in trying to achieve something we find desirable. The exhaustion comes from the amount of work (physical, mental, emotional) we’ve put into creating the result we long to see. The exhaustion is related to our work, or over-work, to achieve or accomplish some goal. Loss is the realization that something we desire, value, hope for, isn’t possible. It’s not just the loss of a person at death, it can be the loss of a dream, the realization that our perception of ourselves or someone we care about isn’t correct; we’ve had it wrong. It can come from the failure to achieve that goal or result we want, or we find it harder than simply what we can do for ourselves. Loss is that moment of realization when what we want isn’t possible anymore, at least on our terms.

These two expressions of weariness can lead us to two temptations to disengage, which result in a more destructive weariness. Fear and despair work in conjunction to drive us away from others, and away from life. Fear compels us inward by leading us to doubt others or ourselves. Fear uses uncertainty to create the suspicion that we should be involved at all, or we should at least be wary of any attempt at participation. Who knows what may happen and, if we take a guess, we can only assume it’ll be bad. Despair follows fear to tell us that there isn’t really a point, no hope, it’s doomed to failure. Participation and engagement are futile because nothing makes any difference and, ultimately, no one cares anyway.

Jesus offers this teaching to those willing to look to him for a relief they can’t create for themselves, or find in anyone or anything else. The relief comes from the recognition that Jesus is offering us wisdom not to be found elsewhere. Jesus places himself between us and God to give us a truth we can’t see by ourselves, and it’s open and available for everyone. Recognition becomes the key element; do we see that we’re exhausted, weary, or burdened? Are we able to share that weariness and burden, not with someone to fix it, but with someone who we can count on to be with us, to be present, as we admit our weariness? It’s not more action we need, it’s more recognition as well as the ability to admit what we, or anyone, can’t fix. Learning isn’t just about what we take it, it can also be about what we admit when we encounter truth, not as a problem to be solved, but the mystery of life we participate in with others.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Sunday Liturgy of the Word on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 06/29/2020

This week.

As strange as it may seem, the story of the binding of Isaac, Abraham being told to take the son he loves and offer him as a sacrifice, is a story about the future. If Abraham is to sacrifice the son he was promised for so long, the son that became a delight to him, what kind of future would he have? It’s only the intervention by a messenger of God that Abraham sees the ram caught in the thicket, which becomes the substitute for Isaac as the sacrifice. What kind of future is that?

There are constant threats, constant potential disruptions to our future and Genesis acknowledges that many of them may come from us. Regardless of what God may have intended, this difficult story forces us to look at the ways we are complicit or even eager to consent to beliefs and actions which threaten our own future. Being able to see, to see the place to go, to see the solution in the nick of time, are important components of this story.

Abraham lived on the idea of a promise, a promise repeated many times, with many confusing twists and turns, but a promise that seemed to be hanging by a thread in one bizarre moment. I wonder what Isaac must have thought, and what their relationship must have been like after this experience. I wonder if Sarah ever knew; it’s perhaps telling that her disappearance from the Genesis narrative after this point might be telling (the only other mention of Sarah in Genesis is the recording of her death at age 127). Silence, as we know, says something after all.

Modern Jewish prayer calls upon God to remember the binding of Isaac for the benefit of Abraham’s descendants. But what is it we’re to remember? Disaster averted, thanks to God? The attentiveness and devotion of Abraham? That the promise was fulfilled and the descendants of Abraham are a great people? The story begins with Abraham and it ends with Abraham; but the story isn’t as much about Abraham as it is about God and God’s future, which we call the kingdom. And with eyes to see then God’s future becomes our future too.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 06/22/2020

This week.

Events present us with opportunities, but that’s often hard to see when we’re worried. Hope can be hard to see when events seem against it.  As we find ourselves navigating the emotions from loss and despair as well as so much uncertainty, we can often miss the invitation to hope.  Genesis doesn’t flinch from the reality of uncertainty and despair, but it often gives us examples of hope in the midst of those events.

