Faith is a Verb… Musings by Pastor Tony January 13, 2017

I’ve been intrigued by the theological language of World War Two for some time now; although the war ended some 70 years ago, we are still trying to make sense of the massive loss of life on the battlefield, in the concentration camps, and in attacks on civilian areas. The theological language of the era emphasized polarity of good and evil, Allies and Axis, us and them. We view one side as good and the other side as evil (or at least the leader was evil), and this is still a regular theme in our art, literature, movies, and other cultural spaces. From my perspective of looking back toward a time before I was alive, WWII was fought in the physical realm, but on cosmic terms for the spiritual well being of our entire planet.

The language of WWII is once again a part of our national dialogue. Sides are being painted as good or evil, us and them; fear of the other is causing reactionary language around border protection and deportation that parallels the language of internment, concentration camps, and ethnic cleansing of the 1940s.

As far as I can tell, there has always been a divide between us and them, with mistreatment toward those not like us. Our ancient scripture recognized that this was an issue and calls all faithful people to welcome the stranger and treat them as our neighbor. Our scripture also calls on our leaders to be just toward the least among us, to be humble like the last among us, and to be kind even to the lost among us.

The change in administration symbolizes other theological themes that are discomfiting to me. All of the Christian leaders chosen to pray at the inauguration next week come out of the Prosperity Gospel portion of evangelicalism. Proponents of the Prosperity Gospel claim that wealth is a blessing bestowed by God, and that God will grant that blessing of wealth if you pray hard enough. To me, this type of theology contradicts what Jesus has said (e.g., “Blessed are the poor…”), and it’s not surprising that these faith leaders are going to usher in an administration that has more billionaire business people in it than at any time previously in our history. We are all waiting to see how policy will be shaped, not by long-term politicians, but by wealthy business people. Some in our congregation are ready for the change, and others are fearing what will happen to issues of social justice when business principles are applied.

I am clear that these are not just political, nor historical, nor even business concepts; these are theological issues. Categorizing good and evil, rejecting or welcoming outsiders, and claiming blessing in wealth or poverty are issues that God cares about, that Jesus preached about, and that we as followers must pay attention to. They do not belong merely to the Congress to debate; they belong in the church as we discern how we will treat our fellow travellers on this planet.

I believe that these days will be rich for theological conversation, and that these conversations, as necessary as they may be, will be uncomfortable. One of the great things, though, is that in church we are neither Republican nor Democrat, but part of the Body of Christ. As church we get to discern what that means for us. And I am praying for our country and our world in these theological times.

Peace, Pastor Tony

Pastor Tony’s Sermon December 18, 2016

Matthew 1: 18-25  12-18-16         Rev. Tony Clark  ACCUCC

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

 

Life is full of strange coincidences that seem guided by Divine action, by angels interacting in our stories and our histories. This season, our scriptures are filled with angels, so I put a question on Facebook asking if people still experienced angels and when was the last time they saw an angel. The answers were about people who showed up and helped out another person, or guided them, or gave out wisdom.

I said last week that the birth stories in the gospels of Luke and Matthew have very different points of view. Luke tells the story from Mary’s point of view, with an angel announcing the birth of John the Baptist, and an angle announcing the birth of Jesus and an angel telling shepherds about the birth in the manger. Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s point of view, and three times the angel directs Joseph into specific action; the first time to tell Joseph to marry Mary and name the child Jesus, the second time to tell Joseph to flee Herod’s reign of terror and go to safety in Egypt, and the third time to tell Jospeh to return home, not to Bethlehem, which was to unsafe, but to Nazareth in Galilee.

Luke’s story is about angels announcing God’s active part in the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s story emphasizes how God works through human beings to accomplish holy good, particularly in times of trouble.

Matthew starts with a genealogy of Jesus that takes us through Joseph’s lineage. The genesis of Jesus required Joseph. When Joseph hears about Mary’s pregnancy, the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to stop him from divorcing her, and to name the baby Jesus as if he is his own son. Because of the angelic interaction, Joseph decides to marry Mary, and he named the baby Jesus, indicating to the world that Jesus was his son. This saved Mary from being shamed, becoming an outcast, or even being stoned before she could give birth to Jesus. In essence, Mary and Jesus were saved by Joseph—who required a little nudging from angels; Matthew wants us to know that the genesis of Jesus required the human named Joseph.

Jesus’ genealogy runs through Joseph? This goes against the story we hear every year at this time that Mary was a virgin who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Matthew says the genealogy of Jesus goes through Joseph, and when the life of the Messiah was at risk, God stepped in and used Joseph to save him. Rather than the miracle birth being about the deity who impregnates young virginal girls, the Matthew story is more about the miracles that keep the messiah from dying in infancy.

After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Matthew tells us that some men who studied the stars came to visit Jesus. King Herod called them in and ominously asked them about the new king, and then began a hunt for the boy. An angel came to Joseph once more while he slept and told him to save his wife and child by fleeing to Egypt. Once more, the genesis of Jesus required Joseph. Once more the miracle of the birth was that the Messiah made it through the dangerous times surrounding his birth and infancy. When Herod died, the angel again appeared to Joseph to tell him it was safe to come home, but leery of the new power, Joseph was told to take his family to Galilee to the town of Nazareth. Once again, Jesus was saved by Joseph following the intervention of an angel, and the genesis of Jesus was completed by Joseph.

