Hello FMC families,
Sunday the younger ages will be learning about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. I encourage parents to share when and why you chose to be baptized. If you didn't choose to be baptized, that is also a good story to share. As Anabaptists, we have a history built on adults being baptized, but the emphasis was on choosing to follow Jesus, and choosing to disagree with the established church and state. There is nothing "magical" about baptism, although we always encourage people to follow Jesus and to be baptized as a symbol of following Jesus and choosing a community built upon following Jesus.
The older ages, JYF and MYF, will hear about Service Adventure from our guests, and be asked to consider a year or more of volunteering after high school.
I'm also personally preparing some thoughts for parents about the staffing proposal and ongoing transition in our church. One quick note, is that I am now 32hrs a week, noting that personally I cannot sustain 40hrs a week in a meaningful way - family life, emotional health, and work morale have all be a challenge the past two years of the Transition. I'm hoping working a little less will help. I also told Council that I'm willing to work 20hrs a week, and based on family and children participation, I do not think a full-time role is "cost-effective" anymore. I am always willing to talk with any parents about my personal choice and/or the future vision of faith formation at FMC.
God is with us, as always,
*The middle portion of this text was left out on Sunday, but is provided here for those interested.
“Connecting with compassion” - FMC Provision Mission Statement
“Outsiders In” - Epiphany theme for Jan. & Feb.
“The Allure of A Singular Answer”
Three wise men walked into a palace, and King Herod couldn’t hear them.
Three wise men gave up on the singular answer they thought they were looking for.
They thought that it was a palace and King they were looking for.
They thought the current king would be excited with their news, their awareness, and They thought there would be a shared hope with the king.
But Jesus was on the outside of the Roman Empire.
What does it take to be on the inside? King Herod wouldn’t welcome a threat to his thrown, let alone a threat to Rome’s authority, and by extension a threat to his personal stability and security. Herod wanted to stay safe, stable and powerful.
He had spent a lifetime doing the right things, being a good citizen, obeying the law, and climbing the ladder of wealth and importance.
Amazing how much threat Herod feels from a baby and what a baby represents.
A New Hope! And back then, blood-lines connected you to powerful office, property and control of people. Good thing things have changed today (some sarcasm intended).
Three wise men, and I wonder about the community they came from. What did they see? Did the wise men see that the Roman Empire was ripe for a revolution?
Maybe they could see that Jerusalem and Israel were ripe for a reawakening. A revival.
Maybe they were part of the Diaspora, longing to get home to the small kingdom built by the Jews – that used to be Egypt’s slaves and were now Persia’s leftovers?
Maybe they were part of Rome’s elite, stirring revolution from within by empowering the very people their empire was occupying. What an idea, stir revolution from the source of God’s hope – the sign of physical love, relational connection, continuing life – stir revolution by celebrating the birth of a child. That’s fairly simple.
So - Connecting with compassion – can we connect with power brokers, and offer them a chance to participate in a future beyond their centralized power and privilege?
Connecting with compassion – will we listen to the wise people outside of our kingdom, outside of our circle, who see our light and wish us to become something more than we already are?
They see the lowly who will bring us all higher.
They see the left-out, who will make us stronger when we bring them in to our circle of love, hope, belonging and belief in a God beyond boundaries.
They see revolution, reawakening and revival.
God has a simple question for everyone - the same questions that the wise men asked King Herod – Where is the child that will bring salvation? Where are the children of salvation?
However, God probably knows that King Herod will not comply, something the wise men had to learn.
God knows where that child always is – God’s child – that child comes from a broken home, in the abandoned places of empire, from an oppressed people, poor by systems that leave her out of economic possibilities, and dead to those who rule with weapons.
Guns, drones, wall street, capitalism, socialism, presidents, pastors and CEO’s don’t often care about God’s child, God’s children, and all of God’s created life.
It’s not what they are known for.
Imagine if everyone’s purpose was tied to growing each child and seed of life…
*This is about where I skipped forward on Sunday.
