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Here is the text of the letter that I sent to all the members First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon announcing my new call.

Dear First Presbyterian Church,

It is with mixed emotions that I write this letter to inform you that I have accepted a call to be the next pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, Nebraska. My family and I are very excited and, at the same time, very nervous about what the future holds for us, yet we are responding to the YES that God has put on our hearts to follow this call.

Words cannot express the depth of love and gratitude I have for the community of First Presbyterian, Bend, without your love and generosity I would never have been able to hear this call. It was God who brought me here five years ago and I trust it is God’s call that is leading me to the next chapter of my journey.

Over the last five years, you have seen me grow from a fresh out of seminary youth director to a married father of two, ordained, Pastor of Youth and Their Families. Your willingness to allow me to grow with you has been invaluable to me, personally and professionally, as I seek to be the best pastor I can be. The grace and care that you have shown me when I have made mistakes and the joy and support you have given my family and me in our celebrations has been in a word, Christ-like. The relationships built here will go with me wherever God’s call leads me.

First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City is a small congregation with a lot of energy. For the last year they have participated in a transformation process involving the entire congregation. Through this process they have studied their past, acknowledged their present, and now are ready to embrace their future. A future that we have been called to share with them. The people at First Presbyterian Church, Nebraska City, and I believe that we have been called together at this moment to share the next step in their ministry.

My last Sunday with you will be December 30, 2012. I will begin my new call in Nebraska City at the end of January.

My family and I are indebted to you and covet any prayers for our future in ministry. Once again, thank you.

Blessings,

Rev. Greg Bolt

 

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Here is the text…mostly of the sermon I preached last Sunday at First Presbyterian Church–Bend, Oregon.

The scripture was Psalm 19:1-6 and Psalm 24:1-2. And if you don’t want to read…here’s the audio link

Also, let it be known that I learned I would be preaching this sermon about 3:00 PM on Saturday. Be nice!

The Picture of the World:

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night-to-night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The Mountains give voice to the majesty of God, etc.

Speechless when I see them.

Often when I am running with my dog Walker, I’m listening to music and I am struck by how blessed I am to live in this place and I am brought to tears as I see God’s voice to me in the beauty of my surroundings.

I look at this picture of the Earth God created and entrusted to us and I am struck at how small it is, relative to the entire universe that God created.

I am struck by the fact that we look at this Earth from above and see how small it is, yet when we see pictures from India or China or Arkansas or West Virginia it feels like a totally different world. A world we have no connection to, a people we have no connection to, an Earth we have no connection to.

This morning I have a question for you. When you see this picture and you think about your place on God’s Earth, do you feel connected?

Sometimes I wonder if we feel connected to the Earth, not in a symbiotic way not in a tree hugging way, not in a way that I hear trees screaming when they are cut down way, but in a way that I understand that my actions have an impact on the Earth in the same way that my actions have an impact on my relationships. I certainly think about how, what I do affect my relationship to my wife, to my daughter, to my loved ones but do I think about how it impacts God’s Earth?

Steven in a letter to the editor of the Bend Bulletin in 2007, quotes William Sloane Coffin saying, “The modern world, in the pursuit of progress, has unfortunately divorced creation from Creator.” He continues, “As modern civilization has supposedly advanced and progressed, a sense of wonder and awe, reverence and respect for creation has declined. And, unfortunately, our souls and the soul of the community we live in are the poorer for it.”

I want us to take some time to look at some pictures and see if we can reconnect the creation to the creator. See if we can re-introduce ourselves to the Creator through God’s Creation.

Slide Show

We see the pictures, they take my breath and I wonder. I wonder if like William Sloane Coffin suggested, we have lost our sense of the awesome majesty that is found all around us, whether in a scenic view of the mountains or in the thistles of a juniper tree. My question is what do you see when you look at them? Do you see something to be used for your own pleasure? Do you see something to be celebrated and explored? What do you see?

Theologian and ethicist, James Gustafson talks about the entirety of Creation in a way I had never heard before. He talks about it in terms that are challenging and shocking and I want to get some feedback from you. Gustafson says that humans are not the center of God’s creation but only one part of the larger make up of what God intended for God’s creation. How does that strike you, the thought that we are not the center of the universe, we are not God’s favorite, but part of the picture of God’s Earth and the fullness thereof?