The miracle of the birth was the salvation of Jesus. The miracle of any birth in times of authoritarianism, when women can be stoned for becoming pregnant and when young ones are threatened by death before they are out of diapers, the miracle of birth in times of authoritarianism is a subversive act guided and guarded by God who values life. Where women are blamed for becoming pregnant before marriage, angels are necessary for the next generation to survive. Where children are starving or brutally dying in the streets before they are even old enough to be dangerous, angels are necessary to assure the survival of the next generation. Are there angels in places of poverty? Yes. Are there angels in places of violence? Yes. Are there angels in places of authoritarian brutality? Yes. Are there angels in Sudan? Yes. Are there angels in Flint, Michigan? Yes. Are there angels in Aleppo? Yes, and they are working hard to remind humanity that God points us toward life, not death.

Matthew tells us that after being nudged by an angel, Joseph changed courses from what was expected, saving Jesus several times. That is an interesting turn on the meaning of Jesus’ name. The name Jesus, or Joshua, means “God saves.” Joseph saved Jesus– “God Saves”, reminding us that God acts through human beings all the time. Matthew tells us that Jesus will also be called another name, Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us.” Throughout his life, Jesus was Emmanuel, God with Us. Matthew draws the point that God saves us by being human with us.

Here at the beginning of the story, Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us. And this goes full circle to the end of the story, too. Do you remember the last few verses of Matthew? After his death, Jesus returned to be with the disciples who were gathered on a mountain. He said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Jesus, or “God Saves”, is Emmanuel, “God With Us”, at his birth, and Jesus, “God Saves”, is the Christ, the anointed one of God, and Emmanuel, “God With Us”, to the end of time. Jesus, a human being, yet also God With Us, was saved by the action of angels and the action of human beings at major turning points in his life, so that he could become the Savior of the world, bringing people out of shame, disgrace, and even death. He reaches into our hearts and heals us where our spirits are broken, and he reaches into our world bringing justice and peace. And Matthew tells us that if Joseph had not been nudged by angels into acting the way he did, Jesus would not have survived to do this.

There are angles all around. They remind us that God Saves, and that God is With Us. They remind us that God’s direction is toward life, not death. And sometimes it takes a heavenly host of angels to nudge us into action.

Jesus, our Emmanuel, save us, through your ongoing spirit of Christ, who is with us even now. Send your angels to nudge us to act in the ways of God’s holy goodness. Amen.

Pastor Tony’s Sermon December 11, 2016

Luke 1: 46-55 12-11-16           ACCUCC      Rev. Tony Clark 

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
 

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;”

 

Mary’s song, which we know as the Magnificat, is political; and it is impolite to be political in church.

Mary’s song sings of God’s blessing when her culture said she was shameful and a disgrace. Mary’s song reminds us of God’s acts of justice for those who are trampled by oppression of powerful people. Mary’s song speaks of God’s authority in the face of total authoritarianism.

Mary’s song is much like other women’s songs throughout the Bible. Mary’s song reminds us of Miriam, the sister of Moses, who sang and danced after crossing through the Red Sea, giving thanks to God for covering the authoritarian Pharaoh’s army with the water of the Red Sea. Mary’s song also reminds us of the song of Hannah, who prayed for a baby, and when God provided, in thanks to God, she dedicated her first-born son Samuel to the service of God. Her song, too, reminds us of the great and powerful acts of God, who is the source of knowledge in the face of arrogance, of power and authority in the face of authoritarianism, and of justice in the face of oppression.

Mary’s song is a song of women throughout time, yet it is only found in one gospel, the Gospel of Luke.

Mark, the earliest gospel, has us jumping into the river Jordan with Jesus and John, and it is at his baptism when Jesus is recognized by the Holy Spirit, blessed by God, and called God’s beloved child.

Matthew, the second gospel to be written, tells the story from the perspective of Joseph, starting with his genealogy and then reporting how instrumental Joseph was in the birth of Jesus. Joseph, who was righteous and law abiding, decided to divorce Mary, which was expected by law when a woman was found to be pregnant during the engagement. After intervention from an angel, Joseph changed his mind, married Mary, and saved her and the new baby named Jesus from shame and disgrace. After his birth, the Wise Men visit, and Herod declares that all boys should be killed. Matthew’s story tells us that men decided his early fate, men will decide his death, and Jesus will be in conflict with powerful men all his life.

John, the last gospel to be written, doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ birth; instead John tells us about Christ , the Word of God, who was present from the beginning of Creation. Christ is recognized by creation as light; yet he is not recognized by all of his own. He enters the world as the human Jesus, whose life will be in tension with cosmic forces of evil and death.

Luke’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ birth, not from Joseph’s perspective, and not from the cosmic point of view, but from point of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Luke starts with the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, both elderly and both of priestly lineage. Elizabeth and Zechariah, like Sarah and Abraham, were too old to have children, yet an angel promised, and Elizabeth became pregnant, with a son, who would be a prophet like Elijah. Then Gabriel visited Mary and told her that she would soon become pregnant by the Holy Spirit; the child will be the Son of God and a great king. Mary visited Elizabeth, both of them pregnant, and when Elizabeth greeted Mary, Elizabeth’s baby, who would become John the Baptist, recognized Jesus in Mary’s womb and leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Then Mary sang her song of praise, and blessing, the song of justice and God’s authority.

