Our Response Is Always In Love

Our Response Is Always In Love

Lance Haverkamp – January 31, 2016

At the end of last week we were asking what the gospel really looks like. How we can be an example of that Gospel to others. The fact that the Gospel really doesn’t look like the popular misconceptions we hear about today. And most importantly, how we communicate that today.

Today’s reading is the well known chapter from Corinthians on Love. Now unless you just converted from Hinduism, you, like me, have heard several sermons, or read several articles on that chapter. You’ve heard it at weddings, you’ve heard it on Valentines Day. Some ministers have even preached an entire series using each of those comments, by Paul, as a separate message! The good news is I’m not about to rehash a Sermon we’ve all heard twelve times.

The really cool thing about following the Liturgical Calendar, we’ve been following lately, is that most of the time, there’s a flow to what we’re learning. Even though we’re jumping from the beginning of Luke, all the way to the middle of 1st Corinthians, it makes perfect sense: Last week we ended with a question, about how to best present the Gospel. And this week we can look at how Paul helped the Church at Corinth answer that very question. It’s almost like we’ve been doing this for 2,000 years, huh?

Corinth was a very important city, especially for those who traveled or traded. It was dangerous to travel around the southernmost part of Greece, due to frequent stormy weather. It was much better to take a shortcut. Traders or travelers could get off their ship near Corinth, carry their cargo across the narrow strip of land (about 4 miles across) and then load it onto another ship. Smaller ships could even be moved across a wooden slipway (a ship tramway with wooden rails) which was laid down from one sea to the other. It was worth all the effort to cross this land, because not only was the other way more dangerous, it was also a much longer trip (about a 200 mile journey). To go the short way over land, through Corinth, saved both time & lives!

Thanks to the apostle Paul’s extensive correspondence with the Corinthians, we are better informed about the church at Corinth than any other first-century church. In 1st Corinthians, in particular, the apostle addresses a wide range of issues affecting the community of believers, including divisiveness, litigation, food offered to idols, and class divisions at the communal meal. In so doing, he gives us an unparalleled, though hardly neutral, picture of the life of an early church.

The church at Corinth included some Jews, but it was largely composed of Gentile, pagan in this case, converts. Paul’s statements makes clear that the majority of church members were socially humble, some were slaves. Paul also implies that some members were wise, powerful, and even of noble birth.

In other words, with all their faults, with all their misconceptions, with all their various respective baggage, they were a whole lot like any modern congregation, anywhere else in the world. They wanted to be good, do right, be helpful, and represent the Gospel.

Most followers in those days, heavily relied on Spiritual Gifts to allow the Holly Spirit to minister to others. We have denominations who still use Spiritual Gifts with frequency. There’s one in the Forest, Gateway down on Shoup is, and there are many others in town.

The Corinthians let their human nature get the best of them, and began to argue amongst themselves about who’s Spiritual Gifts were the most important, and who had the most important jobs. Paul explained it to them like this:

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Later he continues on with:

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And that’s where he jumps into that Reading for today, 1st Corinthians 13.

We’re going to end with Barb coming back up here & reading our Scripture again, because I don’t pretend to think I can say it better that Paul.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong  or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”

“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”

Lance Haverkamp, January 24th, 2016; inspired by a message of Dr. R. Lee Carter

It was supposed to be a momentous occasion. The local boy who had “made good,” Jesus, was coming home. On his journey away from the old home town, this native son had actually rubbed shoulders with the famous holy man, John the Baptist. Perhaps the residents of Nazareth thought that a little bit of the famous prophet would rub off on him—and them. Nazareth was indeed a one-horse town, and many of the residents were related to Jesus. Like many of us, they probably didn’t know exactly how they were kin, but they were happy to claim him.

When they heard that Jesus was coming home, some no doubt thought of childhood days spent together growing up in the small village, and attending the synagogue school. Maybe some people even treasured something Jesus, the craftsman, had made; and treated it as a souvenir of this memorable homecoming. It would be good to see Jesus again, the same old Jesus they remembered.

