Seeing the seeds of hope

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — It’s been difficult to digest the news this week: from knifings in nearby St. Cloud, shootings and community outrage in Tulsa and Charlotte, to department store killings near Seattle. It’s hard to tear my attention away from this progression to even contemplate the increased bombing of the city of Aleppo in Syria. Where is God in all this? Where am I, where are we as a congregation in yet another string of distressing world events? Is life some kind of ongoing battle that we will win or lose, as we worry about and brace ourselves against adversaries, enemies, all around us? Is the seeming precariousness of life a matter of luck or chance? How much control do we imagine we have over the fragility, the vulnerability of life, in the midst of a week like this?

Part of why I keep reading the Bible is that it challenges my ingrained way of thinking about the world. It shakes me off of my surface perceptions, pushing me to question and move deeper into life’s meaning and purpose. Yes, the Bible can be a confusing, sometimes violent, often obscure and even annoying book. In our tradition, we endeavor to read it in its historical context, using the best tools of modern scholarship to figure out what the various authors had in mind in their context, and how this might speak to us today. We say the various writings are “inspired” but are not the literal word of God. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Biblical scholar, suggests it is a mistake to assume the Bible is full of rules and regulations to be obeyed and creeds to be believed. Not so, says Wright. Nor is it a compendium of abstract and timeless truth, or a collection of witnesses to events. So, what’s left? Narrative, Wright answers. Stories of interactons between God and people. Narrative about God holding people accountable through compassionate judgment, then showing mercy to and remaking the world. Narrative where the first two acts are written, says Wright: the unfolding emergence of the Jewish tradition and the ministry of Jesus and the early church which grows out and expands that tradition. We, as the present-day followers of Jesus, are the actors in this unfolding story: now told to imagine, create and play out the third act of this drama ourselves.

The ancient narratives provides hints about where God is and what our next steps are, in the middle of all our current muddles and mess as humanity. Where might this passage from the prophet Jeremiah, from the 6th century BCE, take us? For context, the northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to the invading brutality of the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah, home of Jerusalem and location of the Jeremiah story, is still intact but now besieged. The puppet king Zedikiah has ignored the impending invasion and frantically tries to align with Egypt. Jewish people, rich and poor, have crowded in desperation to the fortified city walls of Jerusalem; food is running out and the enemy is at the gates. If you have skills, a craft, or money, you will be lucky to be dragged off to Babylon; otherwise a citywide slaughter awaits you. The prophet’s role is to continually challenge the ruling king to follow God’s teachings of mercy, justice and compassion to all under his rule. But Zedekiah has finally jailed Jeremiah in exasperation, unwilling to tolerate the prophet’s incessant railing against Zedekiah’s corrupt governmental practices. Zedekiah is sick of hearing that there are logical consequences to disobeying God’s insistence on just and merciful governing.

Now imprisoned under palace guard, Jeremiah receives a word from God. In the chaos, a desperate relative of his needs to unload some property. Perhaps the relative is hoping to get his family out of Jerusalem and head south to Egypt before the impending doom. Lo and behold, his cousin Hanamel arrives, pleading, “buy my field at Anathoth; you’re my relative and have first right of refusal here.” But everyone is trying to leave, the Babylonians of Assyria are at the city gates; this land is basically worthless! God appears to be directing an unexpected, symbolic act to communicate with the people in crisis.

Jeremiah carefully proceeds with the seemingly unwise purchase, signs the deed, obtains the witnesses, weighs the money on the scale. With high drama, he has his personal scribe, Baruch, witness everything, and place the sealed deeds of purchase “in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.” In the midst of the chaos, God directs Jeremiah to look forward. Jeremiah’s act reminds the people that God promises, in the middle of the uncertainty and pending dislocation, that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Houses, fields, vineyards…the stuff of fruitful existence. When everything is disintegrating around them, God plants seeds of future hope that makes life possible, stable and fruitful in their culture. Against all odds, there is the promise that they will once again dwell in the land of their ancestors.

I’ve been noticing the shortening of days this last week. Although few trees have started to turn and drop, the early morning and evening darkness casts a gloom. Autumn often brings me such ambivalence: it can be visually dramatic and beautiful, but I find myself bracing against the loss of greenness, the imbending bareness and cold of winter. As I thought about this paradox, I came upon some writings of the educator and author Parker Palmer. He described how we often focus on the surface appearance of autumn. We tend to think it is all about letting go, about loss, even about the demise of warmth and fruitfulness. “Summer’s abundance decays towards winter’s death.” But he also described how plants are also quietly doing something that we don’t often notice: the spreading of seeds. As plants die off, they drop a wild abundance of seeds that will become the new life in spring. Palmer cautions that we can often get fixed on the surface appearance of loss and decline among us, and miss the seeds of new life that are being planted.

