Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seek, Lose, Keep and Throw Away

 (Pastor's Musings for the June Hilltop Newsletter)
Antiquity speaks to us through Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 with the following words:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
For me, these ancient words are part of my youth, part of my own passage from youth to young adult. When I read these words, my memory starts creating sounds in which I mentally hear the 1960s American answer to the British Invasion, The Byrds, reminding us in the Folk-Rock classic “Turn, Turn, Turn” that within life there is a time for all things. This is a true “golden oldie” drawn from ancient scripture. 
The book of Ecclesiastes is part of the Hebrew wisdom tradition. The title Ecclesiastes echoes from the Greek with sounds like “preacher,” “assembly” or “those who have been called out.” The root word in Greek is the same word that gives us the word “church.” For my purposes here, I want to focus on the translation “those who have been called out.” Within a community, those who have been called out pass along their wisdom from one generation to the next.  
On the first Sunday in June as we recognize our seniors, we will focus on graduation as a passage from one element of life and maturity to another. (I confess, the first time I heard the term “senior recognition” Sunday, I thought it was recognition of our older members and wondered what age qualified a person to be a “senior.” You have permission to chuckle at my lack of wisdom.)
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “a time to seek, and a time to lose.” I suppose that many of the seniors are ready “to seek” an adventure, while many of the parents are reluctant to “to lose” their senior.
Ecclesiastes also reminds us that there is “a time to keep, and a time to throw away.”
I offer that part of the passage of life includes knowing what “to keep” and what “to throw away.”  In fact, it is more than what, it is both what and when.  What do we keep and throw away?  When do we keep it and throw it away? 
What we keep and knowing why we keep it is foundational to understanding the future being created before us. Our ability to accurately see the present and vision the future is clouded by parts of our past that should not be kept, but rather discarded. All of us, to varying degrees, keep parts of the past that are better thrown away. This is a natural part of the human condition. Naming what needs to be kept and what needs to be discarded is important in creating our future. It’s what the Byrds tell us is necessary: to “Turn, Turn, Turn” in their paraphrasing of Ecclesiastes.
We should note that in the Hebrew Bible “to turn” includes the idea of repenting. In short, it is about looking at who we are, and turning the very direction of our lives.
Our individual and corporate goals are to understand who we are in order to allow us to connect with our best possible future and then shift our focus so that we can make that future a reality.
That is a passage worthy of the name.
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Team and Hilltop

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.  —2 Corinthians 3.18
Being a member of a “team” has been part of the fabric of my life for a long time. I started my musical life when I was about twelve.  Most of that early time was spent in a band (or “wind ensemble”) driven by my age, grade or ability. Choirs became a part of my life in my early twenties and still are a part of my life. I started military training at eighteen, and before I was twenty-three was in the U.S. Army. We used to say in the Army “there is no I in team, there is no me in Army.” Who I am draws strength from a life as part of teams.

My sermon of April 21st was about recognizing that there is an organic connection that invites everyone to be part of the fruitfulness of the vine. At its core, it was a sermon focused on unity of purpose and teamwork. Our purpose is to be fruitful in our faithfulness. 

The theme article on passages this month is at its core about teamwork. It uses material from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth (reintroduced at the start of this article) where Paul is laying out for the church an opportunity to live out their ministry in a new covenantal relationship drawn from the gifts of the Spirit.  Paul says to choose life, Spirit, righteousness, and a permanency that is drawn from the Light of Christ.  That might sound like individual tasks, and to be sure, there is an element of individualism in how those are applied but Paul’s pronouns throughout the material surrounding the quoted passage are uniformly plural.

Paul is saying that being in relationship with Jesus leads to profound and deep transformation in community.

We are approaching a number of special and potentially transformational days. (You might wonder what would happen if we treated them as days about passage, as days about transformation, within a framework of team?) Might we look at these days of passage as a framework for transformation as a team? 

Mother’s Day is for many a remembrance of transformation from couple to family. That is transformative. For many, parenting moves them to a different understanding of the importance of community on the idea of nurture.
Pentecost this year will in part be about confirmation, where individuals will move from being an individual to being part of a larger community.  For many, that movement is transformative.  We fully intend to use the diversity of the community as a reminder that while we may be different, we do actually understand each other.
Memorial Day weekend will in part be about remembering where individuals gave up their lives for the larger community. For many, the sacrificial element of that movement is sacred, leading to transformation. For many, the depth of that sacrifice leads to a different understanding of community
Senior Recognition Day will in part be about celebrating a change in a key element of their individual stories. Our music and our proclamation will be about blessing the transition and simultaneously acknowledging that the quest for adventure may take some away from this community. The community supports that adventure, and will proclaim that we are praying for them and will welcome them back when their adventure is complete.  That element of the story may require a different understanding of community.
There will be other passage days this summer, fall and winter.  What might they say to you about transformation?

I am not the same person I was four hundred sermons ago.  I see the world differently.  I see that we are consistently being invited to see that all of us are, hopefully and prayerfully, “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  It is more than a little scary.  It is also more than a little biblical.
To be clear, I am not advocating blind assimilation into an unthinking hive.  There is tremendous power in the varied intellects of Hilltop, intellects created in different places by different experiences that draw strength from diverse traditions.  We are richly blessed with high quality leaders.  I am advocating reflection on the idea of community.

Let this coming time of multiple passages invite you to go deeper into your faith and explore what it means to be part of this community, to be part of the oneness of Christ, to be part of the “true vine” that is Jesus Christ. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis