Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CHURCH BUILDINGS



We returned from a trip to Italy last week—Rome, Florence, and Venice. There’s a lot to see in those places, and we took a stab at seeing as much as we could. And one of the things that you see on any tour of Italy is churches—old, old churches, many of them quite ornate, filled great paintings and sculpture and gold.

            And while they are spectacular to behold, it got to me, seeing all of that wealth conspicuously on display in all of those church buildings. It was meant to impress, I guess, and maybe all those years ago, when most of those churches were built, it had that impact, but today, those churches raised questions in my mind. Is this the kind of impression that the Church should be making? Does a conspicuous display of wealth, whether in a church building or in our own lives—does such a display represent what it means to follow the God revealed through Jesus Christ?

            In his book, Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan contrasts “fortress churches”—that is, churches focused only on themselves—with “jubilee churches,” which are churches that focus on the world beyond their own walls. And, from one perspective, the whole challenge of Kent’s book is to call us to be a jubilee church and to live jubilee lives. 

“What breaks my heart?” Kent calls us to ask ourselves. “In the world, my country or my neighborhood, what makes me angry because it should be better?” To ask such questions of ourselves can awaken us to how it is that we are called to serve the reign of God.
                                                                                                     
--Pastor Don Steele

PS Be sure to join us this Sunday, March 26 at 11:30 am in the North Classroom when Kent Annan will join us live via Skype to talk with us in more depth about his book!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Expectation and Disappointment



Do you know that feeling when you are expecting or anticipating something, and then something else comes your way? This last snowstorm that we had felt like that particularly following a week that was really nice. I LOVE snow, and don't mind the cold one bit...but when you are teased with something that you love even more (spring!), it's a pretty difficult blow. Spring will eventually come, and this is par for the course, but it has lead me to think a bit about expectations and disappointments. 

It's easy to get excited about something you think may soon happen, and very good for our psyches. But what happens to us when we are disappointed? I know that sometimes when I feel disappointed, I start to think, well, why bother getting excited in the first place. And of course, one approach to life is to never get excited about potential things, for fear of disappointment, but I truly believe that disappointment and let downs are just as important to experience as fulfillment and successes. The disappointments teach us how to adapt, how to deal with less than our ideal, and how to relate to others. Think for a minute if Jesus had let fear of disappointment get in his way - I mean, that's a humbling thought. He was dealt arguably the biggest let down ever, crucifixion, and he persevered and gave his life. That certainly makes me pause and realize that my disappointments are really just a blip in my story called life, and are what ultimately make me who I am. So I'll embrace them fully, and continue to stay excited for possibilities, even if they are never guaranteed.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spending Time with Luke



Ask me how to get from Central Church to the manse where I live, and I can tell you. I’ll have to think hard to remember the names of the streets, the landmarks along the way. The route is so familiar to me that I can follow it without really thinking, without really noticing much.

            And there’s much in our lives that is so familiar that we don’t really think much about it, that we don’t really notice much anymore—not just places and things, but people too. And often, ironically, it is the places, things, and people closest to us that we take the most for granted.

            Since Christmas, we have been spending time looking at the story of Jesus as it is told to us in the Gospel of Luke, and there are texts, unique to the Gospel of Luke, that are among the most familiar in the Bible—the Christmas story with the shepherd and angels and manger (Luke 2), parables like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), characters like the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)—all of which are passages that I have or will focus on in Sunday morning worship this year. How can we get ourselves to pay attention to such familiar stories?

            Well, I think that the answer is easy to say, but hard to do. Namely, I think that we have to spend time, focusing on the nuances, considering deeply what’s behind the words we’re reading or the voice we’re hearing or the face we’re seeing—spending our time, not simply on our way to the next place, the next thing, the next person—but living our lives here, now, aware of how the present moment glitters with inestimable value.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Celebrating Lent with Your Family



What are you giving up for Lent this year? I remember this question as a kid, and my friends chiming in- chocolate, comic books, Atari, dessert… the practice of giving something up for Lent was meant to help us think about God- every time we craved something we were supposed to pray for strength. As I got older, it became a time for people to lose a few pounds before swimsuit season, or to give up a bad habit. And I do think that fasting, the practice of giving something up to grow closer to God is a good thing, I think that Lent can also be a great time to develop a practice, to start something new. 

