I #believe in #miracles, and other weird #Christian things…

http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Matthew+3:1-12&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Ps. 2:7-8

7I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.

8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

baptism of the Lord

Brownson says that Baptism is not Salvation, but the promise of salvation. It is the faith in that promise, it is the acknowledgment that our God is a Promisekeeping God

Baptism particularizes the promise that God makes to the world.

Why?

God promises to love the world, to take care of it, to save it.  Baptism, adopts us into that promise, particularizing it into us…embracing us into the reality of Jesus Christ, making us part of it all…We are all children of God in general, baptism, makes us each children of God as individuals; Matt 28:19-20 baptize them in the name of the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit and teach them my commandments, and I will be with you always..making us effectively related to God (effectively changing all our last names to be Jesus Christ). Hence my name becomes Katy Jesus Christ–thus I become part of the body of God!

babies-diverse_istock_000010072649large1

Every single baby that is born is a miracle. Babies being born are so,

so miraculous…child-of-god

but your baby being born is a PARTICULAR miracle…Right? I mean all babies are amazing, but your baby (whether its yours, your friends, your child’s baby, if you have ownership) is SUPER-EXTRA AMAZING..because its your particular baby. Baptism is special for that same reason.

Baptism…and Communion are sacraments…for Presbyterians there are two such sacraments; which are another weird thing that Christians do.

That’s what makes a sacrament, a sacrament in the Presbyterian church a sacrament is that which Jesus enacted, commanded and then promised particular presence during…

This is my body broken for you…this is my blood of the new covenant

SONY DSC

That’s after all, what a miracle is…its seeing God’s particular presence in a particular circumstance, its when you don’t know how or when things happen, but they do, through God’s presence. Its different than magic, which is when you explain the unexplainable….Miracles are about grace-filled instances which happen through God making connections that we might not expect

Ever time we practice communion or baptism, God promises to be particularly present. God is present and loves us all the time, but the fact that God promises to be particularly present with these moments …make them miracles

Like a roof that needs to be fixed, and suddenly a bequest appears that covers it….like a lesbian couple who end up not getting married at the church but force the governing board to extend welcome to such a wedding…like having way, wayyyy too much work to do and suddenly a snow day gives you the extra time you need.

These moments are miracles, places where our humanity is insufficient, and yet God’s presences helps things to work out….

These moments are the difference between Spirituality & Religion

Spirituality is talking about who God is…and what God does in general…a generalized understanding of God and how it effects spiritual life. Spirituality is good…its practiced by most people, even those who don’t go to church.

Religion is (nothing more & nothing less) than the practice of God’s presence, the practice of miracles. The practice of seeings where God is present, participating it and then telling others about it. It is through this practice that we are joined together. We recognize and practice God’s presence, together.

body-of-christ

Its just like practicing family–practicing family can be as easy as having dinner together…you plan the dinner together, experience the dinner together and then discuss how dinner went (maybe with people who aren’t even your family)…Each of those steps are within the practice of the miracle that is family…

So too is communion…we prepare for communion declaring what it will be (how it binds us to God and eachother), then we practice it together, then we discuss how it went and what it means for our future…in this we practice the miracle of God’s presence. We do this every time we talk look for/experience/witness to God’s presence in our lives….

Let’s go practice some miracles….

(thanks to Barb Hedges-Goettl for the theology of Christ’s transformative presence in communion)

Ash Weds: Narrative Lectionary Here’s what we’re doin’ tonight!

sheep

Ash Wednesday March 5, 2014

Psalm 23: King James Version

Call to Worship

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Repentance: Confession and Creation of the Ashes (writing and burning of our sins)

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Silent Contemplation

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Communion:

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

The Lord be with You

And Also with you

Lift Up Your Hearts

We Lift Our Hearts to the Lord

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God

It is right to give our thanks and praise

Epliclesis Prayer (Jesus you are the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. You laid down your life, to take it up again of your own accord. So you taught long ago, and now the ears to hear and the hearts to understand. Send your Holy Spirit upon these elements so we might be further shepherded into your flock we pray in your most Almighty name. Amen)

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever.

Bread  & Cup:

(Friends, Christ has set the feast for us, we are invited to come and eat. For on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he supped with friends and he took the most common of foods he gave thanks and broken it and said this is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me. And after they were done and were fellowshipping with one another in the same way he took the cup and said this is the blood of my new covenant spilled out for you–for Jesus was shepherd and the lamb, we still don’t know how–and Jesus promises whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup with renew this covenant and remember his death until he comes again. Come let us celebrate this communion with one another.)

