Category

Weekly Update

BLAME THE MESSENGER

When “The Bread of Life” Goes Bad

 

Depending on how people you’ve known studied and applied scripture, reading the Bible can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Or it can be akin to holding a loaded gun in your lap. Some of us hear music in the psalmist’s confession, “I keep your word close, in my heart, so that I won’t sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). Others note how holding our sacred texts close seems always to end with sin and condemnation. For many, the Bible is the Bread of Life. For possibly more of us, this “Bread” has gone bad—grown stale, molded over, turned toxic.

The problem may isn’t the content, but rather how it’s been mishandled. When the Bible is reduced to an oversized catalog of do’s and don’ts, there really isn’t much life-giving value in it. Instead, it’s life-taking, since these backward readings typically generate and promote fear. Yet, as 1 John 4:18 stresses, perfect love won’t abide fear. So using scripture to make someone afraid or submitting to fears that arise from how we’ve been taught to read these texts is counterproductive to its purpose.

Our faith ancestors regarded sacred texts as a life source. In them they found hope and healing, clarity of purpose and imagination for carrying out tasks they undertook as people of faith. They did this in defiance of how scriptures were treated in their day because (brace yourself—this is going to shock you) even in the time of Jesus and Paul there were “Bible fanatics” who treated the texts like scorecards and prided themselves on how closely they followed scripture to the letter while wholly missing the Spirit it conveyed.

To read sacred texts as sources of life and freedom and wholeness has always been a revolutionary project. Folks who prefer to read and respond to it as a frightening threat will always outnumber those who embrace its gorgeous challenge to live fully.

This is not inherent in the texts, though. The problem is the messenger—the preacher or teacher or influencer who exploits biblical texts to enforce his/her/their personal will on a crowd. If you’re struggling with problematic passages of scripture, you’re not alone. Anyone who reads the Bible mindfully runs into parts that are unseemly, archaic, impractical, and inapplicable to their lives. It’s not unusual for those very same passages to be the ones people hang over our heads as demanding and damning.

The problem isn’t the text. That can be parsed and interpreted and embraced in highly valuable, life-giving ways. The problem are messengers who’ve get this whole scripture thing so twisted they use it to destroy life. Don’t blame the Bible. Blame them. And then leave them to their own amusements while you feast of fresh Bread!!

Each Thursday in September we’ll take a closer look at Reading Sacred Texts and how to avoid the pitfalls that trip so many people up. Join us each Thursday at 7:30pm CDT via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88660895432; Meeting ID: 886 6089 5432

Or you can join by phone at 312.626.6799 and use the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

FOLLOWING OUR FIRST MIND

The Logic of Liberation

 

Why sit we here until we die? – 2 Kings 7:3 (KJV)

At Gather it’s not uncommon to hear, “Faith defies logic.” To live by the principles of Jesus asks us to see the world in acounterintuitive way. Yet there are plenty of times in scripture where people take illogical action after reasoning things out. While common sense would guide them toward a more “sensible” approach, something deep within guides them the opposite way.

We might think of this as “uncommon sense.” Others often call it “following your first mind.”

The story of Jesus’s birth is a great example. Nothing Joseph and Mary do makes sense. Every move is counterintuitive. Of course, the Gospels tell us they had angelic guidance, and following a supernatural lead makes a lot of sense. But they also exemplify thoughts and behaviors of other biblical characters who (to our knowledge) don’t see angels—everyday people who follow their first minds toward divine protection and provision.

It makes no sense for the woman who’s been quarantined for 12 years due to a bleeding condition to bolt out of her house andtouch Jesus. Yet she does, and she’s cured. It makes no sense for Noah to build a big boat in anticipation of an unprecedented flood. Yet he does, and he, his family, and the planet’s wildlife are saved. It makes no sense for a Roman centurion to welcome a Christian evangelist into his house. Yet Cornelius does, and he and his household are welcomed into the faith. (In the process, he also teaches Peter a thing or two about radical inclusion.)

Following one’s first mind is a theme of our sacred texts. In 2 Kings we find four men who have a stigmatizing skin disease. Fearful of catching it, the community forces them outside the city walls, putting their wellbeing in the precarious care of charitable passersby. When an enemy siege triggers a famine, the men go through their options. Waiting for help from people who’ve already put them at risk makes no sense. Besides there’s no food in the city. There’s no good reason to expect folks who’ve pushed them aside to share what they have.

