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.