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

Faith of Jesus

One of the seasons of the Way–the earliest name given to Christianity–is Lent.  The season’s beginning is marked with a worship service known as Ash Wednesday.  As the name suggests, ashes are central to the imagery and the ritual where the sign of the cross, put on the forehead with ashes, is a sign of our mortality.  This is not a service everyone chooses to attend, for the focus is often inward, the worship prayerful, and the leaving in silence.

Yet, worship is a way to make you available to God.  Sometimes it is in the quietness that God can most effectively speak.

My ponderings today come after attending a delightful Ash Wednesday service which, along with the usual scriptures from the Psalms, featured an image of a Phoenix (the mythical bird that becomes flame when it dies and is reborn out of his ashes).  This image of resurrection led me to ponder about the faith of Jesus.

Pastors and theologians often talk about having faith in Jesus.  Jesus is our Savior, the one sent to allow us to become close to God.  In this theological imagining Jesus is a type of Intercessor, one who, like Moses, frees us from the slavery of sin and allows us access to God’s words and ways.

Given this vision, Lent regularly features an honest self examination to see where sin has a hold on us.  Ash Wednesday is an occasion to read a familiar parable of Jesus about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple.   Both men come to pray.  The Pharisee prays, “Thank God I’m not like that tax collector over there.”  The tax collector prays, “Forgive me… for I am a sinner.”  In his telling, Jesus makes the hated tax collector the hero, highlighting the humility necessary for one who wishes to truly know God.  Plenty of ink has been spilled on the need for us to admit our sin in order for God to enter in. Continue on with this penitentiary practice for all of Lent and you have an experience that fits within the vision of the Council of Nicea (325 AD) where the Lenten season was established.

But the Bible provides more of a multifaceted voice than did the council that met so long ago.  There is room to re-imagine Lent–these 40 days (not including Sundays)–before Easter as a time when we are called to a faith like Jesus.   This theological imagining leads us not just to the cross but to the resurrection.

Three times in the gospel of Mark, Jesus says something like this…

“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”  (Mark 9: 31)

In all three times that Jesus talks about dying, the disciples choose to not understand.

In fact, when Jesus first says these words, Peter rebukes him, trying to stop what was to happen.  And Jesus responds, “Get behind me Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)

The final reference to death and resurrection opens up a heated argument between the sons of Zebedee about who gets to sit on Jesus right when Jesus enters “into glory.”  (Mark 10:35)

While the disciples couldn’t hear Jesus, because they were likely so afraid of losing the way they’ve come to experience God, perhaps we can.

Notice when Jesus speaks about his death, he also speaks of his resurrection.

This is the key to having the faith of Jesus.

Jesus never talks about his death without speaking about his resurrection.  We might even speculate that Jesus kept going, kept doing the difficult things, because he believed in the resurrection.

To have the faith of Jesus, then, is to believe that, even when you are living in the ashes of what once was, resurrection is possible.  And, to push it one step further, when you are heading into the fire because it is the way God has called you to go and even your friends sound like the enemy, go anyway, believing God will have the last word.   Lent reminds us to stop playing it safe.  It is time to let go of what we fear losing and instead follow the one voice that gives us life.

Such a faith did not make Jesus superhuman, unaffected by the hostility of those who would send the “King of the Jews”  to the cross.  Jesus still cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane for another way.   Yet, Jesus’ faith allowed these words…”Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”  (Mark 14: 36)

During this Lenten season, those of you who like to mark the season with a offering can still give up  candy and eat fish on Fridays.  But as you do, as those cravings come, use the feeling to allow your vision to go beyond your own failings.  Look up!  Listen.  Listen carefully.

What is it God would have you do?

 

In Christ,

Heather

An Outsider’s Faith

When Jesus was born, we left behind the promised land.

By that first Christmas day, something had happened to the temple–scripture tells us it was no longer a place of true worship.  It no longer led the heart, mind, and soul into the knowledge of the love of God.  Instead, it was a a place of duty–where you had to bring your offerings in order to expiate your sin.  And it was a place of politics, having authority over, and making laws for, a special group of people in the Roman Empire; a people for which it had become the most exclusive of clubs.  Soon it would become a place that would lead the persecution of God’s chosen. Scripture, often in the words of Jesus, suggests the temple had lost its soul, the desire to be with and of God. 

 When God chose to send Jesus into the world, God chose to do so outside of the temple.  Mary and Joseph had to leave their home in order to make their way to Bethlehem.  The shepherds were on the hills when the angels arrived to tell them of Jesus’ birth.  The wise men who came later leave behind their country to find what God has brought to life.  While Luke has poetically drawn Simeon and Anna in the temple waiting for Jesus to arrive for his blessing, even he has to admit that the arrival of Jesus, the incarnation, happened outside. 

 Christianity is, at its very beginning, an outsiders’ religion. 

 Terry, a friend of mine, was sitting in her car at 5:30 in the morning yesterday.  Her skin is of a darker hue than most in Southern Orange County.  Seeing her in the car in that pre-dawn hour, a woman was moved to go to her and offer her $10. What did Terry do?  Take offense?  Get angry?  Drive away embarrassed?  No, she invited the woman to her party that day and asked her to bring gifts for kids who are staying in a shelter.  The only reason we know this story is the woman arrived with her daughter and gifts in hand.  If Terry had thought only of her dignity in that bizarre morning moment, this would never have happened. 

 A church musician who recently felt the barbs of those whose selective reading of the Bible put him, because of his sexuality, outside of the Christian Way rehearsed countless hours to present a program which honored many musicians who created the organ repertoire.  He used his words to lift up others, and his talent to create memories and draw us into a world beyond our own.  As is his way, he added a few more pieces at the end. One moment inviting a soprano to sing with him a favorite soft operatic piece, gladly taking his place in the background.  Another moment, playing a song he knew was the favorite composition of a man in the audience because his wife (who had passed) had often played it.  He played on because he knew this music would minister to those who were present.  His focus was never on himself.

Christianity is an outsider’s religion. In the scriptures that tell of Jesus’ birth, there is no sense that those involved argued or felt sorry for themselves.  They didn’t put down a precondition of acceptance or welcome before they responded to God’s call on their lives.  Rather, scripture shows them responding with willful abandon.  Mary and Joseph lay down on the hay and, when Jesus arrived, they made good use of the feeding trough.  The shepherds most likely left their sheep on the hill, overcome by the message they had been given by the angels in the sky.  God didn’t mind having Jesus arrive to the song of the mooing cows.  It wouldn’t be wrong to say God planned it that way. 

 Not only did Jesus come to welcome the outsider into God’s love, but God depended on the outsiders to bring Jesus into the world, to announce his arrival, to bray in the new kingdom.  And so perhaps if we are feeling a little more like a donkey than a king today, we might choose not to put our tale between our legs.

                    Heather