I love that idea, partly because I am fairly confident, some say cocky, partly because humility is not what I would consider one of my strengths. I actually have a hat that says “It’s Hard to Be Humble When You’re From West Virginia.” But that’s a sermon for another day and if I get off track now there’s no hope.

The humility it takes to recognize that we are part of the story not the whole story changes my mindset when I think about how I interact with other beings and living things on this Earth.

Listen.

I’m not here to try to make you feel guilty, or to make you run out and buy a hybrid, or eat local or any of that stuff. I think there is plenty of trying to guilt you into caring about the Earth already out there. My hope is that we can get back to being in awe of God’s Creation.

On this Earth Care Sunday my hope is to invite you back into relationship with the Earth, invite you to remember how much God loves you and how you are part of God’s Creation just as the trees outside these windows are, just as the mountains we hike and ski and snowmobile and camp and play in, just as the rivers that we float and that give us electricity, just as every thing we come into contact with in God’s natural world.

My hope today is to remind us that, as the Psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,”

I could probably wag my finger at you and say, “You’re not doing enough” but what would that solve? You’d probably just roll your eyes at me. Honestly, that’s probably what I would do if someone were trying to make me feel bad for not doing enough.  I mean I care deeply about environmental issues, not because of their political nature but because I think it is one way that I can respond to God’s call to love my neighbor.

Today I want you to remember that God loves you, and hopefully you love God. I also hope that one of the ways that you express that love is through nurturing the Earth that God has surrounded us with. Today we have a special opportunity to love our neighbor and nurture our world.

Following the service members of the Green Team will be stationed at the main door and the side door. We have the opportunity to pick up around Bend High. Green Team Members will give you 2 bags, one for garbage and one for recyclables such as bottles and cans.  You will also be given a glove or two just in case you don’t want to get TOO dirty.  When you return you can bring the filled bags downstairs behind the church where the big garbage bins and the recycle bin are located.  There will have someone there to show you where to put things.

May it be so.

Blessings,

Buttface

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Here is the text from my sermon last Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, OR. The sermon text is Matthew 1:18-25

The story of Joseph always amazes me. It amazes me because I’m not sure I would have made the same decision that he did. For all intents and purposes the “right” thing, the “lawful” thing was to dismiss her. The “lawful” thing to do was expose her to public humiliation, for her to stand trial for adultery. Joseph was a noble man, a man who must have built a remarkable and trusting relationship with God. What Joseph did, defied all logic. It defied reason. Joseph listened to an angel, in a dream, who told him. “Do not be afraid, take Mary as your wife, name your son Jesus.” Joseph chose to go against all that he knew because he trusted God, he trusted that his vision was from God, he listened to the vision. I don’t know how many times in my life I have felt a nudge to do something that was seemingly impossible and certainly illogical. Almost every time I have brushed it aside, I have refused to listen, I have not trusted. I imagine that Joseph taking that first step was difficult. I imagine he could not talk to anyone about his situation. I imagine he felt lonely. I imagine he felt scared. I imagine that his plans for his life were now washed away in an instant. He had to now re-imagine what his life would be like with his new wife Mary and their son. Would he be ridiculed? Would he be an outcast? Would he be killed? Joseph’s ability to trust that God would be with him no matter, must have taken time. It must have been the product of long hours of talking to and listening to God, allowing himself to trust and to be worthy of trust. As we are surrounded with the noise of the season, let us take a few moments to listen, a few moments to allow God’s still small voice to become as loud as a choir of angels. A few moments to hopefully continue to build our trust level with God and for God. Let us take a moment to breath allowing God’s breath to flow through our minds and fill our hearts with the vision of the Holy Spirit living and moving through our lives. Let us take a few moments of silence to simply be…

(2-4 Minutes of Silence)

Amen.