For Hagar and Ishmael, to be cast out of their home, to be sent into the wilderness with only some bread and a skin of water (how far did Abraham expect them to go on that), is putting their lives in danger. And yet, once the messenger’s voice comes, there is tenderness and recognition of the dire circumstances they face.  God has heard the voice of the boy, and yet we haven’t; we only hear of Hagar’s weeping.  What exactly does God hear that we don’t?  Is it because we’re not attentive to others in our weeping for ourselves, or perhaps our inability to recognize weeping when we encounter it?

As with Isaac and laughter, Ishmael means ‘God will hear,’ which is precisely what happens.  In laughter and in weeping God hears, and God is present with us.  The death of Ishmael is averted because God hears and eyes are opened to see hope in a hopeless situation.  Maybe the message of this story comes once, like Hagar, we acknowledge the limits of what we can do.  Maybe, only once we acknowledge where hope ends and our despair begins, can we cease trying to create hope for ourselves.  In those moments, maybe what we can see and hear is hope that comes from people and events we aren’t responsible for, or can achieve on own.  I wonder, when we find ourselves in hopeless situations and weeping for ourselves and others, what hope might look like, where we might find it, and how we can hear and see hope?

Like Hagar, I find myself tired a lot these days, tired in just about every way you can describe; so tired I sometimes lie down.  There is despair in a tired that heavy, but it doesn’t have to just be hopeless, it can be the limit of what I can do to care for myself and care for others.  I know God cares, and God continues to care when I can’t.  It’s then that we’re most likely to find hope and, if we’re attentive, we’ll hear the sound of hope and see a future where God is with us too.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 06/08/2020

This week.

Events present us with opportunities, but that’s often hard to see when we’re worried.  There are a lot of worries right now.  It’s rare that we face our worries with laughter, and the Bible presents us with numerous occasions where laughter is the response in the face of events, and events that leave us worried.

The first is the laughter of disbelief.  Sarah’s laughter at the announcement by those three messengers that she and Abraham will have a son provokes laugher from Sarah as well as recognition of the limitation she sees to such impossibility ever happening.  Yet it seems that her thoughts are heard and understood.  The denial of Sarah to her laughter is the response of disbelief.  It’s interesting that in chapter 17 of Genesis (the chapter right before we get Sarah’s laughter), Abraham also laughs when God tells him that he and Sarah are to have a son, a future.  It’s then that God tells Abraham that the child is to be named Isaac (literally meaning ‘he who laughs’).

The second is laughter of joy.  Once Isaac is born, in chapter 21, Sarah laughs again.  And yet, it’s a joyful laughter which seems to acknowledge the absurdity, the complexity, of the moment.  At her age, after all this time, she gives birth to a child in laughter who will be defined by that name.  The verb translated as laughter can also mean “mockery;” is that what God is doing in this moment, and if so, to whom?

There’s a fine line between laughter of joy and laugher of mockery.  The laughter of disbelief is easier to identify with when events leave us worried and anxious.  These are anxious days and there is so much uncertainty.  The events of these days invite a response and laughter is as good a response as any.  Whether our laughter is disbelief, mocking, or joy, listen to the laughter that arises out of you in those moments, name it, and allow yourself to feel it because it’s clear that God feels it too and calls us from that place into a future with a  promise as laughable as it may seem.

–Thomas

–Thomas

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Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 06/08/2020

This week.

There are certain movies I could watch again, and again, and again.  One of those movies is the 1967 classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn (who won the Best Actress Oscar that year), and Sidney Poitier.  I watched it again last week, and while it’s a movie that’s definitely a 1967 movie, it continues to resonate in an honest way about how we struggle with race in America (you can watch it on Amazon Prime).

The story centers around a couple, one young white lady and one slightly older black man, who meet unexpectedly, and fall in love.  They’re so eager and excited to get married that, in one evening, the girls’ parents (Tracy and Hepburn) are asked to give their approval.  The real drama is what will Tracy and Hepburn say, and as the drama unfolds, more and more people show up for dinner, their struggle becomes harder to hide.

