LK 6: Jesus came down...and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from... Jerusalem, and (all over the area)." (Then read screen slide vs. 20-23)
We've spent three weeks (Sermons on website; See "Connect" drop down, select "Lake Edge Blog") on God's promise of Joy in our lives, because God wants us to thrive! Ah, but the trick is how we get a hold of that joy. One thing's for sure, it's not gonna fall down from heaven. We've gotta participate. Today, how faith play a part, plus a chance to talk back; your questions and comments.
But, let's go back to Dan Buettner's book, "Thrive," and some of the world's happiest places. Today, Mexico. Our neighbors to the south. The number nine happiest country. And faith is a big part of that happiness. We American's like to causally talk about faith. More than 80% of us believe in God. But after a few months of the pounding from life's demands, our faith can get shelved. Why is that? Equating church as the only place where faith can be experienced is one problem. Too many still make "going to church" and what happens here more important than the day by day learning to live it - being the church.
Another reason: Our United Church of Christ. Called the church of the refugees, by some. We're arguably a more heady and maddening bunch. By contrast, Mexicans are not. Many nations and religions have influenced Mexicans, still they remain a very indigenous people. Theirs is what we might call "a simple faith." But, don't confuse simple with ignorant. Mexicans are deeply-rooted in a belief system far more complex and deeply ingrained than ours. This explains their long history of faith healers. Like Jesus, some Mexican men and women are gifted with the ability to facilitate healing. Buettner visited one such girl, a teenager known as "La Niña." At the age of ten, she reportedly cured an old woman of her cancer simply through touch. Today at age 17, she sees thousands in her modest home. Buettner asked La Niña if she cures people? Her response? "No. (people are cured through) their own faith. I just help them find it."
Some of us skeptical, logical Americans would look at La Niña and scoff; pointing to the long history of quackery and phonies. Fair enough. There's been a few of those in Mexico. But, we can't just dismiss the historic presence of healers like La Niña (and before her El Niño). Why are there so many more cures in less developed democracies like Mexico? Could this be what Jesus was referring to when he told his follower they must have "faith like a child?" Perhaps Jesus' healing wasn't so miraculous? Perhaps, he helped people transcend the doubts blocking their own way? If so, might it mean Jesus' teaching the first disciples his "Way" would logically mean they, and we who follow, could also have the ability to offer inner healing and happiness today? Jesus did say, "The Way of God's within you." And promised "We'd do even greater things than He." He also said some cures "require prayer." Blessed are you.
On faith and happiness, one wise Mexican concludes, "You need to believe in something bigger than yourself, something that transcends you. This gives you hope, and that's part of happiness...If we live only for ourselves, we're not going to be happy."
Now, it's your time. What do you have to say about this, or anything else you've heard these past 4 weeks?
Some thing's to mention during talk-back:
I've been clear these past weeks that living a joyful life isn't optional. I shared my panic during my month off, when I realized now this job had choked off my joy. Last week, I talked about the happiest countries. I even compared our nation (lower on the happy list) to Denmark; number two happiest. Without any disregard for our United States, I asked, "Which country's social system's more in line with what Jesus teaches?" Hint: It wasn't us.
It's time to demand more from our lives. It's time to thrive. Today, what we can do right now to increase our joy and ability to thrive. Dan Buettner, in his book "Thrive," cycles through what people say who live in the happiest places. Buettner says, "people who live in advanced democracies with strong social interaction tend to be the happiest." Like a vine and its branches, or seeds rooted in rich, healthy ground; Jesus teaches us deep connections are vital to our happiness. Surveys the world over bear this out. Connected to God through him, and through his "way" of life with each other. The Parable of the One Scattering Seed (the sower) pulls no punches. Jesus said last week, "I have come so you may have joy, and your joy may be complete." Our lack of joy isn't a God problem or a church problem. It's an us problem; an American problem. We don't connect.