Only in Luke do we hear about John’s birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah, the emperor declaring a census, Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, where there was no room in the inn. Luke is the gospel in which shepherds are told by angels that a new King has been born and to come to the stable to pay homage.

And only in Luke do we hear Mary’s song, a political statement that God’s authority overrides authoritarianism, that God’s justice overcomes oppression, and God’s blessing stands over cultural shaming.

Luke reminds us that before his birth Jesus was recognized as the Christ, a prophet a priest and a king all in one. Men and women, Priests and prophets, who represented the faith, recognized him as the anointed one, and we know that his life would be in tension with those in power in his faith. Shepherds, common folk, recognized him as king, and his life would be in tension with the authorities of the Empire. He was recognized by spiritual beings, and his life will be in tension with cosmic forces of evil and death.

And Mary is important to the story, says Luke. A very young woman, barely old enough to become pregnant, she sings that she is blessed. She has agency, and she is connected to a larger family including Elizabeth. The song she sings is one of thanks, and it is one of recalling the story of the history of God. Her song names God’s blessing in the face of shame, it names God’s authority in the face of authoritarianism, and it names justice in the face of oppressive forces.

Mary sings praise in a time of trouble, she sings blessing in a time of turmoil, she sings justice in a time of total insecurity. Her song foreshadows the work of her son, Jesus, who brings blessing in the face of shame, authority in the face of power, and justice to a time of oppression. The story of a young woman pregnant before marriage, says thanks and gives praise, much like Jesus did at his last meal right before his death. She remembers what God has done for others, and gives an indication of what God will yet do through Jesus. Like Mary, we are called recognize the blessings of God, in times of shame, in the face of authority, and in times of injustice.

Holy One: our time is compressed in Advent. What has happened will happen again. What is happening is witness to what you have already done. The birth of Jesus, again, each year, reminds us that You, O God, are with us, that you, O God are here, that you, O God, have always been, and always will be in our lives. You have lifted the lowly; may you continue to lift the lowly. You have filled the hungry, may you continue to fill the hungry, through Jesus, and through the ongoing spirit of Christ in all of us. Amen.

 

Pastor Tony’s Sermon December 4, 2016

Romans 15: 4-13                  12-4-16 Rev. Tony Clark            ACCUCC

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Together we spoke words of the prophet Isaiah, and we just heard the words of Paul to the Romans, “May God fill you with all joy and peace, so that you may abound in hope.” Such a sweet blessing.

You may be asking, “Where are the stories of preparing a pregnancy and birth? Where are the stories of Mary approaching Elizabeth, of Joseph and the angel, of the donkey that carried them to Bethlehem, the inn keeper, and the stable?”

I’m not ready to turn yet to the stories of birth. I’m still early in the pregnancy. I’m still thinking about the shooting at Ohio State this week, and the fire this weekend in Oakland. Thanksgiving is still a close memory, and I’m not yet ready to turn to Christmas. I’m glad that we haven’t heard the stories of Mary and Joseph of angels coming to shepherds. I’m glad that the stories of the birth of Jesus and the stories of the wise ones wondering from afar, those stories are far away. I long for God’s promise coming to life, and my heart may yearn for the words of birth and light that bring joy and peace into this season, those stories are a few weeks away yet. This is a longing, yearning, waiting period that is different than the immediate gratification of secular consumerism.

Even though the secular world believes that the Christmas season runs from sometime after Halloween all the way to Christmas, in the church we stay in the longing a bit longer, yearning and waiting here the end of the secular year, but we are at the beginning of the church year, so we have time ahead of us. We pull back the reins a little, slow down the rush, and ponder what it means to delay gratification in our lives these days. What does peace mean in a world of mass shootings, and unsafe parties where young people die, and rushing to the store to stand in line with our purchases?

We step back from the nine-month pregnancy and hear of God’s nine hundred year promise for peace. Isaiah’s words remind us that peace comes in the time of redwoods, the time of land, the time of cosmos, the time it takes for a forest to grow. A mature forest was cut down, timbered for lumber, and the landscape went from lush, green, shadowed, sylvan forest to a plain spotted with stumps. It looks lifeless, yet God has life and growth in mind; in fact, there, can you see it, a little branch of green is spouting out of that stump. A forest of peace will grow here again, says God, in time, when this little lightly leafing limb yields a forest.

God’s long promise for peace includes wolves and lambs will lying down together, leopards and goats playing together, lions and calves becoming bosom buddies. What a promise! In our world, wolves eat lambs, and leopards eat goats, and lions eat calves. Natural predators and prey that play together peacefully! To get to this preposterous place, either the lamb will need to grow claws, the goat will need to grow fangs, and the calf will need to become a fierce carnivore, or the wolf, the leopard and the lion will need to become gentle vegetarians, and grow digestive tracts that can digest plant material. For God’s peaceable kingdom to come, physiology and anatomy must change. For peace to occur, equality must come between predator and prey. Either the predator must become gentle in the presence of prey or the prey must become strong in the face of predators; both are unlikely in our world.

