Enough

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.
You have given all to me. To you Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.
St Ignatius of Loyola


This past year I participated in a nine month Ignatian retreat called the Spiritual Exercises for Everyday Living (SEEL).  This retreat is an adaptation of the 30 day retreat embarked upon by Jesuit monks as a means of growing in their awareness of the gracious presence of God. From September through May, on one Saturday a month, I spent the morning at the St. Joseph Parish on Capitol Hill in Seattle and in between these meetings met twice with a spiritual director.  Through these meetings I was invited into a process of learning about prayer and discernment as we worked through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  

The prayer above, which is referred to as the Suscipe (the Latin word for take or receive), is one of the final prayers in the Spiritual Exercises.   When we arrived at this final stage of the exercises in May and prayed this prayer, it was clear to me why it was the final and not the first prayer in the exercises.  It’s not something that is possible for us to pray if we have no experience of the love and grace of God. 

The faith journey can’t begin with the prayer “take all that I have and call my own.” No one is ready to pray that prayer when we first hear Jesus’ invitation: “Follow me.”  We have to grow into this prayer.  In order to pray this prayer we need to trust that we have nothing to lose and this kind of trust is something that develops over time.  It comes from experience.  It grows as we realize that the embrace of God is steadfast.  It develops as we learn that God is not the kind of parent who teaches us to swim by throwing us into the pool without any prior experience of being in water over our heads.  Faithfulness and trust are not born in a moment when we decide once and for all time that we are going to swim rather than sink.  They develop and deepen as we gradually learn and re-learn that nothing can separate us from the love of God. They are born of that ongoing process of deepening our awareness that the love of God truly is, ENOUGH! 

I suppose it is possible to read the call of the prophets, apostles and disciples of the Scriptures as a sudden adoption of radical faith and dedication of one’s life to God.  Isaiah experiences the overwhelming presence of God and says, “Here I am, send me!”  Peter, the fisherman, encounters Jesus and leaves his nets behind in order to follow Jesus.  Saul gets knocked to the ground by an encounter with the resurrected Christ and gets up with a resolve to renounce his former ways of trying to wipe out the followers of Jesus.  

But if we follow the life stories of these saints who dropped everything and followed Jesus, what becomes clear is that initial decision was just the beginning of a process.  It was the first “Yes” to Jesus that started a journey on which they each had to flirt with the possibility of saying “No.”  They each had to grow in trust.  They each had to gradually grow into the experience of knowing that the love of God is indeed, enough. 

I know of no special formula or practice that can suddenly deliver us into a place of absolute trust in God.  It’s not like we can pay for the app, download it to our souls and voila! all manner of things are suddenly well. As with any relationship, this trust in God develops over time.  It grows with experience that is peppered with episodes of courage and fear, confidence and doubt, hope and despair.  Yet within each of these chapters in our story one invitation persists.  God keeps showing us that his grace is sufficient.  One more layer of confidence is deposited with each experience of grace and we are gradually empowered to pray: “Take, Lord, and receive all I have and call my own [and] give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”        

Dave Rohrer, 8/18/19 

Summer 2019

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke 4:18-19

 

With these words from Isaiah, Jesus inaugurated his ministry. His work would be about release from captivity and restoration of sight.  The burden of oppression would be lifted and the favor of God restored.  They were big promises and spoken in such a way that the specifics of their meaning have been interpreted in a variety of ways. 

Just what was Jesus announcing?  The release from Roman oppression and the restoration of the glory of David’s Kingdom?  The promise of the “healing of all ills, in this world and the next”?  The forgiveness of sin and the resulting reconciliation with God?  Where on the continuum between physical and spiritual realities do we place these promises?  What can we expect from Jesus?  In light of this promise how should we pray?  From what oppressive forces is he promising to release us and to what state of being is he restoring us? And when is he going to do this?  In this life, or the next?

Good questions.

Good questions, for which I have few definitive answers.  These words have throughout history proved to be a sort of Rorshach inkblot into which biblical theologians have projected a variety of meanings. Jesus’ announcement of the character of his ministry has been the foundation for things as diverse as political revolutions and separatist apocalyptic communes, ecstatic worship practices and measured theological explanations, people who dedicate their lives to doing battle with demons and people who passionately work to establish justice in the broken social and political systems of our world.

