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Daily Devotion – January 29, 2016
01.30.16

21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Luke 4:21-30

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in a long time. I always feel like I am setting myself up for failure and disappointment when I make the resolution. I promise myself that this year will be different and that I will follow through. Life happens though. I get caught in the routine of work and family life and before I know it its Spring and my comfortable way of life continues on. I know it’s not just me. I talk to a lot of people where this is their routine every year. We laugh and joke about it, and rightfully so, it is, after all, comical how we continue the same old patterns year after year.

It is no coincidence this passage comes at this time of the year; the time after Christmas, toward the end of Epiphany, and on the cusp of Lent. We just celebrated the birth of Christ. His birth brought the promised light into a dark world. We hoped this time the return of Christ would change things for us all. But alas, we get about a month past Christmas and discover things haven’t really changed at all. The world is still broken and we often carry the same problems we had before Christmas. So we give in, and return to our normal day to day lives and wait for Christmas to come again. Maybe next year will be different.

Luke reminds us in this account of Jesus that he is here. The season of Epiphany reminds us that Christ is here. He hasn’t gone anywhere. He comes to help the poor, the widow, the lepers, and all the forsaken. He is ready to serve, making the necessary sacrifices to give power to the powerless. He invites us to join him but knows that he will not always be welcomed. He knows that it is so much easier to fall back on what we know well. He knows how easy it is to get angry when things don’t go our way. He knows how difficult it is to give up our power to help the weak. He knows it is so much easier to become enraged and threaten to throw him off of the cliff and return to the familiar, the safe, and the comfortable.

How appropriate is this passage as we prepare for Lent. Are we going to continue to welcome Christ into our lives? Are we going to hold fast to the belief that Christ is indeed the light of world? Will remain hopeful followers or will we give in to despair and throw him off the cliff and wait until next year? Are we willing to give up our notions of power to help the weak? The good news is that Christ is here among us now. He is here for us. We would do well not to let him pass through.

Prayer:

Almighty God, we continue to give you thanks for the birth of your Son Jesus. He brought the promises of hope, peace, joy and love into this world. May we find the courage to continue to trust in these promises. May we not give up on them so easily. Grant us the courage not to push Jesus off the cliff and just wait until next year. We know that Christ is here now among us, so open our hearts and allow them to be forever changed. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – January 28, 2016
01.29.16

I Corinthians 13: 12-13

12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Devotion by Holly CothranDrake

The last verse of this passage is quoted a lot, I mean, A LOT, especially at weddings. Yes, love is definitely the reason for people to join together, but I think the love mentioned here is the love God has for us. It’s a love that we will only fully understand when we meet God face-to-face. Until then, let’s remember that no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, God loves you.

Prayer: Almighty Loving God, thank you for loving me, even in times when I don’t love myself. Amen.



Daily Devotion – January 25, 2016
01.25.16
Rain in the Nightwatch
Ron Buford

 

“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the Lord.
3 May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion. ” – Psalm 134

I once belonged to a congregation in which a gifted pastor led a handful of people in a dying urban church to become more than 500 members. After her departure, interim adjustments, and the typical lull came another gifted young pastor, and now the congregation is growing again. A common ingredient? Servants of God who withstand the rainy nightwatch.

UCC saint, Charlie Cobb, said, “The UCC does the right thing . . . when pushed.” Pushy pastors, leaders, teachers, members AND resisting pastors, leaders, and members struggling with this messy “God thing” move both the church and the world forward, wrestling with often ambiguous hunches toward faint whiffs of a hidden God of unseen, hope-filled silences.

Mahalia Jackson sings about rain ending for Noah’s Ark, “When it looked like the sun, wasn’t gonna shine any more, “God put a rainbow in the sky!” Sometimes we wonder, “Is there a rainbow somewhere?”

Sometimes in relationships, organizations, a call, or even with God we can feel mired in darkness. But love, like the dawn, is not a feeling-it’s an eternal promise: God’s promise to love us no matter what; our promise to love God with all our hearts souls, minds and might; a community’s aim and actions to love one another the way God loves us. Not a mere destination, such love is often a messy journey.

