Thoughts from Pastor Dan

The Greatest Wrestling Match

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Dear Church Family,

 

The following is taken from the sermon I offered at Friends Church on Sunday, August 6th, coming soon in video and transcript form to the sermons page at www.friends-ucc.org.

 

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with an angel of God.  If we place ourselves in Jacob’s shoes, what does that wrestling match mean for us?  James Newsome suggests, “even in the midst of our struggles with God and with self, the most enduring word is a word of God's grace,” and once we’re in a wrestling match like that, why would we ever want to let it go?

 

When I was in my early 20s, my Grandfather, my mom’s dad, was in his twilight years.  I was in college and working, trying to shift into this thing called “adulting.”  In my self-absorbed mind—I have to confess—I didn’t really want to go visit Granddaddy all that much.  I was reluctant to get into that wrestling match with him.  But then I’d walk into the living room at his old house, and I’d find him sitting on the recliner trying to dose off, and I’d sit across from him, and things would start to get real.  I’d look into his eyes that had seen the Great Depression, into his face with more than eighty years of wisdom tracked across it, and I’d realize how wet behind the ears I was.  I’d see how confused and worried I was about my life.

 

Excess or Success?

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NRSV). I’ve attended several funerals and heard those words read from the Bible affirming the person who has died. It’s a scriptural testimony to a life well-lived; a Bible verse that parses away the things that, in the end, don’t matter from the true mission we share on this side of eternity: sharing love—the good things we have in this life—with one another. The extent to which we do this determines our success.

 

We recently finished a six-part sermon series coupled with a six-week book study on the topic of Sabbath and Jubilee (which concludes tonight, details below). In The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life, one of the books that aided our study, Ross Kinsler and Gloria Kinsler write, “Success is still measured largely in terms of GNP; the super-rich are still admired for their excesses; and we are all pressed constantly to consume more. Sabbath-Jubilee economics calls for all creation and all God’s people to break the cycle of production and consumption in order to rest and renew our possibilities to survive and to leave to future generations the great but diminishing resources of our planet.”

 

Sabbath on Earth Beginning with Me

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This week’s devotional is offered by Associate Pastor Trent Williams.

 

Over the last several weeks, we have been gathering on Wednesday evenings to discuss theologian Walter Brueggemann’s book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. This has been a rich time of conversation and community, and we’ve had the opportunity to share with each other some of the opportunities and the challenges that we see in keeping Sabbath in our world today. One of the consistent themes that has emerged has been dealing with the pressures and expectations of others—family and friends, as well as employers and the wider culture in which we live. Sabbath can be difficult to practice well if we don’t have the support and structure around us that can make it possible.

 

As I was thinking about this the other day, I came across two articles on social media that reinforced for me the importance of what we’re talking about. The first was a post on Twitter by a writer who was quoting from an article he had read about hiring practices in large corporations. The relevant section said:

 

When Did We See You?: Reflections on the Homeless Jesus

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek devotional will appear in Saturday’s “Faith & Values” section of The Eagle (www.theeagle.com). When it does, you are invited to share a link to Pastor Dan’s column on social media in support of our church’s youth group and as an act of evangelism for Friends Congregational Church.

 

When I saw Jesus lying on that bench, I couldn’t look away. It was a life-sized statue where Jesus lays on his side across a bench with just enough room for someone to sit next to his feet. The sculpted figure is covered in a blanket; his feet protruding, revealing gaping wounds on the tops of both—reminders of the nails driven through Jesus’ feet at his crucifixion.

 

This Homeless Jesus statue, as it is called, sits outside St. Mary’s Catholic Church in San Antonio. Its sculptor, Timothy Schmalz, provided the first of these statues in the U.S. in 2014 to an Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina. Some in that mostly wealthy community took offense at the “insulting” depiction of the Son of God as homeless, complaining that it demeaned the neighborhood. Schmalz’s intent was to open the public’s eyes. It reminds passersby that Jesus is with the most marginalized in society, citing Matthew 25, where Christ instructs, “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

 

How can we right the wrongs we do to someone if we don’t first see them?

 

Ebenezer

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s devotional, “Ebenezer,” is written by Friends Church member Cecelia Hawkins, who serves as Chair of the Justice & Missions Committee.

 

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise.

I loved this hymn as a child, in particular the second verse which says:

Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.

