Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Prayer/Poem based on Hebrews 11:29ff

By faith I will live each day
By faith I will for your people pray

By faith I will act in your name
By faith I will treat everyone the same

By faith I will walk this crooked path
By faith I will pour out grace not wrath

By faith I will turn fear into love
By faith I will follow the peace dove

By faith I will endure all life brings
By faith of life's joys I will sing

By faith I will break down walls
By faith I will teach of God's acceptance of all

By faith I will persevere  in the race
By faith I will rest in God's embrace

By faith I will live each day
By faith I will for your people pray.

SPM 8/16

Monday, August 8, 2016

Strength for the Journey

I am just back from the Orange County/Long Beach/Inland Empire Strength for the Journey retreat for those living with HIV/AIDS. I serve as the Spiritual Director on staff, and have been working with the retreat since it started 24 years ago. We meet up in the mountains and provide a safe space for folks to talk, ask questions, get information and most of all have fun, and relax.
I always come back down the mountain feeling exhausted because it is a lot of work, I definitely had one of my highest step total weeks because of all the hiking, walking around, setting up , breaking down camp, and since I don't drive anywhere during that week.
But I also come back down the mountain with a full heart and soul. The trees and the mountains, and the sunrises and the sunsets, the breeze, the birds all of creation is a glory to behold. I love the way the light changes from peaking through the bushes in the morning, to the bright sky in the afternoon, to the arrival of the shadows at night time. And then the stars shine, so close we think we can almost reach out and touch them.
And in addition to the environment there is a lot of talking going on, not just chit chat, but conversations about whether God loves us, whether the bible condemns or welcomes those in the LBGTQ community, and where are safe places in our communities we can talk about these things.
We tell jokes and play games and go to workshops and worship and campfires and we all let down our defenses and form a community in a short amount of time. For me it is what I think Jesus meant when he called us to be in community with one another to love one another with all our strength. 
Of course it is not perfect. there are times when people have to be confronted about their behavior, the food is not always what people are expecting, we find snorers who keep up everyone in their cabin.
But we find ways to live, truly live with one another, warts and all in this beauty. And although I looked forward to sleeping on my own bed, take a shower in my own home and have time with my family, I do miss the community we had formed. So, I look forward to next year already, but also commit to seeing how I can create that same sort of safe place for people to be a part in life down the mountain. It seems to me that what the world craves, and yet seems so unable to create it. So here I go, boldly stepping out in faith, following the Spirit, bringing and accepting strength for the journey.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sermon for July 24, 2016

Sermon for July 24, 2016                            By Rev. Steve Poteete-Marshall
Colossians 2:6-15

I can remember one time I was playing with a group of friends a game of whiffle ball, in the lot next to my house. We choose sides and began playing. Right from the start the other team was so dominant, and began to pile on the runs. Nothing our team could stop them, and not too long into the game, the guy who owned the bat we were playing with, quit because his side was losing so badly, went home and took the bat with him. Of course my team was relieved because we were losing so badly, but on the other hand we could no longer play since the equipment was gone. Soon, we all wandered off to our homes.
Through the years, I remembered that moment, how one person could change the experience of so many, how his being frustrated about the score, caused him to act in this way. And I would be in that position many times, on a basketball team that lost every game, being on a tennis team and never winning a match, being the goalie of a soccer team and being beat for a goal again and again.

But perhaps the most challenging times are not so much on the playing field, but in life, times when I have become frustrated with how things are going with my life, and with those who are suffering. When someone is going through cancer, or ALS or any other kind of life threatening disease, and especially when he or she are losing the battle, I sometimes hear their frustration, they just want to be able to get healthy again.
And in our world, when there are awful events that are in our news, people being shot, wars that claim more innocent lives, these too are frustrating and overwhelming.
For those whose lives have become lost in our world because there is no one who understands, cares, or bothers with them because of their disability, I can see their frustration.
I can still remember working as a counselor at Camp Daniel Boone outside of Lexington KY, back in the good old days of the 1978.  We were hosting a group of adults with special needs, and our camp cook, one of the nicest persons in the world, was so afraid of the group, she literally put the bars across the doors so no one would wander back into the kitchen.  Her fear led her to this, action.
Well, as time went by and the camp preceded her heart melted and soon she was mingling and talking and caring for the campers.
In today’s scripture Paul is laying out for the church how none of us are outside the circle of God once we are baptized. He is talking about how through baptism we are raised with Christ to a new relationship.
There is no physical evidence of this transformation, no tattoo, or circumcision, no hairstyle or clothing, no food or exercise routine that causes that change to occur. Rather baptism is a free gift, one that is given to us for us to accept or deny in our life. We have the freedom to choose to walk with God as a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ, or not. We accept this gift of acceptance and transformation, or not.
But once we do, Paul makes sure that we understand we are now in Christ and no one can condemn us
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