So leap headlong off your cliff of doubt and despair–whatever it is . . . .  God promises wings to sunshine, rainbows, and courage for future dark nights.

Prayer:

Gracious God, Help us to love and trust you through the darkness and over the rainbow. Thank you! Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ron Buford is the Pastor of the Congregational Community Church of Sunnyvale, UCC, Sunnyvale, California.

 



Sermon: A Still More Excellent Way (1/24/16)

Since I became your pastor in 2001, we’ve accomplished a lot together.  We’ve lived in to our ONA identity in some beautiful ways, including celebrating our first Transgender Sunday last November.  In 2001, I never would have dreamed that I would one day perform a legal gay wedding in this sanctuary!  And I’m delighted to hear that our ONA Team is re-forming.

We’ve also challenged ourselves to learn about and become active in addressing several social justice issues–child sex trafficking, homelessness (with our work with Family Promise and Lost and Found), Islamophobia (offering support to our Muslim brothers and sisters).  And that only scratches the surface.

And how about the music program?  There’s no way a church of our size should have a choir of that size.  Can you believe it?  And the really cool thing about the choir and other musical groups?  It’s not just the music-making that’s beautiful.  Those people love each other.  And care for each other.  And pray for and with each other.

Last month, several of us drove to Norcross to participate in a prayer vigil and information session with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.  At that meeting, I was pleased to hear so many refer to Pilgrimage as a “great place.”  It was the first time I realized that we are gaining a reputation as a loving, service-oriented community.

In addition to all the things we are doing together as a community, several of you are leading service projects of your own.  Many of you participated–either in person or by making contributions–to Holly CothranDrake’s wild idea of purchasing Christmas gifts for every patient at the Shepherd Center.  Others of you contributed to Laurie Spencer’s efforts to replace Christmas gifts stolen from a local congregation.  Some of you take your ministry to the streets by engaging with teens feeding others who are living on the streets.  Chris and Jim work closely with the Kairos prison ministry.

Whether it’s food for MUST, gifts for Lost and Found, or any number of service opportunities, you all respond with radical generosity.  And it is so heartening to see.

How have we accomplished these things?  How have we gotten the energy and vision to act others out there into well-being?  We’ve done it by acting each other into well-being.

What we do up here is vital to what we do out there.  If we’re going to have anything to give to others, we’ve got to keep the home fires burning.  We must continue growing deeper into community.  We must continue worshiping together the God who “has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us.”  We must continue to give to and receive from each other God’s deep and abiding love.  Our main source of strength and inspiration for what we do outside these walls depends largely on what we do inside these walls.

Paul understood the strong connection between how a community lives God’s love inside the community and outside it.  That’s why he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth.

The church at Corinth was a happening place.  Full of energy.  Full of diversity.  Full of egos.  The more powerful people in the community began prioritizing some spiritual gifts over others.  Deep divisions and chaos ensued.  Paul knew that if the community didn’t work some things out, their purpose for being—sharing God’s love with others—wasn’t going to happen.

Paul himself was an excitable fellow.  And a wordy one.  When he got worked up about something, he wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.  And, IMHO, he could have used an editor.

Because the issue at Corinth was the prioritizing of gifts—creating a hierarchy of abilities, where some were more highly valued than others—the thing Paul got worked up about in I Corinthians 12 is the diversity of spiritual gifts.  Nobody’s gift is more important than any other person’s gift, Paul says.  If the community is going to work well, it’s going to need all the gifts of everyone in the community working together.  As he said in I Corinthians 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Now, Paul could have said what I just said, but he chose instead to go all Mr. Potato Head on the Corinthians.  “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be…”  and he riffs on that for a while

.mixed up potato head

The one thing I find perplexing is where Paul goes at the end of today’s passage.  Listen:

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

Okay.  Does that not sound like a hierarchy of spiritual gifts?  What happened to all gifts being equally important?   Then Paul says, But strive for the greater gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  The greater gifts?  Which gifts are greater?  I thought all gifts were created equally!

