The foundation of the “On Our Way” Worship Series begins with a series of questions:
- Am I living my life the way I intended?
- As we participate in of the activities that make our lives incredibly busy, are the activities making a difference beyond ourselves?
- Are we really living in right relation to other people, to the created world, and to God?
- How does the idea of “practices” help us think about and live the Christian life?
- How are we already engaging in Christian practices? How can we further participate in Christian practices?
Christian practices help us explore the meaning-full questions of life! And we can’t live a meaningful life alone. We need one another to live such a meaning-full life! So over these next several weeks, we will explore one practice at a time. It is difficult to examine a way of life as a whole, so we will explore some practices individually in order that we have some understanding of them. The inter-connectedness of the practices will reveal itself as we continue through the series.
So what is a Christian practice? Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass describe them this way:
- Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world.
- Practices address fundamental human needs and conditions through concrete human acts – hungry people need food not a sermon on hospitality.
- Practices are done together and over time – centuries old, even if we have not always done them well.
- Practices possess standards of excellence – the challenge is to explore the practice with enough specificity to make a difference.
- When we see some of our ordinary activities as Christian practices, we come to perceive how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is doing in the world (Practicing Our Faith, 6-8).
The worship series begins this Sunday, May 31. I look forward to joining with you in worship.
People want meaning in their lives and want their lives to be meaningful. I hear the truth of this statement in the conversations with people in all sorts of settings from pastoral conversations to casual conversations about work and family with fellow school parents and other acquaintances. These conversations tell me also that we find it challenging, at times, to live with all the meaning and purpose in our lives that we want. We wrestle with so many daily tasks and responsibilities – those demands of family and work…and so, we are tired.
As a follower of Jesus the Christ, I believe that following him leads me to find meaning for my life that is rooted in God’s love. This journey has twists and turns, hills and flat sections, as well as detours and hazards. So how do we prepare for this journey and sustain it over time? Our ancestors in faith have found several ways to prepare and sustain this journey – these ways are sometimes called Christian Practices. Craig Dykstra describes practices in this way, “Christian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather, they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.” These practices help us experience fully the presence of God in our lives.
Our summer worship series will focus on these practices to help each of us discover how we can craft these practices to fit our own lives.
I think it is interesting that Jesus never uses the word doubt in regard to Thomas, yet he is forever known as the doubter. What Jesus says is “Do not unbelieve, but believe.” Our English translation bibles translate it as “doubt” but that translation seems to have more to do with Thomas’ reputation than anything else. In John’s gospel, believing is about living in relationship with Jesus and not affirming a particular set of ideas, creeds, or faith statements about Jesus. In this light, Thomas’ expressed desire is to be once again living in relationship with Jesus and Jesus reminds Thomas through his invitation to touch him that they continue to abide in relationship.
I also think that this story probably hits a little closer to home for many than some are ready to admit. Thomas is after all a realist – and he’s ready to ask the question (John 14) on his mind and follow Jesus even into the face of danger (John 11). I have questions and you probably do too. I wish I had the courage to ask all the questions that stir in my mind. I’m not sure that I’m always willing to follow Jesus into the face of danger. So Thomas is a good example for us – an encouragement to ask the questions that we have and a willingness to follow Jesus where he leads.
I’m also wondering what others questions folks wrestle with?
The story of the widow in Mark 12:41-44 recounts the story of a woman who puts her last two cents into the treasury at the temple. I believe that Jesus points to her as an example because in her giving all she had to live on, she is giving herself into God’s hands. In this act, the woman expresses a complete dependence on God. We are often encouraged to give because the cause is worthy or because there is some implied or expressed benefit to our giving. The difference that the story of the giving widow illustrates is that our giving helps us practice following Jesus. Practicing giving in a repeated fashion leads us to more and more live a life rooted in a dependence on God.
We concluded our Redwoods worship series this past Sunday but we haven’t concluded our emphasis on these practices, sometimes also called marks of discipleship. We continue to encourage you to grow into Redwoods by engaging these practices:
- Reading Scripture Daily
- Engaging in Daily Prayer
- Devoted in Spiritual Practices
- Worshiping Weekly
- Openly Sharing the Gospel
- Demonstrating God’s Love to Others
- Sharing Our Resources
We approach the end of our current worship series, “Growing Into Spiritual Redwoods,” and our related small groups. The elders have done a great job leading these groups and we hope that you’ve had an experience of spiritual growth and deepening of your relationship with God. As a part of Lent, we’ve been exploring these spiritual practices and marks of discipleship: Reading scripture daily, Engaged in daily prayer, Devoted in spiritual relationships, Worshiping weekly, Openly sharing the gospel, Demonstrating God’s love to our neighbors, and Sharing our resources. Such practices are important for at least 4 reasons as Dorothy Bass reminds us:
- these practices address fundamental human needs and conditions through concrete human acts
- these practices done together and over time lead us to discover that we are part of a community that’s been doing them for centuries
- these practices possess standards of excellence that shine God’s light on all we do
- these practices, tangled up with our daily living, help us perceive how our lives are tangled up with what God is doing in the world (Practicing Our Faith, Josey-Bass 1997, 6-8).
