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

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

This rhetorical question is often used to get us moving and doing.  But that’s not the intent today.

Our Psalm proclaims “I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope…my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”

The words make me picture a long cold sleepless night.  Sometimes I have a little taste of it when I camp; when I wake, and it is still dark, and I cannot sleep again.  How I long for the light of morning and the bird’s twittering proclamation that night has become day.  But there’s something else that helps me get through the night.  For a little ways away from me in our tent is my daughter and all I have to do is take her in my arms, share warmth, and all is well.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!   Shouts the Psalmist

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

And with him is the power to redeem.

Notice–the Psalmist is in relationship with God, with the Lord.  You may know that, while it isn’t the majority of the scholar’s view anymore, the Psalms were, traditionally, ascribed to David.  The same man who was guilty of adultery, the one who took down Saul, the harp playing king of kings was thought to have authored the Psalms because the words sound like what a broken man of faith would sing.  Indeed scholars have simply expanded the authorship to include a larger community of faith.  Not one voice but many.  What is most important is not trying to figure out who wrote what but that these words were spoken in a faith community during worship.  These are the words spoken and sung by the broken people of faith–those who know the worst of life and the worst of themselves and yet dare believe God is near.   The Psalmist knows the love of the Lord.  The community who sings the Psalmist’s song have felt the power of redemption.  In their singing they open their arms wide to the God of love.  In some respect, the wait is over.  Even the words that come out of a long night ring with joyous faith.

Faith is always an invitation to take hold of a love and power that is beyond and yet with us.  We can choose to set our mind to wait, to believe all will be well someday, and then we will know love.  Or we can choose to set our mind to take hold of love already given.  As Victor Frankl, a survivor of the extermination camps of World War II writes, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/viktor_e_frankl.html#35iLDEkBbRxkeaY6.99)

Frankl’s writing comes out his observations that those who survived the camps held to something higher, more powerful than the overwhelming evil of the camp.  They could feel something else at work.

Faith is an invitation to make a choice to believe God is moving among us.  But when we are busy doing, we are often not even conscious of our choice to exclude God.

In college, my Sociology professor assigned his students to go to a public place and stand.  We weren’t to wait for anyone or anything.  The assignment was to stand for 30 minutes and then write about the experience.

Years later, I remember how out of place I felt at first.  I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing around me.  I had no purpose and felt uncomfortable with my lack of intent.  But, then, after awhile, I began to see the laughing teenagers pass by; the baby calling for his mother’s attention; the man waiting for his wife outside a store.  I began to see.  And, as I stood there, instead of feeling the frenetic pull I often feel in a Mall, I felt more and more peaceful.  I didn’t need anything from the stores.  I wasn’t waiting for someone outside of a store I had grown tired of.  I wasn’t worried about being lost or left behind.  It was okay to not have a purpose.  It was enough to watch a bit of God’s work in the faces of those who passed by.

The difference between waiting for God and waiting for something less is when we wait for God there are no limits.  We give God permission to work outside of the lines.  In contrast, when we wait for someone or something, we become captive to one idea–like, waiting for a loved one at an airport.  Lots of people pass by before the one we desire appears.  We don’t really see their faces, just the fact that they aren’t the one we are expecting.

When we are waiting for the one, we can become irritated.  Our time, that precious commodity, is being wasted.   We are angry at those who keep us from what we are waiting for.  We feel both the loneliness and fear of being lost.

It is this kind of waiting that is most familiar to all of us and to those who disbelieved the words of Jesus.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will not hunger.  Whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  Those who heard him argue saying, “How can he say such a thing?  Is he not Joseph’s boy who grew up in Galilee?”

You can almost see the scripture writer’s smile.

On one level, there is truth to their complaint.  It would be difficult to believe that someone who grew up in your neighborhood is the one sent by God.  It is totally ridiculous.  On another level, the gospel suggests that disbelief and complaint go hand in hand.

