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Daily Devotion – May 31, 2015
05.31.15

 

 

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Devotion by Julia Shiver

For me, this is one of the most comforting scriptures in the Bible.  All of our confidence as Christians comes from the surety of God’s grace.  Nothing can come between us and God’s love.  Not anything of this world, or, more importantly, of ourselves, can separate us from God’s grace.  We tend to be our own worst enemies, causing all manner of destruction in our own lives.  But God’s love is so much bigger than whatever darkness comes into our lives, from whatever source.  We might not always be in touch with God’s love, but it is always there waiting for us.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, that no matter what comes my way in life, your love and grace are always there for me.  Amen.

 



Community and Growth: Intro
05.30.15

Each summer at Pilgrimage (the church I serve), we explore a theme.  This year’s theme is “Growing Deeper into Community.”  We’ve explored the theme of community before, but this time around we’ll go deeper.  We’ll look at how to become more deeply committed to providing comfort to its members and to reaching out to share God’s love with those outside the community.

As I reflect on leading congregants in growing deeper in community, I’ll be reading and blogging about Jean Vanier’s book, Community and Growth.  In 1964, with Fr. Thomas Philippe, Vanier started an intentional community where intellectually disabled adults and persons with able bodies and minds would live together.  They named the community l’Arche, The Ark.  There now are L’Arche communities around the globe.

I’m reading the revised edition of Community and Growth, which was published in 1989.  Far from being dated, everything I’ve read thus far describes very much what I see and sense from church members and others today about the desire to feel connected to a community.

In the Introduction, Vanier writes:  “Today…people are crying out for authentic communities where they can share their lives with others in a common vision, where they can find support and mutual encouragement, where they can give witness to their beliefs and work for greater peace and justice in the world–even if they are also frightened of the demands of community” (3).

People long for the kind of community Vanier describes, but I find increasingly that most folks don’t really know how to create or even participate in the kind of community for which they long.  Vanier:  “Most people seem to believe that creating community is a matter of simply gathering together under the same roof a few people who get on reasonably well together or who are committed to the same ideal.  The result can be disastrous!  Community life isn’t simply created by either spontaneity or laws.  Some precise conditions have to be met if this life is to deepen and grow through all the crises, tensions and ‘good times.’”  Community and Growth invites reflection on some of those conditions.

If you long to grow deeper into one of the communities of which you are part, I invite you to join me in reflecting on Vanier’s book.  If you choose to read the book, as well–all the better!

ALSO:  This week on On Being, Krista Tippett will interview Jean Vanier.  Here’s a link to the interview:  http://www.onbeing.org/program/wisdom-tenderness/234#.VWhez2fJA5t  To learn more about Jean’s important work, visit his website:  http://www.jean-vanier.org/en/home



Daily Devotion – May 29, 2015
05.29.15

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

When I first heard the call of God, I had no idea the path I would embark on would require so much from me. Initially, becoming a Christian meant, for me, that all my worries, stresses, anxieties, and problems would suddenly float away. As a young Christian, I believed that becoming a Christian meant that a protective cocoon would form over me and I would therefore be protected from harm. To say I was disappointed when I did not instantaneously float into a blissful state where all would be well all the time would be an understatement.

Over the years, I discovered that being a Christian requires something completely different from me. Instead of being cocooned into a shelter of safety, I have discovered that being a Christian means that I move out of my places of safety and engage the world around me. I believe now that accepting the call to bring the good news that the last will be first, the humble will be raised up, the poor made rich, the strangers will be made friends, and the sick will find healing is only the first step in an often difficult journey that requires action, change, and patience.

