Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Dwelling Place For God by Mary Cory

Our Vision Statement is about building. It tells us that Sunnyside Presbyterian Church was built by God, and that it was built as a house of worship. We have been blessed with a beautiful building, rich in tradition and history, but also expanded and updated to meet the needs of the congregation. No matter how impressive the physical structure may be, a building is just a building unless God is there. The Old Testament scripture lesson for this week – Exodus 33:7-11 – tells us that it makes no difference where worship occurs. We can encounter God in the humblest of circumstances. Moses met God in a tent, as a friend, when He descended as a pillar of cloud. We cannot predict how God will appear to us as we move forward as a congregation, so we must be open and receptive to His guidance in whatever form it may take.

How do we make Sunnyside a dwelling place for God? Worship and praise are important, but they are not enough. Our Vision Statement tells us that we are called to build bridges of faith. We are called to connect with other people within and beyond the walls of Sunnyside to fulfill our mission.

Peter and John, in the name of Jesus, raised up the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple (Acts 3:1-11). We too are capable of enacting great change, but only if we acknowledge Jesus as the cornerstone upon which we build.

· What is this Vision calling you to become?

· What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?

· In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.

· What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Built Together Spiritually by Mila Pierce

In the Ephesians 2:19-22 passage, Paul reminded Gentile believers that they were not excluded and were equal in status with Jews as members of God's house. The two groups were united to form one new humanity. Jews and Gentiles had been separated by racial, religious, cultural and social barriers. These differences created large gulfs between them. Jesus bridged the gulfs, and his death meant unity for all.

In some Bible verses, the family of God is referred to as a building . This summer we have been looking to Jesus as the cornerstone, the apostles and prophets as the foundation, and individual believers as building stones. Back in Paul's time the believers, Jews and Gentiles, were being built together spiritually. This described creating the church, but not as a physical building. The church is people, individual members like you and me.

Every individual stone has a place into which it is fitted as a building is made. Every individual has an indispensable part to play in the life of the church. This was true back then and is true today. When we are built together spiritually we include millions of Christians throughout time in whom God's spirit lives.

Paul told the church in Corinth that there were different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of activities, but with the same God at work. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7) Some of the diverse gifts listed are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirit, and tongues. Today in our congregation, we may think that individual stones (members) do not have all that much in common. We have different economic situations, different interests and obligations, and even different ethnic backgrounds. But Jesus, like an architect and builder, can take us, piece us together, and join us together spiritually in his building.

Last fall a few of us were asked to join a committee to think into the future for a vision for Sunnyside, to study scripture and then together write a vision by the time summer arrived. None of us probably had much prior experience in vision writing, but we came with our diverse backgrounds, gifts, and willing hearts to do the work we had been asked to do. As the weeks went by, we were built together spiritually and were able to study and then write and rewrite drafts of a vision for Sunnyside. Good humor, honest concern, and tasty refreshments helped us build the bridges.

As Sunnyside's future unfolds, I hope the church is a loving and caring community in which the power of the Holy Spirit is present and operates through the unique and complementary gifts of each of you. What a great thing it would be if we are built together spiritually again and again.

Questions for Reflection:

· What is this Vision calling you to become?

· What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?

· In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.

· What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We are the Temple by Bill Lamie

Last Sunday’s “Call To Worship” asked the question, “What does the Holy One require of us,” and the congregational response was, “but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”

We as individuals and as a community of faith are called to recognize that the value of Salvation comes to us through the sufferings of Jesus Christ. We are called to conduct our lives as a Holy person, and we are called to Holiness so that we may reveal Jesus Christ to the world around us both near and far. As 1Peter1:15 says, “Instead, as He (God) who calls you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” How close do we come to being holy? What are the characteristics of holiness? Is it someone who is loving, truthful, sincere, obedient, honest, God fearing?

I have often heard it said that the only Christ some people ever see is the Christ that they see in others (me). Although we are imperfect, Christ calls us to be his hands and feet, and he challenges us to reach out to our fellow man and share His blessings. He is calling us to reveal the wonder and preciousness of His Love, Grace and Mercy.

Our new Guiding Vision Statement has a “road map” attached to it. I haven’t seen the map just yet, but I am beginning to truly, and deeply appreciate the immensity of God’s call to us to be His holy temple…the place where He can dwell and reach to the world. I have faith that once we see the “road map”, it can take us anywhere God wants us to be.

Each time I read our Vision Statement, I am finding greater understanding of what is expected of me and the much-needed adjustments to my self-centered existence. Building a holy temple takes time, adjustments, and faithful staying power.

Questions for Reflection:

· What is this Vision calling you to become?

· What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?

· In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.

· What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Growing Together in God's Temple by Jenica Cory

Diversity is a common subject of discussion at Sunnyside. We generally consider it to be a strength, but it is also something that we strive to improve upon. With this new vision statement, we have made clear that our vision for the future of the church involves the inclusion of all people, in our immediate community and throughout the world. While this can often seem like a daunting task (Where do we begin? How do we reach out to people we don't know? Are we really capable of being open and inclusive of everyone?), our task is made easier because we have a unifying spirit as our guide.

"In Christ the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord." What a beautiful concept - this relationship that each of us has with Christ, uniting us into a single structure. Having all drunk of the same spirit - no matter what our particular race, age, nationality, political views, or station in life - we create a holy temple and ponder God's steadfast love in the midst of that temple. And, in Christ, we do it together. He joins us to one another and serves as the deep shared foundation - the cornerstone - that allows us to utilize and learn from our many differences and unique perspectives, while still maintaining our collective identity as Christians.

