Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whiteboard: Calling

With Pentecost behind us we enter now into the extended period of time in the worship life of the church where we don't have a high holy day. We call it "Ordinary Time" in the life of the church and it takes up about half of the year. In fact, the next liturgical season is, well, Advent...which won't come until the last Sunday of November!

During "Ordinary Time" we have an opportunity to grow in the faith. In the coming Sundays our worship services will revolve around central tenets of the Christian faith like the Kingdom of God, living together in community, and worshiping a God who does amazing things.

So it makes sense that this coming Sunday we kick off our extended sojourn of Ordinary Time with the story of Isaiah's calling. After all, we too are called to follow the living God and commissioned to go out into the world in his name. Even if our stories aren't quite as remarkable as Isaiah's (his involves seraphs and hot embers and a hem of the robe of the Lord that is so big that it fills the entire temple), it isn't the details of the call story that make it remarkable. Rather it is the fullness of the response ("Here I am, Lord. Send me.") that makes it truly remarkable.

Come and join us this Sunday and help us to live into that divine calling with our own faithful response -- "Here I am, Lord. Send me!"


Isaiah 6:1-8 -- A Vision of God in the Temple

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ 
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ 
And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

From Week of Compassion: Joplin, One Year Later

Our friend at Week of Compassion the Rev. Brandon Gilvin wrote this great piece about Joplin, MO one year after the tornado struck. You'll find it copied below.

If you would like to donate directly to Week of Compassion, click here.

peace, Rev. Brian


A Memo for Joplin, One Year Later

Francis Coppola, Josh Baird, and Jill Michel tour a Memorial Park commemorating those injured or lost in the 2011 Joplin tornado
When Anderson Cooper leaves, there is still work to do.
Over the two and a half years I’ve served the church through Week of Compassion, these have been the words I’ve said to myself after every major disaster we’ve faced.  In a way, it is my own internal memo: a reminder that media coverage may stop but that the lives of those affected by disasters continue with all of the complications, grief, and uncertainty of a long slog back to normalcy.
I go over this internal memo today, the anniversary of the 2011 Joplin tornado, as I think about the many partners we’ve worked with over the last year, including Church World Service, Rebuild Joplin, Joplin’s Long Term Recovery Committee, Mike Weinman and Jeni Brown in the Ozark Lakes Area office.
I remind myself of the nimble skill and entrepreneurial spirit of churches surrounding Joplin:  First Christian-Pittsburg, KS; First Christian-Neosho, MO; First Christian-Columbus, KS; First Christian Church-Bentonville, AR, and all of the volunteers they housed in the weeks that followed the tornado, as well as those who contributed to the building of the incredible Mission Center Facility at South Joplin Christian Church.
Disciples and UCC Volunteers Work Hard Repairing a House in Joplin
I count the names of my amazing colleagues in the United Church of Christ, Florence Coppola, the executive for National Disaster Ministries, and her corps of Long Term Volunteers like Biff Barner and Howard Self.  Over a year of planning, brainstorming, dreaming, and praying, praying, praying, they have been the perfect partners for supporting a long term recovery.
 I find myself giving thanks for my colleague at Disciples Volunteering, Josh Baird, whose pastoral presence bring comfort and hope that equals his technical expertise and experience.  He, too, has enlisted an amazing group of Long Term Volunteers who will help staff the mission station—folks who will provide welcome, guidance, and leadership for groups who come to be part of the rebuilding. 
I remember, above all, pulling into the parking lot of First Christian Church, Joplin, and meeting two incredible pastors, Jill Michel of South Joplin and Faye Blevins of First Christian.  Over the last year, they have shown leadership that is nothing short of inspiring, and the churches they pastor have shown grace, hospitality, and hope that is nothing short of Christ-like.
I go over all of this as I consider this memo to myself and I quickly draft another for all of those names I’ve counted and all of those whose names I’ll never know—the folks who hung Christmas wreaths on FEMA trailer doors, who stood in line at First Christian’s distribution center, those who are volunteering on weeks I won’t be able to visit, and those who still mourn the loss of a loved one.
We remember.
We are still with you.
You are part of us.
{Brandon Gilvin is the Associate Director of Week of Compassion. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.}

Whiteboard: Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost!