As I began to prepare for this Sunday, a Sunday where we are reminded to listen more than we talk. The story of my friends and colleagues Adam and Sarah Walker Cleaveland from Livermore, California, kept rattling around in my brain, kept coming up, kept being in my thoughts and prayers. Before I shared this with you I asked Adam and Sarah if they were comfortable sharing their story. Adam has written about their journey at his blog dazeddad.com. I believe his words better explain their story. This is an excerpt from his blog entry entitled “October 25: The Day I Will Never Forget

On Sunday, October 24, at around 1:15pm, Sarah’s bag of water broke, although we didn’t know it at the time. We weren’t really sure what had happened, so we went to Labor & Delivery in Walnut Creek. After a few different tests, the doctor pulled a stool over and sat down next to the bed. It was at that moment that I knew that we were in for some bad news. There was something about the way the doctor sat down on the stool, and began to share with us the news…

We really didn’t have any options – we had to end the pregnancy. We were at 19 weeks and 3 days.

We were given our own room in Labor & Delivery and we waited as Sarah was given [a drug] to induce an early labor. The night was spent trying to get some sleep; in preparation for doing something we never thought we’d ever have to do in the morning. Sarah was given some pain meds to help with the increased cramping, but around 6am, it got too painful, and she got an epidural.

It was only a few minutes after the epidural was in, that Sarah’s cramping became worse and the delivery began. It happened very quickly, much quicker than we had anticipated, and on Monday morning, October 25, at 6:49am Micah Walker Cleaveland (10 ounces) was born and at 6:54am Judah Walker Cleaveland (8 ounces) was born.

What was perhaps most shocking about the birth experience was that they were both born alive and breathing…they had heartbeats and were quickly wrapped in blankets and given to us to hold. Because of where I was standing when they were born, I could see them when they first came out. Micah, who seemed significantly bigger than Judah, was kicking and I could see his tiny little arms moving around.

We spent about 3 hours with them that morning. Sarah and I took turns holding them individually and together. Shortly after their birth, one of the pastors from our church came by and spent time with us. Sarah decided that since they were alive for about a full 1-1.5 hrs while they were with us, that we should baptize them. Our pastor was there at that time, and so we baptized them and prayed for them.

Right now I can’t describe what it was like to hold them – to know that I was holding my sons in my arms…I was a dad. I am a dad. And that is a crazy thing to think about.

At around 10am, we decided we were ready – as ready as we would ever be – to say goodbye to Micah and Judah. And so the nurse came and took them….

Even as I type this post, it still feels unreal. The whole time at the hospital feels like it never really happened. Yet, each day, we are reminded that we have suffered a huge loss. Every time we receive another flower delivery, or another comment left on my Facebook Wall, or another meal delivered to us from wonderful people at our church, I am reminded that we are grieving.

I don’t know what the future holds. I can’t even look past the next few days – it’s too hard. But I do know that we are surrounded by an amazing community (both online, from folks in our church, close friends, friends I haven’t heard from in a long time, etc.) who is praying for us and loving us and eager to find ways to support us. And that means more than you could ever imagine.

Adam and Sarah’s story is tragic, it’s gut wrenching it reminds me that there are no words that can be said to “make it better”. Even though we, even though I offer up words to fill the void that is felt by loss. I am reminded of my time as a chaplain when we were told, “don’t just do something, stand there.” I am reminded that all I can do for Adam and Sarah is be there. All I can do is pray. All I can do is listen.

For all those who are grieving, grieving the loss of a loved one, grieving the loss of a job, grieving the loss of time, grieving the loss of comfort, all I can say are the words offered by Adam’s religion professor and friend, Jerry Sitter, “I have no words. This is horrible. And I’m here for you.” God is here for you. In his book “Grace Disguised” Dr. Sitter says, “A willingness to face the loss and to enter into the darkness is the first step we must take.”

As we take a moment to listen for God to meet us in our time of need, let us together and as individuals take that first step into the darkness of those things that we have lost during this year and let us be drawn to the light of the Christ child, remembering that it is though hope in him we are saved from our darkness. Let us take a moment in silence to simply listen…

(2-4 minutes of silence)

Amen.

Blessings,
Buttface

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Here is the text from this week’s sermon at First Presbyterian Church, Bend, Oregon. The sermon texts are Isaiah 40:1-8 and Romans 8: 18-25

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the season of the church year where we wait expectantly for the coming of the Christ child. The story of Mary and Joseph and their harrowing tale of parenthood gets told over and over during the next couple of months. There will be family get-togethers, holiday parties, white elephant gifts, fun, laughter, good tidings, and lots and lots of cheer…or so we’re told. During this time of year, everyone is cheery and happy celebrating the chance to get together with friends and loved ones remembering and being thankful for the year that is drawing to a close…or at least that’s what the ads say.

