Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28, 2009 Pastor's Letter

The word communion literally refers to the act of sharing things in common, of participating together, of coming together. And ever since Jesus Christ initiated the ordinance of Holy Communion, Christians have indeed been coming together to argue about what communion is. This seems a bit counter-productive to the purpose of Communion, but we can be truthful about the divisions that communion has caused throughout history. For it is through the embracing of the truth about our differences, recognizing them and acknowledging them that we can begin the journey towards unity.

Unity does not ask us to pretend we are all the same, that we all agree with one another. Neither does World Communion Sunday. We have spent many years reminding ourselves why certain denominations and theological differences are significant. Wars have been fought over different expressions of Christianity; it would be trite of us to sweep all those disagreements and differences under the rug. But World Communion Sunday does ask us to come together, to remember that there is One who is acting, that does make us one. We come together as an act of remembrance, in celebration and worship of the One who truly does make us ALL one.

We find expressions of the Last Supper in three of the four gospels. The Gospel of John tells an account of a Passover meal, shared by Jesus and his disciples, but focuses on the act of foot-washing without mentioning the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Matthew, Mark and Luke however, all share an account of the Lord’s Supper and some version of these Words of Institution, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after give thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26 – 28). And by reading these words of institution, we are reminded that it is in fact God in Christ is doing the acting.

While we act and participate in the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday, it is God who acts through the bread and the wine, who provides forgiveness, who is present with us, and who unites us through this holy meal. It is not our hands, nor our mouths, our hearts, nor our lives that make this meal holy and divine. It is God acting and participating in this meal with us that makes us One in God through Christ.

So why is this day, this World Communion Sunday important?

By celebrating World Communion Sunday, we, both as Disciples, and with Christians everywhere, recognize that it is God’s acting that brings us together in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The human institutions we call churches and denominations may have disagreements, we may argue, and we may oppose one another on many varying understandings of Christianity. However, in celebrating World Community Sunday, we recognize the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God that we all worship and love. We recognize and continue to invite God into our lives, that we might make room for the Holy Spirit that unites us in God through Christ. World Communion Sunday does not ask us to give up our individual natures that make us unique and different, in and attempt to be unified. Rather World Communion Sunday celebrates the One which makes us all one. World Communion Sunday celebrates the wholeness we find in the life and body of Christ. World Communion Sunday invites us to be part of the gathering of the multitudes, that the gathering of our differences might bring us to wholeness and oneness in Jesus Christ, and the holy meal he offers to his followers.

In Hope… Laura

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Adventure We Call Life

I stole this from another blog, but I felt like it really captured the feeling of my "adventures" to Kentucky and now to Louisiana. No - I'm not thinking of any particular person I've left behind that I will be marrying in the future. And there's not any specific thing that was "trapping" me. Maybe there is someone back "home" - maybe that "someone" is my family, maybe there's no one, maybe I'll stay in Louisiana for longer than I thought, maybe I'll move to New Zealand?!!? :) If I've learned anything in my last few years, it's that making plans like that is not in my "plan." Yes I have goals - but I can still have goals an ambitions, while at the same time I enjoy the ride, making sure to listen to God, my own instincts, my family and loved ones, because I know that whatever I do have ahead, all those people and things will most certainly be a part of this adventure and blessing we call life.

"If you've ever wondered about the one who got away, or the road not taken, or felt any kind of those Hallmark what-ifs, then the following story is for you. Catherine Monahan's account of her second chance at a life with her first love is straight out of a Nora Ephron plot. You can just imagine Meg Ryan or Amy Adams playing her in the movie as she loads her boxes into the car, her face streaming with tears. All that and a happy ending. it's a perfect way to start the week."

"Three years ago I was engaged to be married. Two years ago, I was not. Now I am ... again. To the same person, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not long after graduating from college, I found myself living in the town where I’d gone to school, with a few good friends and a job at an ad agency I loved. I had been dating Matt for the three years since sophomore year of college. I was comfortable to a fault, moving through a daily routine of meetings, quiet dinners at home, and Dateline murder mysteries. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that maybe I’d slipped into this comfortable state a little too early, bypassing another life I was meant to live in between.

I listened longingly to my friends’ tales of their adventures in singledom. I watched them move to Portland, teach in Poland, and try their eager hands at typical post-grad larks. Then a few months later, I found myself accepting a marriage proposal I wasn’t sure I wanted.

Matt and I were as complacent as we were happy. After the ceaseless stress of studying for and taking the bar exam, he was relieved to finally start his career. I had been his sounding board throughout law school, his moral support when we drove to the state capital to take the exam, his cushion from the pins and needles that followed. And suddenly, all was quiet in a way I wasn’t ready for. I loved him more than anything, but when it came to marriage, I felt like a little kid. And when it came to the life we’d made for ourselves, I felt trapped.

I wanted more in a vague, inexplicable way, and until I could put my finger on it, the restlessness would continue. I had been planted, but I hadn’t bloomed yet.

Six months into our engagement, as all the plans and decisions began to pick up speed, my interest in the entire process waned. Yet every time I watched Matt read the paper or fall asleep with the dog, I felt an ache—the ache that comes with knowing you’re about to hurt someone you love.

One Friday evening after work, I inched by him as he stood in the doorway of his apartment and placed the ring on his desk. There were words and crying, most of which I don’t remember. I knew I would feel regret no matter what I chose—but which form of regret was I willing to bear? The pain of hurting a loved one, or the endless dissatisfaction that comes with knowing there is a you that you never got to be? Walking out of his apartment, I felt crazy and cruel, but I was ready to deal with the consequences.

