Thursday, May 17, 2018

Flour Power

At my church, children who don't take communion yet get a blessing when they come to the table with their family. Usually I rest my hand on their head as I bless them and trace a cross on their forehead to remind them of their baptism.

As I do, there is often an unintended side effect.

That's because we also use homemade bread for communion at my church (yum!) and it has flour on it from the kneading process. So when I bless the children, they end up with a dusting of flour that my hand has picked up from the bread. They leave the table with a visible residue of God's blessing for them in their hair.

It helps me to remember that what we hold on to will leave a mark on things we touch. What am I holding on to and what kind of residue am I leaving behind me? Are my hands dirty with grime or with grace?

I hope and pray that my words and actions dust the world with blessings and I hope yours do, too.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“I want the markings made on my skin to mean something to me again.” -twenty one pilots, “Doubt”

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Farming, Faith, Persistence, and Hope

"[Jesus] also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.'" -Mark 4:26-27

“We can do no great things — only small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa

I've been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a Christian in our daily lives. How do we live in a chaotic world where so much seems to be out of our control?

So I was struck by the passage from Mark when I read it recently. Though the farmer scatters seed and tends the earth, there is still a mystery to growth. But she trusts that if she waters and cares for the field, there will be growth. There is no one grand gesture that creates growth, but sustained, patient, repeated attention to the seeds.

Jesus says that God's kingdom of grace and love acts in the same way. There is a mystery to the actions of God in this world that we cannot fully understand; we can simply trust that adding our labor will assist in the growth of new life. 

We are like farmers, tending the earth, sowing the seed, but not knowing exactly how it works, nor knowing which seeds will sprout and grow, but trusting that if we continue to seed the world with justice, tend the earth with love, and water it with generosity, a harvest of grace will come forth. 

Patience and persistence in small acts of love may not be sexy or exciting, but they are the tools of God's conquest.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“Faith and guts to guide you; wander ‘til you find you.” -Jars of Clay, “Inland”

Friday, May 4, 2018

Holy Vocabulary: What is Love?

In the season of Easter, we have a weekly lesson from the letter of 1 John, a letter often known for talking about love and community. It's because of these themes that I've decided to preach on these texts for the season of Easter, but as I'm re-reading this book one of the ideas I can't get out of my head is how difficult it is to talk about love. Why? Because it comes with a lot of baggage.

Love is a word we throw around a lot in English. We use it to talk about family members and potato chips, about top 40 music and the character of God. We usually use it to mean something like "affection" or "emotional attraction" or "I agree and think this is similar to me."

If that's how we understand the word "love," it's no wonder that we stop short when Jesus says to "love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27). How can feel affection for a murderer or approve of a rapist?

But 1 John lays out how that idea of love is one dimensional and shallow. In 3:16, the author says, "We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for each other." In other words, love isn't just feeling good about something; we recognize it in sacrifice, in working to make someone else the best version of themselves.

Because I love my children, I don't stand by and approve of them hitting another kid; I step in and stop them, I teach them to apologize and respect others. Even if they get angry with me or the punishment or correction causes me trouble or pain. Because I love them, I want them to be better people.

So how do we love a murderer? By stopping them and providing resources for their hearts to change so they can attempt to make recompense. By working for a world that has less root causes of violence and hatred, such as bullying, prejudice, unending poverty, or untreated mental and physical health issues. By praying and working for them to become the best version of themselves, the version of themselves God has created them to be.

And in learning to love others into the best version of themselves, hopefully I am being changed into the best version of myself because God is patiently giving Godself to me for that purpose.

If we're going to understand the love God has given us and calls us to practice, we need to get past the images of Hollywood and Hallmark. Love isn't just positive emotions and giving chocolates, it's giving our lives for others as God did for us.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

"Sometimes love has to drive a nail into its own hand." -Chris Rice, "Sometimes Love"