This past Sunday, as part of our "Semper Reformda: Always Reforming" series, I shared with you all, virtually verbatim, a dream for our church that I share back in 2016. I have shared and preached this dream/vision virtually every year since then. I do that because I believe it captures something true about how our heart beats as a church.
As we struggle and wrestle and seek the winds of the Spirit for our next season as a church, I don't think we need a new vision or dream --- we have that, it is part of our DNA, it is core to we are as a church.
What we need is to discern what form our ministry and community will take in the coming year and years in order to together move the reality of RFC closer to our dream for RFC.
We will be spending most of our Summer Sundays focused on this question. No matter where you are on your spiritual journey, and no matter what your current relationship and involvement with RFC is, I invite you to be part of the faithful community trying to enflesh our dream.
OUR DREAM FOR THE CHURCH:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
You know that is still happening today. What was true then is true now. The Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped working, hasn’t stopped moving, hasn’t stopped inspiring. And young men and women will see visions and old men and women will dream dreams.
And we are still dreaming dreams and seeing visions here at RFC. We are.
Did you know that we -- Jen, Liza and I -- get together for 2-3 hours every Tuesday morning and we dream dreams. We gather with the Board and see visions. We sit with Pastor Nancy and pass emails back and forth full of dreams and visions for this church in our day.
But we aren’t dreaming big dreams any more. No, we are dreaming small dreams for us and our church and our community.
We dream of a church that gathers -- devoted to the apostles' teachings, to the breaking of bread, to doing life together, and deep abiding and listening to prayer.
We dream of a church where people share with each other and help each other in practical ways -- as needs arise. A church where people are filled with awe and praise whenever they gather.
We’re dreaming not of a church with massive Sunday services, but small huddles scattered throughout the community. We’re dreaming of a church that is not about revolution, but revelation, where miracles are normal and small changes and breakthroughs are celebrated.
We dream of a church that is as diverse as the Kingdom of God. All ages and colors and genders and orientations. We dream of a church where kids encounter Jesus every day and parents are growing in their love of God and singles are finding real community and [those who have experienced great loss] are embraced and cared for. Where [children who need forever parents] discover their families and where our broader family embraces every one of the lost, least, lonely and forgotten in our community.
We dream of a church that creates safe places for people to seek after God -- black and white, old and young, men and women, gay and straight, cis-gendered and trans-gendered, the able and differently abled -- one family, one church, one God we worship.
We dream of a church that will be known for our love and our grace and our pursuit of truth -- for our generosity to our neighbors and those less fortunate and less resourced.
We dream of a church -- that doesn't fill stadiums but ignites a viral movement of the Holy Spirit in our day. A movement of hope and healing and restoration and reconciliation.
We dream these dreams because we believe that what was true then can be true now. Because we believe an Acts 2 church can happen in Hartford CT in our day just as it happened in Jerusalem in 33 AD. We dream because we have tasted and we believe and we long for all that God has promised for us.
We dream because we believe… that because of Pentecost… because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our day.. That we can go forth into the world full of faith in a God who loves us all, following Jesus our Lord, striving towards good, loving one another, rejoicing in God’s Presence, and using our gifts to make earth more like heaven.
We hope and pray that you will dream this dream with us...
As we approach Independence Day, we are reminded of the freedoms and ideals upon which our nation was aspirationally built. It is a time for celebration, reflection, and recommitment to the principles that make the United States a beacon of hope and justice. At Riverfront Family Church, we embrace the call to be patriots, not in the narrow sense of nationalism, but as individuals committed to the values of equality, justice, and love for all. In this blog, we will explore how we can celebrate Independence Day while rejecting Christian Nationalism and respond to recent SCOTUS decisions with a prophetic witnessing voice for justice.
Rejecting Christian Nationalism:
Christian Nationalism conflates religious beliefs with the ideals of a specific nation, leading to the belief that one faith or religious tradition should dominate the public sphere. However, as followers of Christ, we are called to a higher standard - one that transcends national boundaries and embraces the diversity of God's creation. In rejecting Christian Nationalism, we acknowledge that our faith should inform our patriotism, but it should never be used to exclude or marginalize others.
The recent decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States have left many feeling frustrated and concerned about the erosion of rights for historically marginalized communities. As people of faith, we are called to stand for justice and advocate for those who are oppressed. Micah 6:8 reminds us, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." In our pursuit of justice, we are compelled to address the issues that have caused anger and frustration.
The Supreme Court's decisions rolling back Affirmative Action present challenges to achieving equality and addressing systemic inequalities. As followers of Christ, we are called to stand alongside those who have been historically marginalized and to work toward a more just society. Galatians 3:28 reminds us, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Let us advocate for policies that promote diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities for all -- including the use of affirmative action to help ameliorate and address generational systemic white supremacy and racism.
The recent SCOTUS decisions impacting LGBTQ protections remind us of the ongoing struggles for equality and acceptance faced by our LGBTQ+ siblings. As Christians, we are called to extend love, compassion, and support to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We should actively reject discrimination and work towards a society where everyone can live authentically and without fear. Romans 12:10 urges us to "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves."
