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The New Normal: The Spirit Surprises

Acts 10:44-48, NRSV,
John 15:9-17, NRSV

Reflections

When you’re lying on the beach something is happening, something that has nothing to do with how you feel or how hard you’re trying. You’re not going to get a better tan by screwing up your eyes and concentrating. You give the time, and that’s it. All you have to do is turn up. And then things change, at their own pace. You simply have to be there where the light can get at you

— from a sermon by Rowan Williams

 

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The New Normal: The Welcome is Wide

Acts 8:26-39, NRSV

Reflections

In my deepest wound I saw Your glory, and it dazzled me.

— St. Augustine

  • The Ethiopian eunuch was most interested to know who was the person described in the passage
  • He was probably most identified that person in the passage, given his own experience of physically harm
  • This Ethiopian has found his body in Jesus. He is in Christ and Christ is in him. — Willie James Jennings
  • Our wounds allow us to see God, it is where we meet Jesus at the cross, it’s also our doorway to bless the world

 

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The New Normal: A Radical Community is Created

Acts 2:32-47, NRSV

Reflections

The deepest reality of life in the Spirit depicted in the book of Acts is that the disciples of Jesus rarely, if ever, go where they want to go or to whom they would want to go. Indeed the Spirit seems to always be pressing the disciples to go to those to whom they would in fact strongly prefer never to share space or a meal, and definitely not life together. Yet it is precisely this prodding to be boundary-crossing and border-transgressing that marks the presence of the Spirit of God.
Acts is the story of a God who desires us and all of creation and will not release us to isolations, social, economic, cultural, religious, gendered, and geographic.

— Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible

  • The earliest believers’ shared life of following Jesus together was called the Way, not because it was the way to heaven (the afterlife was never the emphasis), but because they had come to believe that following Jesus was the new and true way to be human. And because the lifestyle of the Way was such a radical departure from the way of the Roman Empire, it’s no surprise that people viewed the Way with great suspicion and often derided it as a cult.— Brian Zahnd, Postcards from Babylon: The Church In American Exile
  • never done it alone, always in a community
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    The New Normal: Doubts and Questions are Expected

    John 20:19-31, NRSV

    Reflections

    Anything can become a spiritual practice once you are willing to approach it that way—once you let it bring you to your knees and show you what is real, including who you really are, who other people are, and how near God can be when you have lost your way.

    — Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

    • For those who do not have doubts, be available for others who doubt and provide support, offer a word of peace

     

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    Lent Sermon Series: Again and Again… We are Called to the Path of Peace

    Luke 19:29-44, NRSV

    Reflections

    I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
    so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
    that a storm is coming,
    and I hear the far-off fields say things
    I can’t bear without a friend,
    I can’t love without a sister.

    The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
    across the woods and across time,
    and the world looks as if it had no age:
    the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
    is seriousness and weight and eternity.

    What we choose to fight is so tiny!
    What fights with us is so great!
    If only we would let ourselves be dominated
    as things do by some immense storm,
    we would become strong too, and not need names.

    When we win it’s with small things,
    and the triumph itself makes us small.
    What is extraordinary and eternal
    does not want to be bent by us.
    I mean the Angel who appeared
    to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
    when the wrestlers’ sinews
    grew long like metal strings,
    the angel felt them under his fingers
    like chords of deep music.

    Whoever was beaten by the Angel
    (who often simply declined the fight)
    went away proud and strengthened
    and great from that harsh hand,
    that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
    Winning does not tempt that person.
    This is how they grow: by being defeated, decisively,
    by constantly greater beings.

    — Rainer Maria Rilke, The Beholder (transl. Robert Bly)

    • Pharisees were concerned about keeping the false peace they have forged with the rulers, when Jesus and his disciples entering the city
    • Jesus wept because Jerusalem is not living up to its name, city of peace

     

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    Lent Sermon Series: Again and Again… God Loves First

    John 3:1-21, NRSV

    Reflections

    Nicodemus is not a special case. No one knows where the Spirit comes from or where it goes. No one. The only thing that sets Nicodemus apart is that he is so uncomfortable with his unknowing. His problem is that he thinks he ought to know. This is a difficult teaching for those who want to feel secure in their relationship with God, especially if their security depends on knowing how things work … “You do not know,” Jesus says. Not because you are stupid, but because you are not God. So relax if you can, because you are not doing anything wrong. This is what it means to be human.

