Not According to Rules

It does not take too many deep dives into scripture – especially into the parables of Jesus – to discover that the operating principle of God is the development of right and loving relationship.  That is what is modeled for us; that is what we are called to do.  In our First World way, we are proud of being a society of laws, and our human instinct is to crave order.  But there is a magnificent disorderliness in the realm of God we are charged to bring about.  We scratch our heads and say, “I don’t get it.”  In the parables, it seems that everything from massive debts to piddly misdemeanors is set aside in the name of deeper and stronger connection with one another, and with God.  Sometimes living by legalisms and doing justice are simply not the same thing.  The forgiveness, compassion, redemption and healing we are offered by grace, and in a grace-filled community, defy logic.  Please don’t fret trying to decode this.  Receive it with joy.

You are loved and valued just the way you are, beyond rules, categories, or definitions.

Pastor Carol

All You Need is Love

“The one who loves another has fulfilled the Law…” wrote Paul (Rom 13:8) nearly 2000 years ago.  And 50 years ago the Beatles sang, “All you need is love.”  Darn, they make it sound so simple!  Well, it is simple, but it’s not easy.  Love and forgiveness (which is love in action) are hard, challenging, intimate work.  The work to which Jesus calls us.

Believing that God’s approval depends on total adherence to all the minutiae of the Law – or any set of rules – is a recipe for failure.  No one can do that.  And simply “doing” – abiding by a rules – is not by itself a measure of one’s heart.  It is the healing of our hearts that God is really interested in.  When we are imperfect at loving or forgiving, because we are fallible human beings, then there is grace to lead us.  Grace is God’s unconditional, limitless, and unmerited love and forgiveness for us.  We get the joy of responding to God’s grace by living better lives and sharing the grace we have received.

All you need is love –
Pastor Carol

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

What are the real “marching orders” of our faith?  I think there are three.  The big one in both Hebrew and Christian teaching is “find the Holy,” though you won’t be told specifically how to do that.  Moses wasn’t.  God just said, “I will be with you.”  Jesus just said, “Follow me,” even though the consequences may be dire.  There are two more, again, in both testaments, which are maybe a bit more specific, but still open to interpretation: (1) “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (2) “…and your neighbor as yourself.”  How to live out those marching orders with integrity is a matter of our individual faith.  And what’s the authoritative source for our marching orders – God?  Jesus?  Scripture?  All can be remarkably unclear.  But at some level each of us discerns in our heart how we are called; what we “gotta do.”

Last Sunday it was creating hygiene kits for Church World Service to send to flood victims in Houston on our behalf.  It was holy, neighbor-loving work.  Special thanks to assembly crew Machiko, Helen, Doris, Maritza, Rowe and Tim – plus all the contributors who cleaned out every hand towel, and bar of soap for miles around.  You know, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Find the Holy —
Pastor Carol

Don’t Keep It a Secret

Moses and Jesus both had secrets around their beginnings.  We talked about secrets – things we keep secret and why, perhaps fear or shame.  Some people keep their Christianity and love for Jesus a secret.  Some people keep their church membership a secret – especially in very progressive settings.  Well, maybe these are exactly the settings where others need to know more than ever that church is progressive and relevant and justice-oriented, not necessarily rigid, close-minded, and self-righteous.

Is our church a secret?  Why would we want to keep our church a secret?  You may feel we are not a secret, having been here for 50 years.  However, we are very small now and it has become our wry observation that we are the best kept secret in Foster City.  Several years ago, a long-time community member who attended my installation said he never knew we were here.  So – I suggested gently to you – if you are not mentioning IUC to at least one person a week who is not already connected with us, then you are keeping it a secret; keeping it to yourself.  This place is not just for you – it is, we proclaim, a house of prayer (or perhaps for spiritual growth or spiritual community) for all people.

Marianne Williamson wrote:  “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence…liberates others.”  To the extent that we are a secret, as individuals and as a church – why is this so?  And what would be the special occurrence, the Moses “burning bush” event that could free us in our hearts; that would be the first step to telling others?  Let’s spend some time leading up to our retreat and congregational meeting thinking about that question.  Who are we?  As a church?  What is our identity?  Let’s not keep it a big secret.  Let’s not be afraid to push outside our familiar boundaries.  Moses and Jesus did.

Yours in love and courage
Pastor Carol

Getting Along

These are difficult times politically and socially.  Our spirits can be weighed down, and differences long rooted in our personal culture and upbringing may threaten relationships.  Even Jesus had to get a message from a Canaanite woman that expanded his view of God’s love.  What can we do as a church and as individuals to help bring people together without violence, in the search for commonality?  Often the simplest-sounding things are the most difficult – and the most effective.  We can talk.  And we can listen.  Getting along requires willingness to permit oneself to be changed (even Jesus!).  This does not necessarily mean losing your opinion, but changing the degree to which you are willing to hear another person, however hard it is, without shutting them down.  We are changed when we can hear their story.  It’s true that some things feel impossible to hear, much less forgive.  We are not perfect.  Intentional love is a life-long project and we are still going to harbor the desire to tell someone off, or give them a swift kick.  We may be angry or scared.  Or walk away.  But there is no limit to the power of pre-emptive love to unmake violence and remake the world.  Love is not finite.  There is always more.  Choose, wherever possible, to see beyond labels because we are more than that, and we need more than that.  Even in what seem to be the worst of circumstances….  ““People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible?…It’s just not right. … It’s not going to change anything.  Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out….”( Rodney King, 5/1/1992)  Yes, we’re all stuck here for a while.  Let’s try to work it out.   May peace and the courage to love be with us all —

              Pastor Carol

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Long, Strange, Journeys

We have all taken journeys.  Some are meticulously planned; some are unplanned like those of Joseph and Peter we heard about.  What we know is the reassurance of God’s presence on every part of the trip, even when unpleasant or unexpected things happen.  As much as we may enjoy planning and anticipating the “best trip ever,” it is important to let go of controlling all outcomes.  This allows for things to be even better than we expected(!) and to have confidence in God’s leading when events go awry.