You can fill in the larger conversation:  “Jesus can’t be what we are waiting for.   If he is the real thing, let him perform a miracle, like the one God did that day when our ancestors were in the wilderness and God sent manna from heaven.  Let Jesus do something grand like that.”

And Jesus retorts: “Stop your complaining.  Stop looking up to heaven.   I am here.  Besides, that miracle in the wilderness wasn’t so grand.  It didn’t overcome your ancestor’s disbelief.  Those complainers died before they entered into the promises of God.  Look at me.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

“I am here.”

What are you waiting for?

A young man worried about his soul going to hell because he didn’t go to church except on Christmas and Easter.  Some of his Christian friends had told him that he was doomed.  He, being at the age when the thought of death becomes scary (remember that age in your life…we don’t talk about it much, but it is part of our development), found it hard to sleep at night.

Pause here a moment.  Understand, when we are spiritually alone, it is easy for fear to take hold of us.  On one level, his friend was right.  Church could help bring this young man closer to God and love.  A faith community could love and shape him.  Where the friend went wrong is in deciding for God what God would do.

I asked the young man, What do you know about God?

God is a good being, he replied.

That got me thinking.  How do we know God is good?  How do we know God is the one we should look for in the morning?

There are plenty who would question God’s goodness and love because this side of heaven is not all good and sometimes acts against love.  How do you know God is good?

The Bible tells me so?  The preacher tells me so?

How do you know God is good?

Your Dad?  Your Grandmother?  Your Friend?  Your Sunday School teacher?

How about an experience you had one day.

How many of you here have had an experience of God’s goodness?

If I probed further, if we had time in this short hour to share of these experiences, I trust that many of your stories would be set in a time when you were forced outside of your normal habits and were able to see more clearly.

To wait on the Lord is to seek out the Lord as if God is here.  To take hold of the one we love in the middle of the night and let the Holy One warm our soul.   It is to believe that when Jesus stands in front of his hometown peeps and says “I am the living bread” that Jesus means to give us all we need.  It is to wait, not for someone to arrive, but to see the possibilities in the life that has been given all around us.  It is to stop complaining so God can get to work in us.

Henri Nouwen writes:

A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame, Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny wrinkle in his eyes: “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

 That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then ‘fate’ can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.

– from Out of Solitude by Henri J. Nouwen

What are we waiting for?

I’m sure you have your lists.  I know I have mine.  It has been exactly one year since my last day at Community and there is no sign of a church call; nor a sign of full time work; nor a sign of financial stability.  There is much we all can complain about as the economy saps our confidence in keeping what we have.  There are those among us who are single after all these years who wish for a loving partner to share their lives with.  There are those among us who wish for a more just politic.  There are those here who wish desperately that their son/daughter will come back to a path of love.

Nouwen says,  “Fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.”

Jesus tells us who does the converting: “Do not complain among yourselves.  No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me….”  (John 6:44)

”unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”

It is God who draws us to Jesus, to healing, to hope, to love present now.  It is God who converts fate into vocation, wounds into deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.  There no stronger image of God breaking into this world than the heaven sent Jesus standing in front of us, saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

“I am here.”

Today, hear the call:  Let go of the lists, the complaints, the worries, and frenzied acts.  Instead, take hold of the invitation of faith…Wait on God … wait on God

I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

July 28, 2012

John 6:  35 – 51; Psalm 130

Reverend Heather Miner

Change Your World

The Bible never depicts this world as being fair but it does show us a way through the trouble.

A very Jewish tale is told in Mark 6: 17 – 29.  In summary, Herod divorces his first wife to marry Herodias.  John the Baptists suggests that this is not a good idea.  His advice angers Herodias who decides he needs to die.

Herod liked John the Baptist.  He liked to listen to him even though he didn’t understand him.  He didn’t understand him because he refused to follow the heart of the message–to repent.  He refused to turn from being his own Lord to the humility and faith which allows what is good and holy to take hold of him.  So, when Herodias became angry, in order to keep the peace in his home, Herod had John the Baptist arrested.

