The Church of 2048

Date: April 13, 2008
Scripture: Acts 2: 42-47
Sermon:The Church of 2048
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells

How many of you remember 1968? That is the year that Lakewood United Church of Christ closed its charter and was officially established.

What was going on as this small group of Christians, even smaller than the church is now, responded to God’s call to form a church? What was the context in which these courageous souls made a commitment to go out on a limb and form a new faith community?

As recent newspaper articles remind us, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Robert Kennedy was assassinated, as well. Richard Nixon was nominated for president. The film 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted. My elementary school took us on a field trip to see it. Johnny Cash recorded Folsum Prison in 1968. It was the year of the Prague Spring when Czechoslovakia tried to assert its freedom and was squashed by the no longer extant USSR. The Broadway musical HAIR opened. Yale went co-ed. The Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the war on poverty, the environmental movement were all in full swing.

In 1968 when Lakewood was founded, there were high hopes for eradicating many social problems – like poverty, racism, environmental destruction, and war. And a small group of people went out on a limb founding this church.

In 1968, Christianity was the dominant religion in the United States. Yes, there were Jews, but Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, weren’t even on the main stream map. Christianity was considered part of day to day culture in the United States. In 1968, Sunday morning worship did not compete with soccer games, fun runs, or charity golf.

Alvin Toffler, iconic futurist published Future Shock in 1970. We learned that the accelerating pace of social and technological change would overwhelm people. They would become disoriented, suffering from what Toffler called “shattering stress” How many of us feel like we are taking a shower in Niagara Falls? As Toffler predicted, we have experienced “too much change in too short a period of time.”

For the most part, the church has been caught in this swirl of change, this paradigm shift and is dizzy and reeling. Conservatism and fundamentalism have become more entrenched and more prominent, and more appealing as people seek stability and assurance in these shifting sands of change. The liberal church became less relevant as its social agenda was increasingly promoted by secular groups and movements.

So what’s ahead for society in the United States and in the church? Population increase will continue from 200 million in 1968 to 300 million in 2006, to a projected 438 million in 2048. We are told that the population will be older, with increases in life expectancy. The US population will not only be older but more diverse. By 2048, 48% of the population will be white Euro-American. The largest non-white minority will be Hispanic. Most of the 52% of non-whites will be immigrants. The economy will be global. The underclass will be larger. Society will be more fluid. Religion we are told will have a growing role in public discourse and world affairs, but will not be monolithically Christian. There will be more technology – developing faster. So younger people today who feel pity for us older folks who can’t keep up, are going to be left in the dust in later years We are told we will have more leisure (sure, that’s what they said in 1968) and no seafood – you won’t be fishing in your free time in 2048 because the world is projected to run out of harvestable seafood stocks by 2048

So what does this all mean for the church as we move toward 2048? Christianity in the US will be a decidedly minority movement, in a diverse culture, experiencing the dislocation and disorientation of racing social and technological change. This is already happening. The shifts and decline in mainline Protestantism have mostly to do with the changes in society around us. And we are in a period of trying to discern a new place, a new role, social events, brunches, etc
Sunday morning your choices were pretty much to sleep, read the newspaper, go to the beach. You didn’t mow the lawn because then people would see that you weren’t in church.

In 2048, the options for things to do other than church will have greatly expanded. So, what will church be like? Here, let’s look back, way back to Acts, when Christianity was a small, fringe movement, in a culture dominated by other forces. In the first century Christians were by far the minority. Christian values were decidedly different from cultural values. Because that’s the kind of context the church will be facing in the decades ahead. In Acts, as we heard this morning, the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Day by day they devoted themselves to these activities (not just Sundays). And they shared goods, resources, and money in common. And many signs and wonders were done. We know that the early Christian community was marked by extreme diversity – people of different backgrounds, cultures, and classes mixed together in the individual churches. And their commitment to caring for one another in the spirit of Christ considered strange and dangerous and subversive. Elaine Pagels in Beyond Belief tells us of how early Christians were considered peculiar and threatening.

They welcomed the sick, those without money, those in distress and offered help for free. No dues. No fees. Unlike Roman religious practices. They helped orphans living on garbage dumps. Gave out food and medicine. Helped those in prison. They cared for the sick without fear of contagion. They drove out “destructive energies that cause mental instability and emotional anguish,” Pagel tells us (p.7) their actions were based on a spiritual experience with a God who loves humans and evokes love in return.

And this movement of generosity, compassion and service, was considered “an enemy of the public good; of the gods; of public morals,” of all that patriotic, religious Romans held sacred (Pagel p.11) Christianity was looked upon as a criminal cult. People were kicked out of their families, lost jobs, friendship, and social standing for becoming Christian. So Christians had to depend upon one another to survive.

This glimpse at first century Christianity, as we heard about in Acts shows us the church as a minority, subversive movement, which is the way we are heading in 2048. The basic values of Christianity – love of neighbor, service, other-centered living, generosity, compassion, justice, concern for the poor, the dying, the forgotten – these basic core commitments will be strange and alien in 2048. And yet, this kind of movement, and these values, will be needed more than ever as people experience the disorientation and dislocation that comes with increasing technological changes and depersonalization, and individualism.

As Toffler puts it, looking ahead from 1970, “Society needs people who take care of the elderly and who know how to be compassionate and honest. Society needs people who work in hospitals. Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive. They need emotional and affectionate skills. You cannot run the society on data and computers alone” (from Wikipedia, Alvin Toffler)

So the church of 2048 will be high touch to balance high tech. People will go deeper in their discipleship because Christian values will be more at odds with society –
by volunteering,
by reaching out to the poor,
by giving of money,
by lifestyle changes that are environmental,
by cultivating diverse community,
by advocacy in the public realm
People in church will have more contact with each other, not just once a week or once a month, but virtually daily – to sustain faith and hope and humanity in the face of increasing alienation in the culture. This contact will be more face to face, high touch, and through electronics, high tech. The church of 2048 will involve more teaching, training, and learning, because we won’t be able to assume that people know about the Christian story and the Bible. and church history. And knowing this story and tradition is essential to connecting to God and the hope and promise of Jesus Christ needed as people feel more adrift in changing times. This means we will need to become more comfortable talking about our faith experience without being preachy or pushy. We will need to be able to articulate how our faith grounds us so that we can offer that lifeline to others.

