Blog: Random Thoughts on Sunday's Sermon

Below are some random thoughts on this coming Sunday's message.  We hope they create a little time in your day to reflect on the journey of faith and life.  If they spur any thoughts, quotes, or experiences, please share them.  God moves among us as we share with each other.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. - Matthew 22:36-40

I have a friend who is so very different than me in many ways. She's apt to hold back her well-thought through opinions, I'm apt to speak out before I think. She's apt to ask for permission, I'm apt to say I'm sorry. She likes pearls, I like metals. Cursing would never come from her tongue while I am happy to tell you my favorite swear word. You get the picture, we're different. Yet, her love for God and her love for me is ridiculously beautiful. She will email me questions gently wondering how I make sense of topics that on which she holds a different opinion. We are both ministers and I will often get texts from her cheering me and her expressing that she is praying for me. Curiosity and care seem to be a marker of what love means in our friendship. We do not let our differences stop us from loving each other. 

Love is the greatest commandment. One way we grow in love is practicing curiosity and attending to the other. Love allows another person to be themself without asking them to conform to the image of who we want them to be. Love releases control and welcomes vulnerability. 

I'm so grateful for my friend who takes these words from Scripture to heart and lives love. She is an example of what Jesus taught us and inspires me to love better.

 

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In coming across a quote from Bono, it prompted me to think about the nature of religion. Here’s what he said:

“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building.  A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”

So what is religion all about? Our instinct may be to define religion in terms of that which facilitates our beliefs about God or our belief in God. But this would miss the fundamental essence of the Christian faith: a relationship with God through Christ that opens our lives to love and be loved. When this is missing, faith turns into a religion that is about preserving the institution, not opening ourselves to the transforming love of God in Christ. I’m going to side with Bono on this one. If religion becomes about dogma and discipline, then God has truly left the building!

When religion goes wrong maybe it’s because we feel more comfortable participating in an institution rather than opening ourselves to the unpredictable journey that ensues when God’s love enters our lives.  Again, here’s what Bono has to say:

“God is love, and as much as I respond in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.” Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

We all may not agree with Bono, but we all should be asking, what’s the essence of my religion?

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Monday, March 10, 2014

It seems more and more churches have videos--it's the trendy thing to do! So not to be left out, this Monday I made a video to show at our Consistory meeting, which is the governing body of the Collegiate Churches of New York. It's amazing what you can do with a movie app in fifteen minutes!

My opening comments were something like this: "People want to know that they can do when faced with evil in the world. This is West End's response. Roll the video!"

Sometimes we need a little levity, but amidst the shenanigans of the video, I do believe that West End is a safe place for all people!

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pastor Jes is a regular contributor to the blog “The Twelve. Reformed. Done Daily.” Today she is weaving her thoughts of All Saints Sunday, Ash Wednesday and her personal story of being adopted together on her post “The Dust of the Saints.”

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Though a church may be in people’s neighborhood, they may still have to make a cultural commute when they enter a church. Keith Anderson lists some of the cultural commutes people make:

  • from increasingly diverse neighborhoods and workplaces to a homogeneous congregation
  • from flat screen TVs and smart phones to no technology at all, except for a decades old sound system
  • from an increasing awareness and appreciation for the gifts of different ethnicities to a focus on one particular ethnic tradition
  • from everyday conversational language to specialized church language
  • from digital media and contemporary art to images, art, and banners that are decades old
  • from contemporary shared cultural reference points to stories, events, images, music and movies that happened before we were born
  • from a majority of society supportive of gay rights to conflict or silence about it in the church.

For those who were raised in the culture of the church, we forget that newcomers are making a cultural commute, sometimes a strange and uncomfortable one, to attend church.

The solution is not to jettison anything that may be different from the culture around us. If we do, we diminish our distinctiveness and lose some of very traditions that have spiritually nourished people for millennia. Nor is the solution to hold fast to every aspect of church culture. If we do, we lose touch with what’s important to people today.

The difficult task of a church is mentoring people in the ancient spiritual practices that are life-giving sources for one’s life, all while letting of those things that are dead traditions that become barriers to people who seek to grow in their faith.  The reason it is difficult is that one person’s dead tradition is another’s life-giving practice!

A long cultural commute to church isn’t necessary, but we’ll never know how to shorten it unless we engage one another in conversation about it.  We need to be asking one another: what are the practices of the church that breathe life into you? What are those things that seem stagnate?

No matter where we stand in the conversation, our goal is the same: we desire to focus on those things that God uses to bring abundant life.

 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The topic this Sunday has to do with control. It is a crowning achievement of the human condition to be able to have control in our lives, but we must ask ourselves how much control do we really have in any given situation? How do we discern the extent of our ability to control things and how do we know when to relinquish control and let faith in the forces that know better have their way?

