Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saul becomes Paul by Pastor Jamie

It’s been quite a journey!

We began June 27 with the burning bush and Moses’ call to lead the Hebrews out of slavery to the Promised Land. It was just an ordinary day. Moses was simply going about his business tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro. God appeared in the fire and called out: “Moses, Moses..”

Today we finished this part of our journey with the call of Saul and Ananias. Jesus calls: Saul, Saul…” while he is on his way to arrest and persecute Christian believers. Ananias is also called by name and sent to the house on Straight Street where he is to minister to Saul who has been blinded by a flash of light.

Moses responded to God’s call by asking if God could send someone else. I’m not eloquent he explained. God still sent him.

Saul responded to the call by saying: “Who are you, Lord?” But God still sent him.

Ananias first responded to the call by saying: “Here I am, Lord!” But when he found out that he was to go to Saul he responded: Are you sure you know what you’re doing? God still sent him.

I am grateful for this Stepping Stones journey. I appreciate the involvement and interest. We have averaged nearly 30 people in Bible Study each week. Our wonderful leadership team is guiding this journey with creativity and faithfulness. I am excited about the future. Thank you for your participation.

In the sermon this morning I pondered a couple of questions: What if God’s call to the future surprises us? What if we are uncertain about what we hear? How will we respond: Please send someone else? Who are you? Are you sure? Or will we say with confidence and trust: Here I am Lord!

Of course we all want to say “Here I am Lord!” But remember, we will discern and follow this call as a community, listening, pondering, praying, and following together.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Conversion of Paul- Acts 9:1-20- By Amy Gardine

It hardly seems possible, but our Stepping Stones Bible study is coming to a close. It has been an amazing journey to discern God’s call for our congregation, our community, and our world. But I found this week’s passage to be somewhat curious. In Acts we witness the blinding of Paul; the calling of Ananias to step outside of his biases by laying hands on Paul for conversion; the scales falling off of Paul’s eyes; and (this part I love) the exotic locale of STRAIGHT Street in Damascus! I adore this amazingly powerful story of using all men to do the work of God – sometimes when others do not see how or why. Paul’s misled ways are literally “made straight” through his experience with Christ. Not because of the street name, but because of the change in Paul’s heart. But how can such powerful and drastic change be expected of us? Will we, too, have this dramatic and compelling message sent to Sunnyside?

As I reflected on this passage, I tried to apply this story to my own journey in the church. I remembered my earliest moments of awe and respect for God, then compared it to the story of Paul. I must be honest. I did not get blinded by Jesus or pray intensively for three days. And, although my contacts feel pretty awful sometimes, I did not have scales fall from my eyes. I also did not have one person who aided me in my love of God. Instead, I was surrounded by a community of believers who would guide me and direct my path. My moments of awe rested in the shafts of sunlight that used to fall across the choir where my mother sang beautiful hymns of praise. So what could I take from Paul’s story? Perhaps, I am more like Ananias – being called to go against the current. Perhaps, I am needing to shut out the voices of doubt, fear, and disdain to embrace all people. Perhaps, in my desire to be God to the world, I am being called to look at all parts of the church – from the most amazing changes to the most subtle. Because this is the way to begin a church: as a body of believers. No part left unknown. This is the way to share with the world the power and love of God.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inquiring of God by Pastor Rebecca

Have you ever noticed in the church that we often give people things to do, but we spend very little time talking about why we do them, or why we do them a certain way. If there is something that I can easily just send an email about asking someone to do something, I am more likely to do that instead of having them to come and meet with me to talk about the theory or the meaning behind what I need them to do, to talk about the different snags they might hit along the way so that they will be prepared for them and maybe to talk beyond what it exactly it was that I originally asked them to do empowering them to be creative in their work for the church.

This story from the 18th chapter of Exodus tells us that after Moses chose all of these men who would help him with this work, that he gathered them together and taught them what he knew and how to judge over the people. I would have loved to have been there for that training event: Moses sharing what God had told him, talking through different situations or cases that might be brought before them, exploring together how they would interpret the laws of God so that they each had a solid foothold in the mind of God, but that they also had the confidence and empowerment to know that they were called to be creative in their interpretation and application of the law. They were sent out to do their work, but they took with them a shared vision of who God wanted them to be.

It is certainly the hope that at the end of this stepping stones process that more of us will be out in the world living out God’s mission in this place but the goal as well is to come to a shared vision of what we are to be doing and who we are to be in this place.

