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A BRIDGE FOR COMMUNITY

Let’s be honest...explaining to others who we are as a church is not always an easy task.  With a name like “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)”, you’ve said a mouthful, but you might find people looking at you like you haven’t clarified anything; or worse they may get the wrong impression.  I remember speaking with a woman about my church – upon hearing that we were part of the Christian Church (D.O.C.) she exclaimed, “that sounds like one of those ‘bible-thumping’ churches!  Are you one of those ‘bible-thumping’ churches?”  I explained that yes, we do believe in the Bible, but no, we probably are not the stereotypical ‘bible-thumping’ church that she is thinking of...read more

 

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Tuesday
Dec092014

The Rabbi's Gift - Rev. Dr. David Chisham

I told this story a couple weeks ago in a sermon.  It’s called “The Rabbi’s Gift, and it’s by the famous psychiatrist M. Scott Peck.   As we relive the coming of the Messiah over two thousand years ago, I think it’s insightful to prepare for one of the ways that Christ still comes among us today.   Please enjoy in a spirit of Christmas.

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times.  Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age.  Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage.  Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage.  "The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again " they would whisper to each other.   As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut.   But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him.  "I know how it is," he exclaimed.  "The spirit has gone out of the people.  It is the same in my town.  Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore."  So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together.  Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things.  The time came when the abbot had to leave.  They embraced each other.  "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, "the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here.  Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?"

"No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded.  "I have no advice to give.  The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?"  "He couldn't help," the abbot answered.  "We just wept and read the Torah together.  The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving – it was something cryptic – was that the Messiah is one of us.  I don't know what he meant."

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words.  The Messiah is one of us?  Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery?  If that's the case, which one?  Do you suppose he meant the abbot?  Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot.  He has been our leader for more than a generation.  On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas.  Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man.  Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.  Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred!  Elred gets crotchety at times.  But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right.  Often very right.  Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred.  But surely not Brother Phillip.  Phillip is so passive, a real nobody.  But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him.  He just magically appears by your side.  Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.  Of course the rabbi didn't mean me.  He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person.  Yet supposing he did?  Suppose I am the Messiah?  O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah.  And on the off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate.  As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place.  There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it.  Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray.  They began to bring their friends to show them this special place.  And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks.  After a while one asked if he could join them.  Then another.  And another.  So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

Peace,

David

Wednesday
Nov192014

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS - Rev. Dr. David Chisham

I have been in full expectation that my daughter would break into a repetitious TV watching phase, and that day has finally come.  A few years back Kori and I purchased the Charlie Brown collection of DVD’s of the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas televised specials to watch once or twice during those seasons.  Now that Layne has discovered them, every morning and every night she requests to watch one, then another of the Charlie Brown specials.  Personally, I think to myself it could be worse — it could be Barney the Purple Dinosaur — but daily I’m reminded that it is worse for Charlie as he is having a very “blue Christmas”.

For Charlie, his blue feelings are because he just can’t find the true meaning of Christmas.  And I know that he’s not alone in his melancholy during the holiday season; many of us feel the holiday blues.  The days have grown shorter and colder, the green landscape is turning brown, and the cheerfulness and joy of the season is a reminder of a loss of cheer and joy that we have suffered recently, or sometime in the past.  As Christians we know the meaning of Christmas is the coming Christ child, but sometimes we just don’t feel that joyful.

For me in particular, I’m wondering what this Christmas season will hold for my family.  The reports I’ve received on my mother continue to tell that her health is declining rapidly.  No one can know for sure, but my feeling is that my mother may soon pass.

I know a number of you are facing this holiday season with a sense of loss; whether the loss was recent or years past, the feelings can be fresh in our minds and hearts.  It may have been a death of a loved one, but it may also be a relationship that fell apart, or a personal disappointment such as a lost job or life change that you did not expect or welcome.  My encouragement to all of us is that we acknowledge those feelings, rather than pretending they aren’t there, and find healthy ways to express those feelings and perhaps, find a healthy way to move forward.

This coming Sunday evening, November 23, at 5pm in the church sanctuary, on the cusp of the holiday season, we will take some time to ritually remember and reflect.  If you feel the holidays may be a challenge to get through, this would be a good way to prayerfully give these things to God.  Everyone is invited to this service.

