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.