Like seeds scattered, this world tosses us, unsupported, onto some pretty poor patches of earth, and expects us to thrive. There's only so many demands a human person can take. If we truly want a joyful and fruitful life, Americans can't be passive any longer. So what are some things can we do, right now?
Rev. Michael Mather has pastored progressive, urban, white churches (just like Lake Edge). His congregations have done the same good works all liberal churches do (just like Lake Edge). They spent a lot of money (like Lake Edge), but the poverty carousel keeps going around and around (like Madison). Poor folks, many who didn't look like them, kept asking for help. People in need kept dragging themselves into Pastor Mather's office, lower than a skunk. And once they got help, they left just as low. The whole process left Mather pretty low, too. And anonymous giving; where we'd send money to some well-intentioned program without much of a personal connection, wasn't much better. Five years ago, I went to the Triangle Ministries downtown for the monthly Second Harvest food pantry. More than charity, for me, connecting to the people helped connect to the neediness inside me. "Strong Social Connections" bring joy. Now, I hate missing those first Wednesdays.
In the case of Pastor Mather, his church, rather than handing out money, started asking people in need what those who knew them best said they were best at. And they discovered needy people also had gifts and abilities. Mather's congregation found that a few dollars "invested" in support of a good cook, a talented bike mechanic, or a gifted artisan, different from impersonal charity, helped them make money. People in need used their gifts, with a little church financial investment to support themselves; building self-esteem and deeper relationship with the church. Mather dropped charity for a revolving loan program to help people act on their gifts, make money, and take care of themselves. The connections created were exactly what all the world surveys tell us is a hallmark of happy people. Joy began to appear in unexpected places. We could do the same thing here. It'd take dedicated effort and thought. We'd need to build strong social connections with each other and our various communities, like Frank Allis, Christ the Solid Rock, and others.
But, that's just one idea. There's still more we can do. How about self-care? Joy comes when we make time for ourselves. Start with exercise. I'm never happier than when I'm on a stroll through the Saturday Dane County Farmers Market or out on my bicycle. In Denmark, there are all sorts of efforts to support bicycling for exercise and commuting. It's one key to Denmark ranking #2 happiest. Ask Jen Meudt, Anne Schoenemann or Stephanie Endres, who ran a 5k just yesterday. Running, swimming or working out matters to a happy life.
Remember, isolation's an obstacle to a happy life. Jesus tells us joy's found in connection. The happiest places make the effort to deepen connections, beyond casual get-togethers. Americans love to go to church, but we're hard pressed to truly "Be The Church" in deep, fruitful ways. We've heard Jesus these past weeks, rooted in a shallow society makes us drift and isolate. Jesus' Way's hard work.
Parents, learn to say, "No". You don't have to be an ogre. But just because your children want to do something or go somewhere or play some sport or be in some club, doesn't mean you've got to sacrifice your joy so your kids can do everything. Parents, you've got dreams and gifts. You need time to identify and act on those gifts. Pastor Mather says, "The biggest spiritual problem in (the church) is that the poor don't believe they have any gifts, and (we who are the givers) don't believe we have needs."
Seniors, learn to ask for help. Fight the urge to suffer the challenges of old age alone or rely only on your kids to help. Turn to your church. Isolation's an obstacle to happiness. Don't just sit in church on Sunday. Build deeper connections between Sunday's. Jesus commands it.
Youth. When it comes to youth programs. "The problem...is the assumption...that (teens and other younger people) didn't have something to offer, that they instead needed to be fixed or corrected (taught what to do/think)." Most youth programs, Mather says, are "aimed at teaching people what they don't know, rather than building on what they do." Youth will be far happier if pastors and elders treat them like we actually value their contribution.
Next week, I'll talk a bit about spirituality. What kind of faith brings us the most joy. Then, I'll open it up for your thoughts and questions. Think it over. It's time to thrive!
