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12-9-18 - John's Way of Preparing for Peace

John’s Way of Preparing for Peace

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 9, 2018

 

Matthew 3:1-12

 

3 1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

3 John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

The chaos of life is constantly heralding an inner and outer cry for peace in our own lives and in the world. 

 

The same was true for the days of John the Baptist and Jesus.  The world, as Mary Blackburn pointed out last week in Waiting Worship, was struggling with many of the same issues we find in our day.  Life in Jesus’ day was a bit chaotic as well, and it was heralding a cry for Peace to come to the world, too!  For them that peace was to come through a Messiah – one that they would label “The Prince of Peace.”

 

Yet, the chaos of life in the days of Jesus distracted the people from watching, expecting, or seeing glimpses of the Messiah already coming in their midst – a familiar seen in our day and age, as well.  So a prophet would be sent – someone to herald a  cry and remind the people – that prophet was John the Baptist.

 

John’s task was to prepare the way, but what does it actually mean to “prepare the way”?  One online source (greatbiblestudy.com) says,

 

“To ‘prepare the way’ means to create a favorable environment or to make it easy for one to come to you and operate in your life.”

 

Having that in mind, let’s think back on our text for this morning. I want to point out five different areas in the text in which John the Baptist helps prepare us for peace to come. 

 

1.     John said, “Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here.”

 

This was not only going to be an outward peace, but it would entail an inward work as well.  Outward living in peace takes respecting and loving each other in spite of our differences (which isn’t always easy), but inwardly, we must search our own hearts and minds and understand the fear and bad choices that cause our lack of peace.  Just pause for a moment and ask yourself,

 

What fear or bad choice do I struggle with that causes a lack of true peace in my life?

 

I believe it also has to do with a willingness to surrender the parts of our lives that we are trying too hard to control.  In an article I read recently called, “Living in Peace” the writer eluded to this need saying,

 

“Ceasing to seek power over people and outcomes in your life is the first major step to living peacefully.  Trying to control people is about seeking to impose your will and reality on others without ever trying to see their side of things.  A controlling approach to relationships will keep you in conflict with others. Replacing a will to control with a broad approach of loving others instead, including their faults and differences, is the way to a peaceful life.”

 

And even one more, we often try to control God and what God say – which has us needing a change. Yet, we must remember that loving God and our neighbor is the beginning of the change.  That leads us to the second point from John…

 

2.     Make the Road Smooth and Straight.

 

 I think John is calling us to fill in the potholes and level the walls or barriers for others to find peace in their life.  What are some of the potholes or barriers in our day for people to find peace?  What about…

 

Thinking in overly simplistic, limited, or narrow ways and holding to convictions without every considering the viewpoints and perspectives of others.  Or…

 

Not accepting other people who are different than ourselves and learning to appreciate the diversity. 

 

When we fail to try and see from our neighbor’s perspective or be willing to listen to their opinions, the end result can be building walls and making potholes of discrimination, repression, dehumanization, and ultimately violence (all things that are the opposite of peace).

 

And that is probably because we have a hard time identifying with those different than ourselves…which leads to the third

 

 

3.     John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. 

 

You may not know this, but by dressing this way, John was identifying with the folks on the fringe.  He went as far as to become one of them – moving outside the city gates – in what they called, “the wilderness” where the poor, the sick, and the lame had to live.

 

For you and I that may mean finding things to do in our lives where we engage different groups of people that we normally associate with.  It’s harder to be discriminative, repressive, even dehumanizing when you’re interacting with people from all walks of life.  Studies show that most people, who the world would consider racist, have never had an experience with a person different than themselves.

 

It might be time to intentionally build a relationship, have a conversation, even engage a group that might be outside your “comfort zone.”

 

John’s wilderness journey was just that – remember he was a RK (rabbi kid) – he had it made in his day – he grew up with the elite of society and would have had a hard time identifying with those outside the city walls – he would have been taught that they were unclean by his own dad – Zechariah. 

 

Thus, the reason I think John comes down so hard on the religious leaders who come out to see him in the wilderness. He knew they wanted control because of their positions – listen to what he says (and this will lead into number four).

 

4.     Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father.

 

John is being an advocate for those who had been taken advantage of – the actual people who lived in the wilderness where he made his home – ALSO… the actual people the religious leaders had used their position to oppress.

 

Now, this action of John may seem out of place, since most peace and conflict teachings say when communicating with others, seek to avoid being ordering, moralizing, demanding, or threatening.  Because these forms of communication can give rise to conflict with others who feel that you’re trying to control them rather than speak with them as an equal.  Simply because it can lead to further conflict and does not put the two sides on common ground. 

 

We must remember that John was one of them.  In this case, he wanted to bring peace through accountability and calling out his brothers. And that leads right into what I consider John’s most important point…if you want peace in this world, if you want to prepare your heart for peace, if you want change, it starts with your life.  He says,

 

5.     What counts is your life.  Is it green and blossoming?...ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. 

 

Brining peace to this world begins with your life.  We need to ask ourselves, “Is our life green and blossoming?” That may mean we will need to stop and listen to our lives. 

 

When we go inside ourselves – we engage our inner light. This engages an opportunity for God to speak Truth into our action – meaning when we find peace then we have the responsibility of changing our world for the better.

 

I believe God wants us to be part of the solution, just as he was through John the Baptist in his day.  God wants us to live life – where we love God and love our neighbor for the sake of a greater peace.  God wants us to be John the Baptists for those around us in our families, in our work situations, in our neighborhoods, in our schools – wherever we find ourselves.

 

So what have we learned from John the Baptist…John’s way asks of us some important queries for preparations:

 

1.     What do I need to change in my life to find peace?

2.     Where am I creating “barriers” for others to find peace?

3.     Who are the folks on the fringe I need to identify with so they can experience peace?

4.     Where am I using my position to withhold peace?

5.     Is my life green and blossoming with opportunities for peace?

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12-2-18 - Reflection: Thoughts about Shepherds and Angels

Reflection: Thoughts about Shepherds and Angels

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

December 2, 2018

Luke 2:8-15 (NRSV)

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[
c]

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

 

Having the Royal Sensation Choir here today gives such life to the scripture passage we just heard read from Luke. They truly were a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing!  What a rousing and similar way (as with the biblical story) for us to enter our holiday season this morning. Thank you to Shawn for sharing them with us again this year.  

 

This morning, I am bringing simply a devotional thought for us to ponder on a bit of history and legend behind this biblical story of angels and shepherds.  With the help of James Cooper, the Pathos website, and church history, I want to give us some insights that I have found rather fascinating in regard to this biblical story.  

 

Let’s begin with the shepherds.  I think I have mentioned this before, but in this day, shepherds were generally seen as having low or little value by people.  They were on the fringe of society, dirty and rough, not allowed in the temple because they weren’t ever able to be “ceremonially clean.”  Sadly, this left them both ostracized by society and the religious establishment.  

And how about the sheep that these shepherds took care of…

The type of sheep the shepherds would have been raising were 'fat tailed' (or broad tailed) sheep. They often had lambs in the autumn and winter, rather than in the spring like most sheep in our country these days.

The biblical account says that the shepherds were quietly attending to their business when a spiritual messenger appears to them.  I'm not surprised they were afraid because they spent a great deal of time alone out in the pasture not interacting socially with anyone other than the sheep. And if it was at night, there was no light pollution to help them see – their lamps were all the light they had. Anyone appearing out of seemingly nowhere would have startled them or brought alarm.  Remember they were keeping watch for wolves and other animals that would harm their precious sheep.

The messenger’s words to them spoke of the amazing birth of a child and how they could recognize him in a very crowded town. I find it interesting that the words of the lead messenger recorded in the bible is very similar to the words sung during a Jewish Sacrifice Service in the temple, and that ceremony is even accompanied by three blasts of the temple shofar or trumpet.  

Interestingly, this account is only the second time in the whole Bible that a group of spiritual messengers rather than only one appeared to people, which from a literary view, would indicate that this was an important message.

This all fascinates me and has since I was a child. Early on, I was very curious about the historicity of the events taking place around the first Christmas. So much so, I asked my parents for a book by Dr. Paul Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, about his perspectives of the First Christmas when I was still in grade school. (Yes, I was a nerd). 

Ironically, the material in that book ended up being key in helping me write my very first sermon, which I delivered at the age of 13 on Christmas Eve in my eighth grade year. 

Since those days, I have read many theories, mythologies, and histories about the events of the Christmas story. One that has intrigued me is that the historic Jesus might have actually been born a couple of miles outside of Bethlehem - and may have been born in the company of the shepherds.

Just outside of Bethlehem there was a special watch tower called the Migdal Eder, which means The Tower of the Flock. It's thought that sheep born there were used as sacrificial animals in the Jewish Temple in near-by Jerusalem. Unlike typical shepherds, these were very special and were thought of more highly by the religious establishment and society of the day.

According to some sources, the lambs at Migdal Eder had their health checked by resting them in a 'manger' (or a hewn out rock) to stop them from escaping.  They were even wrapped in bands of cloth, or what we call, swaddling clothes to show they were special!

Now, I’m not convinced about the historic Jesus actually ‘being born’ at 'Migdal Eder’ but having those shepherds being the first to be told about him makes a lot of sense.

Having seen the new baby, the Bible says "...they [shepherds] spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." I have a reasonable suspicion this makes them not the typical shepherds of the day – otherwise, no one would have paid attention to their news.

But if they were shepherds from Migdal Eder, they could have told the people what they saw on the way back to the hills, friends and relatives in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the 'middle class' people they sold sheep to and also the people and priests in the Jewish Temple when they took their best sheep and lambs to be sold there for sacrifices.

Ironically, even one ancient prophesy from the Bible speaks of the Jewish messiah coming from the tower of the flock (Micah 4:8).

We may never know the exact history of the First Christmas, but that may not be important. What is important, is that when we hear good news proclaimed to us like the shepherds, that we too would take it into all the world (share it with our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers), and do it without instilling fear, but instead with great joy. 

To bring peace and bear good news is our call as Quakers and Friends as we enter this holiday season.  Today, may you and I take that “good news,” as the shepherds did into Bethlehem, into our communities in greater Indianapolis.

 

Queries to ponder: How are you bringing peace and bearing “good news” as you enter this holiday season?  Who do you know that needs hope in our world, today?

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11-18-18 - The Hospitable Way

The Hospitable Way

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

November 18, 2018

 

 Luke 14:12-24 (NRSV)

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 Then Jesus[a] said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,[b] none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

 

Today, we conclude our 11-part “Slow Movement” series by looking at the topic of Hospitality.  We have looked at everything from stability to wholeness and abundance, to gratitude just last week and now today – hospitality – another appropriate topic as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday.

