Sunday, November 27, 2011

Voices of Anger, by Greg

· May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.

· How did you spend your Thanksgiving? Cooking? Relaxing? Nibbling? Watching the “Har-Bowl”? A surprising number of our fellow citizens decided that Thanksgiving was a good day for a campout in front of their big-box retailer. What an odd people we’ve become ... simply witness the modern phenomenon of “black Friday”—which itself is a pretty dreadful name. People camping out to get into the stores first. ... stabbings ... shootings ... stampedes ... a woman pepper spraying anyone who tried to get near the merchandise she’d claimed for herself. Is this simply an indication of our “bargain at any price” culture? Is it a reflection of the continued “de-volving” of our civilization and our sacred seasons? These and more, I suppose. So ... what’s it all about? Why do people do this? I suppose you could argue that it’s just an odd modern sport. But they seem to be in pursuit of ... something ... dashing from store to store, mall to mall, sale to sale.

· As we’ve heard this morning, Isaiah was certainly in pursuit of something ... he was in pursuit of a little loving and a little attention from an angry and indifferent God.

· Indifference ... it’s the worst kind of relational offense ... do anything to me, just don’t ignore me. “What have you done for me lately?” seems to be Isaiah’s cry.

· Things are in a very bad way for Isaiah and his people. It’s far worse than what nearly any one of us has known in our lifetime. The Babylonians had overrun the country, destroyed Jerusalem and Israel’s Temple, and hauled most of the population off into a bitter exile. It’s really hard to see how it could have been any worse for God’s “chosen people”. And God seems to have stood at the door of the family home and simply waved as his children are hauled off in chains. “Send a postcard.”

· Today’s words are likely written from the perspective of having returned from the Babylonian exile ... but returned to what? A flattened city and a non-existent Temple. And God ... well God simply seems absent ... God who acted so decisively at other critical times in Israel’s life—like the Exodus from Egypt ... like the journey through the Sinai wilderness. Now God seems moodily distant if God is even “there” at all.

· Bailey White is a southern writer that used to read some of her work on NPR. She describes her elderly mother—“mama”—who gets sick of her children’s backbiting and bickering and decides to go camping, of all things, at the far edge of the family’s farm. At night, mama’s daughters could see the flickering light of her campfire as she persisted in her sanity break and her self-imposed exile from her dingaling daughters.

· Sometimes I like to think of God as “mama” ... in Isaiah’s time and ours. God who has gotten sick of the bickering ... sick of the sordidness ... sick of the self-centeredness. “Fine,” she says in exasperated anger, “you stay in the house because I’m moving out for a while.”

· Maybe we can think of the early days of Advent as the time when we pause to consider that God may be angry with us—but not just us ... a time when we might have to do, for a time, without cozy assurances of God’s presence ... a time when we might shout at the sky to rip open and reveal God, but God still remains hidden ... brooding.

· How do we understand God’s anger? Isaiah knew God as a divine parent who was angry at Israel’s failure to live out their chosenness ... failing to look and act like God’s chosen children ... failing to treat the unfortunate among them with compassion ... failing to acknowledge God and God’s gifts to them when times were good and for imagining that they were “self-made” and needed no one but themselves. At our best, we earthly parents become angry at our children for many of these same failings ... when they repeat mistakes ... sell themselves short ... fail to reach their potential ... fail to be honest with us or themselves ... fail to live according to the dictates of their highest selves. And, of course, we can get angry at ourselves for these very same things.

· But anger is scary ... many of us grew up with parents who had some anger buried within, but didn’t know how to handle their anger ... and it would sometimes explode out in frightening and unpredictable and even damaging ways. The sad truth is that many of us have internalized our parents’ anger and even found new anger of our own. Many of us are frightened and confused by our own anger we know to be within.

· Harriet Goldhor Lerner is a psychologist and therapist who wrote several books some years ago that all start with the word: “Dance.” “The Dance of Intimacy” ... “The Dance of Anger”. “Dance” is a metaphor for our relationships with others and the important and necessary movements we must undertake in order to live in healthy and mutually satisfying relationships. And “anger” is one of the dances that we must not ignore or be unduly frightened by. We do well, Lerner says, to pay close and careful attention to anger—our anger and the anger of others. She says:

· “Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right. Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self - our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions - is being compromised in a relationship. Our anger may be a signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortably do or give. Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth. Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say "no" to the ways in which we are defined by others and "yes" to the dictates of our inner self.”