This season, for many, is a season that is anything but joyful. This season brings up painful memories, adds to already busy lives and ultimately becomes so overwhelming that the thought of doing it again next year seems too much.

A lot of times during this time of year I just feel…stressed. There are certainly moments during this season when I sit back and feel the wonderful spirit of God around me when I sit around a table with my friends and family remembering that BEING with people is what’s important in this or really any season.

It just seems that during this season we are worried about making sure we SEE everybody we can, even if that means not BEING with any of them. During this Advent season we are inviting you to slow down, take a breath, worry less, hope more and experience a simple Christmas.

I know that by saying that some of you are instantly stressed out.

I’m a little stressed out about thinking of simplifying Christmas.

I have a confession to make; one of the main ways that I show love is through gifts. I don’t buy things for a lot of people during the holiday season but the people I do buy for, especially my wife and now my daughter, I tend to go over board. I have a real hard time staying on budget. I’m worried that my family, those around me won’t understand how much I love them and celebrate them in my life if I don’t buy them some thing REALLY expensive.

Now when I say that out loud I realize that just doesn’t make sense. I also look back on the gifts that I have received over the years and the ones that I remember are the ones that took care, were hand made or were re-gifted. The thing that really jumps out at me are the people that were there, the stories that were told around the table and the memories that I have are of who was there not what I got.

Even with that knowledge we still worry that some how we’re not going to live up to some one else’s expectations. We worry that we’re not going to do enough or have enough or give enough. I worry…that somehow if I don’t get my child the “right” present for her learning or my wife the “right” keepsake to let her know that I love her or my parents the “right” picture of their first grandchild that Christmas won’t happen. That the one we’ve waited for, the one we’ve hoped for won’t be born to a teenage mother in a feeding trough. That somehow the birth of Christ is dependent on us.

I am thankful that I am not responsible for the coming of the Christ child.

I am thankful everyday that Jesus Christ is with us constantly, that while I am grass and I will whither and fade, God’s word will live forever and I can trust that even though I didn’t get a new Xbox, God IS with me and with you and with the world, God WILL BE with me and with you and with the world and will be my wife and child and with you and with the world long after I am gone. This is not something that I can see but it is something that I can hope for.

At this time in our country with this economy it often feels like a lot of us are withering or fading away. We feel like we can no longer do the things that we used to we can no longer provide the kind of experiences that we have become accustomed to and sometimes we feel less than, we feel lost, we worry.

The hidden opportunity in that is we can choose how we react to our changing situations. We can choose to hold on to the past, clinging to memories of what used to be or we can open ourselves to new possibilities of what can be. Instead of an iPod or the latest Call of Duty video game maybe you can write your kids a letter telling them how important they are to you.

Our story, our gospel, our history is about life, death and resurrection. We do a pretty good job of living, we are terrified of dying and I’m afraid we don’t trust in the resurrection.

I know in my life there have been times where part of me has died. I am not the same person that I was when I was younger. It was hard to grow up. It was hard to let that part of me go, but the new life that has come is far more than I could have ever imagine.

At this point in our world, in our denomination, our church, in our community many of the things we have been accustomed to are no more. Part of our society is dying, is changing. We can choose to hold on unwilling to change or see the possibilities of the hope of the resurrection. We can choose not to accept that for some there are different ways to interact with God than the way we have accustomed to. Comfort, O Comfort my people, you are forgiven.

I know change is scary especially in a time such as this; a time when we can’t see the other side. I know that the life that we lived has been from God. I know it will help us shape things to come. I hope, I trust that we can be reborn into a new and vibrant life of abundance as we wait patiently for the coming of the Savior to all.

Nazarene Scholar, Dennis Bratcher said, “I think that the true meaning of Christmas is about possibility. It is not the kind of possibility that comes from a confidence in our own skill, knowledge, ability, or a positive mental attitude. It is possibility that comes solely from the fact that God is God, and that he is the kind of God who comes into our own human existence to reveal himself and call us to himself.”