 

Most people think hospitality has a lot to do with being welcoming, helping people feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging or, you could say, it is allowing others to become a full participant of whatever is happening.

 

Or if you are a Hoosier (which most of us are), hospitality is all about being polite – or what we have labeled “Hoosier Hospitality.” Yet sadly, The Marchex Institute ranked Indiana the 3rd rudest state in the nation after examining more than 600,000 phone calls from the past 12 months made by customers to businesses in 30 industries like cable and satellite companies, auto dealerships, pest control centers, etc. The firm looked for the frequency of curse words and which states said “please” and “thank you” the most. We ranked 3rd behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

 

In our world today, hospitality might mean welcoming and being polite, but it has also become about being at ease with people and sensing an amount of safety - yet that was not always the case in our Abrahamic religious history. Hospitality looked a bit different in the ancient Near East than in America, today.

 

And this was mainly due to hospitality being offered to complete strangers.

 

Marjorie J. Thompson in her book “Soul Feast” (which I consider a primer for experiencing the Spiritual Life in a Christian context) says this about hospitality in ancient times,

 

“People who appeared from the unknown might bear gifts or might be enemies.  Because travel was a dangerous venture, codes of hospitality were strict. If a sworn enemy showed up at your doorsteps asking for food and shelter, you were bound to supply his request, along with protection and safe passage as long as he was on your land.  All sorts of people had to travel at times through “enemy territory” which meant the hospitality to strangers was a matter of mutual survival.  It was a kind of social covenant, an implied commitment to transcend human differences in order to meet common human needs.”

 

Wow! I think it is time for us to reinstate this “social covenant” in our day and age. It makes me wonder how the early Abrahamic faiths would have viewed the “Caravan” heading to the US Border or the continued creation of New Jim Crow laws to oppress minorities.   

 

Thompson continues, she says:   

“Hospitality was a hallmark of virtue for ancient Jews and Christians. But in scripture, hospitality reflects a larger reality than human survival codes.  It mysteriously links us to God as well as to one another…Hospitality in biblical times was understood to be a way of meeting and receiving holy presence.” 

 

If we as Quakers truly embrace the theology of “That of God in everyone we meet,” then each encounter with our neighbor is an opportunity to meet and receive holy presence. 

 

Just look around you in this room – you are in a room filled with opportunities to experience holy presence.

 

Or think about this coming week, you will be having dinner around tables with family and friends who are opportunities to experience holy presence.

 

That is if we are able to see with “hospitable eyes.”

 

I remember just before coming to First Friends, I had the opportunity for a silent retreat at the Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.  On my last day there, I had spent some time in the library and was on my way out and decided to grab a quick drink of water out of the drinking fountain.  Just above the fountain was a beautiful sign made with colorful mosaic tiles.  On it was written the Rule of St. Benedict #53 – Receive all as Christ.

 

Receive all as Christ. 

Receive all as a holy presence. 

Receive all as if we believed that there was that of God in them.

 

Jean Vanier, philosopher, theologian, humanitarian and founder of the La’Arch Community wrote about hospitality in “Befriending a Stranger” saying,

 

“In the midst of all the violence and corruption of the world God invites us today to create new places of belonging, places of sharing, of peace and of kindness, places where no-one needs to defend himself or herself; places where each one is loved and accepted with one’s own fragility, abilities, and disabilities. This is my vision for our churches: that they become places of belonging, places of sharing.”

 

When we start to receive people differently and see with hospitable eyes that of God in them, then we are evoked to create new places of belonging and sharing.  

 

I believe one of the biggest problems with churches and Quaker meetings today, is that they too often have stopped creating new opportunities for belonging and sharing. They continue to do the same thing over and over hoping for different results (some label that insanity!) I love all the ways we have been creating opportunities here at First Friends to help people find a place to belong and share. 

 

·        Connection Dinners for new attenders in members homes.

·        Threshing Together gatherings at community eateries.

·        Weenie Roasts and Sing-alongs on the porch of our Meetinghouse.

·        Community Soups in our Fellowship Hall.

·        Bread Making and Baking in our Meeting’s Kitchen.

·        Road Trips with Seasoned Friends

·        Grief Gatherings for those grieving.

·        Eco Films at various churches.

·        Yoga in our parlor

·        Unprogrammed Worship on Mondays and Wednesdays.

·        Small Groups at coffee shops, homes, and at the Meetinghouse.

 

And that is only a few of the great ways we are creating opportunities for belonging and sharing.

 

Slowing down and spending time with people for the purpose of developing community, friendships, and deeper relationships is essential to hospitality.

 

Marjorie Thompson went a little further, she says this about the essence of hospitality.  

 

“Hospitality means receiving the other, from the heart, into my own dwelling place. It entails providing for the need, comfort, and delight of the other with the openness, respect, freedom, tenderness, and joy that love itself embodies.”

 

Folks, Hospitality is an expression of love. Or maybe I should say, it is an expression of unselfish love.

 

In our scripture text for this morning, before Jesus shared his parable, he decided to say a couple things to his host. 

He says in v. 12, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

In other words, you don’t give in order to get something in return.

Why not?  Because when you behave in this way, it means that you are looking for a  selfish gain in some way.  

Instead Jesus tells the man in vv. 13-14, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

In Israel, the crippled, the lame and the blind were obviously the poor of the society. These were the people who, because of their physical disabilities, could not work, and therefore they could not earn a salary. Most of them depended on charity to survive.

Why should you invite them? Precisely because they can’t repay you. This is the exact opposite of the worldly way of thinking – you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

Nobody gives in this way, in a spirit of unselfish love.  But this is how we are to respond, this is the true essence and nature of hospitality – it is a concrete expression of our unselfish love for our neighbor.

Also, I categorize this type of hospitality as a justice issue or part of Christ’s social gospel, because hospitality to strangers often is considered “doing justice.”

Interestingly the biblical meaning of justice is simply conveyed as “right relationships” with one another. 

So showing kindness to the nomad or vagrant, or offering support to the widow or orphan, taking in the homeless or poor, and offering hospitality to strangers (even enemies) – these were all expressions of just relationships with one’s neighbor in scripture.

Take a moment to really think about this…who are the nomads, vagrants, widows, orphans, homeless, poor, and strangers in our neighborhoods?  Who are the  people who cannot repay us? Who are the people who are neglected by the mainstream of culture? Where do they live and spend their time?  Why are they neglected? 

We often look at the extremes and point outside our own four walls, but the reality is too often the strangers are also in our midst. Just maybe the stranger is

·        someone who feels alone,

·        someone who has no friends, no one to talk to.

·        someone who gives and gives but is never recognized by others for using their gifts.

·        someone struggling to keep their marriage together and afraid to admit they are struggling.

·        someone suffering from depression or melancholia.

·        someone who is ashamed by what they have done or what has been done to them.    

·        Someone who is addicted to pride or power or prestige.

·        Someone who is scared or wishes they could be stronger.

The reality is each of us in this Meetinghouse all have at one time been or maybe currently are strangers. 

·        We all want to be welcomed.

·        We all want to belong. 

·        We all want to be full participants. 

·        We all want to be needed. 

·        We all want to be delighted. 

·        We all want to be loved.

·        We all want to be in right relationships

·        We all want to be seen and known.

This is why it is so important that when we practice hospitality it, as John Fenner at Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal claims, is an “appreciation of otherness.” He says,

“Appreciating the value of otherness, for me, goes beyond tolerance – beyond “you’re welcome as long as you play by our rules.” Appreciating the value of otherness entails a level of engagement, inquiry, dialogue, and interaction in which all members can freely share their gifts, learn from each other, and ultimately grow spiritually together. This is hard work and takes time and practice. It takes a willingness to be stretched and to sit with discomfort. It takes a belief that there is “that of God in everyone.”

So whether at Meeting for Worship, around the table this Thanksgiving Holiday, at your work meeting, with your yoga class, or wherever you are called to be hospitable this week, remember to have hospitable eyes, receive all as Christ, help people to feel that they belong and are appreciated, and remember that we are all strangers seeking to be known. 

 

Prayer of Hospitality by Liz Dyer 

Give us eyes to see the deepest needs of people.

Give us hearts full of love for our neighbors as well as for the strangers we meet.

Help us understand what it means to love others as we love ourselves.

Teach us to care in a way that strengthens those who are sick.

Fill us with generosity so we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty.

Let us be a healing balm to those who are weak and lonely and weary by offering our kindness to them.

May we remember to listen, to smile, to offer a helping hand each time the opportunity presents itself.

Give us hearts of courage that we will be brave enough to risk loving our enemy.

Inspire us to go out of our way to include those in the margins.

Help us to be welcoming and inclusive to all who come to our door.

Let us be God’s hospitality in the world.

Amen

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11-11-18 - Engaging our Gratitude Sensors

Engaging Our Gratitude Sensors

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

November 11, 2018

 

Colossians 3:11-17 (NRSV)

 

11 In that renewal[a] there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[b] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[c] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[d] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

 

And be thankful…and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  I hope this is our posture this morning and as we begin preparing for our Thanksgiving holidays.

 

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to read to the children at Meridian Street Preschool Co-op.  If anything gives me a grateful heart it is those kiddos. Most days, just after I am done reading the book, I usually talk with them about the next month when I will be coming back and reading again.  But this week as we talked about me coming back, I mentioned that we were heading into some fun times.  Times with family and even some surprises.

 

Most of the kids had no clue that we were just a couple of weeks from Thanksgiving.  But one astute 4 yr. old, almost out of the blue, remembered and he couldn’t contain himself yelling, “Soon it will be the day to be thankful for turkeys!” 

 

I couldn’t help but think how his innocence and the mixing of all that the holiday of Thanksgiving brings was simply spot on.  We should be thankful for turkeys – just as we should be grateful for so much more in our world.

 

And if only our gratitude would spring up out of us like that 4 yr. old, with excitement, joy, and energy – it would make such an impact on our world.  Very rarely do I turn on my T.V. or radio anymore and hear people sharing moments of gratitude.  Actually, if I am completely honest, I don’t hear much of what Brenda read in the scripture for today.  Very little if any…

 

compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other…and especially thankfulness and gratitude.

 

These are almost radical beliefs and actions in our world today. 

 

For many, just the idea of the Thanksgiving holiday and getting together with family, seems a burden or a chore.  And then add to that politics, religion, mass shootings, family issues, and all that is going on in our world and Thanksgiving Holidays can become anything but a time of gratitude and thanksgiving. For example here are some real-life descriptions of past family thanksgivings that were a bit more than thankful.   

