Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent Thoughts

I’d like to say that I’ve always loved Advent, but the truth is that I didn’t grow up with Advent. The church I grew up in saw Advent as too “high church.” We celebrated Christmas and Palm Sunday and Easter (and maybe Maundy Thursday), but not Advent and not Lent.

So, like many others, I encountered the “season” of Advent as an adult. And, perhaps like you, I didn’t really get or appreciate this time of waiting and preparation for quite some time. After all there is enough preparing to do just to get ready for Christmas, who has time to engage in spiritual preparation for a season that is not even mentioned in scripture? 
But as I’ve gotten used to Advent I have grown to love it. Yes, it is one more thing to do during a time when there is often too much to do. But even if we only pay attention to it on Sunday morning, if we just let that hour or so be a time when we let go of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, I think we will be rewarded with a spiritually richer Christmas and a far deeper appreciation of the coming of Emmanuel.

So come to worship each Sunday of Advent ready for the deep richness of this season of prepara-tion and waiting. Sing or listen to the somewhat unfamiliar songs of this season. Drink in the words of hope, peace, joy, and love that are found in the Advent scriptures. Watch and wait as we light candles and slowly and simply decorate our sanctuary with the traditional signs of Christ’s coming into our world.

And then, when Christmas Eve arrives, and we hear the familiar story and sing the familiar carols, we will be rewarded with the blessing of being fully ready to join with the shepherds and the angels and Christians everywhere in celebrating the birth of the baby of Bethlehem. Glory to God in the highest! 

Monday, September 6, 2010

How Twitter changed my prayer life

When we redesigned the Heights Christian Church website last summer, I wanted to do something I'd seen on other sites - incorporate a Twitter feed with realtime updates, to help us reach more people. Since our prayer team was coming up with ways to make prayer a more visible part of our church life, it occurred to me that having 140-character prayers on our website, continually updated, might be a source of comfort or inspiration to both casual website viewers and regular visitors. We added Twitter to the website last winter and now show the last four tweeted prayers from the prayer ministry account, PrayWithHCC.

I've always prayed in short bursts throughout the day: God, thank you for loving me; take care of this person; help me through this situation. Using Twitter, I wanted to do something with a broader scope to reach people who might not have their own words or needed a jolt of inspiration to pray. I began with universal themes such as asking God to watch over our safety forces, those who travel, etc. As I continued, I noticed that the first thing that popped into my head after logging on usually was a prayer of thanksgiving - for the weather, for friends, and for the awareness of God's love.

God has provided meaning to my life since I was a child, and I feel Twitter is a small way for me to share his love with others by providing short prayers for everyone to contemplate. In the words of Kurt Kaiser, "I wish for you, my friend/This happiness that I've found./You can depend on Him/It matters not where you're bound."


Pass it on.

-Karen McKeehan

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Speak Out

Text: II Corinthians 5:16-18

The easiest way for a pastor to get in trouble is to preach politics. The IRS says I can’t endorse a particular candidate - at least not from the pulpit. Preachers most often hear negative comments when they preach on issues of the day that are considered “political.” This often happens when a preacher’s remarks don’t line up with a congregant’s beliefs. Very few people get upset if you’re on their side of an issue.

I can say that this makes a preacher, especially a new preacher, cautious - careful to address both sides of an issue, and hesitant to move too far beyond the congregation - especially the vocal members of a congregation.

But change does not happen when we’re cautious. Change happens when we take a stand and speak and act boldly. The history of the world is the story of those who stepped out ahead of others and boldly pushed society forward. We see many illustrations of this in Scripture. Two weeks ago our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated the feast of Purim which celebrates the actions of Esther.

The book of Esther tells her story. She lived during the time the Jewish people had been taken in exile and were living in Persia. When the king selected her to join his harem, he fell in love with her and made her queen, though he did not know that she was Jewish. One of his top ministers was slighted by Mordechai, a Jew who would not bow to him, and so the minister convinced the king to have all of the Jews put to death.

Mordechai was Esther’s cousin and he got word to her of what was to happen. Esther, though she was not allowed to approach the king, cleverly designed a series of banquets during which the king offered her anything she desired. She spoke boldly and asked that her life and the lives of her people be spared. Which they were.