· We could have some very fruitful conversations about this description of what anger signals for us. But this morning I’d like to lift up the phrase: our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth. I think it helps explain some of God’s seeming absence and marks an important step along the way as Israel matures from a “child” into an “adult”.

· Isaiah’s anguish and frustration at God’s seeming abandonment of the people illustrates painful lessons being learned by the people of Israel ... and they are lessons that indicate an evolving and changing relationship with God. For the once “chosen” people of God, it is that God will not be owned or contained or controlled by them. For a people who are accustomed to getting nearly everything we want, it might help us to be reminded that we don’t control God ... or “own” God ... and we don’t control or own the future, though we may try influence it.

· Israel’s relationship with God is going through a necessary period of maturation and change ... if God at one time fed infant Israel by hand and effected “mighty acts” to protect the beloved chosen child, Israel is learning to understand that God increasingly comes into the world in a different way. If God once parted the waters and vanquished great armies, as the ancient stories told, God refuses to do so any longer.

· Woody Allen has famously jested of God as being something of an “underachiever”. But you know I’ve just suddenly realized that it’s an understandable joke from someone whose fellow Jews were slaughtered by the millions in WWII.

· Learn this, Israel: Divine protection is no longer a part of the bargain, it’s simply not in God’s being. But divine support, the profound undergirding of all that is and all that we are by the Spirit that animates all things ... that’s where Isaiah hard lessons are leading.

· The angry divine parent is saying to Israel, and I hope we’re listening in to this conversation: “grow up ... start taking responsibility for who you are ... for your behavior and decisions ... for your values and your faith ... and stop looking for a bailout every time the going gets tough. Grow up and allow your sense of me and my presence in the world to evolve away from seeing me as a “strong-armed benevolent dictator” and toward a divine, compassionate being whose power is most fully expressed in “non-coercive love and suffering service” ... a divine compassionate being who dwells most fully among the suffering and the disadvantaged and oppressed ...

· Fingerprints of God: Roy Larson, former religion writer for the Chicago Sun Times, has made a practice of examining the world for the fingerprints of God. Quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, he said he was more likely to find God's fingerprints on a kitchen table than on a holy altar. "Supernatural splendor" is found in "ordinary acts". The place to look for "spiritual substance is in everyday existence", where even the most simple deeds can be "full of wonder". "Why is it, Rabbi", asked the student, "that no one nowadays sees God?" The reply, "People are not willing to look that low."

· Advent is a season where we consider that God may be angry, like an angry, but loving parent. Advent is a season where we risk looking inward at our complexities including our own anger. Advent is the season when we learn to “look low” if we wish to see where God dwells. Advent is a rich and challenging season in which we find ourselves suspended for a time in the tension between God’s judgment and God’s promise.

· But there is a final word of hope … remember we lit the candle of hope this morning?

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;

we are the clay, and you are our potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,

and do not remember iniquity forever.

Now consider, we are all your people.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Risk-taking mission and Service, by Greg

It was over a decade ago ... nearly two dozen of us piled into our heavily loaded vehicles and drove over five hundred miles south across the border into the teeming city of Tijuana. We pitched tents on the edge of an abandoned quarry and wondered what the days ahead would bring. None of us had ever done what we were about to do. That first evening, we lolled around the fire wondering if we’d taken leave of our senses. We had just put a lot of miles and money into a risky adventure during which we proposed building an entire house from the dirt up with our bare hands—no power tools allowed—in just four weeks. Oh wait ... no ... make that ... FOUR DAYS!

The next morning we drove what seemed an interminable distance out to a new neighborhood which still mostly resembled the level part of a mountainside that it had recently been. Our insides had been jostled into a froth by the rutted roads and now we stood in front of a small lot where a large jumble of building materials had been dumped. It felt to me like the first steps out of the hospital bearing our firstborn child ... a new and enormous responsibility matched up with a profound sense of inadequacy.

We unloaded our jumble of tools, buckled on our tool belts, tugged on fresh, pristine work gloves, looked at each other and realized there was no way around but “through”. We met the family we’d be working for--and with--and we hoped word hadn’t reached them that we were somewhat “virginal” in this endeavor, having never before built an “AMOR house”. But I’d guess that 21 people standing in one place festooned with brand new tools with their freshly gloved hands hanging limply by their sides might have been a give-away.

Soon, though, we remembered the guidelines and instructions we’d worked hard to acquaint ourselves with while planning the trip. Some of us began sorting lumber while others started leveling the 11 by 22 patch of dirt where the foundation would be poured. It was slow, dusty and dirty work ... and the temperature rose rapidly as the sun rose high in the sky.

After a considerable time, we had leveled the building site and put our form boards in place for the slab foundation. With no cement truck in sight, we transformed ourselves into human cement mixers. According to a recipe, sand and gravel and cement were dried mixed in large flat tubs on the ground. Water was added and the hard work became harder still. Rarely used muscles began to ache and we began to despair that we’d finish the first day’s work before nightfall. The ground was so dry and the air so hot that the concrete threatened to set before we could work it. By mid-afternoon, we still seemed depressingly far from finishing the slab and workers were drooping with exhaustion. Frustration and despair hovered at the edges of our work party. We were accountants and teachers and students and retirees. We had soft hands and un-tempered muscles. Our minds were adapted for other work. What were we doing, for heaven’s sake, pretending we were skilled and work-hardened craftspeople?

But by God’s grace and the good humor of the family with and for whom we worked, we persevered and very late in the afternoon, the last ghastly tub of concrete had been mixed and added to a foundation that definitely seemed to favor function over form. It ‘tweren’t pretty, but it served the purpose.

That night back in camp we collapsed into our camp chairs around the fire almost too tired to trudge to the showers to wash the crud from our hair and skin. But the ache and the weariness was suffused with an awareness that was like an inner glow ... we had taken on a hard, risky ministry on behalf of people we’d never met ... and it felt to each one of us like the closest we’d ever been to walking in the servant footsteps of the one who had called us to that place and that work. As I have said many times, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so alive and whole as in those times of simple, humble service on behalf of other members of God’s beloved family.

“If you want to ‘save’ your life,” Jesus says, “you’ll best do so by ‘risking your life’ in my name.” (my paraphrase)

For three more days we toiled and by the end of that fourth day a simple, but safe and sturdy, home stood where once there had been only a bare patch of earth. For four days our sweat and tears had mingled with the building materials even as our lives had mingled with our new friends in Mexico. And as we made our way back “home”, we returned as changed people ... and we knew that something very important had happened on that worksite. We had “lived our faith” in ways that we are not always privileged to do. We had counted for something. We had stepped way outside of what was familiar and comfortable to serve someone in need. And we had done it in ways that felt very consistent with the person and the practice of Jesus.

Christian mission and service has many, many faces. Depending on who you are, Jesus can lead you into compassionate mission and service nearly anywhere and nearly anytime. There’s almost no place Jesus won’t lead us ... if we are willing to follow. Wherever in God’s creation there is suffering or pain or need or oppression or violence or conflict there is a potential invitation to “come follow me.” Sometimes service and mission we offer can be ways that are perfectly compatible with who we are ... our interests and our training and our strength. And sometimes ... sometimes the call comes to offer beyond what we might think we are capable of offering. Sometimes the call comes with risks ... risks to our personal security ... risks to our livelihood ... risks to relationships ... risks to the cozy and comfortable lives we have worked so hard to build for ourselves.

When Jan and I came out to California 20 years ago on my second visit prior to my being called as your pastor, we stayed in the apartment of a member of this church. The apartment was temporarily empty because this church member had heard and heeded a call to volunteer mission work in that place of enormous continuing need: Haiti. She was a nurse and her skills were desperately needed by our mission doctors at the L’Hospital le Bon Samaritaine (The Hospital of the Good Samaritan) ... she served for a season and then returned to us. And I’d like to think that her acceptance of her risky call to serve helped prepare us for future calls and challenges. It was her new husband’s teenage daughter who described her mission trip to Mexico with a Catholic youth group that inspired us and became our own call to risky ministry. And as I think more about it, I think she might have inspired someone else. Her step-son ... her husband’s other child, now a grown man and married, first fostered, then adopted three young children who needed a safe and loving home and needed to be in one home together. And they have found that safety and the love and that togetherness with Matt and Golden. And Matt and Golden are simply seeking to live out the selfless and risk-taking love that the one in whose name they follow modeled for them.