So, in many ways, the church of 2048 will look like the church of Acts.
High commitment.
Alternative life style.
Family centered.
Life-line of hope ,
Counter culture community.
Distinct minority.
Subversive generosity.
Compassion and service.
Welcoming of the poor, the sick and those in distress.
Definitely out on a limb compared with current Christianity.

If the church is not bringing God’s moral vision to bear on the greed, individualism, separation and anxiety being created in our culture, then it will not be needed. If the church is not a community of support and hope to those alienated by corporate America, advancing technology, and increasing violence, it will not be needed. If the church is not reaching out with a story of love and compassion inviting others to find their place in the drama, then it will not be needed. If the church is not engendering respect for nature and all species, it will not be needed.
If the church is not a community of healing and wholeness in an increasingly fractured and divided world, it will not be needed.

Lakewood United Church of Christ was founded by a faithful community responding to God’s call. This church is here because God needed it and wanted it. This church is the fulfillment of God’s hopes and dreams for a faith community to embody the love and justice of Jesus. And Lakewood has gone out on a limb to be that community. For Lakewood United Church of Christ in 1968, going out on a limb meant being multi-racial. In the 1970s it meant reaching out to the poor by helping to found Habitat for Humanity and working with the farm workers. In the 1980s going out on a limb meant making a commitment to justice and peace and establishing the first sister church relationship recognized by the State Dept. with St. Job’s in Leningrad, USSR, now St. Petersburg, Russia. In the 1990s going out on a limb meant an expansive welcome to all people as seen in our mission statement.

What does going out on a limb mean in this first decade of the 2nd millennium? What will it mean in the teens, the 2020s, the 2030s, and 40 years from now in the 2040s? We’ll never find out, if we don’t go out on the limb now with a commitment to deep discipleship that will transform us and the world. We have the template in Acts. And we have a bold, courageous history from the past 40 years

Zaccheus went out on a limb to see Jesus. Jesus went out on a limb giving up his life for God’s love. Will we go out on a limb to be a community of healing and hope empowered by the spirit of Christ? Out on a limb – that’s where the best fruit is. Amen

We Will Walk With God

Date: April 6, 2008
Scripture: Luke 24: 13-35
Sermon: We Will Walk With God
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells

Some of you may remember the classic movie, “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner” featuring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. It’s about a white family, and the daughter invites her fiancé’, a black man, to dinner. But, of course, it was about much more than three white people and one black person eating food together. Because much more than eating happens at a meal. There is conversation. There is sharing. Things emerge and develop beyond the food. In fact, in Africa, there is a proverb, “Relationship is in the eating together.” By eating dinner together bonds develop; links are made; stories are shared; and the world is changed.

In the ancient world, in some cultures, and still today, sharing food is a basic requirement of civil society. The dictates of hospitality cannot be violated. A stranger is to be offered food, a meal, no matter what. An interaction or a chance meeting near mealtime means eating together. This is unquestioned. To neglect this basic social requirement would be as egregious as say, spitting on someone in our culture. A very serious affront. Eating together signifies many different things. It shows the universality of our basic human need for food, whether you are rich or poor, young or old, regardless of language or culture, all people need to eat to live. So sharing food affirms our common humanity. Eating together is also about security. In the ancient world, the stranger was always invited to eat. This way you knew who was in your territory. It was for your safety. And it was for the safety of the stranger, because they would have need for food and shelter and protection from possible threats. The cross-cultural commitment to sharing food and hospitality was your assurance that you would be cared for if you took a journey.

By eating together, trust, understanding, and community were fostered between friends, families, and strangers. These are important connections and bonds that weave a web of care and compassion. It may be necessary to mutual survival, not only in the ancient world but maybe more so in today’s world with our increased capacity for violence and destruction.

We see this theme of eating together and sharing food appear again and again in the Bible. Abraham invites three strangers into his tent. They end up being angels with a message from God of blessings. Elijah shares food with the widow of Zaraphath. They are sustained throughout the drought. Esther invites her husband, the king, to dinner and saves her people. There is that wonderful verse from Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Table fellowship is a way to reconciliation and peace. The Exodus, the saving story of slavery to freedom, is marked by a shared meal, the Passover.
In the Christian Testament, Jesus is repeatedly involved in situations involving shared food. There is the wedding at Cana and a turning of water into wine. Eating with Simon, the Pharisee. Eating with Mary and Martha and having his feet anointed. Eating with Zaccheus. Eating with the disciples. Sharing food with the multitudes. In fact, Jesus is accused of eating with the tax collectors and sinners – the wrong sort, and of being a glutton and a lush.

And then the Christian Gospels are filled with stories about eating and feasts and who would and wouldn’t come, and who does and doesn’t share food. Always showing that God’s realm is like a feast where everyone is welcome.

It is in the sharing of food, our common human need, that we experience God’s presence in human community. Eating together celebrates our commonality and the generosity of the Giver of Life who sustains that life with food. It is in this context that community develops. And God ,is experienced.

So in the Emmaus story, these nobodies, Cleopas and a companion, experience Jesus’ presence, not in the talking or the teaching, but in the eating. As they share a meal Jesus affirms their common humanity, their common need. Over food, there is the opportunity to share stories and develop understanding that fosters community, reconciliation, peace, and the healing of the betrayal and desertion and crucifixion begins. Jesus does not starve them or punish them

And so the core sacrament, the shared tradition, the common bond across culture of the Christian church, the body of Christ, is the sharing of bread and the cup. And this extends, in many church contexts, to shared meals.

It is in sharing food together that we have the context that celebrates and reveals God’s goodness and love. It is in the context of eating a meal that we are fed physically and spiritually. It is in the context of breaking bread that healing and reconciliation can occur.

Sadly, in our American culture and in the church, eating together is no longer common or customary. Families used to eat together, without interruption. Then came the phone, the activities, clubs, and sports over the dinner hour, and TV and the advent of the TV dinner. The focal point of the meal was no longer conversation, but watching TV. Complex work schedules, school schedules, etc., have all conspired against families and friends eating together. This has contributed to the weakening of family ties, community, and church.