In our Bible reading from Isaiah today we reminded, “the grass withers and the flowers fade but the Word of the Lord lasts forever.” We also know that “in hope we are saved.” God looks down upon us and says, “Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

This may sound a little hokey but those simple words give me a glimmer of hope of possibility; light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t a train but provides warmth that draws me closer and closer to recognizing that God has been…is…and will be with us no matter what.

Even if we don’t get our Christmas cards sent out, if we don’t make that special meal, if we don’t go to every party, if we don’t buy our boss a gift or get your neighbors a fruit cake or you don’t get up the lights etc. etc. etc.

I actually think that the hope of this time of year is much deeper than simply doing less, simply not buying one present, simply holing yourself up in your house and saying, “I don’t have to go to parties or be with people because I’m being more simple.” The hope of this season is the hope that often seems hidden under all the noise that the season can create. The hope for this season lies in the belief that there is a God that bigger than us, bigger than our stress, bigger than our worry. The hope is in a God that is always reaching for us, holding us, guiding us; a God that came to earth in the form of a helpless infant, a God that desires to be in relationship with us, a God that promises that, ultimately in the end, it will be OK even if we can’t see it, even if it seems impossible, even if we feel like we are lost, even if we can’t see God. We trust God is there.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before he was Pope Benedict XVI said, “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to [people]. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.”

This Advent we trust that you will be awakened to the mystery, excitement, and hope that is the coming of the Christ child. You will be transformed by the spirit of possibility of what could be if we continue to love like Jesus. What could be if we worry less about all the extraneous tinsel of this season and open ourselves up to the hope that the Spirit of God will make Godself known to us in the coming of a poor, homeless child, a child who became a man living through the stress and worry that comes with being human, a man who spoke of hope and who lives in all of us, calling us to be open to the warm and challenging embrace of Emmanuel, God with us.

May it be so.

 

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Here is the text from my sermon on October 17, 2010 at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon. The sermon text was Matthew 14:22-33

I really don’t like hiking. I love being outside, I love physical exercise, I love seeing all the cool things that are around us. There’s just something about walking to a place that seems boring to me. The problem is, my wife LOVES to hike! Almost every weekend she’s dreaming up somewhere we can go and hike around. Every time she says, “Do you want to hike to this neat rock formation?” or whatever and I roll me eyes and think here we go again. Because I’m a huge push over and I know the old adage “if momma ain’t happy nobody’s happy.” I agree to go. We pack up our stuff grab our daughter and sometimes our dogs and we drive to a trailhead and begin our journey. Our journeys have taken us to Stein’s Pillar, The Painted Hills, up and over Smith Rock, Steelhead falls, bird sanctuaries, Dylan Falls, Paulina Peak, the Big Obsidian Flow and that’s just stuff around here. Almost every time during our hike I look at my wife and I say, “this is AWESOME! We should do this more often.” at which point she rolls her eyes at me and smiles.

You would think after realizing home enjoyable the hiking experience can be that I would be excited each time my wife suggests it, but for some reason I can’t get it through my head. Luckily, I am blessed with a patient wife. I also take solace in the fact that according to Matthew the disciples didn’t get it, either. It seems as if they had no short-term memory or an unwillingness to recognize and appreciate the miracles that they were apart of.

Take our Bible story for today. The disciples had just collected the twelve baskets of leftovers after feeding five thousand men, besides women and children with 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Immediately Jesus makes the disciples get in a boat and sends them ahead while he dismisses the crowd and retreats to pray.

The disciples’ boat becomes battered by waves and they are stuck unable to work. Jesus at around 4 AM comes walking up to them on the water. They are terrified, I pretty sure if I saw someone walking on rough water, through the wind, especially at 4 in the morning, I would be 100% freaked out.

Jesus realizing that they are afraid seeks to calm them by saying, “Take heart, it is I do not be afraid.” And maybe just maybe Peter remembered the power of Christ to do more than we could ever ask or imagine and Peter speaks up says to Jesus, “Prove it!” which like the prophets that have come before him Jesus promptly does by inviting Peter to step out of the boat. I imagine the look on Peter’s face being one of utter shock, “Really!? You want me to walk out there?” or maybe, just maybe, Peter is excited by this proposition. Maybe his face lights up as he quickly bounds over the side of the boat and races to meet his friend and Savior?