With Christ as the cornerstone, Sunnyside is able to grow as a congregation. We should be emboldened and encouraged by the knowledge, as the vision statement recognizes, that the holy spirit is our guide. This allows us to reach into new areas and do new things with confidence in who we are as Sunnysiders. Similarly, the worldwide Christian church is joined together and grows when Christ is truly placed first and recognized as the foundation of all that we do.

I really love the scope of the vision statement - we want to serve people in our neighborhood, but also around the globe......from South Bend to South America. And I love that it's possible, with this unifying spirit, for Sunnyside to have that kind of impact, and to make those kinds of connections. As the author says of Mount Zion in Psalm 48, perhaps some day someone will say about Sunnyside, "go all around it, count it's [bell] towers, consider well its [gathering space]; go through its [sanctuary], that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever."

Questions for Reflection:
• What is this Vision calling you to become?
• What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?
• In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.
• What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Built Upon the Rock by Amy Gardine

You do remember that song from childhood, right? The one where the wise man builds his house upon the rock and the foolish man builds his house upon the sand? Then (in my favorite part of the song) the rains come down and the floods come up, and the house on the sand goes “SPLAT”! Ohhh…. as a child I used to adore that “splat” at the end! And I must admit, I have been humming that song this whole week! Mostly because I have had to think deeply and intentionally about this passage – not only having Christ as our chief cornerstone, but also having a true and unwavering faith, just as Simon Peter did.

I must say that I have always thought I understood this particular passage, but as I looked deeper into it, I began to wonder about the final verse in Matthew’s passage. Jesus sternly orders the disciples NOT to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. It seems like such a hard request. By this point in our study, the righteous have entered through the gates and the faithful have become the rocks on which the church will be built! So, why keep that a secret? Is that our call? Is that what we, as disciples, are to do? Keep it all hush-hush?

After looking more closely at the passage, I think I started to see why the disciples were to keep the Messiah so anonymous. I think that Jesus knew exactly what would happen if the revelation of his divinity came from a third party. It would be the same thing that happens when we - as humans – reveal something as a third party in our day and age. Misinformation! It is true! These men would have gone forward with information that was skewed by personal perceptions and understandings. I think that Christ understood fully that in God’s time all would be revealed. When that revelation came to light, all the world would be shaken to the foundation, leaving His cornerstone on which all else would be built. Patience and faith. These two never seem too far apart in these gospels OR in the pursuit of a missional church.

So, back to the sand. Are we ready to build? Do we have the proper ground? I believe we are ready to build and do have the proper foundation. We are called to be builders of a congregation that can withstand the storms, floods, and shifts of culture. And, most importantly, we are called to share God’s grace and love. However, we are called to first listen and wait for the revelation of God’s will. Only then, we will gain a mission built in and of God’s grace and vision.

Questions for Reflection:
• What is this Vision calling you to become?
• What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?
• In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.
• What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What do we bring with our offering? by Larry Savage

The Stepping Stones Journey continues this Sunday with Jamie’s sermon on Isaiah 6:1-18 and Acts 4:32-37 “Built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets”. In the scripture, we see the willingness of Christ’s followers to commit themselves bodily, spiritually, and materially to God’s will. Now, the question is what can we bring to the apostle’s feet?

Many years ago, in the time of Robyn and Robert McMullin, I was asked to be the liturgist for a Sunday. This “event” for me (as I am not good in the role) was pretty stressful. Dyslexic, emotionally on the edge, and weak kneed; I struggled through the service and came to the time of commitment of our offering. I had spent some time thinking about this prayer.
What do we bring with our offering?

The answer, I think, holds for us today:
“Triune God, we bring to you today part of the many gifts you have given us. For some it is the gift of wealth. For others it is the gift of wisdom, or energy, or vision, or simply the gift of being a good listener in time of need. Help us use these, your varied gifts, to lead the Christian life this week”.

We are approaching the phase in our Stepping Stones Journey in which we look at all our individual gifts. How we can apply them to the wide variety of human needs we find about us? How can we sustain ourselves in mission work that not only benefits the poor in spirit or circumstance, but also ties us more closely as a living expression of the Triune God’s will through a vibrant Sunnyside congregation?

I am expectant and confident that we will find the foundation for our future as we listen to the apostles and prophets as well as trust the gifts among us.

Questions for Reflection:
• What is this Vision calling you to become?
• What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?
• In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.
• What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Gift of a Vision, by Ken Baierl

Sunnyside Church received a gift a couple of weeks ago. It was delivered quietly, with little fanfare. The gift was a beautiful vision statement crafted by the Vision Panel – a group of Sunnysiders who didn’t know each other very well at the beginning but who were bound together by a common cause. They listened to God and did their work brilliantly. Now it is our turn, as a congregation, to build on what they have given us.

This summer we have started a Stepping Stones sermon series to reflect on the vision statement and the scriptures that support it. Last week more than 20 people gathered in the Music Room for the first discussion in the series. The conversation revolved around “Together we are called to build bridges of faith” sentence in the vision statement.

This Sunday, Jamie will preach on Genesis 12: 1-9 and Ephesians 1: 1-14 and their link to the vision statement. In reading the scriptures, I was struck by the line from Paul saying “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…” I feel like I inherited a lot of things from Christ, including Sunnyside Church and all of you. I am grateful for that and want to use that inheritance wisely. Reflection and discussion of the vision statement seems to me like the wise thing to do with my inheritance from Christ this summer. I hope you will join us.

Questions for reflection:
• What is the Vision calling you to become?
• What images used in this Vision are familiar to you? What elements are unfamiliar?
• In what respects does the Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation?
• What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Musing on a Vision, by Abbe Golden

The Vision Statement has arrived! Now what? Well, we need to read the vision statement over and over, much like kneading dough and letting it rise for the perfect loaf of bread. We need to pray about it, faithfully and honestly, being open to God’s will for Sunnyside and for ourselves. We need to think, discuss, and pray some more.