If I am to take the opportunity to say what I see in the inkblot of these words, I would say I see the offer of relationship:  The offer to lift off the oppressive burdens that destroy relationship and so usher us into a place of liberty that fosters lasting relationship with God and others. I hear Jesus saying, “I’ve come to the end the isolation that leads you into poverty.  I’ve come to lift off the weight of loneliness that keeps you in darkness and chains.  I’ve come to reintroduce you to the reason for which you were made and restore you to the relationship that is at the heart of all of your other relationships.  I’ve come to remind you that you are loved by God and that this love has the power to shape you into all that you were created to be.” 

In another place Jesus says, “I’ve come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”  That life can take a variety of forms.  Our prayers for that life express themselves in a variety of ways.  But beneath and above all this variety, what holds these various manifestations of goodness and abundance together, is the simple truth that we were created by God for relationship with God, and it is within the boundaries of this relationship that we are released into the broad and open space that we were meant to occupy.

 

Dave Rohrer, 6/12/19 

Holy Week 2019

 As we anticipate heading into Holy Week, the invitation that is shaping my journey is the one that comes from Hebrews 12:2.  I want to use this week to once again “fix [my] eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.”

 Walking through those events that took place in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago gives us the opportunity to once again see Jesus at the height of his glory and the depth of his humility.  We get to see the crucified carpenter entering the pit of human despair as he endures the cross, “disregarding it’s shame,” and we get to see the risen Lord victoriously pronouncing peace to a quivering band of followers huddled together in a room while they fearfully anticipate their own arrest after his death.  We get to experience the truth of the phrase “God with us” as Jesus participates fully in both our despair and our hope.

 A passage of scripture that has helped me to fix my eyes on Jesus is St. Paul’s reflection on the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s life and ministry in Colossians 1:15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.   He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

 The last line of this hymn to Christ is something that especially catches my attention: “making peace through the blood of his cross.”  I find myself wondering how something so violent, so arrogant, so dehumanizing and so hate-filled as death by a Roman crucifixion can create peace.  Frankly, if we let ourselves ponder that claim it ought to fill us with, at best, head-scratching confusion or, at worst, revulsion and rage.  There is nothing in the act nailing a human being to a cross that even comes close to what we might associate with peace.  On its face it is nothing short of a state sponsored lynching in order to make a point about who has power and who doesn’t and so induce fear among the people over whom the state wishes to assert its power.    

 The cross is not an easy thing to contemplate.  I think that is why theologians have been so quick to come up with explanations of Jesus’ cross that reduce it to the metaphor of an economic transaction: a deal worked out between the Father and the Son that benefits humanity.  A payment to end the war between God and humanity where humans get out from under the burden of their sin and God gets a just satisfaction for the wrath he feels toward his disobedient creatures.  In other words, on the cross Jesus pays the necessary price for our sins and so makes peace between humanity and God.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that this has become the predominant way we view the reason for and the effect of the cross of Jesus.  Yet here again, I see very little in this explanation that I can associate with the notion of peace. 

 I can only see peace resulting from this cross of Jesus if I think of the whole saga in terms of God as Trinity.  It isn’t a wrathful father being satisfied by a sacrificed son.  Rather it is God joining with us in Jesus.  God entering into the depths of our shame and despair.  God emptying himself of his divine prerogative.  God experiencing every human joy and sorrow, pain and exhilaration, glory and degradation.  God effectively and finally showing us how nothing can separate us from his love.

 The cross of Jesus is God with us in every way.  It is ultimate bridge over the chasm of shame and mistrust that separates us from God.  It is the loud and clear declaration that there is no reason to continue our futile attempts to run from God by covering our nakedness or pretending we are without need.  For God has become naked and needy and so reflected back to us the truth that we are creatures made for relationship with God and one another and that our weakness neither deters his pursuit nor repels his embrace.

 Jesus doesn’t merely purchase our peace; Jesus is our peace.  

 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Dave Rohrer, 04/10/2019

Lent 2019

Robert Fulghum’s 1986 bestselling book title All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is something that I still hear quoted.  I suppose this is probably because its simplicity both captures our imaginations and calms our anxiety.  It is comforting to consider the thought that we already know all that we need to know in order to solve our problems of social discord and create harmony.  But Rodney King articulated a similar sentiment in the form of a question, when in the face of the riots occurring in Los Angeles after the acquittal of the officers who beat him he asked: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

We may have learned it in Kindergarten, but adulthood has a way of diluting and maybe erasing our memories.

