Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spiritual Discipline of Community - 10.17

We are in the midst of a series looking at a handful of Spiritual Disciplines. Last week we started by looking at the spiritual discipline of solitude. This week we’re looking at community. How does Community function as a Spiritual Discipline?
Mark encouraged us last week to spend time, not merely alone, but with only God, closing out some distractions to hear his voice.
This week along with reading Making All Things New, Mark also handed me a little book by Henry Nouwen called Out of Solitude. The premise is that when coming out of Solitude - we find Community.
In our lives we need to find time for both solitude and community. We have to find time to be alone with God, yet the very nature of God is relationships. We find many times in scripture that God is love. Love is a very communal thing. Our faith, our spiritual growth relies upon both solitude and community.
We cannot live only within solitude. Even the Monks who live out in a monastery, in solitude – do so with others. They have times in their “set-apart” existence which is still in community.
So, if you’re like me, this clearly brings us to a question… what does it mean to participate in community as a spiritual discipline? We know we’re supposed to meet together. But why? It can’t be simply to perpetuate the system of meeting together. God has to have something deeper in mind. Why does the scripture encourage us to not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing? What is it about being together, as the community, that carries so much weight?  
As we begin, what are some of your thoughts? What are some of the ways you participate in community as a means of spiritual discipline?

Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 6. We will begin reading from verse 28.
28 "Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
A few weeks ago Rhonda was talking to us about the Kingdom of God. She had us imagine we could travel back several hundred years to the times when kingdoms ruled the earth. I imagined the kingdoms clad with round tables, horses and knights. I imagined the big candle pillars, and the loyalty the people felt to their kingdom.
Rhonda said something that morning which has stuck with me and as I’ve thought about this week’s message. And I have come back to it time and time again. She said, if we spent enough time in one of these ancient kingdoms, their lifestyle, their thinking, and their ways would become our ways… if we let them.
She said their lifestyle, their thinking, and their ways would become our ways… This is true isn’t it? When we are inundated in a way of life, steeped in its practices, we begin to pick up its characteristics. I believe this is what it means to practice the discipline of community. We are to step into the kingdom and allow it to wash over us.
This week I picked up the Church of the Nazarene’s magazine Holiness Today. As I flipped through the pages, I found myself intrigued by one article titled: Amazing Grace In Action. It is the true story of a young girl named Kirsten. Listen to her story, and hear the subtleties of solitude and community.

Amazing Grace In Action
In the fall of 1997, I started my freshman year at a Nazarene university on an academic scholarship. Intent on becoming a pediatrician, I was studying pre-med. My goals were high, but not unattainable. I was dating a youth ministries major, and our relationship was progressing nicely. 

However, by late spring the relationship was also unfortunately progressing outside of God's standards. Over spring break I started to feel nauseated and began vomiting nonstop. After two weeks of sickness without any relief, I faced my fear head-on. A simple test revealed something that would change my life forever: I was pregnant.

Within days I was back in my hometown-pregnant, abandoned by my boyfriend, devastated, alone. The gravity of my situation set in quickly, and I knew that I would soon have to make a major decision. 

The options were obvious, but the answer was unclear-was I going keep my child and somehow, as a teen mom without an education, job, or husband, try to raise him? Or, should I give him up for adoption and hope that someday I would be able to see beauty rise from the ashes of my broken heart? 

One evening, after four months of vacillating and trying to come up with an answer on my own, I decided to try something I hadn't done before. I asked God for advice. "Please God! I need to know what the right decision is for this baby. I can't decide on my own." Reaching this place of humility was pivotal for me. Although I was well aware of who God was, before this moment I had never taken responsibility for my own sin and the hurt it caused God.

That evening, I felt God's presence for the first time. His voice was clear and the answer was distinct: I was to give up my son for adoption. Immediately, Jeremiah 29:11-13 came to mind, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Over the next several months I met with an adoption caseworker through a Christian organization and was able to view various profiles and choose a family to adopt my son. After meeting Mike and Patti, I knew without a doubt that they were the right parents for my baby. As much as I wanted to be his mother, I knew that I couldn't fill the role of both a mom and a dad. We decided on an open adoption, in which I would be allowed to visit the child occasionally and exchange phone calls, photos, letters, and gifts.

Through it all, my parents were incredibly supportive. They gave me the space I needed to make my own decision, and prayed that God would guide me to make the best choice for the baby. 

As my due date approached, I recognized how much I had bonded with this growing baby inside of me, and how difficult it would be to stick to my decision once I was cradling him in my arms. Although God had spoken to me clearly in His promise for redemption, the fact remained that I was about to endure the most emotionally challenging season I would ever face. 

I entered the hospital to give birth and again, God's voice spoke clearly, "Kirsten, I sacrificed my Son so that you do not have to live condemned for sacrificing yours. My grace is enough."