Today, more of God's word to us about "joy." There's a few copies of the first in this series on the table in the back. To recap: when I was on sabbatical, away from the demands of my job, I felt empty, lost, and useless. I'd given so much to this church I'd smothered my joy. And I'm not the only one. Could it be the demands of American style democracy is crushing our happiness; inferring with the joy promised each of us by God. Well, enough sacrifice, it's time to thrive.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus wants his followers to be connected - to God and, by extension, each other. This isn't just a suggestion. Selfless connection under the careful guidance of Jesus' teaching is where joy can be found. Dan Buettner has talked with the happiest people on earth. His book, "THRIVE: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way," is a great companion to our Gospel. There's three major world-wide survey's that measure happiness. I had no idea. And Buettner tells us, "If you look at the results...from 146 countries,...people who live in advanced democracies with strong interactions (connections) tend to be the happiest." Jesus says the way to follow his example is to stay deeply connected; like branches to a vine. We're an advanced democracy; some would say the most advanced. But we're not so good at the "strong social interactions" part.
Lately, the country of Denmark's been in the news. Our President had some words with Denmark, criticizing the country, and calling their Prime Minister "a nasty woman." And Denmark's the 2nd happiest country on earth. The U.S. not as much.
So let's talk a bit about Denmark, and what the second happiest people on earth might teach us. First, the Danes aren't perfect. There are certainly issues in Danish society. But here's what's interesting about Denmark: It's organized around a more level playing field. It's not unusual for royals and commoners, wealthy and workers to socialize. Danes strive for humility, modesty and shared responsibility. Kim Kardashian wouldn't last five minutes. Listen, and ask yourself how Danes stack up to Jesus' teachings compared with Americans? Our politicians can't manage a debate on health care coverage for all of its citizens. In Denmark everyone has health care covered from head to toe for life. Danes never worry about how to pay for hospitals, medicines or doctors. Universal higher education is also part of the modesty and class neutral beliefs of Danes. Dane's get free schooling through college, plus a living allowance while in school. Let's talk employment. In Denmark there's a strict 37 hour work week. Progressive employee benefits including 7 weeks of vacation. When a child's born, the second parent can choose to stay home to help their spouse for up to a year. Fourteen weeks of that's paid. Sure taxes are high. Some 65% of a Danes income supports the shared social safety net. But, no one lacks for any basic need. There's also a significantly smaller gap between the wealthiest Danes and those of more modest means. When Dan Buettner asked one wealthy Dane how he felt about his big tax bill, he wasn't bothered at all. "It's hard to complain," he said, "when most of your basic needs are covered." Danes also do well in business. But rather than more and more profits, their focus is outward; building relationships with other countries and peoples. Trust is an important value in Danish society. That's trust of each other, and with others outside of Denmark. Danes possess none of the rugged independence; "go it alone," "get ahead," "keep my business to myself" attitude of Americans. All children, even royals and elites, are encouraged to follow their dreams and gifts, rather than simply prepare for big money occupations. When Buettner asked the dad of one of the royal families why his son was an apprentice wood worker rather than a lawyer like him, he said, "I (just) want him to be happy with what he does." All Danes involve themselves in some sort of social group or club. It's a priority in Danish life.
Set aside all the partisan chatter about "socialism." When Jesus tells us to be one with God like he is, and be connected to each other the same way we're connected to him, what kind of social order do you think Jesus expects from us? Work till your dead, dog eat dog, rugged individualism, work only for ourselves and forget the other guy, super rich versus abject poor, arrogant, stubborn, status seekers? Look, I don't think Denmark's the promised land. But, when Jesus teaches, "I've said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete." When our level of happiness gets compared to some other nations, I'm amazed our America can crack the top 20.
Well, in spite of how our society can suck the life out of us, we can still thrive, and our joy can be complete. Next week, how we can have joy right now - the Gospel way.