While Lent quickly draws to a close and Easter season is around the corner, the practices can continue and need to continue if you desire to grow in your relationship with God and others around you. I hope that you will continue to read scripture daily, engage in daily prayer, devote yourselves in spiritual relationships, openly share the gospel with others, demonstrate God’s love to others, and share your resources. I am convinced the routine of these practices leads us into deeper relationship with God and one another. Early Christians were often referred to as people who followed The Way – meaning they were followers of Jesus and his way of living and relating to the world. We are still people of The Way and these practices help us travel, following Jesus into the world.
Lent is moving along quickly and Holy Week will soon be upon us with our most important celebration on Easter Sunday when we gather and proclaim again, “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” Tradition says that we don’t say “Alleluia” during Lent but Easter is close and I’m ready to hear that “Alleluia”! Maybe you are as well?
During this Lenten season, almost 60 folks have been participating in our small groups. Some have asked if the groups could continue and others have inquired when the next groups would start and if they could join. Our next small group opportunity will begin the week of April 12 and will center on the theme of our next worship series theme: “Get Real with Your Faith.” We’ll offer a variety of times and opportunities for small groups. If you’d like to sign up for a small group, please complete a signup sheet or contact the church office. Also if you have questions, please call or email me at your convenience.
Preparations of candidates for baptism is well underway as we approach and get ready for our Easter celebration. In the midst of this time each year, I remember vividly my own baptism. It was a day when I felt deeply the love of God shared through the love of a congregation. As I go further and think about claiming my baptism and learning to follow Christ, I cannot point to any one specific moment that brought everything together – or to put it another way, there was no Damascus Road experience. Instead, I can point to others who helped me to know what it means to follow Jesus and who continue to help me on my faith journey. They have names like Traci, Joan, Bill, John, Tom, Nancy, Lee A., and Sandra.
These folks who have mentored me, and continue to do so, model with their own living what it means to follow Jesus. I’ve watched, talked and served beside them in all sorts of settings and I’ve learned about the blessings and challenges of faith and life. I give God thanks for each of those I’ve named and many others that go unnamed. Watching, talking, and serving beside all of these folks, I’ve begun to learn what it means to love God with my whole being and to love my neighbor. I’m again reminded of the quote of Albert Schweitzer, which I also shared in worship this past Sunday. When asked to name the greatest person alive in the world at that moment, the doctor and missionary replied, “The greatest person alive in the world at this moment is some unknown individual in some obscure place who, at this hour, has gone in love to be with another person in need.” Those who show us best how to follow Jesus – they show us love and how to love.
God of Grace and Compassion, we gather remembering and giving thanks for those who have gone before us and pointed us toward Jesus and his way of living. We remember before you their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Now as we gather at this table, we recall Jesus the Christ, our Companion in life, death, and resurrection. Bless this bread and cup with the gift of your Spirit, that it might strengthen us to be reconciled and restored to one another – that we may live in ways that draws others to live in your Garden of Love. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Everything I’ve read, written by folks describing their experiences in forests of Redwoods, describes the sound of sheer and utter silence that pervades these forests. Several folks have shared personal stories of experiencing this silence as well. In all of these descriptions, I find a common idea. When we get used to the silence, we then begin to hear the forest – the birds, the other animals, the wind, the branches of the trees, the grass, and the ferns. The descriptions describe almost hearing the forest grow.
It reminds me of the story of Elijah when he is fleeing the threat of Jezebel and Ahab (1 Kings 19):
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13).
Prayer slows us down and invites us into the silence. When we slow down and enter into the silence, we can then begin to hear the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives. We begin to experience God’s presence within us in ways that are closer than breathing, thinking, or even consciousness itself. Prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God and when we pray we nurture that relationship.
One of my favorite stories in scripture is the story of Jacob wrestling at the Jabbok River in Genesis 32. The context for this story is that he is returning home after he had run from his brother Esau after stealing his brother’s birthright and after he has gathered and taken his uncle’s resources. After sending his family, servants, and herds across the river, Jacob spends the night alone on the other side of the river. He wrestles through the night with an unnamed man. As the sun is rising, the man asks Jacob to release him but Jacob refuses unless the man will give him a blessing. The blessing he receives is a new name – Israel – and his hip put out of socket. As a new day begins, Jacob limps into an embrace from his forgiving brother.
I appreciate this story so much because I know that I have often wrestled with God and the story of Jacob reminds me that there is a blessing in that struggle. I think that is what Rowan Williams is getting at when he writes about the role of scripture in the life of those who seek to follow Jesus. In the following quote, he’s referring particularly to stories of Jesus in the gospels but I think it applies to all of scripture.
Now, that means that the whole of the story is intended to have an effect. It is intended to draw you in and make you think about yourself in relation to God. It does not mean that Jesus is endorsing everything that everybody in the story says. How could he? When Jesus tells a story about an unjust judge or a murderous tyrant returning to his kingdom and slaughtering his enemies, Jesus is not saying that is a good thing to do. He is telling a story in which such figures appear, and at the end of it he is going to ask you where and who you are (R. Williams, Being Christian 27).
The importance of the spiritual discipline of reading scripture daily is that it reminds us of our family history and keeps this question before us, “Where are you in this?” This question keeps us in an active relationship with God even if the answers we find or don’t find aren’t always simple or easy. There is a blessing in them though because they lead us deeper into this holy relationship.
So I’m wondering what your favorite stories are from scripture and why they are your favorites? If you are so inclined, I invite you to post your answers here in the comments or to send them to me via email.