The burden of coming home again, is everyone treating you as though you hadn’t changed; but you had changed—Jesus had changed. People assume that because you look about the same, that the changes are superficial, but they’re not. Ask any young person who leaves home, to answer the call of adventure, they are never the same again.
On the journey, they discover things about themselves they didn’t know about when they lived at home. They meet new people, they suffer the trials and temptations of life, they discover the gifts within them that they never would have known about, if they hadn’t left home. They have been on a quest, a hero’s journey; they have seen new heights—and depths. Who can stay the same?

There must have been hearsay about Jesus, about where he had been, and what he had seen. Some knew, even before Jesus had left Nazareth, that he was a young man wise beyond his years. His friends and family would, surely, be glad to see their favorite son again!  That’s why they planned a homecoming for him at the community center, the synagogue.

There, they would give Jesus a chance to tell them what he had learned.
Imagine yourself there: As you sit wondering if your old friend has changed, if fame has affected him, you notice the worship attendant retrieving the scroll of Isaiah out of the ark. A hush falls over the congregation. As he scrolls ahead to a particular passage, as Jesus reads, you realize that Jesus is confirming the hearsay, that he really is the Messiah! He’s bringing a message of good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. He goes on to say that the time for the Lord to set this long awaited movement in motion is now!

The excited worshipers fill the room with praise for their favorite son. We can almost hear the banter: “Hey, I knew it all along that Jesus was going to make something of himself.” “It’s about time we Nazarenes got some limelight!” “He’s going to make all of us famous.”
Think of yourself as being there: You feel the impulse to run and embrace your old friend, thanking him for not forgetting his roots, for remembering the old neighborhood. But Jesus starts to speak, and slowly you realize that he’s not casting your people in a very good light after all. He even implies that foreigners and gentiles will be just as important in the Kingdom of God as Jesus’ own people.

It doesn’t take long for the shocked silence to turn to angry murmurs, and then to loud calls to put this traitor to death! You sit in shock, wondering to yourself, “Is this the Jesus I used to know? I thought he would help us out. Should I join the crowd in getting rid of him? Or, should I give him a chance to explain himself, find out what his plan is, and maybe, even join him in his mission?”

We belong to a generation that needs to re-discover Jesus and not just as the child at Christmas. That precious baby could not speak, but the Jesus who returned to his old synagogue certainly could! The teachings of Jesus still astound us, as long as we don’t assume that what he said fits our own agenda. By the time Jesus returned to Nasarath, He certainly had his own agenda.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What exactly was that agenda? Nothing less than the transformation of the world, as they knew it! He heralded the dawning of the Kingdom of God. But what exactly do we mean by the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is not a place. The Kingdom of God is not an institution. The Kingdom of God is not a spiritual feeling. The Kingdom of God is not a man-made social movement. The Roman Prefect Pilate asked Christ where His kingdom was; He answered “Not of this world.”

I guess a lot of people back in the day figured they knew what Jesus was going to say, before he said it. They knew the old hometown boy, right?
The Jesus of our childhood is not a disturbing Jesus, He is our friend. He says sweet things, He makes us feel good.
The Jesus of the gospels, however, says disturbing things. He doesn’t simply affirm us, and what we do, and what we stand for. He challenges us, and forces us to change the way hometown folk see things. This Jesus had been places we haven’t been. The Jesus of our adulthood demands that we do things outside of our comfort level. He’s really not so gentle, or meek, or mild. Is he the same Jesus we used to know?
Well, not if we have grown up, and realized that Jesus addressed the kinds of things that adults see in the real world. He disturbs us with his talk about possessions, the poor, hypocrisy—the double life. No, he doesn’t seem to be that same familiar hometown boy. He forces us to grow up, and grow in faith. He forces us to see the reality of life’s brutality, and inequities, and calls us to a life of service to others; especially to folks we don’t particularly care for.