There’s a poignancy to the movie, partly because Spencer Tracy (one of my favorite actors, btw) would die before the movie was released, and in his great speech at the end Katherine Hepburn’s tears are the real tears of love of someone who knows this would likely be their last movie together.  And that’s important to remember, love brings us real tears as we struggle with the challenges and joys of life.  But the real poignancy happens because Tracy and Hepburn’s characters have to acknowledge they’ve raised their daughter to always believe racism is wrong, but now what they believe is something they must live.

The climax of the film comes on the patio before dinner when Tracy is having a conversation with Beah Richards (who plays Poitier’s mom).  The transforming moment is when she tells Tracy that the whole problem is that he’s forgotten what it’s like to love someone, and if he remembered then he’d know that what her son feels for his daughter is the same.  Love is transformational, love changes us, love gives us life and hope.  As we enter the long season after Pentecost (a season that looks to feel longer than it normally does) if we’re going to get anywhere as a community then we have to remember what it means to love, and allow that love to reshape how we see and live with one another, allowing others to live too.

–Thomas

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 06/01/2020

This week.

Light has come into the world.  A voice crying through the vista of time calls men to walk in the light.  Man’s earthly life will become a tragic cosmic elegy if he fails to heed this call.  “This is the condemnation,” says John, “that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.”
–Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Love in Action’

Fire plays an important role as an image of God’s involvement with Israel. The Bible often uses the imagery of fire to denote the presence of God, the judgment of God, the testing by God, and the power of God.  In Genesis 15, the covenant God makes with Abram involves a flaming torch passing between the parts of the offering Abram makes to God.  In Genesis 19, the sin of Sodom, the abuse of hospitality, causes God to rain fire from heaven in the destruction of the cities of the plain.  Fire is a key element of Genesis 22 as Abraham and Isaac set out in a moment of shock and horror in a test that threatens our faith as well as the story of God with the promise God made.

In Exodus, the fire of a bush burning but not consumed is the occasion for Moses to meet God and then commissioned by God to go to Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites in bondage.  Exodus 9 records hail which burns in fire as it hits the ground as the seventh plague, meant to compel Pharaoh to release Israel and let them be free.  Fire is central to the night of the Passover, when Israel is instructed as to how to cook the lamb they are to consume because this night, one of the mixed emotions of pain and release, is a night like no other.  And God uses fire as a nighttime companion for Israel, lighting their way as a pillar of fire as they make their uncertain way to freedom; then that same pillar of fire becomes the threat to the pursuing Egyptians and the cause of their panic and ultimate destruction in the Red Sea.

The fire and wind of Pentecost is an event meant to unify the disciples and open them to an understanding of life and faith beyond boundaries.  As the people of God they’re no longer part of a nation, a race, an ethnicity, even a family.  The identity of God’s people comes in the power of community given to all present, and all to be included as equals.  Fire can get our attention like nothing else can.

In our own time, the fires we experience are the language of pain, fear, hurt, and oppression.  In our own time, the fires are a symptom and a result of the long legacy of broken relationships by racial hatred and superiority; they are a symptom and a result of a society built on bondage of God’s people.  Fire can be scary as it consumes what we see around us, and yet fire can be the presence of God and the opportunity to get our attention if our hearts are not hardened.  May the fires of this Pentecost be an opportunity for us to not fear the fire or cling to what it consumes, but find within it the opportunity for a new covenant with God and with one another, endure the uncomfortableness in judgment and testing, hear the calling and instruction, and find a companion as we go forward as a new people with a new sense of freedom.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 05/26/2020

This week.

Ever since our Thursday Lenten series on money and possessions ended we’ve been continuing to meet on Zoom each Thursday at 6 pm to discuss some intersection of faith and culture.  We’ve watched shows, listened to podcasts, and had really good discussions.  This week will be our last Thursday faith and culture discussion and I think we should end it on a timely subject: religion and nationalism.

