Manuscript – Welcome |:| Genesis 18:1-8

Calvary Baptist Church – Denver |:| October 2, 2016 

One of my favorite memories to share about my grandmother, my Nonnie Belle, is how we would go over to her house when I was a child and she would just “whip” something up. This was not unusual for my grandmother to do, shower their loved ones with food and comfort. Nonnie Belle was a good southern woman so whipping up food for us would include dumplings made from scratch, cooked greens, and spareribs. Topped off with whatever pie she had made that morning, or my favorite her chocolate chip cookies. With these stories I share how my grandmother embodied the welcoming grace of God for me; she still does.

When I was in Bible college in Canada we had gone to my friend Amanda’s house for one of our breaks and upon our arrival we were all hugged and welcomed into the Drebert house has if we had been there countless times before. Amanda’s mom, Momma Drebert, taught me a different kind of hospitality; unlike southern hospitality where the guest comes in, sits, and is waited on fore all things had been thought of and prepared in advance as is expected of a proper southern host. Momma Drebert taught me that hospitality can mean welcoming friends of her daughters, whom she had never met, into her home and inviting us to join her completing dinner. I remember her telling us, “in this house we are all family and we all join in preparing for a meal.” It wasn’t in a chore capacity but a deeply warm invitation to take part in their family.

My Junior year of college I joined a group from my church on a trip to India; during our time in Jammu we were visiting a temple on the outskirts of town when we walked out of the temple we were greeted by a Baltic family. They graciously introduced themselves and answered questions we had about the village and the temple. As we were talking with them the husband invited our team of nine into their one room home. We found ourselves sitting shoulder to shoulder on the floor as they made us balti tea, a version of chai tea but with salted water. This family had invited strangers into their home with great ease and excitement and offered us a staple in their day, the simple-ness of tea.

Stories in Scripture call forth from my imagination the vivid hospitality of the woman with the alabaster jar, Ruth and Naomi, Zacchaeus, the woman who feeds Elijah.

God uses unexpected people who teach us the unexpected nature of hospitality in random corners and surprising courses in Scripture, and Abraham, in our text, today is no different. Abraham’s posture was not one that should have lent itself to hospitality and grace filled welcome. Before the text we read today we learn that Abraham had been circumcised as a grown man – an age where he was well aware of the pain of taking on the sign of covenant with God. What we consider relatively minor surgery today was not so minor in Abraham’s day. As he sat in the heat of day, we are told he looked out, possibly in a daze as he ponders how God will fulfill the recent promise of children mothered by Sarah.

If you have ever experienced a summer day in Georgia, Florida, Texas – really any coastal or bayou city – you know that in the heat of the day your mind can wonder and create vivid images of your dreams as the heat creates a haze filled mind.

Abraham sits recovering from the previous day’s events in the heat of the day when he looks up and sees three strangers coming his way. It would have been understandable had Abraham dismissed them as an exhausted daydream; his posture was certainly not that conditioned to readily welcome strangers into his tent.

Yet Abe jumps up and moves with haste to greet these three strangers. As they are face to face he humbly invites them to extend grace and stay. Healing and exhausted, Abraham moves to Sarah and instructs for three cakes, to servants he instructs the preparation of his best calf he brought in. We hear of a posture of lavish welcome from Abraham to these three passersby.

These strangers appear seemingly out of nowhere; at least the text does not note it. They come into the tent, settle in and are willing to enter into Abe’s world for a period of time. This section and those following in Genesis focused on the importance of welcoming and moving towards Spirit guided hospitality.

Since Bible College I’ve come to see in scripture a difference between hospitality described in stories like our text today and what our culture has come to know as hospitality. Often when someone is described as hospitable today we mean someone who has a willingness to host, feed, and entertain guests – often with people they know. But if they do this with people they don’t know there is a sense of great awe. It is not a normal practice for us today. The key thing I noticed about biblical hospitality is it often happened between strangers, not those people already knew and were comfortable with. In examining the original meaning of the word hospitality I learned there isn’t an exact translation. From the Greek translation of Scripture the term we know as hospitality is a combination of two words; Philao, meaning brotherly love, and Xenos, meaning stranger or immigrant. Essentially biblical hospitality means love the stranger in the way you would love your own brother … a little deeper and challenging than our cultural expression of hospitality.

Our cultural hospitality is rooted in biblical hospitality; acknowledging it is more common to welcome those we know or friends of a friend –yet welcoming them; hosting them and serving them. This is certainly a branch of God’s welcoming nature created in us.

A nature expressed in this community of faith quite well; when people worship with us the first time and are genuinely welcomed through our greeters, our bread makers, and conversations held in the Narthex as an extension of worship. Calvary you welcome people well. It is one of the main things I hear from people experiencing our community for the first time. I’ve also heard you all ask us pastors if we know where a newcomer has been if you haven’t seen them in a few weeks or if there are ways to connect to each other to make sure you all are doing well.

