Thursday, July 17, 2014

"The Year of Jubilee and Redemption" - July 20, 2014

This Sunday, I will be focusing on the extravagant gift of redemption and the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence of the Year of Jubilee as it is described in Leviticus 25.  This is the most radical illustration I know of to put in physical terms the lavish (the root meaning of "prodigal") gift of grace and redemption that Jesus embodied, showers us with, and out of which He invites us to live.  The special music will be an integral part of the service and is being offered by a quartet composed of David and Anne Lonowski, Christy Loewen, and me.  Wayne Lonowski will be filling in for Anne at the 10:45 AM service.  

The Year of Jubilee was commanded in Leviticus 25 (verses 8 and following) to take place every 50 years.  On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) of the Year of Jubilee - I LOVE this! - a trumpet would sound throughout the land of Israel announcing the gift that the Day of Atonement was ushering in this very special year.  On this day, all debts would be "written off the books", all who had had to sell themselves into slavery because of hard financial times would be freed from their bondage, and all land that had been leased for others' use would return to the stewardship of its families of origin.  Talk about justice!  No lifetime bondage and indebtedness.  No accumulation of wealth through land grabs because all would be returned to its families of origin every 50 years.  Imagine the feelings of release and freedom that occurred on that very special Day of Atonement and how the people might yearn to live long enough to experience - even once - that resetting of the social and economic time clock!

The grace God offers us in Jesus Christ is like this only more so.  It's available to us not once every 50 years, but all day of every day.  In the words of Michael Kelly Blanchard's song, "Be Ye Glad", "Oh, be ye glad / Oh, be ye glad / Every debt that you ever had / Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord / Be ye glad, be ye glad, be ye glad."  Jesus takes this one step further as Luke tells the story and applies to himself that passage from Isaiah that heralded "the year of the Lord's favor", prefigured in the Year of Jubilee: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" [Luke 4:18-19].

We'll be singing about this truly amazing grace on Sunday and inviting a personal connection through worship to this feeling of gladness, forgiveness, and redemption as the spiritual ground in which we would be deeply rooted.  

Looking forward to exploring this with you in worship on Sunday.  I hope you'll join us!

Steve
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Must the Wilderness be a Wasteland? July 13, 2014

Sand Creek monument
Last month, about 600 of us made a pilgrimage to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site out on the eastern plains of Colorado as an expression of our desire as United Methodists for at least a couple of reasons.  One was to know something of the atrocities felt by members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho American Indian Tribes for generations.  The other was as an expression of our desire to live into the theme of Annual Conference this year: Healing Relationships.  

Click here to find information about Annual Conference 2014

I find that an interesting theme, not sure if "healing" is intended to describe "relationships" adjectivally or if it's supposed to be a verb, as in, "We working toward the healing of the relationships between United Methodists and Native Peoples."  Whatever..., it was profound.

After the pilgrimage on Friday, June 20th, we shared in a banquet with a dozen or so descendants of the Cheyenne and Arapaho survivors of the massacre.  More than profound, this was sacramental in the sense that something deeply spiritual was happening, something that felt like "healing", behind the sharing of the meal and the conversation that followed. 

It wasn't about "white guilt", and it wasn't about making reparations.  It was simply about acknowledgement and sharing in each other's lives and stories, with the goal of healing and understanding and mutual respect and love.  Beautiful...

As part of this, we were privileged to have with us a highly regarded Cheyenne woman and educator, Henrietta Mann, Ph.D.  She was one of the speaker/teachers who helped enliven our appreciation of our shared history through brilliant and deeply personal teaching and reflection.  One of the things she said in passing likened the voices of the massacred crying out from the sands of the Massacre site, as the messenger in Isaiah cried out, Isaiah 40:3-5:

  In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Those sparse verses and that experience sparks the theme for our traditional Sunday services on Sunday: "The Wilderness Need Not be a Wasteland".  We'll follow worship around 12 noon with a light luncheon and "talkback" session aimed at inviting interested folks in the congregation, community, whatever, to engage with us in this experience and see how we might engage in healing relationships with our Native American peoples in this area, particularly how we might participate in the 150th observance of the Sand Creek Massacre in November.

I hope you'll join us for worship this coming Sunday.  See you there.

Steve
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

"God, the Soil, and 'Claymation'" - Sunday, June 15, 2014

I couldn't help thinking of "Claymation" as I pondered the story in Genesis 2 of God's creating the first human being from the dust of the earth, the soil.  Claymation - you know, the filming process that combines clay figures and the artistry of animation that gave us such notable Christmas television specials as Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
I also came across a reference to a stunning poem by Scott Cairns in Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation*, which blends in beautifully imaginative ways the account of the creation of humanity in Genesis 1:26-27 with that in Genesis 2.  That poem, in conjunction with the poetry of the Genesis 1, will ground us (couldn't resist the pun!) in worship on Sunday as we consider what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, especially as caretakers of the soil - the stuff out of which life springs and upon which our lives depend.  One of the things I hope to convey is that these Genesis accounts aren't so much about a way of knowing (what happened at the time of creation) as they are about a way of seeing [Ellen Davis, p. 46*] - seeing the fragile beauty of the interrelated systems of life and mineral in the created order as God does and...being moved to care for it in ways that reflect that insight.

In celebration of Father's Day, I also want to lift up God's "off the charts creativity" born of God's inexhaustible love and suggest that fatherhood lived out most faithfully reflects that creative love.  I think it goes without saying that you don't have to have begotten children to live creatively as a father in the world - guiding, encouraging, and bringing hope to lives all around you.

Come join us on Sunday - and, as usual, feel free to reply to this with comments, if you'd like.  I reserve the right to refer in the sermon, anonymously of course, to anything sent to me in reply to this blog post.

May God's creative love fill you this moment,

Steve
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[*Note that Making Peace with the Land is a book by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba calling us to reflect seriously on what it means to live with and from the Earth as opposed to exploiting it for our own benefits.  It and another by Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, are furnishing the outline for our summer worship series here at Ft. Collins First UMC.]