Paul wrote words of peace to the Romans, a group of early Christians were Jews and Gentiles were worshipping Christ together The Jews seemed to be living as if the God’s promises of peace were theirs alone. Paul tells them that peace cannot be kept by one group– horded, possessed, as if it was a commodity. Peace, by its very nature is shared by both sides. Peace, by its very definition crosses borders. Peace cannot be had merely on one side of a border while war is being waged on the other. Peace cannot come to Jews with out coming to Gentiles.

The promise of peace is spans the time of forests, the promise of peace requires massive structural changes to our systems of predator and prey, and the promise of peace requires permeable borders, extravagant welcome, and sharing.

Perhaps we are tired of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Perhaps the immediate gratification of our consumerist culture is more palatable than preparing for the long spanning, structure changing, extravagant welcoming peace that is promised by God. Yet we are people of faith. We are people who waited thousands of years for a Messiah to arrive, and we have waited thousands of years for the Messiah to return. We are people of promise; we are people of hope, we are people of trust. We trust and hope in God’s long promise. We trust in God’s ability to make the anatomical and physiological changes that we cannot make. We trust that God will call a prophet to remind us that the promise of peace is not just for the people of the promise, but for all nations.

We worry and pray for gun violence and ask, “Can peace come to our world today?” We mourn for the loss of young life and wonder what it will take for young people to live out their full lives, not killed by gun violence or fire, and we ask, “Can peace come to our hearts, our minds, our souls?”

Peace will come when we understand that we are all in it together. Peace will come when anatomy and physiology radically change to create peace between predators and prey. Peace will come when lifeless plains of stumps grow once again to pristine forests. Peace will come when borders are permeable, and when difference and diversity are fully welcomed. These are not satisfied by immediate gratification, but by the long arc of faith.

Peace is not something you buy on October 31 and throw away on Dec 26th. Peace does not come with the immediate gratification of purchasing it at the department store. The promise of peace is ancient, and it is timeless. The promise of peace is impractical. Peace is impossible when structures of inequality are in place, and peace is impassable if we believe it is ours and ours alone.

We cannot rush toward peace. We long for peace, we yearn for peace, we await peace. And in this Advent season, we sit in that longing, we learn the art of yearning without fulfillment, and we wait for the coming of the Christ. We wait. We yearn. We long. For hope, for peace, for joy. For love.

In this season of longing, yearning, waiting, I offer again the blessing Paul gave the romans, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Faith is Verb… Musings by Pastor Tony: December 2, 2016

I write this from downtown San Antonio, TX, where many of our denominational leaders are gathered to discuss the changing needs of ordained ministry. We are working with the scripture from the prophet Habakkuk, who said, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time.” In today’s language, the prophet might have said, “Put it on a billboard so that the cars speeding past can read it, for there is still good news to read these days.”

We need to hear the words of prophets in these days. It is Advent, when we read the prophet Isaiah in our worship. This week we will remind ourselves that the stump of Jesse, cut back to almost nothing will shoot forth in a green branching tree. We will hear a promise that lions and lambs—mortal enemies—will lie together peacefully. We will read Paul’s letter to the Romans that calls for unity among nations in seeking the light of God. We will light another candle and pray for peace. We will longingly sing songs for the return of Christ and for the birth of Jesus.

These are prophetic actions in a world in which the vision of God is not very plain. In times such as these, it is clear to me that we need the church. What other institution has the history to remind us that even in dark days of December, there is hope? In times such as these, it is clear that we need visionaries who can see with a spiritual eye far back in to our past and remind us of the future that we have always known, that God promises peace, and we are together in it. Where else can we turn to find hope and peace in our world today?

The prophet Habakkuk also wrote these words, “O Lord, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known.” These are strong words for us to heed in these December days. Advent, the beginning of the church year, is a good time to revive our faith. It is a good time to revive our vision. It is a good time to remind ourselves that hope and peace are possible.

Blessings on this Advent season as you prepare for the return of Christ and the birth of Jesus. I look forward to being with you these December Advent Sundays.

  • Pastor Tony

 

Pastor Tony’s Sermon November 27, 2016

Romans 13:11-14        11-27-16  Advent 1     ACCUCC          Rev. Tony Clark

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Paul is the king of metaphor. He uses common things, things we use every day, to invite us to experience God through Christ. Paul refers to human experiences of living with a body, and tells us there is more than just the physical realm. Paul reminds us that our physical bodies live bound in time, that we need to sleep and then to wake up, that there is a difference between night and day, and that we wear clothing to protect us, keep us warm, and cover parts of our bodies from public view. Paul uses these human things to remind us that there is more beyond our physical selves, a spiritual life, toward which Christ points us. While our human time is limited, Christ lives in God’s time, which is eternal and expansive. We’ve been asleep, and now it’s time to wake up, not just in our time, but in God’s time.

Paul pointed to human actions like partying and drinking to excess, being out of control sexually, as well as fighting and jealously, and he said that these are examples of people who pay too much attention to their physical temptations while not paying attention to their spiritual needs. Paul assumed that those who heard his letter were already paying attention to their spiritual wellbeing.

