Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Eve

What a wonderful surprise, people came! Kate and I were ready to have the service with just us two but a couple dozen folk braved the snow and ice to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Hopefully the weather will improve by Sunday. In any case, we'll be here 10:30 a.m.

Hope to see you then.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve

Yes, indeed we will be holding our usual Christmas Eve celebration at Keystone at 7 p.m. If you can come safely, please do.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday Service 2

Peg is staying home. Chris was asked to do so as well. I don't want anyone taking a risk. The roads around the church were bad before and they have been getting worse all night. I will be there on Sunday but it will be a very sparse worship service, certainly nothing to risk injury over. Stay safe and perhaps take some time to remember those sleeping outside.

Things may improve by Christmas Eve.


Sunday Service

Keystone will have its usual Sunday service on the 21st. The Taiwanese Congregation has cancelled its worship and so, rather than heat up the sanctuary just for us, we will be worshipping in the fellowship hall downstairs.

Please do not risk your safety to come but if you can get here safely, we look forward to seeing you at 10:30.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holden Prayer Cancelled

Due to the snow and ice we have cancelled the Holden Evening Prayer this evening.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday Sermon

Advent 3 Year B 12\14\08
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
By Rich Gamble

Imagine how the world would be if you were queen or king. How would you order it? Most of us flawed humans would order the world in such a way that we would prosper and the people we liked would prosper and we would be able to keep our hands on the throne. Now that is exactly what we are taught to do with power. Use it to prosper and help those connected with us prosper and make sure that we retain the power so that things continue to go our way. In the world of the Domination System which we are taught is ultimate reality, this is called success.

If we really let it, the alternative reality of this poem shatters the hold of the Domination System on our way of understanding the measure of meaning of success in our lives. God here takes the side of losers.

Now if you are one of the losers mentioned in the poem: the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the prisoners, this is good news; but if you are not one of those folks, then this poem constantly reminds you that no matter where the wheel of fortune takes you it’s the losers who have God’s ear, and it makes you think differently about success.

Ultimately success is found in aligning yourself with the values you think are most important. So success in the world of the God of this poem (and this poem reflects much of the sentiment of the Bible) is aligning yourself with the losers; who, with God on their side and all of those who honor this God as well, means that the losers really aren’t the losers after all. The losers are the winners and the winners are the losers.

That is what the reference to “the year of the Lord's favor,” is all about. It is a reference to the Jubilee that event that is supposed to occur once every fifty years when debts are forgiven and land goes back to the original owners. One day you are a loser in life’s game, poor, in debt, with no work, and no assets and then comes the year of the Lord’s favor and bingo bango you are out of debt, you have a job as a farmer, and you own the land you farm free and clear. You are a big winner. Now if you have all sorts of people who owe you money and you have greatly expanded your land holdings then the year of the Lord’s favor is no favor to you. One day you are leading a life of opulent leisure and the next day you are sweating behind a plow on a piece of land that is no bigger than anyone else’s. You are a big loser.

This poem and one of two primary trajectories of the Bible turns the Domination System on its head and calls us to live in that reality today and not wait for those with all the power and wealth to decide one day to give it all away.

The poem doesn’t describe the reality found within the Domination System which the world sees as the only real alternative for civilization. The poem describes an alternative reality which comes to pass as we live in it. We make the path by walking it.

My natural inclination is to talk about this in terms of economics because in America in the 21st Century the dollar is a primary source of meaning for our social order. But it is important to understand that there are other ways that this alternative reality is experienced.

One way was the way this church chose to go before I was pastor. At some point the church went through a process and declared itself Open and Affirming to people who were Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered. In most churches, to go through the process means to study, pray, and then a vote. The vote is to be open to the presence of members of the GLBT community in our community, but more than that it is a vote to be affirming of them as they are and not expect that they will have to hide who they are to conform to the majority.