It makes sense then, why the theme of welcoming underpinned so many of the conversations and writings the Vision 20/20 team heard from us. We are grounded in a welcoming Spirit and wish to grow in this spiritual practice. The beauty of the Spirit is She knows how to draw us into the vibrancy of spiritual growth by tapping into a natural rhythm already pulsing in our beings. Taking those rhythms and breathing courage and hope into us as we are able to receive it.

You see Abraham was not always a man with a posture of hospitality; remember this is the guy who out of fear for his own life pretended his wife Sarah was his sister and it resulted in her being in Pharaoh’s chambers for the night. He wasn’t perfect. He was a man who knew what it was to operate from fear and how to escape risk. We, too, know how to operate from fear and how to seek opportunities to avoid risk – hopefully not in the ways Abraham did … but we have our own Abraham moments, for we are living this life of discipleship and learning to dance with the Spirit more every day.

One of the ways we grow in our welcoming nature is to welcome the spirit of grace into our lives and relationships. Abraham grew in his relationship with God and found himself in a posture ready to receive the stranger, as he was guided by grace. As we move with the Spirit we are invited to practice this readiness; a readiness of looking for the stranger and being willing to invite them into our shared life together, whether it is convenient or not – and it will likely be less convenient than not.

This posture of learning who they are, and reciprocating with sharing our stories with them – creating holy ground between us as we learn the Divine reflection in them and them learning It in us. A shift from asking or expecting the stranger to join us by assimilating to our ways of life, and shifting to a synergistic connection – co-creating a new way of life together. The posture we glean from Abraham is that of being grounded in the unknown and discomfort in sharing life together. A life of hospitality is a beautiful hot mess of grace … grace binding our souls together as we stumble through the pains of coming to be community. Hospitality as we see it in Scripture is that of losing our individual focus for the focus of the Spirit of God, a focus on the wellbeing of the whole.

Calvary, we are capable of moving into this deeper sense of welcome. A desire clearly expressed by you all in our congregational and the passions and perspectives relational meetings. This is a desire that entwines with the hope of connecting across generational lines, opening pathways to know and align our spiritual gifts, allowing for trust to be built for the risk of spiritual formation to take place, and committing to doing this love bound covenant work of church.

Moving from discernment into implementation is always tricky. The process of discernment is tiresome and builds an anticipation that can be frustrating and slow. Take heart, the steps into and exploring what we have discerned together is one of humble courage. When it comes to our responding to the Spirits nudgings to search more branches of welcome progressively embrace the examples of biblical hospitality.

When we don’t wish to live out this kinship love of the stranger, when this work is too raw and exhausting … rest in the grace of those who have made the way for us.

In times when I simply forget I am made in the Divine’s image which means I get to co-create the beauty of hospitality through the magnificent and the mundane, I lean into the embrace of my childhood memories of Nonnie Belle inviting us in with a lavish banquet of a common meal; I draw breath from knowing what it felt like to be invited to share in family practices by Momma Drebert; I dance with gratitude as I recall how I felt when a stranger welcomed into a Baltic family’s home.

The Spirit is one of abundance and has bestowed upon hospitality in an array of avenues. Draw strength from your personal experiences as we sink our roots into the Spirit’s calling and live into a hospitality where we build with the once stranger now neighbor, in how we do worship, structure our practices, share our meals, tell our stories, and develop our culture– a hospitality based in Being the Church.

A favorite author of mine, Enuma Okoro, discusses this weird and uncomfortable call to hospitality in this way – “try to live into the absurdity of church. Really it’s not normal. We do not naturally group ourselves with strangers who are different from us in so many visible and not so visible ways. We do not readily give up the things we want in order to provide for people we don’t know or even necessarily like. We do not give our time, resources, and privacy to just anyone. But that’s what church calls us to do and that’s why I have such a hard time with it.”

As we grow in what it means to be a congregation of welcome, know this – it will be beautiful, it will be messy, it will be hard and frustrating, it will be joyous and life-giving, it will be sacrificial, it will be humbling … it will be standing on holy ground for we are moving where the Spirit leads us.

Abraham stood on holy ground with three divine strangers, offering his spirit of readiness and allowing his healing to not keep him from welcoming them. We shall stand on holy ground as we move with the Spirit and further into this thing of loving the stranger in a KINdom way – as bumping of a journey it will be it will be a grace filled one.

Amen.

 

 

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Manuscript – Petering of Faith

Matthew 14:22-33 |:| Petering of Faith

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; August 10, 2014 @ 10:30a

The storm raging, thrashing against the sides of the boat, testing the skills of the fishermen among the 12. The unrelenting wind was not unfamiliar to the men who fished for a living before leaving their nets and following Jesus, but that was not true for everyone in that boat.

They had left Jesus the night before and around 4am they were still not safely on solid ground when the story we find in our Gospel text takes place. The storm was not letting up and I can only imagine getting tiresome of dealing with.