Research in faith development tells us that faithful parents are the biggest factor for kids who grow up as faithful adults. Lent can be a great time to share your faith with your kids. Sometimes sharing our faith can feel a little intimidating- we might worry- “am I saying the right thing?” but it turns out that sharing our personal connections to God is not only valuable to our kids, but that it’s more important than having all of the answers.

This Lent, you may want to develop a habit of daily or weekly Bible reading. Following the Narrative Lectionary that we use in church is a great plan for reading the Gospel of Luke together each week, or signing up for a Lenten Devotional. https://www.biblegateway.com/landing/easter/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=alert&utm_campaign=easter These offer short reflections, prayers and music to help you focus on God during lent.  You might want to think about ways to serve together, tying in with Midnight Run on March 10, helping out in Music and Mission Sunday School on March 12, or bringing a donation of rice and beans for Summit’s hungry at church. In addition to study and service, you might enjoy doing a faith centered cooking project like making Pretzels
https://weloveteachgrow.com/2013/03/25/resurrection-roll-recipe-and-bible-story/  both great hands-on projects that can stimulate some great conversations about prayer and Easter.
During Lent this year we will be beginning our Lenten journey with Ashes available in the car-line at school and a family-friendly morning service at 9:00 a.m. on March 1. Noelle Kirchner will be leading the service, and for the rest of the day the chapel will be open with devotional practices and ashes. For the rest of the month, in addition to our regular worship, study and service opportunities, we will enjoy seeing some of the ways that our church engages in the community in our Mission Gallery in the glass hallway, and everyone is invited to participate in reading and studying Slow Kingdom Coming- our book for Lent.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

SLOW KINGDOM COMING



Almost every Sunday, we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven.” And yet, for all the speed at which the world changes, why is it that God’s Kingdom seems to be so slow in coming? That’s the question that underlies the book that we will be reading together and focusing on at Central this Lent:  Slow Kingdom Coming, by Kent Annan.

“Another family huddles in fear as bombs rip through concrete and flesh…. Another innocent young black man is assaulted as though guilty…. Another woman was raped on a college campus, her cries later answered with shame instead of justice…. A child, instead of going to school, walked three miles to fetch a bucket of water that will give him diarrhea…. Another person made in God’s image was denigrated for her gender or sexuality instead of receiving the respect as a fellow child of God…. The world’s richest eighty-five people luxuriate in as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people try to survive on. Today someone gave everything at his dignity-crushing work to provide for his family. He still didn’t bring home enough.”

            Truly, God’s Kingdom is slow in coming, but the book doesn’t just point out the obvious. It doesn’t just raise questions. Instead, Kent offers five practices that he suggests can help us to remain faithful to the long term work of “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly in the world”—attention, confession, respect, partnering, truthing—practices that will be our focus at Central for five weeks of Lent, beginning the week of March 5. We hope that you will join us for the journey, recommitting yourself to God’s Kingdom coming “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
--Pastor Don Steele

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love



Love. The month of February is particularly full of it, with Valentine's Day, and for our family, Cora's birthday! Yes, she's now one! 

Wikipedia defines love as "a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection to pleasure". And we all know that there are many different kinds of love. But the "attitude" part of that definition is what I've been thinking about for the past few days. Perhaps it is because I was gifted with the name Charity (thanks Mom and Dad!), or perhaps because of nature (my DNA), or perhaps because of nurture (thanks again Mom and Dad!)...but to me, love is what I strive to live and breathe every day. It is an attitude, a way to be. Don't get me wrong, plenty of things can make me mad and a bit love-less, but most of the time, it is the things that are done with complete disrespect to love that upset me the most...those things done in the name of hate and done to divide. I see these things happen, and I think, these people must not know love, or perhaps they once did, but have forgotten it. And my heart breaks, and I get sad...but I also feel even more vigor to love harder and fuller, because there are clearly holes where love is missing in the world. 

What if we all loved a bit harder and a bit stronger, especially now, following in the footsteps of Jesus who preached love above everything else? What could we do in the world?

-Dr. Charity Wicks