On December 18, 1998, at 3:43 A.M., Andrew ("Drew") Paul was born. He had a head of dark brown hair, slate-colored eyes, healthy lungs, and a perfect beating heart. As I held him for the first time, instantly I knew that it would take a miracle for me to ever let him go. The few days I spent with him in the hospital were both excruciating and sweet. Those memories are forever etched in my heart. 

Placing him in Patti's arms was an act of sheer obedience for me. Nothing in me wanted to part with my baby boy. In doing so, I clung to that passage in Jeremiah, and to God's promise to redeem my hurting heart. 

I ran out of the hospital empty-handed, my heart aching with devastation and loss. But amazingly, I had peace the entire time. Peace in knowing I was in God's will. Peace that my heart would someday heal. Peace that my little "Drewbug" was going to be okay. And I had absolute peace and confidence that Mike and Patti would raise Drew to be a godly man.

I barely made it through those first few months of nearly unbearable grief. However, redemption was near, and I was blessed to see that unfold very tangibly. A month after Drew's birth, the women of our church, Centralia, Washington, Church of the Nazarene, gave me a "personal shower." 

Over 100 women came and showered me with love and gifts. I showed them pictures of my time in the hospital with Drew and shared the photo album Patti had given me of them taking Drew home to meet their extended families. The women expressed interest in my situation; many shared their adoption stories. Together, we laughed and cried. Claiming Jeremiah 29:11-13, everyone gathered around me, prayed for healing, and committed my future to God's purposes. 

That evening, healing began as God met me there in my brokenness. Realizing I had a church family that was surrounding me with love and support helped me garner the strength that I needed to press on. 

God, through His presence and by working through the community of faith, gave me a treasured gift-grace. Now, years later, it continues to encourage me and press me towards the very face of God.

Kirsten Stiltner Rose is a full-time home school mom who lives in western Washington with her husband, Micah, their children, Caleb and Caitlyn, and their two young foster children.
Holiness Today, Amazing Grace in Action. (Used with permission by Holiness Today)

I loved reading this story this week. Amazing Grace in Action - what a fantastic description of God’s love for his people. What a fantastic depiction of the community of faith we are called to be a part of.
As I read Kirsten’s story, it truly reminds me that God is a relational being. He is relational and it’s found in the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. It’s found in the creation. It’s found in his love for each of us. I love in Kirsten’s story, four months in, after trying to do things on her own she slowed down, found solitude, and listened to God’s word. Several months later, out of her solitude, out of her hardship, she was able to rejoice as she was embraced with God’s kingdom love. The women of the church supported her, listened to her story, and loved her. They surrounded her in God’s loving arms of his community.

 A few months back, in March, I received a new pair of glasses and the new type of lenses I ordered made me sick. It was similar to the worst migraine I’d ever heard of. I was laid out. I couldn’t open my eyes because it made me dizzy. So Bree brought me a little emergency radio – one you had to crank to have the flashlight work, or crank to hear the radio. I would crank it, listen, and have to keep cranking it every once in a while to keep it running.
That night I listened to an intriguing interview on NPR of a new author sharing background stories about his book. After hearing the interview, I bought the book and read it this summer.
What’s the book? Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, the Frank Meeink Story. Perhaps not the book you were anticipating. But, the story of Frank Meeink's life is a poetic journey of neglect, abandonment, insecurity, hatred, abuse - physical/emotional/drug, addiction & yes even love.
Frankie, as he calls himself, shares the trials he endured as a young boy - emotionally abandoned as a child by strung out druggie parents, he finds a family within the Skin Head movement of the 90's. He found a purpose, a home. Quickly rising to the top of the local leadership he gains national attention for his acts of hate.
Yet, a few years later while in prison - he finds the only friends he truly has are black kids his own age. His hatred begins to crumble before him. His last stereotype, the one held so tightly as truth, broke down when hired to work for a Jew - who paid him well and showed him respect. It is here that Frank realizes over the 20yrs of his life hating the Jews - he'd never actually known or met one. He gets so wrapped up in his hatred of others because of the intense relationships of the community he’s involved in.
When I was in high school, a friend from church made some new friends who quickly and drastically changed his life forever. Brian met a group of guys whom he seemed to connect with naturally. He began spending all of his time with them, drinking beers, smoking out, and cruising for chicks. Within days, like the story of Frank Meeink, Brian thought of his new friends as family. They were tighter than brothers.
Within three weeks of meeting his new family, two guys talked him into driving the car while the others ran into a store and robbed it at gun point.
Just three weeks after making new friends, being inundated in their community, their lifestyle, their thinking and their ways, Brian was arrested, locked up and put in prison. After just three weeks!