When we neglect the opportunity to eat together, our sense of our common humanity erodes. The context for building relationship and community diminish. We lose the natural setting for experiencing God’s presence in food and fellowship. We miss the revelation of God’s goodness and grace. We neglect the gathering where reflection and conversation create community and reconciliation. It is over a meal that Jesus and his friends make peace. It is over a meal that the divine is experienced. It is over a meal that Christ comes to me through you. It is over a meal that compassion and healing emerge. And yet in our cultural context the sharing of food happens less and less.

Some years ago a group from the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ went to visit our partner church in Argentina. When they returned, they told us that when they start a new church in Argentina the first thing they build is the kitchen so they can come together to eat. Later they build the sanctuary. It is in the eating and the accompanying fellowship that they experience Christ’s presence.

If Cleopas and his companion had only walked and talked with the stranger, they would not have experienced the presence of the risen Christ. New life and hope emerge when food is shared. This is why it is important for us as Christians to continue the ministry of shared food.. Not only in the ritual context of communion, but with shared table fellowship in our homes, in restaurants, at picnics. This is where we will see Christ, where God’s love and generosity, compassion and grace are revealed. This is where we will foster God’s reconciliation and peace.

I recently read the story of a person here in the United States looking for a church home. After numerous visits, the decision was made not by location, theology, facilities, programs, or music. On one church visit, after the service a couple of people were making plans to go out to lunch. As they were talking they noticed this new visitor and said, “We’re going out to lunch. Would you be our guest? Can you join us?” The visitor had other plans that day, but was so impressed by the welcome, the hospitality, the offer to share a meal, that he joined the church.

We have eaten together at Christ’s table in this service. But that is just the appetizer. The taste. The sample that invites us to share table fellowship together, eating with one another,. including and inviting others, so that we experience the presence of Christ more deeply; so that our hearts burn with his love, and our eyes are opened to God within us. So, make sure, sometime soon, someone is coming to dinner!. Amen

This I Believe: Prayer

Date: March 16, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 26:36-46
Sermon: This I Believe: Prayer
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells

Some years ago a child psychologist, Robert Coles, did a study asking children to draw God. Out of 293 drawings, all but 38 included a face. (Weavings:A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, May/June 1998, cited in a book review by Jan Johnson p.44) A face implies the potential for relating and communicating.

While there are many kinds of prayer and many ways to pray, prayer is about communication, relating, connecting with the divine transcendence, God, the Source of Life, universal oneness. in us, in the world, in others. Children, in their naiveté and wisdom portray God with a face because that is a way to signify communication and connection and mutuality. Prayer is about nurturing that connectedness with God, the soul, the life force of the universe that is in us, in all people, in all life, in the creation itself, however we want to name it.

In the story of Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus engaged in prayer. He is cultivating communion with the Divine Source, God. He is pursuing the connection, relating to that deepest presence. Let’s look more closely at this story and what it teaches us about prayer.

Jesus is praying in dire circumstances. He knows the religious authorities want to arrest him and kill him. And he has come to Jerusalem, their stronghold, to celebrate the Passover. He will not let the threat to his life interfere with his religious observance. He will not let fear control him. So he is in Jerusalem knowing he will likely be killed. The end is near. Tensions are high. So Jesus takes his disciples away to pray.

Now people often offer what we call a 911 prayer. In a dire emergency they suddenly turn to the divine. While Jesus is facing dire circumstances, there is a difference here from a typical 911 prayer. Jesus is in this circumstance, not because of fate, coincidence, the conspiring of circumstances, stupidity, or poor judgment. This is not desperation from a hurricane, or a car accident, or a medical diagnosis. Jesus is in this situation facing death precisely because he has been praying and maintaining communion with the Divine and living out of that experience. And it has led him to this.

So Jesus turns to God in trust. We’ve come this far together; we need to go the rest of the way together. We don’t know where prayer and communion with the Spirit may lead us, but we know we are not alone. In the Gethsemane story we see the steady faithfulness of God sustaining Jesus contrasted with the disciples who are not dependable. A few verses earlier, they are pledging their loyalty. They will never betray, desert, deny, or abandon Jesus – even if it means death! And here they are later in the evening, unable to fulfill their commitment. I think we are told this not so much to convey the weakness of the human spirit, but to show the faithfulness, loyalty, and dependability of God. As the Psalmist says it: “God never slumbers or sleeps.” The Divine, the Holy, the Transcendent, the Life Source – however we are led to name and image God – is always on the job.

A little boy ended a lengthy prayer that included everyone he could think of by saying, “And dear God, take care of yourself. If anything happens to you we are all sunk.” (Funny Things Happen, Bernard Brunstring, p.67)

In the Gethsemane story, we see where prayer has led Jesus, the difficult path of living a God-inspired life and we see God’s ever present faithfulness. Jesus is turning to God in prayer because God is his life line and he knows it. There are no circumstances beyond God’s compassion and comfort.

In this story we also see that when Jesus prays there is total honesty, transparency, and disclosure. Jesus is grieving, heart-broken. He is experiencing desperation. He loves life! We see this full disclosure. Spare me. I don’t want to die. Jesus is completely honest.

We see this kind of blatant the prayers of the Psalmist. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you keep your face from me? How long must I bear the pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? “(3:1-2) “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (22: 1) “ Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! “(90:13) “Do not be silent, O God.” (109:1)

Prayer is about honesty and full disclosure. We have nothing to fear from honesty in prayer. And we need hide nothing. We don’t have to maintain appearances. We don’t have to be strong for someone else. We don’t need to worry about appearing socially acceptable. We don’t need to hold back because we fear the consequences. We don’t need to temper our feelings. We don’t need to present things diplomatically to spare the feelings of another. Prayer is sacred space for unburdening our souls. For exposing our breaking hearts. For confessing our secrets, our hidden faults and failures. Our grief over the state of the world, our despair, our fear. Our ecstatic delight. Our deepest joy. In prayer we don’t have to hold anything back. We can be completely free: unplugged. In Gethsemane, even though God has brought Jesus to this point, Jesus is not afraid to say, I don’t want to do this. Prayer is a time for complete honesty, and while what is revealed or what surfaces, may not surprise God, it may surprise us. In the spiritual discipline of prayer, we may come to know ourselves more intimately and more deeply. Prayer is also a journey of self-awareness, self-discovery, and deeper relationship with the self. This is necessary to truly live by the basic ethical teachings of Christianity and all world religions: love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Self awareness is necessary to empower love of others. And prayer helps to cultivate and nurture self-awareness.

