A lighter, brighter Lent

March 3rd, 2015

Mark 8:27-38
March 1, 2015
Steve Hammond

You think Jesus would have been pleased. Maybe the disciples were finally starting to get it. Up to this point in Mark’s story, it’s seemed more like the work of a reporter telling people about the life, teachings, and reactions to Jesus. But suddenly it gets very personal. Jesus goes from asking the disciples “who do people say I am,” to “who do you say that I am?” Suddenly it was a very different story. The disciples were required to show their hands. Sure they have seemed a bit dimwitted along the way. And reading the story up to this point, you almost are ready to cringe at what the response might be. But then Peter surprises all of us and gets it right.

It went pretty quickly downhill from that mountain top, though. I’m sure Peter and the other disciples thought Peter had gotten it right. Surely that was the answer that Jesus was looking for. But Jesus was never that easily figured out. There was always more going on with him than anyone expected or could handle. So instead of heaping praise on Peter he simply says don’t say anything about this.

That was weird enough, but then he started talking about suffering, being rejected, and put to death by the religious establishment. That was too, too much for Peter. “Are you out of you mind? Here I just thought we had it figured out that you are the Messiah and then you start talking all this nonsense. The Messiah doesn’t die. In fact, he’s the one who does the killing. Everybody know that, Jesus.” You think Peter would have figured out by now that it’s probably never a good idea to rebuke Jesus. So Jesus responded, calling Peter Satan. That’s intense.

We already talked about that very first recorded interchange between Jesus and Satan that happened out in the wilderness shortly after Jesus was baptized. It’s interesting that the season of Lent in the life of the church has its roots based in this temptation story. I don’t think that really works, though, when you think about the story. I want you to take out your hymnals and turn to hymn number 180. (We aren’t going to sing it). But look at the words. It’s about mourning and conquering our sins, and penitence, which are the big things we focus on in Lent. But think about the story. Was Jesus mourning or wrestling with sin? Was going into the wilderness and fasting an act of penitence for him? What was he contending with in the desert as he struggled with Satan? Temptation. Temptation and sin are very different things. And remember how that story ends. It says Satan left him for a time. And when is one of those times that Satan show up again, reclaiming his title as The Tempter? Here in this story where we thought Peter and the disciples were at their finest hour.

What Satan offered Jesus in that time in the wilderness was not that different than what Jesus was being offered by Peter’s understanding about what it meant to be the Messiah; power, wealth, fame, adoration, safety, and triumph over all of his enemies. That was the temptation that was always before Jesus, to take that easier route that Peter and everyone else was holding out for him. Why suffer? Why take the risk of loving your enemies? Why not make yourself a friend to the religious and political establishment? Why align yourself with the outcast and the poor, when the insiders and wealthy had much more to offer, could help you get where you wanted to go much faster? Why die on Pilate’s cross when you could crucify him? And maybe Herod and Caesar on both sides of Pilate.

Jesus knew the way Peter and the others wanted him to go was the only way they understood. They thought he was opting for weakness. They wanted to be proud of being with him, but if he kept on going the way he was, all they saw was shame. So he offered them a way out. They didn’t have to pick up a cross if they didn’t want to. But if they were going to continue with him, they had to pick up a cross and follow him. And that’s exactly what his point was. It wasn’t just about picking up a cross, it was also about following him.

Following means you are on the move. You are in transit, you are going somewhere. And Jesus was going in a whole different direction than everybody else. That’s why we have crosses, to deal with people like him. But Jesus saw beyond a cross on a hillside. He was moving toward what he trusted would become an empty tomb. When Jesus asks us to pick up a cross and follow him, he’s not asking us to die, but to risk resurrection, because that’s what he was doing.

I think, sometimes, we forget that when it comes to Lent. Lent is too often about sacrifice and sin, it gets us too focused on what we give up rather than what we can gain by following Jesus. But the interesting thing about Lent is that it is so seasonally challenged, and maybe there is a big hint there. What’s happening during those days and weeks of Lent when we are looking at the darkness of sin, confession, and sacrifice? Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, as Lent goes along the days get longer and lighter and warmer. Lent is a movement toward life, not death. If your Lenten practices, or even your faith, don’t lead you toward life then you’ve got to find something else. That doesn’t mean there won’t be death along the way. Ask anybody who has picked up a cross. But to be following Jesus, to be moving, in transit, making transitions, being transformed has to be toward life because that’s the only place Jesus is going.

I want to say this gently because we all struggle to get this business of following Jesus right. But, I see too many TV preachers and others who seem to be moving toward death in what they believe and preach. They are still, it seems, looking for the same kind of Messiah that Peter and the others were tempting Jesus to be. It’s almost as if they are ashamed of what Jesus stood for and his loving, non-violent, and inclusive way of living. And there are also way too many politicians who are proclaiming their policies of death and division are based on Christian principles. They aren’t volunteering to pick up a cross and lead the way. Rather they want us to pick up a cross and go away.

It’s not only more conservative Christians who might need to examine themselves, though. We sometimes imagine that following Jesus really amounts to getting involved in progressive coalitions where we save the world through politics. We just have a different politics than the conservatives, but for both sides political solutions make more sense than a cross.

I don’t think Jesus was ever looking to be a martyr. His goal in life wasn’t to pick up his cross. He just wanted to keep moving toward life no matter how steadfast and even violent the opposition was to who he understood God to be. And maybe it’s helpful for us to think about the cross not only in relationship to our sins and fears and failures, but also the temptations that we encounter that would try, even in the name of God, to divert us to death or, at least, keep up from moving, following Jesus, toward life.

I am so glad that Joyce incorporated a candle in the piece she created for the communion table for this season of Lent. It’s not all about death and darkness, but like all seasons of the church year, Lent is about life and light. Think about it. Advent, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost all feature light. Why should Lent be any different?

Before you come up for communion, or afterwards, or if you are not coming for communion, you are invited to take a candle and light it from the one up here. What resurrections are you waiting for? What death do you want to leave behind? Not even Jesus could make it all the way as he bore his cross toward life. He had help carrying it. What help do you need as you pick up your cross and follow Jesus? Who needs help carrying their cross? Who do you need to help carry their cross? With that cross on your shoulders who do you say that Jesus is? Where is he taking you as you follow him? Who is with you as you keep moving, keep following during Lent and beyond to that place of light and life?

Sarah Johnson–preaching on work in Guatamela

March 3rd, 2015

Hebrews 12:1-2
2.22.2014
Sarah Johnson

Here are Sarah Johnson’s notes from her sermon on the work she will be doing in Guatemala after she graduates.

