Glory, Glory, We’re the Braches!

We have just one Sunday left before Stewardship dedication Sunday. Following the tree metaphor, this Sunday we will be talking about being the branches on Christ’s real vine.

Of course, this is drawing directly from John 15, where Christ says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”

It seems so very appropriate to be using this passage on a communion Sunday, since this is often included in the communion liturgy. As we partake of communion, we are reminded that we are partaking of the body and blood of Christ, and indeed, we become the body of Christ. This keeps so nicely with the “real vine” imagery in so many ways!

It also comes as a strong reminder to us, amidst a stewardship season. When we partake of the Eucharist (in Greek literally “Thanksgiving” meal), we are committing ourselves to becoming Christ’s body in the world—to taking up our call to be Christ’s branches out in the world. In a very real way, we are committing to be as giving of ourselves, as Christ was of his own body for us. It means that just like our “real vine” we intend to be branches that produce the fruit of real life.

With all of these wonderful connections to communion, stewardship, thanksgiving, and real life, it seems that there could be no better scripture to reflect on this week. So how about you? How are you living out your call as a branch from Christ? What kind of fruit have you been producing? Are you ready to give of yourself in the same way that Christ gave of himself?

Holy Laughter

I wanted to take a moment of privilege to applaud your session and the other lay leaders of this church. It isn’t said often enough, but those people are doing a remarkable job! At session last night, I couldn’t help but reflect on how thankful I am for our leaders! They work tirelessly to make sure that our church remains faithful to God’s calling to serve.

I also want to add some encouragement to you. Last year, you made some big decisions about how we should proceed as a church in the New Beginnings program. To say that we wanted to recommit ourselves to global mission, Children and Families, our Neighborhood, and a different way of looking at evangelism is courageous. I can also see that you are putting your money where your mouth is by all of the new endeavors you have taken on. There certainly is a growing children’s ministry, a more outward focus on our neighborhood, and a global focus, and in doing those three things, evangelism is being done as well.

Let me also add one other note of encouragement. I know that the fall is always so busy for all of us—and not just in the life of the church, but in all walks of life! Not only that, but with news of violence in the Middle East, threats from Russia, school shootings, and a presidential political season, there is serious tension and anxiety in the air all around us. This has been a tough season, but hang in there! Amidst all of that, the world needs the kind of hope that is born out by people of faith responding to God’s call—even amidst the busy-ness or the fear. Our community needs you! Our world needs you! God needs you!

Remember, in the coming weeks, we have a lot going on, but these are ways that we can make a difference in our community amidst the troubling times we live in. Help make Halloween a wonderfully celebrative escape for people in our neighborhood by signing up to help with Trunk or Treat! Come celebrate with John and Cheryl! In a month come celebrate with Jan Butin! Take on providing a youth group lunch or ask to be a part of the wonderful community of leaders who are teaching our children Godly Play! Come walk in the CROP walk to fight world hunger!

There are so many ways in which you can make a difference, and so many ways in which you DO make a difference! Thank You!

So a few weeks ago, Tiff and I were functioning on zero sleep because of sick kiddos, we had too much to do at work, had numerous family in town and staying at our house, and had sort of hit the wall. After we had the kids down for bed (which we knew would be short lived), we just looked at each other and started laughing. It had all just become too much! However, that minute or two of laughter was enough to lighten our spirits and re-energize us for the road ahead. I am sure we aren’t the only ones hitting that point these days! Many of you have told me just how overwhelmed you are feeling lately. In the spirit of that moment of laughter amidst the overwhelmed, I thought this video might be helpful. Enjoy! (Thanks to Susan Roberts’ sister Lori for the inspiration!)

Random Infectious Subway Laughter

Ahem…That’s Wise to You!

There is one particular line in this week’s psalm that ought to stick out to the modern day church, “They will bear fruit even when old and gray; they will remain lush and fresh.” Let’s face it, through out much of the mainline church, we have the blessing of many wise and experienced adults in our midst (I hope I am walking that fine age line to your liking!) Unfortunately, this reality is often bemoaned as a sign of an unhealthy modern church. I think we really do miss an opportunity when that is the only way we envision what it means that our churches have an abundance of gray.

At the risk of sounding like the young whipper snapper who doesn’t know what he is talking about, “old and gray” also really does mean wisdom. However, far too often our culture devalues that kind of wisdom in favor of “information.” In our day and age, it is fairly simple to google something and come up with an answer, but simply having facts is nothing compared to the benefits of real wisdom. Wisdom can’t be googled, it can only come from experience and life. Wisdom also needs to be shared!

One of the problems has been the devaluing of such wisdom, but another of the problems is devaluing wise people. I can’t tell you how often I have heard something along the lines of, “I served my time in church leadership when I was younger, now it is someone else’s turn.” Perhaps…but if we are to take the wisdom of this psalm seriously, there is something to be said about the kind of fruit that only the wisdom that comes with old and gray can bring.