Had I been Paul’s editor, I would have pointed out this contradiction.  Then I would have asked what he was really trying to say.  This is only a guess, but judging from all that has gone before, maybe the “greater gifts” are the ones that help the community work together, to help folks use all the gifts the Spirit bestows for the common good.  If that’s the case, then maybe in this coming together of our diverse gifts is where we’ll find the “still more excellent way.”

In any given week, I hear several times that Pilgrimage “is a special place.”  And it is.  I want to tell you a story I’ve told before that demonstrates just how special.

One day walking the campus at Emory, just a few months after fleeing the Baptist battles at my seminary, I found myself standing under the chapel.  Like most of my Baptist friends at the time, I was completely beaten down by years of denominational conflict.  I’d experienced the underbelly of the Christian church and was dangerously disillusioned.

As I stood there, I thought:  “You know, Kim, you don’t have to do this.  You don’t have to stay in church.  You don’t even have to remain Christian.  You can leave.  Do something else entirely.  Why stay?”  I stood there thinking for a long while.

Then, as he is wont to do, Jesus came to mind. Potato-Head-Jesus-2

I thought about all the things Jesus said, all the things he did.  I thought about how he spent time hanging out with the hurting people of the world, the outcasts, the labeled, the abused.  And I thought of how he helped those people to see and experience the deep, abiding, non-judgmental love of God.

And standing there beneath the chapel, I decided that if a community tries to follow Jesus–they don’t even have to be successful…If a community just tries to follow Jesus, the world will be transformed.  In that moment, under that chapel, I committed myself to the Christian church and to leading a community that would try—just try–to follow Jesus.

Many of you have heard that story before.  I’m telling it again because I want to say this:  I have found the community I dreamed of that day in 1993.  I have found the community who would try—just try—to follow Jesus, the community who would, through its loving efforts, transform the world.  That community is you.

That doesn’t mean we get everything right all the time.  Living life in community is hard.  Hard, hard, hard.  At some point, someone’s going to make you mad.  At some point, someone’s going to disappoint you.  At some point, you’re going to be afraid you’ve done something irreparable, unforgiveable, unredeemable.

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber welcomes new members to the Church for All Sinners and Saints that she pastors in Denver by making sure they know that at some point, the community will let them down.  “That I,” she says, “will say or do something stupid and disappoint them.  And then,” she says, “I encourage them to decide before that happens if they will stick around after it happens.  If they leave, I tell them, they will miss the way that God’s grace comes in and fills in the cracks left behind by our brokenness.  And that’s too beautiful to miss.”

In her book, Accidental Saints, Pastor Nadia also says this:  “Church is messed up.  I know that.  People, including me, have been hurt by it.  But as my UCC pastor friend Heather says, “Church isn’t perfect.  It’s practice.”  (Accidental Saints, K2425)

THAT is what I’ve witnessed here over the last 14 years.  We aren’t always successful in following Jesus, sometimes we disagree, sometimes we even hurt each other…but even in the midst of all the messiness of being a Christian community, because we have continued to seek to follow Jesus as best we can, the world is being transformed.  That’s what all those shout-outs from people in the larger community tell me.  Because we are working together, because we are honoring—and calling out—each other’s spiritual gifts and using them for the common good, we are beginning—just beginning to get a glimpse of God’s kin-dom here on earth, a kin-dom we are helping to create.

Now the question becomes:  What’s next?  What’s our vision as a community of Jesus’ followers?  We’ve worked hard.  We’ve accomplished a lot.  We are successfully following Jesus in many ways.  But what’s next?  How do we find the “still more excellent way?”  If Paul is to be believed—and think he’s right on with this—we’ll find the more excellent way when we honor our diverse gifts, and when we pool those gifts and seek the common good, not only our common good here at Pilgrimage, but the common good of the larger community as well.

So, how do we get started?  Stay tuned.  I’ll share some of my thoughts next week.  Until then, see what your imagination dreams up.

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2015



Daily Devotion – January 24, 2016
01.24.16

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

Aren’t we all a little like Jeremiah at times? We are unsure of what to do or say. We focus on our shortcomings and think of reasons not to do something.

