EASTER EDITION 2014By Rich Pleva - April 16, 2014, 7:25 am
“He is risen!”
“He is risen, indeed!”
A member of my esteemed staff gave me an interesting book for Christmas: “Silence: A Christian History.” I’ve been reading it slowly (even silently?), making my way through it for a couple months now.
As I get older, I’m drawn to silence in ways that were formerly alien to me. I don’t claim to be an expert on the attitudinal changes that accompany aging, nor am I convinced we all age in similar ways, but for me, at least, silence has become more important as I’ve aged.
But Easter doesn’t seem to be an occasion for silence. Easter seems to be an occasion for noisy celebration – even raucous noise-making!
There was a day (the day we call Palm Sunday) when Jesus was challenged about the noisy adulation his followers offered him. He famously responded, “If they were silent….the stones would cry out!”
If that was true before his death and resurrection, then how much more after he encountered death and lived again to offer death-defeating hope to all who follow him?
I do like quiet…but not so much on Easter. On Easter I want the organ and trumpets to roar (or the praise band….that’d be good, too!) and I want to be confronted with a story that makes me shake my head in wonderment and imagine that mortality doesn’t get the last word. That hopeless causes can triumph! That injustice doesn’t always or ultimately prevail! I want my discouraged and cynical instincts to be shaken to the core and be confronted with possibilities too astounding to be real….and to be told they ARE real!!
There are times for silence…but not this time. So on Sunday…when the worship leader asserts, “He is risen!” please shout back, “He is risen, indeed!” And then open your mind to the impossible….for Easter is nothing if not the message that even the impossible can (and does!) happen!
By Rich Pleva - April 16, 2014, 7:25 am
UCC in Iowa
Who, and whose, we areBy Brigit Stevens - April 10, 2014, 2:54 pm
My kids, just shy of 4 & 5 years old, have been reveling in the warmer temps and longer hours of sunshine these past few weeks! As we pull up to our driveway at the end of our short commute from daycare each evening, they crane their necks to see which of their neighborhood friends are outside playing already. They need reminding each day to first bring their backpacks inside, secondly, to take a bathroom break, and then thirdly, there is further reminding of our rules about playing with the neighbors, before they are allowed to run off down the sidewalk to their friends. They are just beginning this adventure of playing in other people’s yards, sometimes in their homes, and out of the line of sight of Mom or Dad. They need reminding, every day, that even though we’re not there with them, we have expectations and rules that need to be followed.
They are also learning that the rules of our home don’t always match the rules of other people’s homes. And that their attempts at negotiating ways around our rules that begin with something like, “But, Charlie’s mom said…” don’t usually yield their desired response. Because the usual response goes something like, “Yes, but I’m YOUR mom, and in OUR family, we have THESE rules.”
They are learning who, and whose, they are.
This is a lifelong learning. Who, and whose, we are.
I need reminding. Every day.
Sometimes I need reminding so that I don’t leave my work for someone else to be burdened with; the equivalent of remembering to put my backpack away. Sometimes I need reminding so that I slow down and take care of my body and soul as it needs care; the grown-up version of the preschool potty break. And sometimes I need reminding so that I treat my neighbors the way that my Parent has taught me, and expects me to.
That’s why I am thankful for all of you, my church family. Being with you, hearing the sermons, sharing the Bible studies, working on the mission projects, serving one another, you remind me of who, and whose, we each are.
As we continue the journey toward Jesus’ week in Jerusalem, entering the gates with the fanfare of Palm Sunday, exiting the city with the humility of the burden of the cross, let us remember who and whose we are. Let us be moved to make choices each day to love fully, to forgive freely, and to give generously, in the way our Parent taught us, and expects of us.
Blessings for the journey,
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By Brigit Stevens - April 10, 2014, 2:54 pm
Leadership - oneself or inspire others?By Rich Pleva - April 4, 2014, 10:07 am
Lots of us know the appeal of doing things by oneself. Doing things oneself enables excellent quality control and allows for maximally efficient use of time expended. No wonder doing things oneself is a preferred MO (modus operandi) of many clergy. Involving others can be so tiring….it entails recruitment (often of the reluctant!), and training. It involves follow-up and clarification. Often it is so much easier to just do it alone.
