Wind, Fire, and Finding Our VoiceBy Jonna Jensen - May 21, 2015, 7:54 am
This Sunday, the Festival of Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s the third of the three great festivals of the Christian year and the one we celebrate largely without shopping. Not so many pop singers releasing new Pentecost albums. Fewer neighbors stringing red Pentecost lights. No grocery ads for Pentecost specials. I did find a few Pentecost cards on line. “Sending you my warm Pentecost wishes”? Hmmm. There was that fire.
The Comforter comes. The Challenger comes. The Opener of the Word. The One who lifts our prayers on sighs too deep for words. The One who shakes and startles and sends.
As you watch and listen in the Pentecost story (Acts 2), what words and images stir you to wonder?
The rush of a violent wind. Tongues as of fire. The Word in every language. Amazed. Perplexed. Visions. Dreams. Portents. All of us are witnesses. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Messiah. What then shall we do?
Today I thank God for a pastor who invited me to pay attention to Peter. Peter, who denied. Who hid. Now stands to preach. Now finds his voice. Now finds the voice of God within him. And, filled with the Holy Spirit, is not afraid. Or, at least, bears witness beyond his fears.
How many times in our sacred texts do we hear God and angels and wise ones saying, “Do not be afraid.”?
What fears still slow us from boldly following Jesus? What fears still stifle our congregation’s bolder witness? What stories might we share of moments and seasons when we found our voices and risked beyond our fears? What verses might our congregation write to a new Pentecost hymn with the refrain: “Wow! Hallelujah! We’d never tried THAT before!”?
We welcome the Festival of Pentecost singing and praying, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Come, wind and fire. Come, awe. Come, dreams. Come, power. Come, Word and Voice. Come, comfort and challenge. Come, witness. Come, courage.
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - May 21, 2015, 7:54 am
cov•e•nantBy Brigit Stevens - May 14, 2015, 11:11 am
synonyms: contract, agreement, undertaking, commitment, guarantee, warrant, pledge, promise, bond, indenture
agree, especially by lease, deed, or other legal contract.
“the landlord covenants to repair the property”
synonyms: undertake, contract, guarantee, pledge, promise, agree, engage, warrant, commit oneself, bind oneself
“the landlord covenants to repair the property”
Covenant is a really big word in our church life here in the United Church of Christ. We use the word as a noun, a verb, and an adjective. We describe our polity, the way we organize and govern ourselves, as covenantal. We recognize the covenants of God with all of Creation throughout our scripture. We speak of our agreements and contracts with one another as covenants and recognize there are always more than 2 parties involved.
I like the word covenant. I like it because it sounds churchy to me. I don’t know of very many other places that we use that word (although, I don’t get out much, and am rarely far from a churchy context anymore). I like the word because it sounds big and important. I think churchy things ought to sound big and important. However, sometimes churchy words can sound so big and important, I can start to believe that they don’t really apply to me. They sound big and important for other people, you know, holy people, people who have heard from God in a burning bush or from angels accompanying a chariot in the sky. Churchy words and ideas start to sound idealistic and Heavenly, which is far from the world I live in every day.
But when I start to shelve churchy things into that other-world space in my head or in the sanctuary, I forget the point of our Savior’s earthly visit to us 2,000+ years ago. When I start to let some distance creep in between me and the great promises and ideals that God has laid before us and invited us into, covenants between us and God and one another, then I come dangerously close to worshipping my own ideas and ideals instead of God’s. What a gift we have in the word and deed and action of covenant.
I love the idea that you and I and God are all connected. I love the thought that through our covenants we recognize each other as brothers and sisters and seek to behave in ways that lift each other up and celebrate God’s beautiful creation in all of us. I love the hope that lies in promises made between and among us to remember who and whose we are. I need that hope. Our world is full of broken promises, breaches of social contracts, and violations of rules and order. I find great hope in covenant. I meet God in covenant.
Covenant is messy and wonderful. It binds me to people with whom I disagree and am angered by equally as to those with whom I agree and aspire to be more like. Covenant pushes me to see God in mess of the everyday as well as the high polish of the sanctuary. My prayer for you and for me is that we may revel in the covenants that bind us and never give up on the hope of truly living those covenants with grace, integrity, and love. May you be wrapped in the wonder and comfort of being held in covenant with God and with your fellow siblings in the Church. May you be honorable in your covenant with me, and I with you, and all of our fellow siblings, remembering the gift of being called family together. Thank you, God, for the deep promise and covenant of your binding Love.
Blessings for the journey,
By Brigit Stevens - May 14, 2015, 11:11 am
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
Tender Notes, Aches, Romping Gifts, & Chicken PartsBy Jonna Jensen - May 7, 2015, 3:58 pm
Those who planned the worship service you’ll be attending this Sunday wrestled with the challenges presented by Mother’s Day. Like and unlike other holidays, it stirs up a strong mix of feelings. It can be a joyful day for family celebrations. And a sweet day to cherish memories. And a dark day for those whose experiences with mothers or as mothers were not of the sort for which greeting cards are made. It can be an inspiring day to raise and to reflect on that which makes motherhood holy for us. And a painful day for those who experience infertility or barriers to adoption or foster care. And a day of deeper mourning for those whose children have died. It can be a day when it’s a bit easy to miss the truth that choosing not to be a mother can also be the answer to a holy calling. For those who celebrate, for those who remember sweetly, for those in darkness, for those inspired, for those who mourn and for those who choose another path, we raise our prayers.