In Acts, we find numerous examples of Paul and other disciples speaking boldly, even when it meant risking their lives.

Dr. Jack Sullivan, in his article on what the historic black church can teach us, says, “No meaningful social changes would have occurred without courageous acts on the part of Black churches and other churches of goodwill. If they had played it safe they would have delayed justice and derailed the freedom movement. Thank God for the marches, the sit-ins and the peaceful demonstrations! Thank God for visible and vocal church leadership that insisted that God’s liberating “yes” was more powerful than society’s oppressive ‘no.’”

Being faithful requires us to move past being safe, to being bold, taking a stand for justice and freedom for all. It requires a change, a new creation. It’s what Joan Campbell, Ed Weisheimer, Al Pennybacker, and many other members of this church did when they invited Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr to speak here back in the 60’s.

As Dr. Sullivan says, “Our faithfulness, growth, and credibility are not rooted in our ability to play it safe and avoid controversy, but in our willingness to open ourselves to God’s transformative, liberating love-justice vision, and take the risk of teaching, living and preaching this vision with decisiveness, clarity and without apology.”

But it’s not enough to have done it then, we have to continue to do it now. We have to continue to speak boldly, to teach boldly, to act boldly. We have to look past our upbringing, our prejudices, and even, in some cases, society’s norms when they conflict with what Jesus taught. As Paul says, we are no longer to see things from a human point of view but from Christ’s point of view.

Being faithful requires boldness in other ways as well. Boldness in speaking about our faith and how it has made a difference in our lives. Boldness in making changes in our personal lives and in our lives together as a community. We need to be continually recreated, made new, through the power of God’s love for us. Christ came that we might be reconciled to God. And we are to continue that ministry of reconciliation. Christ didn’t just do something on his own and then leave us to ourselves. Christ invited us in to the inner circle, he touched the very core of the disciples’ lives and helped them understand that there was a better way to live, that they could be transformed into children of God. That life could have new meaning, excitement, joy, love.

That is our ministry of reconciliation too. To work to transform the world by witnessing to God’s call for justice and peace. But also to witness to our neighbors and friends of God’s love and transformation of our lives.

And that requires us to be bold.

-Rev. Roger Osgood

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is it bad to be sheep?

Text: Luke 13:31-35

Seems to me that sheep get a bad rap today. They are always portrayed and referred to as dumb animals that will follow one of their own into danger, off the edge of a cliff. It’s quite possible that sheep, certainly ones on farms that have been bred for wool or meat, are in fact pretty stupid animals. I’ve only been around sheep at county fairs and can’t really speak to their intelligence level. But they survived for thousands of years before being and their herding together is a survival mechanism just as it is for many plant eating animals (cows, gazelles, etc). Moving together means that the community is more likely to survive when attacked by hungry carnivores.

Humans, especially Americans, often take a different view of how to survive in the world. We are a group that almost worships individual effort. The greatest heroes in the books we read and the movies we watch are those that triumph through their own individual effort. We praise the sports players who rise on their talents and abilities. And we deride “the sheep” among us; those who place the work and good of the community above their own welfare.

In our scripture passage this morning Jesus laments the fact that he has attempted to gather the “lost sheep” of Israel under his wings, but they are unwilling. “The image we are given is of God/Jesus as a hen gathering a whole bunch of chickens under her wings. What might that imply about our relationship with those other chickens? It requires a physical closeness to be packed together under those wings. It implies a learning to get along with one another if we wish to stay packed together under those wings. How do we balance our own comfort level of space with this image of physically gathered together under God's loving wings? Being packed together in a pew? Rubbing shoulders with others on the way out of church? Sharing the peace by touching others with a handshake -- or an embrace (when appropriate)?”

Rev. Jack Sullivan, in his article on five things we can learn from the historic black church, tells us many black congregations travel across town or even hundreds of miles just to be together for worship or fellowship with other churches. Through these gatherings members maintain family ties, find strength and share their testimonies of the wondrous acts of God. And he quotes the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “We are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

What does that mean for us as individuals and as a church?