This passage about time and clothing and human temptation comes between a statement to love one another, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law,” and this statement, “Welcome those who are weak in the faith.” The complete thought of Paul is something like this: Love does no wrong to a neighbor, and since we know what time it is—God’s time—focus on being Christ-like, be strong in the faith. If you are already spiritually healthy, great! Be neighborly, show love, and welcome those who are struggling to be as good as you are. Don’t judge those who party and drink to excess, don’t judge those who are sexually promiscuous, don’t judge those who are angry and quarrelsome. They might have some work to do, they might not be as strong in their faith as you, but they are as much a part of the group as you, so love them and welcome them in, as Christ did. And this continues to be the call of Christians everywhere.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and the first Sunday of the church year. It’s a marker of time that has passed, and a marker of time yet to come. Here we are at the beginning again. We circle around, we’ve come full circle, in time we measure in days, months, years. We return again to winter, to December, to  Christmas. We know this passage of time as humans. And Paul tells us all that there is another time, God’s time.

Even as we live in this human-measured time we also live in a spiritual time, a time measured by God. This is Cosmic time, when past and future are all part of the present. We remember that Christ came once as a human being, and we remember the promise that Christ will come again, and this Advent season we see that they are both the same time, God’s time. That is time marked not by days and nights, nor is it measured by birth and deaths. God’s time is measured by justice, which is demarcated by hope, peace, joy and love. Although hope and peace, joy and love do not seem like ways to measure the passage of time, remember, God doesn’t live bound by our time or our rules.

Paul suggested that healthy spiritual people live in human time fully aware of God’s time. Human time measures the passage of time in days and years; spiritual time measures the passage of time in how hope rises and falls throughout the world. While our human time recognizes sleeping and waking periods, spiritual time measures the periods of discord and of peace. Human time weighs the length of the night against the amount of daylight in order to mark the seasons; God looks to how joy comes and goes and where love is found.

Human time is a precious commodity, perhaps more so than money. Time may even be the most important thing we give these days. Our passions can be determined not merely by the amount of money we give to causes, but by the amount of time we spend at them. Human time given freely will bring hope, peace, joy, and love to our world.

The gift of spending time with a sad, hurting friend is more helpful in bringing hope than all the chocolate you could buy them. The time you spend building bridges, listening to other viewpoints, and welcoming them in will bring more peace than all the guns and bombs our military can budget for. Spending more money doesn’t necessarily bring joy, but spending time appreciating what is already here can enhance your joy. Love is not bought and sold; love cannot be commoditized; love grows from sharing time together. Each of these spiritual qualities that we celebrate in Advent–hope, peace, joy, love—is directly related to the time we give to them. Time is the one universal gift we have for each other.

Paul wrote that we know what time it is. It is now the moment to wake from sleep. The human night is ending, and God’s day is just dawning. It’s time to get up, drink your coffee, eat breakfast, and get dressed for the day. But not just any day. It’s God’s day, so put on some clothing that will help you get through it. Put on some light, and make sure you wear some strength, for surely there are people out there who will be tugging on that light and draining your strength all day long. Don’t forget to wear a little bit of Christ today, for surely there are people who need some hope, some peace, some joy and some love, and you will need to bring some Christ to them. Surely there are nations where hope and peace, joy and love are in short supply, and we may be called to bring Christ to them.

When you get dressed for God’s day, be sure you are ready, for you will be stepping into God’s time, when past and future are part of the present. In God’s time, bring love to your neighbor, and welcome the weak in faith. Even though all we’ve got is human time, measure your days in terms of hope and peace, joy and love. And know that your time is the best gift you can give.

 

Amen.

Pastor Tony’s Sermon November 20, 2016

Psalm 100 & Philippians 4: 4-9       11-20-16 Rev. Tony Clark          ACCUCC

Thanksgiving Sunday

Psalm 100

A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.


Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.


Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.


For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

 

Philippians 4: 4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

 

Our scripture for today pulls us into rejoicing, being thankful. When I read the psalm and the Philippians passage, my first reaction is that I’m missing something. Yes, being joyful is a great spiritual quality, and I try to get there, but it’s not ever easy. The scripture ignores that the world is difficult, that there are times when I don’t feel like smiling, and there are times when I don’t feel very thankful. This week is one of those times.

The scripture, though, was not written because everything was perfect and rosy. These scriptures were reminders that joy and thanks can come even in the midst of hardship. Paul wrote the Philippians from prison, and he purposely steps out of the squalor of prison into joy and thanks giving. It is not easy. But he says that it can be done; he wrote,  “…beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I am generally a grateful person, but this week has been hard to be thankful. Two of our members were in a severe car accident last week, and even as we worry about them, we move to say thanks that they are recovering. We memorialized another of our long-term members this week, and even in our sadness, we give thanks for her long life. It’s the week before the week before Advent, which means putting together liturgy and worship for the next several weeks; in my busy-ness I move to give thanks that I have a good job that allows me to be creative. And then there is the political fallout after our election, and in the fear of a government that will be radically different than what we’ve been used to, many of us are trying to move into a position of thanks for the wake up call to listen to our brothers and sisters in rural America. With all of this busy-ness, sadness, fear, we insert a national day to give thanks. It’s not so easy to do right now.