It’s hard to argue with the truth of Fulghum’s assertion or King’s question.  The solution they both point to is pretty obvious.  If we want social order and communal harmony we need to acknowledge the value of all human beings, honor difference, restrain our reactive or violent impulses, learn to share, and grant one another the space to grow.  Or as Jesus put it, we need to treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Voila!  Problem solved!  Now let’s get on with life as we live into this value.

But of course the problem isn’t solved.  While we know what it would take to solve it, we somehow keep failing in implementation.  Wisdom allows us to observe the causes of our discord and posit the simple solution of stepping back from those behaviors that perpetuate the problem, but unfortunately it cannot explain or heal whatever it is that sustains us in our endless chain of destructive behaviors.   

I think this conundrum is one of the reasons why I have come to love the Book of Ecclesiastes.  I love the honesty of this book that over and over again points to the absurdities of human behavior and history.  It simply tells it like it is. This preacher in Ecclesiastes proposes no solution; he simply stares full face into the problem and chooses to continue to work with life’s questions.  Yet he does so acknowledging that while he may not have enough knowledge to figure out the “whys” of life, there is One who does, and we would do well to engage life in such a way that we acknowledge the presence of this One who made us.

Seasons come and go. There are times of war and peace, times of birth and death, times for sowing and reaping.  Yet as these seasons come and go we do not have enough “eternity in our hearts” to figure out the whole picture.  So we continue to struggle to figure it out, sometimes making progress and fostering life and at other times making old mistakes that merely add to history’s pile of death and decay.

Yet the preacher doesn’t just cynically shrug at life’s absurdity and say “deal with it.”  He doesn’t, like philosopher Albert Camus, point to Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill only to watch it roll back down and advise us to seek our happiness within the limits of this absurdity.  He invites us to do something that will ultimately give shape and meaning to our lives.  He invites us to consider the God who made us and to be on the lookout for God’s presence even in the most confounding circumstances of life.

 Confronted with the frightful realities of the shaking mountains and raging and foaming waters of the earth, the Psalmist in Psalm 46 finds solace in the assurance that “the Lord of hosts is with us [and] the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  St. Paul tells us the same truth when he writes “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).  The stabilizing truth that greets us irrespective of the ebb and flow of life’s seasons is Jesus’ promise that he will be with us always.   While this steadfast presence and companionship may not explain every mystery or solve every problem, it does provide us with a stabilizing relationship that enables us to navigate the twists and turns of life.   And so we pray, “O Christ, surround us.”  Show us where you are, and so expose us to the truth of who we are created to be.           

 (Dave Rohrer, 3/4/19)

February 2019

In my 37 years of pastoral ministry I have probably presided at about 300 weddings.  That’s a lot.  Sometimes it feels like too many.  Too much of a good thing can be too much.  Unfortunately, familiarity can breed contempt.  Or if not contempt, this familiarity with weddings has at times bred a certain degree of cynicism in me. 

I’ve had my moments when it has been hard for me to preside over these expensive celebrations of love.  Frankly, they can seem a bit delusional.   For I know at some point this love that the couple has fallen into, this power greater than themselves that has overwhelmed them, this storybook feeling that they think will never diminish, will in fact come under question.  They will experience that moment of waking up, looking over at their spouse and wondering who that person is and why they ever chose to get married.  With an exasperated sigh they will conclude “He/She is not the person I married.”  And if they happen to come back to me for counseling in the wake of this disturbing discovery, what I will eventually say to them is something like: “Thank God he/she is not the person you married.  Now you have the chance to get to know who she/he really is.  And the good news is that he/she is probably a lot more interesting and exciting than who you thought she/he was.”  

The love we fall into may be what initiates our relationship and inspires us to take the leap of commitment in marriage or friendship.  But the love that sustains any relationship is the love we choose.   Another name for it is covenant love:  A conscious choice to seek the other’s best and trust that the other is seeking your best.  When two people daily choose to love in this way, they grow into a deeper kind of love as they come to appreciate the gift that God has given them in the other.  They realize that this is a gift they will never stop unwrapping, for the depths of the mystery of the other are unfathomable and there will always be more to discover. 

It is this choice to love that describes God’s love toward us.  The New Testament writers used the word agape to describe this love.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son (John 3:16).” God chose to create us and chooses to pursue us and love us.  God seeks our best.  And God invites us to respond to that love by sharing the same kind of love with one another.  “We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).”  God’s love generates love in us.   My seminary preaching professor put it this way: “Agape, is the love that makes the loved one lovely.”  