As I read the vision statement over and over, certain thoughts and images dance through my mind. But for this particular blog post, I would like to concentrate on the image of being called together to build bridges of faith.

We travel over bridges all the time without much thought. But there are some bridges that make us stop and think, and look. For me, that bridge is the Mackinac Bridge connecting the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.

Metaphorically, what can this bridge made of steel teach us about bulding bridges of faith and relationships?

1. A bridge is a connection overcoming a gap or barrier. What barriers do we need to
overcome to deepen our relationships in our church and our communities?

2. The total length of the Mackinac Bridge is 26,372 feet. How far will we have to
go to make connections, both physically and spiritually.

3. A suspension bridge, like Mackinac, is designed to move to accommodate
changes in wind, weight and temperature. How willing are we to change and accommodate to do God’s will, to push ourselves out of our comfort level, to make connections, to build bridges of fatith.

4. The bridge took 3 and ½ years to build. Sometimes good work, important work takes time. How patient are we willing to be when building bridges?

5. At one time I had the privilege to walk across the Mackinac Bridge. Being on the bridge is very different than viewing it from afar. How involved are we willing to be when building those bridges?

The Mackinac Bridge is an amazing engineering example of a suspension bridge, the third largest in the world and still the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

What bridges of faith are we being called to build and will it make people stop, think, and look?

Questions for Reflection:
• What is this Vision calling you to become?
• What images used in this Vision are familiar to you; What elements are unfamiliar?
• In what respects does this Vision call us together to greater faith and courage than what is commonly expressed in our congregation.
• What difference do you hope this Vision will make in the life of our congregation?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conversations on Our Common Vision

The Vision Panel has completed thier work on our Guiding Vision Statement (see statement on the right,) and we will spend this summer together reflecting on this statement and how it is calling us as individuals and as a congregation to engage more fully in God's mission in this place.

Please be sure to pick up a copy of the study book for this summer. (or download it here) It includes the Vision Statement as well as each of the scripture passages for the summer preaching series.

We invite you to join in conversation on these scripture passages and the Vision Statement in a variety of ways:

,Each of the Sundays of our study, after worship, you are invited to join us for a time of
feedback and reflection with the Stepping Stones team and your fellowSunnysiders.

,You are also invited to participate in an online conversation on these passages moderated by our Stepping Stones team here on the blog.

,This should be a time of personal reflection for our congregation, as individuals discern a call to greater discipleship through this Vision Statement and scriptural witness. May this resource and time also inform your personal devotion over the summer.

,There will also be cards in the Gathering Place on the Stepping Stones table that will provide space for written reflections and insights related to the Vision Statement and how it speaks to our congregation. Please place them in the box provided on the table as well.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Matthew 7:1-11, by Mary Cory

It has been such an interesting Lent season as we try to discern God's word.

We have studied the beatitudes and how we can become a disciple community.
We have discussed how to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”.
We have discussed how Jesus calls us to love.
Finally, we studied how to keep our focus on God and not ourselves.

Now, on this fifth Sunday of Lent we are called to look within ourselves. Jesus asks us to “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye”.

I know how easy it is for me to see everyone's faults. I sometimes look at friends and relatives and I can't understand why they don't stop that annoying habit, try to be nicer, show more concern for others, not talk behind friends backs, on and on and on. I must admit it is so discouraging to take a step back and see that not only am I as bad as them but in some cases even worse.

We need to examine ourselves as individuals and as a disciple community. To examine our hearts and make those changes in our lives to make us the person and disciple He knows we can be. Only God is perfect and He knows just what we need to serve Him better.

As we work to draft a vision statement, we need to continue to discuss as a congregation. We need to study together and individually and we need to pray. If we “ask, it will be given; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you”. The journey we have been on for the last year has been amazing. I feel more connected than ever to my Sunnyside family. I think we have discovered much in our community of faith about ourselves and the direction this discerning process is taking us.

I feel the next step will truly be a gift from God in our journey.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Lord's Prayer, by Amy Gardine

I must admit it! I struggled with these passages and reflection questions a great deal before writing anything down. On the surface, I felt the main focus this week was to emphasize that all I do must be done in secret: pray in secret; tithe in secret; help the poor in secret; even fast in secret! I was thinking, “What if my stomach growls and I pass out from lack of sustenance? Does that draw too much attention to my pursuits?” I also wondered, “Is it bad that I appreciate a good ‘thank you’ every once in a while?” And I finally asked, “Well, how in the world do we glorify God if all of this is one big secret?” Notice the focus? Yup... all on me.

As scripture would have it, these passages were less concerned with ME and more concerned with the key component of Jesus’ lesson about The Lord’s Prayer and OTHERS. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer actually tells us how to love one another! I think I knew the Lord’s Prayer before I knew my address, but I always thought of it as a monotone prayer that stopped at praising God! When I was young, I was also often confused about all the derivations of the Lord's Prayer! I knew that in different churches we could forgive sins, debts, transgressions, or even trespasses. I knew that some churches paused after temptations. I even knew how to sing the Lord’s Prayer! Like any good piece of literature, The Lord’s Prayer could boast several forms. But only after truly breaking this prayer down can I see its beauty. The loveliness of this prayer is that the message remains the same: Come to God only; love God; and through those steps, we can truly love others.

So, where does that leave MY original discomfort? Well, the study guide asked us to look at each part of the prayer and mull it over. So, to me, I feel that the Lord’s Prayer sort of frees me up to have an open relationship with God - one that gives the most rewarding love back. And this love leads me gracefully into my love for others. It goes something like this:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
I am coming to you first, God. Thanks for listening. I know you are the Maker, but I need to speak directly to The Source.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.”
So… what would YOU have me do? What will be a glimpse of heaven to others around me?