Intro

thanks for having me here today

Mary and Steve are in Jackson Hole, busily posting cute pictures of their twin grandbabies on Facebook

here to talk a little bit about the work I’ll be doing after I graduate, starting in late July and going until May or so.

mostly I want to just share a few stories about my time in Guatemala and what I hope to do while I’m there

Additional passage from Hebrews

Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Story 1

talk about the time I went to breakfast with a family for the first time and stayed forever and ever (2 hours) because I didn’t realize it was time for me to leave.

interlude where I talk a little bit about Guatemalan Civil War and work of NISGUA

claimed 200,000 lives, lasted 36 years, genocide, disappearance

US military intervention often in the interests of (even behest of) American corporations

impunity for perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as well as ongoing disregard for human rights in extractive industries.

but on the bright side, there is fierce resistance to injustice in Guatemala, and it often comes from unlikely places…

Story 2 – Meeting Santiago Chuk

young human rights lawyer from Santa Elena

went to law school and immediately devoted himself to human rights law

Guatemalan Human Rights Law Firm

Dos Erres case

Rios Montt case

brief background on the case – first time ex-head-of-state tried & convicted in his own country, first time anyone was brought up on charges of genocide against indigenous peoples of the Americas

meeting Santiago in his office (him looking exactly like his brother)

Santiago’s name was on the case file as one of the prosecutors

interlude where I talk about what accompaniment is

In the Guatemalan context, accompaniment is one tool used in response to the threats, harassment, and violence faced by human rights defenders. Our role is primarily a supportive one: as international human rights observers, we work to create a climate that is safe for everyday Guatemalan people to exercise their human rights to justice and self-determination, free from infringement by business or government entities. For three decades, NISGUA has been responding to Guatemalan activists’ requests for a dissuasive international presence by training and placing volunteers as human rights accompaniers.

Accompaniers work as human rights observers, providing an international presence at the request of Guatemalans organizing in defense of their rights in a variety of contexts, including precedent-setting genocide cases. Accompaniers work in pairs, travel between the capital and an assigned region, share in rural life, observe and report on conditions, monitor the human rights situation, and provide a crucial link to the international community. NISGUA trains volunteers and matches them with groups in the U.S. that support the accompanier’s stay both financially and personally.”

Story 3 – Father Stanley Rother [2-3 minutes]

Oklahoma priest who spent 12 years in Guatemala near Santiago Atitlan before being killed by a death squad after returning to the country despite concerns about his name being on a kill list

set up a clinic called the Hospitalito, ran their tractor and stopped only for Mass, etc

His Tzutuhil parishoners asked his family if they could bury his heart under the altar and the family agreed

really amazing because a) that’s a big request to grant and b) the Tzutuhil were confident enough that the request would be granted to ask

most of the time Mayan people learn at a very early age that white people won’t listen to or respect their requests, so even being able to ask is a huge, amazing thing

the significance of burying your heart somewhere

the situation in the 1980’s was very different than the situation now, but wanting to go to Guatemala being aware of the great cloud of witnesses encouraging us to run the race set before us.
Where is your heart buried?

Unveiling

March 3rd, 2015

Mark 7:2-9
February 15, 2015
Mary Hammond

Today we conclude our celebration of Epiphany–this time of Light, Showing, and Revealing. We begin the season, remembering the Sages who travel from the East to bring gifts to honor the young child, Jesus. King Herod slyly seeks to make them into “informants,” advising them to return to him and report back on the location of the Child. They defy the King, leaving another way. He is enraged. Stopping at nothing, Herod orders a massacre of the innocents—the slaughter of Jewish boys under the age of two.

Thus the season commences, shrouded in a mixture of Light and Darkness that accompanies life in any Age. A ruthless ruler, potential double-agents, dissident informants, a horrific massacre, and a refugee family, finally settling into a place they begin to call home. Spared from disaster, the boy, Jesus, grows up. He becomes a Teacher, Healer, and Prophet. His popularity with the common people is strong, but among the powerful, he is viewed as a threat.

Jesus knows what is coming as he continues his showdown with the powers of the Age. By today’s point in the story, he has just begun explaining to his disciples what is to come—not the glorious revolution, turning the tables on Rome and re-asserting Israel’s geographical dominance; but a different revolution, one that passes through suffering, death, and seeming defeat. The disciples cannot bear his words, nor understand them, and Peter rebukes Jesus (Mark 8:31-33).

Thus begins the slow, arduous descent toward Lent, culminating in Holy Week–a show trial, false conviction, torture, and the execution of Jesus. And then—and then–a surprise! If the story is visceral and gritty at the start of Epiphany, it only gets more so as we continue this journey.

It seems fitting that today we would remember the event that has come to be called, “The Transfiguration.” It is an account in Mark’s Gospel of ‘a moment in the life’ of Jesus and three disciples—not ‘any’ moment, but an unforgettable, luminous moment, one of both warning and promise.

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a trek up a mountain. This in itself is probably nothing new. The mountains are an important place for solitude, prayer, and reflection for Jesus, and surely he took disciples with him many times. I would wish that there were also some women on this journey. None are mentioned.

Today, however, is different. As the three disciples stand there with Jesus, Moses and Elijah appear! Is it a vision? A dream? Does the veil between this world and the next tear away for a brief moment? Does chronological time collapse into eternal time, where all is joined together in the Sacred Now?

Dazzling light surrounds Jesus as he converses with these saints of old. His garments are shining white. A voice speaks from a cloud, “This is my beloved son; listen to him.”

White garments are a sign of power and royalty. In apocalyptic literature, so common in Jesus’ day, white garments are also the clothes of the martyred. This vision of dazzling light and glory has an edge to it—an edge of danger.

Peter, not knowing what to say, blurts out the first thing in his head. How about making a Memorial right here and now? Booths for each of you? James and John seem stunned into silence.

The scene passes, and soon only Jesus remains before the disciples. ‘What just happened?’ they wonder among themselves. ‘Was that God we heard in the cloud? Did we really see Moses and Elijah? What does this all mean?’

Amid the confusion, Jesus tells the men to zip up their mouths and keep this experience secret until after he has died and risen again. They haven’t a clue what he is talking about.

Why does Jesus ask them to be quiet right now? Are these moments subject to embellishment with their continued re-telling? Will such sharing turn the focus away from the significant in favor of the spectacular? Could this story further fuel the peoples’ hopes for a military Messiah who finally delivers the Promised Land of their dreams? We do not know.

We often think of this experience as principally for the disciples, but it could also have been, or even primarily been, for Jesus. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus…in deep conversation. Law, Spirit, Prophet…Story. A Voice sounding so much like the Spirit hovering over Jesus’ baptism. After that proclamation, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he is driven into the Wilderness, sorely tempted for 40 days and 40 nights (Mark 1:9-13). After this voice, Jesus is driven into Jerusalem, toward his final confrontation with the powers of this world, toward the inevitable consequences of his radical faithfulness.

How do these luminous, visionary moments on the mountain sustain Jesus through the weeks to come? How do they sustain Peter, James, and John after Jesus’ death and resurrection? We read in the Acts of the Apostles that James is murdered by Herod’s henchmen in a brutal persecution of the nascent Jesus movement (Acts 12:1-2). Tradition tells us that Peter’s life ends by being crucified upside down. John lives a long life, but is exiled to the island of Patmos. We may not know how these moments later sustain Jesus or these disciples, and yet we do know the times that our own luminous experiences of awe, wonder, and holy shock sustain us.

It is easy for Peter’s outburst to distract us from the heart of the story. Amid all the grandeur of the Transfiguration, the crux of this experience lies in the Voice from within the cloud proclaiming, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Listen. Just listen. Open your ears. Take in what Jesus is saying and doing. Release your preconceptions, even ones like building booths and yakking away about revelations received on mountains. Listen.

As we prepare for the season of Lent, it is not just a time of self-examination. It is a time for listening to Jesus. Peter may want to stay on the mountain and relish the moment, but Jesus is on the move, and so are his people. So is the church. So are you and me.