Jesus told a story about three slaves who were entrusted with fabulous wealth while their master departed on a long journey. And while two of the slaves decided to continue their master’s work as though he himself were about it, the third slave took the wealth he’d been given and buried it in the ground. When the master returned, finally, at the end of a long absence, the slaves were brought to account. The first two slaves had taken risks, yet doubled the master’s money to the master’s great joy and are taken fully into the master’s life and love and work. The third slave brings the wealth back to the master from the place he had buried it. He defends his actions by saying he knew how harsh and ruthless the master was and hands back all had been given to him—no less … but also no more.

As Matthew retells Jesus’ story, it is near the end of Jesus’ life ... his “departure” is imminent and his “return” is beyond human knowing. The church that has formed in Jesus’ absence must consider what it looks like to live faithfully in the name and the manner of Jesus while Jesus is away. The needs of the world around them are enormous and they remember well that Jesus never shied away from need of any kind, but faced it and ministered compassionately to it with every resource he had—with heart, mind, soul and strength. The church in Matthew’s time knows that it has been given a treasure beyond any reckoning in the love and grace and lingering Spirit of Jesus the Christ. The treasure is in their hands and their hearts and the only question is: What will they do with that treasure? How will they spend it? What risks will they take with the treasure they have been given? Jesus’ parable is used by Matthew to make plain that possess the loving goodness and risk-taking mercy of Jesus and NOT risk it on behalf the world that God loves is a tragedy of the highest order.

We know this about that ancient time: that the safest thing to do with a treasure was to bury it. Once buried, all risk was completely minimized. Nothing ventured ... nothing lost. But there’s even one more thing to know about the action of the third servant. There is a rabbinic law that says that is you bury property right after you receive it, you are no longer responsible for it. The third servant has completed divested himself of his master’s property and work and interests. And the end result of caring only for himself and refusing to offer himself in any way for his master’s work is, it turns out, a life of separation and loneliness and regret and despair. It’s a self-selected bleak future he has created by his refusal to risk himself on behalf of anything larger than himself. As William Sloane Coffin said famously--and might well have said about this man: “There is no smaller package in the world than a man all wrapped up in himself.”

As a fellow preacher notes: “the greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently.”

Early in my ministry at Shell Ridge, I was visiting in the home of an elderly member of this church. She was becoming quite frail and had lived for quite some time with a serious physical handicap. As I walked through her kitchen, I stole a glance at her refrigerator. Our refrigerators seem to be the place where our life values and philosophy gets tacked up and displayed—along with photos of every living friend and relative.

On Myrtle’s refrigerator, among the photos and tidbits of wisdom I noticed a yellowed scrap of paper occupying a prominent place. A title on the paper read: “Only a person who risks is free.” And here was what seemed particularly true and important to this frail soul who lived with a great deal of pain; here was the “life philosophy” that she put up as a reminder to herself every time she opened her refrigerator:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool,

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas and your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. Chained by their certitudes, they are a slave; they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.

Like my elderly friend, only you know the ministries to which God calls you ... only you know your fullest and deepest capacities for love ... only you know your inner strength and the gifts you’ve been given to use. But you do know. We do know. And we know that the capacity to love and serve, and suffer if we must, is a great treasure for a world in need. And it is a treasure we are called to put to risk while we also put it to use.

Jesus says to us: “Do you want to live fully and become free?” Then be my servant ... be my slave ... love and serve as I loved and served. And in so doing, your love and your service and your very life will be a treasure beyond any reckoning.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Let's Do Church, by Chris.

I want you to take a journey with me. If it helps you can close your eyes. I want to imagine yourself as an astronaut in orbit around the earth. You are free-floating in space tied only by a cord to the shuttle. As you look toward the Earth, you see nothing but blackness. Then suddenly a flood of sunlight comes tearing across the globe below you filling the Earth with color and amazement. In orbit you are travelling 16 times the speed of the rotation of the earth so sunrise happens at 16 times the speed it does when you’re on the ground. So in less than a minute the earth is lit. As you gaze down you can see everything, all of the good and all of the bad that is our planet. Astronauts often refer to this perspective as all encompassing and life changing. As you picture yourself looking down on this little blue ball, you might wonder, “Why are we here?”