The issue of abortion rights continues to be a divisive and sensitive topic. As Christians, we should approach this issue with compassion, recognizing the complexities and emotions involved. As a pastor, I affirm that the decision to have an abortion or carry to term is between a pregant person, their doctors, their involved partner, and, if they are of faith, their God. Neither government nor religious organization can o should dictate medical decisions for individuals or create/advocate for polices that encorach on the inherent right to self-determination. While we may have differing views, we must prioritize the well-being of women and pregnant people, provide support and resources for those facing difficult decisions, and work towards comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of abortion. Proverbs 31:8-9 reminds us, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves... defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Prophetic Witness for Justice:
As followers of Christ, we are called to be a prophetic voice for justice, echoing God's heart for righteousness and equality. We can engage in constructive dialogue, advocate for just policies, and work towards creating a society that reflects God's love for all people. Let us remember the words of Amos 5:24, "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" In our celebrations this Independence Day, let us commit ourselves to being faithful witnesses for justice and agents of positive change.
As we celebrate Independence Day, let us embrace our identity as patriotic Christians who reject Christian Nationalism, champion justice, and stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized. We can be a prophetic witnessing voice for justice by advocating for equality, rejecting discrimination, and working towards a more just and compassionate society. Let us be guided by Scripture, the teachings of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as we seek to honor God in all we do. May God bless you abundantly as you celebrate and strive for justice this Independence Day.
Good News from Mark
In last week’s blog essay we learned that Jesus called his followers thieves (of a certain kind). This week we read Jesus compare his disciples to a noxious and dangerous plant. What’s going on? Our latest discussion of Mark’s Gospel focused on 4.1-34. Here Mark tells us about Jesus’ teaching through parables, in what amounts to Jesus’ first sermon in this Gospel. There is a long history of yanking the teaching of Jesus (and much of the Bible altogether) out of its immediate socio-political, economic, cultural, and religious context, and “spiritualizing” it into pleasantries for dominant peoples. Of course, this is not true, biblical, Christian spirituality, but a way of making white, male, conventional, conservative, privileged, and powerful people comfortable (by “conservative” I only mean the standard thing as presented by conservatives themselves: someone who prefers the status quo, who wants to conserve what we have more than change it). We have been considering the texts as they may have been heard by those who first heard them. Accordingly, consider the parables of the sower and of the mustard seed.
The ancient Palestinian farmer of Jesus’ day could expect a good harvest to give a 1:7 yield. A tenfold harvest was a bumper crop. Since Jesus says that even though the sower’s effusive throwing of seed allows much of it to be “wasted” and that it will not grow to harvest, nonetheless, the seed that falls on fertile—receptive—soil will grow up to a hundredfold! The parable is meant not only to evoke the question, “What kind of soil am I?” But it tells us about the work of God and the promise and power of God’s kingdom. The parable’s harvest represents a dramatic shattering of the conventional relationship between the peasant and the landlord. After all, after such a harvest, a farmer could not only pay rent, tithes, and debts, but even purchase his own land and end his servitude. “The kingdom is like this,” Jesus says: it envisions the abolition of the oppressive relationships of production that determined the horizons of the Palestinian farmer’s social world. Such images strongly suggest that Mark is articulating an ideology and theology of the land, and the revolutionary hopes of those who work it.
In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus gives us some elaboration, after the exhortation, “Pay attention to what you hear!” So, let’s pay attention. Verses 24 and 25 are a summary of a standard economic viewpoint and practice, accepted by many (most in our society). It is what economists call “the determinism of the marketplace.” The only way to survive in the system is to play the game by its (neoliberal, capitalist) rules. This is followed by a common claim that the system is never changing: the “haves” will get richer and the “have-nots” will get poorer. Jesus is warning against the view that such socio-economic stratification and injustice is acceptable and moral, let alone, divinely sanctioned.
Against the cynicism of the economic determination of the system, Jesus pits the revolutionary patience and hope of the kingdom/reign of God (4.26). The parable tells us that God’s judgment upon the powers and their system will come, and so give the lie to the counter-assertion of the “realists” that nothing will never change. In this sermon, Jesus has for the first time, articulated the least/greatest paradox that will emerge in his teaching again.
As noted above, the mustard seed was a noxious and dangerous plant. It threatened to take over wherever its seed was planted (like a Palestinian kudzu). It was described as having a “pungent taste and fiery effect.” The point was that the mustard plant was not generally
desirable. The plant, i.e.: the kingdom/reign/rule/dominion/order that Jesus was bringing was a threat to the existing garden or field of early Judaism and the Roman empire. If it was to take root, it would subvert, pollute, even overtake, existing gardens and fields—the visions, programs, conventions, and structures of Israel, Rome, and others as well— including our own.
This essay was assisted by Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus; Herman C. Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel; Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Because I mentioned neoliberalism: Quinn Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism; Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, Never-Ending Nightmare: The Neoliberal Assault on Democracy; Wendy Brown: In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West; and theologically: Rodney Clapp, Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age; and Adam Kotsko, Neoliberalism’s Demons: On the Political Theology of Late Capital.