A growth that is from God, this phrase reminds us in those moments of frustration, when the odds against us seem insurmountable when all hope is lost, when we want to just take our bat and go home, that we are part of the body of Christ now, we are in Christ now, and all things are possible.

God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our sins

We are made alive, we are renewed, we are given all we need for the journey ahead, no matter how long it will take for us to get there, no matter how many detours we take, no matter how hard the going gets, no matter how many times we want to quit and go home. God is at work in us because we are in Christ.

Paul does make this clear:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Now you and I hear this phrase a lot in our living, we hear many people say something like: Right now I am really into yoga, jazz or hiking.
Sometimes you wonder what they are thinking, I am really into poetry of the 15th century, I really resonate with music from satanic band, Blood and Vomit.

But all of this is to say that Paul means something more profound, when he says:
Continue to live your lives in Jesus, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

To be rooted in Jesus means our whole orientation to life, our priorities, our hopes, our decisions, are from being in Christ, not simply being into Christ.

When we live our lives in Christ, our faith extends to every aspect of our life, and the lives around us, the lives of even friends we have yet to meet.

Paul calls us to believe as Jesus has taught us, with all of who we are, all of our strength, all of our hearts, all of our minds, yes with all of our fears, and imperfections.

And when we live in Christ, we are then free from all that has weighted us down, all that keeps us from moving together without fear, without prejudice, without violence.

We are in the midst of the politician convention season. The republicans have just completed theirs and the democrats are just about to begin.  I am always amused at the chants, the rhetoric and the hoopla of the conventions. I have never been a delegate, but what fun it must be to participate in what looks like a party for the party.
But at the same time I am concerned about all the name-calling, the posturing, the anger and frustration that are expressed. And I am clear I hold very little hope in politicians to solve all the problems of the world. Rather I am sure that it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in the world where I place my hope. Paul calls us to put all our trust, all our hope, and all our energy all our lives in Christ.

As the church of Jesus Christ it is also important that as a congregation that we continue to live in Christ.  Yes, we live in a scary time, a time when churches are closing, a time when we know statistically 60% of our neighbors do not go to any church.  We live in a time when despite our best efforts, the world seem to be raging out of control. We live in a time when risking new things is scary because we might fail, we might be hurt, we might be show our imperfection.
In this congregation we have people who disagree passionately about decisions that will impact our future, impact how we reach out, how we welcome, how we worship and how we are in mission.
This is nothing new; Paul was very familiar about the tensions of believers in his churches he was overseeing. This letter today was written to make clear you did not have to be circumcised before becoming a Christian.

That is why Paul urges his people to root themselves in Christ, to be as spiritually vital in practice and thought, so the spirit can work within them, unite them, guide them.

So prayer becomes the cornerstone of any church trying to find the way into the world.  And the prayer we prayed today is the way forward for all of us. The modern translation from Luke is:

Father, hallowed is your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.

Yes we have the freedom to live in Christ, to orientate our whole selves around Jesus, to ask for God’s kingdom to come. But we also need to know that once we do, we have died to our old self. We need to bury our fears, and our doubts, we need to bury our prejudices and our judgments, we need to rise again as Jesus has to new possibilities and new realities.

That kid that took his bat and went home, was not the example I wanted to be in my life. I wanted to stay engaged with my friends even if I was losing. That basketball team that had lost every game had many of my friends on it, and I loved getting together with them to play foosball, and go on trips together.  I played on many teams since then, and have enjoyed the experience of being together, of learning together, of improving together.  The lessons I have learned on the soccer field or on the basketball court have helped me be who I am today. I am reminded of that these days because our new Bishop Grant Hagiya who will become our bishop September 1rst played basketball with me and other clergy for many years before he was elected Bishop.