Now I want you to picture zooming in. The Earth becomes closer and closer until all you can see is North America. Then it becomes even closer until all that you can see is California and the surrounding states. Closer still until you are in the Northern part. You see where I am going. Closer still until you are right above Walnut Creek, until you are right above the steeple of this church. Now zoom in closer and be right where you are. Sitting in this chair listening. And I want to ask that same question. Why are we here? Why are we here? Let me clarify. I don’t mean here in general like here on the Earth, but why are we here at Shell Ridge Community Church this morning? Why do we come to church at all?

You might answer that it is for community. And that would be a very good answer. Community is important. Community sustains us and strengthens us. But we do not need to come to church to find community. We can find community at the gym, at a yoga studio, in a book club, with family and friends, with our neighbors, at a bar. We do not NEED church to have community. So why are we here?

Perhaps you feel that church is the vehicle for doing good works: for helping the poor, feeding the hungry, fighting for peace and justice in the world. I think these are wonderful things, and I think that they are also essential in creating a world we can live in. But they also do not require church. You do not have to be a Christian to do good works. Thousands of non-profits have proven that. So I come back to the question, why are we here?

What separates church from the social clubs? Or the social justice groups? What makes church, church? To answer simply, our faith. What separates us from all of the people doing similar work is the foundational beliefs we develop, the stories of believers that we share, the inspiration we gain from our scriptures and teachings. Church is a place where these things can be cultivated.

For those of you who do not know, we are in the middle of a series of exploring the Five practices of Fruitful Congregations. We have covered being radically hospitable and having passionate worship, and today we speak of Intentional Faith Development. Those are three big loaded words. Tackling them is like trying to move a heavy dresser. It is too difficult to do all at once, so let’s do it piece by piece, one word at a time.


As I wrote in the Ridge Runner this week, intentional is often used in the negative. For example how many of you have ever broken something in your parent’s house, or been a parent that has come home to a smashed lamp or vase? Inevitably the defense is, “But I didn’t mean to. We were just playing baseball/tackle football/Olympic wrestling in the living room. I didn’t mean to break the vase.” Or sometimes a partner or spouse can feel hurt because of the neglect of another. The defense there is often, “It was never my intention to hurt you.” In both cases the defense of intention comes of short. Not having bad intentions does not take the place of having good intentions. Not having bad intentions does not fix the vase or heal the hurt. The only way that this can be prevented is by being active, by taking the time to shape good intentions. And it is no different at church. Not intending for members to be neglected, not intending for worship to be lacking, not intending for visitors to feel unwelcome is not the same as being actively intentional. Church should be is a welcoming place that actively nurtures growth. Growth in both its membership and in faith.

It is like playing basketball. Hanging back without intention is like playing defense. You might maintain the points that you have, you might prevent further trouble, but you are certainly not going to score. In order to do that you have to play offense. You have to take the ball and run with it. For a church to make gains, it has to play a little offense. It has to be intentional.

What does that mean? The author of the Fruitful Practices, Robert Schnase says “Intentional refers to the deliberate effort, purposeful action toward an end, and high prioritization.” He highlights small group work, Christian education and formation, and Bible study. I would add to that developing a sense of calling and purpose. The passage that _______ read from Philippians highlights some more intentions. Intentional development means dwelling on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, anything that is excellent and worthy of praise. Are we starting to see intention? This all means so much more than kicking back and having a cup of coffee (although that is certainly part of it). This implies goal-setting. Forward thinking. Planning. It takes more than just the seed. It takes the whole branch.


Speaking of trees, I want to share why I chose oranges as our fruit today. Growing up I had an orange tree in my front yard. When my father moved from Maryland to California he thought that everyone out here had a swimming pool, and orange tree and a palm tree. It was the 70’s. So when he got out here, guess what he got first. Yep, a pool, and orange tree and a palm tree. Every year I would watch the first orange blossoms begin to bloom in the spring. You can see them on the cover of your bulletin. Then out of these beautiful flowers would emerge a tiny green orb about the size of a marble. Then over the summer I would watch these orbs grow and grow until finally they were the size of a baseball. Then their green hue would turn to yellow. And then around Christmas time, they would ripen into a wonderful orange. This is why my father dubbed it the self-trimming Christmas tree.

I watched this process happen every year and every year it amazed me. Imagine telling a little kid that had never seen an orange tree before that this flower was going to turn into this fruit. It is an amazing and beautiful work of God and nature that cannot be overstated. And that is why I have chosen it today to represent faith.