The verses following Isaiah’s calling are not filled with happy promises of living in a blissful state of peace once God’s call has been heard. Instead, they are full of honest and difficult words from God. God tells Isaiah that the people will not listen, they will be blind, deaf, and stubborn. They will not change until the “cities lie in waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste,” leaving Isaiah to cry out, “How long, O Lord?” (v.11)

I have been blind, deaf and slow to learn the work God has called me to do. I have gotten impatient with how slow I feel like change is progressing. I find myself frustrated and even angry about how much longer fear will get the better of me. I have wrestled with God through my prayers in the daytime and my dreams at night. I have been resistant and closed minded to what others have to show me. I have longed for a switch to be flipped that will make everything alright so that I will not have to do so much. Like Isaiah, I have wondered how much longer I will have to endure.
When we are called to follow God, this is the road we embark on. It is not an easy path to travel. It requires us to be agents of change in this world. The Lord calls us to see, listen, and open our minds to how we can be servants that help bring the good news to all. We are asked to endure, be patient and trust God. We are called to move out of our places of safety and be uncomfortable. We are called to be a community with one another, find help when we need help, help others when they need help, and allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities of God’s calling.

There is hope for us on this journey, however. The good news of the Isaiah passage is that while all is might be wiped out a seed of hope remains. When our days our difficult as we work out our call, we would do well to remember that hope will always remain.

 

Prayer:

Be with us Lord. Help to discern your call in our lives. Teach us to listen to the voice within and the voice of our community. Grant us patience, courage, and everlasting hope as we open ourselves up to the possibilities of your call. Amen.



Daily Devotion – May 28, 2015
05.28.15

John 3:9-10

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

 

Devotion by Elizabeth Schwartz

Being gay, I have a difficult time with the concept of sin since I have been told by many mainstream Christian faiths that who I am and who I love is a sin. I believe we are born and made in the image of God. We are perfect just as God made us, be that straight, gay, brown hair, green eyes—whatever traits you possess—if you follow the simple command of loving your brothers and sisters, no matter who they are or who they love—God’s seed will be in you and God’s love will remain with you. And even on days when it’s really hard to love people, God still loves us.

 

Prayer:

Dear God, thank you for loving me just as I am. Amen.



Sermon: “Creating Pentecost” (5/24/15)
05.26.15

It’s Pentecost!  That means it’s time to hear the story from Acts 2 about the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  From John’s Gospel, we’ve just heard Jesus tell his disciples about the Paraclete, the one Jesus calls the “Spirit of truth.”  John sets this bit of explanation in the context of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.  He’s just told them he’ll be going away—he’ll be crucified the next day. To this point, if the disciples were ever confused about something Jesus had said or done, they could go to the source and get clarification from Jesus himself.

But what were they going to do when Jesus was no longer around? Who was going to explain things to them when they got confused (which—based on their track record—would be often)? Not to worry, Jesus says.  When I go, the Paraclete (aka, the Holy Spirit) will reveal things to you.  Things I’ve said in the past that seemed obscure — they will become clear.  When new confusions arise, the Spirit will help you understand.  When the path becomes murky, spend time with the Paraclete, and the way forward will be revealed.

Today’s passage from John’s Gospel prepares us for the Spirit before the fact.  The passage from Acts tells the story of the Spirit’s arrival.  And what a scene it is!

The story begins with the 12 disciples gathered together in a home.  They’ve just finished selecting a replacement for Judas when “suddenly from heaven there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it fills the entire house.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appear among them (get out your lighters or candles),  “Divided tongues, as of fire, appear among them, and a tongue rests on each of them.  All of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages.”

Then all that energy, enthusiasm, and goodwill spill over–like a tidal wave–into the rest of Jerusalem.  Suddenly, people are speaking languages they’ve never spoken before. Suddenly, they can understand people who speak in other languages.  Suddenly, this disparate group of people becomes one, they become — a community.  “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”

What does this story mean?  What does it mean for us 21st century folks?  What does it mean for this time when the number of religiously unaffiliated people is skyrocketing?  How is God’s Spirit–the Spirit of Truth–moving in the church and the world today?  What is God’s Spirit trying to reveal to us?

As pastor of a Christian community, I keep trying to discern what the changing religious landscape might mean for us.  As I said a couple weeks ago, I don’t think the Christian church is dying, as some suggest, but I do think we are in a time of tremendous transition.  The church is maturing, it’s growing into something it has never been before.  As we grow into this new reality, as we try to gain clarity on the murky path before us, I think Jesus would tell us what he told those disciples in the first century: spend some time with God’s Spirit and all will become clear.

