July 21, 2018

Worship

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PUCC Holy Week Devotion – Tuesday, March 27, 2018

 
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. – James 1:5

 

The Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr
 
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (/ˈraɪnhoʊld ˈniːbʊər/; June 21, 1892 – June 1, 1971) was an American theologianethicist, commentator on politics and public affairs, and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. Niebuhr was one of America’s leading public intellectuals for several decades of the 20th century and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. A public theologian, he wrote and spoke frequently about the intersection of religion, politics, and public policy, with his most influential books including Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man, the second of which Modern Library ranked one of the top 20 nonfiction books of the twentieth century. Andrew Bacevich labelled Niebuhr’s book The Irony of American History “the most important book ever written on U.S. foreign policy.” Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described Niebuhr as “the most influential American theologian of the 20th century” and Time posthumously called Niebuhr “the greatest Protestant theologian in America since Jonathan Edwards.”
 
Reinhold Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, the son of German immigrants Gustav Niebuhr, and Lydia (née Hosto). His father was a German Evangelical pastor; his denomination was the American branch of the established Prussian Church Union in Germany. It is now part of the United Church of Christ. The family spoke German at home. His brother H. Richard Niebuhr also became a famous theological ethicist, and his sister Hulda Niebuhr became a divinity professor in Chicago. The Niebuhr family moved to Lincoln, Illinois, in 1902 when Gustav Niebuhr became pastor of Lincoln’s St. John’s German Evangelical Synod church. Reinhold Niebuhr first served as pastor of a church when he served from April to September 1913 as interim minister of St. John’s following his father’s death.
 
Niebuhr attended Elmhurst College (also part of our UCC) in Illinois and graduated in 1910. He studied at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri, where, as he admitted, he was deeply influenced by Samuel D. Press in “biblical and systematic subjects”, and Yale Divinity School, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1914 and a Master of Arts degree the following year. He always regretted not taking a doctorate. He said that Yale gave him intellectual liberation from the localism of his German-American upbringing.
 
In 1931 Niebuhr married Ursula Keppel-Compton. She was a member of the Church of England and was educated at Oxford University in theology and history. She met Niebuhr while studying for her master’s degree at Union Theological Seminary. For many years, she was on faculty at Barnard College (the women’s college of Columbia University) where she helped establish and then chaired the religious studies department. The Niebuhrs had two children, Christopher Niebuhr and Elisabeth Niebuhr Sifton. Ursula Niebuhr left evidence in her professional papers at the Library of Congress showing that she co-authored some of her husband’s later writings.
 
Starting as a minister with working-class sympathies in the 1920s and sharing with many other ministers a commitment to pacifism and socialism, his thinking evolved during the 1930s to neo-orthodox realist theology as he developed the philosophical perspective known as Christian realism. He attacked utopianism as ineffectual for dealing with reality, writing in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Niebuhr’s realism deepened after 1945 and led him to support American efforts to confront Soviet communism around the world. A powerful speaker, he was one of the most influential thinkers of the 1940s and 1950s in public affairs. Niebuhr battled with religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of the contradictions of human nature and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with the religious conservatives over what he viewed as their naïve view of scripture and their narrow definition of “true religion”. During this time he was viewed by many as the intellectual rival of John Dewey.
 
Niebuhr’s contributions to political philosophy include utilizing the resources of theology to argue for political realism. His work has also significantly influenced international relations theory, leading many scholars to move away from idealism and embrace realism. A large number of scholars, including political scientists, political historians, and theologians, have noted his influence on their thinking. Aside from academics, numerous politicians, and activists such as former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, and Jimmy Carter; Thomas EdisonMyles HortonMartin Luther King Jr.Hillary ClintonHubert Humphrey, Dean AchesonJames ComeyMadeleine Albright, and John McCain have also cited his influence on their thought. Recent years have seen a renewed interest in Niebuhr’s work, in part because of Obama’s stated admiration for Niebuhr. In 2017, PBS released a documentary on Niebuhr, titled An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story.
 
Aside from his political commentary, Niebuhr is also known for having composed The Serenity Prayer, a widely-recited prayer which was popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous. Niebuhr was also one of the founders of both Americans for Democratic Action and the International Rescue Committee and also spent time at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was also the brother of another prominent theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr.
 
Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.Amen.
 