May our soul feast on these moments, today, as we remember once more the Light that comes into the world. Let us walk closely with Jesus as he travels through days of intense darkness, steadfastly emanating the Light that even death cannot contain. Amen.

Being Normal Again for the First Time

March 3rd, 2015

Mark 1:29-41
February 8, 2015
Steve Hammond

“Isn’t that just how it goes?” someone in the house must have said. “That poor woman was on her deathbed and as soon as the Healer breaks her fever, they have her cooking supper for his gang. Don’t women ever get a break?” It may have been that was what was happening. But it also could have been the woman had been so sick that when she was healed the only thing she wanted was life to get back to normal. And for her that meant getting back to things like cooking.

Now I have been really, really sick only once in my life. But that one was a doozy. There was some concern for a while that that cat bite would do me in. But after all those days in the hospital (17, but who’s counting?), and all those months in physical and speech therapy where I learned to walk again and regain most of what I had lost vocally, there was nothing like things getting back to normal. My only other personal major encounter with the medical system was all those years ago when I broke my foot and had that cast on from my knee down for 10 weeks. But it finally healed, the cast and crutches were gone. Things got back to normal.

I know plenty of you have had or are having your own health crises. And I can’t but imagine that you would agree with me that one of the really good things about healing or the healing you are hoping for is life getting back to normal or, at least, close to normal. And even if the medical issues haven’t been all that critical wasn’t it a wonderful feeling when you woke up that morning and felt so much better from the flu, the cold, or the sore throat? You were able to get back to normal life. Mary has been dealing with this flu and other stuff that so many have caught this year. I don’t know how many people have said or written something like it took me 3 weeks to what? Get back to normal.

There are lots of healing stories in the Bible, and particularly in the Gospels. One thing, of course, you have to keep in mind when you talk about healing is that healing doesn’t always happen. But sometimes it does. We could spend all of our time today and for the next several Sundays exploring what all that means. But today, the focus is just on the healing that does happen. And miraculous or not, no matter the current state of our health, we have all experienced healing from serious or minor illnesses and accidents. And there is also a lot we could say about what healing actually is, but today I do want to focus on the idea of life getting back to normal. And the caveat here, of course, is that for too many folk in this world, back to normal is not good enough. So that’s why I think a good part of what these healing stories in the Gospels are about is showing us that Jesus was trying to get us to a normal that we have never had before. We just may not realize how sick we really are, and the healing we need.

Now Jesus could surely have made it as a faith healer. The story we just read talked about how he healed people with all kinds of diseases and the many demons that were tormenting them. The disciples could have been his entourage that went for city to city, village to village setting up the tent, putting up the publicity, contacting the local synagogues, and counting the money. If that is what Jesus would have done, Rome would never have even bothered with him, much less torture him on a cross. He would have been harmless entertainment. And if he actually did heal anybody that was even better.

It turns out, though, that Jesus didn’t want to be a healer, or at least that kind of healer. When Jesus healed that leper he told him not to tell anyone. Oral Roberts did not become Oral Roberts by healing people and telling them not to let anyone know. The same with that guy in Akron (what was his name?) or any other of the faith healers that have come along. Jesus wasn’t looking to be a faith healer, but healing was a big part of what he was about. The Healer who wasn’t a healer. Don’t you just love paradox and contradiction? That’s because they make us look at things more deeply and maybe notice some complexity and nuance we have been missing.

Jesus was a healer who refused to claim that title for himself. I think a big reason for that was he didn’t want healing limited to something the faith healers do. Nor did he want to be the only healer. I think Jesus was telling us that to follow him means that we are all called to be healers. And that is much more than casting fevers or demons out of people. Rather it’s more about helping men, women, and children, systems and structures, the trees and air and animals and water and everything get back to that normal we are longing for, the normal we have never experienced.

That wonderful passage in Romans 8 talks about all of creation, that’s us and everything, longing for the revealing of the children of God so everything can be set free from its bondage. All of creation is waiting for healing, for things to get back to normal; that is, what’s normal in God’s eyes. Jesus had such a vision of and such a trust in what God saw as normal for this world, stuff we keep missing. In this world that Jesus understood as normal you can be sick and in better shape than those who think they are well. As Henri Nouwen wrote, we don’t bring healing to this world because we are well, but because we are wounded. We are the wounded healers who are trying to help Jesus recover normal for this world.

How has healing worked in your life? What are the processes of healing? Do you have any images of healing? I know for sure that healing doesn’t happen without others. When I was so sick so many people took care of me. Doctors, nurses, aides, therapists, social workers, so many of you and other PCC folk who were around then, but particularly our daughter Rachel, and most of all Mary. But there were also the medical researchers and the teachers who taught the doctors and nurses. There were the administrators who made sure the hospital was there. There were the secretaries and janitors and cooks and volunteers and all the others who had to be doing their jobs if I was going to be healed. Healing doesn’t happen without each other. And the way this world will find its normal for the first time is with each other. Jesus knew that. He knew that together we could bring the healing not only each other, but this whole world and all or creation needs.

Let’s go back to the story. What do you think it was like in that home where Peter’s mother-in-law was? What was going through her mind? What about Peter? His wife? The disciples? Family and on-lookers? Why did Jesus head to the wilderness when all those folk were wanting him to stay there and heal them? Are there clues from this story or our own stories about how healing comes to us or how we bring healing to this world so we can help it find normal again for the first time?

Healing Peter’s mother-in-law was a big thing. Healing the leper was a big thing. Driving out the demon in the man in the synagogue in that story right before this was a big thing. Healing all the people that were brought to him was a big thing. Healing means something big, especially if you’re the one getting healed. But Jesus had a much bigger thing in mind.

So here’s where I fulfill the promise I made last week about what my original choice was when we decided to change the name of the church. No, it wasn’t Peace Community Church. But I continue to be so glad for that choice. That consensus process that lasted six months even moved me to a new place.

At first, I tried to convince people of the merits of St. Stephen’s, but that really didn’t go anywhere. But my real first choice was Church of the Resurrection. What drew me to that name was the fact that Jesus was always pointing us toward life. Jesus was all about resurrection, not just for himself; but all of us–all of creation. We are so gripped by death in this world. What’s going on in this world that we have ISIS or the militarism that has such a hold on this country? Why are we so bad to each other in so many ways. It’s a sickness that we are called to help heal. It’s death that we are called to challenge with life. You can be sick but still know the healing that comes when you are moving toward life. And you can think you are well when you are so very sick.

For Jesus, God was always the God of Life, not the God of death that so many of us have made God into. I think Jesus more than believed in resurrection, he counted on it. He knew that what is normal in this life is life. So how could things end with death? Life, for Jesus, has the final word. Life is what calls us to find together what it means to be normal again for the first time. And life is what heals us.

Community as a Core Value for Peace Community Church

January 21st, 2015

Here are this week’s Reflection Questions for Sunday. You all shared such varied insights last Sunday. It was so rich and textured and insightful! If you have the opportunity…think on these things!–Mary

On “Community” as part of the name, Peace Community Church:

What does it mean to you to have the word ‘community’ in the name of the church? Is this important to you? Why or why not?

Do you see this congregation as having a commitment to community? What does that mean to you?

Some people are drawn to PCC because of our community. But others may feel that a commitment to community brings with it commitments to engagement that they may not want to make, and this may keep them away. Are we hurting or helping ourselves and the long-term future of the congregation in our focus on community?