He gets so excited that he’s been called to step out of the comfort of the boat that he races with child like glee to be with Jesus. Then as he gets to him he realizes, “wait a minute, I can’t do this, I can’t walk on water” at which point he begins to sink.

Isn’t this the way it always is? We go to a conference or we read about something in the paper or we hear a sermon and we get so fired up we can’t wait to jump in to a new adventure. We make all the contacts, fill out all the paperwork, get every thing lined up and then something doesn’t go right or it’s more work than we thought or others are not as excited as you are. It starts to feel less like passion and more like work, you start to feel overwhelmed, you feel like your drowning and then you just give up and think, well it just wasn’t meant to be. I think sometimes we forget that Jesus is standing there right next to us; we forget to ask for or accept his help even when he is trying his best to offer it. We flounder and try to swim back to the boat by ourselves when Jesus is holding us up.

It reminds me of one of the first things they teach you in life saving training for lifeguards. That the person you are trying to save will fight you. That’s why you’re taught only to get in the water as a last resort. Luckily for us, no matter how much we thrash and claw we cannot overwhelm Jesus. Jesus is ALWAYS in the water. Jesus is there asking us the question, “Why did you doubt?” I believe he is saying to Peter and to us, “Why did you doubt that I would save you? That’s what I came for.” Like the disciples I always forget that no matter what there is nothing that can separate me or you from the love of God found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus celebrates with us when it goes right and when we end up all wet, he carries us back to the boat, brings us back into the fold and we move on together.

I look around the sanctuary and I see these banners listing all of the ways that members of our community respond to their call and I am amazed. I would like to take a moment to honor and celebrate all that you have done in the name of Christ…These banners; these lists represent our feeding of the multitudes. We have fed the community, we have fed the world, we have fed each other and there were leftovers. Outside in the Commons area stretching all the way down the hall to Heritage Hall is your chance to step out, a chance for you to respond to Christ’s call to “Come!”

At every table one of the many ministries of the church has a place for you to learn about and sign up to participate in a new adventure; an opportunity to put your toe in the water; an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone.

You may be thinking, I have no time, I have no experience, I’m too old, I’m too young, they don’t need me. I know that’s often what I think, then I agree to go on a hike with my wife or walk in a marathon or mentor a troubled teen or help a friend move and every time I come away with a wonderful memory, new perspective and I’m left thinking, “why don’t I do this more often.”

We are now in a position for such a time as this to step out of our comfort zones, to not rest on our laurels and accomplishments, to celebrate what we have accomplished through the grace of God and use them as a reminder of all that we can do with Christ as our lifeguard, helping us to learn how to walk on water and when we slip feel like we are drowning, Jesus is there immediately to carry us to the boat and travel with us as we continue to move through waters of this journey of faith.

The question now is not IF you are called to step out, but WHERE you are called to step out. I invite you to walk up and down the halls of the church; the tables will be here all week. Grab information, ask questions; discern where God is leading you during this stewardship season to share your gifts and skills.

Remember God does not call the equipped God equips the called. All it will take is, as a retired Navy friend of mine says, to let go of the gunnel and step out into the ocean of possibilities that are ours through Christ who loves us.

May it be so.

Blessings,

Buttface

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The other day I got an email from Steve Knight asking me to participate in a Synchroblog for the Big Tent Christianity Conference happening in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. I’m hoping to join other Christian bloggers, including Beloved, in setting out a vision for what the church will look like in the future.

Here’s the theme prompts we were given:

1)    What do you think?
2)    What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?
3)    More specifically, what does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? And what does it look like in your context?

Here’s my answer to question #1. Here’s my answer to question #2. Here’s my answer to question #3.

3) I’m pretty excited about this question, mainly because of some conversations I’ve been in over the last 2-3 years and some more specific meetings I’ve been in in the last 2-3 months. Here in Bend, OR, where I serve, we are trying some stuff. Stuff that I think might be some seed planting for the future of not only the PC(USA) denomination but other mainline churches as well. (specifically ELCA and The Episcopal Church)

In Bend, a Nativity Lutheran (ELCA), First Presbyterian Church (PC(USA)) and Trinity Episcopal Church (Episcopal Church) have partnered to open a locally sourced cafe that “endeavors to serve extraordinary food to all people.” Common Table is growing into an example of what a partnership for the betterment of the community and world could look like.