The founder of Mother’s Day in this country herself, Anna Jarvis, came to have mixed feelings about the holiday she worked to establish – even to the point of wishing she could unfound it! She was not a fan of printed greeting cards. The day she imagined wasn’t a day to buy a card with money, but rather a day to write a tender letter. I commend to each of us the holy practice of writing a tender letter today.
Long ago, a woman who had lived to a great age invited me into a God conversation. She wanted to know whether God would forgive her for having stolen food to feed her child during a season of her life when no other choice seemed possible and this choice felt unforgiveable. To this day, I can ache over the burden of guilt and fear she carried. I ache alongside you over the truth that too many mothers in our own communities and around the world have too little to offer their children. I commend to each of us the holy practice of paying care-full attention to the mothers we won’t see unless we look for them, mothers who need what we can give.
Among my faith heroes are a son and a daughter who gave me the story of spending their mother’s memorial money. Not on anything that would hold an inscription, but on a soul-full shopping romp for the congregation’s food pantry. Scooter-ing through parking lots on the back ends of shopping carts holding hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars of food and toiletries and laundry soap. I commend to each of us the holy practice of particular, romping generosity toward those who will never know the gift came through our hands.
Last week, I sat with my dad and step-mother for dinner. We had chicken. My dad’s dear wife raised a memory from childhood: “Mother always chose the back.” Oh, amen. We are called to put the children first, to place them in front of us, to help their faith form and also to be led by them into the realm of God. I commend to each of us the holy practice of praying over our congregations’ resources and working to make sure the time and dollars we spend in ministry and mission reflect our calling to put the children ahead of us. I commend to each of us grown-ups the spiritual practice of choosing backs and necks and wings so that the children among us might have the meatier parts.
I’ll look forward to the love stories you might send back to me – of tender notes, aches, gifts, romps, and chicken parts.
Thanking God for each of you,
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
By Jonna Jensen - May 7, 2015, 3:58 pm
Absolutely NothingBy admin - April 30, 2015, 12:08 pm
There is an old saying often quoted when we find ourselves “busted” for misbehavior. You know the one – the devil made me do it. It’s so handy to have someone to blame for stepping outside the boundaries of expected and accepted behavior. I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favorite films – Jaws. Knowing it has a shark problem during the busy Fourth of July holiday, the town’s powers reluctantly fill the beach and its waters with every kind of man-made security to “protect” its swimmers. Ultimately a fin is spotted in the water and people hysterically run for the safety of land as armed boats surround the shark. Ultimately this scare turns out to be a practical joke by two local boys. When they are found out. the younger one points at the older boy saying, “he made me do it, he made me do it”! Ah, the trouble we get each other into. There are times however, when the one encouraging us to break the rule or boundary isn’t a childhood friend or a convincing coworker. Sometimes that voice in our ear saying “just do it” is really the Spirit.
Preparing for this coming Sunday I have been reflecting on the story of Philip and the Eunuch from the Book of Acts. In this story it isn’t the devil that provokes Philip to break the rules about what to preach and to whom. Rather it is the Spirit that sends him to the wilderness and ultimately into the carriage of the Ethiopian. It is the Spirit that gives Philip the words to stir the Eunuch’s heart, and it is the Spirit that suggests to the Eunuch the idea of baptism. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” the Eunuch asks.
And there it is. We Christians are all asked the same question. What is preventing us… from breaking down barriers, speaking up for justice, questioning unjust decisions and policies? What is preventing us from doing the good work of the Good News? As professor Thomas Long suggests, absolutely nothing. Ask what is in our way and listen to the Spirit reply “absolutely nothing”. When we hear it like this absolutely nothing becomes everything.
By admin - April 30, 2015, 12:08 pm
Rebecca David, Interim Conference Minister
Recharge your soulBy admin - April 23, 2015, 8:42 am
Today let’s talk about recharge. I’ve been excited to read the e-news articles that have already come out for the Recharge event happening this June because to read and hear about all the amazing-ness that will be coming together at this one event has been inspirational!
The Iowa Conference’s annual Recharge event is meant to be a time to recharge your spirit, re-invigorate your relationships with other church folk from around the conference; re-envision your church and yourself within it. All that within a two day stretch jam packed with workshops that cover a smattering of topics, worship that enlivens and enriches, and fellowship time whenever you need to just bounce some of the awesome ideas you’ve just started pondering off of somebody else who is also having new and insightful thoughts and ideas!
Here’s the thing though…this shouldn’t be just a onetime event! Sure the Recharge event that the Iowa Conference puts on is good once a year (for financial and programmatic reasons) but the recharge that happens to us at events such as this, is something that is often taken for granted.
Our soul doesn’t ask for much attention directly. It’s just that ‘thing’ in the background, enabling many of the things we do and see and orchestrating most of what we experience. But because it does so much with so little complaining (I’m thinking about overworked muscles and joints in our bodies aching for days when they get worked out too much)…it needs a check-up from time to time. A moment to relax, restart and cleanse out what is getting in the way.
But if you are anything like me then you know what I mean when I say that we are so used to focusing on our physical body that we can easily forget it is attached to our soul. And that this soul of ours is the true foundation of all we do. And it is asking us to take it seriously. Right now. So I ask, ‘What can you do now to restore the connection with your soul?’
Whatever comes to mind first is what will benefit you most. If you couldn’t come up with anything on your own, then try coming to Recharge this year to see if that is just what your spirit needs…
Samantha Houser, Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct Youth Ministry
By admin - April 23, 2015, 8:42 am