We might remember how well the disciples do with raging storms, in Matthew 8 when the storm arose and Jesus was sleeping – they freaked out, cried out for Jesus to save them.

The disciples were likely tired from the unrest of the waters and storm. As they looked out hoping to see the distance between the shore and the boat closing the haze of the storm blurs their vision & they strain to see a figure coming towards them.

I imagine a couple of the disciples see the figure and question if it was real, leaning to another disciple to see if in fact their eyes were playing tricks on them. And with each disciple confirming the witnessing of said figure that had begun to take shape and movement – somehow walking on the unforgiving waters. Unsure how this could be the only thought that strikes them is it must be a ghost.

Jewish thoughts on the chaos of waters were commonly understood as threatening powers, forces against them of opposing their ways of life. It’s understandable to see why they thought this unclear figure walking on troubled seas was a ghost in their minds.

It was the sight of this figure which settled fear within them. The storms threatening to take them under and now a ghost coming to torment them even further. They were able to manage their nerves, fears, uncertainty of the storm until the arrival of this additional threat. Now with their fears mounting, they wondered where their messiah was.

Questioning why he had forced them to go on without him. Likely thinking back to the time Jesus was asleep in the boat and hoping for him to be in such a state now, able to be woken up and fix everything. Very possibly they thought they might meet the great I am as the fears of their possible death began to fill their minds.

They see the ghost, the figure approaching and sure enough they hear divine words break through the loudness of the storm – Take Heart, it is I; do not be afraid. The voice of their teacher, friend, and messiah reaches them and their fears are stopped mid breath.

Their eyes straining to match the person walking towards them with the voice they had just heard – wanting to verify that it was in fact the one they had come to follow, the one who has saved them before.

Yet the storm continued, even though Jesus had announced that it was him. Jesus does not stop walking on the unresting sea, but continues to move towards them. It is then Peter, good ol’ Peter, speaks out telling Jesus to call him to walk on water if it was in fact him.

And so with Jesus’ words of “come”, Peter settles himself on the side of the boat and with the waves raging Peter begins to walk on water.

Peter’s steps were not easy. They were challenged with each movement of self and sea. The only thing moving him forward was the propelling fear of meeting Jesus on an unceasing storm.

Winds raged with gusto and Peter is reminded of just how far out of his comfort zone he had gone and with his doubts he lives up to the meaning of his name, Rock, and begins to sink in the water.

Unlike when he called out to Jesus to walk on water Peter does not question if it in fact him and this time as he begins to be swallowed by storm he cries out “Lord Save Me!”. Christ closes the remaining gap between them and grabs his hand, pulling him up. Looking at him he speaks in a rhetorical tone, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Saving Peter, Jesus does not send him on his way by himself but rather together they continue to walk on the raging seas back to the boat, back to the remaining 11 disciples. It is only once they are back on the boat that the storms finally cease.

The disciples have witnessed Peter leaving the boat, walking in faith, being consumed by doubt, and Christ being present of every moment and saving their friend and ultimately saving them from the storm.

That the deep breath the disciples had been holding is released as they proclaim the Lordship of Christ, worshiping him for the act only God has been known to do in Jewish teachings – defy the waters and show dominion over the chaos of the seas.

This text is thick with emotion, glossed over details, and for Matthew’s Jewish audience a recollection to the divine name “the great I am” – revealing the power of Jesus. 11 simple verses offering great meaning for our lives today.

When our life is being tossed back and forth from economic hardships, illness, dueling schedules, questions of life and purpose, moving further into a skill or calling, so on and so forth we can find ourselves identifying with the disciples in this text.

It is not uncommon that when we are in the storms of life to be shocked when Christ appears to us, frightening us  because his presence reminds us that he never leaves us – but more often then not when we experience Christ’s presence when we are uncomfortable it is because we know God is calling us further into his presence – the way he allowed peter to come closer to his presence in that storm.

When we are out of our comfort zones, being tossed by the unpredictable waves of life and Christ’s presence appears in the stranger, in moving farthing into unchartered experiences, learning to live in reciprocity with those society places on the margins – it can be frightening.

It can surprise us much like Jesus shocked the disciples so much they thought it was a ghost.

When we are in the throws of life’s moments or seasons of unforgiving storms we can find ourselves identifying with the 11 disciples who had their fears calmed by experiencing Christ but are not able to venture further – out of tiredness, crippling fear, life circumstances.

At times all we can muster up is acknowledging the presence of God’s power and take heart, take courage, take faith in knowing that reality of God is there with us.

At other times the fear of Christ’s presence, which surprises us, will propel us ever deeper out of our comfort zones, like we see Peter experienced in this text. With the storms of our life still raging we are some how are able to move into the thrashes of life a bit more.

The faith of Christ, the faith of our community, and the miracle of being able to take another step out there, that faith – that collective faith – braces each of our steps.

