Friday, July 15, 2016

Twin Cities Area Presbytery meeting

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met for their July meeting this past Tuesday evening, July 12 at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.  Kathy Brevig, Chain of Lakes Administrator, joined me in attending the meeting.  She attended the Pre-Presbytery meeting on Board of Pension changes while I talked to people at a table I set up for Chain of Lakes church.

After worship and a report from the Board of Pensions, the Presbytery heard a report on from the Administrative Commission on General Terms for Departure of First Presbyterian Church in Albert Lea.  That church is in the Gracious Separation process.  The terms for departure are in the link for the Presbytery packet for the meeting and the link for the minutes for the meeting at:

During their report the Administrative Commission reported that 65 percent of the congregation supports leaving the PC(USA) while 35 percent are either against leaving or are undecided.  This difference of opinion became apparent when a person from the church spoke out the church leaving the PC(USA).   The pastor of the church spoke in favor of leaving, and for a while it seemed like a significant squabble was about to happen. 

The clock saved the squabble from happening as a Special Report was shared by Denise Dunbar-Perkins, the new Presbytery Leadership Team Chair.  In her report she announced a plan for serious conversations about race within the Presbytery.  Alika Galloway—pastor of Kwanza in North Minneapolis—read from letters written from middle school youth in Kwanza’s 21st century middle school academy.  These letters shared thoughts by middle school students about the recent shootings of African-Americans by police.   Around the dinner table we had more conversations about race. 

After dinner the Presbytery took up again the Albert Lea Administrative report.  The Presbytery chose to trust the wisdom of the Administrative Commission and approved the General Terms for Departure.  The vote was not unanimous, but the conversation was civil.

Sue Rutford, new Moderator for the Presbytery, nominated five people to serve on the Administrative Commission for Chain of Lakes Church.  That Administrative Commission has been asked to make a report about the ministry of Chain of Lakes and possible uses of future property at the November Presbytery meeting.  As the Organizing Pastor for Chain of Lakes I had asked Sue to appoint a slate that is open-minded about Chain of Lakes.  The five people nominated were Anne Foote, Vince Gin, Barbara Anne Keely, Rob Smith, and James York.  I joined the Presbytery in unanimously approving this group of people to serve on the Administrative Commission.  I know that the Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes looks forward to sharing with the Administrative Commission our excitement about the ministry of Chain of Lakes, and our vision for the property.

A moving part of the meeting was the commissioning of Youth Triennium participants.  A large number of youth blessed the Presbytery with their presence.   Another moving part of the meeting was the ordination exam for Alanna Tyler, an African-American woman who came from the Kwanza church.  She passed with exam with ease.  We learned that seven people from Kwanza have become ordained as Teaching Elders.  Yay, God!

David Lidle reported that the Administrative Commission for the Eden Prairie Church had appealed a recent court decision regarding who owns the church property where the Presbyterian Church does ministry.  He said that the Presbytery was ordered to and paid $19,000 of the church’s legal fees.  Despite the court decision, the Presbytery still views the church as a PC(USA) congregation.

The meeting adjourned by 8:00, and I was able to get home to watch the All-Star game.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Last Sunday, July 10 was a significant day for churches across the United States.  I'm guessing that almost every congregation had some sort of focus or response to the shootings in Falcon Heights, Baton Rogue and Dallas.  Below is the sermon I shared.  After the sermon our congregation sang "We Shall Overcome" with linked arms.  Many of us were in tears.  I pray that the Spirit can continue to move people of faith to create a more peaceful world.

Today is the third Sunday of a summer sermon series called, “Tending to the garden of our spirit.” 

We have a large group of people from Chain of Lakes who are camping this weekend at Presbyterian Clearwater Forest.  I know that they are taking advantage of the summer.  The camp is on Clearwater Lake.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they saw a loon slowly descend on that lake.  What a spiritual experience. 

This is the type of spiritual experience I’d like this sermon series to help you have.

We’re looking at our spirit.  We’re using a garden as a metaphor to describe our spirit. 

The AIM of this series is to give you practical tools to tend to our garden. 

Let’s catch up a bit.
The first week I made the case for how our spirit is like a garden.  We looked at the very first story in the Bible that was all about a garden.  I shared how without the God our spirit is just like dirt, but with God something special can come.

Last week we looked at how God planted us.  In particular we looked at the parable of the sower or the parable of the soils.  I asked you to think about what the soil of your garden looks.  I gave each of you a bag of soil as an illustration.  I’ve kept mine in my office this week.  I want my soil to produce 30, 60 and even a hundred fold. 

With that introduction let me encourage you to get out the devotion that is in the Bulletin.  We’re looking at watering and fertilizing our garden.  One way to do this is to have an active prayer life.  I wrote a devotion for you this week on prayer.  In the middle is a place to take notes.  I believe god might say something to you that you’ll want to remember.  On the back is a listing of our congregation’s prayer requests. 