PUCC Holy Week Devotion – Monday, March 26, 2018

 

I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. – John 16:12
 
6 Reasons Why Love Made Me A Progressive Christian
by Matthew A. Boswell – pastor of Camas Friends Church, a Christ-centered Quaker Meeting in Cams, WA.
I am a progressive Christian. I did not choose this, like selecting which kind of ice cream my wife is most in the mood for (as long as it has chocolate but no nuts, I am probably safe). It is probably more accurate to say I grew into it.
 
I have always been a follower of Jesus. I suspect I always will be. But the way I understand the nature of that “following” has evolved.
In short, I am a progressive Christian because of Love. I think you can also have Love and not come to think as I have. But I think that Love has been the driving force behind every “progressive shift” in my spirituality. Six examples come to mind:
  1. The shift from exclusive to inclusive salvation. I actually don’t think about universal reconciliation-my unoriginal belief that if any of us are saved for eternity, all of us are saved for eternity-all that much these days. I’m not really as concerned with who is or isn’t “saved” as much as how we can better love our neighbors.
But the dividing line between eternal blessedness and damnation increasingly felt unloving, no matter how many ways I heard it justified (“God’s ways are mysterious” or “God loves us by giving us free will”).
I now believe two things: 1) belief in Jesus doesn’t save you, God’s love does; and 2) I do not receive eternal life because God preferred me or because I chose God because A) I don’t believe God’s love is preferential and B) I believe I am only partially responsible for my choices, sharing such responsibility with, for example, my family, my social influences, and plain luck.
I follow Jesus because this is the truth as I’ve experienced it. I don’t believe the consequences of your different beliefs warrant a different ultimate fate. We’re in this together, no matter our present understanding of “this.”
  1. The shift in my understanding of the Bible. I strongly resist verse wars-where we each pick the verses which most support our point and, typically, don’t convince one another of anything. I think it reflects a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. I don’t believe the Bible is a constitution to be taken literally. Of course, who does this? Even conservatives who recoil at progressives’ use of the Bible actually demonstrate a selective literalism, overemphasizing what conveniently supports their present beliefs and values.
Rather, the Bible is a record of numerous individuals and communities’ experiences with God. They encountered God and wrote about it. Now we can read about their very valid experiences of God understood within the limitations not only of their own historical-social context but their own personal biases.
We don’t have to accept that God slaughters others because “he” is angry (nor do we have to accept that God is masculine). We can instead recognize that people often resort to violence and assume God is on their side to feel at ease with such violence and because we are biased toward “our own.”
We don’t have to accept that women should not be authoritative. We can instead recognize that someone like Paul was either A) prejudiced against women or B) concerned for the survival of early Christian churches and so had to carefully navigate between maintaining the status quo or rejecting it.
Where the Bible supports Love, I follow it. Where it conflicts with Love, as I understand it, I reject it. Where the Bible calls into question my present understanding and character, I hope I have the wisdom to see it and the courage to act upon what I see.
  1. The shift in my view of sexuality and gender. God’s “design” is love. Love respects, challenges, cares, endures, and liberates. Since I believe the greatest commandment is love, I “read” every other situation or possible moral conundrum as it relates to love. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and every other sexual or gender identity in themselves are not only not bad: they are good.
This issue also exemplifies how conservatives can misjudge themselves when claiming the Bible as their ultimate authority in condemning LGBTQ+ identity and sexuality. No, the Bible is not your ultimate authority. It is a secondary (if that high) authority that affirms your primary authority: your present, right-in-this-moment combination of your likes and dislikes, worldview, hopes and fears, knowledge, biases and preferences, sense of right and wrong, and conglomeration of lived experiences.
You know what ultimately “saved” me from my prejudice toward LGBTQ+ persons, more than any philosophical or scientific or biblical argument? People. Like, actually having friends who are LGBTQ+. Turns out they are just like me! Their love is really love-not selfish, twisted, or God-hating.
Real people mess with your theology. And that’s how it should be. Theology can help, but it can also become a blinding idol, distracting us from really loving others.
  1. The shift in the importance of social concerns. In fairness, there are a lot of socially conscious conservative Christians, acting to alleviate poverty, racism, environmental degradation, et al. But many of them know they are in the minority, fighting not just for these good causes but perhaps also to redeem the conservative “brand.”
I have found, however, that progressive Christian communities more naturally nurture our human impulse to help other people. I think there are many reasons for this. It could be that progressives have abandoned the “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through” mentality ingrained in their minds from their youth and have come to see that, no, God cares very deeply about this world. And so should we.