Still, doing nothing isn’t an option. “Why sit we here until we die?” the men ask. They follow their first mind, which leads them the opposite way of what seems sensible. They go to the enemy’s camp; they find enough food for the entire city and, as a result, they liberate the very people who feared them and wrote them off as useless.

Yes, faith defies logic. But there’s also a logic to liberation. The meek inherit the earth. The last come first. The seemingly weakest are really strongest. Moving toward what we’re taught to fear often liberates us from people and ideas we’re told to trust—and sometimes what we discover liberates those who underestimate and fear us!

This coming Sunday we’ll look more closely at these four intrepid men who refuse to sit around and die. Join us for a special YouTube worship experience, “Say So!” at 5pm CDT. You can access Gather’s YouTube channel here:

Click Here

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

CONSTANTLY TAPPING

Repentance as Wokeness

The great mid-20th century preacher, Peter Marshall, said we all walk through life with a call ringing in our ears but with no response stirring in our heart[s, and then suddenly, without warning, the Spirit taps us on the shoulder. What happens?” We turn around. “The word ‘repentance’ means ‘turning ‘round,” Marshall reminded his people.

It’s an ingeniously accessible way of describing repentance—no surprise, since Marshall specialized in what he called “the simplicity of the gospel.” But we miss the meat of his explanation if we overlook what precedes the moment of turning. The Spirit’s tapping awakens us to find new direction, to change our hearts and minds about where we’re headed. It turns us around to correct where we’ve gone wrong, whether intentionally or not, whether knowingly or in ignorance.

But Marshall would also remind us repentance is not a one-and-done event, The Spirit is constantly tapping, repeatedly stirring us to even greater alertness to wrongs that need correcting. And those wrongs aren’t limited to daily shortcomings or past failures that require a great deal of prayer and wisdom to overcome.

The Spirit constantly taps our shoulders to keep us alert to injustices and inequities that trouble our world. Jesus himself tied repentance to living out God’s desire for the world. The Gospel writers condensed his first sermon into one sentence: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). In the language of Peter Marshall, we might read this as “The Spirit is tapping your shoulder. Wake up! A new world is coming!”

A lot of us of have been taught repentance leads to disengagement—we turn away from “the world” and focus solely on faith. But the Spirit isn’t calling us to spiritually construed apathy. If we read Jesus correctly, the kingdom of God is not up there or way off in the distance. It is near and it expects us to engage now.

That’s precisely why repentance can’t be about turning away. It is exactly as Marshall explains—a turning around, a reengagement with the world marked by an intense and animating wokeness that turns our hearts toward justice through the work of the Spirit.

In short, if we’re not alert to the struggles of others and the systemic sins created by greed and oppression—if we’re not woke and moving toward the real work of God’s kingdom, which seeks to free the oppressed and liberate the captives—then we really haven’t repented. And it’s easy, so easy, to slip back into slumber. So the Spirit keeps tapping… tapping… tapping. Wake up! Time to turn around! Again.

 

We continue our “Just Living” series with an invigorating closer look at repentance. Join us this Thursday at 7:30pm CDT via Zoom:

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82397695803

Meeting ID: 823 9769 5803

Or dial in at 1-312-626-6799, using the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

ALL I WANT…

Calculating Fairness in the Divine Economy

 

In the beloved TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), Charlie’s little sister, Sally, writes to Santa, requesting a bounty of presents. If assembling gifts is too much effort, “10s and 20s will do.” When Charlie can’t conceal his dismay, Sally replies matter-of-factly. “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder. We assume it means equitable portions of whatever we’re measuring (whether Christmas gifts or social advantage). But who gets to do the math? For example, public education in America is meant to give everyone a “fair start.” Except there’s that pesky business of budgets and districts in which children of privileged classes and groups somehow get first-rate public education while those who would benefit most from having more get less. Is that fair? Ask a parent in an underfunded school district and he’ll say, “No!” Ask a parent from a neighborhood with “good schools” and she’ll tell you, “Of course. We pay more taxes, why shouldn’t our children benefit!”