In the story of Jesus and the disciples in Gethsemane we see Jesus’ complete honesty about his feelings about his situation – Please God – no. But we also see his choice to fully submit to God’s will, to love, to the good, the right, the true. He holds nothing back. He will not rebel or defy or deny or abandon God. Again – in contrast to the disciples, Jesus expresses his intention, his desire to live the God-centered life, knowing the cost. Experiencing the fear and grief. But he will stay true. And trust the love that has brought him this far to see him through.

So prayer is about submission and surrender to a power larger than the self, beyond the self, and at the heart of the self. This acceptance frees us from the tyranny of the self. This is incredibly counter-cultural – because our culture is becoming more and more individualistic and self-centered. What’s in this for me? What will I get out of this? What works for me? We are even seeing this consumerist, individualistic attitude when it comes to the church. Instead of asking: Is this where God needs me to be? How can I serve here? Does this church enable me to bring joy and delight to God? People ask – what will this church do for me? How can this church save me? How does this church meet my needs? And to play into this mentality is to betray the heart of the Christian gospel. So when Jesus prays, “Your will be done,” and invites us to take that attitude in prayer, it is a way of connecting with a greater reality, a greater good, than the self alone. So prayer includes the balance of our honesty with trust and acceptance. The contemporary Christian spiritual teacher, Joan Chittister, reminds us, “God is not a vending machine full of trifles to fit the whims of the human race.” (The Illuminated Life p.93) And 20th century Christian teacher, C.S. Lewis reflects, “If God had granted all the silly prayers I have made in my life, where should I be now?” (quoted in Prayer Richard Foster p.182)

In the Gethsemane story we see Jesus go off alone with the disciples to a remote place to pray. Then he goes off by himself. There are many, many different ways to pray. We talked about prayer as relating and connecting. There are many ways to do this in our human relationships – sometimes when we’re talking with someone the words come spilling out. Sometimes we speak in quiet tones. Sometimes we yell. Sometimes we are simply with someone and no talking or words are needed. Sometimes we are formal and business like. Sometimes relaxed. A little girl was kneeling beside her bed saying the alphabet. Her father hearing her asked her when she finished, why she was saying the alphabet. She responded, “I gave God the letters and he makes them into words.” There have been studies done about the kinds of prayer preferred by different personality types. Life circumstances affect how we build prayer into our lives. Words. No words. Quiet. Prayers of praise, gratitude, confession, with others, alone, for ourselves, for others, for the world, listening, silence, all of these can be ways to pray. There is no magic formula. The important thing is building the relationship, making the connection with God intentionally.

None of us is so busy that we can’t incorporate prayer into our lives. In fact, the busier or more stressed we are, the more important it is to maintain the connection to the Source of Life, the power of love.

One Christian tradition includes the monastic schedule of daily prayers 6 times a day, another order for prayer three times a day, and prayer at meals, morning devotions and bedtime prayers. We can incorporate prayer into our daily activities. Every time you change a diaper, pray for the child and all children. Before you answer the phone, remind yourself that whoever is calling, even a telemarketer, is a child of God. As you drive to work, pray for all who are going to work, and all who need jobs but don’t have them, and for those who have completed their working life. When you go to the doctor, pray for all those who are sick and do not have access to medical care, including people here in the United States. When you go to the beach, pray for the well being of the seas and all life that the sea sustains. We make plans to spend time with friends, work, take care of business, attend to family, enjoy hobbies, sports, and entertainment, take care of property. We can also incorporate time for prayer into our lives if we choose to. We can do what we decide is important.

In this regard, let’s turn to the disciples in the Gethsemane story. Three times, Jesus asks his beloved, closest friends, who have just promised to hang in there with him, whatever happens, to pray with him. And three times, he finds them sleeping, not praying. Yes, they appear as lazy, reprobate slackers. But looking more deeply, Jesus is encouraging them to cultivate and nurture their connection with God. He knows that they, too, are going to be threatened and stressed and he is giving them the help they need to see them through. By asking them to pray, he is throwing them a lifeline. The connection, grounding, and hope that will save them. He is offering them the source of strength that will enable them to live through their fear and grief. And they reject it. When we neglect prayer, we are hurting ourselves. We are depriving ourselves. We are cutting ourselves off from our lifeline.

Now, when Jesus prays in Gethsemane, the disciples aren’t changed. God isn’t changed. The circumstances don’t change. But Jesus is changed. He begins agitated, grieving, and heartbroken. And he emerges bold, with courage and conviction, ready to take action. How does prayer work? We don’t know But we do know that it makes a difference ad has an impact. We see this in the Gethsemane story. And it has been scientifically studied. Hospital patients that are prayed for have a better recovery rate than those who are not prayed for. So prayer has an impact. Somehow, someway, prayer changes us, our attitudes, and our behaviors. Maintaining a connection, a relationship with God works – it has an effect on us and the world. Just as we grow, learn, are shaped and changed by our human relationships, so through prayer, relating with God, we are molded and shaped. The image of God within us is drawn out. We are different. And that changes the world.

When we pray, why does one person recover and another does not. We don’t know. Even when our prayers are of great concern and compassion for another, we may not see the results we hope for. We don’t know why. Why does the cancer of a lowlife scoundrel go into remission while our loved one dies? We don’t know. We’ll never know. These are mysteries.

While prayer may not directly change a circumstance as we would like, it will change us. It can help us be compassionate and loving in our care-giving. It can open our eyes to see the love and help being received. Prayer can give us empathy for others. It can heal our hearts torn open by loss and grief.

Elizabeth O’Connor, pastor and teacher at Church of the Savior in Washington, DC shares this story.
“One evening I was part of the volunteer staff of an overnight shelter for street women. It was a very cold night and the women began to arrive early in the evening. The rooms reserved for them were behind the sanctuary of the church and were used for other purposes during the day. Foam rubber mats were laid out over the entire area in one room. Many of the women chose a mat as soon as they arrived. Some had very little with them, though most of them had the bags that had given them the name of bag ladies. One carried her possessions in a child’s wagon, and another, more affluent, had hers piled dangerously high in a supermarket cart. The conversation was disconnected but the atmosphere was warm and peaceful. Each one was given a bowl of stew, bread and tea.