 

From Paige on Facebook: "Our whole family got into a screaming fight about the validity of the Twilight series, which somehow brought up every issue we have ever had with one another. It ended with half of my family storming out and a mutual decision that we shouldn't spend too much time together."

 

From Michelle on Facebook: "One year my dad flipped out on my sister for adding cheese to the mashed potatoes to the point where he locked himself in his room for the majority of the afternoon."

 

From Natalie: "My grandma accused my aunt of stealing her wedding ring and threatened to call the police on her. We found out my grandma planted her wedding ring in my aunt's purse when she admitted it this past Thanksgiving."

 

From Taylor: "One year, two of my aunts had a heated argument over who wanted the last bit of turkey skin more. Long story short, one stabbed the other in the hand with a carving knife and had to leave to be treated at the hospital. They're cool now, though."

 

Now, these real-life stories may make us laugh a bit – but the reality is that this is how it is for some families.  And sadly, this is how it is for some churches as well. 

 

We have all heard the stories about people leaving the church over trivial things like the color of the church carpet, or whether to wear choir robes, or what kind of coffee to use for fellowship hour…(haha! – I have heard those are some of ours as well). Sadly, too often it is trivial things that can lead us away from gratitude and missing all that our families, neighborhoods, and Quaker meeting offer us.       

 

In the book Slow Church, Chris and John describe gratitude as the vital bridge that connects abundance and generosity. As a spiritual discipline–one that requires time and intentionality, both on our own and in community–gratitude is how we practice recognizing the abundant gifts God has given us. It’s how we praise God for those gifts. And it is the energy that compels us to want to share those gifts.

 

From the earliest days of our faith, the Hebrew people have considered gratitude foundational.  The Hebrew Torah (or the first five books of our scriptures) instructed people to make offerings of thanksgiving or peace offerings.  Some English translations even call them fellowship offerings.  The reason for so many different variations (thanksgiving, peace, and fellowship) is that it reminds us that the posture of gratitude occurs in community and by coming together peacefully in fellowship with one another. This is why the word we translate shalom has such a wealth of meaning.  Quakers are quick to make it solely about peace, but it is so much more.

 

Rabbi Rick Schechter says,

“More than peace, shalom means well-being, health, wholeness, and prosperity…Using a Jewish lens to explore each path may help us realize shalom in our lives.

The Positive emotions it includes are “ joy, love, gratitude, hope, and awe…” and “…are vital to Jewish living….” and …”enhance energy and creativity, strengthen the immune system, build better relationships, promote higher productivity, and even contribute to a longer life.”

 

This concept and belief continues throughout our New Testament as well as the Hebrew scriptures. Author David Pao says that some scholars believe that Paul mentions this shalom – what he considers a mix of thanksgiving and grace more frequently per page than any other Helleneistic writer of his time.  

 

Judao-Christian faith is steeped in shalom or thanksgiving and grace which happens within community. 

 

Let’s take a moment and think about this for First Friends.  What does gratitude, shalom or thanksgiving and grace look like for us.  I want to give us a moment to think about this, so I want to ask us some queries to ponder and talk about with one another.

 

What are some of the practices of gratitude in our meeting?

            How do we express our gratitude to God?

            How do we express our gratitude to one another?

 

What are our practices of celebration? How do we “rejoice with those who rejoice”?  

 

[At this point we paused and our music minister, Eric Baker came forward to help us celebrate three important birthdays in our meeting by leading us in singing Happy Birthday. Joyce Bowmen who turned 86, on this day, Helen Davenport who turns 90 on Monday, and Richard Mills who turned 91 last Sunday.] 

 

Think back over your history in our meeting.  When have you felt most alive and energized.  Who was involved, what was happening, and what energized you?

 

What is the most life-giving virtue of our meeting?  How is that virtue evidenced in our meeting?

 

If the elections this week and our world have taught me anything, it is the fact that we as a people (on all sides) are dissatisfied.  Dissatisfaction is a killer of gratitude.

 

When we are dissatisfied and buy into a mentality that we don’t have everything we need or deserve we become quickly ungrateful.

 

We become distrustful, divided, competitive and our world quickly moves from gratitude, shalom, thanksgiving and grace to war, hunger, poverty, economic inequality, racism, and ecological destruction.  And it is our dissatisfaction which leads to injustice, mistreatment, and abuse.

 

We move from the ways of God to the ways of humanity.

  

 

So to close this morning, I think we need to reengage our gratitude sensors.  It won’t just help our Thanksgiving holidays, but it will help us remember what we should be grateful for, and how we have forgotten or neglected to see the greater abundance that God has provided for us.  In your bulletin is a special insert.  Take it out.  This will help you reengage those gratitude sensors. 

 

1. Identify 3 things that you feel grateful for and appreciate about your life.

These things can be based on the past, present, or future. No category or thing is too big or small to appreciate, however, being specific might be helpful.

 

2. Identify 3 things that you take for granted but are actually very thankful for.

We all have things that we take for granted. This is the time to reflect and discover which of those you value the most.

 

3. Identify 3 things that you appreciate about yourself.

Pick things that are meaningful. These can involve your personality, your qualities, your actions, or anything else directly related to yourself.

 

4. Identify 3 things that you feel grateful for about First Friends.

            What does First Friends mean to you and your spiritual journey. 

 

5. Identify 3 people who had a significant and positive experience on your life.

These can be coaches, mentors, professors, bosses, family members, or anyone else. Call those people to mind and think about how they made a difference in your life.

 

Whether it is by giving a testimony of gratitude during Open Worship today, by making a phone call, writing a note, planning a lunch, visiting the graveyard or favorite place you spent time together, find a way to let those people know your gratitude today. 

 

Let us continue this as we enter into Open Worship this morning.

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11-4-18 - A Feeling Sense of the Condition of Others

A Feeling Sense of the Condition of Others.

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

November 4, 2018

Proverbs 2:1-5 (NRSV)

2 My child, if you accept my words
    and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
    and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
    and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

 

As part of the “Slow Movement” we have been discussing the last 8 weeks, one of the important aspects for us at First Friends is learning to become a better conversational meeting

Last week I mentioned this in several ways. One being the importance of staying open and “sharing” with one another in the meeting and also during worship.

With all that is going on in our world and the tensions that are being created, one of the things I continue to hear from all sides is that we have lost the ability to have a fruitful conversation with one another.  Conversation is integral to our human nature and being.  We are relational people.  And as tensions, technology, and our gravitation to isolation increase, more and more we are realizing just how much we lack when it comes to talking with each other.

In my former meeting in Oregon, we took on having better conversations over about a four-year process (some would say that was rather “slow”).  It began in our study hour in a class much like Seeking Friends which I lead on Sundays here.  It was an open forum to discuss challenging and often controversial issues led by a member of our meeting. In our first year we explored things like:

·        Who are our neighbors?

·        How is Technology affecting us?

·        Race and Profiling

·        What really is Peace?

·        God’s Economy vs. the World’s Economy

·        Guns and Gun Violence.

 

As you can see these were not easy topics, but they did bring about many successes. Things like,

 

·        Connecting and networking with people who share different beliefs or ideas.

·        A discovered need for a deeper understanding of our own mindfulness.

·        The difficulty with time constraints and wanting more time to dialogue.

·        Learning that we don’t need to always be right.

·        And probably the most important thing was developing a set of agreements for our conversations.

 

I would like to share with you the original agreements that we came up with.  These developed as the participants embraced the understanding that as Quakers, we believe God speaks in one voice, but that it often comes through many mouths. 

 

These agreements ended up being a foundation for almost all corporate conversation that took place at Silverton Friends.  We used them starting with the open forum class, through our soup and conversation gatherings on Sunday nights, to even starting business meetings with these agreements. At one point the Yearly Meeting asked to utilize the agreements for their conversations. They were extremely helpful when we discussed marriage equality and difficult subjects where people were divided – much like we see on a daily basis in our world,  today.  

 

As I read them, think about your conversations, maybe the conversations that you wish could go better, or that you don’t want to have. How might these agreements help as you enter in?  Also, think about how they could benefit us as we begin sharing, listening, and having conversations together at First Friends.

 

These are the original agreements.

We agree to the following:

 

·        We will embody the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

·        We will practice empathy.

·        We will seek to understand above being understood.

·        We will wear a thick skin so others may express their authentic thoughts and feelings. 

·        We will actively listen.

·        We will be prepared to agree to disagree if necessary.

·        We will try not to ramble.

·        We will not play the role of “know-it-all.”

·        We will look for opportunities to find common ground.

·        We will acknowledge Christ’s presence among us and in each one of us.

·        We will lay down the need to persuade.

·        We will try not to be defensive, nor will we posture ourselves for the offense.

·        We will not be afraid of silence.

·        We will intentionally listen to one another, suspending judgement.

 

At the bottom it states, This is a “living” list of agreements and may evolve as we journey together. Your input is necessary.

 

We found that by beginning with reading these agreements conversations started out on the right foot, were much more productive, and that people actually were able to listen and hear each other. 

 

I believe those type of agreements flow from our Quaker faith and have a deep foundation in early Quakerdom. To me, agreements of this nature show our intentionality of seeking to love our God and our neighbor better and they flow directly from our earliest days as Quakers. Quaker Marcelle Martin wrote about, and I would like to highlight her 10 Essential Elements in the Early Quaker Spiritual Journey that can help us understand better who we are.  Early Quakers were people of…

 

1.     Longing – there was a desire for a greater intimacy with God and our neighbor.

 

2.     Seeking – both an outward seeking (such as reading scripture or other books, spending time in nature, joining a spiritual community or book group, etc…) but also an inner seeking of our own being that led to new understandings and growth in one’s spiritual life. 

 

3.     Turning Within – or what we may call Centering Down. Moving our focus inward to that inner light and Spirit’s guiding, instead of the world or our own desires.

 

4.     Openings – which include the ongoing revelation of God.  This is as Quakers say, “Minding the Light Within” to become more sensitive to openings and becoming responsive.

 

5.     Refirner’s Fire – A cleansing of our heart and mind to allow us to see God’s work more clearly in our life.  Allowing distractions, disbeliefs, our own pleasures to be removed so clarity could abound.

 

6.     Communtiy – The community becomes essential in the transforming work of God and helps to support the inward and outward struggle. A bond with the community develops so each person feels part of the greater community of faith. 

 

7.     Leading of the Spirit – In this community we can then hear, involve ourselves, and encourage each other to make a difference and follow the directions the spirit leads for change.