“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Provide for me what I cannot on my own, because on my own I will probably mess this up. Fill me up with your holy word – strengthen me with your spiritual food.

“And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
Help me to remember that what I give to others is a symbol of how great Your grace has been to me. Since you have loved me purely and justly, let me also do this for others.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Help me stay this course, God. I just might falter. I will need your support!

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”All I do is for the glory of Your kingdom. A kingdom I share in community. In that knowledge, help me love and serve with my eyes lifted upward, not inward. Let it be so...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rules, Radical Love and Right Relationships, by Abbe Golden

In reading the scriptures in preparation for this Sunday, I found the idea of rules and radical love an interesting juxtaposition. We’ve all grown up with rules, whether at home or school, and are bound by the laws of the land. And most of us are very aware of the laws and commandments of God. I like to tell you that I followed the rules when I was younger because I was (and still am) this wonderful, dutiful, responsible, respectful, loving, wonderful Christian person. Hmmm…. anybody buying this? Probably not. The reality for most of us, if not all of us, is that we learned to follow the rules so we didn’t get into trouble. Oh, sure some of them made sense and we knew some were for our safety and some were made to keep our parents and teachers sane. But did we ever go above and beyond what was required just because it might be the good thing or the right thing to do?

That is the whole point of the Matthew scripture. Anyone can follow the rules. But what happens when you go above and beyond and what’s your reasoning for doing so? When your parents gave you chores did you ever do more than what was asked of you? Sometimes you say… So was it because you had this strong moral sense of doing the right thing or was it because you were buttering up your parents to increase your allowance? Did your parents ever wonder and say, “What’s got into that kid?”

One of the definitions of radical is a person who follows their strong convictions. When do we transition from doing things because it keeps us out of trouble or provides a reward to doing things because we feel, we know, that it’s just the right thing to do? When do we start doing the things mentioned in scripture expecting nothing in return: reconcile to your brother or sister, turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies, give your cloak as well. How does this nurture right relationships with others?

Before my mother passed away she lived with me for 3 and ½ years. My students would ask me if that was an easy thing to do, taking care of her at my house. I would honestly reply that no, it wasn’t always easy, that sometimes it was very difficult. They would then ask me why I did it. My response…doing what’s right doesn’t always mean doing what’s easy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Gift and a Task, by Bill Lamie

Although I was out of town and unable to attend last Sunday’s service, I heard from several who did attend, that the bible study was well attended, enlightening, and that there were lots of interesting questions and comments about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Stepping Stones Committee has been delighted with the participation of our Sunnyside community.

Together we are moving towards more discovery, more sharing, and more listening. Together we are challenging ourselves to discern God’s vision for our church’s life and ministry.

“Together” is a reassuring word for me. After reading the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), I questioned just how far short of the eight characters of a blessed people (disciples) I was. Discipleship seems almost unreachable when I think only of myself. But if I think in terms of our Sunnyside Christian community of faith, and how we willingly share our knowledge and grace, I feel connected, and I feel hope. Larry said last week in his blog, “…I see great hope and progress.”, in our ongoing discernment process. I agree.

The “gift” of God’s grace is that we are the Salt and we are the Light. What would it be like if we did nothing but good works publicly for God’s honor? To be the Salt means that we are deeply concerned with our earth’s well being. It is about giving meaning where there is no meaning, and giving hope where there is no hope. To be the Light means to follow God, and work to bring social justice in our society, safeguard human rights, and to work for peace and reconciliation.

Our “task” and maybe our vision, is to live fully the virtues that Jesus taught us. I don’t think discipleship is meant to be easy, and there will certainly be risks involved, but when we as a community of faith take the risks together and do so for the Kingdom of God, we are salt and we are light.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Beatitudes in the Modern Day: Are We Making Progress?, by Larry Savage

Last summer and again this week, I have been reading the Beatitudes with a critical awareness of what they mean today in the context of our Stepping Stones Journey.

Now, when I use the phrase “critical awareness” I have to admit that I am a pretty blunt instrument for scholastic discernment. I am very comfortable reading a shop manual for fixing something mechanical. Particularly if the manual uses large print and has lots of pictures of greasy fingers pointing at the mechanical component with which I am troubled.

But, interpreting or discerning something important like the Beatitudes as background for our Missional Transformation…that’s different. But, here goes.
Frankly, I see great hope and progress.

In the modern day, I see momentum building for change. In our community, our lives are not at risk if we raise our Christian light. Some safe guards are in place to protect those that are at risk. Are there enough safeguards? No, but we are making progress.

On the macro scale, look at the paradigm shift (not my favorite word… “big” works for me) in the Middle East! Are people putting their lives on the line to make fundamental change happen? Ask the people on the ground in Libya.

How about us at Sunnyside? How do we show our Christian light? What does it mean to be in “contrast” with our community? The concept is a little uncomfortable for me. I am a little troubled about making a big show. We already do lots of good in our local community. My participation on the Social Ministries Committee has opened my eyes to how many Sunnysiders are involved with good works locally and internationally.

Yet, we need to look at our community and the world with a commonly accepted, Sunnyside vision of what we can do to help build momentum toward the simple task the LORD asks us of us…do justice…love kindness…walk humbly with our God.

My hope is that the Stepping Stones Journey will give each of us a clearer vision of how we, as individuals and collectively, can carry our small lights forward building momentum. We must join hands in Christian community and perform acts of discipleship.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A World Cafe Winner, by Ken Baierl

The congregation at Sunnyside Church rose to the occasion once again on Sunday. Most of you had never participated in a World Café discussion. The Stepping Stones team had never organized one. No one knew what to expect at the Conference on the Present. But at the end of a two-hour, robust discussion of our culture and our church, we knew each other better, we were a little smarter, and we had taken another step in our journey to discern God’s call for Sunnyside Church.