This past Wednesday, the Spirit sent me on a mission at Songwriting Camp.  Before I tell you about my mission, though, a word about the camp, or should I say Boot Camp?

What is Songwriting Boot Camp?  It’s what happens when 20 people who don’t know any better join a singer-songwriter in the mountains of east Tennessee and write and sing as many songs as they can in three and a half days.  It’s pretty fun–in a grueling-put-me-out-of-my- misery kind of way.  J

Oh, it’s not so bad.  John McCutcheon is the singer-songwriter and the camp is held at the Highlander Center near Knoxville–an area Jimmy Loyless assures me is “God’s Country.”

Highlander is the place where many people were trained in techniques of non-violent resistance during the Civil Rights Movement.  Rosa Parks visited Highlander in August of 1955.  December 1st of that year, Rosa refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery; December 5th, the Montgomery bus boycott began.  Most of the music of Civil Rights Movement was incubated at Highlander; it’s the place where “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the Movement, largely through the work of Highlander’s Music Director, Guy Carawan.  (Guy died a couple of weeks ago.  His widow, Candie, had supper with us one night.  A real honor.)

So, here was my mission last Wednesday.  I’ll say it was half-inspired by the Holy Spirit and half by desperation. It was Wednesday afternoon and I hadn’t yet started my sermon.  In a rare moment of temporal generosity, John gave us most of Wednesday afternoon off.  We were free to write or co-write a song, visit Highlander’s Library, take a nap, or in my case, interview fellow campers for today’s sermon.

I spent the afternoon tracking down each camper and asking him or her two questions:  What is your religious affiliation, if any?  And, What one thing would you like to say to the Christian Church?  Once word got out about what I was doing, it became harder and harder to find people. Odd.  :-)

One interviewee reminded me that my pool of respondents was rather limited. “Have you counted the Priuses in the parking lot?” J Most of the folks at the camp identified themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Nearly all claimed to be spiritual (we were all musicians, after all).

Want to know what my almost-voluntary respondents had to say to the Christian church? I wrote a song, a talking blues, actually.   (Can’t We All Be Friends?)

Can’t We All Be Friends?

I had some time the other day

so I asked my friends what they would say

to Christians far and Christians near.

The answers they gave were crystal clear:

If you’re going to quote the Bible, read it first.

If you’re going to follow Jesus, be well-versed

In the parts of the Good Book written in red

Get out of the church and out of your head

Follow Pope Francis, love the earth,

Serve the poor for all your worth,

Love your neighbor as yourself

Put your judgments on the shelf.

One young friend was very wise

He stopped and looked me in the eyes.

What he thought I hadn’t a clue

Until he said:  I’ve got a question for you:

Chorus:

Can’t we all be friends?

Can’t we all be friends?

Can’t we all be friends

And help to heal the world?

That friend’s hope was shared by all

That Christians would break down the wall

They’ve built to keep all others out

Here is what I’m talking about:

This idea that God is theirs

And does not hear the heartfelt prayers

Of those who worship differently

My friends all said, This cannot be!

God loves Christians, God loves Jews

Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Druse

God loves folks of every creed

And cares about our every deed.

Are we loving?  Are we kind?

Do we in each person find

That of God, humanity

Then they made this urgent plea   (Chorus)

And so a Christian I will stay

I’ll follow Jesus every day

But after talking with my friends

I’m ready now to make amends

For trying to do things on my own

For thinking God is mine alone

For seldom reaching out to those

Whose faith is different yet whom God knows.

My friends have shown a better way

For healing all earth’s ills today

It isn’t done by choosing sides

But working together, we’ll change the tide.  (Chorus)

Words and Music by Kim Buchanan  (c) 2015

I got some great responses from my fellow campers….so great, that I’m going to continue reflecting on them. But here’s my deepest learning from my research: Regardless of how people responded, something profound happened when we started talking together. Many people appreciated being asked about their spirituality. And I quickly began to wish we had time for longer conversations. I was learning so much about each person!