I'm back! A month of paid time off; to stop, step away from all life's demands, and simply think and feel. What's that like? Sounds great, doesn't it? It's a privilege to be sure. But beware, there be dragons here. We Americans are different. While our European counterparts pour a million strong into the streets at the mere thought of government making their life harder. We here in the "States," just let stuff happen. Rather than bury our legislators with calls and visits, we adjust; accepting whatever gets thrown at us. It's constant compromise. Health care costs keep going up - oh, well. Real income keeps going down - oh, well. And that's just a sampling. Our personal needs as adults get kicked further and further off the agenda. And the cost can be our very happiness; our joyful spirit, our well-being. But there's only so much compromising the human person can do.
Today, I begin a sermon series about "joy". When I was able to step away from the demands of my job - first, it took almost a week to get into it. I immediately felt empty, lost, and useless. There's a sailing term - "dunsel." A dunsel's something or someone that has no meaningful or useful purpose. Stepping away from Lake Edge, I found I'd given so much to this church I had smothered my joy. Just like many of us unconsciously do.
In the Scripture from Acts, the new joy-filled Way of Jesus is just getting off the ground. Peter and John are the first to publicly witness to this way. They've no money to give to the man who begs for his daily bread. Instead, they give him something better. And the man literally leaps for joy. How did you feel when you heard this story?
As I felt how much the demands of life caused me to accommodate; literally squash my own joy, my level of misery scared me. Don't dwell on the miracle in this Gospel story. Instead, focus on what happens when joyful followers share their joy; unburdening someone else of the obstacle causing their "paralysis." This is the real miracle we all need.
Church can't merely be an hour on Sunday. I know how hard it is to get kids ready and out the door, or move weary bones and sore bodies out of bed and through the routines so we can make it to a church service. If our gathering here's becomes just another thing we must shove into an already over burdened life; it won't be long before we resent it and drift away. "Joy." It's central to our life, and not just something we get to glimpse once in a while.
Peter and John needed Jesus' joyful Spirit to live every day with their joy front and center. So do we. We need each other. First of all, we've gotta stop acting like our fears, disappointments and emptiness aren't important; to ourselves or to anyone else. Peter and John gave the paralyzed man their full attention, and with it the fullness of their "Joy." Little by little we've accepted one debilitating slight after another, until we're just as paralyzed as the guy in the story.
Well, it's time to stop accepting less than the full joy promised by our God. It's time to Thrive! The Christ the Solid Rock's coming, and we've work to do to get ready. Not to accommodate our new partner, but to begin to thrive. The advent of the Rock is the beginning of our resurgence. Over the several weeks we'll talk about how. For now ask, "What makes me joyful? How can I make my joy a priority in my life?"
This was delivered to the congregation past worship on March 26 by Karen Torvell, Leadership Council Moderator.
A few weeks ago, during the annual budget meeting you were told your Leadership Council voted to move from two Sunday services to a single worship service. We'd hoped to make this announcement differently, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. So, this morning, on behalf of your Leadership Council, I want to explain how we came to this decision.
We took a good, long hard look at the budget over the last couple of years and the decisions that had to be made. It's clear to us that we're spending far more money than our membership's able to give.
As of July 1, our paid professional staff will be reduced. Kris Gorton's current 30-hour/week position will go down to 15 hours. This means we'll be down to one pastor who'll be responsible for everything. This includes the normal everyday things you expect a pastor to do; pastoral care, worship planning and working with staff and volunteers. Add to this our office staff will be all volunteer by July 1.
Lex is currently taking care of the daily needs of our tenants and being a building manager, these aren't things we hired him to do. The demands on our Pastor will only increase as the year goes on. Also, as you saw in this year’s budget, Lex is listed as a three-quarter-time pastor. Make no mistake; Lex still puts in full-time hours. He just isn't getting paid near what our wider church believes a pastor with his experience, in a church our size, should be paid. We can't keep kicking this can down the road. Our church is changing. Our membership is 250, and in the UCC no church our size has more than one pastor and more than one worship service. We've been spending money like we're still a great big church on the hill. It’s time to be who we are.