Fairness is where justice gets real because it reduces high-flown principles into currency. Sometimes it’s hard cash. More often, it’s what we call “social capital”—prescribed values and assumptions that lend meaning to material possessions, making some more desirable and valuable than others. In these terms, the currency of a first-rate public education isn’t merely based on objective criteria like expenses and outcomes. It’s also measured by what superior free education implies about the worth of those who receive it. (And, as a corollary, what a substandard education says about those who are subjected to that.)

The assumption behind Sally’s letter to Santa is clear. She sees other children asking for lots of gifts and knows they’re no better than she. She rightfully expects to receive just as much as her peers. “All I want is my fair share,” she says. And why not?

By now, I hope all of the above is making us squirm because this “fair share” logic directly contradicts the kingdom theology Jesus taught. The way he tells it, fairness is the result of preferring those who have the least. Those who’ve been systematically shut out and socially left behind are the entitled to more than those who are insiders. In the great parable of the workers (Matt. 20:1-16), it’s radical enough that everyone gets paid the same wages despite how long they worked. But Jesus goes one better and says the last hired get paid first so those who started at dawn can see what’s up.

“I’ll pay you whatever is right,” the landowner says and by the end of the story it’s very clear his idea of what’s fair is most unusual because it’s just. Why? We’ll wrestle with that question in this week’s “Just Living” conversation. Meet at 7:30pm CDT on Thursdays as we look at the principles behind justice in this exciting series!

You can access the study here:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82397695803

Meeting ID: 823 9769 5803

Or join via phone at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Talking About Forgiveness

 

“I’m sorry… Excuse me… I didn’t mean it… It was wrong of me… I beg your pardon… Can you forgive me?”

Words of forgiveness are commonplaces in our language and culture. We ask forgiveness from the stranger we inadvertently jostle when passing through a store (although such instances are few and far between these days). We turn around and use the exact words with our closest friend or lover, pleading for mercy after committing a grievous wrong, often intentionally and knowledgably.

With regretful language being so commonplace, the concept of forgiveness is relegated to a sliding scale of what is or isn’t “forgivable.” Of course, the person who nudges us in the grocery line gets a free pass. It was a mistake. But what about the person whose passions and purposes result in overt insults or, worse yet, intentional infliction of pain? How do we forgive folks who mean us harm? Must we always forgive?

In our Christian tradition—as with our Jewish ancestors—forgiveness is viewed as the epitome of God’s lovingkindness (in Hebrew scripture) and grace (in Christian texts). In both contexts, forgiveness goes beyond excusing wrongs and implies they are forgotten. And if we believe God always forgives, then—tough as it seems—we are expected to forgive always.

It’s also why “forgiveness” is a common financial term that effectively says the debt is not merely satisfied; it’s no longer remembered and, therefore, doesn’t exist. This is the sense we hear in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Forgiveness for us generates forgiveness for others.

At the same time, those who’ve suffered deep injury from another may take heart in knowing forgiveness is not to be confused with pardon. It doesn’t free the wrongdoer from responsibility or consequences. Accountability is still required and reparations must be made. These are the terms of restorative justice, which is the only type of justice we find in scripture. Losses must be repaid. Damages must be remedied.

Forgiveness frees us, even when we do it repeatedly, as Jesus tells Peter (Matt. 18:22). Thus, there must be value beyond simple kindness in this practice. And the forgiving individual will testify that learning to forgive is a truly liberating act.

That’s why there is no sliding scale in forgiveness—no ranking of wrongs that are and aren’t “forgivable.” The worst wrongs committed against us are clearly the most oppressive; forgiveness is the key to disabling their power over us. However the plea for forgiveness comes, the best answer is always, “Yes.”

Our “Just Living” conversation continues this week with a look at forgiveness. Join us via Zoom each Thursday evening at 7:30pm CDT.

You can access the study here:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82397695803

Meeting ID: 823 9769 5803

Or join via phone at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

GIVING AND RECEIVING

The Mercy Principle

Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. – Matthew 5:7

There’s a familiar story of two childhood friends whose lives take radically different turns. One falls into a life of crime. The other becomes a judge. As invariably happens in stories like this, one day the judge looks up to see his old friend standing before him. The man’s crime is serious enough—and his guilt is obvious enough—to merit punishment. As he must, the judge fines the man for his wrongdoing. Then, in mercy, the judge pays his old friend’s fine and sends him on his way.