What do we have to guard against in our understanding of community? Do we expect too much or too little of community?

Should our understanding of community be widened or deepened? If so, how?

How does ‘community’ fit with ‘peace’ and with ‘church’?

From Jane Story…
Community is intensely important!! We have such busy lives and can keep our noses in our separate phones so easily, that it is easy to forget how much we need each other to reflect Jesus’ love and support to each other. Here is why community is so important to me: When I came for Sarah’s funeral, my spouse kept telling me how PCC would have changed and that it would be different. It wasn’t. We were able to be together in the Community Room at PCC and support each other in our grief. We heard each other. We laughed. We knit (literally, I mean!!). We hung out. And we all belonged–to God, to PCC (the church entity that has shaped so many of us), and to each other. We belonged whether or not we knew each other, because we walk in the door, we all identify as a community committed to Christ.

Peace as a Core Value for Peace Community Church

January 13th, 2015

As we move toward the future at Peace Community Church, one of the things we are doing is exploring and defining the core values of the congregation. It was suggested to us by our Area Minister, Rev. Alan Newton, that since we changed the name of the congregation 15 years ago, examining those three words in our name might be a good place to start when it comes to our core values. So for three Sundays in January 2015 we are doing just that. Here are the questions we asked for ‘Peace’ week.

What does it mean to you to have the word ‘peace’ in the name of the church? Is that important to you?

Do you see this congregation as having a commitment to peace?

Should it have a commitment to peace?

Does a commitment to peace focus our mission or distract us from other things we should be doing?

Some people are drawn to our congregation because of our commitment to peacemaking. But that turns some people away. Are we hurting ourselves and the long term future of the congregation by focusing too much on peace? Does it make us too political?

Do we talk too much about peace, involve ourselves in too many issues related to peace?

Should our understanding of peace be widened? If so how?

Does peace fit with community and church?

We had a great discussion during and after worship. We also had input from some folk from the PCC Scattered people which you can find below. Two of the book titles that came up in our discussion were “I’d Rather Teach Peace” by Coleman McCarthy, and “The Politics of Jesus” by John Howder Yoder.

From Anita Peebles…

Peace and church are both political, and I think it’s really good to have a church that is open about what it’s about. Instead of discussing peace and being open and affirming inside the walls in hushed voices, PCC lets everyone know…that’s what we’re supposed to do, I think. There are not so many churches out there that have peacemaking as one of their values and top priorities, so I think it’s important to let people know that’s what we do so we can draw in people who are looking for a congregation like that and feel safe bringing up political things in church.
I think PCC has a wide definition of peace already. From interpersonal to mental health issues to racial issues to the environment to Israel/Palestine…we talk about all these things and think critically about them. People who preach aren’t telling you what to think about these issues, either, but suggesting some new reflection points that have shaped the way they themselves have thought about these issues.
I think peacemaking is something Christians or “Jesus followers” and the church are called to do, so I don’t think it distracts from other things. Yes, everyone’s calendar is really hectic with vigils and marches and meetings and subgroups and committees, but that’s because we are all engaged in what peacemaking means to us…and that is so special. That Linda and Roger are making a home for Jonathan sometimes and that’s their way of peacemaking. That you and Mary are working with ECO and attend college convocations and work with ORSL, and that’s a way you are engaged in peacemaking. That Al writes letters to the editor and hosts events at Kendal and stands on the corner each Saturday, that’s his way of peacemaking. That Peggy plays music for shut ins and people who are ill, and that’s her way of peacemaking. That Franklin is always so genuinely open and friendly at his job at the IGA, and that’s his way of peacemaking. Everyone has their thing they do, and I hope they all see it as equally important in the work of making the world a better and safer and more beautiful and community oriented place. We can’t all be serving directly in war zones and places of unrest in the world, but those of us that can, do. We can’t all be teaching preschool environmental education, but those of us that can, do. We can’t all be living in a co-op or raising sheep or organizing for UniteHere, but those of us that can, do.

Love all of you at PCC.

From Kate Mooneyhah…

Peace seems on my mind a lot these days, with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increasing militarization of local policing. Yellow Springs is an ideal location to meditate on peace – there is a weekly “peace protest” every Saturday downtown – a number of dedicated seniors holding up signs promoting peace! Plus the community is active in peaceful protests over the John Crawford shooting. I love the mix of religion and peace. I can’t say how it works for you, since I am not there. I wish every church had a passion for peace, in the world and in every day live. Every week at the Cathollic Church I go to (for my Catholic kids) we offer each other the sign of peace. I look forward to reading what other think.

From Jessie Downs…

What does it mean to you to have the word ‘peace’ in the name of the church? Is that important to you?
The fact that “peace” is in PCC’s name means a lot of things to me, but the first thing that comes to mind is that it sets the church apart from other churches. A lot of people have a negative view of “the church” (and often especially of “Baptist” or any signature “American” churches), but by saying that PCC is a “Peace Church,” I think it tells people that it is a place that is not about fire and brimstone, not about violent exclusion, not about a war-mongering Jesus. It speaks to me of the Quakers and similar groups who have a legacy of working for peace in this country, but it also almost suggests a new kind of church all together. It’s important to me because it labels the church as “counter-cultural.”
I also think that it sets up a high standard for what the atmosphere of the church is to be like – truly PEACE-ful. It speaks of a gentle people with a gentle practice.

Do you see this congregation as having a commitment to peace?
I think back to how members of the church go out to the street corner on a regular basis holding signs saying something along the lines of “Honk for Peace.” That takes a lot of commitment in my mind. Things like that, as well as PCC’s consistent alliance with student initiatives for peace, whether peace vigils or peaceful protest, etc, makes PCC a committed part of the Oberlin atmosphere.
I also think that the social justice issues that PCC is passionate about often have to do with peace. What is difficult here is obviously that social justice has to do with more than peace. I remember here a quote from Al Carroll (I think, or maybe Steve?) about putting the FIST back in PaciFIST. I think that notion is important, but the FIST doesn’t negate the “PaciFIST,” you know? It just means that PCC looks at Peace in a complex manner.

Should it have a commitment to peace?
“Should” questions are difficult. I had to ask Doug for input on this one. What he said is that what the church “should” do is whatever the members of the congregation are passionate about. So I guess that at the moment the answer here would be “yes.”

Does a commitment to peace focus our mission or distract us from other things we should be doing?
See above and below.

Some people are drawn to our congregation because of our commitment to peacemaking. But that turns some people away. Are we hurting ourselves and the long term future of the congregation by focusing too much on peace? Does it make us too political?
I honestly think that PCC’s involvement with politics is one of the main reasons why it is so attractive to “Obie”-types. Yet, at the same time, the church is very much a spiritual place. It never does politics without the Bible, without contemplation, ceremony, fellowship. I do think that this is partly because of the Mary and Steve tag-team, and so if we are thinking of a time when PCC gets “passed on” to new leadership, there might be concern for communicating this need to balance out the political with other things. This said, I don’t think that the “peace” part is strictly political, as it also speaks to spiritual peace.

Do we talk too much about peace, involve ourselves in too many issues related to peace?
I personally don’t think so.

Should our understanding of peace be widened? If so how?
I think it’s good to talk about “peace” and think deeply about it, as we are doing in this exercise. However, it’s also good to have commitment to peace. The fact that the church is so committed to its ideals without being close-minded is REALLY important to me.