And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.

Eben-Ezer is an Old Testament place name—“stone of help”—a monument raised by Samuel at the site of the victory of the Israelites over the Philistines.

 

Fighting Self-Hate: A Reflection on Juneteenth

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s devotional originally appeared in Saturday’s “Faith & Values” section of The Eagle: http://www.theeagle.com/news/faith_and_values/fight-hostility-by-resisting-personal-insecurities/article_0ea07b31-1e10-59b6-b18d-7636a68bd1e8.html.

 

In anticipation of Juneteenth, celebrating the abolition of slavery announced in Texas on June 19, 1865, I picked up a collection of sermons written from a Black perspective. In Afrocentric Sermons: The Beauty of Blackness in the Bible, the author, Kenneth Waters, writes, “While African Americans have won a measure of freedom for our bodies, too many of our minds remain enslaved.” Waters unpacks the term “white” as “a mindset that would preserve privilege for descendants of Europeans at the expense of descendants of Africans and others,” clarifying that his sermons are not anti-white people, but certainly anti-racist. Providing this context he continues, “Within the wider community, the white assault upon the African American psyche has yielded the spoiled fruit of gang violence, homicide, drug trafficking, drug use, idleness, despair, domestic violence, crime, alcoholism, suicide, and mental breakdown. These are the symptoms of a people who have been taught self-hate.”

 

Hate inflicted on a person or people and internalized can become something even more insidious.

 

Doing Our Best Where We Are

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

This week’s devotional is written by Rhoda Bertsch, a longtime honorary guest of Friends Church who insists that “every Christian church needs a little Jewish mothering.” Rhoda coordinates greeters for Sunday mornings, and recently served on the Ad Hoc Nominating Committee.

 

Oh beautiful for specious skies, for amber waves of grain. For purple mountain’s majesty above the fruited plains.

 

For some one born and living in New York City as a youngster those were beautiful words, but what exactly were those things. The words that spoke to me and my family were the ones written on the statue of Liberty—“Give me your tired, your poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

My parents were first generation Americans. Their parents were Jews coming from Hungary and Russia. They left their homes because of persecution and lack of opportunity. They arrived in New York City as thousands of others before them with little more than the clothes on their backs and their faith. Their faith in G_d that in this land they could live and work and practice their beliefs without the fear that they would be punished or put to death. They lived as most immigrants do, hand to mouth, working hard for long hours for low pay. This was over one hundred years ago. Why does all this sound the same as yesterday’s news? For my family, years went by and they prospered because they had the opportunities to do so and their faith to sustain them.

 

Fallow Time

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”Matthew 13:3-9, CEB

 

The Path Turns

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 Dear Friends Church Family,

This week’s devotional is written by Mark Thomas. Mark currently serves as Church Council Moderator at Friends Church. This summer, he will be moving with his family back to Lexington, Kentucky, and will enroll in seminary this fall.



“The Path Turns”

Our faith tradition is overflowing with stories of journeys. From Abram and Sarai uprooting to move to the land of Canaan, to Jesus’ mystical walk to Emmaus with two of the apostles, and many more in-between and beyond, it is in a journey that one often encounters God. And a journey is often more than that, symbolic of our ultimate pilgrimage, from birth to death to life beyond.

We Are Branches

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. –John 15:5

 

This morning, in a not atypical conversation under the roof of this pastor’s family, our daughter asked, “Daddy, when you get me married, if you’re still my daddy, will you walk me down the aisle, too?”  Never mind the sweetness of her nine-year-old verbiage about me serving as her wedding officiant (“get me married”), and try to brush aside the snort laughter about whether I’ll still be her dad (“if you’re still my daddy”); what I’m reflecting on is that picture of one person walking their child down the aisle, then changing positions to stand as the minister. In other words, I’m picturing one person trying to do it all.

 

News flash: we can’t do it all. I can’t. You can’t. And we’re not meant to. Jesus reminds us of this when he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” In the African American tradition of Christianity, prayers often begin with that acknowledgement, “Heavenly Father, we know that you are God, and we can do nothing apart from you.” It’s not a prayer reducing the one praying to wretched wormwood; it’s an empowering prayer that recognizes one’s own humble place in the divine scheme of things: God is the source of all life-giving energy, and we are rooted in that sustenance of abundant love.

 

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