The Fellowship Hall was buzzing with conversation, as we reflected in small groups and then all-together about the challenges facing Sunnyside in today’s culture and the strengths at Sunnyside that help us deal with the issues of an exhausting, self-centered, instant gratification, 24/7 society. There were nearly 100 people around 24 tables that changed five different times in a World Café conversation. The Stepping Stones team collected nearly 50 table-top sheets with notes, drawings and doodles that captured the individual discussions. We have a treasure-trove of information from the youngest participant to the oldest. When combined with the notes from the Conference on the Past and the knowledge gained from two recent sermon series/Bible studies, the Stepping Stones team and the congregation are walking the path to discernment together. We have not arrived at our destination but I believe we are on the right track. Thank you for your participation, ideas, energy and support. More to come.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cajun Cookin’ and Camp Fire Smoke - That's Mission for Me, by Larry Savage

What does a Mission smell like? I understand the imagery, but the “smell” is very real to me. For me, it’s the home cooked Cajun meal served by families of the Homa Nation in Louisiana and the camp fire smoke during a youth mission trip to Heifer International in Arkansas.

You might remember the generous gift given by one of our Sunnyside families after the Katrina event. This was an important opportunity. Sunnyside organized a canvas of the storm area affected and selected the Homa Nation IndianTribe as the recipient of the grant. We organized a group of Sunnysiders to travel to the Homa Nation , to add our backs to the clean up. I wish the whole Sunnyside family could have been with us. There were so many in need. Yet, there was courage and determination within the Homa Nation. It was a great spiritual renewal for all.

At the end of our time within the Nation, we were invited to a going away dinner. Homa families brought their favorite foods to provide a real banquet. The smells of home cooked Cajun dishes and the fellowship within the tribe was a treasure.

I also had the opportunity to travel with our youth on a Mission trip to Arkansas where we did maintenance work around the Heifer International Farm. This was a different kind of focus. Painting fences and debugging gardens was the work. Time spent with our youth was the reward. Rebecca did a great job of organizing the trip and keeping the “missional” event in the forefront of the teenager’s minds…if that is possible.

I will always treasure a quiet walk with a young adult with a true Christian heart.

So, to me, the smell of Mission is very real. But, back to the figurative, I think a “Missional” church, maybe Sunnyside, may look different than it does now. Maybe our Gathering Space takes on the look of a “situation room”. The various missional activities having a space assigned for posting of recent activities, successes, assets (labor and $) in use,and key issues needing to be addressed. A center where we all can get updated on our external activities and, hopefully, find activities that are a good fit for us personally. It may not be a perfect fit but one that can take us forward.

I suspect that the eleven disciples, when challenged by Jesus to “…go and make disciples of all nations…” were very full of doubt and feelings of inadequacy Maybe, the missional spirit of a “situation room” type environment can slowly bring each of us put a toe in the water of mission.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Filling the Void by Pastor Rebecca

I think it is actually pretty easy to answer the question of what kind of people our consumer culture wants us to be – on the surface it would seem that we are people who are very concerned about how we smell, how our clothes smell, how our homes smell, and how our cats smell, insecure people, people who are not satisfied with the way they look, people who find their status in having the newest the biggest and the best of whatever is being sold this year or this season, people who find their value, their self worth, in what they own or in others opinions of them.

I do believe that there is a chicken and egg thing going on here – is it the consumer culture that has shaped us into people like this, or it is our very nature as human beings that has created the hyper commercialized world that we live in?

Most of us if not all of us have a need for something intangible that we try to satisfy in less than productive ways, and often with material possessions. Philosophers and theologians have described this need in this way: that all human beings have a God shaped whole in their hearts, that we are longing for something to complete us, to help us make sense of the world, and we spend our whole lives trying to fill it with everything but God.

The 17th century philosopher and mathematician Pascal described it like this:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

The crisis of our consumer culture today is not just about the ultra expensive, bigger is better world, it is the cheap, disposable culture as well, where we can get our fix for something new, where we can try to fill the hole with material junk no matter our income level.

How does the church provide a voice of leadership in the mist of these needs and in the midst of this culture?

Let’s be honest here – the only Christian voices in our culture today, the only ones speaking as loud as the commercials are on the television are all about telling us who is in and who is out of the boundaries of God’s love or they are preaching a gospel of prosperity that tries to convince us that God’s purpose and intention for us in the world is to have financial success.

It is hard to hear the voices from the church telling us that we are beloved children of God. It is hard to hear the voices from the church telling us that God is right here in our midst waiting for us to pay attention to how we might experience God in the real moments of our lives. It is hard to hear voices from the church telling us that it is okay to be on a search for something more and to acknowledge that we are in need not just in our bodies but in our hearts and our souls. The voices on the television are just too loud and the voices in our head can be even louder.

The second question in today’s hypothesis is who does Christ call us to be? I believe Christ calls us to be people who identify ourselves as God’s children first before we give in to who the world tells us we are. I believe that we are called to seek after real experiences of God first instead of satiating ourselves with what the world tells us we are missing.

It is important for me to say that the material world is not bad, that things in and of themselves are not the problem, and there is no better way to make that point than to remind us all, that Jesus Christ himself loved a good object lesson, whether it was a net, or a coin, a fish or a jar of costly ointment, whether it was the cool waters of baptism or the satisfying taste of bread broken and wine poured.

