The Mission Field

We are a Mission Church. I had just spoken these words to our accountant who comes in quarterly to help us keep current with taxes and the like. She looked a little confused. Then a young man came into the office. He had the tell-tale number tattoo on the side of his head.

He asked me if he and his friend could go into the sanctuary to pray.

So I opened up the sanctuary to him, his friend and his three year old. A few minutes later, I looked in to make sure all was well and indeed they were earnestly praying. When they finished, they came back to the office to tell us they were done. The young man was flushed, his eyes still wet with tears, as he thanked us for having the only open church in the area that day.

Then a thin man with a red face came in. He was looking for food. He has 2 girls, he said, teenagers. While he was gathering his food we talked awhile. He asked about our church—isn’t this a Samoan church? I had the opportunity to explain that we are 4 churches at one address. Those who meet here reflect and serve our community. One of our faith families is Samoan, another worships out of the African-American tradition, and another is gently Pentecostal. The group I pastor worships out of a tent revivalist tradition called the Christian Church–Disciples of Christ. He made me smile when he said he would visit the Disciple’s Worship one day.

Following him was a middle aged woman whom I’ve gotten to know over the last month. There was something in her eyes that said “I need to talk.” I invited her into my office. Grateful for the tool of Compassionate Communication (thanks to Reverend Terry LePage), I had a tool to give to her so she could start to create peace in the midst of a crazy situation. Of course, the first thing out of her mouth wasn’t “I want peace.” It was, “I need to find a job.”
All of this happened within the span of 3 hours.

And, the accountant, who sat at the computer in the front office watching all the comings and goings understood. We don’t send Missionaries out into the developing world, the mission comes to us. We are blessed to be in this neighborhood where a few words, a prayer, a box of food, an open door, or a cup of tea can make all the difference in someone’s day, and over time, in their life.

Of course, I welcome your gifts, your prayers, and your kind words in support of the work here in North Long Beach. We often are in relationship with people who do not have a larger network of support.

But I also am reminded that a gift of a few words, a prayer, some food, an open door, and a cup of tea can make a difference in the lives of those you encounter in your day to day walk. Go and make disciples…the mission field is closer than you think.

In Christ,

Reverend Heather Miner

An Old Fashioned Altar Call

An Epiphany!  I love it when I get to have an epiphany!  It is like the moment when, in your head, pops the word you need to finish the crossword puzzle but 100 times better because it isn’t only an answer you find but God. 

Of course, it is the wrong season for Epiphany.  Today is about Jesus, the cross, and the realization that, within the worst parts of our humanity, lay the seeds for Jesus’ death.  It is a time of confession and tears.  How much have we lost as a human race?  How much have we killed?  What have I done?

The music of the Christian church grows solemn; the words of guilt placed upon our tongues as we confess that our ways are what killed Jesus.  Today we feel the distance between us and God…a distance caused by tuning into the wrong voices and forgetting to listen to the only one that matters.  With Jesus gone, the voice that connects us to God, the universe seems so vast; we so small.  Silence. 

Gone is the chatty prayer.  Our friend is gone. 

Jesus’ absence makes clear that what our souls crave is that voice of God’s love, of God’s healing, of God’s leading…the voice of Jesus. 

And, so here’s the epiphany.

I was planning a baptism service for Easter.  It seemed like a good idea except I wanted to spring it on those who came…surprise, today you can get baptized.  And, then I wanted to include a liturgy that would allow people to join the church.  You see, I’ve been called to a very small elderly congregation and I’m eager to bring in new and young members.  I figured we could do it all at once.  I had started working on a liturgy taking a little from the baptism service and a little from the membership service and, just in case no one had the courage to come forward, a liturgy of affirmation we could all speak together. 

It was in the kitchen, after Thursday night’s Messianic Seder, that it came up.  I bragged:  “We are going to have an old fashioned altar call on Easter,” to a long time member of the Disciple of Christ Denomination.  She said, “oh, we used to have those every week.”  And, I who had never seen one, asked…”so how is it done?”

Pastor Eric of our partner church was also helping clean the kitchen at the time.  Eric has never gone to seminary but he is wise and understands liturgy.  Unlike me, he’s gone to churches that offer altar calls.  They both told me that all you do is use a scripture to invite people to ask Jesus into their heart.  And, Pastor Eric suggested, I phrase it in such a way that people can rededicate themselves to Jesus; that way, the congregation doesn’t have to know everyone’s business.  The people come forward, you pray with them, and then afterwards you meet with them who took Jesus into their heart for the first time and set a date for a baptism.

Oh my goodness…how simple! 

And then it dawned me…I was going to replace the voice of Jesus with the voice that is crying out within me, the one crying out for new members. 

For a moment, my ego fell away, and I remembered–because of church, I remembered–the first step of the Christian faith is to ask Jesus to come into your heart.   May we not be distracted!  For it is that Jesus lives, and Jesus lives in us, that makes this a Happy Easter!

Loving you, in Christ,

Heather

Speaking Jesus

Christianity certainly has a rich back story found in the Hebrew scriptures.  But today I’m more interested in the “after story,” what happens when the final scene has ended.  The gospel of John tells the story of Jesus but is written long after Jesus died; long after the resurrection encounters.  Yet, despite John being the latest gospel written, it, alone, is filled with Jesus’ speeches, Jesus’ words.  And, it is the only gospel that we hear Jesus pray for us (John 17).  Here scripture points to a principle of faith.  Only after the church has been around awhile, only when they have dwelled within Christ for some time, can they give Jesus a clear voice.  Only when we have dwelled with Christ for some time can we give Jesus a clear voice.  I suspect this is why the epistle, 1 John, talks so much about abiding, dwelling in Christ.  What I understand from this scripture is that there are times when it is best not to act but simply to abide that we might give Jesus his truest voice.