There’s a propensity toward resignation to the status quo in conservatives that tends to turn people inward and upward-toward our personal, private relationship with God and/or toward the next life. Progressive Christians can believe faith is both personal and eternal but also communal, social, and ecological.
We are stewards of the earth and all its forms of life. There’s no room for neglecting the planet and ignoring the impact our lifestyles have on the earth. There’s no room for saying “the poor will always be with you” as though Jesus meant we should not work to eradicate poverty. There’s no room for accepting racial and gender inequities and saying with a shrug “must be God’s plan” or anything remotely like it.
Stewardship means taking care of what God has given us. Does your “care” for your children involve a total indifference to their needs, knowing that it doesn’t matter what they become as long as they know God loves them? Of course not, unless you’re the worst! Our love, while it will always (naturally) be strongest for those closest to us, should extend to all creation.
  1. The shift to a welcoming rather than defensive posture toward science. I grew up assuming evolution was a farce, a view supported by well-meaning and kind-hearted spiritual mentors who wanted to build my confidence in the truth of the Christian faith. It was energizing for a time-learning how to defend my faith against doubters and persecutors!
Except, I’ve had a relatively privileged life, and most of the religious persecution I received was in my mind and vastly over-exaggerated. Most people accept my Christian faith, as long as I’m not a jerk about it. I increasingly grew out of this defensiveness, which for some conservatives extends beyond a fear of science: “they’re taking away our prayer in schools! They’re taking away our marriage.”
Progressive Christianity is not anxious about what “they are taking away” or fixated on my religious freedom; it is anxious about the fact that someone will die tonight because she either has no food, no shelter, no caring persons in her life, or because her community and society do not have “space” for or value her.
As for science, to say what has been said countless times: the Bible is not a science book! No science should be based off of anything in the Bible. Science should be based on what actual, real scientists are doing. Moses was not a scientist. Jesus was not a scientist.
Science is, of course, provisional. Paradigms change, understanding grows. But I can’t imagine we will ever discover something about the galaxies or the neurons in our brains that threatens my belief in a very real love of a very real God.
I think Christians would do well to recognize their religious tradition in the same way scientists do: as an ever-developing story, listening to and drawing upon the past but creatively building upon it. We have nothing to fear.
  1. The shift to an emphasis on practice over doctrine. I think this is why my Quaker meeting (our name for a local congregation) works as well as it does. Our meeting is, on the whole, progressive, but it’s not as simple as that. We actually have a range of theologies among us, from people who sound more like traditional evangelicals to others who sound more like Unitarians or even agnostics. What binds us together is not a particular doctrine on which everyone signs off.
What binds us are our shared practices. We are Christ-centered, but there are no boundaries that you must cross to suddenly be “in.” We practice listening-to God, to Christ as our present teacher, and to one another. We practice corporate discernment in our decision-making, valuing unity and dialogue over voting or argumentation. We practice silence, recognizing the value of simplicity in worship and the need to counter the constant wall of sound in our day-to-day lives. We practice justice, knowing that love not expressed practically in our community is not really love at all but a cheap imitation of it.
We may follow Jesus and worship God, but have spacious understandings of what it means to do these things “rightly.” What matters most is practicing love for one another.
This is also why I, and many others, welcome the spiritual guidance of Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christian spiritualities. What most interests me is not what to think about God but how to experience and live out the love of God. If Muslims and Buddhists can help me in my journey of love, then they are my allies. Love is not automatically “tainted” if it’s not explicitly Christian love. Love, if it is Love, is Love.
I cannot speak to where your experience of God’s love has taken you theologically, but I can speak to my own. I am not defensive about my theology, but do seek to defend the way of Love by walking it. Even though it is, at times, a rather bumbling walk.
Prayer: Holy One, help me to keep learning about you and making sense of my faith. Amen.

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

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Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.’ – Matthew 21:1b-2
 

A Palm Sunday poem, prayer and pondering to challenge our minds as we discern the meaning of this day…
 
The poem 
 
The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
 
When fishes flew and forests walked
      And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
      Then surely I was born.
 
With monstrous head and sickening cry
      And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
      On all four-footed things.
 