Perhaps Jesus should had decided to go it alone! It would have been a choice easy to understand. His disciples were slow to catch on, given to sleep, interpersonal quibbling and frustratingly inclined to professional and personal recidivism. Had I been Jesus I’d have probably accepted the tempter’s offer of stones-to-bread transformation. It would have been so much neater and easier than dealing with the disciple’s obtuse resistance with the crowds of 4000 and 5000.
Of course, Jesus did NOT accept the tempter’s offer. Jesus knew and accepted his limitations (yes, even the Son of God had limitations!). He knew his time was limited and if his message of grace and life was to spread, it would have to be through agency of others. Had he been less clear about this, he might have spent more time feeding the hungry and healing the sick and less time in prayer and with the disciples….and when his three year ministry ended….it would soon have faded away and we might never have heard of him.
Local churches are too often too dependent on just a few. Aside from the inequity of expecting so much from just a few, this practice is organizationally debilitating. One of our favorite metaphors for the church is the body image – a body with many parts which functions best as every part makes its own divinely inspired contribution. We love this image, but then we make it a lie by running church as if only the pastor and one or two others ought to carry the bulk of the load.
This past week a handful of congregational leaders from 20 or so of our churches participated in two different events. Representatives from about 15 churches learned about New Beginnings – a consulting process designed to lead a congregation through a highly participatory process toward a “Bold Decision.” Then a week later and about 5 groups of congregational leaders were exposed to ideas by which a congregation might make stewardship and fund-raising (they are two different things, but obviously related with each other!) more integral parts of the life of their congregations.
What these two programs have in common is a bedrock assumption/presumption that it takes the whole body to move in a meaningfully new direction. And for that to happen, clergy (and other heavily involved lay leaders) need to figure out creative and honest ways to invite more and more of their fellow members into meaningful ministry.
I’m not for moment suggesting that clergy should sit on their haunches and hope something exciting spontaneously bubbles up from within the church. It doesn’t work that way. Leaders must lead – but leadership doesn’t equate to control or over-function. Perhaps that bears repeating: Control and over-functioning are NOT aspects of high quality leadership. They are, in fact, antithetical to highly effective leadership.
As it always does, Holy Week and Easter come at the end of Lent – not many days from now. Holy Week comes with many reminders….one of which is the stark reminder that Jesus died and shortly thereafter was gone from this earthly scene. But interestingly, the church gradually and inexorably took root after he was gone. There was something about the way Jesus invested himself in others that equipped them to carry on once he was gone…in fact, not just carry on, but thrive.
Are you and I that type of leader? Are we leaders who so equip and inspire others that once we are gone they will carry on…perhaps even more effectively than when we were present?
Let us aspire to be that kind of leaders!
With Great Hope!
By Rich Pleva - April 4, 2014, 10:07 am
UCC in Iowa
Sharing the JourneyBy Brigit Stevens - March 21, 2014, 2:57 pm
A few years ago, OK, now it’s been several years, I walked a marathon. It was a fundraiser for an important cause to me. My sister and best friend and I trained and walked together. It was a night that I will never forget.
We started walking in the evening, just before sunset, and walked until just after dawn on a hot and sticky August night in Washington D.C. It was one of those nights that never really cooled off from the day.
I started that night full of inspiration and energy. I had logged many many miles of training walks in the months before and was ready for this night. I had my well broken-in but not yet worn out shoes, a hip-pack with clean socks, band-aids and granola bars, and two of my closest friends and supporters by my side.
And yet, with all the preparations, provisions and support in place, I still came to a wall in that journey.
About 3 miles from the end, my feet were on fire, my legs were broken out in hives from the heat, my friend had twisted an ankle and been shuttled off to the finish line 3 miles previously, I was hungry and exhausted and the next port-a-potty was a painful ¼ mile away.
Tears rolled down my face. I stopped dead in my tracks on the path. I was done.
And then…I got mad.
This stupid course is not going to beat me. The heat of D.C. is not going to stop me. Are you kidding me? Of all the things in my life I’ve been through and will go through, this is not going to be the thing that stops me. I will not stop, that’s not who I am. I can do this. I will do this. I am doing this.
And I took a step. And then one more. And kept taking one step at a time until I crossed the finish line.
Some days this is what my faith journey looks like too. Some days are just plain hard. Tears roll down my face, despair strangles my soul, and I am done.
And then I remember to pray.