The sharing of that vision will only come if we are willing to put in the time it takes to create it, to talk about it with one another, to think creatively about what it is we are doing in this place and how more of us can be engaged in doing it.
Moses could have gathered these men together and told them to just use their common sense in judging over the people, but if that was the only resource or guidance that they needed, what was the point of identifying themselves as the chosen people of Yahweh. It was not their common sense that they needed to rely upon but rather a sense of God and a sense of what it means to be the people of God together.

That is what we are doing together in this process. Not just sitting around and hoping that one of us hears the voice of God at some undefined point, but that we will gather together and talk about who we know God to be, who we have been in this place already and how we can better reflect on God’s mission and live here as recognizable people of God, with each one of us taking on the responsibility for this work, with each of us sharing a vision and sharing the load. And we will know when we are doing it the right way when our backs start to hurt.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jethro’s Advice to Moses Exodus 18: 13-27- By Ken Baierl

What I love about this week’s sermon and Bible study passage is that it sounds like a day in the workplace. I think everyone will be able to relate. The story includes making an organizational chart, developing job descriptions, delegation of authority and project management.

Moses was spending all day and night serving as judge in settling disputes among his people. His father-in-law, Jethro, saw what he was doing and said, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone.”

Jethro seems like a wise and caring person who gave good advice. Moses obviously trusted Jethro and followed his advice. I think the key element in this story is trust. Moses trusted Jethro, he trusted God and he trusted the people that he appointed as officers. That trust allowed everything to work.

As we at Sunnyside Church take our Stepping Stones journey to discern God’s call, we need to trust God and each other. I can already see the trust building as we come to the conclusion of our summer Bible study. I also think this story tells us that we should not take on large tasks by ourselves. That is why it is important for the entire congregation to walk this journey together. I’m looking forward to the sermon and discussion on Sunday.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jesus in the Garden by Pastor Jamie

Last evening I went to the Chicago White Sox—Detroit Tigers game at US Cellular Field with my son Andy and his friend Amanda. We had a wonderful time together. Andy is a White Sox fan and Amanda is a Tigers fan.

Midway through the second inning four young professional men took the empty seats right behind us. As the game went on I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.

While they were having a lot of fun together, they were also talking about a variety of issues and concerns. Their conversation touched on one man’s addiction to gambling, another who was struggling with a relationship and a third who was unhappy in his job. They were honest and direct as they challenged one another.

The men talked on their phones with numerous friends who were elsewhere in the stadium or at home. They drank a number of frosty drinks and became louder as the game continued. Eventually they joined some friends elsewhere in the stadium. Suddenly our section was a lot quieter and more peaceful.

This afternoon as I have pondered the Scripture text for this morning, the sermon, our Bible Study and this blog entry I have thought about these men and the sense of community they shared together.

In the midst of 37,000 spectators, these men seemed to have a valuable sense of community. They listened, laughed, supported and encouraged each other. They did the same thing with their friends on their phones.

This morning we heard the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He went to pray in the moments before his arrest. He took disciples to be a support for him. He was brutally honest with God. He accepted God’s will for his life. (and death.)

As we continue on our stepping stones journey of discernment, we learn from this story of Jesus life.

 We are growing in this garden time of pausing, praying, listening and discerning.
 We do not travel alone, but share this journey with one another.
 We can be direct and honest with God in our prayers.
 We are called to discern God’s will to be done and not our own.

Jesus rose from his garden prayer and faced his future with courage and peace. May we rise from this time of preparation and face our future call to mission and ministry with the same courage and peace!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Luke 22:39-46 Jesus Prays in the Garden- By Abbe Golden

Obviously this passage is about prayer and I am sure many of us would consider prayer one of the principle ways we discern God’s will. But what can we learn specifically about prayer from the time Jesus spends in the garden? This week’s passage is more familiar to us than the last few. But sometimes that familiarity makes us think we have heard it all, we know it all. And yet I find that the Bible always has something new to teach us no matter how familiar the passage.

Luke states that Jesus withdrew to the Mount of Olives as was his custom. This implies that it was his habit. He didn’t seek God just because it was a critical time in his life but He seeks God on a daily basis. The definition of habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition. How many of us have made prayer a habit?

When Jesus prays to the Father he prays “not my will but yours be done.” He is willing to accept God’s answer no matter how painful. Are we willing to accept God’s answer?

During this agonizing prayer Jesus is given strength by an angel. Perhaps this is why Jesus wants the disciples to stay awake and pray. He knows they are going to need strength to endure the next few days and the future.