We need to act as a community - seeking consensus, supporting decisions that are made by the whole even when we may not agree with them, reaching out and supporting one another [especially those who are on the edges of the community], being present so that we are a part of it. Those of us who tend to act alone need to be intentional about getting more involved with others and opening up more (even if that’s difficult), being aware of who is not present and reaching out to them. Be willing to ask for help and extend help.

And it means reaching out beyond the walls of this church to invite individuals into our community, and engaging with other churches to build larger communities that widen the circle even further.

The historic black church and others dealing with oppression know that it is necessary to pool their efforts to make progress. Those of us of all ethnic groups and backgrounds who have “made it” can learn a valuable lesson about the value of communities that grow and thrive because they move forward into the future together, encouraging and supporting each other so that God’s Kingdom might be more fully realized.

-Rev. Roger Osgood

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tempted to Go Along

Text: Luke 4:1-13

At the February Disciples of Christ District 2 clergy meeting, Rev. Jack Sullivan of Fifth Christian Church, Cleveland, shared an article he wrote about five things that can be learned from the historic black church. Living and worshipping in the Heights, it is easy to forget how unique we are in racial diversity. As I continue to come in contact with more and more churches I realize there are not many churches that have the kind of diversity we do. So while we may still technically be a “mostly” white church, that is not how we act, and we are better defined as a diverse congregation. However, the points that Rev. Sullivan made are still important for us.

Luke tells us the devil offered Jesus choices, choices that differed from God’s plan. Commentator Kate Huey suggests, “After all, why shouldn't Jesus satisfy his hunger with a little bread, and wouldn't it be great if Jesus ruled the world (instead of the hated Romans), and how impressive would it be if Jesus flung himself off the temple roof and a thousand angels came to rescue him? If Jerusalem witnessed that one amazing thing, early on in Jesus' ministry, perhaps there would be no need for the rest of the Gospel, right?”

All Jesus had to do was acknowledge Satan’s lordship over the world and claim the kind of worldly power that he was offering. In doing so, of course, Jesus would have been accepting the devil’s lordship - would have given up his freedom to follow God and instead followed a path that would have led to much injustice.

The early church stood for freedom and justice - though the Romans granted it little of either. When, 300 years later, the church became “official,” it started moving in a different direction, claiming power, which led to restrictions of freedom and much injustice.

Barbara Brown Taylor begins her sermon, "Lenten Discipline," with a short history of the way Lent developed, after being a follower of Jesus had become a bit "ho-hum," when Jesus' followers had "stopped expecting so much from God or from themselves," and "had become devoted to their comforts instead." Taylor's description of our ancestors fits us, painfully well, today: "They decided there was no contradiction between being comfortable and being Christian, and before long it was very hard to pick them out from the population at large….They blended in. They avoided extremes. They decided to be nice instead of holy and God moaned out loud."

Historically black churches, consisting of people who also had limited freedom and were subjected to injustice, claimed the early Christian position. They spoke out passionately on these issues and acted on them as well. We know that history. For people in power, and in this country that has always been white people, the devil has always been the voice of reason. Economic reasons, scientific reasons, even religious reasons, have been given for maintaining the status quo. From scriptural “proofs” supposedly supporting slavery to arguments during the 50‘s suggesting that justice should be allowed to wind its way through the court system, “reason” has held back reform and change and real justice for those oppressed.

In the Heights, we are used to a diverse community, used to people being concerned with freedom and justice, with ensuring equality. HCC is a diverse church. We take rightful pride in that. But it’s easy, tempting, to sit on our laurels, to believe we’ve made it, to say we’ve done enough, or done all the right things and we’re okay now. The historic black church and scripture remind us that we are never done, never “there.” There is more work to be done, in ourselves, in our church, in our community. It is “temptation” that says we’ve made it. It is easy to become passive. But there is no such thing as passive anti-racism - only active anti-racism. If we are not actively working to change things, we are part of the problem.