Most times, whether its leading Children’s Time or saying grace before a meal, I generally know what I’m going to say, but I have no idea what the exact words will be. What I do know is when I put my heart in the right place, the words come out much better than those times when I’m worried and self-conscious. For me, it is my way of opening up to the Holy Spirit. I take in a deep breath and trust the Holy Spirit will be present.

It doesn’t always work. I embarrass myself sometimes. Things don’t always come across the best. But more times than not, the Holy Spirit is present and the words come out much better than what I was originally planning. I’m certain the Holy Spirit will do the same for you.

Prayer:

Dear God, sometimes we let fear of saying something wrong hold us back from calling a friend or going to a funeral or visiting someone in the hospital or being more active in church. Help us to take a deep breath, put our hearts in the right place and invite the Holy Spirit into our souls. Help give us good words and thoughts to share so that we may be a shepherd to those around us, just like You did with Jeremiah. Thank you Holy Spirit! Amen.



Daily Devotion – January 22, 2016
01.22.16

 

Luke 4:16-21

16. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the

synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read,

17.The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it;

he found the place where it is written;

18. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim

freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind

to release the oppressed, 19. to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.

The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.

21. And he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

Unlike the other gospels, Luke’s gospel records Christ publicly announcing his purpose at the

start of his ministry. He had just returned from forty days of fasting and meditation after his

baptism. He was a regular attendee at the Nazareth synagogue. Thus, public scripture reading

at his “home church” may have served to ground him after weeks of intense mystical

experiences. The passage he reads, from Isaiah chapter 61, foretells the nature of his ministry.

Rather than remaining sheltered in the synagogues, he would be out among the people,

focusing on the marginalized and unwanted. The Christ’s balance between solitary

contemplation, public worship, and tireless outreach to the needy serves as a model for the

spiritual life for all of us “mere mortals.”

Prayer –

Attune me, Guiding Spirit, towards

your life-empowering energy.

My song I offer to you for

the sustenance you’ve granted me.

Ordain me, Guiding Spirit, for

the deeds of love for all who hurt.

For all the unloved, sorrow-worn,

and outcast, fill my heart!



Daily Devotion – January 21, 2016
01.21.16

I Corinthians. 12:26-27

26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

One thing I love about Pilgrimage is the sincere sharing of joys and concerns each Sunday. You can feel the entire congregation cringe when bad news is shared as well as sense the pleasure and thoughts of joy when someone shares good news.  The connectedness of the church community is evident in our shared expressions of grief, frustration, pride, and celebration.  I am often impressed by individual expressions of empathy and compassion for people all over the world who have experienced terrible situations, such as the shooting in Charleston, or the stabbing of a young girl in Acworth.

When we do this, I think we come close to truly living the kin-dom of God. I am grateful to be part of a community that shares such a loving heart.

Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you for our Pilgrimage community. We are blessed to belong to a family that truly feels a connection so that we grieve with our heartbroken members and rejoice with those who have reason to celebrate. Amen

 

 



Daily Devotion – January 20, 2016
01.20.16

I Corinthians 12: 19-25

 

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

 

As I reflect on this important and meaningful passage from Corinthians, I am reminded of an encounter I had many years ago, while serving my country in Vietnam. I had driven to Nha Trang with my first sergeant one morning, a beautiful coastal city that rested on the shores of the South China Sea, to catch a military hop back to Saigon for a meeting with my commanding officer. I checked in for my flight, grabbed my overnight duffle bag and looked for a seat, while I waited for the announcement to board.

 

As I rounded the armrest at the end of a wooden bench, I noticed a Vietnamese soldier, a member of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, as we referred to this military organization. He was seated toward the end of the bench, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. I started to put down my duffle bag and take a seat next to him. For a brief moment, I glanced to my right and saw that this young man had no legs or arms. A victim of the war, he was simply a torso. There he was, immobile, yet proud and alert and here I stood with all my appendages. I was shocked, heartbroken and embarrassed all at one time.