Thanksgiving Day is a way for us to take the time and remember what is good. Yes, there are family dynamics, and sometimes it is easier to be thankful without them. But it is a day to give thanks. For those without faith or religion the sense that faith might be overlaid on a secular national holiday feels awkward at best. But even to those who don’t say thanks to a deity for what is good in our lives, it is important to be thankful, to see the beauty around us, to notice that some things in our lives are going really well even when many things might not be. This practice changes our mood from dour pessimism to realistic awareness, and keeps our outlook in perspective. That is what Paul and the Psalmist are trying to remind us. It may not always be easy to say thank, but moving toward gratitude and joy will make whatever we face easier.

I sometimes forget to say thanks in my daily routine and in my frustration with the ways of the world these days. My spiritual director intuited this a few months ago, ad she reminded me of a spiritual practice of saying thanks. It is from Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits. The spiritual practice is called the daily examen.

I started doing the examen, right before bed. The examen reminds me of all the good things that I do have in my life including God, and I found my mood lightening almost immediately. I found my sleep was more restful and filled with lovely dreams rather than fearful or angry dreams. I have not done it consistently, but I think for this week and the next several months– or years– it might be a good practice to hold on to so that anger and fear and frustration do not get the best of me.

I’d like to offer this practice to you today. In this time when the world feels odd, this is a good place to start. This practice ends with a sign of thanks. For Catholics this might be the sign of the cross, which may not be meaningful to all of you. So instead I encourage you to do these ASL signs at the end. “Thank you, Lord.”

After we do the sign of thanks, I’ve asked Tim to softly start playing our next hymn. Please join in the singing when you are ready.

Here is a traditional form of the Ignatian examen.

Get into a comfortable position, let your muscles relax, and your mind quiet down. Take a deep breath and ask God to make God’s presence known around and in you. Feel God’s presence and soak in it.

Ask God to reveal all the gifts and graces God has given you today, from the big ones (like life, safety, love), to the small ones (a good night’s rest, a phone call from a friend, a compliment). Thank God for each of these gifts.

Ask God to fill you with God’s merciful love. Ask God to be the leader of the prayer time, rather than brooding or obsessing over yourself or your day.

Going hour by hour, review your last 24 hours. In your imagination relive each significant moment of the day. Linger in the important moments and pass quickly over the irrelevant ones.

Continue thanking God for the gifts you find in your day. Pause at any difficult moments of the day. Pay attention to any missed opportunities, when you could have acted in a certain way but didn’t. When you find moments in which you were not the person you were called to be, ask God for forgiveness. Try to sense God’s healing mercy wash over you.

Ask God to show you, concretely, how God wants you to respond or what God wants you to do in the next 24 hours. Ask God to show you what kind of person God is calling you to be in the next 24 hours. Resolve to be that person and ask God for God’s help.

Ask yourself if there are any last words you’d wish to say to God.

 

Jubilee USA – November Visit to Washington DC

By Linda Young (with excerpts from a Dennis Sadowski article on the Jubilee Website.)

Last week, I was privileged to attend meetings of the Network Council for Jubilee USA in Washington DC, representing ACC and Jubilee East Bay (a multi-faith coalition of congregations in our area).     It was an interesting time to be in our nation’s capital. I arrived the evening of election day, listened to results with Jubilee friends around the country, and had several opportunities to hear our Jubilee Partners discuss their hopes and concerns about building an economy that gives hope to our most vulnerable people.   A lengthy panel discussion on implications for our work under the new administration was a highlight for me. It is important that we take every opportunity to listen to the perspectives of others as we thoughtfully make choices in our actions.   The good news for the specific work of Jubilee USA is that the work has always been bi-partisan – drawing on shared values of protecting the most vulnerable, and improving transparency that keeps us all safe. Jubilee has worked long and hard to form positive relationships with representatives in both parties.  The notion that “poverty is not good for business” still has articulate voices speaking up for it.

Another highlight of my visit to DC was attending an inspirational dinner Nov. 10th in the Capitol Building hosted by the Jubilee USA Network , honoring Jubilee “CHAMPIONS”, key people who have championed the work of Jubilee USA over the years.  They included Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who said: “The real attention should be on the difficult work needed to protect poor people in developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America from predatory lending practices that deprive them of life’s necessities.”   (And Jubilee would add predatory lending practices in the US as well.)

He reminded me of some of our “New Beginnings” discussions at ACC when he said, “People of faith must unite in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable people by seeing their suffering.” He recalled how he learned what it means to help with development of a country when he served as apostolic nuncio to Ethiopia and Eritrea and later Djibouti.

“You can study it in school. There are courses on development. There are long debates (about development) in parliaments or the Congress of the U.S., but you need to go and see what a village is like,” he said, describing his work in bringing clean water to poor communities.

“Unless you participate in the actual life of the people you have a hard time to understand the needs and the aspirations of these communities,” said the archbishop, who retired in February as the Vatican observer to the U.N. agencies in Geneva and is credited for securing a key agreement on debt relief, tax policy changes and trade reform for developing countries.