God’s love makes us lovely.   It is a love that grows us in our ability to love others.  It is the love that both builds up our self-esteem and equips us with the energy to extend ourselves for the sake of the other.  It delivers us into a place that cupid’s arrows cannot.  For it does not mesmerize with passion as much as it calls forth gratitude for a gift that we cannot help but give away.  It is thus, as St. Paul says, the love that “never ends, (1 Cor. 13:8),” for the Source of this love will never stop loving us and therefore never stop growing that love in us.

(Dave Rohrer, 2/4/19)

A Reflection on Our Life Together

Annual Meeting - January 27, 2019

now what.png

As we head into our 56th year of life together as a congregation, I am aware of a deep sense of gratitude to God for the gifts he has given us.  I’ve only been with you for six of those years, but that has been long enough to observe and benefit from these gifts.  The depth of our relationships with one another, a building that provides ample space for worship and fellowship, and houses our  Bothell Community Preschool and various community groups, and the beautiful piece of land on which our building sits are among the things with which God has blessed us.  We may not be congregation that has unlimited monetary resources, but we are nevertheless rich in the things that will sustain us and enable us to grow in and give witness to the abundant life that is available to all in Jesus Christ. 

 As I mentioned in a sermon series I preached in October and November, I see us as people who are poised on a threshold.  God has “set before us an open door” and it is fun to imagine what we are going to encounter as we cross over that threshold and take up God’s invitations to us in the next season of our life together.  As we do this, I think we are going to conceive of ourselves as more than a worshiping congregation.  While worship will always be central to who we are, what we do, and how we think about our building, I think we will be growing in our awareness of how this property is not just a resource that God is calling us maintain for our own activities, but also gift we are called to share with our community.

 This is not a new thing for us.  You were generous with your space long before now.  In fact, a few months after I started work here in 2013 I half-jokingly asked, “Does every member have a key to the place?” Openness and generosity, rather than fear and protectiveness have characterized the way you think about this place, and I thank God that I get to be pastor of a congregation of people who don’t give a second thought to how they can share this space with others who can make good use of it.

As we face into 2019 I think we are going to engage some questions that revolve around the stewardship of our buildings and land:

  • Our sanctuary seats about 140 people and we average about 120 people in worship each Sunday.  If we want to make space for the people who regularly visit us on Sunday at 10 am, without having to wait until someone else leaves, we are going to have to face the question of how we are going to increase capacity.  Do we add another service on Sunday?  Maybe we think about starting a new worshiping community on another day of the week?  Maybe we do nothing.  They are all live options.

  •  We are also currently without adequate space for adult education on Sundays.   While the sanctuary can be used for this kind of activity mid-week, we could greatly benefit from having some kind of meeting space other than what we have in our existing building.   It would also enhance our ability to offer space to various community groups?  What might that look like?  Where would we build it? Can we afford it?  How would having this space enhance our ministry and help us fulfill our mission?

  • In 2018 we fenced in a big portion of our grounds to create an organic garden.  We created Emmanuel Farm. Our neighbors took notice and some pitched in to help.  Those six foot sunflowers screamed with the message that we wanted to do something productive with our land.  Perhaps it was also a way of telling the realtors, who regularly send us letters offering to help us sell all or part of our property that we want to make productive use of our green space and don’t want to cover it with more parking or another set of condos.  A neighborhood that is becoming more densely populated will value this green space.  It’s a gift we can offer them.  But there are all sorts of questions that we need to ask ourselves about the next steps for Emmanuel Farm.  How big of a role will it play in our decisions about stewarding our land?

These are some of the questions the Emmanuel Session will be working with in 2019 and beyond.  They are a part of the unknown that lies across the threshold of the open door which God has set before us.  God has given us an enormous gift and we have some decisions to make about how we are going to steward it.   Pray for us as we work with these questions and join us in discussing the implications of these initiatives. 

Trusting in God’s Goodness to Guide Us,

Dave Rohrer, pastor

January 2019

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) Jesus lets us know that we would be wise to refrain from judging others.   Few, if any of us, take his advice.  From personal experience I know I have an innate tendency to evaluate myself and others in terms of what I or they deserve.  I compare what I have done to what others have done or not done.  I make judgments based on that comparison and come to conclusions about what rewards certain behaviors merit and what punishments other behaviors deserve. 

