Redlands 1st UMC aspires to be an Invitational, Nurturing and Inclusive faith community. We are committed to serving the world in the Spirit of Jesus.
Seeing the World Through the Cross
At this particular moment in our history, we are overwhelmed. For many of us, this feeling is deeper and broader than we have previously experienced. It leaves us with anxiety, anger, fear and uncertainty. Many of the people, positions and institutions that we had previously leaned for relief, clarity and hope have been coopted and compromised. In some respects, it feels like being a kite in the midst of a hurricane. When pushed as we are, sometimes the most important thing we can do is breathe. It may seem overly simplistic, but it matters. The act of stopping, pausing, taking control over your response to the maelstrom has great value. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Pause. Settle. Reorient yourself.
Many centuries ago, the desert mothers and fathers, who separated themselves from the rat race in order to connect more deeply with God have shown us the way. Breathing is more than a biological function; it is also a spiritual function. Breathing, meditation, reflection, centering, and mindfulness are sibling practices that enable us to pause and reconnect to the ground and source of our being.
Freed, if even for a brief time, from the chaos that plagues us we become better able to see the world as God sees it. We are better able to orient ourselves to a direction and course that leads us more deeply into life giving relationship with God and with one another. We are better able to see what it means to see the cross of Christ as a gateway to a life that can become a means of the grace which will restore the world.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ”. This simple call from the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi is perhaps one of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture. On the one hand, it appears to be pretty simple and straightforward. Love God and Love neighbor. Check. Got that. And yet, as Paul goes on from the basic call, we realize that it runs much deeper. What seems, at first, to be one of the simplest calls in Scripture becomes one of the most difficult.
Paul asserts that Jesus’ life and ministry represents something so much more. He explains that Jesus, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God has something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Though he had the power of God at his fingertips, he didn’t abuse that power, instead he gave it to others. He empowered others through radical acts of self-giving love.
If we are to faithfully follow Paul’s call to let the same mind be in us that was in Christ, it will require us to approach life and each other with the same love and the same humility. Rather than exploiting power and privilege for our own purpose we must retask it and express it in the ways that we love and serve our neighbors.
As we are becoming increasingly aware of the role that privilege plays in inequality and the exploitation of others, this becomes a powerful call. If we are truly to forge the beloved community that Jesus calls us to reflect, it will mean shedding every bit of power, privilege and entitlement that would separate us one from another.
The Road Less Travelled
So much of our life is defined by the choices we make. Our ability to build bridges or destroy community lies at the basic level of how we choose to face what lies before us. This is, at once, both the great possibility and the great pitfall of the human experience. If we see beyond ourselves and embrace what matters to ‘we’ rather than ‘me’, there is nothing that we won’t be able to accomplish…largely because we accomplish it together. However, if a person is not able to get beyond the ‘me’ and everything is seen through the prism of what benefits ‘me’ without regard to ‘we’…that is a recipe for what we have right now: division, suspicion, tribalism, fear and even violence.
In recent years we have seen evidence in our culture that there is a stranglehold of self that plagues our relationships, our churches, our institutions and especially our politics. People make choices based solely on what is best for their narrow interest, unaware or uninterested in the damage and even violence that they cause to others. Our call in Christ requires us to make different choices.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul, while in jail, walks through the calculus of making faithful choices. Paul has been beaten, imprisoned and at this point, likely facing execution. He could easily tell the Philippians that it is time for them to fend for themselves. With this hanging over our heads, who among us wouldn’t. Paul himself sees the gain that could come by succumbing to his circumstances. Yet, he comes to recognize that, though it will be harder, it is more important for him to struggle on so that he can continue to be of help and assistance to the Philippian church. This is a supremely unselfish choice. It sets the stage for the understanding that true spirituality is realized when the consuming love for others displaces the stranglehold of self.
Dimensions of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is hard. It requires something of us. It is more than words. It is even more than actions. Forgiveness is a change in our heart. We can utter the words and even take cursory action to forgive someone who has harmed us, but if our heart isn’t in it, we don’t actually accomplish anything. A grudge or hurt that is held on to in our heart can easily become toxic. The unresolved pain has a corrosive effect on our entire life.
Forgiveness is more than just smoothing over a bump. In its fullest flower, forgiveness is about restoration and reconciliation. Brings new life and restored relationship to people separated by acts that bring brokenness. Forgiveness is most fully modelled in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
Forgiveness is a tall order, not because it is somehow superhuman. Each of us is capable of forgiveness. What makes it hard is that or capacity to hold grudges is so often great than our capacity to show mercy. Until we can tip the balance, forgiveness will always be hard.
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
In Scripture we see that some of the largest and most striking examples of God’s life-giving work are done with great fanfare. God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush. God saved the Israelites through the parting of the sea. Jesus came to the disciples in the midst of a storm, walking on the water. There is a tendency, I think, when we are in the midst of difficult situations, with no clear way to turn, to wait for the next burning bush. It certainly does make life and faith choices much easier when God shows up in such obvious ways.
Sometimes, when we get caught in that paradigm, we forget that God didn’t only show up in the thunder and lightning of a moment. When the prophet Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the king and queen wanted to kill him, he had an unusual epiphany. He experienced the usual things where God was known to show up, thunder, lightning, storm, earthquake and wind. The marvelous thing about the story is that Elijah didn’t hear God in these obvious ways. Instead, he heard God in the silence that followed.
When we wait for the big displays, we likely will miss the below the radar, every day experiences of grace. When we wait around for the next burning bush, we miss the opportunity to be a means of God’s grace in people’s lives in smaller, yet no less vital ways. It is important to remember that God does give us the freedom and power to reflect the Kindom of God, the beloved community, every single day. Each day we have the freedom and power to stand against all that would break community and human dignity.
It Shouldn't Be That Hard
When the world sees so much as transactional, conditional and malleable in the face of compromising pressures it is important that we stay rooted in the values, attitudes and actions that define who we are. Both as individuals and has communities drawn together for common purpose our Core Values will define us. Core Values will not just define when life is easy, and conflict is absent. Core Values will guide our course and establish our foundation for action especially when our life is difficult and tossed by the seas of conflict, discontent and uncertainty.
The covenant communities that have formed around the Scriptural witness of Jesus have expressed these Core Values in various places. In the Hebrew Scripture, the 10 Commandments, the Sinai covenant with the people of Israel is one such expression. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Beatitudes, which come at the beginning of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, are another expression of Core Values. In Romans 12:9-21, the Apostle Paul expressed the Core Values of the Christian Community in a language that would be accessible to the church in Roman.
Genuine Love (unhypocritical love), being repulsed by evil, mutual affection, hope, patience, prayer and living in harmony form the basis of Paul’s expression. Unhypocritical love is the key. Following the pattern of Jesus’ self-giving love, for us to express this love genuinely in thought, word and deed leaves no room for any of the ways that we might seek to divide ourselves…especially by ethnicity. In an era in which people would claim the mantle of Christ and yet trade in, magnify and stoke the fears of White Supremacy, it is vital that those who would follow Christ repudiate such claims.