Blog: Random Thoughts on Sunday's Sermon

Below are some random thoughts on this coming Sunday's message.  We hope they create a little time in your day to reflect on the journey of faith and life.  If they spur any thoughts, quotes, or experiences, please share them.  God moves among us as we share with each other.

For a blog, I was recently looking for an image of dogs being walked on the street, and so I Googled "dogs on street image." I was heartbroken by the photographs that resulted. There were starving dogs, suffering dogs, and abandoned dogs. I had to quickly leave the site.

Since little Gracie has come into our lives, my sensitivity around these issues has greatly increased. I think it's because through Gracie I experience the joy of a relationship with God's creatures—and an exceptionally cute one at that (had to include her picture!).


This Sunday we're celebrating the joy God's little (and not so little!) creatures bring to our lives. It is our annual Blessing of the Animals service, and we look forward to welcoming all of your pets into the sanctuary!

While our fuzzy pets are being blessed, I hope it stirs compassion within us for all of God's creatures. In Psalm 145:9 it says, "God's compassion is over all that God has made." May we be a community that embodies this compassion in ways that respond to the needs of God's creatures.  They are part of the beauty and miracle of creation that so enriches our lives.

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Sunday we reveal the top three beliefs that are difficult for West Enders. We’ve dedicated a lot of thought and time into preparing this series and I’m so excited about our collective conversation between Pastors/congregation/Scripture/tradition/experience/God.

I’m aware when we begin to “get honest” many emotions may arise. Yes, the truth shall set us free, but sometimes truth can be scary to address. The journey of faith for a Christian requires a commitment to self-reflection and prayerful attentiveness to God’s movements. When we begin to address beliefs that we’ve held onto for years and begin looking at them honestly, thinks shift in our soul. We may feel freedom, we may feel anxious, or we may feel a new awakening in our faith.

As we begin our series, I want to offer this hymn as a prayer for us to spiritually lean on. It is one of my favorite hymns that reminds me of the journey of faith can take us in directions we might not have originally expected and that in the midst of new directions, God is there always leading God’s people in grace and mercy.

The hymn is called In the Midst of New Directions written by Julian Rush (1985):

Verse 1
In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways, Who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways?

Refrain
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar, We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.

Verse 2
Through the flood of starving people, warring factions and despair, Who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?

Verse 3
As we stand a world divided by our own self-seeking schemes, Grant that we, your global village, might envision wider dreams.

Verse 4
We are man and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young,
Each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.

Verse 5
Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain,
May your blazing phoenix spirit resurrect the church again.

 

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The survey results on “beliefs that bother you” are in, and we now know the top three beliefs with which you struggle. It was wonderful to see so many of you participate. It was also fascinating to read through your comments to better understand the areas that can be obstacles in your faith journey. Be sure to be at church on Sunday as we reveal the results and talk about these problematic beliefs.

Since we’re talking about beliefs, someone designed a questionnaire that matches your beliefs with a denomination. If you’re interested in seeing which Christian denomination it places you in, click here to take the quiz.

My results said I belong with the Lutherans, who I appreciate greatly. Supposedly, I’m “meant for a serious, traditional and intellectual Christianity.” It makes me sound a little stuffy, which I hope isn’t true of my faith! Which denomination does it say you be a part of?

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Monday, October 6, 2014

One of my favorite spiritual writers of the 16th century is Saint Teresa of Avila. Teresa was a Spanish Christian mystic who was known for having a deep communion with Jesus. She reminds us that it is us who are the hands and feet of Christ now. It is us who are called to share the love of God with others. We are the vehicle through which God works in this world. She writes:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

I love this poem and it surely stands alone. A colleague has taken Teresa’s prayer and made it applicable for the digital age. Meredith Gould reminds us that in the digital era, Christ has no online presence but ours. Take a peek at this video and let it inspire your interactions in the digital and physical world.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We have always carried the notion that religious commitments shape our social and political views. But research shows the opposite may be true. We also change our religious identities to match our views.

Mark Chaves notes this phenomenon in American Religion: Contemporary Trends. This began when religion and politics became intertwined with one another, and the use of “Christian” became associated with those carrying a conservative political agenda. Chaves observes, “After 1990 more people thought that saying you were religious was tantamount to saying you were a conservative Republican.” When people began to feel that Christianity no longer represented their views, they began identifying as having no religion.

For millennials, this continues to impact their views of the church because they carry the perception that “Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics” (Kinnaman & Lyons in unchristian). Sadly, the legacy of mixing religion and conservative politics continues to shape religious identities as a new generation increasingly identifies as non-religious.

If congregations have any hope of engaging those who have left their religious identities behind, they need to communicate clearly that they’re interested in people’s lives, not their votes. It’s not that one’s faith can ever be divorced from one’s political views, or that at times people of faith need to seek political change. But when it seems the sole reason congregations exist is to support a political agenda, people have no problem leaving the church behind and self-identify in other ways.

For more blogs and trends by Pastor Michael, visit churchbeyondbelief.com

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I’m really looking forward to our sermon series next month “Let’s Get Honest: The Top Three Beliefs That Bother Me.” I’ve been doing my personal work on this topic to prepare to lead us in this conversation. My journal is peppered with notes on beliefs that are difficult for me personally. A friend and I were having wine and I asked him “What are the most difficult beliefs for you in the Christian faith?” Well, that opened up another hour long conversation. I love that, spiritual honesty! That’s one of the attributes that is distinct about the West End Collegiate Church family: we are a people who value spiritual honesty. You don’t have to check your brain at the door to worship God!

