Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:6-7
These days, it seems that anxiety is among the most rampant epidemics of our time. From the economy to cultural shifts, it seems that change is the only constant. Many people waste time and energy worrying about things that never happen. Don Herold said, "If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I'd have fewer imaginary ones." That's sage advice for all of us. We must focus our time and energy around dealing with the issues that are immediate and real, not clutching at phantoms.
Jesus once asked the disciples quite pointedly, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to [your] life?" (Matthew 6:27) I know when I was a young boy and would spend considerable time with my maternal grandmother, worry was almost a badge of honor for her. In fact, when life went well, she would worry about not having anything to worry about. As a result of that focus, she lurched from one crisis to the next. I have to wonder... if we invest ourselves in looking for one crisis after another, are we really surprised when that's what we find in life?
The promise of faith is that an interactive relationship with the Divine can love us into a new and healthier way of being in the world, a life in which peace, not worry, is the dominant characteristic.
"Some people think the future means the end of history. Well...We haven't run out of history quite yet."
— James T. Kirk, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The 13th chapter of Mark's Gospel contains predictions of dire global events, but it also contains the words, "do not be alarmed." Much of the religious world works themselves into a frothy frenzy looking forward to the ending of the world with glee and making many fearful in the process. Jesus tells his disciples quite matter of factly, "Such things must happen, but the end is still to come." In fact, such circumstances are specifically what Jesus sent the disciples into the world to address and to remedy.
Some find progress in culture or spirituality threatening to them because for them any change is a discontinuity with what they hold most dear. For us as progressive Christians, it is the natural development of our faith expression.
To see this more clearly, try this affirmation: The Eternal One is complete and whole. In my journey with the Eternal One, I become more complete and whole each day. My purpose is no less than to heal the world around me.
How is it decided what scriptures and readings are used in worship each week?
Although we can choose to discuss any subject at any time, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, we generally follow a lectionary, which is a worship resource that specifies certain readings for certain days and seasons in the calendar of the church year. Some denominations have a particular lectionary of their own. Many choose to follow the revised common lectionary. This allows worship to have a thematic arc beyond each Sunday. It allows for the development and contextualizing of more complex issues and ideas.
At the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, we have adopted the lectionary that has been created by our friends at the Sunshine Cathedral MCC in Fort Lauderdale, Flo. While it contains many of the same assigned Bible readings, particularly among the gospel lessons, it is also unique in that it also provides readings from the sacred texts of other religious traditions as well as contemporary readings from other sources as well.
The result is that we see much more of the common ground that we share with others, whether they self-identify as Christian or not. It powerfully reminds us that we share a common heritage that is larger than our individual expression of it, and it reminds us that all people are members of one human family across the whole earth.
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I've noticed you wearing different types and styles of robes in worship. Is there a special meaning to the different types of robes?
Thanks for noticing! Yes, although some might not be aware, there is great significance to each of the special articles of clothing that are worn for worship. The basic, long, white robe is called an alb, and it is the main robe that is worn underneath other items. The scarf-like band of cloth is called a stole, and it is associated with preaching function. The item that looks like a pancho or a table cloth with a hole in the middle is called a chasuble; it is the article of clergy clothing that is associated with the consecrating function at the altar.
So, yes, there is often a difference in what I wear in worship, depending on what role I am serving in that day's worship service. On days when I'm not consecrating, I will sometimes dress in a more protestant vein, wearing my black academic doctoral robe with a stole. (The other thing to keep in mind is that although it gets warm with all those layers, there is ample room to conceal the wireless mic, too!)
Do you have a question about faith, religion, spirituality, or tradition that you would like to have answered? Then email your question to Pastor Ty at email@example.com. Your identity will be withheld, and only your question itself will be printed.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” — Mark 12:41-44
I have often wondered at various points in my life about the tensions that often exist between the haves and the have-nots. Some even go so far as to insist that the Golden Rule really is, “The one with the gold makes the rules.” On a very basic intuitive level, many people sense that there must be more purpose to life beyond acquisition and accumulation. Unfortunately, although they sense that reality, some never step up to really embrace its implications. Just as no one possesses every spiritual gift and hence we need each other, so too, we come to understand that wealth, like many other aspects of life, is simply a tool, one we can use well or poorly. Recognizing that everything has its origin and fulfillment in God, we must use all that we are and have to further divine purposes, whether that's one dollar or a million.
To see this more clearly, try this affirmation: I have come from God to make a positive difference in the world. To that end, I commit my whole self and all the resources at my command.
The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to [Jesus] and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place." But [Jesus] said to them, "You give them something to eat." - Luke 9:12-13
In the face of adversity, in the face of a challenge, the response of Jesus' disciples was to throw in the towel. A huge crowd had assembled, had in fact followed Jesus into a remote place, without seemingly any thought of their next meal. So happy were they to be receiving what they were getting from Jesus, they probably never pondered the rather mundane thought, "What am I going to eat out there?" The people in the throng appear to have a basic trust that it was all going to work out. The response of the disciples (being ever the pragmatists) to this devotion and simple trust was to send them away into the nearest towns to find food for themselves. The next statement of Jesus still rings in our ears 2,000 years later, "You give them something to eat."