Sometimes it feels like we live in an “I’m going to take my bat and go home” sort of world, where there is no sense of negotiation, or compromise or understanding of what the other is feeling, thinking or experiencing.  Marriages end because the two cannot talk to each other, grow with one another. Simply opting out rather than working through the tough issues they face is so often the way.  Churches too find that the atmosphere has changed, there is less loyalty to a particular church and when there are disagreements over directions, people leave for another church.

To be a free to follow Jesus means that we will commit ourselves 100% to being his disciple. There is no, “When the going gets tough we can opt out” card. We give ourselves to the Lord whose name we honor with our thoughts, words and actions all of our life. This means we commit to being a part of a community that will often be less than perfect, will have those we disagree with, but we learn to love.

As we move through life, I yearn for companions who I can help support as they wrestle with what it means to walk with Jesus, I yearn for companions who will listen to me and try to understand what I am wrestling, I yearn for those who can provide music that will gladden my heart, for those who are not afraid of difficult discussions and, I yearn to find ways to invite others on this journey, those who may have been left out, those who suffer from loneliness and overwhelmed by suffering.  I look for those who forgive easily, and often instead of keeping score on who has done what when.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Oppression doe not care

Oppression does not care how unfair it is
Oppression does not care whether you are aware or not
Oppression does not care who gets hurt
Oppression does not care about your strenuous objections

Oppression moves through life smothering hope
destroying souls
killing the innocent

And does not care

Even when we shire a light on the terrible consequences
Even when we see positive change
Oppression does not rest, does not back off, does not care

We do or should care in order for oppression to stop
We do or should care to spend our time to reverse oppression
We need to care so long, so hard so the harmful, destructive results of oppression are reversed, held at bay, healed, overcome, erased, objected to ,
So progress is made to release the captives of hate
Our work is never done, oppression does not care for progress or defeat
Oppression lurks around every corner
Ready to claim new victims every as we care.

But care will overcome uncaring every time
So care because lives depend on it, all the time.
SPM 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sermon from April 24, 2016 The Beauty of Diversity

The Beauty of Diversity
Acts 11:1-18
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church

A professor of child psychology lived next door to a family with several children. He had no kids of his own, but enjoyed a warm relationship with his neighbors and their children, though at times he couldn’t stop himself from offering advice and comments about their parenting. In particular, he felt that the parents were sometimes overly strict, and he would admonish them that what their children most needed was unconditional love.
    One day the professor had a new sidewalk poured, and before the concrete dried the neighbor kids came over and made a mess of it with their footprints. The professor was furious and began yelling at the children. Hearing the noise, the parents came out, saying, “Wait a minute professor! You’re always lecturing us about unconditional love! To which he replied, “I love them unconditionally in the abstract, but not in the concrete!”

Today’s scripture is about Peter who is someone who gets in trouble for applying his faith to the concrete situations of life.
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him,
11:3 saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"
In todays’ scripture Peter is called to account from his behavior in baptizing and eating with Cornelius and his household. Peter has been on trial before but now it is his friends who are judging him. They may of supported his teaching and preaching about following Jesus, who welcomes all, but they did not like the concrete application of this message, of taking Baptism to the gentiles.

In his defense Peter explains his reasons for doing so, by explaining the vision he has in a dream. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' 8 But I replied, "By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. Peter has what must have been a nightmare of a middle age Jewish man of the first century in killing and eating animals that Leviticus taught were unclean.
However, God helps him see the beauty of diversity, nothing in the world is unclean because God has created it all.
We too can witness the beauty of God’s creation, in the diversity around us, the multitude of wonders we see each and every day. On Friday, as I when I went to visit Ron, I saw the purple of the Jacaranda trees that line the streets. I have been enjoying the variety of roses that have been in bloom, and how each is a wonder.  Just a little while ago I went to Descanso Gardens and enjoyed the beauty of the God.
God has made a diverse world, and each piece of creation each flower, each tree, each animal; each human is unique and yet so beautiful.
So, we should learn from this diversity Peter learns in his vision, we need to see that all of God’s creation is beautiful, is worthy of delight and wonder. As one popular bumper sticker says: God does not make junk.