In Christ,

Heather

An Easter Call

Easter morning—He is Risen!—He is Risen, Indeed!

Sin and Salvation

Jonathan Edwards shouts out

We are sinners in the hands of an angry God

Look what we have done

To ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Look at what we haven’t done

For ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Should God not be angry when we stand apart, build our own towers, testaments to our own strength?  Should God not be angry when those God loves abandon each other?  Should God not be angry when we abandon our world and ourselves when the tower falls?

We are not made to stand alone!

We were made to stand with…

Salvation is connection.

At the cross we stand with

Jesus who believed

God is more than anger

Or vengeance

People are more than sin

Or arrogance

Easter morning dawns

Mary and Peter peek into the

Empty tomb

And are afraid.

Resurrection possibilities

Strewn about in torn cloth.

“Mary,” calls the gardener

Recognizing Jesus’ voice, she cries out, “Rabouni!”

Salvation is connection.

Jesus’ faith  in and Jesus’  love for

God’s faith in and God’s love for

you and me

live on

connect

you and me.

Leave behind Eden

The serpent will never have

The last word.

Leave behind the tower

None of it is yours

Anyway.

Free your hands

Together let us

Take hold of the cup–

The cup of salvation.

Together, let us come into love.

Far and Wide

In seminary at Yale Divinity School I was awed to find myself in a vast landscape–that of the Christian witness spoken through the centuries.  My perspective, having grown up in the Southern California United Church of Christ, was limited by comparison.  I realized I had only seen faith from one small corner of scholarship in this time and place.  There were more voices to hear, endless voices of faith and ways of understanding God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Add to that the Jewish traditions that are woven into scripture, and the totality of the Judeo-Christian witness reaches back to the days of creation.  This faith tradition is varied and beautiful, reaching far and wide, inviting us into a relationship with the living Creator, God’s self.

The vastness of the Judeo-Christian faith starkly contrasts with the image of the temple, the day Jesus arrived, as described in the gospel of John.

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.”  (2: 14)

Entering into the space where people came to meet God, Jesus is accosted by the sights and sounds of animals being sold for sacrifice to atone for sin.

In the claustrophobic chaos, the faithful find their way to the stalls in order to buy the appropriate animal as described in Jewish law.  Imagine the sounds, the smells, and the difficulty of holding an animal long enough to carry it to the priest for the altar.  How easy it would be to lose the intent, to lose God’s larger story, in the business of what must be done.

Recall, the Jewish people have come to the Jerusalem temple to celebrate the Passover, the day when God freed Israel from Egyptian bondage.  They remembered a day of blood and horror and salvation.  The night before Passover, each family of Israel was to sacrifice a lamb and put the lamb’s blood on their door.  God passed over the households that had this sign, inflicting the last plague on the rest of Egypt, killing their first born sons.  Only this last plague turned Pharaoh’s head long enough to allow Israel to leave his service and enter into a new life with God.

Israel, the freed people, enters into the wilderness, a vast landscape which opened them to experiences of God they had never before known.  Beautiful experiences, as when they saw God as a pillar of cloud and fire.  Frightening experiences, like a snake rising up from the desert floor.  After a generation had passed away, the new generation led by Joshua, entered, with God, into the land God promised.  God’s presence there is marked by the Jerusalem temple.

Having come to the temple, the symbol of God’s promise and presence, the crowd enters in thinking about what must be done to atone for sin. How small is their view as the din of animal noises and seller’s voices echo off the high walls of the courtyard.  Is this really the freedom that God envisioned long ago when blood was shed in Egypt?

Jesus gets angry…very angry.

“Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (2:15 – 17)

I’m sure Jesus’ actions confused the temple leaders of the day.  They were only doing what was expected.  Maybe the root of that which would debilitate the churches of this day is similar.  It is all too easy to get into a business that, in its essentials, is quite similar to selling sin offerings: we do what has always been done in order to placate what someone has said is the Holy Way instead of seeking to invite all people into God’s grace.

Jesus was angry because the temple had created a way for people to placate the Holy One instead of opening the doors to a relationship with His Father and our Father.

Church practices are rarely questioned, indeed, just as in Jesus’ time, there is always a scripture to point to defend them.  Every such practice can be justified through tradition…and will continue to be as long as we are trading in our earthly temples.

Would that Jesus enter in, whip in hand, to tell us to get out.  Stop selling your doves here, your narrow way to peace with God.  This is my Father’s house.

In Christianity, we come to know God through Jesus.  When Jesus saw the faithful confined to buying sin offerings, he overturned the tables.  Given this, is it not possible that God is unhappy with tradition bound rules even if they can be justified by a small portion of scripture?  Isn’t possible that, even now, God continues to overturn the tables of our limited understanding that we might better know God’s way?

When Jesus saw that the temple, the place where one could come to enter into God’s presence, had as its first and foremost concern making people act according to tradition, he told them to get out.

Then, he pointed to himself as the temple which would be destroyed and in 3 days raised up.

Of course, the temple faithful had no idea of that which he spoke.  For it required leaving behind expectations in order to imagine God in a new form, one who would not kill, but would die to set us free.

May we allow God to make us free to enter a faith which is varied and beautiful, which reaches far and wide, and invites us into a relationship with the living God.

In Christ,

Heather