Pentecost is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is our time to rejoice in the continuing power and presence of God. It is when we all get to wear red!

The second chapter of Acts tells us that the Disciples were all gathered in one place when all of a sudden everything goes wild. The scene is so crazy that words can hardly describe it, so instead we get these images that don't quite jibe with each other but help us make sense of the situation nonetheless. The sound of a violent rush of wind mixed with tongues of flame? That rest on each one of them? And give them the ability to speak in other languages? Oh, and sometimes it is called a dove, just not in this passage?!?

This was the promised gift that Jesus Christ had long described to his Disciples. That even though his earthly ministry with them would end we would not be left alone -- we would receive the Holy Spirit, the continuing power and presence of God that will lead us and guide us, bless us and send us forth to the world. 

So come join us this Sunday as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. And don't forget, wear red!


Acts 2:1-21 -- The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ 
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams. 
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. 
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Romans 8:22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Three Things from Administrative Council

Administrative Council had their regularly scheduled meeting after church this past Sunday. Here are "The Three Things You Should Know" from that meeting:

  1. Our Property Improvement Pledge Dedication Sunday was tremendously successful! Thank you to everyone who turned in a pledge card. As of today (Wednesday, May 23) we have received pledges totaling $116,000 with $54,000 of that available as cash on hand. This has us well on our way to the $120,000 PIP Goal. If you haven't turned in your pledge card yet, please do. You could be the one that pushes us over our goal!
  2. Administrative Council unanimously decided to become a Hope Partner. Hope Partnership is our denomination's brand new initiative to bring new energy and vitality to our established churches (click here to learn more). We sent a team of four members from our church (Bob Bruns, Monica Case, Ron Prast, and myself) to the "DARE to Lead" Event in Casa Grande that was an introduction to Hope Partnership. Our team came back incredibly excited and enthusiastic for the program. You'll be hearing more about Hope Partnership in the coming weeks and months, but for now know that we are aboard!
  3. Our Education Team is proud to announce the formation of Y.A.M.S. -- Young Adult Ministry Scottsdale! A Facebook Page has been created and plans are underway to get our Young Adults together monthly for times of fellowship, service, and growth. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Newsbrief: PIP Pledge Dedication

We’ve been building toward this Sunday for quite a while.

We’ve sung the song. We’ve chanted the refrain. We’ve heard the stories. We’ve read over the letters. We’ve seen Bob the Builder all over our church campus. We’ve had our congregational meeting. We’ve prayed about it.

This Sunday we will dedicate our Property Improvement Project Pledges.

Hopefully you received your PIP Pledge Card in the mail a few weeks back. Hopefully you have been praying for God’s guidance and God’s generous hand to lead us through this project.

We are seeking capital donations and pledges of $120,000. It is no small amount of money, but then again it is no small plan. We’ll be doing much needed updates and repairs to our church campus to help us continue to live into the mission and ministry that God has in store for us at FCC Scottsdale.

I’m extremely excited about our Property Improvement Project, and I am so grateful to our Property Improvement Team who has been guiding us through the whole process. In fact, I am so excited about it all that we are not going to waste any time on Sunday morning! The very first thing we’ll do in worship together this Sunday (right after the announcements) is receive and dedicate our PIP Pledges. Members of the Property Improvement Team will use fresh paint trays as the collection plates to receive your pledge cards and then we’ll offer a special word of prayer over those pledges, over the construction work that will begin shortly, and over the entirety of First Christian Church that we might be a place of blessing reaching out into the world.

So don’t forget to fill out your PIP Pledge Card. And if you forget to bring it with you on Sunday (like I always do!), don’t worry because we’ll have extras here waiting for you (I’ve already filled out a spare one!).

Our scripture reading this Sunday reminds us that Christ demanded, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” Come join us at our House of the Lord this Sunday and help us celebrate all that God is doing with us and through us!

