2017 Archives

Fear’s Rules

Dave Brisbin | 5.7.17
The cross of Jesus is such a big and central message in Christianity that we need to spend more time on it. So continuing the discussion from the previous week’s message, “Lamb of God,” and in answer to the perennial questions—why is the bible so violent, and why would God sacrifice his son?—we’re looking at deeper ways of understanding Calvary that neither compromise the sacrifice of Jesus nor the love of the Father. In typical midrash fashion (see the message “Deeper Reading” for more on midrash), the New Testament writers portray Jesus on the cross using three deeply embedded images from the Old Testament: the Passover Lamb, the Lifted Up One, and the Scapegoat. To fully understand how Jesus’ first followers understood his sacrifice on the cross, we need to know how these three images functioned in the spiritual lives of the people and how they applied to the spiritual truth of Jesus’ sacrifice. 

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As we dig deeper, we find that all three point us toward a deep gaze at ourselves, at our intrinsic nature as humans that necessitate a laying down of blame, resistance, justification, and anything else we use to deflect our own pain and personal responsibility. When we really understand what Jesus became when he became the “sin of the world,” we can begin to understand the nature of a sacrifice that will really set us free and save us to love as the Father loves.

Lamb of God

Dave Brisbin | 4.30.17
No matter what questions we ask of religion or church, scripture or theology, the subtext, the question we’re always really asking is the same: with all life’s pain, uncertainty, absurdity…do I matter? Am I safe? Whether we’re asking about heaven, hell, salvation, law, or any esoteric point of theology, what we’re really looking for is assurance, confidence in our own acceptability. That’s the human condition. And so it also is as we ask about the cross, about what it really means, and how Jesus as Lamb of God, an innocent blood sacrifice, impacts the nature of a God who Jesus tells us is absolutely all loving. Is there a way to understand the Lamb and the sacrifice in such a way that God’s loving nature is not compromised? 

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The answer lies in the context of the cross. Just as the letters of Paul are always answers to questions that are left unstated, we can’t understand how his answers are true until we know the context within which they are true. The context of the cross, the unstated question, is salvation—but our beliefs about salvation affect the way we see the cross’ answer. Understanding what the ancients who wrote our scripture believed about salvation, understanding what the “sin of the world” is that the Lamb takes away, and how we come to the cross ourselves to journey with Jesus will point us in a new direction where love and sacrifice connect without compromising either.

Deeper Reading

Dave Brisbin | 4.23.17
Just as Jesus’ closest friends were kept from recognizing him after the Resurrection because of their limiting expectations and beliefs, we are kept from seeing the deeper meaning of scripture for the same reason. But even to make such a statement that interprets a passage of scripture beyond the strictly literal meaning of the text demands some explanation. What is an acceptable method of scriptural interpretation that can take us to a deeper reading, a reading beyond the literal, moving us to a spiritual understanding and relevance for our daily lives that is still consistent with the author’s original intent? To answer that question, we need to know how the writers of scripture understood the interpretation of sacred texts in their own time. 

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The ancient Rabbis of Judaism used four increasingly deeper methods of pulling meaning from their sacred books. Here, we focus on just one, the one they called “midrash” and see how its use can take legitimately us to a deeper reading of each of the passages associated with the days of Holy Week, and especially how we can understand the events of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in deeper terms. If we can’t expand our notion of how to read scripture in a deeper way, the way the authors of scripture intended, how will we ever come to a deeper reading of a text that was written to be always living and active in our daily lives?

Among the Living

Dave Brisbin | 4.16.17
Easter Sunday: Why do all the Gospels preserve stories of Jesus’ closest friends not recognizing him after the Resurrection? Mary in the garden, travelers along the Emmaus road, Peter and the fisherman on the lake. The central question the angels ask the women who have come early Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body–why do you look for the living among the dead?—questions our deepest assumptions and beliefs if we will let it. The women expected Jesus to be exactly where they left him Friday afternoon, and we do the same in slavishly following our own expectations and belief systems. Jesus is ushering in something radically different, always in motion, just as spirit itself is always in motion, as life itself is defined by motion. 

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As soon as a belief of ours becomes set, static, no longer moving, it is no longer alive—and Jesus is not there any more than he is in a graveyard of motionless corpses. The message to us, if we are looking for the risen Lord, is not to look in static beliefs—where we expect him to be—but in the blur of motion that is daily life, in each seemingly insignificant detail among those living life. In allowing our beliefs and trust to move and expand in directions we would never expect, we not only find the risen Lord, but the new life that Resurrection promises us all.

Thin Disguise

Dave Brisbin | 4.9.17
Palm Sunday, What is the real message behind Palm Sunday. Sunday school graduates can all remember that Palm Sunday gets its name from the palm branches that the people waved in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem beginning the week of his passion and death. Some of us will remember that the palm fronds symbolized the people welcoming him as a victorious king and how that unnerved the watching Jewish and Roman authorities. But how does that translate to us, two thousand years and a world away from those events. Why is it preserved in our sacred text and what can it teach us?  

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Entering in to the mindset of each of the various players in the story—the people, the Jewish and Roman authorities, Jesus’ first followers—looking at the symbolism of palms and donkeys, reading the alluded prophecies, looking at the real meaning of hosanna, mixed with Jesus’ pronouncement over Jerusalem as he entered the city and wept, we find the crux of the message here. That every moment is Palm Sunday in our lives, that every moment Jesus rides in on the colt of a donkey defying whatever expectation we have of him, inviting us to see him for what and who he really is so that we never again miss the hour of our visitation.