Ashes

Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Benediction
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Please support my writing: Katy’s Doctorate in Ministry in Creative Writing at Pittsburgh Seminary. For Word versions of the Liturgy email me at Katyandtheword at gmail From Lament to Hope Full Resources

Prayers and Liturgy by Pastor Katy Stenta who is the solo pastor at a bigger on the inside church in Albany, NY and enjoys reading fantasy, soaking up sunshine, playing with her three sons and visiting her husband at his work, the library.

Why do we have these buildings for God?

Solomon built a temple, because he knew he couldn’t contain God.

Ironic as it is….

The Temple is empty, except for the 10 commandments, so that all the priest, and elders and leaders and everyone important can come into the temple for its dedication.

And the moment they call on God (we would call this the Prayer of Illumination) God’s Cloud fills the entire temple

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place,a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:10-11

God is all that is in the temple! The temple wasn’t big enough to hold God, yet God filled it! That’s why it wasn’t about limiting God, but noticing how infinite God is.

This is (one) story of how God came to dwell on Earth.

Another is Jesus

Another is Communion

Another is baptism

Another is us–the people, the body of Christ, Christ’s promise that whenever we gather in his name, he’ll be present.

With Christ, God was invited to be present in church, but not just in the building but in our very relationships.

God Gives Enough Bread

Right after Jesus Christ Feeds a Billion people (slight exaggeration) with some crumbs of bread and fish oil (again hyperbolically speaking)….* He then speaks of himself as the bread of life. One where he references the story of Moses, God and Manna… An often overlooked piece of this story is when they gather the bread (Ex: 16:17-18)
” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” Here we have another miracle, just like the fishes and the loaves story, where everyone has enough to eat. It doesn’t matter how much they actually gathered, God provides.

In a Spiritual not religious world, I find this immensely comforting. In a world obsessed with Work (see this great: work as the new religion article here), in a world where expectation are often viewed as entitlement, in  world where “doing” things is more important than “being” things (ministry of presence, anyone? anyone? Bueller?)

Churches too often fall into the sin of work-righteousness: that’s the sin where you think what you do is more important than what God does for you, its the one where Pride literally goes before fall–from grace**. It is why church’s tend to emphasize programs instead of people, and quantity over quality of relationships. (As my mom says, better to be a great small church than the Mall of Churches where we try to do everything).

So here’s the deal. Going to church does not mean that you have more access to God. What going to church should mean is that you are willing to support one another for God, that you want to journey with others to God, that you prioritize your relationship with God and others and that you want praising God to be a thing you regularly do in your life.

God promises that there is enough nourishment, enough measure for each of us.

And God also promises that one day we will have enough, we will be nourished. One day we will be full

***

When my grandmother was incommunicative from a fall, she also didn’t want to eat. Without, her (or our) consent the hospital put a feeding tube in

.

 

Here’s the thing, I believe that there may be a time when an older person doesn’t feel hungry anymore. Its not that they are starving (which truly is a horrifying image, which is why I think the hospital put the feeding tube in). No one wants to starve grandma. But I don’t think my grandmother was starving, I think she was full, full of life, nourished by God and done with what she wanted to do. She had, had her measure. And her years were different than my grandfather’s (who had died some years before), but although they worked a different amount of time, like the Hebrews, each of them got their measure of life. At times, I think we feel like people (especially children) didn’t get their full measure, how could they when their time was so different? But, somehow, God promises that they did. And so maybe people are accessing God differently, I know my parents weren’t following twitter, reading fantasy and publishing blogs as a part of their spiritual lives, but it doesn’t make my measure any more, or any less, than other people of faith.

So why church? Because its another way for us to find community and nourishment, when so often our shares seem to be different than everyone else’s, church means we get to share in the measures of faith others have, instead of just depending, worrying, keeping up with our own. It frees us to be varied and unique, to be communal and sharing in our measures of faith. So church then becomes part of our relationships , instead of a measure of our faith….

*despite the hyperbolic Katyisms, I totally believe this miracle actually took place…

**look, look I used literally correctly!

Holy Complaining Batman @unvirtuousAbbey

And so, God gave us complaining. As we look at the Hebrews in the desert, we notice they do a lot of complaining. Here they are, stuck in the desert, and they are hungry. So they complain, they grumble, they mummer, they complain. They realize that they are truly on their own now, they are free (through God), and in that freedom they are responsible, so they start to complain, they cast blame on their leaders Aaron and Moses (which, as Moses points out, means they are really blaming God)…

There are two kinds of complaining in the world. The overwhelming negative complaining……and then there’s the kind of complaining that bonds us together, the kind that makes us feel like a family.