Along with this, there are things you can do outside of church that can help.  When you are feeling down take a few moments to prayerfully offer these things up to God.  You might visit the grave of a loved one and place flowers or a wreath there, or light a candle next to a picture of a lost loved one at home.  Look for ways to volunteer in the community such as a food pantry or a shelter or a community holiday event such as a carol sing.  Though you may not feel like it, seek out others to spend time with so you don’t feel quite so alone.

Remember as well that when God sent Jesus into the world, it was “in the fulness of time”, but it was also one of the darkest times for the Jewish people.  The hope of the world came to a world that looked and felt hopeless.  The hope of the world still comes to us in our times of deepest need.

Let us begin preparing ourselves for all that the coming of God’s son means to us today.

Blessings and peace,

David

Wednesday
Aug272014

Here Come the Judges - Rev. Dr. David Chisham

Picking up the major stories of the Scriptures from Joshua, where I finished off a couple weeks ago, we come to the book of Judges as well as the judges of ancient Israel. 

In that book we are introduced to a number of more or less familiar names — as a student in Bible College, my Old Testament professor taught me to memorize their names by singing them to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.  Let me see how it goes (humming Twinkle, Twinkle in my head…) Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar…Deborah, Tola, Gideon…Abimilech, Jair, Jepthah…Ibzan, Elon, Samson…now I know my Judges…next time won’t you sing with me?  Ok, I’ll admit, my memory faded out after Gideon.

We should do some clarification of what these judges were, as much as who they were.  Finishing the book of Joshua, when Israel conquered the Promised Land, you might have the impression that Israel was a unified force that overwhelmed the Canaanites and either pushed out or destroyed any competition that would defy them.  However, turning to the book of Judges we find that the situation over the new couple of centuries is not that simple — while the Israelites occupied the area of the Promised Land widely, they were mixed in with other Gentile city-states and dwelt in the area according to their tribes, not as a unified nation.  Many of these Gentile city-states in and around the Promised Land harassed the Israelites from time to time.

We have to be very sensitive to how we use this simile, but for a loose “modern” parallel to the situation of the time of the Judges, I think of the political alliances and organization during the period of the early colonization in the New World.  Both European colonies and Native American tribes were often loosely organized, alliances and treaties came and went, and both the colonists and the tribes often faced raids and pressure for resources from one another. 

Centuries later Israel would have more of a centralized government with a king, but at this time, like the early New World period, they were governed by charismatic leaders who arose during times of duress — these are the Judges.  The Judges of Israel were not legal scholars like we think of today, who wear robes and sit behind the bench and hand down judgements — the Judges of Israel were tribal leaders, sometimes who decided tribal legal matters, but who often rallied men to war, did heroic deeds, and then faded back into the landscape.  Remember as well that one of the most famous Judges was Deborah, one of only a handful of female leaders we read about in the Scriptures, but certainly one who sets the precedent that God calls women to important leadership roles.

Just like the decentralized politics of the time, Israelite worship of the Lord God was geographically “decentralized” as well.  Worship was in a moveable worship tent, which could be relocated whenever necessary.  At the same time, in that very mixed political situation, the Israelites were often lured into worshipping the gods of other peoples, or tempted to ignore the Lord’s commandments.

Listening closely to this thumbnail sketch, we hear that this is a time of intense pressures on the fledgling Israelite people, political and religious lines were never very clear, and the situation was mixed and muddled.  But in the midst of this, the Lord God was still working with the Israelites, calling them to faithfulness, and leading them during times of pressure. 

Perhaps, in a way, the time of the Judges is not unlike the times we live in today — though triumphalist memory of the church in America during the mid-20th century is fresh, it has failed us today, and now the church faces all kinds of pressures which threaten it.  We are reminded that even in the mixed and muddled situation, God does not abandon the faithful, when we turn to him in times of need.

Blessings and Peace,

David

Wednesday
Aug062014

The Joshua Tree - Rev. Dr. David Chisham

Continuing the series on major biblical characters, we move from Moses to the next character, Joshua.  Because of a rather unfortunate incident in which Moses seemed to get a little too high and mighty (he struck a rock instead of tapping it?), the Lord God decided that Moses would not be the man to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  For forty years he marched around the wilderness in no particular direction, and at the end of those forty years he was allowed to climb a low mountain overlooking the Promised Land, and there he died.  And Joshua, Moses’ assistant, took the leadership reigns from there.