Does peace fit with community and church?
It’s interesting to think about how the three words of the title are supposed to be read. Is it the Church of the “Peace Community?” Is it kind of like an advertisement/ list – “Peace. Community. Church.” Is it a “Community Church” that focuses on “Peace?” Is it a “Peace Church” that focuses on “Community?” I would say “yes” to any of these readings, but these are things to think about. I think that my usual reading is “Peace – Community Church.” So it’s a spiritual place for the community but then peace is the signifier that tells you that this is not just a fluffy comfortable place. It’s about something much deeper.

This is from Bob Cothran…

Hi folks,

Sorry to be so invisible and apparently disconnected currently. Two or three more weeks to go.

But I have been following email updates and I wanted to chip in my perception of the word “Peace” in the church’s name, while it was still a current issue.

The name of the church was one of the things that first prompted Rosalyn and me to come and visit when we first came to Oberlin five years ago. The sense in which I took the word “Peace” then is still what I understand it to mean in this connection.

The famous quote, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way” (which I’ve generally seen credited to A..J..Muste although it’s often attributed to Ghandi) captures the root sense of the word in a wonderfully elegant and profound way I think, even though at first glance it sounds a little pat. People often speak of “the way to peace” when they’re talking about cessation of hostilities, about how to quit fighting. To say that there is no way to peace makes clear that you’re not speaking of ending a war — there are ways to do that — but rather of universal harmony, of shalom, of the interconnectedness of everything in perfect balance, which, of course, is The Way.

That’s what I understood the word to refer to in the name of PCC (and still do of course): a central element involved in the convening of a group of people joined together to search for and follow The Way.

Bob

The Pink Candle

December 18th, 2014

John 1 and many more
December 14, 2014
Steve Hammond

Do you know why there is a pink candle in the Advent Wreath? It’s not because we ran out of purple ones. But the pink candle actually does have something to do with the purple ones. I’m not really much of an expert in the liturgical stuff, but I do know there is another time of the church year when purple is big. Do you know when that is? During Lent.

In the early church, and I don’t mean the early church when the Apostles were around, but in the days of the church when folk started doing things like Advent and Lent, those two seasons of the church year were pretty much the same. How many of you think of Advent as one of your favorite times of the year? Would you still think of it in the same way if we did Advent now like they did it way back when it and Lent were just about the same thing. No parties. No feasts. Fasting from just about everything including things like all the food you really liked and sex. Advent like Lent was originally conceived of as a time of repentance, brutal examination of self and others, and self-denial. No Christmas decorations or celebration of the birth of Jesus (that all had to wait until December 25).

We don’t see many hints of that during Advent, and even Lent is nothing like it used to be. But there are still vestiges of Lent around in giving up something during Lent, as compared to most everything in the old days. And there even is, at least, one church in town that won’t do weddings during Lent because you shouldn’t be doing that kind of celebrating during Lent. And the same would have been true during Advent. No weddings then, either.

It was all pretty harsh. That’s why both Advent and Lent had some breaks built into them. During Lent you don’t have to fast and abstain on Sundays. And since I am so uninformed about all of these things, added with I don’t really care, I can argue that for those who are concerned about these things that you can do weddings during Lent on Sundays, and feel okay about it.

Did you know that also during those way back days of Advent and Lent that weddings were usually performed on Sundays, anyway? I actually have a worship manual that has the wedding taking place in the offering section of the morning worship service. The couple would come forward, say their vows, be pronounced husband and wife, and go back to their pew until the worship service was over. Maybe have a little reception afterwards.
We’re talking about the time when Mary and I are eventually going to retire. Before that happens I would love to do a wedding service like that. Any volunteers? And what if you came to church and had no idea that a marriage was going to take place that day? All of the sudden James and Rebecca are saying their vows, or Amy and Jane are being declared wife and wife and they go back to their pews.

It would be so cool to do that, but we need to get back to the pink candle. The pink candle represents what Sundays used to be during Lent, a rest from the harshness. So we have the candle of hope, the candle of peace, and for the third Sunday of Advent the candle of joy. Now back in those old days they didn’t give each candle it’s own theme. That just came to be somewhere along the way. But they did have this thing where on the Third Sunday of Advent you were allowed to do joyful things. You got one day to have the parties, play the games, have the feast, watch the equivalent of the football game, visit with friends, have some alone time with your partner. You got that one day and then it was back to the preparation of your unworthy self for the birth of Jesus. That pink candle in the middle of the wreath is a vague hint of how Advent used to be.

There is something else that pink candle does for me, and maybe for some of you, too. It makes me ask how can it be? How can we think about joy when there is so much sadness? There are too many hard things going on in too many places and in too many lives. There are wars everywhere. We are even at war with the water, the earth, the sky, and all of creation. There’s Furgeson, Staten Island, Cleveland. The weak are being crushed by the rich. They’re telling us that the rich are too poor and the poor too rich. The powerful turn against the powerless. There are divisions among us everywhere. There are people we love who are going through horrendous ordeals. We see these pictures and read these stories online that just make us weep. This can be said every week during Advent. Where’s the hope, the peace, the love? What can we do?

I want us to look at one of the creation stories. Do you know how many creation stories there are in the Bible? There are actually a lot of them. The one I want us to look at this morning is from John 1. It’s such an interesting story for so many reasons. It starts out talking about the Word who, it turns out, is Jesus. “All things came into being through him…what has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.” Then all of the sudden we are hearing not about the Word, but about John the Baptist. But what we learn about John is that he was not the big deal. He came to bear witness to the big deal, to Jesus. Now John was seen as being in the line of the prophets, and the prophets were always the big deal. But not John. He simply came to bear witness.

Where’s the hope, the peace, the joy, the love? What do we do? I wish you all could have heard Bishop Daughtry last week. Remember I left right after church to go hear this 84 year old Black preacher who was there in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, who stood at Nelson Mandela’s graveside, who held the Mothers of the children shot by the police. As he talked about all the heartache that goes on in so many places, all that changes that need to take place in our world, he said, like John the Baptist we are called to bear witness to Jesus. And he said what he didn’t mean by that was we were supposed to go around talking about Jesus, but to bear witness by being present like Jesus was present.

The Word became flesh and lived in our midst, God with us. Incarnation is about God being present. The witness we bear is to the one who is here with us, And we are called by Jesus to be with the God who is with us.

I came across a question this week that I’m going to pass on to you. It was this. What makes Jesus a Christian? With the people sitting around you take a couple or three minutes and see what answers you come up with.

For me, what makes Jesus a Christian is his trust in God. Jesus trusted that the way God calls us to live is the right way to live. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Invite the outsider in. Tear down the walls that divide us from each other, and build new and inclusive communities. Give up on violence. Call the powerful to account. Lift up the lowly. Surrender some of your power and privilege, unless you don’t have much of either. Practice forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. Don’t live as if your life is only a matter of what you own, how much money you make, or your status. Stand tall because God loves you. Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable. Live at peace with each other and the Community of Creation. Jesus really trusted that God has a better way for us. And he trusted that God is a God of life and that life, not death, is the final word.

The creation story in John says that John was not the Light but that he came to bear witness to the light, the true light that was coming into the world. But, Jesus said this most amazing thing. John may have not been the Light, but Jesus once said this to his followers, “You are the light of the world.” That’s how we bear witness, bringing the light into the dark places of the world. It turns out that Jesus believed that the God he trusted trusts us. We read that Christ is in us, but that we are also in Christ. And the Apostle Paul really gets this when he writes about the church being the Body of Christ. We bear witness to Jesus by being who he is. The same things that make Jesus a Christian are what make us Christians.