When morning came the peaceful atmosphere inside the shelter turned hostile. Distraught women – some of them old and sick – could not comprehend why they were once more being pushed out into the streets. We who had received them so warmly the night before were the very ones hurrying them along, benefactors so soon to become enemies.

In the narrow hall where the women were having breakfast, an old woman with a gentle face kneeled to pray. She was in the way of another woman who taunted her, ‘Get up women. God don’t hear your prayer.’ The praying woman did not respond and her taunter said again, ‘God don’t hear your prayer, woman. God don’t hear your prayer.’

I asked myself.’ Does God hear her prayer/’ Then I remembered. God is in me and where I am God is. The real question was, ‘Did I hear her prayer?’ What would it mean to hear her prayer?” (Elizabeth O’Connor, Cry Pain , Cry Hope )

As we began we mentioned how often children image God as a face. A face implies connection, relationship, communication, empathy. We are told that Jesus cried out from the cross the verse from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Did God not hear Jesus’ prayer? Was God not responding? Where was the face of God? It was not in the faces of Jesus’ beloved disciples. Maybe God wanted the disciples to be the face of love at Jesus’ crucifixion. But they didn’t make themselves available. They chose sleep over prayer.

When faced with suffering, injustice, pain, heartbreak, and death, may others see the loving face of God in us? That is my prayer. Amen

This I Believe: Jesus

Date: February 24, 2008
Scripture: John: 9: 1-41
Sermon: This I Believe: Jesus
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells

This past September, our daughter Angela and I spent several weeks visiting Italy. Rome was our first stop and of course, we wanted to see the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. As we walked through St. Peter’s, a vast space, with stunning art and architecture, Angela turned to me with a bewildered look and said,” Mom, what does all this have to do with Jesus? Wasn’t he concerned about the poor and downtrodden?” Standing in the midst of such opulence, you have to wonder, :what does this all have to do with Jesus?

The traditional orthodox view of Jesus that many of us grew up with was that Jesus is the Son of God. God in human form. The second person of the Trinity. Equal with God. A miracle worker who was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, this most stunning miracle.

We were taught that Jesus is the founder of the Christian church as we know it. And that he is in heaven and if we are good, when we die, we’ll get to join him there.

That is the basic view that comes down to us in our tradition and culture. We’re not usually told much about Jesus being a poor peasant. Or that his last name is not Christ. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah. It’s a title which we usually put before a name like Professor Stiles, Rev. Wells, like saying Dr. Spock. We’re not usually told much about Jesus being a devout practicing Jew. We’re not told much about Jesus not being declared divine until the third century in a Council fraught with political and power issues played out in theological discourse. We’re usually not told that the idea of the Trinity and Jesus being equal to God wasn’t accepted until years after Jesus’ death.

Through the centuries layer upon layer of meaning and interpretation has been added to our concept of Jesus. Religious tradition influences what we see as Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, mainline Protestants, Quakers, Mormons. Each have their slant on Jesus. Culture influences how we see Jesus – the African Jesus, the Asian Jesus, the American Jesus, the Latin American Jesus. All offer different views of Jesus. Economic context also influences how we see Jesus.

While scholars have excavated the historical Jesus, verified by non-religious first century sources, Jesus has evolved significantly from his first century Mediterranean Jewish peasant beginnings. We are faced with 20 centuries of the evolution of Jesus and how he comes to us across the centuries.

This evolving is necessary and good so that Jesus remains a vital, relevant figure for faith. Without this ever evolving image, Jesus may become archaic, anachronistic, and obsolete. His saving message lost. We need new views of Jesus to relate to the issues of our day: environmental destruction, escalating technology and capacity for killing, the consumerism and consumption epidemic, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the escalation of severe poverty. That’s before you get to smaller issues like health care, prejudice, education, addiction, etc. The Christian path has a saving word related to all of these issues, and it is spoken through Jesus, but there needs to be interpretation and evolution of the portrayal of his message to meet the contemporary need. So we need an evolving Jesus. But there is also a danger in an evolving Jesus. We run the risk of relativizing Jesus. Of making him more palatable, of molding him to fit our desires, our interests, our agendas. We are tempted to photoshop our image of Jesus – doctor him up to look the way we think he should look. Brush out the unpleasantness. Soften the harsh edges. Balance the extremities. So we need our image to grow and change but must always be careful about how we are seeing Jesus and checking for distortions.

There are some bedrock claims that we can use to test our views of Jesus. They come to us largely from the New Testament, which we know is not the whole story. We know the writers were concerned about specific issues and that influenced their presentation. We know there were specific power/political agendas in which books were and weren’t chosen for the New Testament. But for all that, there are certain things that seem clear when looking at the Jesus of Scripture.

First, a few things about the man Jesus. He was an observant Jew. Went to synagogue. Knew the Scriptures. Was a rabbi – teacher. Observed the holy days – Passover, Hannukah, etc.. He was a religious person. So, any subsequently evolved portrayal of Jesus that is anti-Semitic is problematic. The Church has perpetuated violence against the Jews that cannot be considered consistent with the Jesus of the New Testament. To use the name of Jesus to persecute the Jews is a severely destructive distortion of who Jesus is. A clear picture of Jesus cannot ignore his Jewishness. Also, to disassociate Jesus from religion, from organized religion, is a distortion. However imperfect the church may be, Jesus was a dedicated supporter of organized religion and religious tradition. So there’s a problem with saying “I’m a Christian and I follow Jesus, but I don’t have anything to do with the church.” That just doesn’t fit with the picture of Jesus we have in the New Testament.

Now, another view we see of the person Jesus in the New Testament. He was crucified He suffered a painful, humiliating death. He was a victim of capital punishment. He was killed as a criminal. He was betrayed and deserted by his friends. Any evolving image of Jesus must incorporate this reality. Jesus suffered. And so did his followers. So any pictures of Jesus that promises he will make you rich, happy, healthy – two cars in the three car garage, vacations in the Bahamas, just doesn’t fit with Jesus who is about giving things up, giving things away, even your life.

Which leads to another characteristic of the person Jesus in the New Testament. He was poor. Owned no home. Maybe had two changes of clothes. Gleaned the leftovers from the fields. Lived by the generosity and hospitality of others. Any portrayal of Jesus that denies his poverty is misleading. In the painting “The Conformist”, Clifford Davis portrays Jesus in the iconic pose of the Sallman’s blonde Jesus gazing up, but wearing a shirt and tie, a suit jacket, and carefully coiffed hair. There’s just no way for the Jesus of the New Testament to evolve into corporate America Jesus,. despite our valiant efforts.