 

8.     Sacrifice – As we wrestle together and respond to the leadings of the Spirit, it will demand a sacrifice of time and energy on the behalf of others.  This may mean the loss of social status and at times persecution for our beliefs and actions.  

 

9.     Abiding in Love and Power – It is in seeking to live out and be transformed by the life of Christ that we are comforted and enabled to continue.  God’s power is evident in our lives and helps us take risks and move forward with confidence.  (I would say it even helps us have confidence in our conversations and in speaking more clearly in open worship). 

 

10. Spiritual Maturity – As we work through these several areas, we will begin to build a spiritual maturity that will set us apart as followers of Christ and that will help us live and serve our fellow neighbors.  It will not be about us or our meeting but about what God is doing in our midst.

 

Longing, Seeking, Turning Within, Openings, Refiner’s Fire, Community, Leadings of the Spirit, Sacrifice, Abiding in Love and Power, and Spiritual Maturity. 

 

 

Now, I lay this all out because, I not only want to show how important our conversations are but also how from the beginning our Quaker spirituality supported this relational and conversational emphasis. As well, how important this is in our world today. 

 

Again, I believe we as Quakers have something to offer our world. Not only in how we interact – but that the reason we have conversations and listen to one another is for the benefit of greater humanity. 

 

And that leads me to one last area of conversation that needs attention at First Friends – open, waiting or unprogrammed worship. A place where we both listen, wait, and converse with God and one another.  Waiting and Unprogrammed Worship is one of our deepest and longstanding roots.  Last week, I mentioned how sharing takes place in this very room each week, as well as in the parlor during the week.  I said,  “It is a time when we often get a bigger picture of what God is doing in our midst, of how others experience God at work, or an opportunity to embrace people for who God created them to be.”

 

In many ways, open, waiting or unprogrammed worship contains each of those ten essentials elements. There is a sense of longing, seeking, centering, opening, refining, community, leading, sacrificing, abiding, and growth, because when people gather together it is a collective experience with a plethora of diversity to go around.

 

I love how Quaker Michael Birkel, from Earlham School of Religion describes waiting or unprogrammed worship. He says,  

 

“In this quiet place, worshippers enter into expectant waiting, striving to be attentive to divine presence and hopeful that all may be blessed with awareness of the guidance of the Spirit. Here a door may open to experience the collective dimension of worship in community. In earlier times Friends called this “a feeling sense of the conditions of others.” One may feel an unspoken trouble in the life of someone else and minister to it simply by being present in silence and in love to that unvoiced difficulty. The centered state of some can assist others lost in distraction. Unawares, those thus assisted may simply feel “unfogged” and closer to a centered quietness. At times, all may feel knit to one another, gathered in the Spirit and canopied in the power of God’s uplifting presence.”

 

Open, Unprogrammed or waiting worship can be confusing for new people and birthright Quakers as well.  So much can happen.  The spirit can move in many different directions.  I have a painting in my office of a Canadian Goose running wildly – in Celtic Spirituality the Wild Goose is the metaphor or picture of the Holy Spirit.  If you can imagine running after a Canadian goose as it darts and squaks and moves in all different directions and without any patterns.  This was their view of the Spirit. 

 

I sense often that is what it feels like for some during waiting or unprogrammed worship.  The Spirit is running all over our minds and hearts.  Some of us don’t know how to process all that is going on in our minds – we can’t seem to catch that goose.  Some of us are prone to speak before thinking…and some can’t seem to stay awake.  We have thoughts, phrases, maybe even a vision, but it isn’t fully made visible.  This can lead to a great deal of confusion, maybe frustration, or simply a dislike for silence and waiting. And it can also lead to us speaking when not fully prepared. 

 

My friend and fellow Quaker minister, Wess Daniels describes open worship this way. 

  • A time of worship that creates a space, or an environment, where we as a community practice listening and responding to God.

  • It is a time where we all practice being ministers.

  • Creates a space where God can have a chance to move among us and teach us.

  • Invites participation from all present. As we listen silently, we listen together for the movement of God’s Spirit.

  • Invites a learning-while-doing mentality. We learn how to listen often by speaking back what we think we heard the other person say, and that person or others around us can help to confirm whether what you heard resonated with the group.

  • Based in a trust of the spirituality of people. It trusts that God interacts with all people and that everyone has something to contribute to the people of God.

 

And he goes on to say that if we are led to speak out in open worship,

 

  • Make sure that it is said in a worshiping posture.

  • Be sure not to monopolize the time and space, we want others to be free to be led to share in ministry as well.

  • Ask yourself - Will this statement help in bringing the people in the meeting to a more gathered sense of worship?

  • Is this statement for yourself or something the whole meeting would benefit from hearing?

  • Are there things you feel led to share besides speaking such as: a song, a prayer, a piece of art created during worship, a passage of Scripture?

 

I am pretty sure I know where my friend Wess got a couple of those points.  They are from the document that is in each of your bulletins (see below).

 

Much like needing agreements for better conversations, a few years ago, I realized we needed some helpful guiding queries to help us organize our thoughts and possible words during open, waiting or unprogrammed worship.  Questions that focus us, so that we can keep longing, seeking, turning within, and opening ourselves to the Spirit’s leading.  This simple wheel of arrows and queries were created Stan Thornburg, an outstanding Quaker minister from the Northwest who was both a colleague and mentor to Wess and I.  Let’s look at this in more detail. 

speaking in silence chart.png

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10-28-18 - God's Superabundance

God’s Superabundance

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 28, 2018

 

Psalm 104:1-5. 24-35 MSG

 

1-5 God, my God, how great you are!
    beautifully, gloriously robed,
Dressed up in sunshine,
    and all heaven stretched out for your tent.
You built your palace on the ocean deeps,
    made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings.
You commandeered winds as messengers,
    appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.
You set earth on a firm foundation
    so that nothing can shake it, ever.

What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Oh, look—the deep, wide sea,
    brimming with fish past counting,
    sardines and sharks and salmon.
Ships plow those waters,
    and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.
All the creatures look expectantly to you
    to give them their meals on time.
You come, and they gather around;
    you open your hand and they eat from it.
If you turned your back,
    they’d die in a minute—
Take back your Spirit and they die,
    revert to original mud;
Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—
    the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.

31-32 The glory of God—let it last forever!
    Let God enjoy his creation!
He takes one look at earth and triggers an earthquake,
    points a finger at the mountains, and volcanoes erupt.

33-35 Oh, let me sing to God all my life long,
    sing hymns to my God as long as I live!
Oh, let my song please him;
    I’m so pleased to be singing to God.
But clear the ground of sinners—
    no more godless men and women!

O my soul, bless God!

 

 

Last week we talked about “Redeeming Work,” and as I was preparing for this week, I ran across the following quote,

 

“…many people have become detached from their labor, seeing work not as a creative vocation but as a commodity to be sold in exchange for wages.”

 

I think for some of us this is tied directly with what we are talking about this morning – Abundance and Scarcity. 

 

To help us understand the difference, Lucy Vinestock in an article on scarcity and abundance mindsets, points out some specific areas that help us understand the differences.  I thought I would highlight her points quickly to help us explore and possibly identify with whether we tend to lean toward scarcity or abundance in our own thinking.

 

Take for example, Lucy starts with:

 

1.     Comfort Zones – those with a scarcity mindset live very much within their own comfort zones.  It is like a safety blanket, but doesn’t lead to risk-taking

 

Those with an abundance mindset are often fueled by the belief that there are plenty of potential paths available to take. 

 

2.     Resources – those with a scarcity mindset feel as though resources are limited, such as money, time, and success. This can lead to over-competitiveness and negativity. 

 

Those with an abundance mindset believe there is plenty to go around and there always will be.

 

3.     Sharing – those with a scarcity mindset tend to be hesitant in sharing ideas – usually out of fear. They often are afraid that someone will “steal” their ideas.

 

Those with abundance mindsets feel a comfortability in sharing ideas without feeling threatened or intimidated.

 

4.     Solo vs. Team – those with a scarcity mindset often want to work alone – taking the success for themselves.

  

Those with an abundance mindset are willing to work in teams, which create more ideas and possibilities.

 

5.     What Drives Success? – those with a scarcity mindset are driven by their fears (of not enough time, limited resources, and not fully benefiting from shared ideas.) Negative thoughts and emotions tend to result in disappointment and frustration. 

 

Those with abundance mindsets are driven by a general enjoyment and greater belief in their future success.

 

6.     Focus --  those with a scarcity mindset often live in a sea of negativity which affects work, relationships, and general attitudes in life.

 

Those with abundance mindsets are often realistic, safe, and seeking ways to grow and succeed.

 

Now, I know these are very simplistic definitions and do not pertain to every situation.  But I shared them simply because it quickly gives us a picture of how easy we can lean toward and get caught up in a scarcity mindset in our world.

 

Theologian and scholar, Walter Brueggemann says,

 

“[The myth of scarcity] ends in despair.  It gives us a present tense of anxiety, fear, greed, and brutality. It produces child and wife abuse, indifference to the poor, the buildup of armaments, division between people, and environmental racism. It tells us not to care about anyone but ourselves – and it is the prevailing creed of American Society.”  

 

For many years now, I believe this scarcity mentality so prevalent in America has seeped into the framework of the church.  As Chris Smith eludes in “Slow Church” – it is scarcity that has impeded our imaginations and has the church concluding that “We could never do that.”  I believe the utterance of those when are too often the beginning of the demise of churches across our land. 

Sadly, I have a feeling those words have been spoken many times in our own Yearly Meeting and sadly continue to be spoken – and meetings continue to be laid down, doors shut, and possibility lost because the imagination has been impeded

 

Just think about how often we embrace a mindset of scarcity in the church.

 

Start by asking yourself and others attenders and members right here in this place – when have we said, “We could never do that?” at Frist Friends. (Women in Leadership, Marriage Equality, Maybe it was having Vespers on the second Sunday of December?

 

Let’s explore this some more…

 

What are the “comfort zones” at First Friends?

 

If we would not have had some creative imagination to risk a little and step out and try some new things over the years, like our Youth Affirmation Program (the only one of it’s kind in Quakerdom), Threshing Together gatherings for men in the neighborhoods where they live, or Seasoned Friends Roadtrips, like the one we went on this past Wednesday, or taking time to build relationships with the Shalom Zone and going to work at the Food Pantry, or even opening our doors to Meridian Street Preschool and Co-Op, we would not have seen growth. These are just a few of the many ways we have stepped outside our comfort zones and took some risks and found a mindset of abundance moving us forward. 