Christ calls us to fill this God shaped hole with these gifts of bread and cup, the questions that we are continuing to ask in this stepping stones journey is how does Christ call us to share these gifts with the rest of the world. Christ calls us to live into our baptismal identity and so we ask as well how we proclaim that outside of these walls loud enough for the rest of the world to hear.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Church and McWorld by Mary Cory

We see it everywhere, YOU need to be thinner, YOU need more money, YOU need the newest car and it goes on and on. The billboards grab your attention, television and radio commercials, newspapers and in store ads. It's all day and night, it's everywhere you turn. You're not content and we are going to tell you what to buy to be happy.

Television ads yell at you, the radio has a catchy jingle that you hum all day. Some are more subtle but they are always there.

We are told never to be satisfied. Doesn't everyone want the newest, biggest, brightest...? Most important, don't forget, “It's all about me”.

Is this the kind of person Christ wants us to be? Doesn't the Bible teach us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience?” Colossians 3:12

It also teaches, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1Timothy 6:6-8

As Christians, we must be vigilant and keep reminding ourselves what it is we truly want. Is it the newest, the biggest, the brightest or is it a close relationship with God? Only He can satisfy our longings. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4: 12-13

Only God can show us how to be the kind of “Christian consumer” He wants us to be.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Tired and Weary by Pastor Jamie

How tired are you?

Statistics say that 77% of mothers do not get enough sleep. 62% of men report that they sleep less than seven hours a night. 45% of North Americans report that the “rush from task to task.” This is the highest percentage worldwide.

Do you ever feel that way?

In an article about busy Americans, the website compares our lifestyle to an empty jar of peanut butter. “It's like the last dregs of a jar of peanut butter being spread over two sandwiches. (family and career) As you flop down at the end of a days work, head reeling, feet aching, looking around at how much you have left to do, you realize you have it all to do again once the alarm sounds tomorrow.”

Our hypothesis suggests: “We come to church activities weary, rattled and empty from hectic, out of balance lives...what we fail to realize is that our choices then bind us. Often our choices block meaningful participation as the church.”

Today the church faces competition for time and attention. Sports, relaxation, weekends away, working on the weekend and many other needs add pressure to our daily lives creating pressure and lives that are way over scheduled. Today the church at large sees the results of this as average attendance has dropped 15% in the last ten years.

Jesus speaks to the worry and anxiety of the disciples when he says: Do not worry about your life. Look at the birds of the air, consider the lilies. If God takes care of them, then God will take care of you. Jesus calls to us and asks us to ponder our priorities and grow in our trust.

We are learning a lot about our culture in this phase of our stepping stones journey. Our church is building unity and wisdom for the future. God is working among us. I am excited by the work we are doing together.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rattle, Rattle, Thunder, Clatter by Amy Gardine

We come to church activities weary, rattled, and empty from hectic, out of balance lives. We come with little left to give. We are free to choose in every area of our lives, but what we fail to realize is that our choices then bind us. Often our choices block meaningful participation as the church.

WARNING: This blog entry is easily distracted.

Want to hear something funny?

BING BONG… Wait! I have to get the door! It’s the UPS guy.

OK, the funny thing. Well, I am writing on the hypothesis that we come to church with little left – that our hectic, rattled, out-of-balance lives keep us from full participation in the church.

RRRRRRINGGGGGG… Hold that thought. I have to get the phone.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the reason my particular hypothesis is funny. Right. Well, maybe ironic is a better word, since I am in the middle of four huge projects and I am not really feeling very focused on church. Who am I to write about church focus?

AUUGGHHHH…. Uh, sorry. I have to get a bandage. One of the boys just fell off his new skateboard. Ooops! Do you think maybe that is going to take a doctor visit?

I’m back! I was talking about…. uh… focus. Oh, right. Focus on church. Well, in the scripture for this week, the Jewish captives are being asked to sing songs of Zion while in a foreign land!

That reminds me, I have to send some letters to two separate locations – one international. Will that take double postage or triple?

Ooops. Sorry. I got distracted again. Where was I? Only the first scripture? Wow. All right. Here is what I will do. I will quickly tell you what I know:

* I know that I am in a lifestyle of constant beeps, buzzes, rings, knocks, honks, shouts, and the occasional bruised-ego-followed-by-a-scream.

* I know that I am supposed to be singing my songs to God and remembering the goodness and mercy I have received.

* I know that God can take care of me – I mean, look at those birds of the field!

* I know I have a long way to go before I slow down, stop worrying, and start singing God’s praises.

OK, in all seriousness, the list I have made is kind of sad, isn’t it? But this is what I sometimes do in my faith. I bullet-point my obligations to God and check church off the list. On my best days I get the kids to say prayers at dinner without giggles. On my worst days, I lose God somewhere between getting the kids out the door in the morning and getting them off to bed at night. But the good news is this: God doesn’t lose us and God has designed us for more. To me, the Psalm’s reference to a foreign land is less about location and more about lifestyle. We are designed for more than a check-list. Instead, we are called to be more like the Matthew passage. Leave worrying to God – it is covered! Revisit our homeland. We need to settle down and sing not only TO God, but also WITH God. Doesn’t that sound more fun anyway? In this rattle, rattle, clatter culture, it is an obligation that brings joy

This a light-hearted song by Sandra Boynton from her Philadelphia Chickens CD. Pay close attention to these specific lines:

“…and we have to do it faster,
or it never will be done,
and we have no time for listening
or anything that’s fun.”

In this culture that speeds us up, let us slow down, focus on God’s call, and sing a new song.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Enlarging Our Comfort Zones, by Pastor Rebecca

The question that I think sums up our response to this week’s hypothesis is - why not take advantage of the great we have been given of a comfortable growing vibrant community of faith and use it to venture out into our immediate neighborhood, the community of South Bend, or even our global community and be engaged in ministry in the places where we are not quite as confident about what we are doing, where we will probably make some mistakes, but where we might find some unexpected life and grace?

