A New message from Pastor Neel

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3-27-2020

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, and scattered…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

I’ve been thinking about last Sunday’s Gospel text from John 9, and the blind man healed by Jesus who was thrown out of the synagogue – in other words, shunned or excluded from the life of the community – has me thinking more about what it might feel like for some of you during this time of social distancing, where you aren’t experiencing some of the communal closeness you have come to take for granted both in your church communities and other communities. That community is a huge deal; the Church is not a building, it’s the people of God, and not being connected to those people might make you feel as if you are homeless.

It occurred to me that there’s another scriptural theme that relates to this idea of being cut off from what is truly “home” for them. That theme is Exile. The theme of exile begins in Genesis 3, where our first parents, after having eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, had to leave their home so that they did not eat also from the other significant Tree in the Garden, the Tree of Life. It won’t be long until we get to Abraham, who was told to leave his home and his family. A few hundred years later, the Israelites would leave the only home they’ve ever known and wander in the wilderness, and after a few more centuries, the people of Judah would be taken from their home to live in Babylon, where they live among those who aren’t their family but whose well-being is tied to theirs.

It’s very interesting that Peter picks up this theme in his letter to people who ARE part of a home and family in the body of Christ. Peter tells them that even though they are connected, they are still wanderers and exiles, waiting for the time they will come to their true home – still living among those who aren’t their family but whose well-being is tied to theirs.

So, what does life look like as exiles?

I’m sure many of you are aware of my new addiction, The Bible Project. If you’re looking for a way to explore your faith more deeply, I highly recommend their videos (and even more, if you want to get really Biblically nerdy, their podcast!). I’d invite you to watch both their video on “Exile” and “The Way of Exile” to begin to think about this image, even as you are living out your own self-imposed exile for the sake of your neighbors in the world. Here are links:

https://bibleproject.com/explore/exile/

https://bibleproject.com/explore/way-of-the-exile/

The first one talks about how this concept of exile plays out in the Bible. The second one will begin to draw you into how exile plays out now for you.

Now, hear again what Peter says: You’re exiles, but God picked you from the beginning to be shaped by the Spirit of Christ for obedience to God, even as you’re covered by Jesus life poured out for you.

That’s pretty fantastic news. So, as Peter says, may God give you abundant Grace and Peace in that life.

Pastor Jason

3-21-2020

Saints,

I want to make it abundantly clear to you if you have not heard this word yet:

Those of you who are not gathering at our building for worship are acting in love for your neighbor, and honoring the God who loves our world self-sacrificially.  If the deceiver is telling you that you’re doing the wrong thing, tell him to take a hike. Christ’s blood frees you to love your neighbor by staying away from those who you could endanger or who could endanger you. You are part of Christ’s body and are with us in prayer, and we will be with you by making audio and video available so you can hear his promises and be fed. You are loved, forgiven, and vital parts of this body. Be at peace with your decision, and honor your Lord with your absence from public worship in this time.

Blessings,

Pastor Jason

3-18-2020

3-18-2020

Saints of God,

The world feels different today, doesn’t it?

I remember the days after 9/11, and that’s about the only experience I have that can compare to the spirit in our midst at this moment. Perhaps some of you remember hearing stories of quarantine from your families, and perhaps you remember other periods, such as during the Cold War, when people felt a sense of…dis-ease. 

Disease and dis-ease. I’d like you to consider those words for a moment.

DISEASE (noun): a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms

EASE (transitive verb): to free from something that pains, disquiets, or burdens.

If “ease” is freeing us from pain and disquiet and burden, “dis-ease” is the opposite. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that this disease has brought dis-ease to many.

The scriptures tell us that what Jesus wants for us is very much like that definition of “ease.” Here are some examples:

  • “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to release the oppressed.”
  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
  • “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And one more: perhaps the most pertinent for a discussion of ease and dis-ease:

  • “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for…you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

In the midst of disease and dis-ease, Jesus seeks to bring this kind of ease – freedom from what disquiets and burdens us. For many of us, that is fear itself. In I John, we hear about fear being contrasted not with bravery or fearlessness, but with something far more powerful:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” I John 4:16-18a

Two very simple, very profound key concepts here:

  1. God means for us to live in love. Love is Godly. God’s love “eases” us.
  2. God does not mean for us to live in fear. It is not compatible with Godly love. It is full of “dis-ease.”

What difference does that make for this moment? It calls us to both view our circumstances and to act in ways that are not disquieted or burdened with thoughts about what could happen to us, and instead concerned with the well-being of the neighbor. Trusting in the God who has married his story to your story and promised to work good in your lives in ALL things, we can experience what St. Paul calls “The only thing that counts” – Faith, expressing itself through love.

This can lead to a practical approach to decision making. Is hoarding toilet paper about fear or love for the neighbor? Is social distancing about fear or love for the neighbor? Is spending the day watching the news about fear or love for the neighbor?

We live in God, and God lives in us, I John says. How does God mean to show up in the world today? Through you, the body of Christ, as instead of joining the world in fear you are settled in the Spirit of Christ to act on behalf of the neighbor in love. 

It’s not easy to “be not afraid.” You can’t turn fear off like a light switch. But the more you are met with the promise of God’s love in the word, the more you can rest in that and experience his peace.

I’d like to close by sharing some words from C.S. Lewis that I read before we began worship on Sunday. When they were shared with me, I was invited to mentally insert “COVID-19” instead of “Atomic bomb.” I think you might find the wisdom applies quite aptly today.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

----- C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)

May you be eased by the Spirit to live in love.

 

Pastor Jason Neel

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