 

And folks, we’ve only just begun. 

 

We started Connection Dinners for new attenders because this past year (July to July) found First Friends having over 200 visitors come through our doors. 50+ of those visitors (many of you here this morning) have stuck around and are considered regular attenders. 15 or so of you have even become members and more are on the way to membership.  For a Quaker Meeting (actually for any church today where ¼ of their visitors stick around) – this is abundance.

 

What are the “resources” at First Friends? 

 

Honestly, much of what I just listed, would never happen without the resources we have. And please understand, I am not talking about just money – that is helpful, but our resources and assets go much deeper. Endowments and offerings can be stabilizers while offering freedom for people to have more creative imaginations.   We have a wealth of people with many talents and gifts in this meeting. Eric is working hard to tap that in the area of music, as is Beth in the area of children and youth. But as I meet with more and more of you, I realize the well is deep with resources and people willing to give of their time, talents, and gifts for this meeting and its growing community. 

 

I always see the abundance as we prepare for Vacation Bible School. Something many churches have turned into paid daycare. At First Friends there is nothing old fashion or outdated about our program.  And the people-resources that we are blessed to tap for this week are amazing!  It is abundance at its best.

 

Where is “sharing” happening at First Friends? 

 

A week or so ago, Sue hosted several women at our home to discuss the floundering “Women at the Well.”  I headed out to another meeting (thus the life of a pastor family) and the ladies began talking.  From what I heard the sharing that took place was very fruitful.  They each came with ideas and input from others, and through open sharing came up with a completely different focus. They came to try and salvage “Women at the Well” and ended with realizing a need for a women’s retreat – where women could get to know each other more purposefully at First Friends, again, because we have so many new people.  What I love is that some of those new people are part of the planning. Open sharing led to new possibilities, new life, new ideas, and a new ways to connect so that in the future there would be more regular events for women at First Friends. 

 

Sometimes our committee meetings at First Friends can become so regimented and miss the reason they are actually happening.  I love our Connections Committee – they start their meetings by doing what their committee does best - connecting with each other!  Allowing people to share is critical for us to move forward and to slow ourselves to really listen. 

 

As well, every week, sharing takes place in this very room, as well as in the parlor during the week. Open, waiting, or unprogrammed worship is our opportunity to share what we hear the Spirit speaking to us. At times it can be intimidating or threatening, but if we would embrace it as a time of abundance – a time when we get a bigger picture of what God is doing in our midst, of how others experience and see God at work, or an opportunity to embrace people for who God created them to be. 

 

Where at First Friends is the “solo vs. team” mentality happening?

 

As Quakers we are known to say that “everyone is a minister” and yet many Quakers fall into a pastor-centric view of ministry – often a direct correlation with the evangelical churches in America and sadly often to their detriment. 

 

I believe, at First Friends we are working hard to be “team” players.  Shalom Zone is one great example of this.  Ironically, we are part of two different pastor’s associations and working to connect with many other churches in our area.  And those are just the beginning – having Ecumenical services, providing ramps for those in need, coming together for Eco Films, having our Muslim friends at Nur-Allah Islamic Center come share with our Affirmation class are great examples of how we work as a team in the greater community. 

 

I, personally, would like to continue seeing ways we can partner and team with other churches and meetings.  I think one way we can foster an abundance mindset in regards to racial struggles in our community is by partnering with a local African-American Church.  Several people made connections at our last Friends Educational Fund Scholarship Sunday with people from predominately black churches. Even some, like Linda Lee have visited and are working on building that relationship to further help us bridge the racial divide in this city.   I believe when First Friends embraces fully an abundance mindset, the doors will swing much more wide (wider than they currently are) and bring in even more diversity and opportunities for team work.  We are just beginning to see the possibilities of what the Spirit is leading us into as a meeting.

 

And that leaves us asking, what is the “focus” of First Friends?

 

Let’s be real honest here, negativity is a real downer – but within the church – it can be the biggest turn off to moving forward.  In my last year meeting we talked a lot about “Negative Nancys” and “Downer Dans.” (no offense to our Nancy’s or Dan’s).  You know these negative and down people, though. Someone just popped into your mind, when I said that. 

 

The scarcity mindset breeds negativity, which quickly takes a toll on anything you do.  If you know someone negative, someone that nags about everything, that never has a positive word to say, then you know someone that has bought into the scarcity mindset.   

 

If we are going to continue to make First Friends a safe place where optimism, hope, and worship flow freely, then we are going to have to embrace an abundant mindset that is realistic, that seeks ways to better our community, that takes time to get to know and grow with the people around us, and ultimately see this place as a place of positive opportunity filled with the Spirit’s leading.    

 

In the August edition of Friends Journal, I wrote about this very thing in an article titled, “Tapping a Viral Energy.”  I wrote and passionately believe,

 

“…it is time to do whatever is necessary to lift the bondage, embrace the future, gather the people, and make Quakerism a viable reality with a viral impact in our world again. I strongly believe that it is going to take embracing new ways of coming together, new uses of social media, new teaching methods, new activism, and a new translation of our distinctives for today’s society. We will need to explore all the possibilities, not just those that worked in the past. It is going to take living new stories and inviting others to join us, including people we may not have been comfortable with or whom we have rejected in the past. It is going to take a willingness to get up and go and get out of our boxes and to experience new things. It is time to make Quakerism go viral; it’s time to believe again.”

 

I know this isn’t typical for us, but can I get an “Amen”?

 

And whenever anyone asks me about this, I say, “Come and check it out at First Friends.” I am not ashamed of inviting people to this place. because honestly, it is happening at First Friends. 

 

Folks, I don’t want to hear “We could never do that,” in this place - rather I want people here to be saying “Let’s try that” or “Let’s have a conversation about that” or simply, “Why not?”

  

Please hear me on this…Quakerism is not going to die on my watch!  Yet, we must remember that we are surrounded by scarcity mindsets breading fearful, intimidated, threatening, limited, and negative views.  All you need to do is turn on your radio or TV.  People around us, and even in our midst, and even we ourselves will at times embrace a scarcity mindset, but my prayer is that we will be aware of the abundance that God is calling us to. 

 

As Chris Smith says in the book  “Slow Church,”

 

“As we seek to thrive in deeper and more creative ways on a local and sustainable scale, we will get a taste of God’s superabundance.  And as we grow in faithful witness to God’s economy, our economic relations will extend beyond our care for one another in our local congregations.” 

 

I don’t know about you, but I want a taste of God’s Superabundance.  No, I need a taste of God’s Superabundance. I think our communities and world needs a taste of this as well!  Our cry should be that of the Psalmist this morning…

 

What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

 

Send out your Spirit and they spring to life…
    

 

May we be faithful to seeking and being people of God’s Superabundance and may we go forth from this place springing to life as well!   

 

 

What are my “comfort zones”?  

In what areas do I need to share more?

How am I promoting "God’s Superabundance" in my life? 

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10-21-18 - Redeeming Work

Redeeming Work

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

October 21, 2018

 

Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSV)

 

17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
    or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
    and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity;[a]
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
    but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

 

 

Our son, Sam, received his first job a couple of weeks ago. He is working for Kumon Math and Reading Center, where he works with two of his good friends. It reminded me of my first job working at the Fort Wayne Theological Seminary kitchen with a couple of my good friends. 

 

I knew going into the job I would be scrubbing dishes, cleaning dirty grease out of fryers, and serving cafeteria food, yet these were simply accessories to the more important aspect of working with my friends.  We had loads of fun, talked for hours while we worked (because we did not have smart phones), and often continued our lives together after work.  We received needed paychecks to help with expenses and to buy those occasional luxuries.

 

But I have to be honest, I don’t remember back then pondering how work would affect the rest of my life and how it would be about 90 percent of what makes up my being and life.   

 

Do you remember your first job?  What about it did you love? 

 

I ask you to ponder those queries, because work has become such a complex issue in our day and age.

 

When I lived in Indiana before moving to Oregon, I had the opportunity to go hear Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson speak at Indiana University.  They were talking about farming and the importance of being connected to the earth.  During the Q&A section, a student, who I believe was trying to get some answers for a paper asked a not-so-well thought out question about “work.” It came almost immediately after Wes Jackson said the following about growing up. He said,

 

“People who impressed me were those who worked.”

 

To answer the student’s question, Wendell and Wes both rose to their feet and began addressing the way our culture looks at work.  Things like: People today think work is boring. Work is trivial. Work is what we have to do so we can have fun, or what Wendell summed up with the American phrase: Less work = more life, which is exactly what the student had assumed.  

 

Wes then said, “Work doesn’t have to be fun – but rather satisfying.”  Wendell added satisfaction means you have done something, it is part of your being or life.

 

I found myself writing as fast as I could while thinking how different this was than what our world says, and I thought about how different this was to what the church told me growing up. 

 

I realized that many people I knew hated work. Many were simply lazy or living for the weekend. Some people took on two or three jobs to pay outstanding credit card bills, while others simply to purchase bigger toys, go on grander trips, live in more lucrative neighborhoods. And then others worked simply to survive. 

 

I think we must remember - each person has a completely different story when it comes to work.   

 

For the past 20+ years as a pastor, I can’t count the number of people who have come to me struggling with their work, who have considered their work-lives miserable, or a dreaded task to complete.  The big theme I see is that they are simply not  satisfied by what they do. 

 

In the book Slow Church, John Pattison states,

 

“Soulless work is one of the alienating effects of industrialization, along with unemployment, underemployment, low wages, child labor, the imposition of degraded work on degraded people and a ream of other consequences.  But we can have a very different view of work, one that seeks a balance between taking work too seriously and not taking it seriously enough.  Doing good work is one important way we respond as followers of Jesus to the work God is already doing around us.”     

 

Most of us were not taught to value all types of work. I remember people telling me when I was young, “Well, you don’t want to grow up to be a garbage man or work at a gas station, do you?” I have since met a garbage man and a gas station attendant who I value their work and who are both satisfied by their work.

 

We would never say, “You don’t want to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer?”  But I know doctors and lawyers who are miserable in their professions and are not satisfied.  And the same is true about people who are retired – because their work was so much a part of them that stopping work was an attack on their being.

 

Let’s be honest, we still categorize work by what we would be willing or unwilling to do. And that is creating negative perceptions of work. For some people their work is not an option. They work for survival.  They work at whatever job they can get.  They are often grateful to simply have a job.  But too often those type of jobs are ones that sadly exploit workers.  Jobs that are not satisfying because they dehumanize people and they become estranged from their own being and the tasks that could engage their human potential and creativity.  Instead they are forced to take jobs that are repetitive, uninteresting, and unsatisfying because the world has alienated them by saying things like I heard about garbage men and gas station attendants.  Or too often we make professional athletics, celebrity status, and stardom the goal.  For goodness sakes, just think about it, we have a long-standing show in our country called, “American Idol.”    