When you get right down to it a good bit of human history seems to revolve around how we have dealt with this question of who deserves what and what standards of justice we will apply to answer that question.   We write laws that grow out of these standards and we trust these laws to restrain behaviors that grow out of selfish disregard of those standards.  Our laws are designed to protect those who follow the standards and punish those who don’t.  We hope that the law will insure that everyone gets what he/she deserves.

So, what is Jesus getting at when he tells us not to judge?  Obviously that basic commandment must be clothed in some nuances that help us to know when it is OK and not OK to judge.  My best guess at what he is getting at is wrapped up in a couple of things he states just a few sentences after the command to not judge.  He gives us examples of the judging we should and shouldn’t do.

Immediately after telling us not to judge he asks a question: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye and do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Then he invites us to be discerning to the point of not giving our time and energy to those whom we deem unable to receive and appreciate it: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.” 

In other words, if you’re going to judge, start with someone a little closer in who has more pressing issues than that speck you see in your neighbor’s eye.  Start with yourself.  Start by dealing with the log in your own eye.  Because by the time you get that log taken care of you probably won’t have much energy to deal with your neighbor’s speck.  

Also don’t use judgement as if you can wield it as a tool to reform or change the one you are judging.  Redemption and transformation are things that are above your pay grade.  So don’t waste your energy and your attention on trying to give something good to someone who doesn’t want it.  Dogs don’t know what to do with a holy thing.  They might give it a sniff but it won’t hold their interest.  And throwing pearls to swine as if they recognize their value. . . ?   Well, that’s just a silly thing to do. 

So Jesus is not saying don’t judge at all.  Clearly, he invites us to be discerning and to make judgments about the rightness and wrongness of our own and other people’s behavior.  But what he prohibits is something that is not in our wheelhouse in the first place.  What he prohibits is acting as if we are God.  St. Paul says it well in Romans 12 when he equates genuine love for one another with, among other things, the choice to “leave room for the wrath of God. “ (Rom . 12:19)  In other words, let God do what only God can do.  Your wrath is really not that powerful, and your love doesn’t have the capacity to transform the life of the one whose behavior offends you.  So leave room for God.  Entrust others to God.  In the long run we’ll be much happier if we do.  To release our grip on what we cannot change and make space for God to achieve what we cannot affect, is a choice that simply makes good sense. 

[Dave Rohrer, 1/1/2019]

October 2018

Of all of the critiques one could make of the contemporary American Church, the one that rises to the top of my list is that congregations spend way too much time thinking about themselves.  In this age where marketing is king and identity politics rule the day, congregations have jumped on the bandwagon and give an inordinate amount of their energy to designing and promoting their particular brand. 

Of course, the whole enterprise of marketing the church has its roots in our fear.  In the face of a significant decline in church attendance and a marked rise in the number of people who declare themselves to have no religious affiliation (aka: the Nones), congregations are scrambling to woo people into their houses of worship.  The church as institution is trying to sustain itself, and who can blame us.

 But there is a problem with this.  Put simply: people aren’t in the market for a church.  That’s not what they’re shopping for.  In most cases the people who walk in our doors are looking for God, or for community, or for purpose, or for a way to help the world.  In short, they aren’t looking for a church per se, they simply need a church to help them to find what they are looking for.  They hope that the church will be a place where they can meet this felt need for participation in a reality that is bigger than themselves.

 Given this perspective, you can see why I am reticent to talk too much about the church.  As I have said before, few, if any, of us need more church in our lives.  What we need is a growing sense that God is at work in our lives and in our world.  What we need is to be reminded that we are loved by God and invited by God to embark on a journey of transformation as we follow Jesus.  What we need is to be encouraged to rest in our identity in Christ and so become reflectors of God’s love in our world.  Meetings and sermons about mission statements, mobilization and money are not really the stuff that sustains this journey.

 And yet… , because we are an organization with a building and budgets we have to occasionally step back from the act of being the church to reconsider and remind ourselves  who we are and why we do what we do.  We have to think about the resources we need to sustain our life together and we have to prioritize the various tasks we need to accomplish in order to meet this goal of sustainability.  We need to do the work of reflection that will enable us to continue to take action.  We have to pause to remember the journey behind us and listen for God’s invitations concerning what might be ahead of us.  It’s our version of taking time out from our regular programming for a “pledge break.”