When we look at the life of Jesus there is also no avoiding that he gathered an extremely diverse community of followers. He went beyond the bounds of ethnicity, race, and religion. He invited sinners and the outcast as well as religious devotees. He welcomed liberals and conservatives. Workers and intellectuals. There were no borders or boundaries on Jesus invitation to come to God. There was no one excluded from his community of mutual care and compassion. Jesus offered an extravagant welcome to ALL. So any portrayal of Jesus that insinuates favoritism or exclusion must be questioned.

Now we’ll turn from our view of the person Jesus to his teachings, again realizing there are a variety of takes on this. But there are certain salient features.

First, it’s clear that Jesus was presenting an alternative realm to the realm of the Roman Empire. Words such as Kingdom, King, realm, references to authority, all point to an alternative citizenship identity. And it was either/or, no dual alignment. Either you were part of the community of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the realm of God – here on earth, or you weren’t. You stayed part of “the world”, the Roman Empire. It was a question of commitment and loyalty. You couldn’t be equally invested in both camps.

Our current view of Jesus must take this into consideration – ingrained hierarchy and patriarchy. Yes, our view has evolved, but there have been severe distortion, particularly regarding this aspect of Jesus’ teaching. The United States has long associated Jesus with American interests over the interests of others. This can be seen in the killing of the native inhabitants of this continent. This can be seen in the global crusading of the United States done in the name of Christianity.

There’s a contemporary graphic of Jesus looking over the eagle, the flag, the Statue of Liberty, the Gateway Arch, the Capitol; and Mt. Rushmore in blessing. Friends, it may surprise some people to discover that Jesus was not an American. He did not promote democracy or capitalism. He was not buried with a United States flag. We must be clear that our image of Jesus respects his universal outlook, and the counter culture alternative he initiated – to empire, and to oppression, regardless of who is perpetrating it.

Jesus was seeking recruits from this alternate realm, this community of God, where there was no oppression, not based on ethnicity, economics, race. gender. sexual identity – no oppression, no victimization, no good of one at the expense of another: the outlook was universal not tribal. The vision was a community of justice and generosity. All were fed and cared for. Resources were pooled and shared. Everyone had enough. There was no hierarchy, but complete power sharing. Everyone equally valued for their particular role and contribution. Friends, a look at the church of today and the wrangling over particular roles of women and gay people show we have distorted dimensions.

Now when we look back at the Jesus of the New Testament, we see that his movement was anti-violent. Not only non-violent, but anti-violent.

When in danger or threatened, when driven to the edge by the people of the synagogue, when confronted by Pilate, the authorities, and Herod, Jesus never turns to arms. He never encourages use of violence. In the Palm Sunday story we hear of Jesus’ procession coming in peace. He uses the tradition of a military procession, but transforms it by eliminating the weapons, the grandstanding, and the flaunting of military power. Instead, he glorifies humility and non-violent sacrifice. He will not run and hide. He will not be intimidated by earthly power, even military might.

So any image of Jesus that associates him with violence or supremacy through physical force or military might is distorted.

In the oil painting “Undefeated”, Stephen Sawyer portrays Jesus as a boxer, in the corner of the ring. His name is “Savior” and his gloves are branded “mercy” I can understand the impulse to image Jesus in more manly fashion, but not with an image that suggests physical violence. That just is not true to the portrait we have of Jesus in the New Testament.

What we do see in Jesus is a person who appears to completely fulfill God’s intentions for his life. He seems to have a consciousness of God that infuses his personality and character. He is a person of total integrity. His words and deeds are in complete synchronicity. Regardless of the cost, the threat, the risk, he does not compromise his principles. It’s not forgiveness only when the offense is small and doesn’t personally affect me. It’s forgiveness. Period. Even of his killers with Jesus. It’s not love and mercy when it’s convenient. It’s love and mercy always – regardless of how unlovable and unpalatable the circumstances may be. With Jesus, it’s compassion and healing. For everyone. Not just those from this tribe or that. Not just the legals, but the outcasts, and the foreigners, too.

With Jesus, it’s uncompromising love for absolutely every human being. No exceptions. This is a challenging ethic.

Perhaps to obscure these difficulties there is an impulse in Christianity to elevate Jesus to a lofty, heavenly figure. The exalted Christ. All powerful. Reigning in glory. Who will take care of everything.

This Jesus is sarcastically portrayed in an episode of the TV show “Lost”. One of the characters, Hurley, is very overweight. In a flashback to life before the plane crash on the tropical island, Hurley is watching TV and his mother is telling him to get up and exercise, lose weight, work, buy a car, make something of himself. Be proactive. She says, “ what are you waiting for, Jesus to come and fix everything for you.” While she’s lecturing him, the phone rings. She says, “maybe that’s Jesus calling to tell you what kind of car he’s gotten you.”

The danger of the high, exalted, fix all your problems Jesus, is that this leaves all the work and responsibility to him. And we’re off the hook. With a more human Jesus, we must take responsibility
for cultivating our relationship with God. We must nurture our God-consciousness. We must consider our integrity, our loving, our forgiving, our outreach to the poor, our efforts for justice. We must scrutinize our lives to bring God our faith, our words, our deeds into alignment. And this can get very messy involving sacrifice, risk, threat, and cost.

Today there are significant voices coming from within conservative currents of Christianity, encouraging that more attention be paid to the earthly Jesus and his compassion for the poor, the hungry, the forgotten, the sick. Tony Campolo,from the Sojourners community, Brian McLaren and others are saying that rich, fancy, and clean-cut, comfortable. suburban Christianity is missing the mark.

For me, Jesus is significant specifically because he is a person. A human being. We are not called to follow a set of rules. A tidy philosophy, a theoretical principle or a simplistic system like 5 easy steps to Eternal Happiness. We are called to follow a person, who fully embodied love, mercy, and compassion as a result of his God-consciousness. He was a person with feelings. Who experienced joy, pain, exasperation, anger, sympathy, pity, frustration, grief, delight and all the rest of the range of human emotion. Jesus shows us forgiveness without blame. He shows us religion as a path to God, not a bludgeon. He shows us how to be a counter-culture community of caring. He shows us how to be our truest selves. As Bishop Spong puts it, our job is not to copy Jesus, be Jesus knock-offs, but our calling is to be our truest selves, living toward complete God-consciousness, fulfilling God’s hopes and dreams for each one of us. Loving and serving the world as God has need of us, in our time, in our circumstances, with our resources.