 

What if we valued a blue collar job as much as we valued a white collar job? If we taught our children that ALL work is valuable and needed.  That migrant farmers were just as important as the farmers, the garbage collectors were just as important as the doctors, the members just as important as the pastors – I think you might be getting this…what I am talking about is the Quaker distinctive of equality – that all people are equal in the eyes of God.  No title or position should get in the way of how we treat others.

 

 

As well, since we often identify so deeply with our vocations.  We introduce ourselves by our work, we identify by our work, we even associate by our work.  

 

For several years at Huntintgon University, I taught a upper-level class with a college counselor called, “Calling, Being, Doing: Rethinking the Rest of Your Life.” The class proceeded through looking at one’s calling, to seeing one’s being, and then to what one would do with what they learned. Many students found themselves in their junior or senior year fretting over what they were going to do with their lives. 

 

Too often we found, especially at a Christian University, how much the church and it’s views negatively influenced the students and did not allow them to see their “being” and who they were – leaving them fearful and fretting the world outside the College bubble.  Quaker Parker Palmer addressed this very thing in Yes! Magazine in an article titled, “Now, I become myself.”  Just listen to what he had to say,

           

“I first learned about vocation growing up in the church. I value much about the religious tradition in which I was raised: its humility about its own convictions, its respect for the world's diversity, its concern for justice. But the idea of vocation I picked up in those circles created distortion until I grew strong enough to discard it. I mean the idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet—someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach.

 

That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.

 

Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”

 

I guess what I am trying to say in all of this, is that clearly we need to have a paradigm shift in the way we look at work.

 

Author and story-teller, Dorothy Sayers asked this about work using a carpenter as an example,

 

“How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be a drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. 

 

This is another way we can embrace the “Slow Movement” by nurturing good work in and among our Meeting and community.  John and Chris give some ideas of how we can help promote a better work ethic that is beneficial to our neighborhood and life together. They give four suggestions:   

 

1.     Help others recognize and prefer good work over bad work.

 

·        Bad work is meaningless, stultifying and exploitative – it puts the system before the person and lays waste to the earth. 

·        Good work is good for the community and good for the one doing it.  It is modestly scaled, situated and can be done well.

·        Also, good work comes from within one’s own gifting and soul – what they were born to be.

 

2.     Explore the possibilities (and limitations) of work as worship.

 

·        Good work done well can be a form of worship, if we mean it to be.

·        When we see ALL work as being able to give glory to God , it breaks down the false distinctions between “secular” work and “sacred” work which we too often have made.  

 

3.     Champion work-related justice.

 

·        How are we addressing the work-related injustices that are taking place in our own community? 

o   How are we speaking out…

§  for raising the minimum wage in Indiana?

§  against human trafficking and child labor laws?

§  against the abuse of migrant workers, runaway and homeless teenagers, undocumented workers…etc…?

 

These are just a few of the specific issues in Indiana and Indianapolis which I believe the church should be speaking into.

 

Along with our own American Friend’s Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation, there are many other local groups like Faith in Indiana or the local expression of The Poor People’s Campaign – which is a national call for moral revival spearheaded by Rev. William Barber. It is working to continue the legacy of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign by uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.

 

I encourage you to check out at least one of these great organizations and see how we together can champion work-related justice.

 

4.     Recognize the human resources within our meeting and leverage them in the reconciling work of the kingdom.  

 

·        At my meeting in Silverton, we spent about 3 hours on a Saturday morning working through an Assets Based Community Development assessment.  We inventoried the assets we had as individuals, as a meeting, and how we were an asset to our community.  Out of this assessment we built so much awareness for what we had to offer our local community that we were able think and see with different perspectives.  Around this time, we made a significant impact on our community, by opening our doors to a growing Montessori public school, utilizing our back lawn intentionally for animal lovers to walk their pets, we proposed a community garden and changes in regards to our playground.  These are just a few of the changes that we made in Silverton… I wonder what we may find if we did an Assets Based Community Development assessment at First Friends.  Maybe I will need to connect with Witness and Service to see something like this happen for us to help us recognize the resources within our meeting!

 

 

These are just a few ways we can begin to make the paradigm shift in regards to how we can redeem work in our world.   As we enter into Waiting Worship, take some time to ponder the queries in the bulletin…

 

Am I satisfied by my work?

Where do my views of work need to change?

How can our meeting effect change in the area of work in our community?

 

 

 

 

Work

By Henry Van Dyke

 

Let me but do my work from day to day,
In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
In roaring market-place or tranquil room;
Let me but find it in my heart to say,
When vagrant wishes beckon me astray,
"This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
"Of all who live, I am the one by whom
"This work can best be done in the right way."

Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
To suit my spirit and to prove my powers;
Then shall I cheerful greet the labouring hours,
And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
At eventide, to play and love and rest,
Because I know for me my work is best.

 

 

 

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10-14-18 - Glow-in-the-Dark - John Pattison

Sermon 10-14-18
”Glow-in-the-Dark”
John Pattison

Good morning.

 

As I’m sure Pastor Bob explained in one of earlier sermons, but by way of reminder, Slow Church is partly inspired by the Slow Food and other Slow movements to rethink the ways in which we share life together in our church communities. We ask: what if Christians slowed down enough to be fully and faithfully present with God and with each other in the pace and place of our local neighborhoods?

 

We believe God is inviting Christians to be co-participants with God in the work of reconciliation. We also believe one of the primary ways God has chosen to reconcile the world to Godself is place by place. My favorite writer, the Kentucky poet, essayist, and novelist Wendell Berry, wrote in one of his poems:

 

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.

 

Chris and I believe one of the primary jobs of the church is the re-sacralization of our places.

 

The British missionary Lesslie Newbigin put it this way:

 

“…the Church in each place is to be the sign, instrument and foretaste of the reign of God present in Christ for that place….As often as it gathers to hear God’s word and to share in the Eucharistic celebration, the Church is renewed as the body of Christ in and for that place.”

 

In our own Quaker tradition, we believe that every person—regardless of gender, age, religion, or even merit—has within them the Inner Light of Christ. Writing from a prison cell in 1656, George Fox urged his Friends to “be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people…” In this way, he said, “you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one” (emphasis mine).

 

Reflecting on this letter from George Fox, the twentieth-century Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood said that one of the primary tasks of a minister could thus be described as “answering.” George Fox believed it is possible to “nurture and to bring to fulfillment the vague yearnings toward the divine, which are in all men, but which are often underdeveloped.” To answer that of God in every one is thus to “[help] make actual what is otherwise only potential.”

 

I think what Fox said of people specifically can be applied more broadly to our places—most of which include people, of course, and their laws, values, and creations, but which also include nonhuman creatures, the land and air and water, and the cosmic agents which Scripture refers to as the “powers and principalities.” All these are knit together in complex biological, cultural, and spiritual ecosystems that are both particular to their own places and linked with other places.

 

There is no place on earth that has not been darkened by sin. But there is also no place so far gone that it does not contain within it some ember of the Divine that might be gently, patiently, and prayerfully coaxed into light and heat.

 

One of the great privileges of doing the work we get to do with Slow Church is the chance to travel around the country. I have visited more than eighty neighborhoods around the country over the last four years. Not only do we get to talk about Slow Church, we get to listen.

 

And we get to collect stories.

 

Stories of pastors who, in order to best serve neighbors in danger of being displaced by gentrification, are becoming homegrown experts in zoning laws and they are developing a theology of the built environment.

 

Stories of artists who are using their art to beautify their neighborhoods, celebrate what is wonderful in their communities, grieve what is broken, and point neighbors to Christ and to the Way of healing and hope.

 

Stories of Christians who are facilitating reconciliation, bridging racial divides, speaking out against injustice, and caring for refugees who fled violence at home only to find themselves isolated and lonely after a few months in the United States.

 

Stories of Christians who are settling in for the long-haul in remote rural communities, trailer parks, apartment complexes, and inner-city neighborhoods.

 

Stories of churches that are renovating abandoned and foreclosed houses on behalf of neighbors, creating community gardens, organizing intersection murals, building Little Free Libraries.

 

Stores of churches that are helping church members and neighbors start new businesses, spearheading efforts to improve the health of the land and soil, and more.

 

One of the benefits of visiting those neighborhoods and collecting those stories is that they help me see my own neighborhood with more attentiveness, with more accuracy, with more imagination, and with more hope.

 

A practice I learned from Bob when he was our pastor in Silverton is the practice of visio divina. Perhaps many of us are familiar with the ancient spiritual practice of lectio divina, which translates to “divine reading.” Visio divina translates to “divine seeing.”

 

To practice visio divina is to ask God for God’s vision of our places. We ask God, “God, what is your vision for this neighborhood.” We ask ourselves, “What are my hopes for this place?” We ask our neighbors, “What are your hopes for this place?”

 

As we walk, bike, or sit in our neighborhoods, I encourage people to pray three simple but powerful prayers. These are from our friend Mark Scandrette in San Francisco, and I’ve converted them into queries for today.

 

The first prayer is “God, show me where your glory is displayed in this place and among these people.”

 

The second prayer is, “God, help me to think your thoughts and feel your feelings for the people and places that I see.”

 

And the third prayer is, “God, may your kingdom come and your will be done here and now as it is in heaven.”

 

The Scripture passage for today is one of my favorites. It’s from Isaiah 58:

 

“Then when you pray, God will answer.

  You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you get rid of unfair practices,

  quit blaming victims,

  quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

  and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

  your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

  I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—

  firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,

  a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,

  rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,

  restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

  make the community livable again.

 

“Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness.” How’s this as a reputation for the church?

 

Earlier I talked about how God can help us see our neighborhoods with fresh eyes. But lately I’ve also been drawn to another aspect of this relationship. In particular, what if it is within the context of the Neighborhood that the Church itself is best seen?

 

The metaphor I keep coming back to is one of bioluminescence, the chemical process by which organisms—fireflies, some deep-sea fish, and other creatures—emit light. I’m especially interested in bioluminescent algae and plankton, which can make waves glow, illuminate footprints in the wet sand, or appear as miles-long light trails behind ocean ships.