Yours in the Journey, Rev. Brian

Three Things: Elders Meeting

The Elders had their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday May 16, 2012. Here are "The Three Things You Should Know" from that meeting:

1) The Elders will be working in conjunction with Mission Nutrition. When making phone calls to our homebound members the Mission Nutrition volunteers will ask if our members would like to receive communion. Al Beasley will help coordinate the Elders to organize visits and communion. 

2) We discussed this past weekend's DARE to Lead event sponsored by the Arizona Region. DARE to Lead is the first step in a 24-month intentional process for congregational revitalization and leadership development. It is organized by Hope Partnerships -- our denominations new office dedicated to "empower courageous leaders as they guide the Church into life-giving expressions of ministry for this new era of God's mission." This is an exciting opportunity for our church to take part in. Administrative Council will receive a formal proposal at their meeting on Sunday May 20.

3) We heard an update about the Property Improvement Project. The PIP Team has reached out to each small group and ministry team in the life of our congregation about the Property Improvement Project, and the Elders received the latest update along with a reminder that we will be receiving and dedicating our PIP Pledges this coming Sunday right at the very beginning of the worship service. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Whiteboard: House of the Lord

This coming Sunday we will dedicate our Property Improvement Project Pledges at the very beginning of the worship hour.

That's right, all of our Bob the Builder announcements, silly slides, worship moments, and congregational mailings comes to fruition this Sunday! At the very beginning of worship the Property Improvement Team will receive your pledge cards (using fresh paint trays as Offering Plates!) and then we will dedicate those sacred promises to the work of renewing our church, our facilities, and our grounds!

Which makes my scripture selection for this Sunday seem a bit odd. At least, at first blush.

This Sunday I'll be preaching from Matthew 21:12-17. You'll find the passage at the end of this blog post. We are most familiar hearing it during the Season of Lent, where the dominant image is Jesus, well, casting out the money changers.

You can see why it is a funny choice, right?

But we are so quick to jump to the part of the story where Jesus is tipping over tables and chasing people of out the temple that we miss the beauty and power of his words. "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people."

As a people of faith we testify that our church is a House of the Lord, and if that is the case then, well, Jesus has just given us our marching orders. The House of the Lord shall be a house of prayer, not just for us but for all people. This Sunday, on the same Sunday when we dedicate our pledge cards and bless our Property Improvement Project and the good work we will do for the House of the Lord at First Christian Church Scottsdale scripture reminds us who we are and what we are to be about.

Come join us this Sunday as we dedicate our Property Improvement Pledges, as we celebrate the mission of our church, and as we strive to make this House of the Lord a house of prayer for all people!


Matthew 21:12-17

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself”?’

He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Newsbrief: Mother's Day Prayer

In the lead up to Mother’s Day, this week is Christian Family Week.

Chalice Worship (our denomination’s terrific worship resource book) describes it like this, “Christian Family Week is observed the first or second Sunday in May for the purpose of strengthening family life.”

As such, all week long I’ve been sharing the following prayer with each committee and group that I meet with…and I wanted to share it with you too! This prayer likewise comes from Chalice Worship.

O holy and loving God,
your knowledge of each of us is infinite,
and your love for each of us is boundless;
you place us within human families,
and incorporate us into the beloved household of faith.
We yield ourselves to your providence and grace.
We rejoice that you have called us from our varying human backgrounds
to be brothers and sisters together in faith and devotion.
We renew our commitments to each other,
to mothers and fathers, to sisters and brothers,
to neighbors and acquaintances,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

Yours in the Journey,
Rev. Brian

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Whiteboard: Child of God

How fitting is it that on Mother's Day we have a scripture text that reminds that we are all children!

1 John 5:1-6 tells us what it means to be Children of God. This coming Sunday the lectionary pairs it with John 15:9-17 which is Christ's command that we love one another just as God loves us.

During the sermon I'll be telling a story by Ysaye Barnwell (of the remarkable singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock) called "There are No Mirrors in My Nana's House."