Which denominations’ version of the gospel do we find this mature Jesus teaching?
* The prosperity gospel, whose believers are obsessed with accumulating wealth?
No, Christ taught us to share with those in need.
* The equality gospel, whose believers demand that government care for everyone?
No, Christ never said to ‘Give unto Caesar that with is God’s, so Caesar can care for the poor,’ in-fact, He said the poor will always be with you.
* The morality gospel, whose believers can’t tell religious metaphor from sin; and then demand that government punish both as a crime?
No, Christ reduced the entire Law & the Prophets to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

These New Covenant misinterpretations are just a corrupt and self-centered as the those Nazarenes, and the Pharisees, of their day. The Gospel isn’t ‘us against them’, and it never has been!
So let’s allow Jesus to speak for himself. Try to hear his teachings as if you’ve never heard them before. You might try, as much as possible, to put yourself in the shoes of the people who first heard Jesus’ teaching. If you are not blown-out of the water, you are not listening, or you are assuming this is that same hometown boy.
Along with this new side of Jesus, I believe his words, and actions, especially his relationships with the people around him, will reveal that he reaches out to individuals who are lost and floundering. He embraces us just the way we are, cleansing us from sin, and giving us new and abundant life. In short, you will find that Jesus is the same wonderful friend you had known from your neighborhood. There’s just more to him than what you might have known.
In his parables, sermons, and actions, you’ll see Jesus laying out a plan for a human community that cares for all people. Depending on where you are right now, this may be a side of Jesus you’ve never fully experienced before, something a bit unsettling that will demand some hard choices.
As we grow older, it is our responsibility to awaken to a new side of Jesus, who addresses us where we are. That’s why gospel study is so exciting; we know that we have changed and matured. We must not expect Jesus to be the same hometown boy, as it were. We need to listen and not assume.
So what’s it going to be? Are you willing to risk giving your friend a chance to explain himself, to find out what his plan is, and maybe, even to join him in his mission?

Christ’s Baptism, and ours

Lance Haverkamp – January 17th 2016

If you were here two weeks ago, we briefly talked about ritual clensings required by some of the ceremonial/ritual parts of the Old Covenant Law. Sometimes you needed a head-to-toe clensing; you could use a walk-in bathtub sized basin called a “mikvah,” or use a river or lake. These head-to-toe ritual clensings were common, and well understood by the Jews at the time of Christ. In fact, they had also begun dunking new converts into Judaism; these were the so-called “God fearing Greeks” we find mentioned in the New Testament. So when the only son of a Jewish priest, by the name of Johanan ben Zechariah, started baptizing people in the Jordan River, it wasn’t something completely unheard of.
Now as you probably guessed, Johanan ben Zechariah is who we call John the Baptist. Johanan is the Hebrew name for Johnathan, ben means “son of”, and Zechariah was a Preist. An Old Covenant priest, who did his required two tours of service in the Temple every year.
Some of you will recall the family connection between John the Baptist and Christ:
The angel Gabriel told Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” (Luke 1:13–15)
Zechariah doubted this, as both he and his wife were very old. The angel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until these words were fulfilled, because he did not believe. After Zechariah returned home his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months she remained in seclusion—and Zechariah remained silent.
The angel Gabriel was also sent to Mary, then a virgin, who told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and was also informed that her cousin Elizabeth had begun her sixth month of pregnancy. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth Baby John leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Well, it was that John about whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking, hundreds of years before, when he said:
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, and from all of Judea, and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins; he baptized them in the Jordan River.
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live, that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with fire.” John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people. (Luke 3: 4-18)
So, this was the kind of gruff, outdoorsy, wild-man we’re talking about in John the Baptist. Not a soft shoulder to cry-on, when you’re having a bad day. This is part of the reason some Early Church theologians were kind-of embarrassed about John baptizing Jesus. Not only was John more than a little off the beaten path; it was also easy to mistake Jesus as a disciple of John…since John was the one doing the baptizing.
Since Sheila read from Luke, I’ll read from Matthew:
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
The entire Trinity took part in Christ’s baptism. The Son said; it should be done—we must carry-out all that God requires. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven, like a dove, to settle on Jesus. The Father said; This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.
No Old Testament animal sacrifice, no matter how carefully selected, has ever been truly pleasing to God. It’s impossible to find an animal that didn’t have some blemish, some imperfection. Not only that, but the blood of those animals was, at best, only symbolic. But the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross would be the true unblemished and spotless sacrifice.
The Jews were told to make those animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin; but with the understanding that a Messiah would come and atone for all sin. The animal sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Christ would make through His death.
Likewise, we Baptize for the forgiveness of sins, not directly of course; if water could wash-away sin, Christ didn’t need to come to earth and die. We are practicing the same kind of shadow event that the Jews were practicing. It is through the real event that’s depicted in the baptism; that death into the water, and resurrection out of the grave, that we are forgiven.
For that death and resurrection which truly forgave our sins, Thanks Be To God.