Just as our faith meets us in the storm so too do our doubts. In the incomparable throws of life doubts waiver our steps and we forget about the faith which brought us farther from what we had know to be. Christ does not call us further into the storms of life and expect us to not have doubt, rather we see that it is with faith and doubt that Christ is ever present.

Our doubts accompany us as we grow in discipleship with God and community. In Peter’s doubts Christ was present and faith was returned – in our lives our doubts allow us to experience God in new ways and understand our faith in a new light.

From this story we are reminded that Christ is there when we are frightened in the raging tumult of life. At various times each of us will be called to have our Peter-ing of faith moments, where we like Peter did in this story take courage, take heart, have faith and walk further to where Christ is calling us.

In our moments, days, seasons of doubts Christ does not scold us for our wavering faith, rather we are reminded that all it takes is little faith to keep going in this Gospel work. In the book of Matthew we learn all we need to have is the faith the size of a mustard seed, the faith of a simple pail of loaves and fishes to do miraculous work of feeding more than 5000.

The faith to call out in fear and uncertainty, “if it is you Jesus, call me to join you”. You can hear Christ’s words in the raging of our own doubts stating –  you of little faith, you who has the faith the size of a mustard seed or a multiplied lunch – you have the faith, why do you doubt?

For Matthew we are reminded that little faith can move mountains, feed those who are hungry, bring belief where there wasn’t any, realize the knowledge of how we will be able to take part of God’s transformative work is not required – all we need is a little faith to take the first step.

Calvary, much like the disciples in this story we can be frightened when we experience God in the waves of change. As a community we might not all have our Peter-ing of faith moments at the same time, so in times when you find yourself as one of the 11 disciples who remained in the boat take courage by those around you who are stepping out of the boat and walking on the unsteady seas.

When we collectively as a church step out of the boat – in a communal Peter-ing of faith moment – stepping further into the future Christ is calling us to, remember both our faith and doubts are welcomed.

Take heart in these unnerving times for Christ never leaves us, the seas may not calm when we want them to but Christ is ever present with us – trusting us to walk and ready to save us when we begin to sink.

In those sinking experiences remember Christ speaks truth to us – that we have the faith to move even further expanding what we understand our comfort zone to actually be. Some in our faith traditions have said when we experience the thrashes of life and experience Christ we enter those thin spaces where the infinite and finite seem inseparable.

In those thin spaces the Kingdom of God breaks through. Be reminded that in the clamoring of the storm Christ’s peace ultimately calms the focus so that we can move through doubt.

In this time and place in our lives there are storms in life ending, beginning, and remaining. Calvary, take heart, take courage, you have faith – for you are not alone.

Christ is here within this community offering support for each of us to take the next step into individual and communal faith in God. In the midst of our storms, in the thin spaces where we experience God liberation of needs happens in those Gospel lived moments.

Calvary Baptist Church, we of little faith, step out to where God is call us as a community & change the world, bringing the kingdom of God further here on earth as it is in heaven. When it is each of out times to Peter in Faith, may we take courage and make the first step.

Amen

Manuscript – Becoming Disciples: Live as Witnesses

Becoming Disciples: Live as Witnesses

Manuscript Only, Not Preached

Calvary Baptist Church, D.C.| June 5, 2011

Good morning on Calvary’s Birthday. It’s remarkable how all of us today are sitting in a place that has had a life for 149 years! Many great things can happen in 149 years and at Calvary that’s been true. Our Calvary ancestors lived through the riots, chose to stay in the city when the trend was to move your church to the suburbs, was the place where the first Libyan woman was on a Baptist roll, saw women in need and created Calvary’s Women’s Shelter, cared for youth through the Horizons after school program, lived through many changes, including changes in church leadership, has found ways to live out the gospel by expanding its worship style to include two languages, and has proclaimed the need for transformed lives through seeking and creating justice and loving their neighbors while proclaiming the good news of Christ.

This is a very rich culture we belong to; one that continues to develop our understanding of being Baptist, being a downtown church, being a presence internationally, and being disciples. Calvary is proud of her history and doesn’t let it only be told on her birthday. No, she’s proud of it always and continually shares part of her story when people walk up and down 8th and H streets taking in her beauty. Those of us here today celebrate this wonderful legacy Calvary has lived and are challenged to continue this legacy for the next 149 years as we live our lives propelling the culture of Calvary. We receive a continually blessing from those who have lived before us in this life we call Calvary. Their work, vision, and beliefs bless us as we do our work, create our vision, and live out our beliefs. We may be separated by time from our Calvary ancestors but we are most certainly connected to them in our hearts and spirits.

This is also true for the celebrations in our faith tradition. Today in the church we celebrate Ascension Sunday, a birthday of sorts of when the disciples received their first commission for ministry. Growing up I was always told that Pentecost was the birth of the Church but when I was looking at the Ascension text in Luke and hearing the staff talk about it as the birth of the Church I found great truth in that. This is where we see Christ’s ministry be transferred to the disciples. Up until this point the disciples were still trying to figure out what Jesus was saying, what he was doing, and what it meant for them to follow him. Yet, in this passage of scripture we see the disciples understand what has happened before them, how they got to where they were, and have clarity for where they are to go from that point on.