Where’s the joy? It’s not like the folk who thought about joy, even if for only one day during Advent weren’t asking that same question. These are not the first tough times the world has experienced. We aren’t the only ones who have ever had to confront the sadness. But that pink candle, all the candles of Advent point us to something more than what we see. There are always new possibilities, new creations ahead of us. There are lots of creation stories in the Bible. At the end of the book of the Revelation we read about a new heaven and a new earth. From Isaiah 65. 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; [e]
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.

In Isaiah and Micah we read about the day when swords shall be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. There’s that creation story that begins in Job 40. And then there is this creation story in 2 Corinthians 5. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything is new.”

There are a million million creation stories. That’s where the joy comes and not for just one day. And it’s the same with hope, peace, and love. I think we do Advent better than they used to. It’s not just about us getting ready for Jesus, but us getting everything ready for Jesus. Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for God. Jesus is coming, but he’s expecting us to show up too. That’s what makes us Christians. And there’s a pink candle in it for us.

Shalom-Traveling: Off to the Hard Places

December 18th, 2014

Jeremiah 6:13-15, Mark 1:1-8
December 7, 2014
Mary Hammond

Today we lit the candle of peace as we began our Advent service. What fools for Christ we are, lighting the candle of peace when wars rage around the planet, refugee populations swell, and winter begins to stalk the dispossessed. Here at home, impunity for police officers involved in excessive force takes center stage in protests nationwide, exposing fissures within race relations that have been present since our nation was founded.

Is our proclamation of peace crazy optimism, blind faith, or false naivete? Or might we be embarking on a daring journey into new territory? Could we be ‘shalom-traveling,’ facing toward the hard places?

In the year 2000, the congregation changed the name of the church from “The First Baptist Church of Oberlin” to “Peace Community Church.” This transition came as the result of a six-month discernment process followed by a consensus decision. How many of you here today were part of that process?

At the time, the church wanted a name to “live up to” and “into,” a name that called us forward to deeper commitments and greater faithfulness. And here we are, nearly 15 years since we began that process. As we soon enter 2015, the need to be peacemakers and reconcilers, to seek the common good, could not be more urgent.

Our Executive Minister, Alan Newton, recently spent a weekend with the congregation. He challenged us to revisit our name and who we are as a congregation. Steve and I have been pastors here a long time, and it is important for the church’s identity to stand on its own and not simply be tied to our ministry. What does it mean to embody Peace as a primary calling, to live in community within a fractured and frenetic world, and to proclaim to the world that “we are church” together?

As we ponder all of this, I want to share part of an e-mail from Jessie Downs, an Oberlin College alum who began attending PCC her junior year and graduated in 2013. Jessie reflects:

“When I think about being at Peace Church, I feel a joy that is of the purest kind I know. There isn’t even necessarily longing in it; though I miss you all–miss the space, the community, the wisdom, and the list goes on–there also seems to be a Peace Church that, while I was with you all on a regular basis, got erected in the inner space of my soul. I feel so blessed–blessed a hundred times over–that it is there. Aside from anything else, when doubt comes (which of course, it must always do), there is a place I can return to inside of myself where I do know God.

“I feel like I really became friends with Jesus while I was at PCC. Of course, that didn’t exactly happen at church itself, per se, but in the times between PCC events where I finally had the tools to go knocking on God’s door and ask if we could talk for a while. Things happened. It became not too different than going a couple houses down to see the Hammonds!

“Sometimes I forget to nurture that friendship, to show up, but it’s always a temporary forgetting. There’s too ‘firm a foundation’ to ever forget entirely. Without PCC, I wouldn’t be there.”

This church may be a small congregation, but we have much to offer one another as we join hands to create an oasis of peace in a world of chaos. We aren’t perfect, and we never will be. Community-building can be hard work at times. It can be both joyous and painful. Through it all, in the midst of our human frailties, we seek to weave a fabric of love, compassion, and welcome.

Jeremiah, known as “the weeping prophet,” lived in times much like ours. It wasn’t easy for him to be a prophet. He struggled. He wept. He complained. He even despaired at times. Hear the words of Jeremiah 6:13-15: “From the least to the greatest, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wounds of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush.”

Jeremiah decries a false ‘peace’ that is masked in privilege, self-gratification, and denial. It is callous to the needs of the most vulnerable. It papers over the gross inequities and brutalities of a tragic period in Israel’s history. This ‘all is well’ theology of and for the elite of Jeremiah’s day contradicts his understanding of peace, described in the Hebrew scriptures as shalom. This peace, God’s peace, envisions the Community of Creation restored, redeemed, renewed, and whole.

Fast forward many centuries to John the Baptizer. His diet of bugs and honey and his simple attire may sound like he comes straight out of Oberlin in the 1960’s. But Oberlin fifty years ago is no Judea of the first century.

John preaches primarily to a people of his own faith waiting for a Messiah, expecting a deliverer for centuries upon centuries. His message attracts many who have grown weary of the mighty power and expansive influence of the Roman Empire. John comes, preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry, calling people to turn their lives around and be reconciled to God.

What does it mean, in our own social location, to watch and wait together for the coming of Christ? What is the “good news” that we need to speak and live, amid all the “bad news” of this world? Where are we being sent as “shalom-travelers”?

As we come today to the Table of Christ, may these questions and meditations remain in our hearts. Amen.

The Old Future’s Gone

December 16th, 2014

Isaiah 64, Mark 13
November 30, 2014
Steve Hammond

Have you noticed it’s brighter in here this morning than it has been of late. It turns out there has been an Advent parable unfolding right before my eyes.

Some of us on the Building Ministry Team had a meeting with the energy consultant that the city provides for free. Ron Gibson had already had him over to the church before so he was familiar with us. We told him we hoped he had ideas about how we could not bother to rewire the way high lights, and replace the lower ones with something that would make up for the loss of wattage from the other lights. His name is Tom and he has lots of ideas, most of which were really relative inexpensive.

First of all, he assured us that there are lots of helpful alternatives to the current lower lights that will provide good lighting for us. And he said we could supplement those lights by placing various spotlights that would bounce off our white ceiling and provide not only additional lighting but a nice ambience. He also pointed out that those two lights that hang below the balcony could be easily and quickly replaced with tract lighting that would be very helpful. We talked about how we have those flood lights that illuminate the rose window. The wiring is already there to simply put flood lights on the other side of the beam that would help light the sanctuary. He is going to send us some free compact florescent flood lights we can experiment with. He talked about the subsidized LED lights that will be available to everyone in Oberlin sometime in January.

And then he said that one of the things we can do in this interim period as we figure out what fixtures will best work to replace those lower lights, is to put brighter bulbs in them. None of us had actually thought about that. Initially we were going to use some clear bulbs that are the same wattage we are currently using. That would have helped some. But then Ron Gibson said if we are going to get the ladder out and change all the bulbs, why don’t we just go ahead and increase the wattage. So we did. And now it’s so much brighter in here, even though we aren’t using that whole row of lights way up there.