In looking at the development of the orange we can see how faith works. It starts with belief. Based on what we believe about plants, the sun, the weather, and so forth, we believe we know what should happen. We believe that an orange seed will grow an orange tree. We believe in the science behind the gestation of fruit. The other part is confidence. It takes more that just knowledge to have faith, it takes confidence. How do we have confidence in the orange tree? By taking care of it. By watering it, feeding it, pruning it, making sure that it gets plenty of sunshine and nutrients. Then we can have the confidence in its production. Belief plus confidence equals faith.

The same is true for us as spiritual beings. It starts with belief. We all have beliefs. In fact we have a multitude of beliefs and we are presented with more every day. Beliefs about God, the world, the nature of humanity, the nature of Jesus, what is all means. Church should be a place where we can sort out our beliefs, talk with one another about them in a safe and open space. Share testimonies of life changing experiences, question each other and by extension question ourselves. If church becomes such a place, our beliefs can be shaped, molded, revisited and questioned. All of this will go toward them being strengthened.

We talk a lot about having faith. Just have faith, God will provide. Have faith, oranges will grow out of flowers. Have faith, the 49ers will win the Super Bowl this year. Just have faith. But to have faith, we have to have more than just belief. We have to have confidence, and like the orange tree, our spirituality needs care to have confidence. Faith I would argue is not something one can just have. It must be developed.


Development is what gives our beliefs the confidence that they need to be called faith. As an example of a faith developing community we look today to the second chapter of Acts. The passage that ______ read happened just after Pentecost. Pentecost as you might remember is the time when wind and fire of the Spirit enveloped the room of the disciples. They were so moved by this flood of the Spirit that they took to the streets and began preaching. On one day alone they converted 3000 people. But not every day is Pentecost. Bursts of fire and inspiration can only happen so often. What do you do in the meantime? Let’s take a look at the scripture. Acts reads, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Truly a sustaining and growing community.

What is the message of development that we can take from this passage today? I think it simply comes down to sharing. It says firstly that they shared their possessions and goods giving to those in need. Now I could preach a whole other sermon on the necessity of sharing in this me-first greed-based culture, but I will spare you, for now. What I want to lift up is the priority of the community. Because they put the community first, above their own stuff, they were able to foster a real sense of togetherness. Energy that could have been spent hoarding and maintaining wealth went instead to their faith development.

They also shared their time, time spent together in the temple as well as in their homes. I imagine they prayed together, told stories about this character Jesus that so recently left them, and helped each other make sense of all that they had seen. They were there for one another and they relied on each other.

Lastly, it says that they broke bread together. This is a perfect symbol of the community that they were fostering. What is more essential for life than food? By sharing their food together, they were sharing their lives. Just as Jesus had done before them. Just as we do today in communion.

This is how we develop, by sharing ourselves with each other - not just our bread, not just the cup, and not even just our money, but our lives, our beliefs, our faith. Through reading scripture, through lively discussion, through prayer. The task of developing our faith might be hard and daunting work, but with many hands the work is made lighter.

There is a saying you hear in movies sometimes when they are trying to act all Hollywood. “Let’s do lunch.” Doing lunch is very big in LA. Well, I would charge us with the task, “Let’s do Church.”

Let’s do Church in a way that moves us past Sunday morning and into the rest of the week.

Let’s do Church so that there is a sense of belonging and purpose.

Let’s do Church in a way that makes us unafraid becoming changed, and unashamed of admitting it.

Let’s do Church in such as way that gives us excitement about who we are and who we are to become.

Let’s do Church intentionally, developing our faith through sharing with each other. And the people said, Amen.

As we prepare for communion today we remember the disciples of 1st Century Palestine. We remember the covenants that they set up with each other. We also remember the covenant that Jesus made with His Apostles. When Jesus broke bread He did it to show how his life would be taken from him. He was trying to share this part of him with His followers. When the Disciples did it in their homes they were trying to show how their lives were to be shared in every way. When we do it today we do it as an act of welcome and of sharing. This table is open to all and you are invited to come as you are and share with one another the bread and the cup.

Let us pray. God, we know that you have called us here today as your followers. We come to you in many ways. We bring to you our regrets, our sorrow, our struggles, our joy, and our praise. We bring them all to this table and share them with you. Please let this time be one of receiving. Not just bread and a cup, but of a renewed sense of purpose, a new confidence in your grace and a new sense of togetherness. We pray in the name of He who gave us this practice, in Jesus’ name. Amen