For several years now, we've had a single worship service each month, and more as needs require. The last three summers we've offered a single service for 10 weeks; alternating our separate service styles with traditional one week, contemporary the next. Many times, over the summers, but especially following those fourth Sundays, Leadership Council members and Pastor Lex have been approached and asked, “When are we going to go to a single service?” “Why don’t we do this all the time?” And, if you were at the first budget forum you would've heard John Shield ask that very question.
There's so much energy during these single services and so much good will between our members. New friendships are being forged between members who're finally connecting with people they'd almost never see in a two-service format. What better way to build community within our own walls as we ready ourselves each week to go out and do great things in the wider community? These are the thoughts that led your Leadership Council to make a single service an every week reality.
During the past few years, while worship remains important to our identity as church, this church's getting more attention for its hands on ministry. The younger families and seekers today are looking for an authentic expression of faith at work in their communities; a church who shows how Jesus is active and making a difference. As an Economic Justice Covenant Church we're creating that environment through the Allis Backpack Weekend Nutrition program and stepping up our justice and witness education efforts. But in order to keep this church viable and available to meet the core ministry needs, we need to change how we spend money, especially on worship. We also need to commit to the support of the church.
The beauty of being a UCC church is that members can take an active role in worship services, including preaching. Just last week BJ Obermeyer spoke about the needs of young children’s education. We also encourage everyone to read scripture or help as a lay reader. But help isn't limited to Sunday service. The office can always use volunteers. We have an amazing team of volunteers now but we need more people to step up so no one gets burnt out. In addition, all of us can help build the community within our church and the community of the wider church (including our ecumenical partners), by helping with the Allis Backpack program.
So, this provides the rationale for why a single service?
Now, what happens next? A team is in formation to work together to recommend the structure for a single worship service. The Leadership Council's creating a team charter to help guide them on this journey. We've got 5 people who've already volunteered to be part of this team, but we still have room for one or two more. We want to unify our services as soon as practically possible. We need to do this for a variety of reasons that we’ve previously discussed, but also this'll prepare us to share our space with another congregation. And that's just as important to our future. Be assured going forward you'll be given the opportunity to have input into this process.
Being the church is about being in community together and doing the work of our Good Shepherd. We're disciples of Christ. I believe we should have no fear in following our Shepherd to make our corner of the world a little bit better.
We're the United Church of Christ and it's time to become united both in our worship services and with our neighborhood.
Note: Since Sunday two more members have stepped forward to serve on the Single Service Planning Team. A complete list of team members will be provided to the congregation before the team's work begins.
It's raining, raining, raining here! We're told the rainiest months are September and October, so I guess Liberia doesn't want us to leave without giving us a taste of the real rainy season.
We are beginning the process of packing up with many decisions to be made about what to leave and what to bring home. We hope to send some luggage to Monrovia before we go on the 5th in a taxi. Peace Corps will be here and can take them there on one their trips. My school is finished. Jim will be helping to grade the final exam for the student teachers this week. Becky, our program director, has let me help with a couple presentations to the new Volunteers for their training, which has made me feel useful during this down time. The new group is full of energy and enthusiasm. The training is rigorous. As usual, Peace Corps Liberia staff is providing a great beginning to their service.
Now for a couple snapshots:
Remember Rebecca? Here's her with her new son, and the other young man is her son, too. This week she is taking the national test for her high school diploma.
Tea shops and restaurants. What is referred to here as a tea shop, is a place to gather and have a beverage, get an egg sandwich, and watch a TV showing videos (sci fi warrior flicks seem especially popular). Some serve soup and one we go to has grilled goat which is small chunks. The one near us that we buy bread from often has men 3 deep watching something on TV. 99% of the patrons are men. In the photo, the middle blue shop with all the men around it is a Tea Shop.