So here’s the parable or the moral of the story. Sometimes we sit in a great darkness and don’t realize that we have alternatives that are maybe easier than we realized. And Tom, the consultant, also told us that there are lots of things we can try. If these kind of bulbs don’t work, try something else. If there’s not enough light, there are simpler ways than we thought to add more lighting. When you’re sitting in the dark, there may be alternatives, and there may be people who can help us find out what they are. That sounds like hope to me.

Now that we are sitting in a great light, l’m going to plunge us back into the darkness for a bit. When I was reading and preparing for this week, I came across a commentator who has a blog called disclosingnewworlds.net. by a person named Lawrence Moore. I don’t know who Lawrence Moore but from reading this article, anyway, I would call him a truth-teller. A prophet is a person who points out things we aren’t noticing. A truth-teller points out things we are noticing, but don’t want to talk about. Another difference between a prophet and a truth-teller is that more often than not we are grateful for what the truth-teller is saying. The response to a truth-teller is often something like “Yes, that’s true. I thought I was the only one who felt that way.” Or, “I’m so glad somebody is finally talking about this.” Now the problem with truth-telling, of course, is that the truth-tellers aren’t always telling the truth. They just simply misunderstand what it going on, blow things out of proportion, or make the false assumption that what they are experiencing is what everyone is experiencing. It turns out the sky is not falling after all, but the damage is already done.

I’m pretty sure, though, that Bruce Moore is doing some important truth-telling in his writing about the realities facing the church in the Western world these days, which is what this blog post is about. And, of course, we are doing some hard thinking and exploring about our own congregation and the larger church as we move into the future. So here is some of what Bruce Moore rights. It’s hard. But I think it’s true.

One way of preparing properly for Advent is to take seriously just what a mess the Church is in. The Christian Church – at least in the hi-tech, consumerist west – has had its day. Its best years are in the past. The old answers no longer work. The gospel appears to have little or nothing to say that sounds as Good News to the increasing millions who have either had nothing to do with Christian faith or who have quite deliberately voted with their feet and left. A look at trends and statistics shows that Christian faith is something for old people, so that ministry appears increasingly to be about hospice care. People are turning not to Christianity, but to other faiths and spiritualities for answers. And those churches that buck the trends are increasingly simply the exceptions that prove the rule. Church has had its day. It is more and more a museum piece, showcasing a past that is bathed in the golden light of nostalgia. That is why people who come back to Church at significant times in their lives (births, marriages, deaths, national events) want Church to be church as they remember it.
We need to be realistic and work to kill off residual optimism. Unless we do, we will not take seriously enough the crisis we are in and will be unable to respond appropriately. I am not saying that there aren’t signs of hope. I am not saying that this is the story of every church. Yet, if we look beyond the immediate borders of our own localities, we cannot avoid the fact that there is a clear, alarming pattern. We recognise the global village in every other aspect of post modern life: the same is true of Church. However good our immediate situation may be, we do not and cannot live in glorious isolation from what is happening to the Christian Church more widely. Church as we know it – and spend huge amounts of money, time, commitment and energy – is dying. Whether it is right in the forefront of our consciousness or not, most of church life in the west is about survival. And that is not what we’re here for!
Let me say something clearly: I have no doubt that, in twenty years time, church as we know it will be alive and well. We will still be singing the same sorts of hymns, having services and activities that we have now, and living as we always have. The crucial difference, though, is that we will be a tiny, shrinking minority – a sort of “Christian train spotters” society. In other words, we will be one of those tiny, harmless groups of consenting adults (one difference between then and now is that we’ll have virtually no children at all) whom society indulges, leaving us to get on and do our thing because we don’t disturb or hurt anyone. And that is not Church. The Church is here to make a difference to the world. We might talk loudly and often about being salt and light and yeast in the world, yet if that is not a reality, we are deceiving ourselves and God. We are playing at being faithful (.http://disclosingnewworlds.net/advent-1b/)

These are dark days for the church. Do you know why there are so many inexpensive alternatives to replace what I consider to be those tacky lights hanging above the pews? Churches are closing everywhere. There are church lighting fixtures that are no longer in use all over E-Bay awaiting the not very highest bid.

There is, though, more truth. “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light…” Somebody likened the present status of the church to Holy Saturday, the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. Death has come. But it’s still Saturday. We don’t know yet what resurrection is going to look like. But it’s ours to find. The old future is gone for the church. We get to help make a new one.

There are all these transitions we have been talking about around here, so I’m thinking about the church a lot these days. But, obviously, there are other dark and semi-dark places where we find ourselves. Some of us are maybe bordering on or crossed over to despair. But this is Advent. “The light came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it.” As the signer Bruce Cockburn puts it, “there’s hope in a baby’s cry.”

The truth that we tell is that Jesus doesn’t make it all better. You can’t pray everything away. But there are ways out of the darkness that maybe we haven’t thought of yet. And often the way out of the darkness or at least toward the light is with each other. That’s the hope Jesus brings to this world.

I’m going to turn off half of the lights for a few moments. We didn’t double the wattage, so it’s not exactly going to be same in here with half the light turned off. But when I turn the others back on we will see that there’s more light than we thought. And Jesus came to tell us that.

On The Move

November 14th, 2014

Matthew 5:14-16 and Ephesians 3:7-12
November 16, 2014
Steve Hammond

We had a good weekend a couple of weeks back with Alan Newton and have lots to think about in the coming weeks, months, and years. As I have been thinking about things, though, it seems important that during these transitions that are ahead of us, we need to be thinking about the many transitions that are taking place in the life of our congregation, the larger church, the community and society at large. It seems that all of these transitions can inform each other.

So I wanted to put some thoughts and reflections into writing for folk to think about. I’m not making any proposals or recommendations, just offering some thoughts about things I’ve noticed, trends that Mary and I and others are talking about, etc. There is no particular order of priority or even rhyme or reason to the order of these thoughts and observations. Nor, I hope, is this an exhaustive list or even the list of things we will want to explore together in the coming months and years.

I want to start with the Tuesday night study group. There is a lot of excitement, energy, learning, and community happening there. Some of the folk in that group are more regular on Tuesday nights than Sunday mornings, and a few aren’t Sunday morning attenders at all. I’ve been a bit surprised about how this group has continued to thrive rather than fizzling out like most groups do. In the past I have done study groups with three people. The Tuesday night group is consistently having 12-18 people over what is now the years. And there are other gatherings for the Tuesday night group that aren’t on Tuesdays nor at the church. That group has also started another gathering where folk will be meeting with and encouraging each other throughout the year to continue working with the book we just finished.. Obviously, not everybody can or wants to get involved in the Tuesday night study group. But there is an important need that is being met for some there. There is something important going on on Tuesday nights that I think we need to pay attention to

Another trend that I have been noticing for the past couple of years, at least, is that there are many weeks where we end up with more people in the Community Room for a variety of gatherings than are in the sanctuary for worship that week. Some weeks it’s way more people. Some of those folk are, of course, repeat offenders being at church several times during the week as well as on Sunday morning. But a lot of them are people who are not likely to end up in worship on Sunday mornings, but this congregation is adding something to their lives.