Footwashers at Heart

Dave Brisbin | 4.2.17
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, looking at Lent as a positive-negative: an affirmative stripping away of anything that distracts, obscures, or keeps us away from God’s presence, the image at John’s last supper of Jesus stripping his garments, tying a towel around his hips and moving from friend to friend at table, washing feet gives us another Lenten principle in preparation for new life. It is extremely difficult for us as modern Westerner to appreciate just how mind blowingly outrageous and offensive Jesus’ actions would have been to his friends. There is no relevant analogy for us to bring home the shock of a revered teacher, rabbi, a spiritual master and healer doing what even Jewish slaves were not obligated to do–what was relegated to Gentile slaves. It was dirty, impure, and humiliating work, underscored by Peter’s initial refusal to allow Jesus to wash him. 

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Something this profound either bounces off our cultural force fields and doesn’t penetrate at all or we quickly moralize it to say that God wants us to be humble and in service to each other, which also misses the central point: that Jesus sees himself as the servant of everyone and anyone in his path, that he exists to serve and pour out everything he has, and as he and the Father are one, that our Father in heaven is a servant as well. The outrage we may feel if the creator of heaven and earth were to bow to wash our feet begins to welcome us to Peter’s world. But as Jesus told him: if we can’t accept who our God really is, we can’t have any part of him and remain unprepared for the new life on the other side of that acceptance.

My Piece of the Puzzle

Frank Billman | 3.26.17
On the fourth Sunday of Lent, looking at Lent as a positive-negative: an affirmative stripping away of anything that distracts, obscures, or keeps us away from God’s presence, Pastor Frank examines what it means to find our place in community. Using Paul’s beautiful simile for the body of Christ of a human body with all its parts forming a unified whole, identifying, becoming aware of our place, function, meaning, and purpose in our community in the various bodies in which we work and play and love is essential to being able to find acceptance of the present moment, to realize that we are exactly where we should be, doing exactly what we should be doing. 

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And if we realize there is another part we are hardwired to play, to begin the process of change that will bring our lives into clearer focus—without losing the balance of now and promise of radical change that is the hallmark of the Hebrew bride and our metaphor for kingdom life.

Overturning Tables

Dave Brisbin | 3.19.17
On the third Sunday of Lent, looking at Lent as a positive-negative: an affirmative stripping away of anything that distracts, obscures, or keeps us away from God’s presence, we use Jesus’ cleansing of the temple to give us our next Lenten principle. When Jesus rampages through the Temple court overturning tables, he is, in effect, calling into question a given in the daily life of first century Jews: that the Temple, the Temple priests, the Temple system were as good as God, were their means to connection with God and community. Jesus underscores the obvious—says right out loud what any thinking person could see but was afraid to say: that the system had become corrupt and instead of being a means to God’s presence, had become a hindrance, a limitation, a wall between the people and their God. 

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Making the principle personal, what tables to do we need to overturn in our lives? What “givens” that we take for granted as established truth do we need to question to discern whether they are still leading or have ever led us to the experience of God’s presence? And not just truths or institutions or people external to us, but what internal beliefs, attitudes, and patterns of behavior need to be overturned as well? Giving ourselves permission to begin the process of questioning, the courage to be disoriented and disturbed as we clear the courtyard in preparation for new life.

Prayer Muscles

Dave Brisbin | 3.12.17
On the second Sunday of Lent, looking at Lent as a positive-negative: an affirmative stripping away of anything that distracts, obscures, or keeps us away from God’s presence, we naturally turn to prayer. What is prayer really? And specifically, what is the continuous prayer to which Paul calls us? Using the Hebrew bride as the bible’s metaphor for the balance of living a balanced life of awareness and presence, we can start to look at prayer in the same way. Not a constant stream of words pronounced verbally or mentally, but a continuous awareness of our place and position and relationship to everyone and everything in any given moment—all infused and sourced in unseen Presence. 

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But is there a difference between mere mindfulness and prayer. How do we know the difference, practice the difference, and above all how do we develop the ability to pray without ceasing? It begins with intent, the intent of our mindfulness and awareness—what is it we are intending to be mindful of and present to? It has to do with our intent leading us an actual structure that we honor with the discipline of showing up day after day and moment after moment. It’s not complicated, just a patient and dedicated building of our prayer muscles.

Change of Plans

Dave Brisbin | 3.5.17
On the first Sunday of Lent, we have begun to look at Lent, not as a negative—as a voluntary deprivation of pleasure in penance for sin—but as a positive stripping away of anything that distracts, obscures, or keeps us away from God’s presence. Looking at the Hebrew meaning of the parable of the ten virgins/bridesmaids—the five who are alert and present and keeping their lamps filled with oil and the five who are not—becomes not a statement of final judgment, heaven or hell, but another image of balanced life and awareness herenow. How do we balance our desires and plans for the future: how we think things ought to be, wish them to be, were taught they should be, need them to be…with a simple awareness of the flow of things as they are right now? 

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To remain alert to present even as we plan for and prepare for radically changed life? What does balanced planning look like? Planning that is as healthy mentally and spiritually as it is effective? Surprising insights come from military leaders who must plan, but at the same time acknowledge that no plans survive contact with the enemy; that all plans must be laid carefully and just as carefully released in the flow of real time events. Balance means being present to all of life, to plan and then stop planning, to question and then stop questioning and let life question us, change us, and change our plans.

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Everyone is recovering from something… Admitting this is the first step in spiritual life, because any unfinished business in our lives–trauma, unforgiveness, fear-based perceptions–fosters compulsive behavior and keeps us from connecting spiritually and emotionally.

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