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“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.”

–Isaiah 35:1-2

The term “food desert” describes areas where healthy, affordable food is hard to come by.  One of our adult Sunday School classes talked about this recently, and we looked at some of the down in the dirt ways people are trying to address the situation.  Food deserts exist in urban areas as well as rural areas.  Not far from us the Conetoe Family Life Center is working to grow healthy young people and a healthy community as it grows and distributes healthy food.

It occurred to us that there are many other kinds of deserts as well.  Within walking distance of the building our congregation calls home, we have identified a “music desert” and a “reading desert,” and there are certainly others.  In a music desert people don’t hear much enriching music, and they seldom attempt to make music. It is all left to professionals.  In a reading desert there is little storytelling or reading, and few books around to stimulate minds through words and good art.2016-02-09-21-20-33

Isaiah 35 reminds us that God can make the driest desert blossom, and God can make a way through where there seems to be no way.  God has the greatest green thumb of all. Our little flock is participating in what God is doing to help our community flower. Every week one of our oldest members leads a group that makes music flower at a local nursing home.  We also enjoy making music with some of God’s youngest children through gatherings called Music for Little Friends, to help their minds, hearts, and souls develop.  We will soon place a third Little Library somewhere in the churchyard.  The first two are in nearby neighborhoods, and there is a weekly story time at Little Library 2.  We are looking for creative ways to encourage children and families to use the libraries and read together. In these and other ways we are trying to garden with God.

Sometimes the small things we do seem so very small and inconsequential, and we worry about how our ministry can be sustained long term.  We need our divine Gardener to creatively cultivate us.  Yet even the smallest flowers are exquisitely beautiful, like a crocus.  In God’s eyes they are, at any rate.

file-dec-06-6-17-36-pmReaders, our prayers are with you for flourishing where you are in God’s gardening scheme.  And we appreciate yours for us as we plant our seeds with hope and longing for something beautiful from God in the future.

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Jamie Irene, 2-22-15--editedThis past Sunday our youngest disciple, age three, was able to stay with us in the sanctuary all the way to the last hymn before needing a break.  During that time, she colored the picture you see here.  We talked about Noah and the rainbow, and she put the rainbow all over the ark, all over everything.  Surely God’s rainbow promise is all over everyone, and all over everything.  Deep insights come out of the mouths of babes, but also out of their artwork.

In this blogpost,  pastoral musician Jonathan Aigner makes the case that traditional worship in which all generations worship together is a blessing to children, and truly good for their faith formation.  He thinks that we sell young people short when we believe that “modern entertainment is the only way to engage the fleeting attention span of our youngest worshipers.”  Aigner has some things to think about here, and some thoughtful comments follow his post.

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Here is a link to an old story that has been on my mind as I think about ways to share Jesus’ life-giving and lifesaving love in the world and in our neighborhood as it is today.

http://cms.intervarsity.org/slj/article/4249/0.1

 

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Hootie2Some people see a preponderance of older people–who often have gray hair–in a congregation, as a liability and a turn-off.   Having known and loved so many gray-haired saints, and now being gray-haired myself, I see their presence as an asset and a gift to the church.  I was delighted to come across an article by someone who agrees.  It’s entitled “The Gift of Gray Hairs,” and the author is Diane Roth, a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota.  I resonated as she described scenes like the following:

“There is a teenage young woman who sits at worship every Sunday with an older retired woman and her friends.  The young woman is training as a singer:  she sang “Pie Jesu” at our Good Friday Service.  The older women recently gave her a gift:  a number of opera librettos.

“After worship, one day, one of our young parents was in tears.  I had announced the death of one of our older members that morning.  I checked in with the young woman, concerned about why she was crying.  “I’m sad about Pearl,” she said.  Pearl used to sit near their family and interacted with her children nearly every Sunday.”

The author notes three ways in particular in which older adults can enrich the life of a congregation:

1. Mature faith and a lifetime of stories to tell about what living out that faith means in all kinds of situations.

2. Older adults often have a sense of clarity about what is truly important and can be more willing to let go of sacred cows than many younger folk.

3.  Younger people need the experience of being around older people and all the realities that often accompany living a long life, such as coping with frailty.  If we are blessed with a long life, that’s where we will be one day.

My ideal church has people of all ages in it, with people loving and learning cross-generationally.  We can bless one another!  I don’t think it is healthy for the generations to live segregated lives.  So many institutions in society segregate us.  We find the young in school, and we find the old in retirement communities.  The church is just about the only place in society where young and old can be in close relationship with one another.  Moreover, it’s not difficult for younger people to find friends their own age.  What’s more difficult is for them to have the opportunity to know older adults well, since in contemporary society, extended families often live many miles apart and young and old don’t interact as often as they once did.