Covenant is certainly blessed in that next year it will have 5 people in their 20’s and 30’s serving on session (Including your pastor). That reality is almost unheard of in this day and age! But, let us never forget the many gifts and blessings that come from our “old and gray” members (those are the psalmist’s words, not mine!).

You see, the real blessing of a church is when we are all bringing our fruit to bear—whatever our age! We deeply need the gifts of all of our various generations. I fear sometimes that since we are blessed with youthful leaders, we sometimes neglect the celebration of our “old and gray,” leaders as well. Hopefully, last week gave you some time to think about some of those leaders that came before, but don’t limit that celebration to those who have gone on to the church triumphant—make sure to thank some of our wisest leaders who are with us now!

I hope that our younger church family members will take the time to appreciate our older members. I also hope that our older members will take the time to appreciate just how many gifts they have to give. Let us not forget the psalmist’s words: “They will bear fruit even when old and gray; they will remain lush and fresh in order to proclaim: ‘The LORD is righteous. He’s my rock. There’s nothing unrighteous in him.’”

Don’t Mess with Mama!

This Sunday, Catherine Robinson will be preaching on Psalm 91, a powerful psalm about trusting in God. The other thing that underlies what is happening in this psalm that most people don’t catch is just how feminine the imagery for God is. There are lots of little hints, but they are only apparent in the original Hebrew.

First of all, the name used for God in this case is, “El Shaddai.” Not only is this a very popular Amy Grant song, but it is also a very feminine reference to God. “El” in Hebrew means, “God,” and Shaddai roughly translates “of the Mountains.” Now, because the history of translation has typically relied on old men to do the translating, this metaphor has often been interpreted to be “Almighty,” which is how most English translations handle the word. However, if you look at other poetic uses of “Shaddai,” it is often linked with the feminine—specifically it is poetic language meant to invoke images of the female anatomy–if you catch my drift. One thing we always have to remember about Hebrew writing is just how poetic it is—far more poetic than English! This kind of evocative writing is used all the time, however, the old men who have historically translated these passages either tried to avoid the allusion to women, or weren’t nearly as poetically inclined.
Secondly, there is the feminine imagery of God as Mama Eagle sheltering her chicks with her pinions. That ought to be straightforward enough.Third, another thing we miss because we don’t understand the interplay between Hebrew and Babylonian culture is the other references to “terrors at night,” or “sickness that prowls in the dark.” In the Babylonian pantheon of gods, goddesses and demons (which the Israelites lived with on a daily basis), these are specific references to female demonesses or “Lilith,” in the Hebrew adoption of the mythology. The Hebrew word this late night period is  “Lilah,” and refers to the female demon of the night (Sorry Lillith Fair, it wasn’t just about the medieval story about Adam’s first wife, she was a demon first–perhaps because old men were scared of the sacred feminine?). One thing we don’t always realize, is that the Israelites were a fairly superstitious bunch, and often had personifications of things like the evil that might lead someone to dying in their sleep. In this case a feminine evil! Not only that, but often times, the superstitious elements of the Israelite culture were part of a woman’s realm. Take a look at the book, Rav Hisda’s Daughter if you are interested in an historical fiction that deals nicely with these realities. It is no accident that the reference in this passage is even focused on feminine forms of evil!

Finally, the Hebrew word in verse 14 (khashaq) that is translated as love or devotion is not used very often. When it is used to describe a relationship, it is often about a man’s desire for a woman. In this case, it is about our desire for God.

The point of all this is that there is plenty of feminine imagery about God in our scriptures, but we have to stop depending on old men to tell us what the scriptures mean. Let’s face it, old men have had a history of translating our scriptures to only reflect the values of old men. Of course, that means those are the values that are handed down as “Christian,” values, even though there is a lot more to it than that!

The other problem this addresses is our history of seeing the God of the Old Testament as being violent, brutish and downright nasty. That is a very selective reading of the Hebrew Bible. There are plenty of texts like this one that reflect the loving, motherly, nurturing, caring, protecting God. God is, more than once, referred to as the Mama bear or Mama Eagle that will go after those that would threaten her children. This is truly powerful and wonderful imagery that we miss out on because old men tend to remake God in their own image.

Finally, take a moment for a though experiment: what would the world look like if we did have this broader and deeper understanding of God? What would our households look like if we didn’t attach masculinity to God? What would our cities look like? What would foreign affairs and global conflict look like? This is exactly why theology is important—I would argue a drastically different view of God that is deeper and wider and less attached to male values of power and strength would mean a very different culture! I thought it was telling when StephenColbert reflected on hearing a female priest preside at communion and hearing a female voice say, “This is my body broken for you.” God is so much bigger than the petty, male war-mongerer that we have made her out to be in the Hebrew Bible.

Read Psalm 91 again, and this time, envision God as fierce Mama protector. How does this change your understanding of God and of scripture? How does this effect your faith?