If we look at the text we see Jesus stating that he fulfilled the Hebrew scriptures, then opened the disciples minds to understand those scriptures, followed by their commission, then concluding by telling them when to embark on this new part of their journey. The text also reveals to us that the disciples finally got it! They finally knew what they were supposed to do and they did it. We see them waiting in Jerusalem for the promise from God and while they wait for that promise they begin praising God for all that had done in their faith tradition up to that point.

Even when we look at another depiction of the Ascension passage from our readings today, we see that in Acts the disciples were given instructions for what was to happen with Christ, that they were going to receive the Holy Spirit, and then they were to go and be living witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the World. The Ascension passage we have read today in both Luke and Acts reveal that this is when the birth of the Church took place. Christ had finished his work on earth, gave the instructions and insight to the disciples, and passed on the narrative story of God interacting with creation on to the disciples to continue proclaiming the love of God, creating justice, and being living witnesses to the work of Christ. Not too shabby of a birthday, not too shabby at all!

There are many reasons we as people tell stories of our ancestors, faith traditions, and family. As we celebrate Calvary’s 149th birthday and the birth of the Church today I can’t help but think of other stories in my life that have been told and retold and told again. For my family it’s the story of my brother Jason. Jason is my older brother who was born October 13, 1979 and whose life was full of strength, courage, and sorrow. You see I know a great deal about my brother’s life but I have never met him. Jason Allen Caruthers’ life was a remarkable four months long. He was diagnosed with Leukemia at five weeks old and fought hard to beat his cancer and inspired many of our family members along the way. Sadly the doctors couldn’t do more for Jason so my parents made the tough decision to bring him home and love on him for as long as they could. My amazing brother died on February 6, 1980 but his life has continued to live on in my parents, aunts and uncles, siblings and even myself. I might not have had the honor of meeting my brother but I can certainly say I know him. I know those four months almost as well as I could have had I actually been there. I am inspired by my brother’s life and the impact it has had on our family and his doctors; we still keep in touch with his oncologist and nurses. Jason’s my brother, and my nieces and nephews will know of their Uncle Jason, and if I have kids one day my children will know of him as well. His life was incredible and he will forever be a part of our family story. I’m so thankful that my brother’s life inspired my parents and his doctors and our extended family because they have shared the joys and sorrows of his life with me and that’s how I’m able to know my amazing brother, Jason. He was a tough kid and one that brought transformation to my parents’ lives. Every kid of my parents has transformed them and made them into the remarkable parents and people they are today. I’m honored to be the youngest of seven children whose lives have brought transformation to their parents.

I know my brother because his story has been retold to me by my parents and I know Jesus Christ and the disciples because their stories have been told me by my family and teachers as they have been captured in the Bible.

We all have our stories we tell, retell, and tell again for good measure. Our faith tradition is full of them! To better understand the story we are retelling and celebrating today let’s take a closer look at Luke 24:44 – 53. In the books authored by Luke we can see this thread of Jesus’ story and the story of the church being combined. Luke does not write these two stories disjointed from one another but rather provides the stories as revealing that God’s work on earth through Christ is continued through the work of the church. Which is what we see happening in this passage of Luke. Christ was a great teacher and knew the disciples needed direction for how to continue God’s work on earth so he provides them with the necessary information.

First, Christ tells the disciples the scriptures they knew well needed to be fulfilled, then Christ opened their mind and they understood these scriptures more fully than ever before. It was the first time Christ’s teachings, the teachings of their ancestors, and their understanding of these things came together in full comprehension. The disciples now have the knowledge of their faith tradition and the work of Christ to go forth and begin their ministry but they are still lacking the details of what their ministry would be.

Jesus continued with this commission of the disciples by laying forth what they were to go and do in their ministry. The Voice is a translation of the New Testament and has verses 46 – 49 reading

“This is what the Scriptures said: that the promised Liberating King should suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, that in His name a radical change of thought and life should be preached, beginning in Jerusalem and extending to all nations. You have witnessed the fulfillment of these things. So I am sending my Father’s promise to you. Stay in the city until you receive it – until the power from Heaven comes upon you.”

With these few sentences the disciples are given insight to what they are to proclaim, assurance that they have seen what they will be sharing with others, how it will be lived out in their lives, the promise of God’s continued presence with them, and where to begin once they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This was the culmination of all they had seen Christ do, what they had experienced God to be, and how they were to continue the tradition of their faith. Theologian Larry D. Bouchard puts this part of the Ascension story like this, “The Law, Prophets, and Psalms and the mind of Christ and the minds of the disciples are emptying into each other in a mutual kenosis that involves the future – because repentance (meaning change of mind and heart) will pour out from Jerusalem into the world, and the disciples will witness this motion.” The instructions Christ gave to the disciples in verses 46 – 49 were not to simply be retold to others but lived out in their daily lives. They were to proclaim this knowledge they had received in both word and action. The disciples were to tell of God’s faithfulness, justice, and mercy which wasn’t an easy task; they saw what this lifestyle brought to Jesus. Since Jesus knew this he assured them that God would keep the promise of bestowing them with the Holy Spirit so they would never be alone as they lived out their lives as witnesses.