When the last surviving disciples died, someone said “hey, we should write-down all the disciples teachings and sayings that we can remember, if they aren’t already recorded elsewhere.” That short document is called the Didache, which is Greek for Teachings. A section of that was on Baptism, let’s read it:
Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way:
After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water.
But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm.
If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.

Here is the link to read the entire Didache, it’s only a few pages.

Footprints

Good Morning all!
I sure hope this goes through this week.  Last week, the email I sent got kicked back after I already left the office and I apologize that happened.  We have a few important events taking place the last few weeks we have left this month.  In this week's newsletter you will see a list of Committee Nominations for the 2016 Board.  We will have our Annual Meeting on January 31st when you will have an opportunity to vote for the nominees then.  Following that meeting, you might not want to go anywhere so you can participate and vote for the best chili as we will be having our annual chili cook-off!
Also new, we have a new martial art group that will be renting our space to teach Aikido.  This group will be holding a demo class on Saturday, January 23 from 10:30-1:30 in Hardesty Hall.  It is for EVERYONE…no matter your age, strength, boys, girls, men and women.  Please help us welcome them and learn more about their very unique style of martial arts.  You will be surprised!  Tell your friends as well.  We will have a brochure available with more details.
Also, some very exciting news from First Step Preschool.  The following is from Geanina Brown, Director of the preschool:

I was notified that First Step Preschool  have received some votes for Best of the Springs. I have attached the link so we all can go on and vote. Let’s let the rest of Colorado Springs know about our little school in the woods. http://www.thebestofthesprings.com/voting-family/  You can vote one time per email, so if you have more than one email just log back in and vote again. I  really do believe we have the Best of the Springs preschool because of our staff.  Feel free to let all of your friends and family know so they can vote as well.

 

Thank you for your support!

We will see you all on Sunday!

Theresa Palaia

Office Administrator
Black Forest Community Church
6845 Shoup Road
Black Forest, CO  80908
719-495-2207

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Footprints Newsletter

Resend—apparent technical problems Thursday:
Good Snowy Thursday Morning!
There's no doubt its winter!  They are predicting a fair amount of snow overnight, so to be proactive, I am sending you the Footprints one day early, in case of closings.  
This is the first full normal week after all that we had going on in our busy little church for the last two months!  I like normal!  Inside this week's footprints is an interesting excerpt on what growing churches do, that others don't.  Also, please remember, we are taking down Christmas decorations this Saturday at 10:00 a.m.!  Please come and volunteer!  
Stay safe and warm and we will see you on Sunday at worship at 10:00. 
Have a great weekend!

Theresa Palaia

Office Administrator
Black Forest Community Church
6845 Shoup Road
Black Forest, CO  80908


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Shoveling Snow at Church

Hi, Church Family,

As you probably know, snow is being predicted for Thursday and Friday this week.  That means shoveling!  We need volunteers to handle snow removal from church sidewalks and steps, to include the sidewalk on the east side of Morast Hall going down to the preschool, across the back of the preschool, and a path going from the preschool to the rear of the log building. 