Often the process creates divisions among those who are supportive of the GLBT community and those who believe that such persons are living contrary to the will of God. Generally when a church goes through this process some folks leave. It can be painful to take such a stand for a church and often people wonder why do it, why pursue a process which is going to cause hurt feelings and division.

Well you see the people who say such things are the winners. They like the way things are and don’t want to shake up the world. But just as this poems says, God is all about shaking up the world and taking the side of those who are oppressed and imprisoned. Sometime that prison is the prison of being forced to hide who you are.

It is good to restate and confirm that stand taken by this church years ago. And it is important to state that it is the belief that this church is open to and affirming of our gay lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sister and brothers. And we do this because of our faith in God revealed in scripture like that today.

In general our faith calls on us to stand on the side of those that the Domination System oppresses.

The Domination System supports belief in God and also uses the Bible. They would say that God is in control of everything and God wants each individual person to conform to the majority expression of the gender they were given and if they fail to do so, they are standing in contradiction to God. But the God they refer to is the God of Domination, who wants to force people to conform to way things are rather than transform the way thing are to a more just and loving world.

In terns of economics that means to transform our economic system to accommodate those who are poor. In terms of political systems it means to transform our politics to accommodate those who lack influence. In terms of our social systems it means to transform those systems to accommodate those who are oppressed because of who they are.

This poem calls us to be on the side of a revolutionary God whose love is manifested by dramatic transformations of the systems which shape our world.

The ways we participate in that revolution of compassion and justice are many and varied but it begins by our commitment to treat each person who finds themselves among us with support and love.

Then all we have to do help the world do the same.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Holden Evening Prayer

We had the first of our Thursday night Advent celebrations. For several years now we have been using the Holden Evening Prayer in Advent. It is short, simple, and a joy. 7 p.m. Bring a friend.

Hope Beyond Hope

Advent 1 Year B 2008
Isaiah 64:1-9
Hope Beyond Hope
By Rich Gamble

Scholars generally believe that Isaiah can be divided into three parts. The first is thought to occur before the Exile, the second during the Exile and the third after the Exile. The Exile being that profound time in the history of the Jewish people in which the leadership of Israel is carried off by the Babylonian army back to Babylon, to be settled there as a servant class to the empire.

Before the Exile, Isaiah warns the people that they need to change. During the Exile, Isaiah provides the exiles with hope for the future. After the Exile, Isaiah speaks about the hoped for nature of the reforming community of returning exiles.

This passage is from the last stage of Isaiah. We get a sense from this poem that things are not going so well for the people who have come back from exile. Isaiah alludes to a problem with the surrounding governments. The poet calls out for God to intervene directly, to come in and scare those other nations so badly that they will no longer bother Israel.

But the poet notices that God isn’t intervening and then reflects that there is a reason, Israel are impure. God has good reason for being aloof and unhelpful. Israel has not lived according to the will of God.

The last stage of the poem goes against the preceding thought. The people of Israel are God’s people. No matter how rotten they may act, God still has a responsibility to them. They are God’s creation. They are God’s children. Even God can’t choose God’s family.

The poem then, moves from hope, to hopelessness, to deepening hope. The hope of Israel is not something that can be damaged by their own lack of faithfulness. The hope of Israel is securely held in the constancy of God. The poem then strives to nudge God to get on with the business of rescuing Israel.

This is a nice poetic movement but it doesn’t address the primary issue that causes the poet to cry out. Things are bad and God’s not intervening.

The work required rebuilding the city and temple to even a shabby semblance of its former glory was exceedingly stressful. On top of that there was the fact that though they were back in their homeland, they were still second class citizens within the Persian Empire.

You can see why they felt the way they did. They were trying as hard as they could but the results were far from their hopes. They felt overwhelmed and turned to a vision of God as superhero to come and save them.

Most folks still think of God in that way. If you think of God as the ultimate dominator, who is supposedly on your side but doesn’t intervene when you are in trouble, it is natural to blame yourself and others for the absence of such a God. It is hard to blame an omniscient, omnipotent God, so who can you blame when such a God does not deliver on a request for intervention? The line between seeing God who uses the power of domination, and seeing yourself and others as being impure seems clear.