I’m not going to share my top-three beliefs, just yet. I don’t want to sway you in your honest processing, but I want to say how great it is being a minister in an intellectually vibrant congregation. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please consider filling it out in this link. It’s a short, 2 question survey that honors anonymity.

As we get honest, may the Spirit be attentive to our questions, our hopes, our doubts, our fears, and our needs as we begin to open up topics that we may not yet have had the chance to open up.

Grace and Peace to each of us.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Our topics for last week and this week are about finding purpose and direction in life, both personally and communally. Last week had to do with honoring our past and recognizing where we’ve been, and this week Michael will talk about where we are now and where we’re going. 

I was thinking about all this during a bar mitzvah at the temple where I play. When a youngster has a bar/bat mitzvah, he/she is expected to lead the congregation in the prayers, most of which are sung. Lots of preparation goes into this: months of one-on-one sessions with the cantor, and practice, practice, practice. The whole thing culminates in the service, and, of course, the big party that follows! 

Singing is a BIG part of this, and some of these kids can really sing! But there are some who can’t seem to stay with the key, and they wander all over the place. They barrel through the prayers as fast as they can, with no clue as to where tonal home base is. Maybe it’s the pressure to perform, maybe having their other 13-year-old friends staring at them is freaking them out, maybe they just want to get it over with and head to the party - whatever the reason, they just can’t find tonic. 

In Western music, tonic is the first note of the scale that a piece is written in. It is synonymous with the “key”. It is “Do” (think, “Do Re Mi”). It is the note to which all other notes reference themselves, and tonic permeates a piece. Tonic is the tonal center, the musical home, and all other tones are pulled and directed toward it. 

I’m positing that finding tonic is a metaphor for finding direction in life. We need to know where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed. I suspect that finding tonic has less to do with singing ability and more to do with the ability to connect with oneself and the cosmos, to slow down and listen. 

Looking for direction in life? Can’t find tonic? Slow down, quiet your mind and listen. 

Posted by Cynthia Powell_2, Friday, September 19, 2014

I often return to spiritual writers who have long ago walked this earth, but their spirit lingers in our traditions as their words are repeated. Writers like Rumi seem to cut across centuries of evolution. I imagine Maya Angelou will be a writer that generations from now will return too, as well. One of my favorite books I look to for spiritual communion with the saints is “Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West.

In thinking about purpose this week, I’ve been thinking about what the saints had to say about the meaning of life and our small part in the cosmic continuum. In the poem, Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), writes about purpose as being loved and loving in return. These resonate with the words of Jesus when he says the greatest commandment is to love God and love neighbor. These words also reflect Mary Ann Evans (known by her penned name, George Eliot) when she said “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” Our purpose is intimately connected to our neighbor and their wellbeing. We do not find purpose in solidarity. Eckhart, Eliot, and Jesus all seem to suggest purpose comes from our roles within our communities.

The Hope of Loving – Meister Eckhart

What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?
I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.

I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey
to find its source, and how the moon wept
without her lover’s
warm gaze.

We weep when light does not reach our hearts.  We wither
like field if someone close
does not rain their
kindness
upon
us.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat_2, Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Yesterday we began a new series called “Living Life with Purpose.” Here’s the twist. We can't find our purpose for the future unless we look to our past!

I know this may sound counterproductive. Why rehash the past when a wide-open future stands before us? It’s because by understanding our past, we discover the things that have formed our personality and our passions, our hopes and our dreams. To quote Steve Jobs in his 2005 commencement address: “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

If you’re having trouble connecting the dots of your life and finding your purpose, it may be time to look backward.  There is a name for recounting our past. It is called telling our stories. Not the sanitized versions that serve as fodder for our resumés. We’re talking about the real stories that have shaped who we’ve become.  This week contemplate the five H’s of your story: your heritage, heroes, high points, hard times, and where you’ve seen the hand of God guiding you. In doing so, trust that God will help you connect the dots so that your purpose becomes clearer.

*To read more blogs by Pastor Michael and see the religious trend of the week, visit churchbeyondbelief.com.

Posted by Rev Michael Bos_2, Monday, September 15, 2014

We all struggle to find purpose in life. Some figure out his/her purpose early on while others go through much of life searching. To me, ‘purpose’ is nearly synonymous with ‘vision.’  One needs to have a vision of how things could be. (Difficult, especially in these days.) Actively engaging in bringing about a higher reality, one based on truth, beauty, goodness, and justice, best explains the idea of God to me. John Dewey said, “God is the active fusion of the real and the ideal.”  I love that meaning. It takes God out of the supernatural realm (such a difficult word - so laden with so much negative meaning for so many) and it gives me a naturalistic concept of God that I can relate to. Serving God becomes working to bring about that higher reality. 

We’re singing the great English hymn by Martin F. Shaw this Sunday: “God is Working God’s Purpose Out.” It’s not terribly well-known (except to Episcopalians ;-), but it asks a powerful question: “What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase the community of humankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace?" What can we do? Work to fuse the real (where we’ve been, where we are now) with the ideal (the highest good for all). Come this Sunday and sing it with us! 

Posted by Cynthia Powell_2, Friday, September 12, 2014

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