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
     Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me:  I am dumb,
     I keep my secret still.
 
Fools!  For I also had my hour;
     One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
     And palms before my feet.
 
**
 
The prayer 

A Prayer for Palm Sunday by John W. Vest
 
God of transformation,
we are reminded this day
that Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem
was more than a show,
more than a simple provocation,
more than the beginning of a cute celebration.
It was a signal that things are changing,
an unmistakably potent message
to the powers that be
that the world as we know it
is becoming the world as it should be.
It was a radical act of defiance
directed against those in his day
who wielded power
through violence, oppression, and tyranny.
It is no less radical, and no less tame,
for those who do the same today.
This simple ride reminds us-
and tells the whole world-
that you are indeed coming to make all things new.
You are coming to turn weapons of war
into instruments of peace.
You are coming to release those
who find themselves in all manners of bondage:
chains of injustice;
chains of addiction;
chains of conformity and apathy.
You are coming to provide for the poor:
food for the hungry
and shelter for the homeless.
You are coming to assure the dignity and equality
of all who are marginalized or oppressed.
You are coming to end violence and divisions,
to provide safe communities
and opportunities for education.
You are coming to offer healing and wholeness,
comfort, consolation, and hope.
You are coming to transform all that we know.
You are coming to save us.
But like humble Jesus riding into town on a lowly colt,
you aren’t coming in grandeur,
you aren’t coming with thunder and lightning,
you aren’t making an epic entrance.
You’re coming through the mystery of love incarnate,
through your church empowered by your Spirit,
through lives transformed and inspired,
through ordinary people like us,
blessed by you to do extraordinary things.
Come, gracious God
into a world that longs for change,
a world that needs your love,
a world full of your own children,
a world ripe with hope and potential.
Blessed are those who come in your name, O God.
We have come.
We will go.
And now we pray-we pray for your coming kingdom
emerging all around us.
Amen.
        

**

The pondering 
 
Jesus’ Subversive Donkey RideA Progressive Christian Lectionary Commentary for Palm Sundaby Carl Gregg

                                                                                                                                  
In Mark’s fast-paced style, we see three different days of Holy Week in chapter 11 alone. The first eleven verses are what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. But in verse 12, we see a clue (the words, ‘On the following day’), which indicate that the events regarding the fig tree and the aggression against the Temple happened the next day. Monday continues through Mark 11:19, where we read that, ‘when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.’ And in verse 20, Mark lets us know that Tuesday has arrived when he describes the second encounter with the fig tree as happening, ‘In the morning.’

Although Holy Week liturgies have tended to focus on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Holy Friday, and Easter Sunday, the events of “Holy Tuesday” are much more extensively described in Mark than any of the other days. All total, Mark devotes 115 verses to the Tuesday of Jesus’ last week, a statistic which is helpful to keep in mind when considering the relatively paltry eleven verses Mark affords to Palm Sunday. And Mark spends more than half of those eleven verses detailing the odd procurement of Jesus’ donkey.

Anyone familiar with the book of Zechariah would immediately recognize why Mark spent so many precious verses on the simple act of getting the donkey. Zechariah 9:9 says, ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.’
 
Many commentators have speculated that Mark emphasizes the details of retrieving the donkey to give his readers time to have “ears to hear” the allusion to Zechariah’s prophecy: the one who comes riding on a donkey will nonviolently bring peace.

This connection between Zechariah and Mark is not merely the speculation of modern scholars. Remember that both Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark on their desks when they wrote their respective Gospels a decade later. And when Matthew copied Mark’s account of Palm Sunday, he adds in Matthew 21:4 that, ‘This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet.’ Then Matthew quotes Zechariah to make clear Mark’s allusion.

But here’s where the story gets strange. Whereas Mark simply has Jesus riding a donkey colt, Matthew curiously switches into the plural. In Matthew 21:6-7 if you read closely, you’ll notice that it says, ‘The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.’ Matthew’s version sounds like Jesus rode in on both beasts at the same time, straddling two animals like a circus act.

In Matthew’s defense, Zechariah said that the prophesied one would come ‘on donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ But any Hebrew scholar would tell you that Zechariah was simply speaking poetically using Semitic parallelism, which was commonly used to describe the same object in two different ways. But Matthew, reading the Greek translation of Zechariah (in the Septuagint), may have misread the prophet as speaking literally, and then changed Mark’s account to conform to Matthew’s understanding of Zechariah’s prophecy. In other words, many scholars have maintained that Matthew must have thought, “If Zechariah said two animals, then Jesus must have ridden two animals no matter how odd that seems.”