If there is school in D20 tomorrow or Friday, it needs to be done before 8 am.  (In that case, it will mean the snowfall is light, and should be easy to sweep.) If D20 is cancelled, there is no preschool and the snow removal can be done any time during the day.  If D20 is on a delay, snow needs to be removed by 11 am, as there will be afternoon classes at the preschool. 

Please, please, can I get some volunteers for this important task?  Tom Putney has been doing a lot of the snow removal single-handed this year, but he is working all day tomorrow and Friday, so he is unavailable. 

Thank you for your help!

Becky Bain, for Trustees

Beginnings—Both Old & New

Beginnings—Both Old & New
Lance Haverkamp – January 3rd, 2016

When we think Beginnings, we naturally think creation. But depending on whom you ask, you will get different pictures of what that beginning looked like. Ask most people from an even remotely Judeo-Christian background, and they’ll quote you Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” …and they’ll have additional Scriptural support for their position that:

God alone created everything (Isaiah 44:24)
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who by myself spread out the earth;”

But then along comes some wahoo, with a penchant for studying, who will say that:

All things were created by/through Jesus (Colossians 1:16-17)
“for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ”

This apparent conflict, isn’t really a conflict at all if you’re trinitarian; and is only a problem for a sub-set of unitarians (who hold to a hyper-literal understanding of the birth of the son of God).

Our Gospel Reading this morning came from the beginning of John, who was writing to those who followed the teachings of the Stoic philosophers. We read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The word “Word” there, is “Logos” in the Greek. It’s translated as “word,” “speech,” “principle,” or “thought.” The Stoics also referred to Logos as a universal, divine reason, or the mind of God.

So, where we read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;” it should be clear that the “Word” or Logos was a divine reference to Jesus Christ.

John argued that Jesus, the Word, or Logos is eternal, and is God. Furthermore, all creation came about by and through Jesus, who is presented as the source of life. Amazingly, this Logos came and lived among us, born to a Jewish girl, in the desert, 2,000 years ago. That’s why we’re studying about this shortly following Christmas; we’re supposed to know that connection. So, our text for this morning, which our doctrinal predecessors wanted us to discuss today, tells us that Christ was involved in creation centuries, or millennia, before he came to us, on earth.

We find the beginning of many things in Scripture, and we’ll talk more about the beginning of Christ’s ministry later this month; but the next huge beginning was that of the New Covenant, which we transitioned into, as we transitioned out of the Old Covenant:

You remember Abraham, you probably remember the children’s song: “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord…” Well, Abraham was married to Sarah, they were promised a great nation of descendants; but grew quite old, and were still without children. You remember that, right? Sarah sent her handmaiden, Hagar, to sleep with Abraham, so that a child could finally be born. As it turned-out both Hagar and Sarah became pregnant, and had sons; Ishmael and Issac.

In the forth chapter of Galatians, Paul wrote a metaphor: We are told about Abraham’s two women, Hagar and Sarah; they correspond to two cities, physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem. We are told that these two women/cities are symbolic of two communities of people, those under the old covenant, and those under the new covenant. Let’s read it:

“You who want to be under the authority of the law, tell me something. Don’t you know what the law says? It is written that Abraham had two sons. The slave woman gave birth to one of them. The free woman gave birth to the other one. Abraham’s son by the slave woman was born in the usual way. But his son by the free woman was born because of God’s promise.

    These things are examples. The two women stand for two covenants. One covenant comes from Mount Sinai. It gives birth to children who are going to be slaves. It is Hagar. Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia. She stands for the present city of Jerusalem. That’s because she and her children are slaves. But the Jerusalem that is above is free. She is our mother. It is written,

    “Be glad, woman,
    you who have never had children.
    Shout for joy and cry out loud,
    you who have never had labor pains.
    The woman who is all alone has more children
    than the woman who has a husband.” (Isaiah 54:1)

    Brothers and sisters, you are children because of God’s promise just as Isaac was. At that time, the son born in the usual way tried to hurt the other son. The other son was born by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman. Get rid of her son. The slave woman’s son will never have a share of the family’s property. He’ll never share it with the free woman’s son.” (Genesis 21:10) Brothers and sisters, we are not the slave woman’s children. We are the free woman’s children.”
–Galatians 4:21-31 (NIRV)

Why is this important? What is the point of this, seemingly unusual, analogy? Well, the most important point is that, as of the beginning of the New Covenant, we no longer live under the law. You see, under the law, my clothes are an abomination unto God. The law says you can’t mix your fabrics, and I’m wearing a permanent press shirt. To make matters worse, I matched it with a wool suit, and a silk tie! Clearly I am the abomination that my second-grade teacher knew I would grow-up to be.

