If I Don’t Have Love.

Hello friends,

Our scripture lesson for this week may be familiar to you if you’ve ever attended a wedding. Young couples often choose this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. We often associate it with gentle music, floral images, and loving couples.

Only problem, that’s not what it was about.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth because they were having conflict. They puffed themselves up about who had the “best” spiritual gifts. I imagine Paul angrily writing his first draft of this letter. The Corinthian church has missed the point. None of the good things the members of the budding church do matter if they’re not done in, through, and with love.

As you prayerfully read the scripture, consider the things that you do out of obligation or out of a sense of responsibility or for any other reason besides love.

Do you angrily clean up after others? Do you continue doing something in the church or elsewhere begrudgingly? Do you fail to do it in love because you need to change your own attitude? Maybe you fail to do it in love because your spiritual gifts no longer suit the task. What if it is time to give that responsibility up and pursue another outlet for your spiritual gifts?

Tim

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-14:1a

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

14:1a Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts.

Copyright © 1989 NRSV
Words of Wisdom

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”  –Mahatma Gandhi

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“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The Joy of Small Churches

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Friends,

We live in a breathtaking area of the country. The big skies, the yellows, the pale greens, and the flowers in the spring keep us connected to the earth in ways that city living can never do.

I’m reminded of this as I journey between Condon and Maggie’s apartment in Tualatin with its endless retail and traffic. You can buy just about anything you want in Tualatin if you have the money.

But you can’t buy the quiet of a canyon.

You can’t buy the connectedness of a small community like Condon. Small communities offer things big cities cannot.

The same is true of big and small churches. Big churches with their bands and large choirs, the multitude of study groups, and the large staff are a lot like the big city. You can get just about anything you want except…

You can’t get knowing everyone’s name. You can’t get the closeness that allows anyone who wants, to be a  part of decisions. You can’t get the deep relationships between people grounded in a place.

Over 80% of the churches in our nation are small. That means that God is doing most of God’s ministry in places like the Condon UCC. God doesn’t expect us to do it all, only our part of the puzzle. No, we can’t do the big, flashy, grandiose ministries that a big church can but is that what you really want?

Please pray each day this month not that we should become something we’re not — a big church — rather pray that we do the ministry in our community that only we can do. Pray that we continue to matter and make Condon and Gilliam County a better place to live.

See you Sunday,

Tim

Terror & Amazement

Read Mark 16:1-8

Choosing without Seeing

The earliest manuscripts of Mark end at 16:8. It is believed that the other three endings, two of which are bracketed in the NRSV Bible, were later additions.

Scholars believe that the original gospel writer’s intent was the shortest version. Other endings were added because the short version fails to offer a resurrected Jesus sighting, only the word of the “young man” (an angel?) who tells the women that Jesus is risen.

The shorter, original ending of Mark was unsatisfying to early Christians longing for proof. As Christians living in the scientific era, we, too seek proof. We are not comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.

While the men are in hiding for fear for their lives following the crucifixion, the women go up to anoint Jesus’ corpse. They are surprised to find the stone of the tomb rolled away. A young man, likely of divine origin, tells them that Jesus is risen.

Though the women are told to go and tell the others that Jesus is risen, they “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone…” [16:8]

They are seized by terror and amazement! Though this ending is less satisfying then the longer versions or the other gospels I think it reflects our humanity well. I think it reflects the nature of living: we yearn for certainty but the world is filled with uncertainty.

It forces us to choose. Do we trust in the magnitude of God’s love that raises Jesus or do we trust in the earthly seeking of power and fear and self-interest?  Do we choose to trust the young man in the tomb that Jesus has risen or do we demand a sign or proof?

As scholar Bonnie Bowman Thurston suggests, “Mark…wanted to make clear that faith is generated by the word of Jesus, not by miracles” (B. Thurston, Preaching Mark, Augburg, 2002). That is, faith is about doing and living as Jesus taught.

The resurrection, then, is not the end. The implication that once we are “saved” the story is over is to misread the Good News. The cross is just the beginning; it is the moment when we choose to be and become expansive, unimaginable love & justice in the world or we choose to cower at the news of the empty tomb.