On the day of Herod Antipas’ birthday, Herodias gets her revenge.  It begins when her daughter dances for King Herord and all the guests.  Artists have captured this dance on many canvases.  This one, from Reni who lived in late 1500s, portrays the daughter as aloof, dancing, holding the hair of John’s head as it is presented to her.

It is a picture of a great wrong.

I wonder what she, the daughter of Herodias, understood?  Did she know the game of power being played by her mother?  Maybe not for the word used for the daughter is “girl” not “woman.”  The same Greek word is used earlier in Mark for a 12 year old girl who Jesus lifts out of death.  When the dancing girl of the banquet is offered half of the King’s kingdom, instead of saying, “alright!” and living large, she goes to her mother, and says “what shall I ask for?”

Evil manipulates the one with the crown, of one who refused to learn the language of humility, or faith, or grace.  Take heed.

The story suggests evil is born of a grudge and spread by the innocent.

A simple birthday party, a celebration of life, corrupted.

On the one hand, I want to condemn Herod Antipas.  Herod–the man who is the center of his own dance.  He makes himself an easy target.

On the other hand, how many times have we held in higher regard something other than what is right and holy?  Even Peter denies Jesus when push comes to shove.

It is hard to hold on to what is right and holy.

I have opportunity to speak to couples now and then.  Everyone fights.  There should be a book about that for couples similar to the one for mothers and their little children called “Everyone Poops.”  Everyone fights.  This is true about all our relationships—friends and coworkers alike.  What often happens is we feel slighted in some way.  The other doesn’t understand us.   Lists of wrongs are kept.  Anger grows.  We’ve tried everything, we say, as the one who we once loved and respected becomes the enemy to our peace.

The best general reminder scripture gives about all of our relationships is that our first priority is not the happiness of the other person.  Herod tried to make his wife and niece happy and it led to the death of the holy one.

Our first priority is to do right by God, to hold on to what is right and holy in ourselves and in the other.

As Christians, we do this by looking to see Jesus.

In this scene from the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus has been brought to Herod Antipas having been arrested for treason.

It takes time to find Herod among the dancers, underneath the many bulbs that light up the “H.”  But it is not hard to see Jesus there in white lit robe in the foreground.   In the midst of all that is wrong, there is Jesus, waiting.

When we look to see Jesus at work in us and in the other person, we will often find him there, kneeling before the Herodian dance, the ego’s masquerade, waiting for us to repent.

Look for him.  Call for him to stand up.  Unbind him.

He is there in the one who is hurting herself beyond recognition.  He is there in the boss whose heavy hand you have felt.  He is there in the “other” and he is there in you.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality, not with a violent revolution, but with a Christian witness calling the enemy to take hold of what was holy and good in them.

Look for Jesus.  You may not ever be offered half of the King’s kingdom but you will see your way through to what is good and holy.   That is enough to change your world!

In Christ,

Heather

Loneliness and Solitude

From the book, The Eternal Now, sermons of Paul Tillich written for college aged young people:  “Our lanugage has wisely sensed two sides of man’s being alone.  It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.”

On the latter, he writes:

“Sometimes God thrusts us out of the crowd into a solitude we did not desire, but which nonethless takes hold of us.  The prophet Jeremiah says–‘I sit alone, because thy hand was upon me.’  God sometimes lays hands upon us.  He wants us to ask the question of truth that may isolate us from most men, and that can be asked only in solitude.  He wants us to ask the question of justice that may bring us suffering and death, and that can grow in us only in solitude.  He wants us to break through the ordinary ways of man that may bring disrepute and hatred upon us, a breakthrough that can happen only in solitude.  He wants us to penetrate to the boundaries of our being, where the mystery of life appears, and it can only appear in moments of solitude.”

Sounds true to me!

Pastor 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.