    — Barbara Brown Taylor

    • Nicodemus might have thought his teaching and understanding of God was closer to Jesus’ teaching, compared to other Pharisees
    • He appreciates Jesus’ critique of the temple, but not the critique of individuals, at personal level
    • Nicodemus might actually understood what Jesus meant by being born again, if that means giving up his privileges and status
    • The Cathedral mentality, with the wealth, power and establishment, is not unlike the temple Jesus said about tearing down
      • Christendom was built on stable continental plates. The cathedrals in Europe witness to a form of Christianity that rests on confessional statements, linguistic and cultural uniformity, institutional presence and this-worldly orientation … This stands in sharp contrast to the volatile and mobile situations in present-day human societies. Migrant workers, refugees of war and stateless peoples testify to these ‘homeless’ conditions. Apocalyptic aspects of the Christian faith speaks more powerfully to peoples who live amid tsunamis, earthquakes, riots and wars. In such situations, makeshift tents and huts replace cathedrals to be carriers of Christianity. Peoples are on the move; and even so, faith is on the move. — Michael Nai-Chiu Poon

     

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    Lent Sermon Series: Again and Again… We are Shown the Way

    John 2:13-22, NRSV

    Reflections

    The church member sins during the workweek, either by doing what is wrong or by failing to do what is right. Then on Sunday morning, this same individual, perhaps convinced of [their] personal righteousness, heartily sings the hymns, happily shakes the hands of others, and generously puts a fifty-dollar bill in the collection plate. That makes the church a den of robbers — a cave of thieves. It becomes a safe place for those who are not truly repentant and who do not truly follow what Jesus asks. The church becomes a place of showboating, not of fishing for people.

    — Amy Jill-Levine, Professor of New Testament, Vanderbilt University

    • Guest speakers: D.L. Mayfield and Kelley Nikondeha
    • The temple functioned more than just religious practices, there were lots of marketplace activities, looking more like Wall Street, “colluding with the Roman empire”
    • religion married with power
    • Lament is a way to deal with anger

     

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    Lent Sermon Series: Again and Again: We Take Up Our Cross

    Mark 8:28-38, NRSV

    Reflections

    And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
    you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

    — Goethe, The Holy Longing

    • In any life situation, confronted by an outer threat or opportunity, you have a choice between two options. You can either harden and brace defensively, or you can yield and soften internally. The first response will plunge you immediately into your small self, with its animal instincts and survival responses. The second will allow you to stay aligned with your heart, where the odds of a creative outcome are infinitely better. –Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind

     

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    Lent Sermon Series: Again and Again, God Meets Us

    Matthew 4:1-11, NRSV

    Reflections

    But that’s one way we can identify the devil’s voice: It always plays to our fears. It is the voice that tells us we must do something to prove who we are, to prove that we’re worthy, to prove that we are who God has already declared us to be. When we know we are loved by God, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves more beloved than we are.

    — Jonathan Martin

    • Jesus is not exempted from hunger, pain, temptation
    • Most dangerous of all water: Sea of self-pity
    • Nadia Bolz-Weber: Identity. It’s always God’s first move… Everything else is temptation. Quote
    • The timing, the test, and then the truth
    • Faith is the refusal to panic
    • Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil (Psalm 37:8)
    • Empathy doesn’t require that we have the exact same experiences as the person sharing their story with us…Empathy is connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or the circumstance. — Brene Brown.

     

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    The Way of Love: Listens

    Mark 9:2-9, NRSV

    Reflections

    Jesus is the true and living Word of God. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets point toward and bow to. Jesus is what the Old Testament was trying to say, but could never fully articulate. Jesus is the perfect Word of God in the form of a human life. God couldn’t say all he wanted to say in the form of a book, so he said it in the form of Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say!

    The Law and the Prophets were the lesser lights in the pre-Christ night sky. They were the moon and stars. Israel could grope forward by their soft light; the Hebrews could navigate through the pagan night by constellations. In a world of Stygian darkness, the moonlight and starlight emanating from the Torah and the Prophets made all the difference.

    But with Christ, morning has broken, the new day has dawned, the sun of righteousness has risen with healing in its rays. Now the moon and the stars, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets are eclipsed by the full glory of God in Christ!

    — Brain Zahnd

    • Bible must always be read through the lens of Jesus
    • Transfiguration gives us a goal we can embrace: to confirm in the image of Christ
    • In contrast, the goal is not quite to be “biblical” of all things

     

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