What has become evident to me is that there is, indeed, a Presence that steers life in the most subtle, gentle, wise, and holistic way. Looking back on certain events in my life - relationships, career moves, decisions - I couldn’t imagine at the time that I’d be happy with the outcome. But everything seemed to fall into place when I stopped trying to ‘push the river.’ There aren’t any easy answers to the question of the right path to take, the right decision to make, when to direct events and when to relinquish control, but there’s one phrase in Deuteronomy that will be read this Sunday that gives a clue: “I have set before you life and death... choose life.”

Posted by Cynthia Powell, Friday, February 14, 2014

A few days ago Pastor Michael blogged about the concept of giving up control in our lives, moving out of the way to let God work. This kind of message makes me squirm. You can read it here.

It sounds so easy: “we can significantly shape the way we accomplish [our] roles. However, we will never be able to control what others think and do along the way.”  But in my day-to-day life, it is tremendously difficult to believe this and to put into practice.

But as I think about West End’s ministry, this is exactly the approach that most effectively engages the needs of our young people. Successful parents, youth ministers, and teachers show up with both high expectations and a wide range of acceptable variables. Anything can happen. Children cannot and should not be controlled. Our job is to create a safe environment where healthy choices produce healthy results, and unhealthy choices result in real-life consequences.

Danny Silk, author of one of my favorite parenting books Loving our Kids on Purpose, says “Powerful people do not try to control other people. They know it doesn’t work, and that it’s not their job. Their job is to control themselves.” If you have ever worked or lived with kids, you know this is not only challenging, but also the only way to de-escalate a problem. If I stay calm, I win. If I lose myself, I lose, even if the children finally do what I want them to do.

Yeah, I know. It makes me squirm too. But here’s one more Danny Silk quote to help us relinquish a little bit more control today:

“The myth of control is the birthplace of true powerlessness. It uses intimidation and punishment to try to control others but actually destroys the connection. If I want to protect our connection the only person I MUST control is me.”

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ok, admit it. When you speak to a cute baby you use weird sounds and made up words. We all do it, no matter how intelligent or sophisticated we are. Even Einstein probably leaned over an adorable baby and said, “Gitchee, gitchee, goo! What a cute little baby waby.” It makes us feel connected when we address a child in this way.

However, what do you think most helps a baby to learn to speak? It’s not “gitchee, gitchee, goo.” It’s when parents use a full and varied vocabulary while talking to their infants, and the more words used the better. Research has shown that some infants only hear an average of 100 words an hour, while others upwards of 2100 words an hour. And the more a child is talked to, the more advanced their language abilities are, which results in higher I.Q. results at a young age.

We shouldn’t gloss over the fact that in the beginning infants understand very little of what is being said. But by being exposed they come to comprehend the meaning of what is being said. I think the journey of faith is the same way. There is so much we don’t know about our faith, from the Bible to the practices of the churches in which we worship, but it’s ok not to know. We start as infants and grow in our faith. And the only way this happens is by being exposed to things we don’t yet understand. To hold back from the unknown is to put a hold on our spiritual growth.

Perhaps you’re holding back with getting involved because you don’t feel you know enough yet. Don’t wait any longer. Take the plunge, get involved, and expose yourself to the language and practices of the faith. With time, they will become an important part of the way you relate to God and others.

The Apostle Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully know” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

 

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When I was ordained as a pastor in my first church, a great friend and mentor gave the sermon for the occasion. I can still recall the text he used: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (I Corinthians 3:6&7).

His message was straightforward: "Bos, get out of the way of God if you want to see great things happen through your ministry." Not bad advice for a young pastor, and not bad advice for life.

If only it were easy to live this way. What we all soon discover is that to get out of the way of God, we have to give up control. This is extremely hard when our impulse is to control everything from how things are done to what people think.

For all those who struggle with giving up control (myself included!), here’s a suggestion. Try focusing on faithfully fulfilling the roles we’ve been given rather than controlling the people and circumstances around us.

God places us in some incredible roles: spouse, partner, parent, leader, follower, and friend. Here’s the good news: we can significantly shape the way we accomplish these roles. However, we will never be able to control what others think and do along the way. If we want to get out of the way of God, embrace the role and leave the rest in God’s hands! - Pastor Michael

[from the WECC February Newsletter]

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The other day my son was telling me about a classmate who has a history of classroom disruption and behavior issues.

“Mom, he doesn’t do that anymore. He cares about feelings now. He is totally different from last year. He cares about feelings.”

My son went on to tell me about this young boy’s transformation between kindergarten and first grade. We have all been rooting for this child, and I was emotional to hear that he was finding himself at school, and I carried my son’s words with me, “He cares about feelings now.”

One of the main themes of Jesus’s ministry and the New Testament as a whole is transformation. But it isn’t describing merely getting one’s act together, or making better choices. This transformation is deep. This transformation isn’t about behavior modification. It’s about love and peace, forgiveness and grace. It’s about letting go of fear and trusting in eternal things.

“The knowledge of Jesus’ heart is a knowledge of the heart. And when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life and hope wherever we go.” --Henri Nouwen

Posted by Mandy Meisenheimer, Thursday, February 6, 2014