Where do we see seeds of hope that might give us confidence in the future? Some expressions of Christianity focus a lot on one’s imagined future in heaven. It is a common misperception that today’s text from the Gospel of Luke is a cautionary tale about our future in the afterlife. Some have assumed these passages spell out that if we are rich and greedy and ignore the poor, we will go to some place of punishment. And if we are poor, we will go to some kind of heaven, into the bosom of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. I don’t think this was Jesus’ point in telling this story. For Jesus, our confidence, our hope, in God’s good future lies in strengthening our resolve to participate in the good in this life. How might we bring hope to someone in need, someone who crosses our paths while we are living? Jesus asks his listeners and he proceeds to tell today’s parable.

Every day the rich man had a chance to be that hope to the poor man reduced to begging at his gate. But the man with the resources lived in a culture that conditioned him to ignore Lazarus sitting at his front door, because Lazarus would be considered ritually “unclean” with his open skin lesions and his constant contact with ritually “unclean” dogs. So often we talk sadly about “the poor” or the “disadvantaged.” We generalize about these people, making hopeless-sounding assumptions about their motivation or morals. We generalize about a lot of people, actually: “those teenagers,” “the elderly,” “those Muslims,” “that bad neighborhood,” “the druggies,” “those management people at work.” The rich man in the teaching parable never sees Lazarus for who he is. Focusing on the surface, we often express a futility of helping various groups. We lose track of the individuals, each with a separate personhood and unique need. And we lose track of our call to carry the hope of God’s good future to others.

I celebrate of the ways our church continues to bring our collective confidence and hope to the table. The confirmation class discusses the roots of homelessness in our Twin Cities, then encounters individual faces, specific families with kids, as we prepared and served a meal at House of Charity in Minneapolis yesterday. Jesus taught that we don’t develop a sense of compassion for those in need without actually “seeing” them. The generality of “homelessness” takes on human specifics; seeds of possibilities are planted in the minds of our youth. Another group in the church explores the implications of white priviledge as we read Jennifer Harvey’s “Dear White Christians” together. Parents share experiences of talking with their kids about racial inequity. Small seeds of deepened understanding scattered through our congregation. We welcome a panel discussion on community policing this Thursday, imagining a Falcon Heights slowly transforming into a safer, more just and respectful environment for all. We scatter these seeds of hope in the midst of frustration and grief over the national news. We become a seeds of hope for people who feel valueless and hopeless. This is us writing and acting in the next “act” of God healing the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Church members to be surveyed for pastoral search

Your collaborative work with the Pastoral Search Committee this summer has yielded a lot of great information about who we are as a congregation and what traits in a pastor can best support our vision as “Seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love.” Thanks to everyone who contributed to this work!

Now we need church members’ help with another task of great importance to the pastoral search. The PSC has put together a survey that will add to the information needed for our church profile. Even though a church survey was taken just a few years ago and some of the information might be repeated in this new survey, its focus is different and many of the questions have a different theme.

Today the PSC is launching an online version of the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FHCUCCfamilysurvey. We estimate it should take about 30 minutes to complete. Each adult and youth in your household is requested to complete a separate survey. Surveys should be completed by the end of September.

Sunday, Sept. 25, has been designated as Survey Sunday. There will be computers and iPads in the Gathering Room available to use before and after worship if you haven’t yet completed your survey by then. We will also have paper copies available on the back table in the Gathering Room beginning this Sunday, if you prefer that format.

Our church profile is a major piece of the “road construction” in our pastoral search – sort of like the ongoing phases of the bridge construction work on Highway 36 at Lexington. The profile is THE document prospective candidates will receive as their introduction to Falcon Heights Church, and this survey will help us get it done so we can move ahead to the next phase of the search. Thank you for your help!

Carol Holm
Co-chair, Pastoral Search Committee

Panel discussion on community policing

Falcon Heights Church will be the venue for a public panel discussion Sept. 29 on Models for Community Policing. Sponsored by Falcon Heights We Can Do Better, the discussion will include racial equity, police training, policing models, and residents’ roles in improving policing. The conversation is intended to help inform the work of a proposed citizens work group on community policing models for Falcon Heights. The discussion begins at 7:30 p.m.

Event flyer: Models for Community Policing: A Panel Discussion

Breakfast cereal for hungry kids

We are providing cereal for 22 students at Falcon Heights Elementary School who receive a weekend food package through the Sheridan Project. Current priorities are individual oatmeal packets and granola bars. Please leave donations in or near the white bucket in the church lobby.

Talking with kids about social justice and race

Two sessions during our First Hour faith education hour this month will focus on helping parents and other adults talk with kids about issues of social justice and race.

  • On Sunday, Sept. 18, Kyle and Rachelle Roeckman will lead a discussion on “How to Talk with Kids about Social Justice.”
  • On Sunday, Sept. 25, we will discuss “How to Talk with Kids about Race.”

Join us at 9:30 a.m. for these important discussions about age-appropriate conversations.

September book discussion: “Dear White Christians”

We’ve lamented the death of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights. We’ve prayed for black men killed by police, for police officers killed while protecting protesters, for the families of all involved. We exhibited peace cranes at our church, and some of us have gone to public gatherings to listen and discuss what happened.

Now what? As Christians who are predominantly white, how do we take the next step toward racial justice? Dear White ChristiansOne place to start is “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation,” a book by Drake University religion professor Jennifer Harvey.

Harvey believes strongly that the ideal of racial reconciliation is the wrong focus—in fact, she thinks it’s “a primary reason we remain so un-reconciled across racial lines.” Harvey advocates instead for a “reparations paradigm,” one of repentance and repair toward communities of color.

Join us for four Thursday evenings in September to discuss these challenging ideas. We’ll meet from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 8, 15 and 22. (You don’t have to finish the book to participate.) You can purchase the book online here or here.

If you plan to attend, please email Linda Owen at lindakowen@gmail.com or call her at 651-357-5792 to sign up.

On the “road” with the Pastoral Search Committee

Next time you enter the church, look up toward the ceiling and you’ll see something new. Pastoral Search Committee members Pat Bohman and Mike Bradbury have designed a “road” representing the committee’s work and timeline. The road is currently “under construction” with just the roadway itself completed at this time, but watch as it develops to show the steps we’ve taken in our journey to call a new pastor. With your help, we’ve accomplished a lot already!

Our third Guided Conversation Sunday, Aug. 21, was about what our future pastor could expect from us in support of the mutual ministry with the congregation. We talked about the signs of health we see in our church, what we’re individually doing to live out our vision of being “seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love,” and gave examples of how we’re doing in our covenant with each other: “We will SPEAK the truth in love, CELEBRATE each other’s gifts and perspectives, CHOOSE the good of the whole church over our individual preferences and comforts.”

Your collective voices said our future pastor can expect us to provide:

  • Positive support for time off for study, vacations and sabbaticals.
  • Positive support of mutual ministry in our pastoral care.
  • Direct communication about concerns, hopes and ideas.
  • Active lay leaders and positive volunteers sharing God’s work of the church.
  • Accountability for all members to speak the truth with love.
  • Eagerness to hear a challenging message and learn about God.
  • Willingness to be examples of God’s love within and without the church.

Thank you to all of the participants in the three summer conversation Sundays. Despite the fact that it was summertime and many members vacation and travel during these months, there was always a good turnout and participants were actively engaged in each conversation. Because of this commitment and openness of opinions, the Pastoral Search Committee can present a clearer picture of who “we” are to pastoral candidates.

Prepare and serve a meal at House of Charity Sept. 24

Our next date to prepare and serve a meal at House of Charity in Minneapolis is Saturday, Sept. 24. We’ll meet in the church parking lot at 8:30 a.m. to carpool and return around noon. We will need between five and eight people to help prepare food and serve it to residents and homeless people. Call or text Nancy Ellias (651-983-1157) or Tracy Faville (651-483-0260 or Tracy.Faville@gmail.com) with questions or to sign up.

Third Guided Conversation looks at pastor’s expectations of us

A third Guided Conversation Sunday is scheduled for Aug. 21, and the Pastoral Search Committee looks forward to hearing from all of you. This time our focus will shift. Previous guided conversations have focused on what we expect of our new pastor. Because our congregation and our new pastor will be in a covenantal relationship that experiences and practices mutual ministry, the pastor will have some expectations of us as well. What can the new pastor expect from his/her congregation at FHCUCC?

These questions will prompt our conversations on Aug. 21:

1. The way a church treats its pastor is a sign of the health of the congregation. What signs of health do you see in the way we care for and support our pastor?

2. Our vision statement created from your work with the Discovery Team declares, “We are seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love.” What are YOU called to do to be a seeker and servant growing in God’s transforming love?

3. Faithful pastors and healthy congregations expect each other to anticipate conflict and to speak directly. Our covenant created from your work with the Discovery Team says, “We will SPEAK the truth in love, CELEBRATE each other’s gifts and perspectives, CHOOSE the good of the whole church over our individual preferences and comforts.” Give examples of how you are doing this?

If you are not able to be in church that Sunday, we invite you to email any of the committee members with your thoughts and responses to these questions. You can read a longer update from the committee here:  PSC update 8-11-16

Blessing of School Tools Aug. 14

Donations to our annual School Tools campaign will be blessed during worship on Sunday, Aug. 14. This is the final Sunday to bring donations of new school supplies to help low-income children in our community thrive in their education. Here’s a shopping list of needed items:

High-priority items:  

Backpacks
3-ring binders
Calculators
Facial tissue

Other supplies needed:  

Spiral notebooks
Composition notebooks
Pencils
Pens
Markers
Folders
School boxes
Erasers
Highlighters
Pencil sharpeners
Colored pencils
Rulers
Glue sticks & bottles
Loose-leaf paper
Scissors
Crayons
USB flash drives