Why not? Well you might be shocked to know that I have come up with three reasons why we shouldn’t.

The first reason is wonderfully illustrated by the story we heard from Genesis this morning – when we venture out of our comfort zones, when we are in a place where we don’t know what exactly to expect, we get scared, we get out of wack, we make bad decisions.

Even though God has promised great things to Abraham, many descendents despite the barrenness that he and his wife have experienced so far in their long lives and a great land on which his decedents will come to live. God asks Abraham to step outside of his comfort zone in order to redeem those promises, to pick up and leave everything they had ever known. Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman describes this whole section of the stories of Abraham this way – that to stay in safety is to remain barren; to leave in risk is to have hope. Abraham takes the risk and we celebrate him for that and what does it give him – famine in the land of Canaan. Where is the evidence of God’s promises? Forced to leave that place to go to Egypt seeking food, he starts to panic as they are about to enter the land. He is scared, out of his element, and he asks Sarah to pose as his sister instead of his wife so that he will not be put in danger from those who would seek to take her as their own.

Now there is a whole other sermon here about women in the Old Testament and what it means to value your wife, but for our purposes this morning I want us to focus in on how Abraham allowed his fears, his displacement to lead him to such a poor decision, a decision that was in exact opposition to the promises that God had already made to him.

How often as a culture to we allow fear to keep us from believing in God’s promises? I am not going to try to convince you that there is nothing to be afraid of in the world – because we all know that is not true. I am going to argue that we often allow fears to stand in for excuses to not live up to who God has called us to be both as a church and as individuals.

I don’t want to list for you all of the things that we are afraid of, but rather ask this morning what are the things we might be doing if there was nothing to be afraid of – would we take our youth on international mission trips? Would we open our doors on cold nights like we had this past week to the homeless overflow from local agencies? Would we go out on Saturday afternoons in our immediate neighborhood knocking on doors and inviting people to join us in church the next morning?

Looking at a formidable list like that takes us to the second reason why we shouldn’t venture out beyond the comfort of our own walls and community – it is too hard. It is so attractively easy to be in a group of people who are all alike. I know that we often like to celebrate our diversity here at Sunnyside, and it is true that we represent a wide variety of political views, theological perspectives, and generations, but at the end of the day we are all pretty similar people – people that are easy to be with, people with whom we can identify.

I love this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, not just because it contains some of the most poinient and memorable teachings of Jesus, but because it also shows his edginess, his willingness to push people outside of their comfort zones. I hear him speaking directly to me in loving critique as he reminds me that even tax collectors love other tax collectors, even Gentiles love other Gentiles. So what if you love and care for, form relationships with take risks for people who are just like you that’s a piece of cake. It is so easy even people who don’t follow our belief system can do that. What credit is it to me if I limit my world to loving the people who it is easy for me to love. I can do that without even being a part of a church.

A few weeks ago I was on my way to pick up Owen at school and ran into the Meijer over off of Grape Road. I don’t remember what was on my mind that particular day, or what made it a little different than any other day, but as I walked out I noticed women standing in the large entry way, looking out the windows and weeping. I can still remember exactly what she looked like, and I thought I wonder if she needs help. And as I walked past her I thought, maybe if I had more time today, maybe if I didn’t have to go and get Owen, honestly maybe if I were a better person, I would have put my day on hold to ask this woman what she needed and help her in whatever way I could. How many times do we walk past people in need, people who more often than not we have the ability to help just because it is easier to keep walking?

What made that day different for me was that I kept thinking about her as I got in my car and pulled away, and tried to imagine who I would be, what my life would be like if I had stopped to help her, if I stopped to help everyone I ever saw who was in need standing outside of a grocery store. First I admitted that I probably wouldn’t get as much of the things done in my life that I have categorized as being more important. I also figured that I wouldn’t be able to give as much to my family or be as much at their beck and call as I normally am, but then I also figured that if I was going to live my life helping every distressed person I met in the entryway of a grocery store I would start wearing a lot more comfortable clothing. What kind of person is unconstrained by the demands of the world and family and who just walked around helping everyone he came across in need and who wore loose fitting clothing? Then I realized that I would need to pretty much be Jesus Christ himself…and he encourages us to aspire to that to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect

And that brings us to the third reason why we shouldn’t pop the comfort bubble and reach out to our neighbors far and near…we cling to perfection.

Clearly the perfection that Jesus describes and the perfection that we value are completely different. We find comfort in the ways we can control our lives – to be perfect like Christ means giving up control. We love and value this perfect and beautiful building – to be perfect like Christ may mean a little more wear and tear than perfection would normally stand for. We seek out perfect environments for our children to be perfect like Christ may mean that they have experiences and meet friends at church who are totally different from them. We expect people to put their best foot forward when they come to church, to be perfect like Christ may mean giving grace to another’s imperfections in his name. We come dressed in our Sunday best – to be perfect like Christ may mean that we need to start wearing more comfortable shoes when we are about the business of bearing Christ’s love into the world.

So we are afraid, it’s hard, and we don’t want to burst the bubble of our perfect world – I can’t think of any better reasons to curl up in the fetal position, cover our heads with the proverbial blanket and go back to bed and worship as some of our youth used to tell me - at the church of St. Mattress.

I know that a lot of this stepping stones stuff seems kind of out there or a lot of talk and not a lot of action or change, but the talking is good andt he listening is even better. We can’t expect all of us to be willing to break free of our comfort zones in just one sermon or even one Sunday. We are doing it together step by step, stretching it a little here and there, feeling our way towards what the new comfortable might be for us as a church.