This same flavor permeates Jesus’s beatitude about merciful people. They show mercy because they recognize human propensity to fail. Weaknesses that surface in others remind them of their own flaws. Shortcomings in those around them open their eyes to how often they too have fallen short. Thus, they show mercy.

Merciful people recognize how easily we’re led down unhealthy paths. They also acknowledge our failures—particularly those that harm others—expose us to penalties. In some cases, our “fines” are formalized in courts of law and other settings (as in schools, where inadequate work results in grade-point penalties). In other situations, the costs are less codified but often more substantial, as when trusts get broken or friendships are damaged. Even when the price is just, mercy still must be considered.

Jesus insists that mercy is a core value of God’s kingdom. It’s one of the central ideas of his vision of an upside-down world, where those typically pushed to the back of the line go first, those presumed to least worthy merit the most concern, those who give everything away become the richest, and those who are pushed to the margins become centerpieces in God’s plan. Justice lays the foundation for all of the kingdom’s principles. But actions that grow out of justice aren’t seldom intuitive, because they’re couched in mercy.

“Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy,” Jesus says. This is not an equation that points toward a guaranteed result. Rather it’s a statement of faith. More often than not, mercy’s demands are costly. (To pay someone else’s fine, knowing they’re guilty as charged—imagine what that might require!) Mercy regularly runs up big emotional and psychological deficits. And yet, in God’s economy of grace, what we lose in the process of being merciful creates positions us to gain the most. When mercy sets us back, we’re called to the front of the line. When it leaves us spent, we’re blessed beyond measure. When it asks more than we’d normally offer, grace overflows. Giving mercy opens us up to receive mercy. Ergo, mercy is God’s justice in action. Amen.

Learn more about justice and mercy in our current weekly study series, “Just Living.” We meet each Thursday at 7:30pm CDT via Zoom. You can access the study here:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82397695803

Meeting ID: 823 9769 5803

Or join via phone at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

HOPE IN HELPLESS TIMES

Their lives will be like a lush garden; they will grieve no more. Then the young women will dance for joy; the young and old men will join in. – Jeremiah 31:12-13

 

With each passing day, another round of headlines the likes of which we’ve never seen. The pandemic losses are staggering. Struggles for racial equality give rise to panic as America’s white supremacist systems of power erode in real time. Economic hardship eats away at our peace of mind and our society becomes more and more fragmented.

You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, they say. But there’s more than breakfast at stake and many of us are edging into traumatized responses and behaviors. We keep talking about being “in this together.” But we’re clearly not together. (We can’t even agree to mask up for the sake of otherfs.) We keep hearing about a “new normal,” although the prospects of what that might be aren’t terribly inviting—at least not from where we are at present.

In many ways, we feel off-kilter, displaced. This is not the life we know. It’s not a world we wanted to make. All of that contributes to feelings of helplessness. Many of us feel like we’re being held hostage to ideologies that bear us no good. Forget morale—many of us are experiencing what ethicists and psychologists call “moral injury.”

What we’re experiencing right now is not too far off from the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BCE, when many of Israel’s best and brightest were displaced and the nation’s proudest achievements fell into ruin. The prophet Jeremiah was horrified to watch his beloved country come apart at the seams. The trauma his people suffered grieved him deeply. He was able to connect the dots too, as the people had abandoned godly principles to pursue futile ambitions. And here they were, helpless and hopeless. Yet right in the middle of Jeremiah’s bleak dispatches of divine discontent a stream of bright oracles appears. There will be refreshing and restoration. Hope will be honored. Desolation will give way to lush life—complete with dancing and joy and abundance.

Can we apply these promises to our distress? Walter Brueggemann writes, “It is striking and odd that while the notion of promise is enormously inconvenient in the midst of modernity, those who are marginalized by modernity—the poor, the oppressed, and the disadvantaged—find [God’s promises] to be credible speech” (A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming). Where we are affects how firmly we cling to God’s promises. There’s hope in these helpless times. We will be refreshed, renewed, and restored. The new normal will be an improved normal. We will find a way to be in this together. Let’s cling to that. And if we struggle with our hope, let’s give it time, because we may find ourselves reaching for it sooner than we expect.