When I thought about it later, I realized the most religious thing about the interviews wasn’t the responses so much as it was the interviews themselves—simply talking with each other, hearing where each person was coming from, “no matter where they are on their life’s journey”…meeting each other where we were, not trying to change each other, just simply being together and sharing from our depths…it was a holy thing.

…which led me to rethink what went on that first Pentecost. So often, we think of all these people gathered around, the Holy Spirit waiting for the audience to arrive, then whooshing in and stirring everything up, making it possible for people to speak and understand languages they had never known before.

But here’s what I’m starting to wonder…I wonder if the order of events might have gotten reversed. Maybe it wasn’t the Spirit’s appearance that made it possible for people to understand each other; maybe it was people working to understand each other that created space for the Spirit to show up. Maybe they worked so hard to connect with each other, that suddenly, foreigners and strangers became human beings, maybe even friends…and in the midst of their sharing, maybe they began to sense a spiritual presence, to feel connected to something bigger than themselves, something good, universal, and life-giving. Maybe that first Pentecost didn’t just happen; maybe it was people working to connect with each other that created the space where it could happen.

Each evening of Songwriting Camp, we gathered in a circle and sang songs for each other. The last two nights of camp, we convened around a campfire. What is it about a campfire that brings people together? Despite the fact that some of the songs were decidedly irreverent, those campfire sing-arounds were holy…I can’t tell you why. I can only say that in our singing and sharing, we tapped into something much bigger than ourselves, something good and universal and life-giving. Something holy.

At one point Tuesday night, I became distracted by a loud blowing sound. I looked for the source and saw one of the campers blowing on the fire, which was in danger of dying. As Jim blew, the flames flickered and came back to life. Everyone cheered.

I’m probably the only person who saw Jim’s action as a Pentecostal metaphor…and, you lucky ducks, I’m now going to share that metaphor with you. J   I wonder if Pentecost isn’t so much this fantastical event where some otherworldly power swoops in and brings folks together, as it is something that happens when we create space for it. Without Jim’s breath, the fire would have died. Maybe the fire of Pentecost too will die if we don’t offer our breath—our lives—to keep it going. Maybe God’s Spirit counts on us to keep the fire burning, to continue to create spaces where it CAN swoop in and bring folks together and, just maybe, change the world.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan   © 2015

(Acts 2:1–21   and    John 15:26-27;  16:4b-15)



Daily Devotion – May 26, 2015

John 16:12-13

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

 

Reflection by Lynne Buell

 

The reason these scriptures are perfect for me is because I’m certain that I am being piloted by the Holy Spirit.   Last Sunday being Pentecost is my day to celebrate, too.  Five years ago the Holy Spirit spoke to me and I listened.  That’s why I’m here in this place today.  My journey started out gradually, and I was very cautious.  I was careful to let Pastor Kim know that I wanted to proceed with this church on my terms and take it nice and slow.  I would have been anxious if I would have been told where my path would lead.  So sit back and listen to Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit.   It doesn’t matter who you believe speaks to you as long as you believe.  Learn to appreciate the love God has for all of us, and seek to obey God daily and allow God’s spirit to guide you throughout the day.

 

Prayer: 

Dear God, I appreciate that I do not know what things are to come because I trust you will provide comfort, peace, and knowledge for me to face the future.  Amen.

 



Blessing Miller (on the day he wasn’t confirmed) May 17, 2015
05.24.15

Last Sunday, we confirmed two teenagers.  A third teen went through the nine-month Confirmation process…and chose not to be confirmed.  Here’s the blessing we offered Miller.

Blessing for Miller (on the day he wasn’t confirmed)

Here at Pilgrimage, we say “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  We take that statement seriously…especially during Confirmation.

Miller has completed Confirmation—and is choosing not to be confirmed.  His reasons for his decision are his own; we don’t need to know them.  All we need to know is that Miller has reached his decision after careful thought…

…which is what Confirmation is all about—it’s about confirming the faith our parents and community have chosen for us.  If we take the Confirmation process seriously, choosing not to be confirmed must be a real option.  In taking that option today, Miller is demonstrating the radical integrity of the Confirmation process here at Pilgrimage.