May we have the wisdom and tenacity that the wise men had – may we look for the child left behind by the Empire’s standards. May we move when God speaks.
May we have the trust of Joseph, to welcome the vulnerable into our family and home, and to give up our own home to save the future of a young mother’s child.
May we vigorously and decidedly fight the systems that empower Herod, to kill our youth and our children for the sake of stability.
May we find refuge back in Egypt before we let Herod kill another one.
And when Herod dies, may we have the strength to return and create and search again for a fertile place for God’s children to speak and lead and heal and teach and save and to strike down Satan’s grasp on the Empire and on life.
We must understand that the Empire’s singular answer to power, singular answer to the economy, singular answer to law and what is right, singular answer to family, all of it’s singular answers are not working!
Singular answers works best for Caesar, and somewhat for those in the system closest to Caesar. But the further you are from Caesar, the worse your life gets. Caesar doesn’t know you well enough, and has no interest in getting to know you better. Herod was close enough to Caesar to perpetuate life for Caesar.
Maybe the sad reality of life is that our children will die, because all children ultimately die…
Each of us was a child of God’s once. Even King Herod and the three wise men (which I always picture as old, but maybe they were teenagers…). Maybe we are all God’s children and we simply think that with age comes God’s power. The apple of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, is a temptation that age offers us. We think we can finally grasp good and evil on our own. We think that the rules of our nation, economy, education, ethnicity, family and social structures tell us the correct good and evil.
A singular way to view the rules and law and norms.
We start to believe that experience is the knowledge of good and evil.
Age becomes an indicator of the knowledge of good and evil. Our own experience becomes our singular answer. My experience is the single answer. If I’m 7, 17, 37, 57 or 77, I’m old enough to really understand the world now.
To be honest, I think age does bring a wisdom and understanding.
However, I’m so grateful of the Bible’s examples of Simeon and Anna, of the three wise men finding Jesus, of Moses watching Joshua cross the Jordan, of David giving the temple project over to his son Solomon, of Ananias helping transform Paul from a killer to a martyr.
I’m grateful for folks who listened to God’s vision, and embraced those who were different, and blessed a new and different future, and in doing so kept building God’s kingdom of hope and growing God’s people of love.
I’m not sure whom I really connect with in this story. Probably not Jesus and not the wise men. Personally, I can resonate with the young Mary at the mercy of the men of power – Joseph, the wise men and Herod.
But I’m probably more like Herod – I don’t have substantial wealth, but I’m still wealthy enough compared to most of the globe, and I perpetuate the system that perpetuates my wealth. I still consume the rest of the created world an unsustainable rate.
I am a white, heterosexual male, married, with children and property.
Am I sacrificing God’s children to secure the lifestyle and power I enjoy right now?
Am I capable of listening for God’s messengers, or am I chained and beholden to Rome – to the new Babylon – to the conquering powers that wield death and fear, and encourage my participation by offering me the pursuit of privilege?
Am I connecting with compassion to the outsiders, the left behind, the forgotten, the oppressed?
Am I developing relationships with Bethlehem and Nazareth, miles and miles away from Rome?
Am I developing relationships with the wise men from afar, who see a hope and a new kind of power that I can’t define and can’t even imagine?
Am I looking beyond the Empire’s singular answer? It’s quite alluring to keep things as they have always been.
To be creative is not an easy task. The wise men were searching for a singular answer, and yet they were willing to give up that singular answer and look beyond the palace and empire’s power.
Herod, however, was not able to look beyond a singular answer. Maybe he had invested too much in Rome’s agenda – in his own palace, and the Jews’ Temple, and the walls of Jerusalem – spent so much time and money. Maybe he was fearful of messing up. Maybe he truly believed that the best option for everyone was Caesar’s rules, Caesar’s unifying mission and strong leadership.
Beware singular answers. The empire cannot deal with complexity. It’s simple answers and purpose forgets the forgotten, and leaves out the outsiders. Rarely is a singular answer worth pursuing when it benefits so few, and thrives on a Pyramid – Joseph fled to Egypt, but Egypt built the pyramids with the life blood of slaves.
Jesus grew into a person that cooperated with an odd crew of disciples. He brought together a group that today would probably represent the IRS, Wall Street, Black Panthers, Janitors, meat packers, fruit pickers, and other blue and white collar folks – from the high rises, subsidized housing, and trailer parks. He didn’t start in the palace, nor did his journey lead to a palace throne. His journey confronted the singular answer of Caesar, and the one view of religion by the High Priest. It confronted folks who thought they had God, religion, good and evil figured out.
Jerusalem is not Caesar’s. Jerusalem is for all Jews.
And Jesus reminded us that heaven is not Herod’s, heaven is God’s!
*This is where I finished speaking on Sunday:
A bit of a postlude. This is probably my sharing time, and Theda can add me to her pastoral prayer.
I’ve been in a rough place this past two years. Theda reminded me that it’s been nearly two years since Vern shared his decision with us to leave to plant a church – and it’s been a crazy ride for two years.
I nearly resigned in March this past year, and probably once a month since then, and I still cannot honestly commit to FMC beyond May of this year.
I’ve struggled with my own singular answers for my life, career, family and this church.
I’m struggling to feel the creative Spirit here. I deeply pray with all my heart that each one of us is considering what matters most. Right now I feel like the past matters more than the future to most of us. That the way things have been great in the past, are preventing us from the future that could be great in new ways.
That we would rather slowly decline so that we can have the liturgy, community and music that we always enjoyed so much from the past.
I am earnestly asking us to be something beyond our past. I am now yearning for something this congregation isn’t. I have not heard ‘God’s messengers’ telling me to leave, although I am willing if that’s what you all discern.
I am longing for a church that prioritizes God above all else, and revives the unruly, uncontrollable and saving language of God. The language that challenges our priorities. The language that reconfigures our life towards transformation and salvation, instead of stability and routine. A language that goes deeper for me.
I am longing for a church that doesn’t have to be built on scheduling so much. I have too much data that shows me Sunday mornings are not working well for too many families, too many teenagers and too many younger adults. Yet alone, retired folks.
I am longing for a church that regionalizes and localizes, because it’s obvious, too many of us barely have time for our own neighbors, let alone the neighbors near this sanctuary. Not because we are mean or evil, but because it’s simply so hard to commute here for too many of us.
Hear me clearly – I do not think Sunday mornings, classical music, four part hymns, or good preaching need to disappear. I doubt the ever will. They are the history upon which we should continue – but we also need to invest more widely – divest beyond a singular answer and a singular vision. I feel we have come to a point where we need to intentionally divest some from Sunday mornings and this sanctuary, in order to adequately invest in localized spirituality, localized mission and localized relationships. If you can get there in rush hour traffic. If you can walk there if you have to. The churches that will last this century will be the churches built on spending casual, unplanned, time together. That eat, play, shop, work, and age together.
Church of the future will be less centralized, more networked, and a larger collective of smaller gatherings and groupings. Not necessarily better, but different.
Can we become more than we are right now? Are we open to something beyond the singular answer of who we are right now?
God will keep knocking, keep sending wise people to show us that God’s children are being born and waiting for us to seek and support them. I want to bring all the gifts I have to the children as the wise men did Jesus. I want to bring gifts of hope.
Our children have a hard enough destiny, but we can make it more hopeful right now! Who made it hopeful for us, and who excluded us when we were young?
Where did Herod grow up? Who raised the wise men?
Let’s dare to open the possibilities for our children.
Let’s dare to see what they will do and how we will benefit in unimaginable ways.
Herod didn’t want to spend time getting to know the peasants and new possibilities.
He felt he had already invested enough.
Caesar never came to Jerusalem. He couldn’t see why he needed Jersusalem and Nazareth.
Herod’s children perpetuated the same culture he raised them in. How are we raising our children and the younger parts of each soul here?
This church is a child of God’s, and ready to make a difference – connecting with compassion to the outsider.
Can we move beyond the singular answers of our family, our lifestyles and our past?
Events & Evites:
Tory - Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation.