Dreams Change Lives

 

Genesis 37:1-11   Tyler Amundson  August 10, 2014

 

Covenant United Methodist Church – A partner in Helena United Methodist Ministries

Over five years ago people here in Helena started dreaming of creating a reality to help invite young people more deeply into the life of the Methodist church here.  That solidified into a very real reality of them deciding they needed a young adult pastor who could explore this reality more deeply.  I was hired as a result of a conversation of people dreaming about the possibility of a church where more young adults would be present in the church.

 

This is not an uncommon dream of churches, to have more young people around.  You don’t have to look far of the next article describing a question of whether organize religion will survive the next generation.  Between 2007 and 2012 the number of people claiming no religious affiliation jumped from about 15% to about 20%(http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/).  These unaffiliated folks are highest among the 18-29 demographic and with the number of people not going to church on the rise there is serious question if the next generation will continue to support churches in their communities.

 

What’s the drive behind having young people in the church?  Is it just about institutions surviving?  Do we seek to see the church survive it just because the church is the place we feel comfortable?  Or is it something more unnerving that bothers us about the church disappearing?

 

I will get back to those questions.

 

Many times as I have taken part in committee meetings or planning sessions since becoming clergy I have found I have a tendency to accidentally call people “old.”  I don’t mean to.  Here is what happens.   We might be discussing an education opportunity in the church or a mission project around the corner.  In the conversation I will say something like, “That is a great idea and you need to make sure we do x and y to make it more possible for young people to participate.”  I promise you I will inevitably here the comment, “Well its not just young people who need x or y.”  Usually the suggestions I make are to consider doing the activity or project at a time that allows young working people to participate, or provide childcare for young families.  I don’t do it to make people feel old, but our churches are older and we want young people to participate.  What I need help with is figuring out how you say young people have different life needs than the average churchgoer, and yes it is based on age realities. The truth is every age has it challenges, but our goal is to involve young people.

 

A pastor friend of mine shared a story of his first church after seminary.  When he left seminary he was in his early thirties.  The members of the church commented during his first few years in the church how young my friend was.  These comments continued until one day my friend got curious and looked up how young the pastor who founded the church was.  Many of the members calling him young were around for the founding of the church.  The founding pastor was no older than my friend was at the time he was working there, our churches median age has just gotten a little higher.

 

Our scripture today is following in a series of sermons I am preaching this summer on Genesis.  Genesis is the book of the bible most associate with the creation stories, or perhaps with the stories of Abraham.  However, there are more stories and they are full of intrigue and strange human interactions.  Many would read these texts and associate them with soap operas.  Stories that are not meant to teach us moral direction, but do offer us insight into human nature and our attempts at interacting with God to work to a future.

 

Today we find ourselves in the story of Joseph.

 

Genesis 37:1-11New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Joseph Dreams of Greatness

37 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.[a] But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

 

Joseph’s father is still trying to figure out who could be sharing this dream his wisdom is interpreting Joseph’s dream. I wonder perhaps if he wonders what truth there may be in it. If you don’t know the rest of the story Joseph’s statement has pushed his brothers off the edge. They are fed up with him and the favoritism his father shares with Joseph.   They cruelly beat him, and toss him in a pit. Then passing slave traders capture him and sell him into slavery and his father is very sad. However, the dream comes true later. Joseph’s gifts provide him with a role to help Egypt survive a famine and it just so happens he helps his brothers and fathers survive it too.

 

Dreams that aren’t our own are sometimes hard to hear. People who follow their dreams are dangerous and unpredictable. They are also able to accomplish things that many people cannot imagine.

 

Dreams led by ego and self-importance can lead to very bad places. One of the warnings in this story, the reason Joseph’s father is nervous is his son’s dream sound like he is power hungry. It sounds as though he wants control over his brothers, his father, and everyone around him. Dreams of this nature have caused great problems in human history.

 

However, the young Joseph was just sharing the dream he had encountered. This dream was about how he would help to save his own people and another nation from disaster. Perhaps if Joseph’s father would have interpreted the story with Joseph, worked with him they could have worked toward the dream together. They could have worked together to find the truth in community with one another and with God.

 

For over a year now the idea has been worked on for us to think about ministry in Helena differently. We have two distinct church communities with styles that offer unique gifts to our community, but neither church is growing exponentially and the needs of our community are. There was a time when pretty much everyone went to church. It was the respectable way to be involved in a community. Church was ‘what you did.’ Jeremy Scott, our new conference ‘Vital Congregations Developer’ wrote an article last week that I think really helps us understand where we’re at. He observes that “that most of us have inherited expectations, buildings, budgets, and programing that were crafted in the 60s and 70s.” We, of course, have a new building . . . as does St. Paul’s. . . . but the rest of the statement is true.   He says there is a reason for that:

 

“Two important things happened at once around that time. First, the baby boom kids were entering school age. Suddenly, there were more children in our neighborhoods than ever before. In response, we added education buildings, expanded Sunday Schools, and built strong summer VBSs.” And second, “was the rise of communism and President Eisenhower’s response to it. About a month before his inauguration, Eisenhower said in a speech, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” The president was encouraging people to go to church to prove how truly American they were . . . The message was clear: Be American. Go to church. Any church.”

“Two years later, as if to cement the point, “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. A large part of the argument for adding it was the idea that what really sets us apart from the commies is our belief in God. Most people today don’t know “under God” wasn’t originally part of the pledge, but it’s true. In fact, for most of the last half of the twentieth century, it was not Communism vs. Democracy, it was Communism vs. Christianity.

So, we have kids all over the place and massive social pressure to attend church to prove you were “one of us.” The challenge to churches was to offer the best religious goods and services possible. If you did that well, then your pews (and plates) would be full.

 

And this church, we are an example of that. Covenant was planted in that time period to attempt to meet the growing needs. The members that first formed the “Covenant” here were attempting to reach out and grow into the reality Jeremy talks about. Jeremy continues . . .

 

Fast-forward again to today where social pressure to attend church is near zero. Parents today face more pressure for their children to be at soccer practice than church.

What is the church to do?

First we have to recognize that times really are different. Truly, what worked before won’t work the same today. That is not to say that doing it before was wrong. Far from it. Most churches were simply reacting to the times in which they lived. Kids everywhere? Then build kid’s programing. It was logical and, frankly, appropriate.

Saying times have changed isn’t to say that what happened before was bad, it’s just simply stating a fact. There were plenty of quality buggy makers who were put out of business by the car. Not because they built bad buggies, or that they never should have built buggies in the first place, it’s that society changed how it moved around.

…. Once, not so long ago, having strong Sunday school and a good choir was enough to make the church grow. Those programs you cherish did, once, bring in a lot of people and expose them to the good news of Jesus Christ.[1]

 

That was the dream that we could expose people to the good news of Christ, and we did that by making sure the right programs were in place to support all the people who went to church, because that is what you did. We simply showed them how to be Christians while they were here. However, they aren’t just coming in the doors anymore.

 

I don’t think people have been saying we want young people in our church because they just want to the church, the institution to continue. I think the reason people get uncomfortable when we point out what we might do to make things more hospitable to young people, why they feel they are being called “old,” is because we are kind of embarrassed. We are embarrassed as a church that we haven’t been able to find a way to share the dream of church with people because we haven’t learned the new way. We know that faith has helped us to live a life with God, to dream with God and one another, but we aren’t quite sure how to share this saving grace with the world.

 

Church is a community that dreams with God about a better world. Dreaming with God was what church is about, trying to reach with Jesus Christ to share the kingdom of God. It is a dangerous dream of a world where God’s justice and peace are shared with all people.

 

“Build it and they will come.” This motto was what church use to be about. What is our purpose as a community of Christ now? Where do we put our energy and what is God calling us to do now to share the Good News?

 

Watched film – http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/mini-movies/46739/Mornings-With-Jesus–Urgency?utm_source=whmfp&utm_medium=email&utm_content=cfl&utm_campaign=fp08/04/2014

 

Jesus doesn’t even say a word in this film and yet God is speaking to us the whole time. Just help when asked, start to make a difference in my name, and the Good News will be shared. We will start dreaming together about how to change our communities when we reach out to those in need. The best part is we did it before. This is how Methodism came to Montana by starting children’s homes, hospitals, and by meeting people where they were. We didn’t start with a big church building; we started with sharing good and dreaming with God.

 

The more unnerving thing about the church declining, the reason we get uncomfortable when we say the things we have always done are not working is it feels we are watching the dreams of disciples die. If feels as if the things we have worked to build are crumbling beneath us.

 

Let’s have more faith than that because we are a people who saw fear try to end the Good News, and who know the Good News is resurrected. We are a people who know that we can sell our dreams away to fear, but if God is working on them they will come back to us.

 

Helena United Methodist Ministry is two churches joining together to Multiply Ministry and Maximize Impact for Good. It is United Methodists in Helena saying we are dream together to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, bring peace to conflict, and to dream with God. We are going to learn to live a disciple’s path, to walk with Christ to share God’s love in the world.