We remembered our own strange journeys, and that in all the strangeness, God does plant goodness.  Sometimes it takes a great deal of time and discernment to find it. Discernment is a process, a process which does not always lead where we expect or hope – at least not right away, or on our preferred timetable.  With our hearts set on a specific outcome, something unexpected may be seen as upsetting,  an obstacle, or a failing.  Almost always it turns out to be an opening to a new way, learning, a gift from God – simply a different journey than the one on which you embarked.  When you are open to discernment, the journey may not be what you imagined, or hoped.  It may be longer, better, more confusing, more revealing, and as a church, we are in a perpetual journey of spiritual discernment.

As individuals, we are all on our unique life journeys, but we also have journeys to which we have committed our passions and beliefs.  Can you name your journeys?

Peace and courage to you, on the road —
Pastor Carol

The Story of The Cocoon

On Sunday we read the story of Jacob’s struggle with … what?  An angel?  A man?  God?  Maybe himself?  He was changed for life by this hard encounter.  Why would God who loves us let us experience pain and struggle?  Here is the story I shared.

A man found a cocoon and expected a beautiful moth to emerge. He took it home to watch.  One day, he saw a little hole in the cocoon.  He stared in wonder for hours as the moth struggled to force its body through the little hole. After a while, it stopped making headway; it seemed to be stuck.  So the man decided to help.  With scissors, he cut away the last bit of cocoon.  The moth popped out easily, so he was relieved.  But the moth had a swollen body and shriveled-up wings. He kept watching, expecting the wings to enlarge, spread, support the body, and then the moth would fly away.  It never happened.  The moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings – never able to fly.  What didn’t the man understand?  The tight cocoon and the moth’s struggle to get through the hole were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it could fly once it was free.  Freedom and flight only come after the struggle. By depriving the moth of the struggle, the man deprived it of health and freedom.  If we live life without any obstacles or struggles, we too would be crippled. We would not be as strong or truth-filled as we could be, even though we’d bear scars like Jacob.  Each struggle is an opportunity to grow to a new beyond, to fly free of constraining cocoons of preconception and fear.

Peace and grace to you,
Pastor Carol

“I Don’t Get It”

Why can’t Jesus be more straightforward?  Some of us came to imagine that Jesus – mystic, sage, healer, rabbi – might be a conduit to understanding the mystery of God.  Well, he did not make it simple.  His favorite modality was the parable, and parables require work in order to discern, to unpack meaning.  Parables – more than similes or allegories – require us to become a part of a story in order to understand its message.  This is the work of discernment.  Our lives are parables. To understand our lives, and the interactions we share with others, requires trust and commitment to mutual discernment.  So when we gather in retreat, to think about our core values as a church, we will need to trust one another and listen well and charitably as we discern.

What brings the most understanding to you when you begin …”The kingdom of God, for me, is like….?”  How do you fill that in?  There was some wonderful sharing on Sunday.  Some things we will never understand – not deeply.  But we can hear how others understand, and over time, get precious glimpses of God in a beautiful place, a beautiful face, a special relationship, a compassionate, wordless embrace.  Then we grasp the reality of God’s reign in our lives.  We understand.

“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asked.  And the listeners said, “Yes.”  Well, maybe ….

Peace and grace to you,
Pastor Carol

Holy, Weedy Ground – That’s Us

Sometimes we are truly not our best selves, and we know it.  But Jesus points out that good, strong plants and tenacious weeds do come up in the same field.  God’s holy territory is not a place – it is in us.  We are complicated creatures.  We need to be diligent, prayerful and compassionate in calling out our own weeds, as well as acknowledging all the fruitful things we are able to do to bring forth the reign of God.

As imperfect individuals, and an imperfect group, we can be quite blind to our shortcomings.  God’s love for us, though, is unconditional, and in a community that is “powered” by God’s love we can listen to one another, truly hear, and learn how to be better and braver.  One thing we will do at our August 19 retreat is remind ourselves that we are powered and led by God’s love.  We will remind ourselves of our core values – those strong plants to nurture – and note if there are weeds we need to attend to.  And we’ll rejoice that God is still speaking among us ….

Peace and grace to you,
Pastor Carol

Garden Work

Maybe it is enough to say this week that I commend to you again Jesus’ parable of the sower in Matthew 13.  The gift of God’s Creation is more than simply the planet Earth committed to our care – though that is increasingly vital.  Creation includes all of our creativity – to be the best we can be with our gifts (our “seeds”) to bring about the reign of God, the reign of radical love, peace, and justice in these times.  That is Creation.  It requires hard work.  It requires knowing our seeds.  It requires knowing both God and ourselves as sowers.  It means knowing our soil and nurturing it.

This garden tending – with ourselves as individuals and as a church – is also daring work!  When soil is depleted or rocky, when the regular sowers are tired, when the soil is not known or goes untended, then not much, if anything is going to grow.  And the whole growth process involves a huge measure of trust – that beauty will emerge from the dirt.  God knows that.  Keep digging!

Pastor Carol