Monday, April 15, 2013

Casting Our Nets

This week’s lectionary text from John 21:1-19 includes the story of the post-resurrection disciples going back to what they knew best before following Jesus. They went back to Galilee, pushed off in one of their old boats and went fishing.

Many of us have done the same when we needed some quiet time of reflection and/or spending time with friends in a relaxing atmosphere. Like many other little boys, I have spent many hours over the course of my life enjoying time in "fishing contemplation."
 photo by Mac Brown

A Time of Loss and Fear

Going fishing probably seemed like a good idea to the disciples as well. They had lost the leader whom they had been sure was the Messiah. Then after Jesus’ death, they had spent most of their time in hiding from the authorities that they knew would surely come for them.

But Jesus had been the one to find them, locked in a room, scared out of their wits and seemingly without hope of a future.

After this exhausting ordeal, who would blame them for needing a vacation? Even if it was a working one. Maybe, they thought, it would be easier to fish for fish, and not men. But it seemed that the fish weren’t biting that day.

Try Something New

Then a “stranger” on shore shouted to them from the shore. “Throw your nets on the other side of the boat!” the stranger said. Now, I’ve heard of backseat drivers before but shore-side fishermen!?! But when the disciples complied to his suggestion, low and behold their net was fill with so many fish, they could barely drag it to shore much less into the boat.

This story leaves us with a question. Was Jesus’ just encouraging the disciples to try a new way to catch fish? Or was he using a metaphor, as he often did with his disciples, concerning the future of their ministry. I believe it is both.

photo by Mac Brown

A Metaphor for Today

It would appear that the metaphor is certainly relevant for ministry today. The Barna Group, which has been tracking the statistics of how Americans approach their faith, has much to say about the importance of casting our nets in new ways.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, has consolidated the info about how young adults view "the church" into a video called You Lost Me (click on the title to watch the video).

Tom Ehrich, a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York., recently added some insights into the some of the challenges that modern day churches face in his article Change or Die (click on the title to see the article). In his article, Tom points out the many changes in our culture and the need for the church to "cast its nets" in new and different ways.

The Good News

Even in light of those dire predictions, there is good news for the Bryson City UMC. We have been casting our nets in new ways already through the River of Life summer ministry on the Nantahala River and this summer we will launch a new ministry on the Tuckaseegee River in Dillsboro, NC. Both of these ministries reach out to active young adults.

Stone Soup gatherings are held on Sunday evenings to serve the hungry in our community and offer a forum for exploring our Christian faith in an open setting.

With the renovation of the Fellowship Hall, our church will be able to offer a contemporary Praise & Worship type service. This style of worship directly appeals to the young adults in our community. We are still working out the details but most of the planning will be driven by young adults.

Image from The Wisdom Journal

Casting Together

As we have seen from the story of the disciples, when casting our nets, it is important for all of us to be pulling together. Each of us has our own job, our own area of ministry, as we work toward bringing God's Kingdom on earth.

It is my prayer that we continue to pull together, as one of the most loving churches I have experienced, to share the love of Christ with others of our community in traditional and fresh ways.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Removing Our Sandals

As you read this post, you are may be going through the Lenten practice of reflection on and recommitment to God’s purpose(s) in your life. This forty-day period of intense devotional preparation for Easter, based on Jesus’ own wilderness preparation, is one of the places where sacred space is needed.
You might be reminded of the February Midbar post that spoke of the need for sacred space in our lives. We explored the notion that sacred space often is created by God to help us experience the divine in new and significant ways.

Experiencing God in New Ways

Even though few have had a “burning bush” experiences, Moses’ story as seen in Exodus 3:4-7, 10 (I’m using the CEB below) can tell us a lot about how we might experience God’s presence.

God Calls Us by Name

The first step to finding sacred space is to recognize that God is calling out to us: When the LORD saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” This prompted the following response: Moses said, “I’m here.” We can see the importance of being still enough to hear God’s voice calling out to us.

God is Awesome!