How do we become more aware? How do we figure out new ways to advance the causes of freedom and justice? We can begin this Lenten season, by looking inward, by examining ourselves; and by looking outward, becoming more aware of how racism, prejudice, and injustice play out in our communities. We can begin by deepening our connection to the God of love, to the Prince of Peace. By deepening that connection, we can be renewed to continue to strengthen our commitment to freedom and justice.

Having been renewed, we can continue to preach anti-racism, teach anti-racism, and reach out through our actions to confront racism everywhere we see it. Having been renewed, we can continue to preach equality, teach equality, and reach out through our actions to show what true equality looks like. Having been renewed, we can continue to preach peace, to teach peace, and to reach out to bring peace into our lives, our congregation, and our community. Having been renewed we can continue to preach justice for all, teach justice for all, and to reach out through our actions to show justice for all.

Rev. Sullivan said that we must “listen for God’s non-negotiable call for all churches to engage in bold, innovative and risky ministries that dismantle historic patterns of... systemic injustice, and replace them with [the] reign of God values of peace, justice and unity.” In this season of Lent I would call on each one of us to look inward and then renew ourselves to work outward for freedom and justice in our world.

-Rev. Roger Osgood

Monday, March 1, 2010

Unfit for Fishing

Text: Luke 5:1-11

For several years I worked for a man who loved to fish. Every summer he would host a company fishing trip on Lake Erie, where the employees would spend all day in boats trying to catch walleye. I was a little anxious my first time out for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t have much idea what I was doing; and second, I had learned over the years that I was susceptible to motion sickness.

Well it turned out that I was right to be anxious. Not about not knowing anything. Like many people who are passionate about their hobbies, the guys who loved to fish were more than happy to explain what I needed to do. And for a little while I actually enjoyed myself. But sitting in a boat, even on a relatively calm day, is a moving experience and it wasn’t too long before the movement caught up with me. I spent the rest of my time on the lake “chumming,” as they called it, and receiving a bunch of so-called good advice. Like “eat something,” not good advice, and stare at the horizon, which helped a little once I stopped taking the other advice.

I have fished several times since then, even took my own sons fishing once or twice, but I have never even remotely resembled a fisherman. And I haven’t outgrown the motion sickness thing either. So the reality is that you’ll never see me on one of those fishing shows on the sports channels. You could say that I am in many ways unfit for fishing.

You could not say the same thing about Simon Peter. Peter was a professional fisherman; he made his living at it. Which is not to say that he didn’t have some bad days. Like this one when Jesus shows up. They had been out all night fishing and hadn’t caught anything. So Peter must have been feeling a little down when he carried Jesus offshore to address the gathering crowds.

This is one of many times in the gospels that Jesus teaches without any record of what he taught about. Maybe that’s because of what happened next, with the non-fisherman telling the disciples to head out into the deep water and cast their nets - with outstanding results.

Given that there were so many fish the boats were in danger of sinking, a practical fisherman like Peter might have said a quick thank you and started getting those boats back to shore. Instead, he falls on his knees and proclaims his unworthiness. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus responds, Don’t be afraid, follow me and from now on you’ll be catching people instead of fish.

Have you ever felt unfit for something? Maybe even something that was an important part of your job or your volunteer work in the church or elsewhere? Ever waited for someone to discover that you really didn't know what you were doing?

We’ve all felt unfit to be sharers of the Good News. We know Christ asks us to go into the world and make disciples, but not only do we feel uncomfortable with that, we feel completely unprepared. We don't have all the answers. We may say the wrong thing. We may just not know what to say.

But how prepared was Peter? Or the other disciples? They were working men, not trained, degreed pastors. And they spent less time with Jesus than most of us have spent in church, and just like us, the gospel writers tell us that they didn’t “get” most of what Jesus was trying to teach them. Yet there they went after Jesus’ death, venturing out into the deep water of spreading the gospel, leaving their old lives behind to tell the good news.

It would be easy to listen to this story, declare ourselves unfit to be out catching people, and continue on with our regular ordinary everyday lives as if this story was not about us, and this call was not ours too. But what if we can set aside our fears for just a moment, realize that Jesus doesn’t call us because we’re fit but uses us as we are?