“A Buddhist monk becomes a martyr.”  That was the chant repeated in English and Vietnamese by a Buddhist monk who watched another Buddhist monk, Quang Duc, immolate himself on a street in Saigon on June 11, 1963 to protest of the repression of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem.  There were political as well as religious implications to this act, which led to other Buddhist monks burning themselves on the streets.  That led to a series of protests by the largely Buddhist population, and the escalation of repression by Pres. Diem.  All of this led to a tragic outcome in a tragic war, and foreshadowed similar religious protests which sparked our own civil rights movement.

If you’re willing, I’d like us to watch and discuss a part of Ken Burns’ documentary “The Vietnam War,” found on Netflix.  We’ll focus on the roughly last twenty-five minutes of Episode 2 “Riding the Tiger, 1961-1963.” While you’re welcome to watch the whole episode, our conversation will focus beginning around the 59:34 point and lasting until the end.  This segment contains pictures and film of Buddhist monks immolating themselves, and can be difficult to watch.  How we understand the place of religion in society, where we demand justice and fairness, what we expect from politicians, are all questions which we still struggle to navigate.  Quang Duc began a movement that dramatically changed life in Vietnam, and caused millions of people, Vietnamese and Americans, Buddhists and Catholics, to reflect on their faith and how to live it out.  It’s worth a conversation for us too.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Thursday Theology & Pop Culture on Zoom @ 6 pm 
Join us as we explore our faith through popular culture. This week you are invited to watch the last 25 minutes of Episode 2 “Riding the Tiger, 1961-1963” of Ken Burns’ documentary The Vietnam War found on Netflix.

Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 05/18/2020

This week.

It’s up to you. This is a sentiment we’re hearing increasingly as life goes forward, and as the debate between politics and public health about how to, well, do whatever it is we’re supposed to do. Whatever the politicians or public health workers say, what happens will happen because of you and what you do or don’t do. The decisions, the choices, the attitudes, we have will create the tomorrow for you and many others. There is uncertainty, and living with uncertainty requires endurance; as New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote last week, “Endurance is the knowledge that the only way out is through and whatever must be borne will be borne.”

Jesus knows we need endurance too, and as we come to the end of Eastertide we hear Jesus preparing us for the time when he’s no longer with us in body, and what must be borne will be borne by us. This Thursday is the feast of the Ascension; as Luke’s gospel puts it, Jesus leads the disciples to Bethany, blesses them, and then is carried up into heaven.  The response of the disciples was, first, to worship Jesus; and second, return to Jerusalem, to the Temple, with great joy. The story that began in the Temple with Zechariah ends in the Temple with the disciples. And yet, we wait for something more to happen.  What’s next?

It’s up to you.  The power is given to us.  The mission is ours.  The participation and engagement with the world is our work on behalf of God. The Ascension may be the day Jesus goes from earth to heaven, but it’s also the day when we realize it’s up to us. Worship, blessing, healing, teaching, feeding, all of these are up to us. Compassion, mercy, patience, endurance, all of these are up to us. There’s not really a clear way forward, and that uncertainty requires endurance.  But it also requires you, your voice, your action, your participation to make tomorrow better than yesterday. Whether the world, your faith, the future, makes any sense to you or not the important thing is to engage with others, endure what comes, and share the good news for those still waiting for the revelation of good news.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Thursday Theology & Pop Culture on Zoom @ 6 pm 
Join us as we explore our faith through popular culture. This week you are invited to listen to Episode 1 of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s podcast The Confessional. This episode features Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of Westboro Baptist Church. You may remember Nadia from our Lenten series in 2019 and our discussion of her book Shameless.

Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 05/11/2020

This week.

Did you ever get a participation trophy?  Did you ever get thanked or appreciated for just showing up and being there, whether you did anything to contribute or not?  We all want to be noticed, feel appreciated, recognized for our contribution; and most of us want what we do to matter, to make a difference for someone else.  I think that’s because we find so much of what we experience day to day as disappointing, or meaningless. We see what we do which doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, and we wonder is this all there is, and if so, what’s it all for?