 

The verses above refer to the individual body parts, referencing them as one body. One cannot work effectively without the other. Each has its place and unique function, hence special gifts that each contributes to the entire body. I ask myself does that make this young Vietnamese soldier I saw so many years ago any less a part of the body of Christ? I think not. As a matter of fact, I think this makes him more a part. For we as members of the body have the responsibility to help and care for him as if he were whole.

 

Prayer:

 

Dearest God,

To all of us who are a part of the body, whether whole or not, may there be no dissension within the body, but may the members have the same care and love for one another.                    Amen



Daily Devotion – January 19, 2016
01.19.16

1 Corinthians 12:14-18

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

Devotion by Jim Kennedy

The Lord (or the people who wrote the Bible for the Lord) certainly knew their human anatomy. They knew that each of the organs had a distinct function and that functions of the individual organs dont overlap. It would certainly be silly to expect a hand to hear for the body or an ear to see for the body.

This verse is from a part of the Bible sub-titled One Body with Many Members. And the verse was from a letter from Paul to one of the faraway churches he visited. And the letter was written by the real radical Paul, not the conservative and reactionary Paul wannabes which were probably kept in the Bible by the church hierarchy as a way to keep the teachings of the radical Paul at bay. The radical Paul advocated that everyone, woman and man, poor and rich, were equal and that was an idea that the church hierarchy at the time (and some today) couldn’t tolerate.

Christ and the church make one body, as head and members, and this body is made up of many parts or members. It is one body for all the members are baptized into the same body and made to partake of the same spirit. Jews and Gentiles, bonded and free, were all one and baptized into the same body. Christians become members of this body by baptism for they are baptized into one body.

We are sustained by communion, the eating of the bread and the drinking the wine (or juice). The outward administration is a means appointed of God for our participation in this great benefit; but it is baptism by the Spirit, it is internal renovation and drinking into one Spirit that makes us true members of Christ’s church and maintains our union with God and Christ.

All the parts of the body work together to make the whole. And God chose how the parts of the body would work together. No one part can work on its own and be successful. It is like the spiritual aspect of a religious community such as a church. Were all in this together, and we succeed or not by working together all the time. Just like all the parts of the body must work together, all the members of the religious community or church must work together.

This includes the bottom of the feet and the ass, parts of the body which one would like to ignore but they are part of the community and must be tolerated; no, encouraged to participate. And God chose that we should work with the bottom of the feet and the ass in putting together Gods church. No one said the body working together would be easy. Most things we do for God are not easy.

Prayer:

Dear Lord I pray that I may continue to work with all parts of the body, including the bottom of the feet and the ass, so that I may make the body work as you chose.

 

 



Colorful Creator #2: Rainbow Boy
01.18.16

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Today, Pilgrimage hosted the delightful singer-songwriter, Bobby Jo Valentine.  This was Bobby Jo’s second visit to Pilgrimage.  (His first happened while I was on sabbatical.)  So wonderful to hear a full-on concert at our very own church!  I’m kind of amazed at what Bobby Jo can do with his voice.  Wow!

In the midst of his singing, Bobby Jo shared his story with us.  Raised in a fundamentalist Christian community, Bobby Jo’s gift for songwriting wasn’t appreciated.  Nor was his homosexuality.  After years of hiding who he was, Bobby Jo finally was able to come out as a gay man AND as a singer-songwriter!  I told him this afternoon–and I’m telling you now–I am so glad Bobby has found the place where he belongs!

As you know, I’m the tiniest bit obsessed with the colors in our sanctuary these days.  Later in the week, I’ll share a couple more of the pictures I took today.  For now I want to share two more of Bobby.

For the first part of the concert, Bobby stood on the platform.  Had I been able to take video, it would have captured a beautiful young man literally dancing in the rainbow.  The two pictures below catch just a tiny bit of the color and light that bathed Bobby this afternoon.  How appropriate that this one who is living his true colors was–for this day–our Rainbow Boy!

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Check out Bobby Jo’s website:  http://www.bobbyjovalentine.com/