We are called to a faith grounded in the model of a specific human being. We are called to journey home to God shown to us by Jesus.

Our images and understandings of Jesus must be evolving and growing as new times, new circumstances, and new challenged appear. In the book Jesus in America: a History author Richard Wightman Fox reminds us that Jesus in our country has been imaged as “divine king, sacrificial redeemer, holy child, apocalyptic prophet, miracle worker, healer, wisdom teacher, social critic and reformer, luminous personality’. In the book American Jesus, How the Son of God Became a National Icon, Stephen Prothero quotes Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”, but then points out, “American depictions of him have varied widely from age to age and community to community”. …The American Jesus has been something of a chameleon. Christians have depicted him as black and white, male and female, straight and gay, a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior, a Ku Klux Klansman and a civil rights agitator. (p.8)

There has been quite a proliferation of images of Jesus in American culture. Jesus has been used to justify war, empire, and colonization. He has been used to foment rebellion, revolution and social transformation.

With all these different versions of visions of Jesus, we must each decide for ourselves what we see, who Jesus is for us.

In the story of the man born blind, the man, the parents, the religious authorities must come to terms with who Jesus is. The religious authorities will not allow themselves to see who Jesus is because he is a threat to their power and authority. We may have taken this approach to Jesus. The parents try to stay neutral. Maybe we’ve tried this. As the story progresses, the man born blind sees Jesus more and more clearly. First he merely refers to: the man called Jesus”. Then he refers to Jesus as a prophet. Then he claims to be a follower of Jesus. And finally he sees Jesus as a person of God. And he gives his complete loyalty to Jesus, regardless of the risk of being thrown out of his family and his religious community. Hopefully in our faith journey, we are seeing more and more clearly who Jesus is.

Hopefully we are cultivating and nurturing our consciousness and awareness of God. and living accordingly. Amen

This I Believe: Resurrection

Date: February 17, 2008
Scripture: John 11: 1-45
Sermon: This I Believe: Resurrection
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells

Each Easter morning we soar with alleluias as we proclaim

“Christ the Lord is risen today !
Mortal tongues and angels say.
Raise your joys and triumphs high
Sing glad heavens and earth reply.”

This is our celebration of the resurrection.

So the gospel tradition speaks of Jesus being killed, buried in a tomb, the tomb being empty on the third day, Jesus appearing to his friends and then being taken into heaven. (More on heaven and hell on March 9th.) This is the resurrection motif of the gospels.

Within the Christian tradition and belief system there are those who believe things actually happened this way. There are others who believe there is some actuality in this account but that there was significant embellishment of the story in the years following the actual events. Some contemporary scholars, such as John Shelby Spong, tell us that the people crucified by the Romans were buried in mass graves. So they speculate that Jesus was buried in a mass grave. And the story of the empty tomb and the interaction with the risen Jesus evolved to account for the incredibly strong sense of Jesus’ presence experienced by his friends after his death.

Thus in the Christian tradition there is a resurrection from literal to metaphorical. But the entire spectrum, the many facets of understanding resurrection, the mystery of resurrection, all point to the power of life over death. The concept of resurrection is a testimony to God’s commitment to life. Even in the most deathly of circumstances new life can emerge. This is the central message of Christianity. New life. Life overcomes death. There’s an old saying: communism puts a new suit on every man. Christianity puts a new man in every suit. Christianity is about new life and transformation.

The central image for Buddhism is desire. Eliminating desire. The key concept for Hinduism was developed by the Vedas and the Upanshads.. The core ideal for Islam is submission. Submission to God. The salient passage of Christianity is resurrection. Transformation and new life. To take away the image of resurrection, the belief in new life and transformation for people and for the world would be to cut the heart out of Christianity.

In the story of Lazarus we catch a glimpse, a preview of God’s commitment to life. Lazarus, Jesus beloved friend, is sick and dies. We are told that by the time Jesus comes to him, he has been dead for 4 day. It was believed that the soul left the body after 3 days. So by coming 4 days after the death, the writer confirms that Lazarus truly was dead. But even after that, the story tells us, that Lazarus walks out of the tomb. He lives. God’s power is stronger than death.
In our congregation we have experienced considerable death and loss over the past year. Mary Byrd, our church mother and matriarch died. Ken Kinzel, beloved newer member of the church was killed in Nicaragua. My father, who had been a consultant to this church from the Florida Conference, before I even became pastor here at Lakewood UCC, died. Bob Allen, Randy’s father, for a time a regular participant in worship, died. Jay Johnson, regular participant and supporter of the church, and beloved husband of Jean, died unexpectedly. These are people who were part of our core church family, gone.

Then there are others no longer present among us, due to health or relocation. Ken Hamilton and his snowbird parents, Ray Duplease and Dan Knight, Leroy Gates, Michael Crockett, Wanda Gammel, Jorges. And I got an e-mail this week that Vicki Couch will be moving to Atlanta.

This is an enormous amount of loss for our church family in this past year. These people are missed. We grieve the loss of their presence, their love, their support. And yes, their resources of time, talent, and treasure. This loss is extreme for our small congregation that was about 70 members strong.

Last week as budget and resource issues were discussed in planning for the year ahead, there was the sense that we may have lost our critical mass as a congregation. That we have been in the tomb for more than 3 days.

But the story of Lazarus reminds us that God is in the business of new life. There is nothing beyond God’s life-giving, life-transforming reach. Let’s look at how new life appears in the story.

One thing we see is that Mary and Martha do something. They don’t just sit on their hands and whine. They send for Jesus. They mobilize their resources. They reach out. God does not just magically appear and intervene. The people involved, Mary, Martha, and then Jesus, they do something.