Soon after, I picked up and left Omaha to move to Chicago, a city that had been my Oz since childhood. I’d gotten a job offer just days before, and went for it blindly, anxiously, hopefully. I moved in with a roommate I found online and I learned the ins and outs of the city while getting used to the deep, interminable loneliness.

I started the writing program at Second City. A year later, I was able to see my sketches performed on stage, in front of an audience of people who’d paid to be there. I volunteered at a creative writing tutoring center. I met new people, endured a layoff, found a new job, made mistakes, and learned from them. And I did all of it on my own.

By way of a mutual, unspoken agreement, Matt and I were not in contact during my time in Chicago. I had no idea what he was doing, who he was dating ,or how he felt about me. To a certain extent, it was better not to know. I missed him, and I wished him the best, but I had finally gotten used to city life—the pace and the people, and I never looked back.

And then my dad died after a few weeks of quickly deteriorating health. I quickly learned what it was like to be vulnerable after months of depending on my own strength. Matt was the first person I e-mailed when we got home from the hospital, and after a week of silence, I received a reply. He explained that he had been mountain climbing in the Cascades and hadn’t gotten my e-mail until that day. He has a way with words that could make one of those old-time executioners get misty-eyed. Everything he said was exactly what I needed to hear.

I spent the next few months traveling between St. Louis, where my mom lives, and Chicago, trying to maintain the life I’d built while holding things together at home. They say that the holidays are always difficult after a death, and we had the misfortune to face Thanksgiving and Christmas after just two months. One Sunday night in early December, I was sitting alone in my room when I got an e-mail from Matt.

He told me he loved me, that after more than a year of making the best of his life without me, he wasn’t ready to let us go. Oh, and he was in Chicago. I was paralyzed and didn’t respond until he had left the city. What ensued was another e-mail, followed by a series of phone calls, then a decision to meet for lunch when I returned to Omaha to visit friends in January.

I tried not to be duped by the rush of warmth I felt when I saw Matt again after nearly two years. We filled each other in on our adventures and misadventures over egg salad and fries. He had traveled to Portugal, hiked and climbed on every vertical surface imaginable, made new friends, and smoked his first and last cigarette. He had learned to live without me. I had learned to live without him. We had learned to be happy apart, and here we were, together.

The rest isn’t so much history as a life in the making. We started dating again, taking turns making weekend trips to Omaha and Chicago. Gradually, the topic of marriage crept into our conversation. It felt natural and mutual and—this time—it felt right.

Matt and I are getting married in November. It will be simple and unfussy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are the same people, but we are better, and, after two years of loneliness and personal growth, we are better for each other."é-order-marry-him#

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

September 08, 2009 Pastor's Letter

“I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you prefer to hear first?”

I always hate that question. Can’t we just forget about the bad news, just sweep it under the rug until another time? I also stress out when asked this question; maybe I should hear the good news first, so that it will lessen the blow of the bad news. Or maybe I should hear the good news last, which might make me feel better after hearing the bad news. But what if the bad news is SO bad that I can‘t stand to even comprehend the good news?! See what I mean? STRESS!

So, I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you prefer to hear first?

I’m going to make that decision for you – because the good news I have to share depends on knowing the bad news.

Here’s the bad news. You may have heard it before, but here goes – we are sinners. Sometimes we don’t talk about this as much as we probably should, for fear of sounding too much like a church that only preaches “hell-fire and damnation,” but it’s important for us to remember and to identify.

Many of us might define sin differently, or might explain how sin came to be in the world in different ways. Scholars throughout history have argued over such explanations, sometimes which have caused significant splits in congregations. However, regardless of how exactly we define sin, or where we believe sin came from, one thing we can all agree upon is that it is present. Sin is present, we are sinful, and we commit sins. And no human being is immune to sin.

One of my favorite books called, Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms describes sin in this way. Theologically, people fail at being human the way God intends humans to be because of a condition known as sin. Also known as “fallenness,” “brokenness,” and “the human condition,” sin refers to the state of who we are, the condition that we are stuck in. The word sin is also used to describe the individual moments in which we all go about our failing. Because of sin (the condition of failing), we sin (we do things that make us fail). Confusing? Maybe a bit. But bottom line – there is sin in the world, and no human being is immune to it.

So what’s the good news?

Jesus. Jesus is the good news. Jesus is the good message. Jesus is the Gospel. Jesus, sent from God, Jesus as God, Jesus IS the Good News. In the midst of our failing, our fallenness, our brokenness, our human condition, and in our sinfulness, Jesus, God, has come to be with us, to share with us, and to save us. This is the Gospel – that “God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”

Again, we, especially as Disciples of Christ, may understand Jesus’ presence with us, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and eternal life in different ways, but the bottom line is that Jesus IS Good News. Jesus is the Gospel.

As we begin to study The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, and always, let us remember; Dr. Seuss, the author of the book, Rev. Michael, myself, you, and many others – we may understand different versions of the Good News. We may have different understandings of Jesus’ presence with us, our salvation, we may understand these differently, but inherently Jesus IS Good News. But, “As member of the Christian Church, we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.” (Taken from the Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

And despite any of our differences in understanding, we celebrate one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Not only that, we rejoice in new illustrations of that Good News. We celebrate new ways that we might understand God, and God’s gifts to us. Whether it’s a new series on The Gospel According to…, or a brother or sister in our congregation sharing this new illustration of God’s love, let us open our ears, our minds and our hearts, that we may hear anew the Good News!

In Hope…. Laura