Don’t miss “Refresh,” a special online service this coming Sunday at 5pm CDT. You can join us on our YouTube channel, Gather Austin Oak-Park Church. See you there!

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

RESCUED

What’s On the Other Side?

In his recent book That All Shall Be Saved, the Christian philosopher David Bentley Hart asks some probing questions about salvation and its presumptive benefit, escaping eternal punishment. Bringing all of his brilliance to bear on one of our faith’s most sacrosanct topics—the afterlife—Hart begins at the beginning. Rather than ask, “What happens after we die?” he wonders how our faith ancestors understood salvation.

Hart is adamant that the original story of salvation was all about rescue. Our mortality enslaves us. Death is the thing we fear most, the eventuality no one escapes, the ultimate interruption that ends everything. And since, as followers of the Risen Christ, our faith rests on belief that death has no hold on us, we are free from inhibiting fears, fatalism, and defeatist mentalities. We are rescued from terror of the unknown and threats of torment.

How easily we forget that! How quickly we reach for beliefs we’re told we must believe despite our inability to reconcile them with who we know God to be. There’s something in us (especially us 21st-century capitalist Americans) who cling to a narrative of winners and losers. It’s not enough to be loved by a merciful Creator. Our joy, it seems, must be framed by another’s suffering. Even those of us who devote our lives to taking everyone to heaven with us, there’s still a perverse satisfaction hidden in the belief that those who don’t join our merry band will pay a severe price for their error.

Yet, as Hart points out, in John 12:32, Jesus declares he will draw (actually, drag) all people to himself. This is the same God Incarnate who nine chapters earlier explains his presence as a divine gift of love for the world—not to condemn it but to rescue it (John 3:16-17). The language never rests with eternal punishment and torment; abandonment and destruction are always upended by unconditional love and bottomless grace. Yet, somehow, we’ve got things flipped, terrifying folks with grisly tales of torment instead of drawing them to Pure Love made real in flesh and spirit. What the hell?

As Hart puts it, we have become slaves to the belief that we must believe in a God who destroys what God creates, who gives us freedom and then tortures us if we don’t do as we’re told, who endows us with choice and then abandons us if we don’t meet demands placed on us. Something is woefully askew in this proposition. But dare we question it? Absolutely not! We simply must believe it. Or else!

Maybe it’s time we look more closely at how the afterlife has been commoditized (and commercialized) to manipulate us. Then we must ask, if we’re under the influence of control mechanisms that mean us no good, can we be rescued from them? Could that be what salvation is really about?

This week we finish our “Origins” series with a hard look at afterlife issues. How much of what we’ve been told is genuinely based in scripture and how much is embroidery? What would our faith look like if there weren’t implicit promises of reward and/or threats of punishment attach? Join us this Thursday at 7:30pm CDT, using the information below.

 

Join Zoom Meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85212231523?pwd=MC85VzJBVHF2MWYvVXRZcVFLdzJEdz09

Meeting ID: 852 1223 1523, Password: 072524

Dial-in: 1-312-626-6799, using the same ID and password

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

FALL FRESH

Spirit and Community

Early in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth after his first ministry tour. Reports of great exploits precede him and everyone packs the synagogue to get a look at the local Boy Wonder. He opens Isaiah and reads these words: The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me  to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

All preachers make decisions about the opening and closing lines of their texts. And I’ve often wondered why doesn’t Jesus read on? The prophet extends the message of comfort for those in despair, widening the circle to include people who’ve lost their sense of belonging. In today’s vernacular they would be folks who feel disoriented after a devastating event has destroyed their sense of place. The prophet says the Spirit comes to “comfort all who mourn… to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement” (Is. 61:2-3).

Perhaps Jesus didn’t continue because he wanted his friends and neighbors to focus on the liberation message in the opening lines. Perhaps he was citing this text to explain his work, as in, “This is what I’ve been up to and what I’m called to do.” If I were preaching from Isaiah 61 these days, however, I’d keep reading because grief and mourning have been our constant companions these past few months.