 

Jim Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 mission and a former Navy pilot, recalled the time in 1950 when he had to perform his first night landing on an aircraft carrier. Through a series of unfortunate events, he had gone off course. His instrument panel had shorted out (as had the cockpit light), there was no moon, and thick clouds blocked out the stars. He was plunged into darkness, with no sense of where to find his ship, the USS Shangri-La. But when his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw a faint greenish trail in the water below him. He recognized it immediately as the phosphorescent algae being churned up by the propeller of the aircraft carrier, a road leading him back home.

 

The British author Robert Macfarlane describes wading into the sea of an island cove near Scotland, and “flinging long streaks of fire” from his fingertips like Merlin. “When it was undisturbed, the water was still and black. But where it was stirred, it burned with light.”

 

Macfarlane also told an amazing story of a father and son who were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico in 2004 when their boat was capsized by a gust of wind. They were 60 miles offshore.

 

After night fell, the water became rich with phosphorescence, and the air was filled with a high discordant music, made of many different notes: the siren song of dolphins. The drifting pair also saw that they were are at the centre of two rough circles of phosphorescence, one turning within the other. The inner circle of light, they realised, was a ring of dolphins, swimming around the upturned boat, and the outer circle was a ring of sharks, swimming around the dolphins. The dolphins were protecting the father and his son, keeping the sharks from them.

 

Bioluminescent marine organisms live at least just below the surface of the water. They all have the capacity to make light, but most are so small that they can only be seen in community with each other. “By processes not entirely understood,” says Macfarlane, “these simple creatures ignite into light when jostled. They convert the energy of movement into the energy of radiance.”

 

Maybe you’re starting to see why I’m so drawn to this image, and why I think it’s relevant to the work I do with Slow Church. As followers of Jesus, we have the light of Christ inside us. We are “theoluminescent.”

 

Theoluminescent, we are “children of the light” (John 12:36). For too long, too many displaced and disembodied Christians have lived above or apart from their places. But what if the Church got below the surface?

 

What if we moved more of our lives into the ongoing life of our neighborhoods?

 

What if we let ourselves be jostled and churned up in our particular places?

 

And what if we did all this within the context of communities of other believers?

 

I think what would happen is that the Church, like those bioluminescent organisms, would turn the energy of movement into the energy of radiance. We would be a trail of light pointing the way home.

 

By God’s grace, we would shine.

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10-7-18 - Fragmentation and Wholeness

Fragmentation and Wholeness

First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

October 7, 2018

2 Corinthians 5:20 MSG

 

20 We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you.

 

 

One of my favorite books during my doctoral program was the book Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future by Margaret Wheatley.  It is more a book of conversation starters that has the reader wrestling with the meaning of our life together. I am considering leading it in our Seeking Friends study after our current book finishes.

 

It was in this book that I was introduced to Indra’s Net.  Have any of you ever heard of Indra’s Net? It comes from Buddhism, as well as, Hinduism’s Rig Veda.  Let me read how Anne Adams describes Indra’s Net from the Rig Veda: 

 

There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe…

At every crossing of the threads there is an individual.

And every individual is a crystal bead.

And every crystal bead reflects

not only the light from every

other crystal in the net

but also every other reflection

throughout the entire universe.

  

Just imagine if we pulled a net from the balcony to the front of our meetinghouse and from windows to side wall and overtop our heads. At each cross point a crystal would be hung down to catch the light in this room.  The light would immediately be dispersed throughout the room.  I believe that would be an amazing sight to behold.

 

Margaret Wheatley says,

 

“We are all jewels that shine uniquely. But we are all jewels gleaming on the same web, each sparkling outward from our places on the net, each reflected in the other.  As paradoxical as it is, our unique expressions are the only source of light we have to see each other. We need the light from each unique jewel in order to illuminate our oneness.”

 

I don’t know about you, but that sounds very Quaker-like. As Quakers, we generally agree that there is “that of God” in every person. Often we describe it in terms of the inner light, a guiding spirit that emanates from the Divine and resides in every person. This inner light in each of us helps us embrace our diversity and the possibility for unity.  And it is our inner lights which help illuminate the world around us.

 

These all seem like wonderful metaphors and beautiful illustrations, but the reality isn’t always this simple. Probably because…

 

·        We are a people in need of reconciliation. 

·        We are a people seeking wholeness.  

·        We are a people who want clarity, direction, and to sense hope and purpose.

 

The reason for this is we are fragmented.  Our crystals are chipped and cracked.  Our lights are dimmed and at times have been snuffed out.  Much of this has to do with our suffering relationships and our unwillingness to see people and know their stories. 

 

Just think about the fragmentations around us on a daily basis. We are fragmented by race, culture, age, health, economics, politics, gender, sexual orientations, religious beliefs…and you name it…it seems today almost anything can fragment or shatter us leaving us in utter frustration, a lack of genuine conversation, a lot of fingers pointing, and very little joy to be found.   

 

The universal church has dealt with this from early on. It continues to fragment and fragment – so much so that I sometimes wonder if it even knows what it means to be whole.

 

The early followers of The Jesus Way fragmented over being Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free people, women and men, and many other issues like clean food, circumcision, and later doctrines, the role of Christ, and leadership. Sadly, the universal church continues to fragment over and over again almost to miniscule detail. Today, many churches fragment over worship styles, appropriate music, the right versions of scripture, marriage equality, and the rules or doctrines that are acceptable.  Not much has changed in 2000+ years.

 

Yet, I believe each reformation of the church was a call for reconciliation and healing and to return to relationships and community.  To listen again to one another and try and follow Christ’s example of life together united but diverse.

 

We find it so easy to divide on specific lines and so difficult to engage those on the opposite sides. We often lack the ability to talk or work together and know each other, first and foremost, as sisters and brothers in Christ. 

 

This is deeply rooted in our history as Quakers.  This is why early Quakers did not want to use titles. It was to create a sense of equality among all people. On a website I like to frequent called, “Quaker Myth Busters” they talk about this.  

 

For example, why is it necessary to distinguish between married (“Mrs”) and unmarried (“Miss”) women but not men (universally “Mr”), as though availability for marriage was an extraordinarily important part of a woman’s identity? In the US, in the Jim Crow era, the rules of the time included that Black folks must use titles (such as “Mr”, “Mrs”, or “Miss”) to refer to White folks, but that when White folks referred to Black folks, it was simply as “boy” or “girl” or some arbitrary first name (“Jack” or “George”). It was also common until recently (and perhaps still occurs in some workplaces), that a boss may refer to a secretary by the first name, while the secretary would be expected to answer the boss using a title. These are just a few examples of sexist, racist, and classist uses of titles which Quakers attempt to avoid.

 

Taking the time to know who you are talking to and their life situation is key – but as we can see – even how we address someone shows our willingness to engage on an equal level. 

 

 

Just ponder a couple queries for a moment:

 

Where is the church, today, nurturing opportunities for healing and reconciliation to begin?      

 

Why are we still afraid of addressing our fragmentations?

 

Probably, because we haven’t realized yet how they are affecting us.  If there is one thing I have taken away from our Poverty 101 sessions it is the fact that I am middle class – and if anything – I have things to work on. I have privileges and opportunities that others do not have. I am part of the fragmentation. I am part of people staying in poverty. Just think about it…

 

Do we realize how we are continuing racial divides in our own neighborhood (that go all the way back to the 1930’s)? How gentrification is directly affecting our community and the breakdown of the African American communities in Indianapolis – just blocks south of us? 

 

Do we realize how much we discriminate and simply ignore the aging? Or devalue what they have to say – simply because they can’t keep up with technology or the changing times?

 

Do we realize how our middle to upper class ways cause us to worry about the future while we miss living in the present?

 

Do we realize that there are good people on both sides of the political divide? And that defending our points and proving someone wrong is not going to bring more unity? 

 

Do we realize that ALL people should be welcome among us and a genuine welcome should be offered on every occasion? 

 

Do we see forgiveness and reconciliation as keys to health in our community and healing the fragmentation?

 

I can’t help but think of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s work in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid.  Even though at a much greater scale, this is a picture of how the church can have an impact on the fragmentation around them.  On the South African History website, they talk about the impact of forgiveness as part of this commission. Just listen to what they say,

 

The primary objective of the inquiry was to preach forgiveness in order to heal the emotions and wounds of hatred or anger that had been created by the apartheid system. There was no place for retaliation in the new society that emerged after independence. It was envisaged that "one who forgives becomes a better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred." By the same token, it was also argued that "If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too." Nevertheless, the process of forgiveness also required acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence. The Chairman of the Commission noted that he had actually "witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive."

 

This process has become the model for reconciliation and healing in many places – and especially in the church.  If you need to be inspired, read Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness where he tells more of the story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

 

Another place I have seen the church nurture opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness to happen is right here at First Friends and in my former meeting in Oregon. We both went through similar processes regarding marriage equality and the welcoming of the LGBTQ community.  We both took a couple years to have important conversations, become educated, listen to one another, forgive each other for assumptions and misunderstandings. I remember my meeting in Oregon said, “In working through this issue, we now see other areas we need to work on.”  I sense the same thing happened here at First Friends.  I commend you for engaging the hard work and for being an example of nurturing and reconciliation. 

 

I wish sometimes we could go back and take another shot at our reactive and divisive ways in the church and become aware of the fragmentation that ensues.  How the church handled the Aids epidemic in the 80s is deplorable.  Even the Indianapolis Children’s Museum documents the innocent life of Ryan White and the hate that was spewed on him and his family making him a poster boy for sin throughout our country.  And the hurt and fragmentation that occurred for the Gay community because some religious person considered AIDS God’s punishment for being gay.  This was not our best moments and we were not nurturing reconciliation by any means.

 

As well, over the years when the church has taken up the positions of specific political parties, or when they have married their theologies or doctrines to the political sphere – we have done more fragmentation and little for reconciliation. 

 

What makes First Friends a unique and I believe healthy and safer place is our diversity.  We have people on a spectrum – politically, educationally, socio-economically, sexually, and that’s because I believe we are a beautiful picture of the body of Christ or the Kingdom of God. 

 

We are a people who are concerned with being sisters and brothers before republicans and democrats, or straight or gay, or rich or poor, or…you fill in the blank.  We come to this meetinghouse because it is a place of welcome a place where we don’t have to take sides, where we can listen for the Spirit’s direction. 

 

And when we don’t take time to see the good that is going on, to see the deeper stories, to engage in the process – we become bystanders – sometimes hurling rocks into the midst – instead of doing the hard work of building relationships and working on reconciling, healing, and forgiving.  Or maybe we could say restoring the crystals around us to their original illumination potential. 

 

How is the spirit nudging your heart this morning?  Where are you aware of the need for reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness around you? And how are you being nudged to be the change?