How do you know what you look like when you are in a house with no mirrors? Well, you need someone else to tell you about the beauty they see in you!

For a sneak preview of the story (and to hear just a little bit from the vast repetoire of Sweet Honey in the Rock) then check out this animated clip.

I'll see you this Sunday at First Christian Church Scottsdale!

Rev. Brian

1 John 5:1-6 -- Child of God
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Newsbrief Expanded: National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer.

In 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer must be declared by each following president at an appropriate date of his choice. In 1988, the bill was amended so that the National Day of Prayer would be held on the first Thursday of May.

On this day, the people of the United States are encouraged to turn to God in prayer and meditation in groups and as individuals.

In this spirit I’d like to share with you the official Presidential Proclamation for the National Day of Prayer, 2012 and the 2012 Prayer from the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

The Presidential Proclamation reads:
Prayer has always been a part of the American story, and today countless Americans rely on prayer for comfort, direction, and strength, praying not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country, and the world.

On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.

Let us also pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have answered our country's call to serve with honor in the pursuit of peace. Our grateful Nation is humbled by the sacrifices made to protect and defend our security and freedom. Let us pray for the continued strength and safety of our service members and their families. While we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending liberty, let us remember and lend our voices to the principles for which they fought -- unity, human dignity, and the pursuit of justice.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 3, 2012, as a National Day of Prayer. I invite all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I call upon individuals of all faiths to pray for guidance, grace, and protection for our great Nation as we address the challenges of our time.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

The 2012 Prayer from the National Day of Prayer Task Force:

Heavenly Father,

Every good gift and perfect gift comes from You. You are a faithful God and Your mercy endures forever. You have promised to bless the nation that trusts in You. Our currency proclaims “In God We Trust,” but in our culture we are far from You.

In the words of the prophet Daniel, “We have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.”

We come before You once more, seeking Your forgiveness and mercy. You, O God, are our only hope… Hear our prayer and, for Your honor’s sake, shine Your face upon this nation.

Give our leaders the desire to seek Your wisdom and the courage to follow Your guidance. Watch over the men and women of our armed forces as they sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

We give You thanks for all You have done for us, and we earnestly pray that You will help us become, once again, a nation whose God is the Lord.

In the name of Your Son, and our Savior, we pray this prayer. Amen

This day and every day let us be a people that pray for God’s mercy and grace, for God’s blessing and guidance, and for God’s will and ways to be made known in us and through us.

Yours in the Journey, Rev. Brian

For a nice history on the National Day of Prayer, click here.

For an interesting read on interfaith celebrations, click here.

If you want to learn about the counter-event, National Day of Reason, click here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Whiteboard: The Vine

 Scripture this week gives us a word we don't use often (abide) and an image we don't lift up much (the vine) to describe the deepest theological truth we know (God's love).

1 John 4:7-21 boldly pronounces that "God is love." Not simply that "God loves" or that "God shares love" or even that "God blesses us with love" or "God created love". No, the much more amazing pronouncement that God is love. Those who abide in God, well, God will abide in them. This love does all sorts of things -- casts out fear, fills us with boldness, and leads us to love our brothers and sisters. If we abide in the love of God then, we are drawn even deeper into community and solidarity with those all around us.

The Gospel of John uses this amazing image to mirror that point. I love UCC Blogger Kathryn Matthews Huey's take on the subject. She writes
In this week's reading, John uses another image, that of a vine and its branches, to help – and challenge – that early community, and ours today, to claim our close relationship with Jesus. In Jesus' time, people would have been familiar with the vine metaphor; it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures several times to describe Israel. But even if contemporary Christians have never tended a vineyard, most of us have seen a grapevine at one time or another. Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it's intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant. Even closer than the shepherd there on the hillside, this vine is one with its branches.
To see her full article, click here. It is well worth the read.

Come and join us this Sunday morning in worship when we abide in God's love, celebrate Christ as the True Vine, and find our place at work in the world!


1 John 4:7-21 -- God Is Love

 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

John 15:1-8 Jesus the True Vine

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunesto make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.