Next, we should recognize the holiness and awe-inspiring nature of God. It is easy to forget we are in the presence of the one who not only created us but the entire universe. Then the LORD said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”
By commanding Moses to take his sandals off, which were coated with sheep manure, God is indicating that Moses needs to separate himself from the stinky stuff he had been carrying with him. Then we see the result of Moses’ divine encounter: ‘Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.’
Other scripture shows the importance of removing our sandals. Joshua 5:15 The commander of the LORD's heavenly force said to Joshua, "Take your sandals off your feet because the place where you are standing is holy." So Joshua did this. Acts 7:33 The Lord continued, Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 

A Response is Needed

Although there are times when it is enough to simply recognize the awesome wonder of God, most often a response on our part is required. God calls us to be his hands and feet to fulfill the purpose of establishing his kingdom on earth. God clearly wanted a response from Moses. Then the LORD said, “I've clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain ... So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
As we encounter God on our journey through Lent, it will be helpful to remember Moses’ burning bush experience. First, God called. And, Moses heard. Then, Moses took off his sandals in God’s holy presence. After which, Moses responded.
I would like to leave you with a prayer for sacred space so that you might hear God, recognize his holiness and respond to bring the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Pray with Your Sandals Off

Dear Lord,
Help me to be open to you for this time as I put aside the cares of this world. Fill my mind with your peace and your love.
May I never take the gift of freedom for granted. You gave me the great blessing of freedom of spirit. Fill my spirit with your peace and your joy.
Help me Lord to be more conscious of your presence. Teach me to recognise your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times your love has been shown to me through the care of others.
Now Lord, give me strength and patience for today … and your hope for tomorrow.
Glory be to God. Amen

Imagine Jesus sitting or standing near you and open your heart to him.

What feelings are rising in you as you pray?
How is he calling you to be transformed?
How is he asking you to transform the world around you?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding Sacred Space

How do you define Sacred Space?  Is it in the church sanctuary? Could it possibly be at the altar which was intended specifically to create sacred space? Many consider a mountain top to be sacred space. For others, like myself, sacred space may even be found on a river.

Sacred space signifies separateness or distinctness from the ordinary, or the “profane.” God is called the “Holy One,” a term that denotes His absolute “uncommonness” to all human experience. Times and places in which God appears to people become holy simply by being places of divine encounter.

Sacred Space should be Transformational.

As part of my reading through the Bible in a year with a young adult study group, I am in the process of reading about the Israelites wilderness experience, the construction and rules around worshipping in the Tabernacle, and the challenge of being transformed into the people of God.

This was especially true in the Old Testament as the displaced people of Israel tried to make sense of their new lives and the possibility of being led by God. It was clear to the Israelites that Yahweh was not common. The people were to treat anything associated with God unlike anything in the everyday world. And yet, God offers to come into our everyday lives to make what has been separated from divine intention and transform and restore us into his image.

Transformation is an ongoing process.

Sacred space it seems might be created by God to help us experience the divine in new and significant ways. It may also be created by us in an effort to search for God, to experience the divine on a regular basis.

In his book “Why Jesus?” William Willimon offered an insightful perspective on this transformation. 
Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they were. Conversion of thought and life, a whole new world, is part of the adventure of being loved by Jesus . . . 'If anyone is in Christ - new creation!' That's bad news for those who are complacent with the world as it is; good news for those who think that they may have been created for more than merely present arrangements.”

Sometimes Sacred Space comes in surprising ways.

Jesus created sacred space around the table for a diverse range of people. There were the obvious choices he made by inviting some of the religious leaders, friends and family. But most notably, there were the marginalized. The people that were invited didn’t seem to fit in; certainly not at a table with God. 

Jesus’ table was a place where the marginalized could experience the divine in a very personal way. Stone Soup is just such a place for our community. It is sacred space created for the restoration and transformation of a diverse group of people that have come to God’s table.

How have you created Sacred Space for yourself?

Have you created Sacred Space for yourself to experience the divine on a daily basis? Maybe it is a special time and/or place for a daily devotional, Bible reading and prayer. It is critical for our lives as Christians to spend time creating space to experience God’s presence. We often find ourselves lost in the wilderness with no hope of seeing the Promised Land and our Sacred Spaces give us healing, hope and time to reflect on a path forward.

I encourage you to find the time and space that will be transformative for you. It is not always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

I pray God’s blessings on you for your sacred journey.