These stories remind us of the vulnerability of community. Brian was introduced to the new crew, he was made a part, invited in, and given a purpose. The Skinhead lifestyle, it’s thinking, and ways became Frank’s ways… Kirsten tried to do it on her own for four months, found some solitude, and was wrapped up in God’s community.
When we are inundated in a way of life, steeped in its practices, we begin to pick up its characteristics. I believe this is why it is so important for us to practice the disciple of community. We are to step into the kingdom and allow it to wash over us.
Our text today encourages us to “Seek first his kingdom…” Scripture reminds us, as we reflect upon life to not conform to the pattern of this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We are to be in the world – but not of the world. We are to practice the spiritual discipline of community so that we are inundated with kingdom principles, kingdom practices, and kingdom love. Our engagement in the community of faith is to transform our heart, soul, mind and strength (which can be understood as our actions). It is to transform our lives – that we too may be agents of God’s Amazing Grace in Action. We are to be inundated with kingdom principles, kingdom practices, and kingdom love so that we may be in the world, while being in the Kingdom!

This morning, I’d like for us to participate in one of our communities ancient practices. The very nature of the historical act of breaking bread and drinking from the cup is that it is done in community. The Eucharist, or as we often refer to it, Communion functions as a reminder that we are to be filled with God. Communion functions as a reminder that we are to be physically present in the world. Communion reminds us that there is an Amazing Grace in Action.
As we break bread, and drink from the cup this morning, we have three stations where we will do this together. We will serve one another. It is each of us, as the community, empowering one another, to be filled with God. It is each of us, as the community, strengthening one another to embrace Kingdom principles and practices. It is each of us, everyone of us, whom God eagerly wants to love, embrace and shine though to others. We are God’s hands and feet to this world. We are his disciples, his ambassadors… and it is through this communal journey that we come today to be rejuvenated by his sustenance.
So step to a station and offer the bread to your neighbor saying: “this is Christ’s body, broken for you. Offer them the cup, saying “This is Christ’s blood, which is shed for you.” As you do this, remember the table Jesus sat around with his friends, his disciples, his community. Remember the simplicity of the items, common bread and common juice. Yet, when joined together in the community, they carry weight where the Spirit of God resides. Let’s, in community, break the bread and share the cup of God’s Amazing Grace in action!

To create space for God among us requires the constant recognition of the Spirit of God in each other. Friendship, marriage, family, religious life, and every other form of community, Nouwen says it is solitude greeting solitude, spirit speaking to spirit, and heart calling to heart. Community is where all the forms of life can together become ways to reveal the real presence of God in our midst. Community has little to do with mutual compatibility. It has little to do with similarities in educational background, psychological make-up, or social status. Yes, those things can bring us together, but they can never be the basis for community. True community, life giving community is grounded in God, who calls us together.
Our call as followers of Christ, our call as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, is to be in the world without being of the world. It’s a life in which we are totally transformed by the Spirit of Love. (All things New, Nouwen)
The spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people. And it should be, as each of us is individualistically different, yet when we come together as the community it will play itself out in unique ways. The spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people. Community is a vital aspect of the spiritual life. We, like our heavenly Father, long for deep, emotional, caring relationships where love wins. The spiritual life is one which must be lived in deep caring relationship. It must find times of solitude, but out of solitude comes community. Our Spiritual faith is founded in the relationships of the upside down kingdom, rooted in the spiritual discipline of community. This makes sense doesn't it! It’s why we gather on Sunday’s, midweek, and why we as a faith community created Mosaic – a community coffee house. Our Spiritual faith is founded in the relationships of the upside down kingdom, rooted in the spiritual discipline of community.
As we are talking about Spiritual Disciplines, I guess today’s question simply boils down to: “your heart, soul, mind and strength are going to be transformed, but by what community?”

As you go, participate in the Amazing Grace of community in Action. Listen, engage, go and love.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

thoughts on the emergent church

The dialogue discussion, argument, discourse, position of the Emerging/Emergent Church is an interesting one. It is one to some degree I am involved in. Many consider what we do here in Seattle (in the running of a nonprofit, community coffee house) as emergent. We call it faithful.

I’m not much of a proponent of placing arbitrary labels on things. As there is much discussion of what Emergent entails, I tend to not verbally identify… however, many of my actions might speak differently. As I am involved in a ministry where we actively seek ways to be in the neighborhood, we don’t shy away from social justice and seeing God’s social implications throughout the Scripture. I regularly read books by pastors/ministers/followers of Christ who many (as well as themselves) align with the Emergent Church. 

Perhaps my theological heritage (within the Church of the Nazarene – and the Wesleyan Holiness tradition) provides me with a sense of comfort within the writings of the emergent church… as many emergent church thinkers fall more on the side of Free-will and grace.

Emergent or not, I believe we must continually be in the Scriptures and applying it to our lives. I believe the church must always be an active living body – not stagnant – but seeking ways to connect God’s reconciliation to the disenfranchised of our world. And so, in many ways – I believe the church must always be emerging… as our culture changes – we must be willing to evaluate our current systems and emerge with new authentic ways of sharing God’s love, his ways, as we invite others into his Kingdom.

I believe we must always be faithful to God’s call to our lives. If it means stepping outside our traditional boxes – then we must do so with new practices (or ancient ones) of faith!