Physically we get strength from a daily intake of food and water. Perhaps our spiritual strength comes from a daily intake of prayer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Broom Tree by Pastor Jamie

A seminary classmate of mine tells the story of taking a risky call to be pastor of a new church development in California. “It turned out badly,” he said. “The project tanked and I went into a deep funk. I felt like a failure.”

Another classmate of ours said to him, “You need a Broom Tree. Let’s go up to Bass Lake. Together they climbed Half Dome, a challenging peak in Yosemite National Park. The friends helped each other ascend the steep stairs and reach the summit. At the top of the peak the scenery was beautiful. The conversation was holy. God was present. “So much for fear of heights, or feeling like a failure.”

This morning we heard the story of Elijah sleeping under the Broom Tree. He was running in fear for his life. But there God reached out by feeding Elijah and preparing him for the journey to Mount Horeb. At Mount Horeb God showed Godself to Elijah in a stunning moment.

There was an earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. There was a wind. But God was not in the wind. There was fire. But God was not in the fire. Finally there was the sound of sheer silence. It was then that Elijah heard the call of God with clarity on where to go and what to do.

Sheer silence. A still small voice. As we listen to the silence we hear the call of God.

This may be a hard concept. But ponder this. Silence takes our attention away from ourselves and helps us focus on God. Silence stops us from telling God what to do so that we can hear God telling us what to do.

I sense that this stepping stones journey is our Broom Tree. A time for Sunnyside to pause, be fed with Scripture, prayer and conversation and listen to the voice of God calling to us from the silence and guiding us into the future.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Elijah Meets God at Horeb - 1 Kings 19:1-18 - by Amy Gardine

Wrestling angels, talking donkeys, and witches… oh my! Yes, it is true that the summer Bible study passages could be likened to a journey into OZ at some points! But these scriptures are so much better, and this week’s account emphasizes why.

This week Elijah, fearing for his life, retreats to the wilderness – alone and willing to die. As he sits down under a solitary broom tree, we see that he is not only running from the threats of Jezebel, but also his own thoughts. He is filled with self-doubt! But Elijah has done something brilliant here. He has retreated! Whether this is instinctual or a back-up plan, Elijah has found a place of protection and in this place he receives mercy. As Elijah sleeps, God sends an angel to provide him with food and drink two times. Miraculously, this nourishment is enough to sustain him in his 40-day pursuit of God!

After Elijah arrives at Horeb, God puts on quite a show: mountain-breaking winds; shuddering earthquakes; and roaring fires descend on Horeb. These are acts that would surely awaken a soul! But the Lord did not appear in these acts. Instead, God came in the stillness, bringing answers, peace, and assurance. In the quiet moments with God, Elijah gained more than he could have believed possible.

How hard is it for us to find that retreat? That silence? With an overflowing calendar, three boys who could rival the cacophony on Horeb, and a to-do list that seems 40 days and 40 nights long, I sometimes feel I am overwhelmed, too. I just want to chuck-it out the window and ask God for a do-over. But this scripture is reassuring to me. Elijah did not have to look far. He simply sat down and rested. For me, this is why this week’s scripture is so much better than that Hollywood trip to OZ. I am NOT being called to run down some golden path. Instead, I am being called to stop long enough to re-discover mercy – for me and others. After that, I can feed on God’s word, full enough to make the journey and peaceful enough to listen for what lies ahead. In our journey to discover God’s call for Sunnyside, I believe the first step is actually not a step, but a seat. It is a call to find our “broom tree” where we can quiet our hearts and truly hear God’s plan.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Saul Goes to a Witch to Seek Discernment by Pastor Jamie

I have two things to confess to you this afternoon.

First, in 25 years of ministry I have never preached on this passage from 1 Samuel 28:3-25 before.

Second, when I saw it on the list of potential passages for our our summer Stepping Stones Series, I didn't remember it. Last week was probably the first time I read the whole story.

But I have thoroughly enjoyed pondering this amazing story:

--King Saul worrying about overcoming the Philistine army in battle.
--How he prayed to God for guidance and direction and how God was silent,
--How Saul disguised himself and sought assistance from the Witch at Endor who was able to bring up the dead prophet Samuel,
--How Samuel spoke the truth to Saul about his future and a new future for Israel,
--and hhe witch cared for Saul with compassion and hospitality!

This is an unusual, quirky and odd story.

But it is fascinating as it encourages our congregation in this time of discernment for the future.

--Will we be able to be patient...waiting and listening for God to guide our steps to the future.
--Are we listening the voices of history and tradition which have asked these same questions in the past?
--Can we hear what the world around us saying to the church today?
--Are we open to hearing God's voice in unconvential ways?

I pray that our answer to each question will be Yes!