I kind of half joke about taking the pews out of the sanctuary, but I can’t imagine that worship in the coming years is going to continue to be a person or two up front and everybody else looking at the back of other people’s heads. I think what people at large seem to be saying is that they want more community. We do our best to foster that during worship, but it seems to me that people need to be able to see each other. If I could ever get the consensus and the money to get the pews out of the sanctuary I would love and, I think, people would actually appreciate how much more of a community feeling we could create with chairs we could arrange for different configurations. I don’t think that the things we currently do would necessarily change that much; hymns, readings, sharing, special music, choir, sermons, dance, organ and piano preludes, etc., but things would feel different. And who knows what new possibilities new settings might engender for worship. Imagine what Tuesday night or any other study group would feel like if we did it in the sanctuary. I do think the setting makes a difference about what happens. Obviously, Tuesday night and Sunday morning are different things, but maybe not as different as we think.

I’m also thinking about what Alan said about making worship more family friendly. I think that is more than adding a children’s story time to the service. It might mean something like bringing tables into the sanctuary so children could draw or do a craft and their parents and other adults have a place to put their coffee during worship. Pews do get in the way of that kind of thing. (Remember I am not making any recommendations, just sharing thoughts. Don’t panic).

Mary and I continue to be amazed at the number of PCC Scattered folk who stay in touch with us and many of you. For some of them, this is the only church they have. We need to keep them in mind during the coming days of transition for the congregation whenever Mary and I are no longer the pastors. But even if that transition weren’t happening, I think what PCC Scattered represents is really something that points to the future of the larger church. We are simply ahead of the curve. Mary and I continue to be surprised by the comments we get from PCC Scattered folk about our sermons that are online. They are actually being read and even recommended to others. We have 84 members of the church’s Facebook page. We don’t have 84 people in church on Sunday mornings, and of the folk we do have, many of them aren’t on the Facebook page. People are finding ways to stay connected and forming a different kind of community without being physically present with each other. It shouldn’t surprise they expect to be connected to the church without being present. Nor should it surprise us when they find that satisfying and helpful. There is a lot more we can be doing to make the connections between PCC Scattered and Gathered more concrete for more of us. I’m just not exactly sure what that is, but it has something to do with the internet, social media, etc.

Another trend Mary and I are noticing is that among the things that have fundamentally changed since the Great Recession of ’08 is the financial situation that the college graduates from the church are encountering. It used to be that students graduated, got jobs, and some of them started sending money to the church. Now they are sending requests to the church to help fund them as they try to start or work for some kind of non-profit. And they are doing some pretty important and amazing things. Some of those who aren’t looking for such funding still don’t have money they can send to the church because they are unemployed or severely underemployed. Plus they all have an amazingly heavy debt load from their time at Oberlin. And it’s not only recent graduates. There are others among PCC Scattered who are no longer able to send as much money to the church as they did in the past because the new economy has taken a big toll on them, as well. And then, of course, among PCC Gathered there has been plenty of fallout since 2008.

This is a mobile society. And I don’t simply mean that people in our society are moving to other places. We have lost some dear people because they have moved, but also gained so many wonderful folk because they have moved to Oberlin or the surrounding area. Think Kendal, for example. Or Oberlin College. Or most of those places that most all of us didn’t use to live in. But even more significantly, I think, is that we are mobile in that we are off seeing kids and grandkids, going to conferences, reunions, seminars, and workshops, taking care of parents and other relatives, seeing a wonder or two of the world, visiting friends, getting away, marking things off the bucket list, or just getting out of town. It wasn’t that long ago that many folk, at best, could get out of town for a week or two in any given year. They were in church on Sunday morning because they were in town. But lots of us are gone on any given Sunday. Look how many Sundays Mary and I were out of town this year. That’s not likely to happen again in that extreme, but it’s just an example of the protection that Sunday morning has lost because we can travel more easily. And if we aren’t traveling somewhere else, we might have friends or relatives visiting us on Sunday morning. Or the reunion might be coming to us. Those non-Sunday morning times are going to become the places where more folk connect with the church.

People relate differently to institutions than they used to. Their commitments are more fluid, and the competition for their time and resources more intense. More and more people are looking to the church and other institutions with the desire to know what those institutions can do for them rather than what they can do for the institution. And there is a growing suspicion about the place of institutions and organizations in their lives. This talk of being spiritual but not religious is another way for some of saying that they want to find their way spiritually in the world without having to conform to the expectations of what we call organized religion.

Since last year, we’ve begun to use the phrase “The Community of Creation” at church. Though we have been talking about environmental concerns and issues for a long time, It seems to me that in the coming years, it is going to become more and more important for us, and all of the church, to figure out what it means to live in the Community of Creation. That’s one of the reasons we will be adding the environmental organization Plant with Purpose to the groups we are supporting with our Missions giving. And, of course, Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy meets in our building. One of the visitors in church last week talked for a while to both Mary and me about how important it was to him that we were talking about the Community of Creation in church.

Obviously Campus Ministry is an important mission of this congregation. But there are transitions happening in progressive Protestant ministry as well. ECO is currently having it’s own struggles for viability that the group is starting to address. Folk from other Christian groups on campus have been talking with Pastors in town about some of the struggles their groups are having. Those concerns and coming transitions aren’t a dis-ease that has originated n Oberlin but the symptoms of something much larger going on in church and society. [Have Mary read that section from No Longer Invisible]

The transitions the church is facing as we contemplate the time whenever it might be that Mary and I no longer pastor this church or the larger transitions all churches are facing in the coming years, like all transitions, are times of danger and opportunity. Now is the time for us to risk the danger because the opportunities are so great. One of the Pastors in the support group Mary and I are in commented recently that the changes we used to say were coming are here.

Alan suggested so many good things while he was here. Some of them are very practical nuts and bolts things, others will help fuel some important discussions and actions as we work through this time and process of discernment. One of those suggestions he made was that the congregation explore what our name means nearly 15 years after changing the congregation’s name. What does Peace mean to us? What does Community mean to us? What does Church mean to us?

Not to get too Zen here but one of the things I’ve been trying to practice more consistently is more fully entering into the moment. I don’t know if you find yourself doing what I do too often, like thinking about the next meeting while I am in the current meeting, or thinking about the next person I need to talk to while I have somebody else right in front of me. We do need to make sure we enter the moment more fully, but we also have to remember there is more than the current moment. It’s important to remember that as we face the church’s transitions and our own transitions. We need to enter into these moments of transition with great intentionality, but there is more going on than these particular moments of transition. We don’t want to lose the moment, but we don’t want to get lost in it, either.

So there are some of my thoughts and observations. I am excited to hear reactions to this and all the thoughts and observations that will come from so many of us in the months and years ahead as we make these transitions and help build together the future God has for us.

I do think it’s really interesting we are going to be doing a lot of transition work as the congregation approaches it’s150th anniversary in 2016. We have been left an incredible legacy going all the way back to 1866, and are the current manifestation of a church that has gone through lots of transitions over a century and a half. Throughout that time, through all the changes in church and society, through transitions large and small, the call has been the same. We get to discover with each other what it means to follow Jesus Christ in our own changing times. We get to continue to be the Body of Christ and Light for the world, even in some very dark places. We discern the times, undergo the transitions because we don’t want the light to be covered up. As we said at the beginning, Jesus was always on the move. His was always a call to the future and all the changes that implies, all the new ways of being and living and doing and understanding. He was in transit, moving forward. That’s a metaphor worth noting. This church, and all congregations big and small, people like us are the mystery hidden for the ages in God. Isn’t that an amazing thing to think about and keep in mind as we make these transitions? Grab tight, because here we go.