And what if we could realize that it may not be necessary to give up everything and leave it all behind like Peter? What if our lives could be transformed right where we are, with the people we love and know? The last thing those tired fishermen were expecting was a showing of God's awesome power right there, at the end of another workday. Our workdays, too, hold the possibility of seeing God's hand at work in our lives and all around us.

So here's my goal for this year: Talk to one person each month about my faith or our church and if they don't have a church home invite them to Heights Christian Church. It's not much, I know, but I think it’s doable even though 99% of the people I see, meet and talk to on a regular business already have a church home. But lots of folks out there don’t have a church, may not even have a faith, and the numbers are growing. So it’s likely I could find a few to talk to, if I just give up my feeling of inadequacy.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to venture out into the deep water.

-Rev. Roger Osgood

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Love, Love, Love

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

This passage is one of the best known in the Bible, at least by folks who are at least nominally Christian and looking for something to read at their weddings. Over the years I have had at least a couple of couples who have asked about “that scripture that’s all about love - I love that.”

The thoughts expressed by the apostle Paul in this letter can stand on their own, but I think it is important for us to look at why Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth.

Paul mentions speaking in the tongues of men and angels. This is called speaking in tongues - ecstatic utterances in other languages that we associate with Pentecostal Christians. Appears the Corinthians had decided this was a very important spiritual gift. Paul saw this as a problem.

So he starts by saying you can be totally immersed in the Spirit, ecstatically speaking in human and heavenly languages, but if you don’t have love first, you might as well just be making noise.

Or you can know everything there is to know about God and the mysteries of religion, be able to see the future, or even have enough faith to move a mountain, but if you don’t have love, you’re nothing.

Or you can sacrifice everything for others, giving away everything you own, even being willing to give up your life, and if you don’t have love there’s just no point.

Paul isn’t talking about the emotional kind of love between two people that are dating, the huggy, kissy kind of love.

He’s talking about a deeper, richer form of love - the kind that reflects the love God has for us.

Wanting to be clear, Paul defines it for the Corinthians. And my guess is that he goes into a lot of characteristics because the Corinthians were not displaying this kind of love to each other.

So Paul tells them love is patient and kind, not arrogant or boastful, not rude or envious. It doesn’t insist on its own way, its not irritable or resentful.

What’s funny as I look at my own life, and maybe this applies to you as well, the people I supposedly love the most, are the very people I’m least patient with or kind to. They’re the one ones I get irritated or resentful at the easiest, and as far as insisting on my own way, well, I’m not even going to go there.

This is hard stuff!

What else does Paul say about love?

Well, it doesn’t gossip, or give its attention to people who are doing the wrong things - in other words, it doesn’t read much of the newspaper. But it’s happy when good things get done.

And it is strong enough to last through the worst that the world has to throw at it. It doesn’t cut and run because things aren’t going well, but puts up with the worst, believes in the good, hopes eternally for the future, and endures everything.

Love, it would seem Paul is saying, is the greatest force in the universe. Forget the atom bomb, forget gravity or the explosion of a supernova. Forget all of that, it’s love that changes everything.

But this isn’t the only scripture about love.

The most quoted verse in scripture, so well known that all you have to do is put John 3:16 on a billboard and people all over the country can quote the verse - For God so loved the world...

Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus said that the world would know who his disciples were because they loved each other.

The greatest sin of Christianity is that through the ages we have continually, and repeatedly forgotten that love is at the core of the gospel message.

Some Christians, have used scripture to abuse people in the margins of society. They’ve used doctrines to belittle and exclude those who’ve differed. They’ve used manmade and natural disasters as a lead in to increasing their viewers and contributions.

We saw it with September 11th, we saw it with Katrina, and we heard it again with the earthquake in Haiti.

Now you and I know that they don’t speak for all Christians. We know, and we stand for, a different view of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Paul says that we can have the deepest faith, believe with complete certainty some set of doctrines. And we can have the greatest hope, for our salvation and the promise of eternal life.

But that is as nothing compared to the power and the necessity of love.

Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Sounds dated and simple and all touchy-feely.

Easy to conceive and difficult to live out. Easy to forget in the everyday stuff of life.

But it is life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Reading on: Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Love - it is all we need.

-Rev. Roger Osgood