 

Dreaming with God changes lives because God works with anyone, big or small, young or old and everywhere in-between to bring God’s saving grace to the world. So instead of throwing our dreams into a hole let’s do what one of my favorite poets says, let’s say yes to God’s dream of a better world and yes “To handles on pillows so you can hold on to your dreams.”[i]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Find the entire article by Jeremy Scott at www.yacumc.org

 

[i] http://shane-koyczan-poems.tumblr.com/post/32815310830/shut-up-and-say-something-the-night-you-were

“Mission” Pope Knows

“Mission” he notes, “is key to ministry”. “A Church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms”. Pope Francis went on to concede that at times, like anyone else, in going out the Church risks running into accidents. But he added “I prefer a thousand times over a Church of accidents than a sick Church”.

Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/articolo.asp?c=683985
of the Vatican Radio website

This new Pope has some of the greatest one liners a religious figure has had in a while.  A common theme in my ministry is the conversation of “what the church is doing wrong?”

It is generally a conversation shared by people who find a genuine experience in the church.  Tonight I sat with a group of young adults who genuinely find value in the church experience.  They find community that supports them in their need, community the draws the boundaries wide to include people, and a community willing to pray and act for those in need.  The reality is that these young people are a part of churches that are asking these questions and reaching beyond their doors to share a message of grace with the world.

When I shared with them the reality that the category of people who claim no church affiliation is a growing category.  They were not concerned.  When they talked about people who don’t get church.  One person basically said, “We don’t need to worry about it.”  I instantly realized she was right.  We all know it to be true.  We aren’t going to get people to church by telling them about how great it is to be a part of a church.  People have plenty of things to be excited about.  No, we get people excited about church when it doesn’t stink, when we “run into them.”

We have to be out in the world and ready to change lives.  Those skills we have at listening to people, coming up with ideas to help them, praying with them, and seeking to assist them in living in this world.  Those are the skills the church needs to utilize now, more than ever.  Love our neighbor as ourselves.

Now I have know this for a long time, but this quote gave it gumption and an edge.

I totally have to thank Marianne, the Pastor I work with for finding this.  When she read it to me I knew I had to use it for the missional work I was doing.

Who am I?

Mark 8:27-30 Rev. Tyler Amundson September 16, 2012

Gracious God may the words shared here be true to your loving presence on this earth. As we go through each day may we remember the blessing of play you invite us into. You invite us to play, to know, and to share with our neighbors both known and unknown the amazing vision of your blessed Kingdom. May we take time each day to notice the moments of perfection in the world around us.

Mark 8:27-30
“27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28 And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29 He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.” [1]

Play is one of the earliest forms of communication we learn as children. If you watch young children as they begin to play with one another it is quite fascinating. At first they are completely separate entities. Each functioning in their space and with their toys. Then as they take notice of one another they try and communicate what they are playing. Whether with language of voice or of the body they slowly demonstrate to one another what they believe the shared reality to be. From time to time the children pull back to their own world, but once play is shared it is as if they can’t help to come back to one another.

One of the most striking dynamics of play is the act of vulnerability. The children for the first time risk not having a black and white understanding of what they believe is happening. The child has to risk that their exact idea of how the play should happen might be rejected. This letting go is to risk being hurt by the one you are interacting with. It is for many of us the first risk of vulnerability we take of our own free will. If it is accepted by our peers we begin to share a reality and our play gets rich beyond our imagination. Our imagination becomes shared with the other persona and so our scope of reality can grow. Our reality grows to help us to define who we are as human beings through this act of vulnerability

If you think about play parents, family, loved ones, and all people want to experience the act of play whenever we see a child. As a father, it has been interesting to see the side of people that comes out when I have my daughter with me. People get silly, relaxed and try and play with my daughter sometimes totally ignoring my presence. We have this innate need to be vulnerable with our peers and it is as if the reminder of childhood draws us back into that place where we can be vulnerable again.

I bring up this notion of play as a way for us to recognize how vulnerability makes for richer lives. We literally share our imagination with one another. We are able to dream bigger dreams when we are able to share our vision of the world with one another. When vulnerability is supported and we are able to learn from it then we grow exponentially as individuals and as communities. By being vulnerable we develop a rich understanding of who we are by seeing it through the imagination of others.

There are a couple of youtube videos of a researcher named Brenee Brown who has studied the aspects of vulnerability. She has found that people willing to be vulnerable live more whole hearted lives. They are able to “let go of who they thought they should be, to be who they were.” [2] In every sense of the term they are able to play and share the imagination of those around them. These people felt more fulfilled and engaged throughout their lives. They have a sense of who they are because they were vulnerable.

