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Thursday, 27 March 2014

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us ... Lenten Meditation by Rev Elder Darlene Garner

LENTEN MEDITATION


for the Fourth Sunday - 30 March 2014 by by Rev. Elder Darlene Garner

No matter what our chronological age might be, many of us are probably still trying to make sense of our lives -- to answer the proverbial question, Who will I be when I grow up? The global movement of MCC and our congregations are also beginning to engage the question, What is it that God is calling us to become and to do as 21st century people?

Photo: addicted2success.com
As though in response to our questions, the lectionary for the 4th Sunday in Lent presents four scripture texts for our reflection and consideration. The text from 1 Samuel 16:1-13 tells of Samuel's search for a new king of Israel. Psalm 23 reminds us of God's constant presence with us, even when we are in the midst of our deepest fears. John 9:1-41 presents Jesus as the light of the world, within the context of a transgressive healing story. Then Ephesians 5:8-14 calls all of us out to live as children of light.




This is the one. 1 Samuel 16:12b

I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4b

I am the light of the world. John 9:5


Everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:13b



From the moment of the birth of Metropolitan Community Churches, God claimed us as God's own and said, "This is the one." This is the newborn Body of Christ that can heal the broken world. As diverse peoples from every nation, this is the one that can embody my unconditional love, break down walls of exclusion, and bring forth justice and peace.

MCC has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations through the years, and God has been with us every step of the way. When we were hiding in closets of shame, God led us out toward reconciliation of our sexuality and our spirituality. When our families rejected us and we were excluded from other communities of faith, through God's grace, we created a beloved community that offers an Open Table where all people can find a place. Even when AIDS and other forms of disease ravage our bodies, God gives us the strength to overcome even as we offer comfort, consolation, and care. We have come, and are coming, through all of that and so much more. As we now look toward the future, we have no fear, for we know that God is still with us.

MCC is illuminated by the light of Christ, and the spirit of Christ shines through us. This means that even today we are the light of the world. We are still a strong beacon of light that breaks through the darkness of ignorance and fear. We illuminate pathways to wholeness, holiness, and healing. We brighten the hopes of people seeking to begin a relationship with God and the aspirations of people yearning to be free from discrimination and oppression. Just because we exist, people can pursue their life purpose, the world can find its way to justice, and all of us can know peace.

As wonderful and life-giving as MCC is, we cannot allow it to come about that tomorrow our light will have been overshadowed by the accomplishments of our past. We were not created to continue being who we were in former years. God is calling us now to transform ourselves into who God created us to become -- an embodiment of God's unconditional love that perpetually breaks down walls of exclusion and brings forth justice and peace.

Photo: marsitariani.wordpress.com

While the needs of God's people for acceptance and love are enduring, the world in which MCC ministers has changed considerably since we began in 1968. The future is not behind us; it is not even right now. God is calling us to a future that lies ahead. MCC recently adopted a new statement of vision that articulates who God has called us to become: 

Metropolitan Community Church is compelled by an unfinished calling and a prophetic destiny.

We are a global movement of spiritually and sexually diverse people

who are fully awake to God's enduring love.

Following the example of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit,

we seek to build leading-edge church communities

that demand, proclaim, and do justice in the world.


The MCC Governing Board, Council of Elders, and Senior Leadership Team are gaining great clarity about what is needed from us in order to lead our movement closer toward this vision. We are as focused as a laser beam in pursuit of this vision. Yet YOU are the one for which the world still waits.

Photo: meejmuse.com
My hope is that each MCC congregation and, indeed, every member of MCC, will also pray and focus on our collective vision. Cast your light right where you are to see the things you can do that will transform our global vision into your local reality. And fear not. God will be with you in everything that you do to become a leading-edge church community that will demand, proclaim, and do justice in the 21st century world.
"It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us....
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you....
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us."
Marianne Williamson 




Thursday, 13 March 2014

As followers of Christ is it okay to be sad, grieve or be scared?

Building up to Easter it's hard to ignore that Jesus's life wasn't all that comfortable.  The way he died was horrific and painful.  Not only that, he was betrayed and humiliated.  


As followers of Christ we are supposed to look to Jesus as a model for our lives.  Yet, somehow, especially within church communities, we often feel under pressure to present ourselves as joyful ... all the time... 

I came across this as as part of my readings for one of my Otago Uni theology papers.  It's written by Michael Riddell, a New Zealand thinker. (Click here for info on the book it's out of)

At the coal-face of congregational life, the exclusion of suffering results in deception and game-playing. People and 'rejoicing in the Lord'.  It is a shallow response, because the pain which they feel unable to exhibit or share if rooted in the depths of their heart, and that level of emotion and honesty is outlawed by convention.  When a congregation participates in corporate dishonesty, it is not surprising that they do not experience the passion of God.  Christian faith proclaims that God is present in the darkest suffering; perhaps the exclusion of pain is also the exclusion of God.

When my Dad died I didn’t go to church for weeks.  At the time I was part of the most loving church community and I still haven’t quite figured out why I found it so hard to attend church while I was in the initial stages of grief. 