            How many of us have lived through a drought?  I grew up in an agricultural area and my parents both grew up on farms, so the amount of rainfall was always important.  During the spring and summer our family would follow this closely.  We lived near a lake and we would frequently talk about how high the lake was or if the lake was low.  This past Friday morning when I talked to them we talked about the level of the lake.  We were always concerned about  the amount of water that came from the sky. 
            But I can’t say I’ve ever lived through a serious drought.  I’ve lived through some times that we’ve had sprinkler restrictions, but that’s not a drought.
            I did some research on droughts this week.  One of the worst droughts in the United States was the drought that hit in the 1930s.  It was known as the Dust Bowl.  There was such a lack of rain that the ground turned to dust.  This was before many methods of soil conversation that we use today. 
            The area of the Dust Bull was immense.  Some say that the Dust Bowl covered a million acres of land in Texas, Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.  There would be immense dust storm that were known as black blizzards.  A person could hardly see.  At times the soil reached all the way to the East Coast and was deposited in the Atlantic Ocean. 
            Millions of acres of farmland became useless.  Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.  Many of them were known as Okies.  They traveled from Oklahoma to California.  And they were highlighted by the writing of John Steinbeck in some of his novels. 
            Fortunately we are not in a drought today. 
SLIDE I did some research this week and discovered a web site that monitors drought conditions in the United States.  Here’s a picture from a few weeks ago
SLIDE            I was most interested in Minnesota.  Only a small portion of our state is in a drought right now. 
            The connection to our own spirit is not hard to understand. 
SLIDE            Without water and fertilizer the garden that we describe as our spirit will become like a desert.  Watering our spirit is not a luxury.  It’s a necessity.  There might not be a more important task that we can do. 
            One of the ways we water and fertilize our garden is through our faith practices.  I think five are important
1) Daily prayer
2)  Daily Bible reading
3)  Weekly worship
4) Service in the community
5) Financial giving
            All five of these help keep the garden of our spirit watered.  They protect us from a drought. 
            For myself I’ve had an active prayer life for over 30 years.  I can’t imagine my life without praying to God.  I know my prayer life sustains me.  Hundreds of times I’ve walked away from my prayer life in a different place then when I started praying that day.  God had done something to me that I couldn’t have imagined.  My garden was watered and fertilized. 
            At Chain of Lakes we give you the tools to pray.  Just as a reminder I would encourage you to use this devotion.  Use it every day.  I would encourage you not to read it all at once.  Open up the Bible reading or find the reading on-line.  Do the reading, read what I’ve written about it.  Use the prayer requests for your time of prayer.  That would take you about ten minutes.  Those ten minutes are a way to water your garden.
            God cares about our spiritual practices, because they water our garden.  What’s very important to God is the connection between our spiritual practices and the condition of our heart.  God doesn’t want us to go through the motions of our faith.  We see this in the reading from Isaiah that we heard today.  I want to try something a little different.  Take a Bible that is underneath one of these chairs and open it up to Isaiah 58.  If you can’t find a Bible I’ll have the words on the screen.  In the Red Bible the page number is 674; in the Blue Bible the page number is 647.
            Let me share some context.  This past of Isaiah was written after the exile.  There are two very important dates in the Old Testament. 
            One is 722 and the other 587.  722 was when Israel was conquered and the people deported; 587 was when Judah was conquered and the people deported.  When you’re reading a prophet in the Old Testament it’s important to know whether the book was written before 722 or after 722; And it’s important to know whether the book was written before 587 or after 587.
            This portion of Isaiah was written after 587.  Most people think that the people were in exile and were coming back to Jerusalem.  The people were coming to terms with why this horrible exile took place.  They felt that God had abandoned them. 
            And they asked this question in verse 3
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice”
Isaiah 58:3

            Their question is similar to a question we might have found ourselves asking from time to time.  The question is why aren’t you rewarding us?  We’re fasting; we’re doing what you asked us to do and we were exiled.  I’ve heard this same question put another way.  Why aren’t you answering my prayers?
            In Isaiah it’s as if the people were saying, “we’re upholding our end of the bargain, Lord.  We are fasting.  But we still got sent into exile.  Why aren’t you noticing our fasting?”  That is question of verse 3. 
            God answered the people
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.  Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice hear on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?  Isaiah 58:4-5a

And then in verse 6 God said:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
            To loose the bonds of injustice
            To undo the thongs of the yoke,
            To let the oppressed go free,
            And to break every yoke?
            Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor your house;
Isaiah 58:6-7a

            We’ve spent a lot of time in our congregation helping homeless teenagers.  In fact our congregation is becoming known in the community as the church to contact if people are interested in helping homeless teenagers.  This month our Presbytery gave us a grant to help support six rooms at HOPE Place, the shelter that is being built for homeless teenagers in Coon Rapids.  The grant was written by Pam Van Meter.  This is a terrific recognition by the Presbytery of the work you are doing.  We are going to have to raise $1,500 as part of this grant.  I have no doubt we’ll do this. 
            When we help homeless teenagers we are living out the words of Isaiah 58.  We are loosing the bonds of injustice, we are undoing the thongs of the yoke, we are helping the oppressed go free, we are sharing bread with the hungry and we are bringing the homeless poor into a house. 
            I want to say, Yay, God!  Yay, God for what we are doing.  For our prayers are matched by our actions.
            So to bring it back to watering the garden.  We water our garden through our faith practices, but our faith practices have to be consistent with the condition of our heart.  If we’re praying in the morning and screaming at our spouse in the afternoon, then we’re missing the mark.  If we’re going to worship on Sunday morning and then pointing our fingers in judgment at our neighbor on Sunday afternoon, then we’re missing the mark. 
            The question I have is do your actions match your heart. 

            We need to water and fertilize the garden of our own spirit, but right now we need to water and fertilize the spirit of our country.  I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but this has been a very hard week for our country.  The shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, and the killings of five police officers in Dallas once again illustrate that the spirit of our country needs to be watered and fertilized.   The names of the police officers in Dallas who were killed were Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarriga, and Brent Thompson.
            I’ve read a lot of commentary this week, but the best comment I’ve heard came from my wife, Amy.  Before she went off to work on Friday she said that we’re at war with ourselves. 
            We’re at war with ourselves.  I have about a thousand Facebook friends.  As I went through my Facebook feed on Friday morning it seemed that every one of them had an opinion about what was happening.  And every one of them wanted to share their opinion.  And the argumentative nature of many of the comments reveals the anger that has gripped the spirit of our country.  
            It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize there significant problems in the relationship of the police to the African-American community.  We have significant issues with the use of guns in our culture.  And race has always been an issue in American and still is today.  Combine these three issues and what do we have? 
SLIDE            We have a drought.
            I certainly don’t have the answers to these three problems.  But I want to suggest two ways that can help.  I think both ways can provide water to a parched garden.
            The first is to recommit ourselves to compassion.  I have to be honest, I haven’t witnessed a lot of compassion in the last 72 hours in our country.  I’m talking about the type of compassion that Jesus frequently illustrated.  It’s the compassion of the Samaritan whose heart went out to a Jewish man who was beaten and dying on the side of the road.  Samaritans and Jews had a long history of hating each other—not unlike the history of white and blacks in America.  The Samaritan illustrated compassion.
            And I’m talking about compassion for all the parties involved.  Compassion for the family of Alton Sterling, for the two police officers involved in his shooting; compassion for the family and friends of Philando Castile and for the police officer who killed him.  Compassion for the five police officers killed in Dallas and the others who were injured; compassion even for the family and friends of Micah Xavier Johnson who allegedly was the sniper who killed those five police officers and wounded others. 
            Is this hard.  Yes.  Having compassion for all the parties is really, really hard.  It takes a watered garden. 
            People in the African-American community are angry.  They have legitimate reasons to be angry.  I think we can be both compassionate and angry.  Many people want to see significant social change.  There are legitimate reasons to fight for social change.  I think we can be both compassionate and fight for social change.  The first idea I want to share is to live into compassion.
            The second idea is to communicate both/and thinking.  It is so easy to put people into either/or categories.  It’s the type of thinking that says if your heart goes out to Philando Castile and his family that you don’t support the police.  The thinking that says if you even have compassion for the officer who killed Philando Castile that you don’t support the issue of African-Americans who have been killed by the police.  The thinking that says if you wonder why we have so many semi-automatic weapons, you want to take away people’s guns.  We so easily want to put people into these either/or categories. 
            Friends it’s the separation of people into categories that has caused so much mistrust in the United States. 
            The idea that you can be either on the side of the police or for African-American males doesn’t work.  Or the idea that you can be either for guns or against guns doesn’t work.  Or the idea that Black Lives matter means you don’t believe that all lives matter.  Either/or categories don’t work. 
            We can be both.  We can support the police and search for justice for African-American males.  We can believe in the rights of gun owners and limit their use.  Our hearts can go out to Black Lives matter and we can support them and our hearts can go out to others too.
            Jesus is our best example.  He called out injustice by the religious leaders of his day and did everything he could to bring people together under a common umbrella of love.  He wanted to unite people.  To water and fertilize the soil of our country, we’re called to do the same.
            So let’s go forth—doing all that we can to water and fertilize our own gardens and to be agents of health and healing for our community.

            Let’s go forth …