This alteration is one of those cases that some scholars gleefully point out to show inconsistencies in the Bible. My goal is not to claim that the Bible is inerrant. Rather, the more I study the Bible, the more I am convinced not that the biblical writers were infallible or perfect, but that the biblical authors are operating at a much more sophisticated and challenging level than is typically recognized today.
The historical Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan has sought to debunk the argument that Matthew was a scriptural literalist who altered Mark’s story to the absurd length of Jesus riding in on two animals at the same time to conform to Matthew’s misreading of Zechariah. Crossan proposes what I believe to be a much more compelling interpretation of Matthew. Crossan writes that Matthew [my emphasis]: wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, and that Jesus rides “them” in the sense of having them both as part of his demonstration’s highly visible symbolism. In other words, Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.
 
I find Crossan’s reading compelling because Jesus riding an unmilitary mount matches the rest of the Zechariah prophecy – that the one who comes riding on a humble donkey into Jerusalem will nonviolently bring peace. Remember the language from Zechariah about ‘cutting off the chariot, war horse, and bow into to command peace.’

This interpretation is even more convincing when you consider that historically triumphal entries into Jerusalem would have been exactly the opposite of what Mark, Matthew, and Zechariah described. The triumphant military leader would not have come nonviolently on a humble donkey to cut off the chariot, war horse, and bow; but would have come riding a chariot and war horse and wielding a bow or other weapons.
 
Crossan notes that in 332 BCE, three centuries before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance, Alexander the Great, having conquered “Tyre and Gaza after terrible sieges . . . Jerusalem opened its gate without a fight.” And we can “Imagine the victorious Alexander entering Jerusalem on his famous war-horse, the black stallion Bucephalus.”

Similarly, Crossan highlights that the custom likely would have been for Pilate to make a similarly militaristic triumphal entry to Jerusalem – with war horse, chariot, and weapons – each year in the days before Passover to remind the pilgrims that Rome was in charge. Such a demonstration would have been especially pertinent at Passover since Passover was explicitly a celebration of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Thus, Jesus’ subversive donkey ride reminded all those waving Palm branches that Rome was the new Egypt, and the Emperor was the new Pharaoh.

In many ways the lampooning and satire are the easier part. The next day, Jesus continued the trajectory that had begun with his unusual entry to Jerusalem when he overturned the tables in the Temple to interrupt, if only briefly, business as usual. As indicated by the odd symbolism of the fig tree, Jesus’ issue was that the current religious and political establishment, like the troublesome fig tree, was not bearing fruit.

Suddenly, we find Jesus making broad, increasingly public and controversial demonstrations in the big city of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover (the height of the pilgrimage season) in contrast to merely making controversial teachings in the small towns and villages around Galilee. I do not think that Jesus wanted to die, but his passion for justice and his anger at injustice – a passion and anger he inherited from the Hebrew prophets before him – led him to take increasingly large risks to show the contrast between the status quo (where Herod was king) and the kingdom of God. These risky acts of nonviolent activism led directly to Jesus’ tragic martyrdom.

This account is not to say that following Jesus necessarily means we will die a tragic death. There are those like St. Francis of Assisi, Clarence Jordan, and Dorothy Day who followed Jesus in radical, controversial ways and died of old age. But there are also those like Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi who – like Jesus – were killed when they risked following Jesus’ way. Thus [my emphasis]: Rosa Parks is an imitator of Christ, not because she suffered for taking her stand (or keeping her seat, in her case), but because she had the courage to believe in her own dignity and fought for it in spite of the conflict that resulted. Nelson Mandela is an imitator of Christ, not because he suffered in prison, but because he held out for peace and justice, and led a nation to resurrection. In each case it is not the suffering that is redemptive, but the courage to pursue justice in the face of pain and evil.
 
This Holy Week, may Mark’s story of Jesus continues to haunt us, to challenge us, and to inspire us as we discern how God is calling us – today, in our time and place – to follow the Jesus’ risky way of nonviolent activism, loving-kindness, and gracious compassion.