But we have been talking about God in a different way, thinking about God using a different power, and that leads us to thinking differently about ourselves.

If God is not a potentate in the sky but the spirit of agape love flowing through the heart of humanity, then everything changes. The God of love won’t come in with the power to punish but instead will inspire with power to empathize. The fact that God has not come to beat up those who have been mean to us isn’t a comment about our unworthiness or God’s non-existence but is about the fact that this God doesn’t do the macho superhero thing.

The God of love does not call on us to look around and find out whose been impure, so that they can be the scapegoat for our suffering in a world ruled by an emperor god. The God of love is not absent or the source of punishment. The God of love is ever active in powerful ways but not in ways which often show up on the radar of those of us trained to see power as domination.

Hope is an important manifestation of the power of the God of agape love. As seen through the lens of the Domination System, hope is a manifestation of weakness. Those with domination power don’t hope, they simply take what they want. For them, hope is for the weak.

The God of agape love is most active among the weak and the vulnerable and hope among such people is a real force for change. Without hope, people don’t try to change things. They assume that the way things are is the way they will always be and that resistance is futile. People without hope follow the logic of violence and greed even when they can see all around them the damage that such forms of power cause.

But hope is a tricky thing. It has power in and of itself, but that power can be misdirected depending on the source and direction of the hope.

This is where some of Isaiah’s ideas of God miss the mark. Isaiah sees God as ultimate dominator, so his hope is that God will swoop in and smash his enemies. He has hope, and that hope will help him resist going along with the way things are, but the source and direction of that hope may not inspire him to take action. Isaiah’s action is to encourage God to swoop in.

Many folks on this planet have hope that God will eventually swoop in and smash their enemies. This hope may help them resist being co-opted by the world they perceive of as hostile but it doesn’t help them change their response. It doesn’t help them move in a hopeful direction to resolve the problem. Instead the hope of divine dominator intervention helps keep the pot of hate bubbling. Indeed this kind of hope can lead to acts of suicidal destruction and anticipation of Armageddon.

That is where the final two images of Isaiah’s poem come in: God as potter, God as parent.

A potter makes pottery. Pottery is the creation of the potter. It is rigid, inflexible, unchanging unless it is damaged.

A parent doesn’t make a person. A parent can take a role in forming a person for good or ill but the person themselves have a role. They can choose whether to be formed in the parent’s image, or not. A person is flexible and capable of change and injuries don’t necessarily make for a damaged person, sometimes injuries highlight an inner strength and beauty.

The potter has the unquestioned right to destroy her pottery.

The parent has no right to destroy her child.

God as potter, is an image of control. God as parent is an image of relationship.

Isaiah gives both images but they are radically different images of the nature of God, and hence our nature as human beings and the nature of human endeavors.

The God as parent imagery provides a particular form of hope. It is a hope that we are not alone. We may still have to deal with the bully at school ourselves but we can turn to the wisdom, and the concern of a loving parent.

When we are dealing with a problem that is beyond our ability to overcome, hope is an essential tool. But the hope that truly transforms is not the hope that a superhero God will swoop in but the hope that comes from a relationship with a God who will never abandon our side even at death. This God can inspire us to do what we thought was impossible, this God will transform us to deal with the problems rather than transform the problems.

This God doesn’t have us hope for the intervention of a militarized Jesus part 2 (the revenge of Jesus) in a post Armageddon world.
This God doesn’t have us hope for a miraculous intervention but rather to take hope from a wondrous relationship that not even death can alter.

This God comes to the meek of the world and inspires them to claim and lovingly gain their inheritance. This God is no macho super hero but the Spirit which transforms victims into their own heroes.

Advent is about Hope. Not the hope of a helpless pot to be rescued by the potter. But the hope of a child who someday hopes to be like their parent.

With this hope the world can truly transform.

And that is good news.