 

Let me close with one of my favorite metaphors. How many of you have heard of the Japanese art of kintsugi?  Kintsugi literally means “golden repair.” Stefano Carnazzi writes, 

 

This traditional Japanese art uses a precious metal – liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold – to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item and at the same time enhance the breaks. The technique consists in joining fragments and giving them a new, more refined aspect. Every repaired piece is unique, because of the randomness with which ceramics shatters and the irregular patterns formed that are enhanced with the use of metals.

 

I believe one of the chief roles of the church is to be about a similar art of kintsugi with the fragmentations surrounding us. In the same way, the fragments surrounding us are unique, irregular, and need our attention to restore them to beauty and wholeness.  Whether the gold represents forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, or simply a willingness to understand, listen, or start a conversartion, this is our calling to help repair the fragmentation around us and return us to wholeness.  

 

Will you pray with me:

O God, help us to be in touch

with that gentleness from which springs strength,

that silence from which springs wisdom,

that chaos from which springs creativity,

that openness from which springs love,

those wounds from which spring our sense of justice

and that depth of being from which springs wholeness.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

  

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inner Light
By Andrew Pell   © September 2001


Let the inner light shine in my life once more
Let it burn in my heart as it did before;
Let it be a beacon in a world forlorn,
A world in trouble, a world that is torn.

Let me touch the heart of all who comes my way,
Those that I see will have a brighter and happier day.
Let them see the wonders, the magic that each day can bring,
Let them experience and feel the majesty and the power of God within.

Let each new day be an adventure in the journey we all take,
Let them walk in the light and in the fullness of God partake.
Let them be a beacon for the entire world to see,
Then the world will be a wonderful place, a world in harmony.

 

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9-30-18 - The Power of Patience

The Power of Patience

Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

September 30, 2018

 

John 14:5-11 (NRSV)  Page in the Pew Bible. _______

 

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know[a] my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

 

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

 

 

 

 

This week as I was doing my research for this sermon, I read an article by Dr. Judith Orloff on Psychology Today’s website.  The title of the article was “The Power of Patience.”  Here is a bit of what she had to say,

 

We need a new bumper sticker: FRUSTRATION HAPPENS. Every morning, noon, and night there are plenty of good reasons to be impatient. Another long line. Telemarketers. A goal isn’t materializing “fast enough.” People don’t do what they’re supposed to. Rejection. Disappointment. How to deal with it all? You can drive yourself crazy, behave irritably, feel victimized, or try to force an outcome--all self-defeating reactions that alienate others and bring out the worst in them. Or, you can learn to transform frustration with patience.

 

Patience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act. I want to give patience a twenty-first-century makeover, so you’ll appreciate its worth. Patience has gotten a bad rap for the wrong reasons. Too many people, when you say, “Have patience,” it feels unreasonable and inhibiting, an unfair stalling of aspirations, some Victorian hang-up or hangover. Is this what you’re thinking? Well, reconsider. I’m presenting patience as a form of compassion, a re-attuning to intuition, a way to emotionally redeem your center in a world filled with frustration.

 

I like what she is getting at.  I think the church has given patience a bad rap as well. I am sure you’ve heard it said;

 

“Whatever you do, don’t ask God for patience…because God will give it to you.”

 

But what Dr. Orloff is getting at, is that when we look at patience as a difficult thing, or something to avoid asking God for, patience becomes problematic instead of helpful. I agree that patience needs a makeover in our world today.    

 

If we were to look at patience as a form of compassion, a re-attuning to intuition, a way to emotionally redeem one’s center, it would be beneficial, and I can see it  immediately making a difference in our personal and corporate lives. And I don’t know about you, but what Dr. Orloff is talking about seems very much Quaker in orientation and process.

 

See, early Quakers were part of, what I will call, “the original Slow Movement” They were known to discover a third way to respond to, what they labeled, “the presence of darkness” within their own hearts and in the surrounding society.

 

They also were known for not hiding from the truth, nor wallowing in their own issues. Early Quakers clearly knew that playing the “blame game” was not going to help move them toward the light, so instead, they embraced patient waiting, to help them be more compassionate to their neighbors, to help re-focus themselves on seeking after truth, and to ultimately center themselves before making decisions.

 

If you notice, Dr. Orloff’s makeover is simply taking us back to our Quaker roots.    

Quaker James Nayler in 1659 referred to this as “waiting in patience.” It was taking the time to slow down in a patient way to mind our inner light.  He described it this way. 

 

Art thou in darkness? Mind it not, for if thou dost it will feed thee more.  But stand still, and act not, and wait in patience, till light arises out of darkness and leads thee.   

 

In many religions, as well as early Quakerism, darkness and light were the metaphors used to help one see the stark contrast of the good and bad parts of life and even God.  It still is being engrained in our culture, just look at our obsession with the darkness and light in Star Wars – and that is just one example of many.

 

Interestingly, almost every world religion sees patience as a way to know God and more specifically the ways of God in our world.

 

Instead of getting caught up in “darkness,” frustration, and the externals pressures of this world, waiting in patience is what Dr. Orloff says, “draws us inward to a greater wisdom….” It connects us to our inner light and to how we are to respond to the world around us.

 

Dr. Orloff concludes by saying, “…patience doesn’t make you a doormat or unable to set boundaries with people…Rather, it lets you intuit the situations to get a larger more loving view to determine right action.”

 

Patience is what helps us love and act in ways that are beneficial to our community.  In the last several months, I have been challenging myself to take a moment, wait, and patiently think before responding. It is hard for me – especially since I like to process and dialogue about things in the moment. It has been a real discipline to seek patience first.  The reality is that most of us are wrestling in our busy lives and world with our impatience and its negative effects on that needed love and action that Dr. Orloff is speaking about.  

 

Let’s take a moment to ponder some of this as it relates to impatience:

 

·        In what sort of situations do you find yourself most impatient?

·        Why are you impatient, and how do you deal with your impatience?

·        What groups, people, organizations, etc. cause you to be impatient?  

 

[Pause and reflect]

 

When we start to address the “darkness” around us, the frustration that seems to grip us, the external pressures that we, our work, our families, the news, our world put on us, we begin to notice the impatience that is or has been growing. 

 

We begin to notice the lack of compassion we have for our neighbors and their situations (as well as compassion for ourselves).  We begin to have “short fuses” and become irritated by little things.   

 

We notice that we are no longer as intuitive and willing to try and reason or understand or work to see what is actually going on (or take time to understand the back story).  Instead we are quick to make assumptions and think our view is the right and only way.

 

And then as part of our struggle and impatience, we often lose control of our emotions.  Some may go inward in a negative way and become depressed emotionally while others may become outwardly expressive emotionally. There are many ways we express our struggle.

 

Let me ask you some more queries that will address your impatience, and really pay attention to how they make you feel:   

 

·        How do you feel about being stuck behind cars that go slowly on your way to work or to an event? How often do you honk your horn or god-forbid give someone the bird?

·        How do you react to a slow cashier at the grocery store? Or in the drive up at a fast-food restaurant?

·        What is your response to children who dawdle? or adolescents that take too long to respond, or parents who hover like helicopters? 

·        How do you respond when someone does not understand your explanation or belief about a certain topic?

·        What deadlines in your life effect you?

·        How much does not having WIFI or internet service bother you? Or when the cable goes off during your television program? Or when your computer will not connect to that printer?

 

By now, I should have given almost everyone in the room a little impatient feeling and maybe even a heightened blood pressure or heart rate. 

 

We are an impatient lot – aren’t we?

 

Today’s scripture gives us a picture of the disciples’ impatience with Jesus. 

 

·        Thomas is frustrated because he doesn’t know where Jesus is going.  And isn’t sure he knows the way?

·        Philip wants to see fully or clearly – and only when he does will he be satisfied. 

 

Now, these two disciples I think we can relate to. Thomas and Philip remind me of the children in the back seat asking their parent driving, “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “Do we need a map?” “Are we lost?” “How much further?”  And Jesus is simply saying, “Trust me.” 

 

And then over the years, the conversation continues to develop into the parents saying to the child, “Be aware, watch, notice your surroundings – check the street signs, know the neighborhoods you are in, someday soon you will be driving.” The parent is trying to bestow on the child “the way,” “the truth” and “the life.”  

 

Jesus is being the patient example and teacher – just like the father in my example.  He is teaching the disciples to follow his way, to be truth, and to live life to the fullest - all while asking them to be patient – through getting to know him, seeing him, believing him.  Yet Jesus goes even one step further in saying, if you can’t believe me in this, let the works speak for themselves.  Let what I have shown you and done among you speak for itself.    

 

Carl Gregg on his Pathos blog puts this into perspective. He says,

 

The best summation I’ve seen of this perspective is by the pastor, writer, and spiritual director Eugene Peterson.  Peterson encapsulates Jesus’ point in John 14 by saying,

 

“Only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life.”

Isolating only the so-called “Jesus truth” yields a disembodied orthodoxy: all the right words with no behavior to make the words believable.  More important is the “Jesus Way” of loving God and loving neighbor.

 

 

In the book, The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson says,

 

“A Christian congregation, the church in your neighborhood, has always been the primary location for getting this way and truth and life of Jesus believed and embodied.”  

 

If Peterson is right, what might this mean for you and me and First Friends?   

 

Just think about that for a moment.  Are we willing to be patient and slow down so we can embody the way, the truth, and the life among our neighbors, our families, our world?

 

To close, I would like to leave you with this thought from the book, “Slow Church”

 

Before I share the quote, I also want to let you know that John Pattison and Chris Smith who wrote Slow Church will be with us live and in person (or maybe I should say, in our neighborhood)on Sunday, October 14.  We will be offering breakfast that morning at 8:30am followed by a special Education Hour before the service at 9am. They will also be preaching during Meeting for Worship that Sunday. I highly encourage you all to come, especially our clerks, committee members, concerned friends and neighbors to engage in this ongoing conversation. 

 

Now, here is what John and Chris say,

 

The local church is the crucible in which we are forged as the patient people of God…As we mature together into the fullness of Christ, over time and in our places, we learn patience by forgiving and being reconciled to one another. Our brothers and sisters may incessantly annoy us.  But we are called in Christ to love and to be reconciled to them.  Just as marriage vows serve as a covenant bond that holds a couple together in difficult times, our commitment to our faith community is essential if we are to learn patience and practice stability.  Patience can hold us together when other forces conspire to rip us asunder.

  

Embrace the patient way of Christ this week so that through compassion we can “do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way” and work toward the Jesus life together!  

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