For our church to experience new life and transformation, for this church to resurrect after so much death and loss, we must be willing to do something: participate, show up, pray. Help each other, get involved. We also need to invite people to church. People who are struggling. People who would appreciate a supportive community. People who are looking for authenticity and integrity and have given up ever finding it in organized religion. People who are hungry for new life and hope. People who are aching for things to be different in this world. People who are thirsty for peace and justice. People reeling after yet another school shooting. Invite them to find new life and hope in this faith community. Remember: we are a Christian church. Our core image for our faith is resurrection. Transformation. New life. For ourselves and the world.

If every member or household in our church family brought in one new family or member to the church a year, this church would be totally transformed. Just one new member or family a year. [You might have to get 5 or 6 people to visit, before you find the one who will stay, but] This is something we can do. We can invite people we care about to find new life and hope in this faith community as we have. This Lazarus story of the triumph of new life involves Mary and Martha and Jesus doing something. It also involves their faith and trust. When Martha goes out to meet Jesus as he approaches their home, we are told she says, “Teacher, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now [4 days later…] I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” “Seek and you shall find. Ask and you will receive. Your will be done.” Here we are shown that our faith and trust in God creates the climate for new life to emerge. We need to expect God to breathe new life into this church. We need to trust that God needs this church to further God’s mission, we need to work and pray, trust and expect this church to rise up with new life.

The New Testament speaks of the church as the body of Christ, each part with a different function needed for the well-being of the whole. This church has a particular needed role to fulfill in the larger body of Christ.

We are bonded by our commitment to God-centered living as revealed in the life of Jesus. This is our primary focus. Not dogma. Not creed. Not theological tenets. Not structure or hierarchy. Not tradition. Not racial, social, economic, or ethnic identity. Our common ground is our call to God-centered living modeled by Jesus. This makes us different from other congregations

As a result, our congregation is very diverse in other ways, as were the first Christian communities. This was probably the most clarion witness of the early church – the incredible diversity of the community. In a very highly stratified culture where you stayed in your place the early Christian communities were wildly diverse. It was shocking. In our setting, churches are often bonded by homogeneity of some kind – similar economic status, or educational background, or ethnicity or race. It’s far easier to function with that common ground. But we are seeking to relish our theological beliefs and celebrate the diversity God has created to enrich and nourish us. We are seeking the deeper experience of God in ourselves and one another that come with exposure to difference.

“It amazes me that Jesus could call a Matthew and a Simon both to be his disciples. Matthew was a tax collector, a conservative of the conservatives. Simon was a zealot, the liberal of the liberals…They were farther apart than Ted Kennedy and Rush Limbaugh could ever dream of being.” {Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, Christian Century, Sept. 18, 2007, p.7]

This makes us different from other congregations and needed for our special role.

Our church is also needed in the body of Christ because we are seeking to breathe new life and hope into Christianity itself. In our culture as a whole, Christianity is losing ground because educated; reasonable, thinking people are lesd willing to blindly accept the supernatural, the magical thinking required by most expressions of Christianity. This trend is masterfully presented by Bishop Spong especially in his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die.

This week the St. Petersburg Times announced that only 22% of the public want only the theory of evolution taught in the public schools. And 50% want only faith based theories taught. [St. Petersburg Ties 2/15/08, Public: Faith trumps science , Ron Matusa and Donna Winchester]
Florida is way behind the curve here. In 100 years, friends, this will be laughable. Like the idea that the sun revolves around the earth. Overall in our society and culture, the postmodern, scientific, worldview will continue to gain ground, as it should because God gave us these incredible brains to use and develop and progress. God takes delight in humanity’s continuing intellectual achievement as a parent takes joy in watching a child learn to walk and talk and read and develop.

This church doesn’t ask people to park their thinking minds at the door when they enter. This church does not require people to ignore or deny their personal experience. This church does not demand acceptance of supernatural occurrences to have an authentic faith. This church accepts and respects the magical, miraculous faith experience of some while also respecting and affirming a more reason-based faith experience. We are a see in this post-modern, secular culture nurturing Christianity so that it grows and flowers and remains meaningful and relevant in the centuries to come as the world progresses.

This church is also needed because we truly believe that following in the way of Jesus, the values, the dreams, the lifestyle, we see in the Jess of the New Testament is a path for saving the world. It is a path for transformation of violence lest we bomb ourselves to oblivion. It is a path for the healing of the earth as we proceed dangerously toward ecocide. It is a path of personal engagement, compassion, and relationship in a world of growing population and depersonalization. It is a way of generosity and justice in a world where greed has become an epidemic. The Christian path, the way of Jesus is a lifestyle commitment that embodies God’s commitment to love the whole world and save the whole world. I believe that God wants to breathe new life into this particular, unique faith community because it is needed for God’s dreams to flourish and be fulfilled.

In turning back to the Lazarus story, we see new life emerge where people get involved and have trust, but we also see risk involved. Jesus goes to Bethany, the home of Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus, in Judea, where he is a wanted man. Notice that little verse, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” When Jesus goes to Bethany, he is risking his life and the lives of his disciples. Embracing new life, this core Christian motif of resurrection, involves risk and death. Transformation requires something to cease to exist as it was so something new can emerge, there’s that famous comment made by the caterpillar looking up at the butterfly, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things!” For this church to experience new life and resurrection, risk will need to be involved. We will need to give something up. We will need to face our fears. We have to free ourselves from the power of death and accept the risk and the cost for the greater promise and hope.

For the church, for us, this can mean a personal cost in making a sacrificial pledge that means giving something else up. This can mean moving away from “We’ve always done it that way,” a comfortable, familiar way of doing things. It can mean trying some new things which end up not working – learning from that. But risk and cost is involved in experiencing resurrection and new life. During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about practicing “dangerous unselfishness.” [I Have a Dream Speech] That is what is needed for new life, transformation and resurrection to take place. That’s what we see in the life of Jesus: dangerous unselfishness. That’s how Christians are called to live.

At the beginning of the service we listened to the chorus from Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the Resurrection Symphony. The soaring melodies, the strong, vibrant choral singing include the words, “Prepare to live.” Often our mindset is to so focus on avoiding death that we forget to live.

The central Christian image of resurrection is an image of LIFE. It is desperately needed to move us as individuals, as a church, and as a society away from the grip of death and beyond. What we have accepted as conceivable limits God is seeking to breathe new hope and new life into us, into the church, and into the world today. Resurrection: this is the core message of Christianity. It is an invitation to life: full, abundant and transformed. This is what God promises us and I believe for our church. Amen