 I must confess I find pledge breaks irritating.  I find leading them even more onerous.  But they help us to step back and humbly remember that the house of the Lord occasionally needs paint and we are charged with the task of repainting it.  That’s what stewardship is.  It is the simple act of gratefully taking care of something that does not belong to us but which we know is a great benefit to us:  A benefit worth preserving and sharing with others. 

 So we’re going to take a pledge break for six weeks in October and November and give ourselves to the work of reflecting on where we have been and where we might be going.  In a series of sermons entitled “Now What?”  I hope to invite us into a process of celebrating God’s faithfulness to us and challenging one another to look for the open door he has set before us (Revelation 3:7).     

 Emmanuel Presbyterian Church is God’s gift to us.  It is a place that brings together people who are looking for food for the journey of faith.  It provides us with the opportunity to meet together to encourage one another and stir up one another to love and good works.  These gifts are part of what empowers us to notice and walk through the open door that God has set before us.  As pastor I am looking forward to discovering with you what God has for us as we together walk across that threshold. 

 

September 2018

I wish I had a dollar for every time over the last 36 years someone has chortled and elbowed me as they have made what to them was the original observation that I probably have lots of time because I only work one day a week.  In these latter years, I have taken to the practice of responding to this old joke with the quip: “Yes, it’s true, and I want to thank you for the healthy retainer you pay me to be on call the other six days.”

There was a day when I would defensively attest to the number of hours I was in the office or try to make a show of how busy I was in order to head off any suspicion of the inordinate amount of leisure in my week.  Yet with time I have become better at shrugging off the accusation, smiling at the joke and quietly resting in the importance of that one day. 

Sabbath sets the course for the other six days.  To orchestrate the gathering that redirects our attention to the One in whom all things cohere (Col. 1:17), is a privilege and responsibility that never ceases to challenge, gratify and edify me.  I get to lead people in worship. I get to invite people to draw near to God and hold fast to the confession of our hope.  I get to be a part of a community where people accept the call to encourage one another and stir up one another to reflect God’s love by doing good works  in our world (Heb. 10:19-25). It’s a great gig, and one of the greatest things about it is the gift of seeing how you experience the presence of God and participate in the work of God during your other six days.

When Jesus called his first disciples, he did not present them with a proposal to build a church.  Nor did he present them with a document containing a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that they needed to affirm before they could be a part of his posse.  He simply asked them to follow him, to come and see. As they followed they observed and became a part of his redemptive work.  And when he departed from them he asked them to continue this journey and to invite others to join them.

The church comes about because we need one another in order to continue the journey.   Emmanuel Presbyterian Church is a container for something much bigger than itself.  It holds a particular group of disciples of Jesus who have covenanted with God and one another to keep following Jesus.  The church helps us to set our course.  What we do on the one day is meant to energize and equip us for our other six days.  In short, the church doesn’t need us, we need the church.  So as the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, don’t neglect to meet together.  Come take what you need and give what is necessary to sustain the church’s ability to continue to energize its people.  We’ve all got six days of living to do and by coming together on the seventh day we rest in God and ready ourselves for the challenge and the joy of the journey.

April 2018

Practice Resurrection.  This is the last piece of advice that Wendell Berry gives in his poem “Manifesto:The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”  The poem is basically an invitation to enlarge the stunted imagination of our world’s conventional wisdom and set life in a bigger context.  In short, Berry’s call is to set our lives in a story that we do not control but in which we participate. Namely: the life God intended for us to live. 

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”, and this abundant life is something that is available to us now.  It is, however, a life that we grow into.  It is a life that is guided by a continual process of waking up to what it looks like to participate in eternal life.  It is a life where we give ourselves to the task of practicing resurrection.

Basically, what this means is that we pursue what lasts.  On the one hand this means facing into the inevitability of our death and investing in what outlives us.  Yet it also means acknowledging the reality of eternal life and enthusiastically, steadfastly “abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. (1 Cor .15:58)” 

In Jesus’ teaching about this eternal life we can live right now, he essentially invites us to live into a world where people are more important than things. He calls us to see how our present relationships are more lasting than the legacies we try to build.  He admonishes us to step back and acknowledge the ways in which we “spend our money for that which is not bread and our labor for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2)”; but he also points the way to living water and the bread of life. 

The idea of practicing resurrection reminds us that the journey of faith is just that: a journey.  And this journey is not about striving to arrive at a place of perfection, or striving to acquire a set of resources, so much as it is about a quiet, consistent determination to move toward the One who has invited us to exchange our restlessness for the rest we find when we occupy the place God has prepared for us.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)