Archbishop Tomasi was one of four Jubilee Champions honored for their work on debt relief efforts at the dinner. Others were Spencer Bachus, a former Republican member of Congress from Alabama who ushered legislation through Congress that led to more than $130 billion in debt relief.  (A UCC minister from Boston, who serves on the Jubilee Board of Directors, told me that Senator Bachus became convinced of the “rightness” of Jubilee’s work when a couple of women in his church invited him and his wife to participate in a Bible study on the concept of Jubilee).  Also honored, was  Kent Spriggs, a Florida attorney who was the lead author of “amicus curiae” brief spearheaded by Jubilee USA, signed by 80 faith-based organizations and filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2014 case that helped Argentina block the predatory debt collection practices of a so-called “vulture fund”; and Ruth Messinger, former president of American Jewish World Service, co-founder of Jubilee USA 20 years ago, and now a grandmother who brought her entire entourage of grandchildren with her to the dinner, so they could learn more about making a difference in the world!  (If you care to see the amicus brief, I was given a copy as a memento!)

Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Network executive director, said the four honorees were crucial to the organization’s success, but more importantly showed that their commitment can serve as a strong example of solidarity with the world’s poorest communities.    I used this visit as an opportunity to present them with the funds collected from ACC’s special offering for Jubilee.

Thank you all at ACC who have supported this work and helped me participate in these meetings. Linda

 

My $.10 Worth (Second Installment) by Rev Dorothy Streutker

At the close of my first report on the Tahoe Worship Planning workshop, I promised more installments in the next few weeks; I should have said “months.” This congregation has been very occupied with other matters: losing Eloise, the election, annual budget matters, illnesses and accidents … but I haven’t forgotten, and am still excited to share with you some of Marcia McFee’s’s knowledge and wisdom.

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. (How did that sneak up so fast?) Many of us will find ourselves sharing our own kitchens or being visiting cooks in someone else’s kitchen in preparation of The Great Feast: roasting the turkey, making stuffing, mixing up the all-American green bean casserole (with fried onion bits on top, of course), and warming the rolls. (In my family, forgetting that the rolls are still in the oven until about mid-way through the meals was so standard that we now call it “pulling a Beppe” in honor of our beloved departed mother and grandmother (Beppe), who would suddenly exclaim, “Oh, the rolls!” Then she’d rush to pull them out – only slightly crispy — and get them to the table even though, by then, we’d already have eaten enough to willingly forgo another starch!) And, at least in my experience, there are almost always little (or huge) squabbles over how much celery should go in the stuffing, how to make the gravy (flour or cornstarch or (gasp!) by opening a can), when to tent the turkey, and who should be asked to offer the blessing.

Putting together a big meal is, essentially, a committee activity. Marcia offered an analysis of team dynamics intended to help us work in church committees that may be useful in holiday kitchens, too. She described four energy types: thrusters, shapers, swingers, and hangers. (For those of us who have been subjected, er, privileged to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, this structure is similar, but simpler and easier to apply.) Church committees and most families contain a mix of these types. Understanding the gifts and liabilities of each type may help our committee projects and holiday dinner preparation run more smoothly.

Thrusters she described as the “get ‘er done” folks. They aren’t interested in discussion or lengthy weighing of pros and cons. Instead, their energy is straight-forward. They are eager to get started and to move quickly toward completing the project at hand.  These are the cooks who make both mincemeat and pumpkin pies regardless of how many in the family actually like either. The good news is there will be plenty of dessert; the bad news may be that only one slice of each pie is served, while the rest of the family would have preferred to eat apple crisp.

Shapers are those who would insist on making sure that whatever desserts are planned, that they be presented decently and in order. (Former Presbyterians will recognize this energy type.) The pumpkin pie must have a properly crimped crust, the mincemeat will be Crosse & Blackwell, with a lattice crust (please, put down that faux lattice-work crust cutter), and that the apple crisp will be topped with an oatmeal, flour and butter strudel, not flour and butter alone. These same people, though, may decide that it would be better to buy a tin of assorted cookies, because making the pies and the crisp would simply take too much time and effort, both of which are limited during the holiday season.

Swingers, a/k/a collaborators, are the folks who get on the phone or start e-mailing in late October, canvassing the anticipated guests as to their dessert preference, and indulging in a study of the history of the proffered choices. They exchange recipes – family favorites as well as the latest ideas clipped from the newspaper or magazines – and comparison shop for ingredients weeks ahead, never quite getting around to finally choosing a recipe and acquiring the items needed to make the desserts. Thrusters and shapers come in handy, to help direct the swingers narrow their field of vision, to focus sufficiently to present finished dishes to the table on the Big Day.

Finally, there are the hangers, otherwise called visionaries or dreamers. (I’m fondest of this type because I think I am one. And I prefer the latter titles to “hangers.”) We dreamers fondly remember family holidays filled with joy and gratitude, drifting along on these rosy-hued clouds while our thruster, shaper and swinger friends wrestle to create a reasonable facsimile of what we “recall” (even though the actual events were never quite as idyllic as we remember them). Even so, we attend to the others’ process and, possibly so late in the process as to be annoying to the other participants, we come up with suggestions grand and small that can improve the ultimate product: Hey, let’s omit the pies and put pumpkin pie spice candles in the living room, apple cinnamon potpourri in the family room, and maybe clove studded oranges in the bathroom(s) for ambience. A few hours after dinner, we’ll serve coffee and tea with a buffet of cookies and other sweets in place of dessert! Brilliant, right? Well, maybe, but our fellow cooks/teammates may want to rescind our invitations to the party. From their perspective, it may appear they’ve been doing a lot of work, and this late-arriving suggestion has laid it to waste!