We are all, to some degree, struggling with pandemic and political fatigue. While other countries have managed to keep the two apart (to their benefit), in America we can’t stop inflating everything into a political nightmare. If it’s not face masks in July, it’s how we offer season’s greetings in December. If it’s not stock car races in Alabama, it’s peaceful protests in Chicago. A day at the beach is nobody’s “day at the beach” and that’s not only because of obvious health risks; it’s also because going to the beach is now a political issue.

Isaiah reminds us the Spirit comes to heal and restore community, to bring us back to ourselves, to rebuild what we’ve destroyed and renew what has died in us. Our prayer must be, “Spirit of the living God fall fresh on us.” We need comfort. We need revival. We need hope that one day the glory we used to know—the sun that warmed our hearts and hands and faces—will be ours again. Fall fresh. Amen.

Don’t miss this week’s Origins study where we’ll explore the relationship between the Holy Spirit and community. As always, it will be a rich and rewarding time together. Study begins at 7:30p CDT. See you there!

 

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85212231523?pwd=MC85VzJBVHF2MWYvVXRZcVFLdzJEdz09

Meeting ID: 852 1223 1523; Password: 072524

Or you can participate via phone at 1-312-626-6799 (same ID and password).

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.

THE DARK SIDE

What’s the Deal with Evil?

 

I form light and create darkness, make prosperity and create doom; I am the Lord, who does all these things. – Isaiah 45:7

 

The assignment sounded simple enough for a novice seminarian: a brief paper describing your assumptions about God. Why, this paper could write itself! God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. The omni “everything” God. The paper came back with a note: See me. In the subsequent conversation my professor said, “If God is all of these things all of the time, explain suffering.” It felt like a kick in the stomach. Then she said something I’ll never forget. “We have to stop burdening God and start taking responsibility for ourselves.” Wow. Do we really do that to God? Two weeks later a new assignment: explain sin and evil—this time with a caveat: “Don’t leave God out.”

These seemingly innocuous exercises (easy enough for a Sunday school kid!) unearthed a challenge most of us avoid. What we say and think about God matters. And if God is who we say God is, there might a dark side to all the omni-ness. Might be.

The ancients wrestled with this problem constantly and learned to make peace with its harder edges. If God is the source of everything—the Unmoved Mover, as Socrates put it—then there are pieces of “everything” that aren’t so wonderful. Evil exists because God allows it. Indeed, as the Creator, we must allow that evil originates with God, either intentionally or as a deficiency—an absence of qualities we “omni-fy” as God’s supreme power: omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on.

In Isaiah, God says flat-out, “I form light and create darkness, make prosperity and create doom.” The presumed readers of that text understood and accepted a God with all power could do anything. It all comes from God—light and darkness, prosperity and doom. (The Hebrew reads, “peace and evil,” and translators’ reluctance to go there shows how easily we try to help God out, which is more of a problem for us than God.)

Evil exists. We don’t need a divinity degree to know that. Why it exists is also obvious if somewhat jarring: because God lets it. But questions about God’s role also obscure more questions about us. If we know evil exists, why do we submit to it? Why, for instance, are so many of us willing to risk others’ lives because we’d rather not mask up during a pandemic? Why do we chase wealth at all costs, knowing, as Paul warned, all kinds of evil grows from greed (1 Tim. 6:10)? Why do we persist in our love of war-making and gun-play and drug-taking and race-hating and other deadly pursuits? And how come we’re so adept at dressing evil up to look and sound like righteousness? (Patriotism, prosperity, personal freedom all get pulled into the mix without concealing the underlying evil.)

Clearly there are some issues between God and us. A clearer understanding our role in perpetuating evil is how we ease the burden it levies on our world, its people, and our own lives. And in the process, we can ease the burden on God too.

Join our weekly study as we continue our “Origins” series with a blunt discussion of evil and its mismatched twin, sin. We meet each Thursday at 7:30p CDT via Zoom.

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85212231523?pwd=MC85VzJBVHF2MWYvVXRZcVFLdzJEdz09 

Meeting ID: 852 1223 1523

Password: 072524

Or you can call in at 1-312-626-6799, using the same Meeting ID and Password.

We need your help!

As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!

Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea

As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.