Notes:
1 For Crossan’s interpretation of Palm Sunday, I am drawing from the study guide he wrote to accompany the 2009 DVD series First Light: Jesus and the Kingdom. However, for a less-expensive alternative to buying the DVDs, I recommend his book co-written with Marcus Borg, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, which, however, was published in 2006 and does not include Crossan’s interpretation of Matthew 21 about the female donkey and coal.
2 “Rosa Parks is an imitator of Christ” – see John R. Mabry, Crisis & Communion: The Remythologization of the Eucharist – Past, Present, and Future (Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2005), 129.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @carlgregg 

            

Prayer:  Holy One, help me to be open to the words and wonders of today. Amen.  

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
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PUCC Lenten Devotion – Saturday, March 24, 2018

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Love is a Spirit by Gary Robert Ballard

 
We had a prayer request from a young girl that impacted my heart. Her request was for us to pray that her mother would tell her she loved her. I thought how tragic, how sad, and how typical of so many hurting people in the world today. This is especially common in the more modernized countries of the world. It seems that the more developed a nation is the more focused the people become on the cares of this world and the less time they have for love. When visiting some squatters in a Philippine garbage dump I observed that they were surprisingly much happier than very wealthy people in the US were. They did not have much, but they had love, and that is the most important thing of all that we can ever have or achieve.

God has created every human being in God’s own image, which means that we are created to love. We are created to need love and we are created to give love. Most people do not know what love is. As people become more “world focused” they seem to develop a distorted view about what love is.

The Bible tells us that “God is Love”, and the Bible also says that God is Spirit, that means true Love is a Spirit, the Holy Spirit. But of course there are counterfeit forms of what people call love.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit describe true Love. 

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

The first fruit of the Spirit is Love and all of the other fruits are characteristics of Love.

Love is more than a feeling, it is more than an experience, it is the manifested presence of God, the glory of God. Remember God is Love, so when you experience true Love you are experiencing God’s glorious presence. Notice the second fruit is joy, love is the ultimate joy that can be experienced. 

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalms 16:11

The third fruit listed is peace. Just as fear is a spirit, so also Love is a Spirit of power and peace. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1:7

Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 6:23

Finally, siblings, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. – 2 Corinthians 13:11

The other six fruits of the Spirit all have to do with actions of Love and the power of Love… patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
All of the fruits of the Spirit are the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, which is the manifestation of God’s love in our own life and in the life of community.

Prayer: Holy One, help us to be fruity in the ways we live and love. Amen.

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Friday, March 23, 2018

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All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but God weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2

It’s day 6,350 wearing my nametag… I am the World Record Holder with Ripley’s Believe it or Not. – Scott Ginsberg

 
Last Sunday we talked a bit about Scott. He was born/raised in St Louis — graduated from Parkway North High in 1998; Miami University in Ohio in 2002. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Scott has been wearing a nametag since the winter of 2001. He began wearing a nametag as an experiment and decided to wear it forever when he realized how effective it was in building community. He wrote and published his first book, HELLO, my name is Scott: Wearing Nametags for a Friendlier Society in early 2003 and now works as an author and motivational speaker. His program is entitled Building Front Porches.
 
Scott said, “What would happen if I started wearing a nametag all the time? Would people be friendlier? Would people think I just came from a convention? Would people stare at me with confused looks on their faces while ridiculing me and assume that I was a complete idiot. Yes. 
HELLO, my name is Scott! I wear a nametag. I wear it all day, every day wherever I go. Truthfully, it all started as an experiment a few years ago, but I never suspected that something simple like wearing a nametag would change my life, as well as the lives of everyone around me. Throughout this book, you will find out what happens to me on a daily basis as a result of wearing a nametag. Over the years, I have found the responses I get from people to be quite interesting. More importantly, however, you will find that making this world a friendlier place is something you can easily do by simply building a great “front porch” of your own. The answer isn’t nametags for everyone, but rather for everyone to find a way that best suits them! Changing this world is easier than you think, you just have to be willing to take that first pivotal step to reach out and increase friendliness!”
 
Another project of Scott’s is Tunnel of Love.

[Full disclosure from Kevin: I have not yet watched this video… I just came across it when I was reading more about Scott…. You may want to watch it and tell me what you think.]
 
Tunnel of Love is a feature length documentary about the intersection of identity, belonging and creativity. Watch the entire movie for free at http://www.tunneloflovedoc.com/ 
 
It’s a look at the transformative power of live music, both on the audience and the performer. It’s an homage the sonic potential of natural acoustics. And it’s a playful narrative about two lovers in the process of changing their pronouns.
 