While some of Joshua’s story is scattered through Exodus and Numbers, most of what Joshua is remembered for is conveniently located in the book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Old Testament — makes it easy when they name the book after the main character!  And the story that unfolds in the book of Joshua is one of complete triumph.  With each foe that Joshua and the Israelites come up against, the Lord God leads the way and their victory is complete.  The people already dwelling in the Promised Land wilt under the pressure of this invasion, and those who aren’t put to death quickly capitulate to the Israelites.  Most people will remember the story of Joshua at the battle of Jericho — this is but one example of several lopsided victories which Joshua led.

From a 21st century perspective, this is some of the most debated and derisive territory.  In the book of Joshua, God does not come across as gentle and adaptive — the battle scenes are gory and violent, and the command to absolute obedience is repeated again and again.  To some, Joshua’s God is not the same God we encounter in the New Testament.  Joshua’s God is much too violent.  There is much more that has been said about this, but there is neither time nor space in this brief letter.  Rather, I want us to take a look back at Joshua and how he is remembered in the hearts and minds of those who follow him.

The character of Joshua stands as a bulwark of faithfulness.  Joshua declared time and again that the Israelites should be faithful to the Lord alone.  He was one of the two spies who were faithful when scouting out the Promised Land.  And Joshua is the one who famously declared, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  He was fearless and faithful to the end!

This sets up an interesting parallel for us — you may not be aware, but the name Jesus is the Greek pronunciation of the Hebrew name Joshua.  That name means “The Lord is salvation”, or “the Lord saves”.  If we are listening closely to the Scriptures we hear echoes of Joshua in the life of Jesus — indeed, the book of Hebrews calls Jesus “the better [or greater] Joshua” (Heb. 4:8-10).  Jesus is the one who leads us forward, and calls us to faithfulness as well.  With Jesus as our leader, we cross into the Promised Land of God’s blessing and salvation.

Peace be with you,

David

Wednesday
Jul302014

MOSES THE PROPHET - Rev. Dr. David Chisham

Having taken a break from my series on characters in the Bible, I’d like to pick up about where I left off, with Moses.  I’ve already written about Moses the man and Moses the lawgiver; amongst the many other roles we might assign to Moses, his prophetic role is one that I’d like us to spend some time reflecting upon.

Often when we think about who a prophet is and what a prophet does, we tend to think of the prophet as someone who is able to tell of future events with divine assistance — or in everyday terms, someone who is able to predict the future.  And to a certain extent we see some of that happening in the Scriptures; many of the great and lesser prophets of the scriptures such as Isaiah and Jeremiah predicted both joyous victories and terrible destruction and defeat.  But more than just “predicting” the future, the role of the prophet has strong ties to the past.

Quite often, when we hear the prophets such as Moses speak, their messages aren’t some new “revelation” as much as they are reminders of what God has already said: if the people are obedient to God’s word, they will find the blessings that have been promised;  and should the people become obstinate toward God, neglect justice to their fellow humans, and pursue the attention of false gods, God has a sovereign right to remove his blessing.   Admittedly this is much too broad a stroke, since it neglects the theme of God’s grace and mercy.  But as we turn to the book of Deuteronomy, the book in which Moses plays a strong prophetic role, time and again we hear him echoing the theme “this is what God said, and this is what will happen if we follow, or don’t follow, God’s commandments.”  As far as predicting the future goes, the prophet looks at what God said, looks at what the people are doing, and discerns where the two aren’t lining up.

I think that role of the prophet remains the same today — reminding God’s people of what God said, and what to expect.  Rather than looking and listening for some new revelation, prophets often speak with a deep connection with God’s ancient word.  When we think of modern day religious prophets who have called societies to account for their acts of injustice, this calling to account is rooted in what God said millennia ago.

Who has been prophetic in your life?  Who has called you to account?  How have you been delivered from self-destruction by listening and following God’s word?

Blessings and peace,

David