Nothing fancy or profound. Most often it’s not even my own words, but the words Jesus gave us to say, “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”
Somehow, it helps. It’s that next step that gets me moving, ever so slightly, again. God knows me better than I know myself. God cares about my hurts and struggles. God hears my prayer. God knows and loves you better than you know yourself, cares about you, and hears your prayers.
Be blessed this Lenten season, by the love of God which passes all human understanding. May you be met in the moments of energy and enthusiasm as well as the really hard and painful ones with God’s love, light, and hope. The hope of brand new life. The hope of the risen Christ. I promise, God promises, he’s just around the bend!
Sharing the journey,
By Brigit Stevens - March 21, 2014, 2:57 pm
Treasure in clay jarsBy Rich Pleva - March 6, 2014, 11:38 am
“We have this treasure in clay jars….”
The Apostle Paul – I Corinthians
I’m writing from inside the “cattle car”…a Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando. It’s filled with some business people and a lot of families returning from a late winter vacation to a warm place. And me.
I’ve been in Orlando meeting with leaders of the United Church of Christ – conference ministers and members of the Collegium (the 4 executives who lead the national setting of our church). We’ve been dealing with hard questions and concerns, namely, in a day of dizzying change, what are the essential functions of the national setting of the church?
I’ll tip my hand…we didn’t come to sure and certain conclusions. But that doesn’t mean the meeting was a waste of time – far from it!
Last summer I heard Walt Brueggemann preach a powerful sermon at the worship service marking the retirement of Wisconsin Conference Minister Dave Moyer. Brueggemann was as provocative as ever as he skewered our collective attachments to most everything we hold dear in church. In a rant/rap he sang out a litany of every imaginable aspect of things ecclesiastical – everything from digital projectors to organs, stained glass windows to worship bands, committees to seminaries, authorized ministry to baptismal fonts…and more. And insisted – “they are ALL…ALL…clay jars.” We have no choice but to be willing to let them go…because they are…none of them…the gospel.
Before I go any further, let me remind you of something: Christ’s church is NOT going away. 50 years from now the Gospel (the message of grace and forgiveness and love and joy and peace and hope and justice) will still be around. But only God knows the institutional forms in which it will be held (the new clay pots!), and She isn’t saying…at least not very clearly. So we…God’s beloved baptized…are left to experiment and argue and negotiate and grieve and celebrate our way into an unknown future…and do so resolutely and faithfully and humbly. It seems in this present day the church is called to be a wilderness people – folk who aren’t given clarity about our destination (read the book of Exodus!)…but are only told to step out and follow our God.
Will it be fun? Sometimes it will be…and often it will be confusing and excruciating (a word related to the “cross”) and painful. Leaving the cherished behind is never easy or pleasant.
But my friends…let us never, never, never lose heart! We may not know where the journey takes us, but we know a few things about the entourage…which includes you, and me and the Spirit of God. In a sense, it also includes everyone who’s ever struggled to know the way of Christ – from Peter and Paul to ancient church fathers (and mothers) to the reformers and right on down to people you and I have known and loved and lost. And in another odd sense it includes our descendants who aren’t even yet born.
I started this message with an intent you may find odd…I started it with an intent to say “thank you!!” During 2013 your generous gifts to the wider church (OCWM – Our Church’s Wider Mission) exceeded that which we had budgeted by about $40,000. That outcome nearly moves me to tears….for lots of reasons. I know that for many churches (and individuals) this expression of generosity entails cost…even sacrifice. My staff and I (and the conference Board of Directors) never presume that you have to support our common ministries this way. We hope you value our common ministries and want to support them…but I do not take your gifts for granted.
How does this all tie together? Well, in a nutshell…church is changing, and to be honest, the pace of change is only going to accelerate. But I promise that your gifts to OCWM will be used as faithfully as humanly possible – and creatively so as to help us walk faithfully into an unknown (but God-filled!) future. I hope you will continue to be as generous as you are able to be. I hope you will pray for the Board of Directors, and for the conference staff, and for me. Add to your prayers our partners in the national settings of the church. And don’t forget to pray for yourselves and your own local church and your pastor.
The places to which God is taking all of us are impossible to know with certainty. However, the identity of our travel companions are not unknown – they are you and me and untold others who love Jesus and in following him want to better love their neighbors.
We’re in this together, friends! Thanks be to God!!
UCC in Iowa
By Rich Pleva - March 6, 2014, 11:38 am