Through live performances, unexpected creative moments of conception and behind the scenes storytelling, the film takes you on a heartfelt journey about what it means to be an artist, a romantic and an opportunist.
 
The movie was filmed at The Meadowport Arch in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. It’s the most breathtaking architectural and sonic marvel ever.
 

What Fans Are Saying…

“Ginsberg inspires audiences with acts of chutzpah and quirky individualism.” – Inc Magazine
 
“A story about the gentle but dramatic transition into caring more about the beauty of ‘the we’ than any other success imagined as separate entities.” – Hopeful World
 
“Ambient. Romantic. Inspiring.” – Scott’s Mom

 

Prayer:  Holy One,  help me to be inspired and an inspiration in any number of ways. Amen.  

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Thursday, March 22, 2018

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Love Lifted Me by Marchae Grair

 
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. – Psalm 143:8

A minister at my childhood church used to start many of his sermons with a song called “Love Lifted Me.” The main chorus repeated, “Love lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, Love lifted me . . . .”

I think I’m finally starting to get the concept.

I am falling in love for the first time.

I’m not just doodling hearts and initials on a notebook. I’m not just changing a Facebook status to see how many likes I can get and how many curiosities I can pique.

No, this time’s different.

This time, there’s safety in what I know. This time, there’s faith beyond what I can’t know.

This time, I finally understand there is no such thing as love without trust.

This time, I’m not doing all of the heavy lifting.

This time love is lifting me.

Recently, I realized the word “Love” in “Love Lifted Me” is capitalized because the songwriter uses Love as another name for God, suggesting that God is so intertwined with Love that God is Love.

It makes sense that God would create us in Her image to do something She does best.

Every time we give and receive love authentically, vulnerably, and purposefully, we honor our spirit and the Spirit in which that love was created.

I’m ready to dive in to this new understanding of what love is because I finally understand who Love is.

Prayer: Holy One, thank you for a Love that doesn’t stop lifting. Amen.

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:9-10


23 THINGS THAT LOVE IS by Paul Tripp
  1. LOVE IS… being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of others without impatience or anger.
  2. LOVE IS… actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward another while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
  3. LOVE IS… making a daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.
  4. LOVE IS… being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding.
  5. LOVE IS… being more committed to unity and understanding than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.
  6. LOVE IS… a making a daily commitment to admit your errors, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.
  7. LOVE IS… being willing, when confronted by another, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.
  8. LOVE IS… making a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to another is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.
  9. LOVE IS… being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged, but looking for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.
  10. LOVE IS… being a good student of another, looking for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support them as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.
  11. LOVE IS… being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the relational problems you face, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.
  12. LOVE IS… being willing to always ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.
  13. LOVE IS… recognizing the high value of trust in a relationship and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.
  14. LOVE IS… speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack the other person’s character or assault their intelligence.
  15. LOVE IS… being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt the other person into giving you what you want or doing something your way.
  16. LOVE IS… being unwilling to ask another person to be the source of your identity, meaning, and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of theirs.
  17. LOVE IS… the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as partner, parent, friend, neighbor, etc.
  18. LOVE IS… a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your relationships.
  19. LOVE IS… staying faithful to your commitment to treat another with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when the other person doesn’t seem deserving or is unwilling to reciprocate.
  20. LOVE IS… the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of a relationship without asking for anything in return or using your sacrifices to place the other person in your debt.
  21. LOVE IS… being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm a relationship, hurt the other person, or weaken the bond of trust between you.
  22. LOVE IS… refusing to be self-focused or demanding, but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.
  23. LOVE IS… daily admitting to yourself, the other person, and God that you are unable to be driven by a cruciform love without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.
Prayer:  Holy One, help me to be more and more focused on what love is – in my heart, words and actions. Amen.

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact

Easter Worship

Easter Sunrise Service
April 1 | 
6:30am | Elm Lawn Cemetery
(Behind the Historic Sanctuary across the street)
Gathering in the darkness like the women did long, long ago, we will be literally warmed and encouraged by the “new fire.” The Day of Resurrection will dawn on us as we see the empty tomb and decide for ourselves what we’ll do next.