A restaurant not too far from us, Hada's, is a good place to get Liberian soup (any meat and vegetable sauce over rice. Always rice, and great heaps of it.). You go in if the sign is out: Food is Ready. You have one choice, for example palm butter soup, cassava green soup, peanut soup. The portions are large. Jim and I can easily split one order and both of us are full. Price: 200 LD. And a bag of cold water comes with it. Sometimes we just go for a soft drink. Since it's up on a porch and the main road is in front, it's a great place to people watch and see the world go by.
Thanks to all of you for reading this over the last 6 months. We've loved your support, comments, and appreciate you all!
Jim and Lynn
A five-for-five church? What does that mean? We learned about being a five-for-five church last Sunday which was BOCO Sunday. Five-For-Five means that Lake Edge UCC gives, on a yearly basis, to five mission offerings. How do we do this? We give thru our church budget to OCWM…Our Churches Wider Mission which supports the work of our conference and national office.Then we give collectively four times a year to the UCC special mission offerings.
These offerings are:
One Great Hour of Sharing which supports our international partners, funding disaster relief, helping with health, education and agricultural relief and the refugee ministries. Received on the fourth Sunday of Lent
Strengthen The Church: funds the Still Speaking ministry, church growth, pastoral and lay leadership development and helps with youth and young adult ministries. Received on Pentecost Sunday.
Neighbors In Need supports the American Indian Ministry, while the rest supports a wide variety of justice and advocacy efforts. Direct Service Projects within the local church can request and receive grants. Received on World Communion Sunday.
The Christmas Fund helps provide pensions and health premium supplements to low income, retired church workers, emergency assistance to church families in need and Christmas thank you checks to hundreds. Received the Sunday before Christmas.
Because Lake Edge is a part of the larger UCC church and gives collectively to the five church missions, we are considered a five-for-five church. If you look on the BOCO bulletin board, you will notice the large thank you we have received from the national office. Our adults and youth who have attended the UCC national conventions are very proud that Lake Edge has been recognized as a five-for-five church. And as we give to each of these missions, we as a church community can also feel proud. Thank you to each member of Lake Edge. y, you will find an envelope in the church bulletin. Use that envelope to give to one of the four special missions of the UCC church.
The last few years we have participated in Bread for the World letter writing campaigns. We signed letters asking Congress to pass legislation to protect and increase funding for child nutrition programs, global nutrition programs, poverty –focused development assistance and other legislation to preserve and protect food related programs both nationally and globally.
Bread for the World recently sent us information describing their successes.
2015 successes include:
Key provisions of the earned income and child tax credits became permanent. This is a victory for low-income workers and will prevent 16 million people-including 8 million children from falling into or deeper into poverty
Increase of $1.1 billion in poverty-focused development assistance
$10 million increase in funding for global nutrition programs.
Halted passage of a provision in that would have taken away $75 million of food-aid funds and reduced the reach for food-aid programs by 2 million people annually
We should be proud of our support for Bread for the World and its advocacy of programs to preserve and increase funding and programs that provide food and nutrition and development assistance for poor and low income individuals and families.
This is one example of the type of involvement our congregation would have as an economic covenant church.
Lake Edge Members voted to adopt the Economic Justice Covenant at last Sunday’s annual meeting. We could throw a big party. We must get down to work if we are going to live into this covenant. The Christ Centered Justice Team, under the guidance of the Board of Christian Outreach will be educating, guiding and supplying many opportunities for you to fulfill our mission. The only way for CCJT to do this work with you is for you to keep communicating.
There will be a table every third Sunday during Coffee Hour/Worship Café with information you need and CCJT Members for you to ask questions of or talk with on the issues. We will have posts to our website and FaceBook pages that you can respond to and take action on. Please look for eNews and Pink Sheet articles as well as blue sheets for activities to get involved in because without your help our actions and voice will be weak. You can respond to this post with supporting comments and let’s get this covenant in gear and going forward.
Chair, Christ Centered Justice Team