When I was in College, my second week of Freshwoman year was 9/11. Through it I found lifetime friendships, and from that suffering we embraced one another, had giant sleepovers (because we couldn’t sleep in our parents room even though that’s what we wanted to do), and gave out hugs freely. This was my first, and best interaction at Oberlin. Immediately my friends and I’s motto started to be “always room for one more” causing us to continually scoot back and open up our table to the outsiders…and it mostly remained our motto (even for those who were so socially inept they had trouble even among us nerds and dweebs, although granted, THAT was difficult)

This kind of suffering bonded us together, because we walked with each other and felt some measure of the same horror that the other felt.

When my sister was joining a sorority, I was partially fascinated and partially horrified, here these kids were, afflicting one another so that the new group could “bond” thru shared suffering. That is how powerful suffering was..(my sister started to stir rebellious talks of decency and rights and never did make the soriority).

Its scary, but it also shows us how God utilizes complaining to ease our suffering and bond us together. I believe that God does not cause our suffering, I believe there is REAL and present evil at work, but I believe God suffers with us. I believe that she gave us Christ to witness, endure and walk with us in that suffering, and I believe that complaining can be a way to bind our concerns.

So when the Hebrews Complain, their surface complaint is that they are hungry, their real complaint is that they are free, that they are concerned, that they are facing the unknown and that they feel like no one is with us….

This shared experience, the whole community grumbled… is exactly what makes them not alone in the world. Because they are all complaining about the same thing, they start to coalesce , coming together as a true community and group–not one that is just universally oppressed, as they were in Egypt, but as a community that has to work together to survive and thrive, one that has to practice cooperation and trust (Truly this is why church is so important)

This is why Grumpy Cat is so popular, because he is voicing complaints that different communities can relate to! (in a caustic and snarky way), but that kind of complaining becomes confessional–we think hey, I feel like that too!

That is why we have Confession, that is why we have Joy and Concerns, because God gives us the opportunity to Open our Mouths, to admit when we feel like we are running on empty, that we are malnourished, and yet burdened, that we are expected to take on heavy loads, when we are at our limit.

And then, God does what we don’t expect.

God doesn’t condemn our complaining, mark it as sin, and then wash our mouths out with soap for our disrespect.

Instead he fills our mouths with food, so that we can’t complain. He fills our mouths with bread (living eternal bread through the communion with Jesus Christ), and meat, he fills our mouths with praise, giving us a chance to complain, helping us to come together as a community through that shared experience, and then gifting us with enough nourishment to sustain that community.

So come to church, complain (some), and share in each other’s crevices, so that they become not the cracks that make us fall apart, but instead the edges on which we grow!

PS for some Good Holy Complaining follow @unvirtuousAbbey on Twitter

Exodus 16:2-5

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

John 6: 30-33, 41-42

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[c]

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heavenand gives life to the world.”

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

Embodied Spirituality: (w)holistic faith and what it means

Good Examples of Embodied Spirituality tend to be as follows

yoga

monks working

liturgical dance

and Mr. Rogers (because he’s the Presbyterian Superhero of faith 🙂

Here is the Spiritual but not religious issue in sum:

Christianity–more and more abstracted and spiritualized religion, emphasizing the moral lessons of the Bible, essentializing Jesus as love and pursuing faith. Like good Augustine-type-people we have more and more distanced ourselves from the body, turning communion into a remembering of Christ. Barb Hedges-Goettl concludes that we have moved away from the reality of the broken, embodied Divinity present in Jesus Christ. A particular example of this can be found in how communion is celebrated (more about this below/in the thesis)

Hence Christianity is about being “spiritual” and has almost nothing to do with our bodies

If anything we should deny our bodily needs, giving quick and easy solutions to issues of 1. addiction: denial, proof that worldly wants are addictive and evil 2. homosexuality: denial its just a bodily impulse and the body is evil 3. Health Issues: If you are truly pure your body will be healed, otherwise better luck in heaven. These are broad generalizations, but you get the idea.

Hence we have an entire generation of the spiritual not religious, because if Jesus is only love, and we should deny the body, why do we need to gather and/or embody Christ through the church? The church doesn’t embody Christ, in fact, it doesn’t even consider embodiment important, so bodies are–literally–gone from the church. Spiritual but not religious people can do all that from home. So that’s it, they’ll be Spiritual, they don’t need to be religious.

If what we eat, how we care for our bodies, where we are present and how we are active are spiritual activities, then spirituality very quickly turns religious….