Peter wakes up: At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.
So Peter goes into a gentile’s home, even worse, that of a Roman soldier, and when he tells the collected gathering about Christ the Holy Spirit falls upon them. So he feels compelled to baptize them all as God has clearly set this up. The Spirit tells him not to make a distinction between them and us.

It is God working through Peter, and fortunately all who hear the explanation recognize, this and drop their judgment.

Today, as we live in this time and place, we still live with the reality we are living in a racially divided Western World. We hear peppered in our conversations the “us and them” language. We are divided into rich and poor, republican and democrat, white and black, Methodists and Baptists, etc.
Yesterday at the La Crescenta Prayer breakfast, one of the things that Congressman Adam Shift reflected about the speaker for the morning was that when they worked together on a case, they were on opposite sides of the argument, one prosecuting one defending. But at the end of the day, the two could put their work aside and take a moment to have dinner, to find common ground and have a relationship outside of the courtroom. The congressman then paused and said, I miss those days, it seems like today it is hard for him to find colleagues who are willing to cross the aisle and come together in respect to share a meal.
 In the  “Working Preacher” commentary Professor Mitzi Smith (Found at Textweek.com. see below) suggests that behind this division is fear off the other, and in minds of the friends of Peter this fear is fueled by a sense of superiority. There is the fear that this status might be lost if the other is allowed to get too close, and this should not be strange to us as our own history of prejudice condemns us. She says:
An “us and them” mentality should haunt our human sensibilities if we would experience and benefit from our common humanity. We need to allow our biases and stereotypes to be checked. It is imperative that we engage with others different from ourselves, in more than superficial ways. And most of the time it will not happen when “us” keeps our distance from “them.” This construction of others who are different from us as “unclean” based on those differences signifies a belief in our superiority. If we get too close, live too close, interact too much, we risk contamination and becoming unclean too. Sometimes our self-definition is constructed upon differentiating ourselves from others, instead of upon who we are in God.

(Mitzi J. Smith
Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
Ashland Theological Seminary
Detroit, Michigan)

It is difficult to overcome the biases and prejudices we have inherited and made our own. Some are so hidden we ourselves are not even aware of how much the fear and judgment rules our behavior.  The first step then is for us to examine our attitudes and our judgments and make sure that we can say they are the way God wants us to behave. Clearly Peter’s vision that nothing that God makes is unclean is an important vision for us today.

But the only way we begin to put an end to making distinctions between “them” and “us” is to learn to recognize and admit our biases and their impact on human relationships. Racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and other biased behaviors and thinking are not godly; they are motivated by fear of the other and not by love of humanity. “God shows no favoritism” for one human being other another.
(Ibid Mitzi Smith)

Unfortunately history is a sad testimony to how religion has been used to foster misunderstanding and violence between believers.  Even though we hear all those who hear Peter’s explanation understand, we know the early church faced opposition again and again, leaders were rounded up and martyred, communities persecuted, and yet, even then the Jesus movement grew and the Spirit would not be defeated.

But that does not mean we give up and just give in to the fear. To believe in the beauty of diversity, to believe in the power of resurrection means we will strive to transform the world, to a place where fears are healed, prejudices are cast away, and we see each other in this world as God’s creation, each one of us as flawed and sin filled that we are sometimes.

Yesterday was a good morning as the leaders of the La Crescent Community came together to pray, there were many churches represented, many from our local government, and yes those running for office. But it was not a day for politics; it was a day to pray for our youth, our community, our world and how we can come together to make a difference.
As a people of the resurrection we continue to have faith in the God who has made us all, to bring into our souls the renewing presence of the Holy Spirit, which will lead us, help us, to let go of our fears, and learn to celebrate the diversity in our world. And as we celebrate the unique and wonderful talents, gifts, intellect, beliefs of this world, we will see that we dependent upon one another to cooperate to meet the needs of this changing world, to transform lives so all of God’s people, all of God’s creation will be healed and made whole.