But, before Jesus was finished and the ministry of the disciples could commence Jesus keeps with tradition and offers them a blessing. In verse 50 we see Jesus raise his wound marked hands and speaks a blessing over the disciples which is similar to the way Moses gave his blessing to his successors. Then in verse 51 as Jesus is still speaking the blessing he ascends unto the heavens.

I love this part in the story! Jesus hadn’t finished his blessings before the ascension but rather was continuing the blessing when he ascended. It leaves me to believe the blessing never stopped and continued through the work of the disciples and through all the years of our faith tradition reaching us today and will continue in the years to follow us. Because Jesus’ blessing never stopped and continued as he ascended to the heavens it brings the disciples into the ascension, no longer looking up at Christ but joining Christ to receive a new perspective for the ministry they had been commissioned with. They receive in the continual blessing the new perspective which is that of God’s mercy. It is from this new perspective that the disciples are to live out their transformed lives and go forth preaching the good news. With the blessing from Christ and his ascension, the disciples had received all they needed in order to begin their ministry but was that the birth of the church? Well, in part but the church’s birth doesn’t reach its fullness until the next two verses.

As the Ascension story concludes we see the disciples worshiping Christ, returning to Jerusalem to wait for the promise from God, and continually going to the temples blessing God. The disciples didn’t wait to go to the temples teaching what they knew until the promise of the Holy Spirit had come to them. No, they were actively living their lives as witnesses while they waited for the Holy Spirit. With the resurrection of Christ and the living witnesses of the disciples the birth of the church took place. Theologian Richard Manly Adams Jr. says “the end of the Gospel of Luke is not the end of the story of Jesus but, rather, the beginning of the story of the church, begun by the resurrected Jesus and continued by his followers.” So, here with the resurrected-Jesus bestowing the necessary knowledge, insight, direction, and blessing to the disciples and the disciples being living witnesses we see the birth of the church take place.

On this Ascension Sunday and every other Ascension Sunday this is the birthday we celebrate, the birth of the Church. At birthdays it is common to offer gifts, so what gift do we as followers of Jesus offer to the birth of the church? We offer our lives as living witnesses to the continued work of God here on earth. What is it to offer our lives as living witnesses? We embrace the blessing given by Christ to the disciples thousands of years ago, walk confidently in the fact that we have received God’s promise of the Holy Spirit. We daily live out the radical change of thought and life of repentance by creating justice, loving our enemies, forgiving an outrageous sinner, and being a channel for peace to enter the world.

In all we do as the church let us lean into the truth that God is merciful, loving, forgiving, and calls us to be the continual presence of these things to our world, city, and community of faith. Those of us sitting here today are continuing the narrative of God interacting with creation by being living witnesses to the work and life of Jesus Christ. I don’t know of a better present we can give in celebration of the birth of the church. Let us keep in mind that this is a gift we give every day of our lives and not just on Ascension Sunday.

It’s a big day for us here at Calvary; we are celebrating two remarkable births: the birth of Calvary Baptist Church and the birth of the universal church. On days like today let us celebrate with our lives! As we retell the stories of Calvary and of the church allow yourself to recall your own personal stories that you tell and retell. Maybe a personal story for you will be like the one I shared today of a loved one whose life transformed those around them and yourself. Maybe the story you think of will be of a time in your life when you were transformed by an act of kindness given to you. Whatever the story you recall is let it transform you once again, just as the stories of Calvary and the Ascension of Christ transform us as we retell them today. It’s in the retelling of these stories that we remember why we participate in our faith tradition’s narrative of active liberation.

As we leave here today living our lives as witnesses of God’s active presence on earth through Christ Jesus and continued by the disciples and us, allow me to leave you with this blessing taken in part from our Epistle lesson today. May the Liberating King give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that will enlighten the eyes of your heart so that you live in the hope of peace, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Christ did. As God put all things under Christ’s feet and made him the head over all things for the church go forth living out your witness in full knowledge that the scriptures and life of Jesus Christ have been fulfilled. Amen.

Why Christian? … My response

For the past two days I have been surrounded by Christians. As a pastor this isn’t a shocking statement, mind you. The significance was we were all gathered to ask ourselves why Christian? As a group of 1,000+ we filled the pews at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis to hear from 13 women in ministry answering that very question. From “it’s how I understand myself, others, and the world” to “it’s in the music” to “I don’t know why”, these remarkable women shared their stories about how they have come to continue to claim Christianity as their faith, as their religion. As I sat in the pews next to strangers I was encouraged to be surrounded by people who were wanting to ponder this question. We were there to examine if what we were hearing resonated, agitated, disconnected with our own answers to why we, too, claim the Christian faith and religion. After being present at a conference, that felt more like a two day life giving worship service, of spirit filled, prophetic words I have continued to ask myself Why Christian, so I sit in the airport and begin to formulate my answer once again.

Some of my earliest recollections of life are connected to my experiences with the Divine. At Tuesday night family dinners I would share the latest trip to Heaven that I had that week. I told of how I would visit Jesus, my maternal grandfather, and my brother Jason. One of the most profound memories is when I told my family that I had made Jesus chicken noodle soup and he didn’t like it, so I got made at Jesus. My mother said that wasn’t alright, that getting made at Jesus wasn’t part of the story – but it was part of my young mind’s understanding of my relationship with Jesus, imaginary trips to Heaven and all. For me I don’t know if I have had a time where wrestling with God and my understanding of the Divine wasn’t part of my very being.

One of the deepest spiritual stirrings in my little body was when I would pray for my mom to be well during one of her stints in the hospital. I remember my silver spotted wallpaper reflecting the nightlight glow across the room as I stay awake praying that she would be alright, that she would wake the next day. Those prayers formed my awareness of the Spirit and the comfort of being nestled in the steadfast embrace of prayer.

As I grew older my faith journeyed with me into the waters of Baptism, knowing that when asked why I was seeking Baptism I could only respond with it’s where I belong – it is what comes next for me. Words to capture my understanding of the Divine have never been beyond the guttural feelings that stirred in my soul. My wonderings in figuring out my faith and following the teachings I knew of Jesus were the one place in my early years where I could wrestle, be still and be welcomed regardless of my actions that day. It was where I was free to be the beloved child of God that I could not yet claim in other areas of my life.

With high school coming to a close and figuring out what life held for me next it was my religion that drew me out of what I had been taught as a child and into a faith I could begin to put words to, a faith I was learning to call my own. As the desire for doing things great shifted to living greatly in the mundane I began to question how humanity could harm each other the way we do and how the church was still functioning. In adulthood that is still how most of my pondering gets its exercise. I have never questioned where God is but I have spent endless hours wondering how people can harm one another and how the church could do such harm under the claim that it has been for the betterment of the Gospel. I toss in my flesh finding truth in action to live out the Kingdom as I have come to experience it. I have come to live in the gray and understand my failures as grace filled moments. I continue to ask questions. I find truth in the practices of confession and repentance for what I have done, left undone, and done wrong unto self/other.

For as long as I can remember I have been in the embrace of the Divine. For as long as I can remember my soul as been the only source of emotions that I have fully embraced and trusted. For as long as I can remember I have wrestled with God and brought all of my emotions to the altar and have never been dismissed. For as long as I can remember the beloved child of God has been in me, finding a way for me to claim her and name her as such.

So why am I a Christian? Because my flesh has scars and bruises that mark my journey of faith and they are my most precious stories. Because the story of the world makes sense to me on a soul-filled level when reflected through the lens of God breathed humanity and peace incarnate named Jesus. Because I simply do not makes sense as anything other than beloved child of God who lives by grace and guided by love and justice. I am a Christian because that answer will continue to change and that is the point.

Why Being a Youth Pastor is the Scariest & Best Job

Being entrusted by parents with their children is a remarkable gift. I am not with their children as often as their school teachers are – God bless the hours school teachers invest in children and the resources they have to work with – but I am with their children a few hours every week. In those hours I, along with my youth leaders, are to impart spiritual wisdom, practical life skills, and fellowship with these young folks. It is scary to know you are influencing the young minds as they develop their ethics and understanding of theology, claiming them as their own.

The scary part for me comes in the fact the theology I share with my students is not black and white. I hope to teach my students to live in the grey, to question what they are taught, and to find a truth that allows them to feel whole in mind/body/spirit. At times I wish I would return to the Southern Baptist teachings I was raised with and live in a bit more of white and black – that way I could be a bit more certain in knowing my students followed a set of dogmatics and I could feel that certainty in checking things off of my “theology in a box” checklist. Fortunately I do not have “theology in a box” checklist, nor do I believe in giving my students a black and white theology.

As scary as it is to shape critically thinking theologians as the young people they are, it is also fantastic when you get to see these young folks claim the theology they believe to be true. One of the greatest spiritual gifts they offer me and our church is when they question what we believe and challenge us to be forever authentic. My students are brilliant and often do not realize it. They don’t have to deconstruct bad theological baggage in order to claim themselves as Beloved children of God, void of shame and guilt. Their theology is one of hope and uncertainty, which leads to unheard of concepts of God and creative interpretations of Scripture. They leave me in awe more often than I likely bestow wisdom to them. What a spiritual practice it is to listen to people who are wrestling and claiming (or not claiming) God as their own for the first time.

Another scary piece is that just as I had to deconstruct the theology I was raised with, my students will have to deconstruct the grey theology we are encouraging our students to engage, wrestle with, and embrace. I lean on the hope that Christ never forced his theology upon anyone and often lived in the grey of fulfilling the law while living out the new law. I am no Christ – not that it needed to be said – but I do hope to model how he claimed his theology for himself, lived it out, offered it to the disciples and those who came to hear him but never forced people to follow him in order to offer them grace, love, and hospitality.

With all the uncertainties this role in the church holds I absolutely love it. Young people are smart beyond their measure and ground the church into daily life and life outside of the church walls in ways many other populations in the church do regularly. My challenge as one of their leaders is to ensure they have the tools they need to claim, create, and wrestle with theology and spiritual practices. My challenge is to also figure out what it looks like to engage them where they are and meet them in the daily perplexities of life. My challenge is to have them help us envision the future of the institutional church and help them own their voices in its future.

I am up for the challenge and incredibly grateful I am invited to be part of these young people’s lives. I am deeply honored to be trusted by their parents to journey alongside their children during these incredibly formative year. Here to another year with one of the scariest and best jobs I have ever had.

Telling Our Story

Stories have always been one of my favorite aspects of life. Learning about family members I didn’t have the chance to meet. Gaining appreciation for where family and friends have come from. Reading the stories of Scripture and examining how people in the Christian tradition have grown and been shaped over the years.

Perhaps that is why I loved and held tightly to the core biblical posture of Sankofa as I learned about it Bible College. My professor referenced the Akan language of Gahan to teach us Sankofa, a teaching that reminds us that “we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated.” Sankofa has shaped a my theology in countless ways over the past ten years.

As Calvary – Denver begins to enter a season of telling our story, individual and collective, I am reminded of Sankofa yet again. It seems to me telling our story has become a lost art. There is less time to share about our pasts and how we have been shaped by different life experiences or events. Often when we do tell our story we tell it in a linear capacity – birth, childhood, adolescents, adulthood, death – rather than the winding ways life takes us. Whether that winding way is the great loves of your life, the dreams you courageously followed, trips you’ve taken, or even the seasons of life that cross over timelines. The wisdom of Sankofa for me is that I am  not the fullest of self without claiming my past and allowing it to shape me, while it guides me to the healthiest expression of self. In my experience when we forget to tell our stories it is harder to live in the present or understand why things impact us the way they do.

It can be a scary thing to share our story with someone. Will they respect it, will they mock us, will they dismiss it? The flip of the coin, though, is that they will honor it, they will celebrate and cry with us, and they will sit in the story telling with us. Telling our story is worth the risk. Think of the world we could have if we valued one another’s stories more. Perhaps more conversations would be had in place of arguments because we have learned where the other person is coming from. Imagine how your story could be the bridge to cross ideological lines between another and yourself.

The stories of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends, mentors, colleagues, strangers have shaped my life. The stories of Scripture, the early church, reformers, new monasticism, emergents have transformed my faith. All of these have filtered in and out of my story and in every season of life I am learning to tell my story once more.

Who Are My Icons…?

Over the last week I have started to read a devotion by Joan Chittister called “A Passion for Life” and as I’ve worked through the pages I have been reminded of historical, yet not often thought of, icons in faith. With each reflection on a different person’s life I’ve been thinking about the guides in my life – the spiritual icons – who have made an impact on who I am and how I got to today. Those who have in unexpected ways spiraled my journey to the next ring mark. People whose lives created tension against that season in my life and moved me to a new normal.

Outside of the icons in my family one of my earliest recollections of an icon in faith was my professor Kathy Brawley at Covenant Bible College in Strathmore, Alberta. The image that comes to mind when I think of my time with her is a bench press. In her classes and in personal discussions with her it felt like I was on the bench holding the bar and thinking I had it down – she first showed me I had no weight on the bar, just the foundation to build upon my previous concepts of faith but that no new weight had been added. With each class, with each interaction where she didn’t give me an answer to my wonderments, with each disagreement of theology and ideology she allowed me the time to add weight to the bar. Kathy challenged me to wrestle with the weight of new thoughts and new beliefs but didn’t allow me to get too familiar with the weight, she always added new questions to the mix to add a new pound of pondering before that could happen. She never told me what to believe, just spotted me with each rep of wrestling as I grew into a new normal of faith.

Kathy is one of my icons of faith because she showed me I had the intellectual curiosity, soul wonderment, and desire for a perpetual new normal. The tension I experienced from her wisdom has forever shaped how I hope to teach, how I strive to lean into the stream of ever flowing questions, and how I find peace in knowing what I know now is not the final piece of the puzzle. Kathy, thank you for being one of my beautifully unexpected icons! My path is a lasting challenge to how you nurtured the grace of uncertainty in this journey of faith.

I encourage you to pick up Joan Chittister’s book and to think through who your icons of faith are.

A Passion for Life

If you’re in Denver go to Tattered Cover and pick up a copy: http://www.tatteredcover.com/book/9781626980600