Barb Hedges-Goettl suggests to us that a vital piece is missing, and that is the living body of Christ. My question is : If we say Christ’s body is both present in communion and embodied by the church, what does this do to our faith: God is NOT JUST present when we see love, God is calling us to presently embody love as a corporate (ie enfleshed/embodied/living-flesh-corpse) of Christ that is out in the community….I find this especially interesting in a digital world, where embodiment is finding new expression–and yet still nothing beats a face to face meeting (you can’t hug on skype)

“In my dissertation I wrote that faith is about meeting God and God acting upon us. God is the life-changing agent/subject, not the object of belief. The living resurrected Christ changes us; he is not just an example to emulate or the purveyor of an ethic or value”–Barb Hedges-Goettl Photo

Dr. Barb Hedges-Goettl ‘s thesis is : The Body is Missing: Eucharistic Theology of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Conversation with Zwingli, Calvin, and Nevin” (10107), has been submitted to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in preparation for posting on ProQuest)

PS Shepherd is the best fictional clergy, EVER

“I believe that…

“I believe that the divisions between these aspects of Christ’s person and life are artificial. All three Christological aspects (incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection) are a part of the answer to human brokenness. As incarnate, Christ demonstrated that human bodies and experiences are not inimical to intimate relationship with God. As crucified, Christ showed that God understands and participates in human pain, suffering and even in mortality. As resurrected, Christ manifested God’s power over that pain, suffering and death. To share in the Lord’s Supper is to share with Christ Jesus in all these aspects of his person and life.” –Dr. Barb Hedges-Goettl PCUSA Pastor

Communion, the real deal

I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst” and “I am the vine, you are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing,” both of which emphasize the relationship between believers and Christ without specifically including Christ’s body.[1]

 

his body as a living sacrifice and his use of common things, including bread and wine, to bless and heal, reconcile, and bind people together, and also to exhibit “the grace, power, and presence of the Kingdom of God.”


 

The Fig Tree

One day Jesus told a parable (Luke 13:1-9)…there was a fig tree and the master came out to inspect it.

“This tree has been here 3 years and never produced fruit, cut it down”

“Tell you what, I’ll dig out a new home for the tree and give it fresh fertilizer (and water), why don’t you wait a year and see if it produces fruit then” the gardener persuaded

“Fine but if it doesn’t grow, chop it down”

And that is the end of the story…no resolution, no happily ever after, why?

Because the point of the story is the need for nourishment, as the kids in church said today, chopping down a tree isn’t going to help it to produce fruit, but encouragement does…

But digging even deeper into the story, we have to wonder, what is the point of the fig tree producing fruit anyway? Here it goes to all the trouble of growing fruit for what…

to nourish itself?

to have it sit there forever?

to help itself to grow bigger and stronger?

No, it does it so that some other creature can eat its fruit! The usefulness of the tree is not in the tree structure itself; the tree was growing just fine without any fruit, but in how it nourishes others…

And that, my friend is the church, we exist not to nourish or help ourselves, but to share our fruits with others.

If we have no fruit, if we go on upholding our structure, then we are not, in fact, successful.

There is a theory (probably most famously put forth in the book “Bowling Alone”) that society embraced and loved institutions in the 1950s. There were many groups that flourished in this time: scouts, elks, bowling clubs, churches. Churches adapted the institutional structure and did as well as the rest.

Today the structure is to make your own kind of community. You do yoga alone, you make connections online and through relay rides and couchsurfers (for my thoughts on millennials read here). But, that doesn’t mean the hunger/the thirst for God isn’t still there (Psalm 63 was paired with the fig tree gospel reading for a reason). People long for a spirituality that feeds them, has  integrity (***please note, I do not mean they want a vending machine or religion that caters to their every whim, but something that is both relevant and still full of integrity), and one that practices what it preaches–supporting social justice & those in need. Millennials have just internalized the independent nature of our culture (I’ll do it alone, in fact I’ll make a community all on my own) hence: Spiritual but not religious. Church’s need to figure out how to nourish that independent nature so it too can produce fruit.

Its like a Farmer’s Market where people want to take responsibility for their food by connecting to the people who grow it…How can church be less like a supermarket and more like a Farmer’s Market?

After all, Jesus came and gave his ENTIRE LIFE as nourishment for all of us, that is why we (Presbyterians) practice open communion, because everyone gets to share in the spiritual fruits of Christ!

I’m not saying bowling is better than yoga or vice versa, I’m saying that when the church is able to make spiritual fruit to nourish others, that is called ministry! (again we are back to the Farmer’s Market at my church, how can we make it MORE nourishing)

 

How can we, as a church, make the fruit to nourish others.

 

PS do you know olive trees live thousands of years? In the Garden of Gethsemane I was able to see some fig trees which, in all likelihood, stood while Jesus prayed right before his crucifixion. So really, giving a church/person/tree of a couple of years when we can grow and be shaped by thousands is looking at things from a human perspective…How much more can God see, from where she sits? Here is a picture of some of those ACTUAL trees!

Shannon A Thompson

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