This Sunday at the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, we will — as we do on the first Sunday of every month — observe what we call a Loaves & Fishes Sunday. On the first Sunday of each month we invite everyone to bring non-perishable foods and to place their gift at the foot of the altar. Once collected, these foodstuffs are placed in the food pantry of the Topeka AIDS Project's food pantry, which is housed in our building.
Rather than having to send hungry people elsewhere, we do our best to respond to the basic human need of hunger by feeding the hungry as Jesus directed. In the future, we hope to expand even further in this effort.
Then [Jesus] touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you".... (Matthew 9:29)
Belief plays such an important role in the life of each of us. What we think about, we bring about. Henry David Thoreau echoed this when he said, "I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?"
Inner reality is what creates the outer world that we most often think of as objective reality. Alan Watts states than any distinction or separation between our inner and outer worlds is purely illusory, a convenient division between what transpires inside my skin from what transpires outside it. We are connected to the world and each other more deeply than we often recognize.
To raise your awareness of this reality, try an affirmation like this one: Reality is conformed to belief. I affirm the highest good for each life I touch, including my own. I embody and express divinity in all I say and do.
"I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." (Isaiah 43:19)
With every page we turn both in the Bible and in our everyday experience, it appears that God is always doing something new and different. With every story we read of a life transformed, God does the unexpected. In fact, in grafting gentiles into the tree of promise, God did something that quite literally floored — albeit in different ways — the first generation of Jewish Christian people.
From the very first chapter of the first book of our Bible, Genesis, God demonstrates a profound capacity for bringing forth life from lifelessness. The accounts of the healings wrought through Jesus are likewise a great demonstration of the divine penchant for the direction of wholeness and well-being. Through ministry, God seeks to transform our human lives into something more full and more complete, more whole than anything we have ever known prior.
Yet, just like the ancient peoples whose lives we read about, many Christian people in our nation today want to place God in a particular box, one which circumscribes the ways in which we affirm that God works, often one which prescribes that God fills us but leaves us otherwise as we are. That course didn't yield a positive result for our ancestors; so why would anyone persist in following it?
The call of God on our lives is to cast aside our preconceptions, to throw off the chains of limitation — from our perceptions of God and of ourselves — to think freely and to do so unafraid, to be open to receiving the unexpected blessing.
Once, when [Jesus] was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "I do choose. Be made clean." Immediately the leprosy left him.
Throughout the gospels, the image we have of Jesus is that of a person of infinite compassion, one who eagerly embraced the lowest and the least. Clearly from this and other passages, healing, wholeness and well-being were high priorities for Jesus. So, why would they not be high priorities also for Jesus' followers?
Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priest, poet and peace activist, spells this out for us when he says, “The God of life summons us to life; more, to be lifegivers, especially toward those who lie under the heel of the powers.”
I've been following the debate in the public sphere on health care reform. It appears, at least on the surface, that some give more weight to the words of Adam Smith than Jesus Christ. Also, as I look at the various protests about the issue, I don't see any poor people or people of color protesting against the proposed reforms. And I can't help but wonder why that is. Could it be that the poor and the oppressed realize that there are serious inequities in our current system that need to be corrected? Is it any surprise that those who are wailing loudest for the preservation of the status quo are those whom it has most directly benefitted?
What about mission? Isn't part of why we are all here to learn the blessing of true community? And aren't we concerned with the relief of human suffering? How can thoughtful people of faith of any tradition seriously argue that the poor and indigent should be left to their fate? I seriously expect that when some of these folks meet God face to face, it's some deep explaining they will have to do.
In Mark 1:35, we read "In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed."
In working with various groups in the church, one thing has become increasingly clear. Oftentimes, we lead lives of such hectic complexity that it can become very easy to forgo our own individual spiritual practice in the interest of expediency. Yet, the dedication of ourselves needs to remain a priority for us if we are to continue growing into becoming the people that God through Christ has called us to be.
In today's verse from Mark's Gospel, Jesus has his quiet time with God very early in the morning. How challenging it can be at times for each of us to find such a quiet moment to meet with God. I would venture to guess, however, that each of us could carve that time into our day planners, realizing the need for a structured quiet time. And it does not have to be a huge amount of time to start. Five minutes, ten maybe? Those few moments to sit in the stillness, to allow the voice of God to come through in clarity, without having to compete with the plethora of other voices that so frequently flood our minds... those are the moments truly worth pausing to embrace. As Joan Chittister says, "Prayer is an attitude toward life that sees everything as ultimately sacred, everything as potentially life-changing, everything as revelatory of life's meaning. It is our link between dailiness and eternity."