If we want Church in Progress to be a place that emulates God’s love for everyone – no matter what – we need to welcome everyone, in all circumstances. 

If you’d like to enter into this conversation in the comment below, have a think about the following questions to get you started …

  • -         Is your church a place where people can grieve, get angry, cry?  How does it do that – or why isn’t it that kind of place?
  • -         Do you think followers of Christ should be happy all the time?  Why or why not?
  • -         What do you think of Riddell using the words ‘corporate dishonesty’ to describe some congregations?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Praying for the Journey

We are currently on a journey as we start to make Church in Progress a reality.

The journey of Lent is starting this week too and it’s a good reminder for us to slow down and refocus on our relationship with our Creator.  The fact that I’m only just starting to think about Lent and the build up to Easter is a sign that my life has already become too busy this year! 

At our last Core Team meeting we discussed the following questions:[1]

*  How does our Church in Progress help you be transformed into the image of Christ?

*  Through which means does Church in Progress prepare you to carry out God’s mission?

* How does Church in Progress best glorify God?




I think we are a long way off to satisfactorily answering these questions and it will definitely be an ongoing journey.

This Lent we are planning to put together a prayer calendar (like we did for Christmas).   Each day will have a different prayer focus. 

It would be wonderful if you could input into this process by thinking about the questions above and reading the bible text below.  Then please send in some short prayers that we can add to the calendar.   You can post them in the comments below or pop them on our facebook page.

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 (Taken from The Message translation of the Bible)

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

Staying at Our Post

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvellous life God has given us. God reminds us,

I heard your call in the nick of time;
The day you needed me, I was there to help.

Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honoured; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumoured to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on hand-outs, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.


What is Lent?

Lately we've had a lot of conversations about what we should give up for lent.  But maybe the question should be - why are we giving up stuff for lent? 

Rev. Elder Dr. Mona West's Lenten Meditation for Ash Wednesday gives us some insight into the spiritual practices of lent.   

Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21 (Click here to read them)

"The Pace and Place of the Journey"

Well, here we are again. It is Lent. Ash Wednesday begins a forty-day journey (plus Sundays) to Easter. This season in the life of the Church is fashioned after Jesus' forty days in the wilderness, where he fasted and prayed and struggled with temptation in an effort to discern his true relationship to God. Each year, Christians are called to slow the pace of their hectic lives and enter into forty days of introspection marked by spiritual disciplines such as prayer, almsgiving, and fasting in order to discern our true relationship to God.

The pace and place of transformation and healing, says Jesus, are in secret. Our quiet center is the place of transformation. It is that quiet space, that secret space, that empty centering point in the hearts of all believers where we wait upon God to speak to us, to see us in the silence, and to name us in a deeply intimate way.

In the history of the Christian Church, the way people have made this Lenten journey is to 'give up' or 'take on' certain things. This giving up or taking on is what is known as spiritual practices or disciplines. Fasting, the giving up of food, or a bad habit, or too much television or internet; prayer, the taking on of a specific time and way to talk to God; and almsgiving, the giving of ourselves to others through acts of kindness or presence, are spiritual practices that prepare the soil of our souls for God's work of transformation in us.

Sometimes we confuse the practice with the transformation. The practices in and of themselves do not transform us; they clear out a space in our lives for God to act. Our passage from Matthew 6 makes this point. Notice that Jesus doesn't say, 'if you pray' or 'if you give alms' or 'if you fast.' He says 'when' you do these things; spiritual practices in the life of a Christian are not optional. I believe we are called to spiritual practices throughout the year. Lent helps us to understand this by giving us a jump start.

Jesus warns us that we need to be clear about our motivation for these spiritual practices. Some people engage in the giving up and taking on of spiritual disciplines to flaunt their willpower, or to appear holy, or to prove to God or themselves they can earn grace and forgiveness. Their practice will not result in transformation. Their practice will result in the source of the motivation: praise and admiration from others or failed self-reliance.

But when our motivation is to come before God in the secret places of our hearts, to clear a space for God to act through the practice of spiritual disciplines, then the reward is transformation in the secret places of our hearts.

For this forty-day period, all of us are invited to enter into covenant with God and one another, to be intentional about the journey we will make together. We covenant with God and one another because God is a God of covenant. God's covenant with us is redemption and transformation. God accomplishes in us what we cannot do for ourselves.

That is the essence of the message of Psalm 51. The psalmist cries out to God: "Create in me a clean heart and put a right spirit within me. You desire truth in my inward being, so teach me wisdom in the secret places of my heart." God does not require us to 'work on ourselves' until we are worthy. God doesn't look at how holy and pure we think we are because we pray and fast and tithe. The only thing God asks of us is a willing spirit and contrite heart.

Lent opens those secret heart places in each of us. It is an intentional journey with Jesus into the wilderness. What other geography is there that invites this kind of transformation? Terry Tempest Williams says it this way:

Photo Credit : http://www.flickr.com/photos/gouldy/

It's strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on.

If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide, and so we are found.