Because of the conversations that were happening around Common Table already the three youth leaders of the three churches (who were already friends) began dreaming about what it would look like to bring our middle and high school groups together. While these conversations are ongoing our plan is to begin having our youth meet together weekly as well as join together for local, regional and international service opportunities.

Here’s the letter that was sent out this week:

In a sermon to the participants of Presbyterian Youth Triennium the Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo said, “When Christianity stopped being radical it stopped being Christianity.”This fall youth in Bend will take a radical step out in faith. Members of Nativity Lutheran, First Presbyterian and Trinity Episcopal will follow the call from God to combine our gifts and skills to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We seek to serve our community with energy, passion, thought and a whole lot of fun – together.

3 churches                  Þ                  1 community

3 traditions                 Þ                  1 faith

3 histories                   Þ                  1 future

The team leading this effort consists of Ron Werner, Director of Youth Ministries at Nativity Lutheran, Rev. Greg Bolt, Associate Pastor of Youth and Family Ministry at First Presbyterian Church and Donna Jacobsen, Youth and Family Ministries Leader at Trinity Episcopal Church.

What does this mean… really?

What it means is that our Middle School and High School groups will meet together, sharing our histories, sharing our traditions and sharing our church grounds and, in so doing, live out the mission we all share – acting as a reflection of God’s love to our community and the wider world. We’ll also meet in the wider world. For instance, we intend to have the High School group call Common Table, the locally sourced café opening up at 150 Oregon Avenue, their home base.

There will be a weekly Middle School youth group gathering and a weekly High School youth group gathering. We are planning an international mission trip and an “urban immersion” trip closer to home. We are brainstorming ways to coordinate confirmation class sessions and a retreat. In short, we are breaking down any perceived walls and giving our youth the gift of peer support regardless of individual church affiliation. We are combining the skills and experience of three gifted leaders and three wonderful church families in support of each youth’s spiritual formation.

How cool is that?

We do realize that this is unusual. And, much as that may energize the three of us, it may make others uncomfortable. We welcome the opportunity to talk with anyone who has questions of us or ideas for us. We can come together in small groups or talk with you individually, just please make sure your concerns or support are known!

Blessings,

So, that’s basically it. “Big Tent Christianity” looks like three mainline, progressive churches partnering together to try to feed, grow and advocate for a better community in hopes that in some small way we do our part to bring about the kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.

Blessings,

Buttface

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Here is the text from last Sunday’s sermon.

A few weeks ago Steven did a Children’s Moment with sponges and water. I don’t want to recap the lesson but in the end there were sponges filled and dripping with water. That’s the way I see this story from the gospel according to Luke. This story commonly referred to as the walk to Emmaus, there is theology and meaning dripping from every verse…and there are 22 verses. I sat for hours staring at a blank screen trying to sift through it all hoping to find where the spirit was leading.

It’s like being on a familiar trail that has been overgrown, that has been left unkempt, you have to step over fallen logs, push back leaves and attempt to continue to move forward trusting that you’ll find your way.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of each and every one of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our rock and redeemer. Amen

Aristotle said, “recognition is, as its name indicates, a change from ignorance to knowledge, tending either to affection or to enmity it determines in the direction of good or ill fortune the fates of the people involved.”

In today’s reading we are introduced to two travelers, Cleopas and his friend, they are on their way to Emmaus. They are dejected, they have just lost their friend, I imagine they feel as if all their hopes and dreams of a new day have been dashed because the have just witnessed their Messiah’s brutal death.

As I read this text this week I started to think what was so special about Emmaus? Where was it? Why were we told, specifically, that these two travelers were on their way there?

I did some research, in this version of the Bible we are told that Emmaus is about 7 miles from Jerusalem, there are other scrolls that suggest it is more like 20 miles, still others that suggest it’s about 12 miles. I did some more research over the years many scholars have suggested many different locations for the town of Emmaus, but no one knows for sure where it is.