There are hundreds of these old laws—613 to be exact. They fall into three broad categories: Health-related, Religious/Ethical teachings, and Ceremonial/Ritual.
So which category of the law do my abominable clothing fall under?
Is it ritual? No, things prescribed hand-washing & priestly garments are ritual.
Is it Health-related? No, mixing rayon with wool isn’t a health risk.
Is it religious, is there something unholy about cotton—besides having to iron it?
Of course not, it’s religious metaphor; it’s not about fabric, it’s about mixing the sacred with the profane, it’s telling God’s people not to mix their worship of Him, with those pagan rituals going-on around them.

We were never expected to follow all of the law. In fact, the primary reason for the law is to teach everyone that there is no way to be perfect in the sight of God. God designed a law that we couldn’t live-up-to. That’s why the Israelites made animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, for the forgiveness of sin. Our new beginning, in Christ, meant those Temple sacrifices were no longer needed. God let the Romans destroy the Temple, and the priestly records in 70AD; to make sure the Jews could no longer obey the Old Covenant rituals. Christ became the final sacrifice so we could be accepted by God, as we are. This is the New Beginning made possible by Christ.

Now we, as a congregation, can begin anew; or not…

You see, there’s a ton of areas where we all agree, and that’s great! There’s also a lot of areas where, maybe, 90% of us agree; and really, that’s fine. We don’t have to agree on everything. There are, I believe, only three areas where we must decide how to proceed before we know what to look for, as we begin a new relationship, with a new minister:

The first is easy: How large do we want to the congregation to grow?
This is important because most young ministers are conditioned & trained for numerical growth. I’m just guessing, but I suspect most of our congregation wants to stay small-enough that you can know everyone, if you put forth a little effort. That’s called a “Family-sized” congregation; by the way, “Family-sized” is the smallest of four possible congregation sizes.

The second question is also moderately easy: What is the role of the minister?
We have no consensus on the role of the Pastor; neither in ministry, nor in management. Some want the minister to be the sea captain—setting the course, managing the crew, and piloting the ship. Others want the minister to do nothing more than preach, marry, bury, and visit the sick; leaving all matters of polity, personnel, and administration to the board. We must be able to tell them what we expect.

The third area requires the most work, that question is: What do we really hold as doctrinal beliefs within the congregation?
For decades we have had members, and leaders, with beliefs that range from Unity, or Unitarian Universalist on the far left; to squarely conservative/evangelical on the right. We have members who come from a very high-church background who think communion and baptism are sacraments that need to be preformed by clergy; and we have members who, like the modern UCC, accept any baptism, and consider communion a remembrance.

Every Pastor, and interim, we’ve had in the last decade, has had to field complaints, from members, about our congregation being doctrinally both too far left, and too far right—at the same time, depending on who’s complaining. To be honest, we may never be able to agree on these doctrinal questions. If not, this third question then becomes: How do we protect any new clergy from having to field complaints about our wide range of doctrinal beliefs?

We’ve had too many ministers in this congregation who felt that they had to please everyone, all the time; only to be frustrated by the impossibility of doing so. If we can not agree on doctrine, we must agree on a response that will defend our staff, when those challenges to our, wide range of, doctrinal beliefs arise.

Let’s be thankful for the beginning of creation, the beginning of Christ’s ministry, the beginning of the New Covenant; and let’s be thankful that we really have relatively little to do, before we can begin to search for a new minister.