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  We hear Jesus tell us how to find a way forward and it’s not something which just began in 1 AD.  Life began long ago, in the beginning, and Jesus is God’s participation in a legacy, a legacy that has grown and reshaped the way, the truth, and the life.   What Jesus shows us is the power of life, human life, lived with human beings, which is why we feel that absence of gathering and sharing in the little things of life so much right now.  Jesus reaches to each of us, inviting us to find the way, the truth, and the life, and participate in the legacy.

A legacy is something we leave behind in the world, for good or ill.  Many of the legacies we intend to leave are things we want other people to remember us by: a phrase, a gesture, a trait or habit, maybe even an experience.  But we can think bigger if we’re willing to risk engaging with others, risk failing, risk letting our real selves show.  Legacies are really about love, what others seen in us that they admire, what encouragement we offer for someone struggling, what memory someone else walks away with from time with us.  What legacy would you like to leave?  It doesn’t have to be a building with your name on it or an invention which changes the world; it can be as simple as a kind word or an embrace.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and the way to life with God goes through his example as we remember and connect our lives with others.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
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Thursday Theology & Pop Culture on Zoom @ 6 pm 
Join us as we explore our faith through popular culture. This week Thomas will lead the discussion, and we’re going to discuss the life of Catherine Hamlin as discussed in the April 24, 2020 podcast The Intelligence from The Economist found here, the segment for our discussion begins at 15:20.  You can also read her obituary in The Economist here.

Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
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This Week – 05/04/2020

This week.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.      –Psalm 23.6

In our Thursday ‘Theology and Pop Culture’ gathering on Zoom, we talked about the last episode of the first season of the HBO show ‘Deadwood.’ The episode “Sold Under Sin” has a lot of moving parts to it, and I focused on two that I think have relevance for being people of faith.  The first centers on the progression of the brain tumor that afflicts the Rev. Smith, his care (and the prayer to God) by Doc Cochran, and how Al Swearengen decides to ‘assist’ God in providing mercy, or an answer to Doc’s prayer. What counts as mercy?

The second centers on the conflict between political and economic interests, which comes out in the murder of the Chinese man that causes Mr. Wu to go complain to Al Swearengen.  Al’s reply to Wu: “When did you start thinking every wrong had a remedy, Wu?  Did you come to camp for justice, or to make your way?” frames many of our challenges in life.  How do we, how does God, demand justice and seek remedy?

How we understand God’s will, God’s desire, God’s hope for us matters for our choices and our actions.  Are we, like Al Swearengen says, left to find our own mercy and make our own justice?  Or do we trust that, whatever the moment may be, that God will hear us, care about us, and respond.  Israel’s story is walking that tightrope of looking to God for mercy and justice, and looking to create it for yourself.  In this last verse from the 23rd Psalm, a psalm many look to for comfort in times of grief and loss, the hope is expressed for good fortune all the days of our lives.  The hope is to dwell with God here and now, which means security and harmony here and now.  It’s not always easy and it’s not always clear.

There was a particularly beautiful and hopeful ending to that episode we discussed.  Jewel, using the new brace provided for her damaged leg, and Doc Cochran, drunk with anger and grief, dancing away in the Gem Saloon.  Love seems to be our ability to look beyond our hurts and struggles to find something bigger, something more, something which sweeps us up and away to follow us as we dwell with God, as we dwell with one another all our days here and now.

–Thomas

Gathering Online: https://bit.ly/TCZoom

Tuesday Checkin on Zoom @ 6 pm
Join Thomas and Kelley on Zoom. This is a time to check-in or just say hello.

Thursday Theology & Pop Culture on Zoom @ 6 pm 
Join us as we explore our faith through movies and TV shows. This week Kelley will lead the discussion, and you are invited to watch “Hard Times” from Good Omens (S1:E3), especially the first half of the episode. It is available on Amazon Prime.

Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom @ 6 pm
Join us on Zoom for a service of prayers and scripture.