Secretly, I love when this happens! For me this opens up the Word to me more than any PROOF or historical accuracy.  Don’t get me wrong…I love knowing where stuff is, when stuff happened, why it happened but for some reason when there is a little doubt it strengthens my faith to move on seeking more. For me this is where the spiritual truths and physical truths intersect and the line between them blurs.

Frederick Buechner describes Emmaus as:

“the place we go to in order to escape…wherever it is that we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole dang thing go hang. It doesn’t make a difference anyway…Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred.”

Have you ever had a rough day, week and you feel like you just need to get away?

What do you do? Where do you go?

I used to have this dirty, old, beat up lounge chair in my room when I was in high school and whenever I had a bad day or felt lonely I would retreat to my room and sit in my big comfortable chair and watch baseball. I would drift off and feel safe and I never wanted to be disrupted from my vegetative state.

It was in that old, ordinary chair however where I had deep conversations with my friends about life as we ate pizza and watched games. I remember talking with my grandfather who had come to celebrate my high school graduation. I remember long phone conversations with friends; looking back I can see that God was there.

I invite you to take a moment think back on your life, find moments in your story where you imagine God’s spirit was present. It is often only in retrospect that we can see the tracks that God has left.

In this story today the Spirit of God, Jesus Christ, God Incarnate is present in the breaking of bread. God shows God’s face when people sit down and share a meal. Whether it’s the Passover Seder, the Communion Table, or the feeding of the multitudes God is seen, Christ is seen most clearly when he takes, blesses, breaks and gives bread.

Cleopas and his friend are on their way to Emmaus, on their way to their get a way place. They are rehashing all that they have seen; they are interrupted by Jesus (we know it’s Jesus, but they don’t) and he starts asking them questions. Mired in their own despair they are shocked, offended! “Are you the only person in the world that does not know what happened?!” Cleopas begins to tell the story: “Jesus, the supposed redeemer of Israel, died three days ago. The chief priests handed him over. These women said there was an empty tomb and the men went and checked it out, but nobody really knows what’s going at this point”.

This is where Jesus gets a little frustrated, “Come on! I’m sure you’ve heard this before!” Then Jesus starts to recount the entire story, starting with Moses.

Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you were the one in the know and the person you were talking to was out of the loop? Then they start talking and you realize that you were the one out of the loop. This is how I imagine Cleopas and his friend feel right about now. I don’t imagine they felt like that long, I imagine they quickly start to recognize that this guy knows what he’s talking about. These travelers thought the were talking to an uninformed stranger they found out that Jesus had come to meet them in their place of refuge. He had come to be with them on an ordinary road, to help them recognize a holy moment.

After hearing the scriptures interpreted the travelers invite their guest for dinner. Jesus the guest becomes the host. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to the weary travelers. That is the moment of recognition, the AHA moment, the moment that their despair is turned to affection, the moment they behold that they are in the presence of their teacher that he has been with them the whole time. He disappears.

Isn’t that the way it always is?

We see glimpses of Christ, they are hard to hold on to, if we look too hard we will not see him. Yet we see them just the same.

How often do those glimpses occur for you around the table?

Every time we come to this table we remember that Christ is with us and has always been with us. Christ is walking along side us even when we are dejected and escape to our get-a-way place. Christ is with us when we are having our lunch by ourselves. Christ is with us at Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family. Christ is with us at the BBQ in the summer. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ until he comes again.

We are not alone, you are not alone.

When we come to this table set with ordinary bread, ordinary juice we are lifted up into the presence of God with all God’s people from every time and place. We are raised into the banquet of the Messiah. We remember our loved ones who have gone from this life to more life, we remember our loved ones who we are separated from, we remember that it is through the simple act of taking the time to stop and share a meal that our eyes are opened and we recognize the power and grace of God that will find us where ever we are and will lead us back into the fold.

As we close I want to share with you this poem from Ann Weems.

O Amazing God, you come into our ordinary lives

and set a holy table among us,

filling our plates with the Bread of Life

and our cups with Salvation.

Send us out, O God,

with tenderheartedness

to touch an ordinary everyday world

with the promise of your holiness

Amen.

Here is the video of last Sunday’s worship service: Link

Blessings,

Buttface

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