And so, Miller, we honor you and the decision you’re making today.  We know it has come after careful thought and serious study.  Here’s what we want you to know:  this decision changes nothing about how we feel about you.  We love you.  We hope for your wholeness.  We care about what you choose to do with your life.

And if at any point in the future you decide to be confirmed, we’ll be happy to do that, too.  If you never choose to be confirmed, that’s fine, too.  We’re still going to love you, like, forever!

So, Miller:  Be blessed on your spiritual journey… wherever it might lead.  And know that wherever it does lead, our prayers and love go with you.



Daily Devotion – May 24, 2015

John 15:26-27 

‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

In John 15, Jesus is speaking of terrible days ahead when not only will He be put to death, but many others who believe in Him will also. Here He is speaking of an Advocate who will come to testify. I believe Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit who will announce that Jesus has risen from the dead! But Jesus is speaking in the abstract. Undoubtedly, the disciples could not interpret these words. Otherwise, they would not have been so frightened by the empty tomb.

Jesus is also telling the disciples to testify on His behalf, even though doing so may lead to their death. In fact, the disciples are afraid to die when they witness Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. His death was so brutal and painful, they were frightened by it. If the disciples continued to try to stir the people immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion, I would not doubt that the church leaders would want to crucify them as well. Had they done so, and had the disciples been lashed to suffocate on the cross, Christianity may have been erased from the history of mankind.

But we know that is not what happened. The disciples hid for a time. It wasn’t until later that they were energized to testify on Jesus’ behalf. And eventually, Christianity flourished.

Prayer:

Dear God our Lord, I am so thankful to live in a society that allows me to publicly follow You. And yet I still fear being too open about my faith! Give me the strength to live my life in a way that pleases You and in a way that may call others to Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – May 23, 2015
05.23.15

Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

 

Devotion by Rochelle Lofstrand

I sigh often. I don’t mean to but it is my way to relaxing. Often if I do this around others, they think I’m exasperated, frustrated, or bored but really I do it as a way to breathe out the bad and breathe in the good. As I read today’s scripture, I thought about the Spirit sighing deeply within me. The Spirit isn’t exasperated, frustrated, or bored but instead is providing us with strength during those times that we are weak.

During this time of Pentecost, we think about God’s fire. Fire is fed by oxygen. Oh how I can envision the Spirit within sighing so deeply that the oxygen around me is pushed to feed the fire of God within.

 

Prayer:

God, when I am weak you sent the Spirit to intercede and provide strength in deep sighs. Thank you for continuing to feed my fire within! AMEN.



Daily Devotion – May 22, 2015
05.22.15

Romans 8:24-25

24. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.

Who hopes for what he already has?

25. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

In this passage in Romans, realization of the Divine Presence (a.k.a., salvation) is said to come

about through hope. This is somewhat different from elsewhere in scripture, such as Acts

16:31, where belief is emphasized. Earlier in the letter to the Romans, it states, “Abraham

believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” What was Abraham’s belief? Not

likely a set of written doctrines and creeds. Perhaps, Abraham was “looking forward to the

city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” Hebrews 11:10. Both Abraham

and his wife, Sarah, “were longing for a better country – a heavenly one,” says Hebrews

11:16. In the ancient world, belief seems to have been more of an attitude rather than a way of

thinking.

In the modern world, belief is rendered superficial by political ideology and institutional

dogma. When beliefs become too rigid, they may crumble under circumstances. For these

reasons, in my life, hope has proven to be a better motivator than mere belief. Much like love,

hope requires diligent cultivation and nurturing. Over the past few years, amid the kind,

affirming folk of Pilgrimage, my hope has matured into my faith in Divine Mother.

Prayer:

Eternal Mother, how your grandeur and

your love surpass all worldly sense!

Through hopes and longings I begin

to feel your all-surpassing gentle heart.

A warm and soft embrace, a tender touch,

these barely can approach your Spirit’s love.

I beg you, draw me close; You have become

my body’s strength, my being and life’s-breath!