See you Sunday at 10:30,

Tim

Holy Saturday

For me, ‪#Holy Saturday‬ is that quiet day after the shock of ‪Good Friday‬ with its raw grief. I’ve sobbed. I’ve screamed at God, “How could this happen?!??”

And now on Holy Saturday I’m too tired to cry anymore. It’s the day where I begin to accept the earthly reality of death and suffering.

Tomorrow I’ll be surprised by the power of God’s love, but for now I reflect upon what Jesus taught and what it means without his presence.

Tomorrow I’ll know we’re not alone but today I wonder if anything we do will matter a generation or more from now.

See you tomorrow at 10:30,

Tim

Hopeless & Afraid

Read Mark 15:16-39

Hopeless & Afraid.

I got shut down and good. In a seminary class discussion, I  suggested that all was lost on Good Friday. My Methodist professor forcefully (and angrily?) said it was not. It was the kind of exchange in which I knew to just shut up.

Having spent several classes with him, I knew he had a theology of foreknowledge. That is, his understanding of the gospels was that Jesus knew what would happen to him. While this is true in Mark, it is less clear in the other gospels.

What my professor missed was that for the disciples who never quite got what Jesus was telling them, the death of Jesus on the cross felt like the end of the story. This is true even in Mark with its clarity that Jesus knew what would happen. All was lost, from their perspective. They could not imagine the resurrection.

Having heard the passion narrative repeatedly, we often fail to appreciate just how the first Good Friday felt to Jesus’ followers. As the life drained out of him on the cross, all the hopes and dreams for a better world drained out of the disciples. Fear and terror for their own lives replaced all the joy and hope of Palm Sunday.

Like the oblivious disciples, we miss the power of Easter when we race through or ignore Good Friday.

The least attended service of Holy Week, when we move from Maundy Thursday or Palm Sunday to Easter, we fail to go to the depths of disappointment and terror at a world controlled by hate and the power hungry instead of God. Jesus must die in order for the resurrection to take place.

As you read the Good Friday scripture, try to imagine how the followers of Jesus felt watching their savior die on the cross. Try to imagine Good Friday without Easter.

Are there times in your life when you experience hopelessness and desperation? Are their situations when you refuse or fail to hear God’s loving message? Is it about a lack of trust in God or is it the result of the inability to imagine Easter?

See you Friday at 6,

Tim

What happens at the Table?

The Table.

This evening on this Maundy Thursday, we will gather around a table over a meal. We will end our meal in remembrance of the last supper. The Eucharist, what we usually call communion, means many different things to different people. Our church fathers and mothers through the generations and even contemporary theologians have sought to define the nature of the Eucharistic meal.

I suspect most of us in our church think of the bread and cup as symbolic of the events of two-thousand years ago. This makes it easy for us to have an “open table.” Our Catholic sisters and brothers perceive a mystical transformation of the bread and wine after it is blessed. This makes is more difficult for them to have an “open table.” They understandably feel a need to protect the sanctified host and cup from misuse.

There is probably no one right answer to what happens at Table.

Personally, I view The Lord’s Supper as a mystery. It is symbolic, yes, but it is also something more. I believe that the Holy Spirit is present at the Table connecting us with our ancient forebears and those yet to come. To me, the act of participating in the Table is to be in the presence of the divine One.

An open table in which anyone — believer or not — is welcomed is consistent with the teachings of Jesus who reached out to the margins of society. Participation in the Eucharist places people in the presence of the Holy Spirit. In that mystical moment of communion the nonbeliever and believer can be transformed.

And, so, for me the Table must be open. It is a table set by Jesus and is not mine to restrict in anyway. I do not know how we are connected to our ancient forebears of the faith. Neither do I know how it’s possible for us to be connected to those who are yet to be, I just know it is a miraculous place.

As you read Mark’s version of what happened around the table in an upper room, prayerfully reflect upon what you experience during communion. What does the communion table mean to you? Have you ever been touched by the Spirit in an inexplicable way during sharing of the Eucharist?

See you at 6 p.m.,

Tim

Sacred Words Mark 14:22-42 
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?

Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

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Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.