I hope as I get older that younger people will still want to be friends with me, and will still want to be around me.  I hope I will have the opportunity to bless many, many younger people before I join the Church Triumphant.

Helen

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Christian Church

I’m trying to be better prepared to answer when people tell me that Christians do not need to participate in the life and worship of a congregation.  What can we say, for example, in answer to the following?

  • “I don’t need to be with other people to connect with God.”
  • “I can worship God in nature.”
  • “I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart, and I know I’m going to heaven.  That’s all I need.”
  • “I don’t need to be part of a church to help people.”

There’s no doubt about it: living in community with other people of God is challenging, but it is also the place where we experience God’s grace, mercy and love most powerfully–or at least it has been for me.  In Christian community we learn how to practice generosity, forgiveness, and all the virtues and actions of Christian living.  Church is where we learn how to love even when we don’t feel like it.

Here are some links to helpful reflections on why Christians need to be active participants in a faith community.  In Do You Really Need Church? Tara Woodard-Lehman, Presbyterian chaplain at Princeton University, notes that the church is a community of memory.  It holds the memory of who God is, and who God calls us to be.  The community is a constant reminder of the point of life.  She writes, “I forget who I am. I forget who God is. I forget God’s Epic Story of Redemption and Liberation and Renewal and Beauty and Hope.

“I forget. A lot.

“On top of that, there are a gazillion other demands and voices that are vying for my attention all the freaking time.

“So I admit it. I get tired. And I get distracted. And more often than not, I forget.

“I need Church, because Church reminds me of everything that’s important.

“And when I say Church, I’m not talking about a building. I mean the people. I’m referring to the organic, collective, flesh and blood Body of Christ. I’m talking about the beautiful but undeniably imperfect community of people who help me remember who I am, and to Whom I belong, over and over again.

And here is a link to an interview with UCC pastor Lillian Daniel, Why Christians need the church.  Daniel notes, “It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”

She also notes that the scriptures are meant to be read and interpreted together in community.

I commend these articles to you.  And please send in your comments.  What do YOU say to folks who believe that Christians don’t need to be part of a church?

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A friend just called my attention to  this video about all the reasons people give for why they think they won’t be truly welcomed in church and why they wouldn’t fit in.  What do you think?

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'Cotton Harvest' photo (c) 2009, Kimberly Vardeman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/In God’s big scheme of things, getting smaller as a church might not necessarily be bad news, even though it’s no fun.  It may be a necessary step on the way to new life.

Recently I read the story of what Clarence Jordan, founder of the Koinonia Community, once experienced more than fifty years ago during the segregation era when he went to preach a revival at a church in South Carolina.  When he got there, he found a well-blended congregation of several hundred black people and white people worshiping together. Jordan was amazed.  After the worship service, he asked the church’s pastor how this had come about.

The pastor described how, when he started, the church had about twenty people.  When the congregation couldn’t find another preacher, this layman volunteered to preach.  He said, “I got up the next Sunday, opened my Bible and I put my finger on the verse that says, ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but all are one in Christ.’ I commenced to preachin’ on that. I told them how Jesus makes all kinds of people one. When I finished that service, them deacons wanted to talk to me in private. They told me they didn’t want to hear that kind of preachin’ no more.”

The old man went on to describe how he continued to preach along these lines, and the church shrank down to four people.  He said, “I preached that church down to four people.  And I found out that sometimes revival happens not when people come in to the church, but when people go out of the church. If people were going to stand in the way of the moving of the Spirit of God, it’s better they go somewhere else. And after that, we decided that we wuz going to build the church on people who were actually serious about following Jesus. And that’s when it started to grow.”

Hmm.  Will we trust God to build our congregations on a few people who are serious about following Jesus, or will we seek to quiet our anxiety with larger numbers of spiritual spectators?

There’s a coda to Jordan’s story: After the service that night, Jordan rode home with a young member of the church who drove 70 miles each way every Sunday to worship with that congregation.    This member was a professor of English literature at the University of South Carolina.  Jordan asked, “Why do you go to a church that has that old hillbilly preacher? You have a Ph.D. from Yale. And he can’t even utter a single grammatically correct sentence.”

The professor answered, “Sir, I go to that church because that preacher preaches the gospel and this church lives it.” (From The Cotton Patch Evidence: The story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (1942-1970).)

Lord, help us to preach your gospel, and help our churches to live it!

*****

This story reminds me of the story of Gideon’s army in Judges.  See my sermon on that text:  “Onward, Christian Soldiers?”

See also this post: “Called to get smaller???” 

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