 

Easter Worship
April 1 | 9:30 Traditional & 11:00am Informal
Lilies all around, snuffed Lenten candles now ablaze again, fresh flowers being placed in the cross, stirring music in the air, eager kids everywhere you look…Come celebrate the most important day of the year! [Special Easter activities for the kids during worship—Easter Egg Hunt after both services.]

 

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Tuesday, March 20, 2018

 

 

A Change of Heart by Richard Floyd
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10
God is consistent in wanting to be in our hearts.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33
The human heart is a vital organ, a big muscle that pumps blood through the vessels of our circulatory system, but the metaphorical heart is also a matter of life and death. It has been understood as the seat of our decisions and acts. In this way the heart is implicated in the choices of lovers and fools, and who among us hasn’t been both at some time in our life?
The metaphorical heart is also crucial for faith. I’m a pretty cerebral guy, but even so, it has more often been my heart than my head that has moved me Godward.
Blaise Pascal, the influential seventeenth-century French mathematician, wrote this about faith and the heart: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart that experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.”
We do need both head and heart for faith but let us not neglect the heart. In Lent we long for better, cleaner hearts, more attuned to the heart of God. We pray that we may be more loving, more kind, more just, more faithful.
The ancient prophet Jeremiah prophesied God’s promise that someday we would no longer need external rules and regulations to know what God requires of us. God was going to write God’s eternal law on our hearts, and we would be God’s people and God would be our God. In our troubled time and broken world, we devoutly pray for this promised change of heart.
Prayer: Create in us a clean heart, Holy One, and a new and right spirit within us. Amen.

 

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org

PUCC Lenten Devotion – Monday, March 19, 2018

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Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10

As we move into this week of HEART, here are a few poems to get us going!

If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking
by Emily Dickinson
 
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto its nest again,
I shall not live in vain. 
 
Beggarly Heart

When the heart is hard and parched up, 
come upon me with a shower of mercy.                                                                                                                        
When grace is lost from life, 
come with a burst of song.  

When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from 
beyond, come to me, my lord of silence, with thy peace and rest. 

When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner, 
break open the door, my royal, and come with a royal ceremony. 

When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust, O thou holy one, 
thou wakeful, come with thy light and thy thunder.

 
Compassion
by WingMakers

Angels must be confused by war.
Both sides praying for protection,
yet someone always gets hurt.
Someone dies.
Someone cries so deep
they lose their watery state.

Angels must be confused by war.
Who can they help?
Who can they clarify?
Whose mercy do they cast to the merciless?
No modest scream can be heard.
No stainless pain can be felt.
All is clear to angels
except in war.

When I awoke to this truth,
it was from a dream I had last night.
I saw two angels conversing in a field
of children’s spirits rising like silver smoke.
The angels were fighting among themselves
about which side was right,
and which was wrong.
Who started the conflict?

Suddenly, the angels stilled themselves
like a stalled pendulum,
and they shed their compassion
to the rising smoke
of souls who bore the watermark of war.
They turned to me with those eyes
from God’s library,
and all the pieces fallen
were raised in unison,
intertwined like the breath
of flames in a holy furnace.

Nothing in war comes to destruction,
but the illusion of separateness.
I heard this spoken so clearly I could only
write it down like a forged signature.
I remember the compassion,
mountainous, proportioned for the universe.
I think a tiny fleck still sticks to me,
like gossamer threads
from a spider’s web.

And now, when I think of war,
I flick these threads to all the universe,
hoping they stick on others as they did me.
Knitting angels and animals
to the filamental grace of compassion.
The reticulum of our skyward home.

 
Embracing All
Author Unknown

Light that lies deep inside of me
Come forth in all thy majesty
Show me thy gaze
Teach me thy ways
That I a better person may be
Darkness that lies deep inside of me
Come forth in all thy mystery
Show me thy gaze
Teach me thy ways
That I a better person may be
Love that lies deep inside of me
Come forth in all thy unity
Let me be thy gaze
Let me teach thy ways
That I a better person may be                    

Prayer:  Holy One, help me show up so others will feel loved. Amen.  

2841 N Ballas Road | Saint Louis, Missouri 63131
314-872-9330 | www.parkwayucc.org
Parkway United Church of Christ, 2841 N Ballas Road, Saint Louis, MO 63131
Sent by kevin@parkwayucc.org in collaboration with
Constant Contact