Parables of the Kingdom

Parables of the Kingdom

What do you suppose the following have in common: a 9-volt battery, an onion, a life vest, newspaper, copy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, candle, bubbles, sun block, children’s video game, laxative, telephone, map, hammer, microwave popcorn, baseball bat &
glove, coffee grinder, and a garage door opener?

These were items I placed on the Communion table when I began a sermon series on the Parables of Jesus at a previous church. “Jesus’ parables were drawn from everyday life,” I explained, before inviting worshippers to pick an item, ponder and share how it might serve as a parable of the kingdom of God for today. Needless to say, it made for an interesting worship
experience!

We’ve been considering the parables of Jesus this summer at Dayspring. I have found that folks are quite interested in learning how the historical and
cultural contexts inform their meaning. Did leaven have negative connotations in that world? What would it mean to leave 99 sheep to fend for themselves? What characteristics make mustard stand out in the botanical world? Are there other parables of Jesus found outside the Bible?

My mind has been blown reviewing some of the scholarship around Jesus’ parables; I hope serious reflection on them have helped us all recognize
what a provocative figure Jesus was and the challenge he presents to our lives.

New Testament scholar Brandon Scott has served as a guide for this series. He says that in his parables, Jesus re-imagines the world. “The reimagined
world, called the kingdom of God, presents his followers with a new option for living, one that contrasts with the default world of the everyday. The new world is both terrifying and liberating.” If you’ve been in and out of town this summer, feel free to catch up on our Livestream archive page here.

I hope to see you this Sunday as we continue the adventure …

– Aug. 4 The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13.44)
– Aug. 11 The Prodigals (Luke 15.11-32)
– Aug. 18 The Samaritan (Luke 10.30-35)
– Aug. 25 Pastor Michael’s last Sunday / Choir Celebration
– Sept. 1 The Unforgiving Slave (Matthew 18.23-34)
– Sept. 8 The Dinner Party (Luke 14.16-24)

In the meantime, here’s a little homework: “The kingdom of God is like a garage door opener that stopped functioning ….”

Grace and peace,
Pastor Jeff


Gratitude

What are you grateful for? Last month we had our annual church conference, which is always an important time to reflect on the past year of ministry. I am so grateful to serve this amazing community of faith. Consider a few of the highlights from the life of our community this year:

In January, Dayspring was honored by the City of Tempe with a Diversity Award at its annual M.L.K. Jr. Breakfast.

Our campus restoration efforts began in January and are nearly complete, thanks to the hard work of our Trustees, along with Dayspring members’ generous ongoing commitment to our All Things New capital campaign.

In addition to our enduring support of missions, as a result of the capital campaign we gave $25,000 to UMOM for its new women’s shelter, $15,000 to our medical and dental clinic in Tochi, and $10,000 to our local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. I’m grateful for Dayspring’s heart for missions!

And I’m grateful for the broad menu of opportunities for spiritual formation for all ages, as well as the exceptional music program that also spans the generations.

Our first community “Giving Garden” was planted late spring, with over forty people – including many from beyond Dayspring – involved in this new ministry.
Dayspring’s 50th Anniversary on May 7th included a combined worship service led by ten present and past clergy, followed by a wonderful catered lunch in the courtyard and fellowship hall. I’m grateful for the five decades Dayspring has provided hope and healing in Tempe.

I believe Dayspring United Methodist Church wonderfully embodies its core values:

· Welcoming, Nurturing, Empowering
· Progressive, Thinking Christians
· Compassionately Serving All People
· Emotionally Stirring Sacred Music
· Committed to Youth and Children

I am profoundly grateful to serve with such a talented, mutually supportive and committed professional staff. And the level of commitment, capability and devotion displayed by our lay leadership never ceases to amaze me.

It is a high privilege to serve such an inclusively minded, Spirit-infused and mission-driven church, and I look forward to another rich and meaning-full year.

With a grateful heart,

Pastor Jeff


Tide Pools

When I was a boy, long before high-rise condos lined its beaches, my family would visit Rocky Point. At low tide I’d scuttle across the rocks like a crab, looking for wonders left by the sea. Then and now I’m fascinated by the microcosm of life that is a tide pool. At once serene and then, with the return of the waves, turbulent and chaotic. There can be found the starfish and sea urchin. The graceful anemones continue to capture my imagination. And the hermit crab. Who isn’t fascinated by the hermit crab?

Like the tide pool, life is always changing. That is why an apt metaphor for human life is a journey. We are always on a journey, moving and changing. If we don’t change, life will do it for us! That’s when it especially hurts. To be wrenched out of the life we have grown accustomed to. For some it’s easier than others. I just love how hermit crabs know when it’s time to find a new home. They literally cast away the comforts of home for a shell that will give them room to grow.

John Gardner was asked why he had so many jobs in his life. “I believe in re-potting,” he said. “I am an amateur gardener, and I noticed that when a plant reaches a certain growth, the pot becomes too confining for it. If you don’t re-pot it, it will stunt its growth, and maybe even die.” He said that he looked at life that way. There would come a time when he would see a broader vista, bigger challenge in his life, and he would re-pot himself. In Bob Dylan’s famous words, “If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.”

We are on a journey and the Spirit blows where it will. Life is a journey and sometimes it’s mild, and other times we feel uprooted. In his spiritual autobiography, Robert McAfee Brown writes how, in retrospect, the times of significant growth in his life were times of great upheaval, what he has come to call “creative dislocation.” The Spirit isn’t going to let us stay where we are — either as individuals or as a church. May we be open, responsive, courageous and hopeful on this adventurous journey of faith!

Pastor Jeff


Painting the Stars

Vincent van Gogh was a P.K. (preacher’s kid) who reckoned he would follow in his father’s footsteps. A missionary stint among the working poor in Belgium occasioned a crisis of faith. He also grew disillusioned with the Church, which seemed to him cold and uncaring toward the hungry and despairing.

Van Gogh found solace in painting. And in the immersion of oneself in Creation. He would write, “Whenever I have need of – dare I say, religion? – I go outside at night and paint the stars.”

A few years ago my friend and colleague David Felten and I produced a video curriculum that celebrates the communion of science and faith and contemplates what a meaningful faith might look like today. Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Faith explores the promise of an evolutionary Christian spirituality that offers direction and purpose for 21st century pilgrims. Featuring over a dozen leading theologians and progressive thinkers, the seven-session program includes a participant reader by evolutionary theologian Bruce Sanguin, author of If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics. The session titles are:

Toward Healing the Rift
A Renaissance of Wonder
Getting Genesis Wrong
An Evolving Faith
Evolutionary Christianity
Imagining a Future . . .
An Evolving Spirituality: Mysticism

Dayspring member and biologist David Harbster and I will co-facilitate the study at Dayspring and Friendship Village beginning the week of September 11. It will be offered at three different times during the week: Mondays 6:30-7:30pm (in the Adult Room), Tuesdays 1:30-2:30pm (at Friendship Village) & Thursdays 10-11am (in the Adult Room). I hope you’ll consider joining us!

Learn more at paintingthestars.com

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff


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The Nature of Joy

The Nature of Joy

I’m reading a wonderful book called The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was recommended by Bishop Bob Hoshibata at Annual Conference. These spiritual giants have encountered incredible hardships throughout their lives. Yet both have been able to find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering. They have much to teach us. Worlds apart and from different faith traditions, they have met several times and are said to share a special bond. Tutu visited the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his 80th birthday. They met to work on a gift they would offer the world: secrets to finding true joy.

I am inspired to preach a series based on their book. By the time you read this, I will have done the first couple of sermons (which you can always watch after the fact on Livestream):

July 23                        The Nature of Joy

July 30                        Obstacles to Joy

Aug 20                        Pillars of Joy (Part One)

Aug 27                        Pillars of Joy (Part Two)

 

I hope you’ll join me on this journey with Tutu and the Dalai Lama as we discover lessons from their lives and how they have been able to maintain their own personal levels of joy.

 

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff


Summer Sabbath

“In the morning, long before dawn, Jesus got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” Mark 1:35

I remember tent camping with a friend on Mt. Lemon, just north of Tucson. We were at 8000 ft. The first day was so cold I couldn’t wait to get into my sleeping bag after dinner. I returned home from the outing rejuvenated after relaxed conversations with a colleague, exhilarating hikes, and lots of fresh air. I felt as though I was able to catch my breath for the first time in a great while. And as much as I loved the ponderosa, Douglas fir and aspen, along with picturesque boulders and melodious birdsong, you know what the best part of it was? No cell phone service. Oh, there were several towers atop the mountain. But evidently – happily — none belonged to AT&T. For 48 hrs. I was blissfully off-grid. Unplugged. Relaxed. How nice it was to catch my breath.

James Adams tells the story of an explorer on an urgent march through the jungles of the upper Amazon in South America. Good progress was made for about two days. Then, on the third morning, he found his native guides sitting solemnly on their haunches, making no preparations for further travel. “Why?” the explorer asked, and their foreman explained: “They are waiting; they cannot move farther until their souls catch up with their bodies.”

I wonder if we too sometimes get ahead of our souls? I wonder if we move so fast from here to there that sometimes we run off and leave our souls behind?

I hope you are able to find time during this summer season, when the pace generally slows a bit anyway, for your soul to have a chance to catch up. Call it summer Sabbath time. May we all find time to pause and catch our breath, and experience the grace and power of the Divine. And every now and then, feel free to power off your cell phone. Give it a rest, too!

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Easter Reflections

I love Easter Resurrection Sunday. In fact, it’s my favorite Sunday of the year. I remember as a child, I could hardly wait for the egg hunt at my Nana’s home in Hutchinson, KS. My siblings and I would wake up early Easter morning and look high and low for Easter eggs scattered throughout Nana’s home. After exhausting our energies to find every single egg, we would gather around in a circle and celebrate what each of us had found. I still find great joy reflecting on this experience because it has helped shape my understanding of Easter Resurrection.
Easter Resurrection, for me, is playful. It’s hunting, finding, and celebrating. Easter Resurrection is discovering God at work in our world through the gifts of Creation, relationships, and the unexpected surprises of life. Easter Resurrection is the anticipation of the spring flowers getting ready to burst into miraculous works of art. Easter Resurrection is the call from an estranged family member who simply says, “I miss you, and I’m so glad I get to talk to you.” Easter Resurrection is the surprise gift of a beautiful desert plant from colleagues to celebrate an achievement. And ultimately, Easter
Resurrection is the mystery of Jesus’ spirit still among us and working in us to do good and to assure us that we are loved unconditionally.

After devouring chocolate bunnies and jelly beans from Nana’s egg hunt, the Bullock’s would get dressed up in outfits that mom spent all year making for us kids. We would load up in the car and attend Easter service at the local Methodist church. The aroma of Easter lilies and the welcome from the congregants made this family of visitors, feel so welcomed and loved. But the highlight of my childhood Easter Resurrection experience was when
the organist would pull out all of the stops on the B-3 Hammond Organ, and lead us into singing my favorite Easter hymn, “He Lives.” The last line of the chorus simply states why I can believe in Easter Resurrection, “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.”

I wonder where you will find Easter Resurrection this Easter? I wonder where you will discover God at work in Creation, relationships, the  unexpected, and even yourself? I pray you will be blessed by what you discover. I would love to hear what you find, please let me know.

Enjoy the hunt,
Pastor Joel


A Holy Lent: The Practice of Sabbath & Care for the Poor

Most of us still regard the Ten Commandments as providing valuable instructions about how we are to relate to God and to one another. It’s pretty hard to argue with the prohibitions of not having other gods or idols or not making wrongful use of God’s name. And we have seem to have little problem with those prohibitions forbid committing murder, bearing false witness, stealing, committing adultery, or coveting. However, we’ve increasingly treated one of the commandments as irrelevant if not utterly impractical in our 24-7 economy.

Several years ago, Walter Brueggemann, probably the most widely-respected Old Testament scholar of our day, spoke these words in our sanctuary:

I have come to think that in our production consumption society that Sabbath is the most radical Commandment of God’s covenant, because it means to desist in our control and self-preoccupation to make a break in the rat race. And I find, for myself, as for other people when I talk about this, this is the Commandment that immediately evokes our most resistance.

Making a break from the rat race will not come easily. Perhaps we could all take an initial step toward this goal by committing to some form of Sabbath observance during Lent. For many, that will mean observing Sunday as a day of rest, while for others another day of the week would be more appropriate. There will also be a wide range of opinions as to specific practices for Sabbath observance, just as there is for our Jewish brothers and sisters. (Anyone up for giving up television and social media one day a week?) And more important than dwelling on what we might give up is
to contemplate what we might do with the holy time we create. Please plan on spending a few minutes after the first or second service on the first Sunday of Lent, March 5, in the church Library, meeting with others to discuss how we might support one another in a Lenten experiment in honoring the fourth commandment.

Blessings, Pastor Jeff


Teach Us To Pray

Do you know where your cell phone charger is right now? Do you pay attention to how long your battery lasts between charges? I bet the answer to both questions is a resounding “Of course!”

John Dominic Crossan says that prayer does for our souls what electricity does for our cell phones. Prayer is the source of our spiritual energy. Whether we realize it or not, we have batteries too. We push our batteries. We run our spiritual batteries right into the ground. Without prayer, we cannot be at our best; no more than our cell phone can work well without a complete charge every few days. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he offered a model of prayer most of us memorized as children and regularly recite without deeply considering its meaning. Beginning the first Sunday in February, and going through Lent, I’ll be collaborating on a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer with colleague Rev. David Felten. We’ll be drawing from Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s discover together the power and profundity of one of Jesus’ greatest teachings.
Feb 5 Greatest Prayer #1: Pray Then in This Way
Feb 12 Greatest Prayer #2: Our Father in Heaven
Feb 19 Greatest Prayer #3: Hallowed Be Your Nam
Feb 26 Greatest Prayer #4: Your Kingdom Come
Mar 5 LENT 1 Greatest Prayer #5: Your Will Be Done on Earth
Mar 12 LENT 2 Greatest Prayer #6: Give Us Our Daily Bread
Mar 19 Guest Preacher
Mar 26 LENT 4 Greatest Prayer #7: Forgive Us Our Debts
April 2 LENT 5 Greatest Prayer #8: Lead Us Not into Temptation