This week Bill Lamie wrote some very compelling things about what it means to venture out of our comfort zones and he very aptly quoted from Martin Luther King Jr, and he included a quote that I think fits for this hypothesis as well as all that it is we are doing in this process: He said “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Just take one moment to say no to the things that you are afraid of, take one step in a direction that is hard instead of taking the easy way out, just one step away from the need for things to be under control. Each of those together from all of us will get us there together, to this thing we are looking for – the place where God has called us to be. Amen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Invading Our Comfort Zones, by Bill Lamie

The makeup of our congregation is very different from the makeup of our immediate neighborhoods. We are also out of touch with the mainstream in the life of our community. There is a major disconnect here, no matter how you cut the cards. We have not looked closely at this disconnection and its implications for our future ministry and mission. This means summoning the courage to ask tough questions, probe uncomfortable ground, and be open to considering new ideas – ideas that could direct our ministry and witness to a very different place compared to where it is today.

Have you ever had that annoying, uncomfortable feeling of guilt that you are ignoring reality? Many times it is out of fear of what are the consequences to me. There is our “Comfort Zone” and it is very difficult to step out of.

During our record snowfall a week ago, I like so many of us, spent the better part of the day shoveling, pushing, and blowing. It was dark and I was nearly finished by doing a good deed, clearing both of my immediate neighbor’s drives and walks (both were out of town), when a man appeared in the middle of the street asking for help. I’m normally overly sensitive to these types that show up when we’ve had snow, but I was tired, hungry, and ready to call it a day. Relieved that he declined my offer to drive him somewhere (there probably was no “somewhere”), he asked for any donation that I could spare. I gave him what little I had in my vest, wished him well, accepted his thanks, and off he went.

I couldn’t help but wonder if God really cares for that guy as much as me or visa versa. Maybe I should have invited him into to my house to warm up or maybe I should have offered him dinner. I didn’t.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” was spoken by Christ himself. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” God is not just referring to the people who live next to us as “neighbor”. He means all of humanity.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. courageously expanded our American values, teaching us and the world that, “The time is always right to do what is right.” I heard it said in last week’s post sermon class, that we have to take a risk(s) if we want to accomplish something really great. It seems so hard to take risk in the face of economic crisis, personal gain and intolerance, but Jesus didn’t just ask us to love “your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27), he commanded us; He didn’t say when it suits our schedule, or after I’m done shoveling snow.

Dr. King once stated that, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” He also said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

In the midst of so much suffering locally, nationally, and globally, we are needed by our “neighbors”. Sunnyside will continue to serve as a shining example of God’s love and do His work on Earth by sharing ourselves with our “neighbors”. But is it time, and are we ready to take that risk and take that step to do something really great?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No Longer Strangers and Aliens by Pastor Jamie

And we're off on another Stepping Stones series of sermons and Bible Study discussions.

On Sunday we had nearly 50 people come down to the Fellowship Hall! That was amazing. Why did so many come? I think that the topic is fresh and relevant. All of us are students of the culture around us as we observe our community, our nation and the world.

We talked about the cycles in the book of Judges and the downward religious and moral spiral that the people experienced because of their sin and stubbornness.

We heard Paul's words of hope to the church in Ephesus as he reminds us that Jesus breaks down the dividing walls of hostility and brings peaceful unity to the culture. It is because of Jesus that there are no longer strangers and aliens.

Is I observe the culture it seems to me that great change has taken place. It used to be that the church and the culture were closely connected. The culture was based on the church and took its signals from the church. Now it seems that the culture is backing away from the church and indeed that the church is taking its signals from the culture.

Our culture is distracted, disaffected, divided and self-determined. It struggles with the reality of violence, terrorism, economic uncertainty and great complexity.

However, I believe that there is great hope in Jesus Christ. I am also convinced that the church is perfectly suited to speak a word of hope and reconciliation to our culture.

How will Sunnyside Church do this? Come and join the conversation...on this blog and on Sunday mornings. I am excited about our future!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who is Your Church? Reflections by Abbe Golden

We live in a culture of self-centeredness, instant gratification, and convenience. “What does it do for me?” shapes how we participate or choose not to participate in most activities, including church. Our behavior often models the culture of self-centeredness, while our witness—to understand ourselves and live as God's people called into community with one another is silent.

A very common notion of “church” today considers church as primarily a place where certain things happen: or as a vendor of religious goods and services designed to meet the individual's self-defined needs. Where these notions are primary, a congregation loses a sense of its connectedness, interdependence and community. Each of these notions leads to limited expectations and unsatisfactory participation patterns, restricting the church's vitality and witness. The future of our church depends on a shared understanding of the church as a body of people, called by God, and sent on God's mission.

As we continue on our Stepping Stones journey we will be looking at a variety of hypothesis concerning the church. The first hypothesis: Who is Your Church? Not who is the church, but who is your church? Hmmm…. interesting question. How do you see Sunnyside? How do others see us? How do you see yourself within the church?

The hypothesis contends that the notion of “church” today is a place where certain things happen: or as a vendor of religious good and services to meet the individual’s self-defined needs. So when Cindy Lou Looking- For- a -Church sits in our pew for the first time, what does she see? Does she have a check list: children’s program, check; good music program, not too wild, check; sermon, not too long, check; friendly people, check, potlucks, yum, check; Sunday School classes, check; etc. “Yes”, she says! “This is the church for me!”

What if she had a different list? Great choir, maybe I could join, check; they mentioned the food pantry, I think I could help with that, check; the sermon really touched me today, I hope to live the message throughout the week, check; the people here are so friendly, it makes me want to be friendly too, check; what a great bunch of kids, I would like to see if I can help with Sunday School classes, check; I like that they are involved with missions such as Habitat and Heifer International, what a great opportunity for me to help the community, check; etc. “ Wow”, she says, “This is a church where I can serve the Lord, a people working together to fulfill God’s vision.”

Ephesians 2:22: And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.