Friday, September 14, 2012

Standing on the pew for a different perspective

Friends, today is RENEWAL Sunday.  It is a time when we gather together again for a new program year.  A time when we are given the opportunity to look at our mission again, maybe ... surely ... in a different way. 
And although it is true that we do some things very, very well!  And we celebrate those talents and gifts this day, ... it is also true that there are people in our pews, on our rolls, in our neighborhood and in these cities and suburbs who may not feel welcomed, connected or included in our ministry. 

And although I, your new pastor, am a known quantity here at Bethel, having served as your CYF Minister for near 5 years, I am also here ~ clearly detailed in my letter of call ~ to challenge each and everyone of us to take the risk of looking at our mission and our future in a different way.  

• To take a different view at who we are now and who we might become in the future.
• To step into the shoes of those we would like to join us in mission and ministry, and see our mission expand, renew, and grow.
• To claim our lives as the family of Christ in new and substantial ways.

Does this mean that we have to let go of all that we are and have become ... absolutely not.
• Jesus did not leave the chosen people behind. 
• He did not stop teaching, leading, healing, and loving people. 
• But he was willing to expand the invitation, take some risks in society and be open to new and important opportunities. 

If you have taken the time to read the Herald these last two months, you would have seen that the five mutual expectations that are a part of my call as your pastor and our congregational call includes:

1. Create and implement a mission and goals statement
2. Give attention to worship settings and music
3. Expand our ministry to neighbors of all ages
4. Expand our community partnerships, and
5. Maintain our open, welcoming and inviting atmosphere.

These are our mutual expectation.  Expectations that our call committee and Board of Administrators have presented to this congregation and me, and by congregational vote and acceptance of a call, our next steps are clear. 

Last month, our Board of Administrators and Endowment Committee, both, agreed to assist us on our number one journey, to create and implement a mission and goals statement for this congregation, by agreeing to hire a professional consultant to assist us in finding what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do. 

The task force, working on this goal, will begin working with this outside consultant this month, and hopes to invite each and every one of you into listening and information gatherings in October or November.  So, here is our challenge before those gatherings. 

Look at who we are in a different way.  Step into one anothers’ shoes in the next several weeks. 

• Those who are young, try to understand the perspective of the not-so-young, and you who are not-so-young, see us from the eyes of a child.

• You who live outside of South Minneapolis, sit in our front or back yards for awhile and get to know our neighbors and our neighborhood in new ways.

• You who live in South Minneapolis, take the long way to Bethel some Sunday and think about what inspires you to get up that much earlier to be a part of this faith community.

• Straight folks and white folks and seeing folks and “abled” folks, step into Mary and my shoes, or Teondre's shoes, or Craigs's shoes, or Shelia’s shoes, and see what it is like to live a life where discrimination or misunderstanding is an everyday ocurrance.

• And we, (Sheila, Craig, Teondre, Mary and I) we promise to step into your shoes, and see what your heart says about those who are different from you.

Our mission as a family of God for the next several weeks is to look at who we are and who we are called to be in a renewed way. 

From a different perspective. 

And to see how our eyes and hearts and spirits are challenged, opened and renewed. 

• Maybe we will better understand the foundation one which we stand.
• Maybe we will see something we have never thought of before.
• Maybe we will see in ourselves a talent or gift we have not yet shared.

• Surely, as we see in our gospel lesson for today, we will see how we are all a part of God’s story and how God is inviting us to be renewed in mission and in ministry.

Last month at our leadership meetings, we shared a devotion with one another entitled “Living Transformationally”. 

In part, this devotions says the following:
“Jesus invites us to walk the path of love by our trust and selflessness... see that we could be living and loving differently than before.  ... As Gandhi said, “We must seek to be what we want to become.” 

• “When Jesus declares you new, you are that already.  We can change - our habits, our practices, our thinking - and let the newness in. 
• Our congregation can change - in worship, in outreach, in openness - and let the newness in. 
• Our world can change - in justice, with peace, with community - and let the newness in. 
• [God’s] grace has made this possible.” 

Let us live into renewal, mission and ministry, together. 

From one another’s perspective, and in different ways.

Creator help us.  Jesus lead us.  Spirit inspire us.

So be it.  Amen

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Faith v Religion

On Friday, I posted a question on my and Bethel’s facebook page that asked this:  “In your opinion, is there a difference between faith and religion.  If so, what are the differences?  What are the similarities?  If not, say more.”   To see all the answers, feel free to look at my FB page, or ask for a copy.  But let me share a few answers with you:

“Faith is blind and free.  It is personal. Religion, however, is organized and controlled.”

“Faith is a gift that must be nurtured; religion is (hopefully) faith made visible.”

“Faith equals trust.  Faith/trust is more of an active kind of thing that ebbs and flows, changes and grows, and gets put to use in daily life.  Religion is the framework we use to organize people and ideas around a particular belief or value.”

“Faith is a gift, something innate.  Religion is more organized and ritualized.  I may not buy organized religion part and partial, but my faith is always strong.”

In our text for today, Jesus exposes the differences between the organization of religion and the gift of faith. 

He is asked a question about the ritual washing of hands before one eats.  However, this is not the question Jesus answers. 

Instead, Jesus initiates a discussion this is clearly a part of our lives today.  He looks at the broader foundation from which the question originates. 

Most broadly, what is faith and what is religion? 
• What is trust in God and what is the practice of that trust?
• Does our saying YES to God have to include our saying YES to human made interpretation of the laws and ordinances that are God’s gifts to us?
• Can there be religion without faith?  Or faith without religion?

Friends ... what is faith?  (The congregation answered)

• Faith is trust in God. 
• The object of our faith is God. 
• Therefore, faith is a verb. 
• Faith is about our relationship with God. 
• It is something we participate in. 

What, then, is religion?  (The congregation answered again) 

Faith is initiated by God, a gift from God, practiced as we say YES to God and to God’s Word.
• This is not to say that religion is unnecessary. 
• However, religion is impossible without faith. 
• Religion is the practice of our faith. 
• It is the structure of our worship and the exercise of our doctrines, rituals and traditions. 
• It is the framework that gives us order as we trust our God, honor our God, and build our relationship with God ~ individually and communally. 

In our text, Jesus challenges the object of faith... both for the scribes and Pharisees who approached him, as well as for us ... as followers of God. 

Jesus wonders out loud who or what we trust in.  Do we trust in our relationship with God?  Or do we trust in our ritual, our tradition, the ways we have always done things? 

Which, in and of itself, is not bad.  Unless, it gets in the way of our faith in God ... our relationship with God ... the output of our faith. 

This is what Jesus is talking about when tells us what comes out of a person, how our hearts have the capacity to be divisive, untrustworthy, thieving, deceitful, and the like.

But, if our heart is driven by our faith, our relationship with God, then what comes out of us, as children of God is very different from the list in verses 21-22 ... Instead of wickedness, envy, pride, folly ... the output of our faith is what? 

(more answers)

Exactly.  So Jesus reminds us, in the Gospel of Mark, and every day, that we must remember that GOD is the object of our faith. 
Faith is a gift from God. 

And as faith is the foundation of our lives, the output of our lives include (... the list the congregation gave .... love, forgiveness, mercy, a listening ear, a hug, a prayer, justice work, proclamation, graceful engagement, helping the other, giving, ...)

Are we able to have the faith of a child?

Are we able to faithfully proclaim our relationship with our God without hesitation? 

Are we willing to exalt our God who gives us all that we need, and claims us so that we know whose we truly are? 

God help us in faith so that our answers are YES, YES and YES.

So be it.  Amen