The benefit of recognizing these different energy styles, says Marcia McFee, is to build on the strengths of each and lessen resentment between them. Not only may this awareness make Thanksgiving dinner preparation smoother and less fraught with un-holiday strife, it can also be applied to working on church projects undertaken by any committee. Urge the dreamers to speak up earlier, put the thrusters in the action positions, encourage the shapers to work with the swingers. And above all, remember to respect each other’s styles, recognizing that each has an important role to play.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! And to all, a good night!

Faith is a Verb… Musings by Pastor Tony November 18, 2016

The Worship Team has been working hard! The Worship Team was started in January to help maintain worship during the sabbatical time, and it has continued on to collaborate in designing and leading worship. Since June, one week each month, we have experienced the word of God in a variety of methods beyond the sermon. In July we had stations where we prayed for ourselves, our nation, and our world, and it was really a privilege for me to be in personal prayer with many of you. In August, Rev. Dr. David Vasquez-Levy, the President of PSR, preached and led an adult spectrum on the biblical themes of immigration and refugees. In September, I took a vacation week, and Barry led worship, singing the communion setting. In October, the Worship Team and I wrote an extended liturgy about the New Beginnings, in which we led the attendees as we all told the story of our discernment over the last two decades. In November, I took a continuing education week, and Rev. Susan Meeter preached.

This has allowed one week per month to expand our worship experiences, beyond the words I preach. It also gives a me a few extra hours each month to prepare for the teaching I do with the Worship Team, to visit people who are far flung in our congregation (Walnut Creek, for example), and spend a bit more time in visioning and keeping up with current theology.

My vision for us at Arlington has always been worship that is more organically related to the congregation, accessible to visitors, and is more democratic both in its creation and implementation. The Worship Team is part of that vision, and even as the Worship Team has become great collaborators and celebrators of worship, I have been teaching them some basic principles of worship. Many of the principles I use for good worship design come from Marcia McFee, with whom I have studied in the past and who led the worship workshop that three of us attended in Tahoe last month. Here are some of those basics:

  • Liturgy is the work of the people. (The word “liturgy” comes from the same roots as the words “laity” and “energy”). Liturgy is the order of worship and the written and spoken words in worship. Liturgy as work of the people means that worship is not a performance done by the staff for the congregation; rather it includes all congregants as we all participate in worshipping God. In New Beginnings we learned that modern churches and worship are moving away from a model of God= Prompter, Pastor/Musicians = Performers, and Congregation = Audience. The newer model has God = Audience, Pastor/Musicians = Prompters (think Stage Managers or Directors), and Congregation = Performers/Actors. This means that a shift is occurring so that the congregation is more involved in worship and the staff guides
  • Multisensory worship: An education theory that expands teaching beyond merely verbal and math skills, Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, recognizes that we interact with–and learn about–our world, in at least 8 different ways:
    • Verbal
    • Math
    • Music
    • Inter-personal
    • Intra-personal (self reflection, and other inward conversation)
    • Bodily/kinesthetic (movement and touch)
    • Spatial
    • Nature

A ninth (controversial) mode is Spiritual.

Multi-sensory worship attempts to honor these modes of connecting to the world in the ways we connect with the Divine in Worship. For more information on Multiple Intelligences, here is a link http://www.institute4learning.com/multiple_intelligences.php

  • Layering of worship elements: Rather than the pattern of words-music-words, layering lets music flow under words, enhanced by colors or images, much like a movie score enhances the experience of seeing the movie. The layering of elements is a place where we are all growing, and you can definitely expect more of this; Shanti, who experienced this first hand in Tahoe, is excited by the idea of including the congregation in choir songs, adding bells and other hand instruments to enhance the sound of worship (not just the special music), and allowing music to underscore the words we read. Tim’s ability to doodle and ad lib on the piano really helps us step into this process, too.
  • Different worshippers have different needs. The youngest, the oldest, the new widows, the long-time married, the newly retired, and the newly attending need different things in worship. We take into account who can read, who can see, who can hear, and who can walk. We don’t expect everyone to get something out of each element of worship, but we do hope that everyone gets something out of worship over the trajectory of our worshipping together.
  • Worship in series based on one theme for a month or more, with individual sub-themes for each worship service, invites deeper worship experience. Repeated elements used week after week tie the theme together (these are called “threads”). People who worship once a month can experience part of the worship that the rest of the congregation does, while those who attend each week get some variation through weekly changes that advance the series, and there is deepening of the learning and experience through repetition. Those who cannot read or see can participate over the season by learning the repeated portions.

These elements and principles have informed my worship design; now I am teaching these to the Worship Team, so that the experience of worship continues to expand. We have enlarged our worship repertoire, and I am energized in my preaching by working collaboratively and creatively with other people. In the end, my hope is for richer, more participatory, more engaging experience of God in the worship moments.

Next time you worship with us, try to identify these elements in our worship!

Peace,   Pastor Tony