I want to share with you a much simpler way of understanding this notion of vulnerability. This cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson is a great illustration of this. [3] You see Calvin is in this world of play constantly and in this moment his dad is not feeling the need to be vulnerable, instead a need to get to work. I share this cartoon to demonstrate how vulnerability allows for humor. This cartoon is funny because we are willing to be vulnerable to Calvin’s dream of a playful world. A world in which snowmen seemingly come to life. By being vulnerable to this idea and buying in for a moment we find this amusing.

Vulnerability is what allows us to share a reality with one another and more especially a dream with one another. The scripture passage today is the author of this gospel trying to demonstrate the vulnerable way Jesus was engaging with his disciples. Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” The author is demonstrating the reputation of Jesus as a teacher – a teacher who is vulnerable with his students that they might learn from one another. The disciples share “Elijah and John the Baptist” as possibilities. They are vulnerable with Jesus and share their thoughts about the possible dreams of what Jesus can be.

Then Peter shares, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus withdraws quickly and informs Peter he must not say such things. For us as an audience this seems like a fearful withdrawal because perhaps Jesus is scared of what is about to happen to him. However, if we look deeper it is a firm response to something that we know clearly to not be true as outsiders looking in. Peter is trying to talk about the Messiah that is referred to at this time in history. This Messiah figure is one who will violently come back to re-establish Israel. Matt Skinner, a New Testament Professor at Luther Seminary, demonstrates Peter as basically saying, “I think you’re the one who will purify our society, reestablish Israel’s supremacy among the nations, and usher in a new era of peace and holiness. I’m expecting big things from you.” [4] Jesus is sharing in return that this is not the idea he has. He is saying, “You may expect big things Peter, but you are not dreaming big enough about God’s love and grace.” We know, as the author of this gospel knows, that the Christ figure brings about the reality of God’s kingdom not through violence, but by being vulnerable. Jesus, God incarnate, allows vulnerability with humanity, the violence of the world, and is open to the possibility of resurrection.

Remember as we read this scripture from Mark that it has taken until this point for the Jesus as Christ to be mentioned. [5] This is a turning point in the scripture and as piece of literature the book of Mark is written to demonstrate this change of reality happening. The gospels are books that are written as stories to demonstrate who Christ was to a worshipping community. Bishop John Shelby Spong who will be here in a few weeks reminds us that “…the memory of Jesus had already been interpreted through the Jewish scriptures.”[6] This demonstration is the author showing Jesus, the Christ, being vulnerable and connected with his disciples. The author wants us to know his Christ is sharing in a relationship to demonstrate who Christ is, but also who we are in relation to God.

We have this amazing knowledge that we believe Christ to be God with us, literally God among us and experiencing us. This continues in our belief that the Holy Spirit surrounds us and continues to work with us to share God’s vision on earth. This scripture is one example of this tradition we have of God being in relationship with us. Vulnerability is a deeply rooted part of our calling as Christians.

Vulnerability is hard. It is a dangerous world and the temptation is to hold up in a safe place away from all that can harm. I myself have felt this need over and over again. All we have to do is be hurt once and we know the danger of being vulnerable during moments of violence, anger, and pain. Some people never get the chance to play at a young age because of the violence in their lives. People face oppression, abuse, and a list that can go on. Each of these things creates fear that vulnerability can cause more harm because of the incident happening before.

Our society does a great job of dredging up this fear to make sure we remember being hurt. Fear is a powerful motivator that demands our attention and is an easy tool to create a shared reality. Think of the list of violent incidents over the last week. It makes me want to hide or the alternative search for a power that can destroy those scary things. There is no simple answer to a hope that these horrible things won’t happen. The reality is that throughout history horrible things have happened.

The Christian message takes us away from these horrible things to a message of God being vulnerable with us – God demonstrating that resurrection and new life are possible. These amazing things are possible because in our vulnerability we share a vision of God’s love with one another. The other incredibly important aspect of Jesus’ vulnerability in this text is that he is claiming that God in Christ is more powerful than all the fear in the world. That vulnerability with one another in community and with God creates a reality of grace that we cannot comprehend. Christ is clearly saying, “Be vulnerable to one another and to God, and God’s grace will be a power in your life beyond comprehension.” The grace of God takes us in our brokenness and loves us into a transformed and resurrected people. A people of God who dream in the light about the good of the world, and not in the fear that creates realities of darkness.

This message seems almost against our human nature which is to protect and defend ourselves. Yet this is what Christ meant when he asked us to have faith like a child. Vulnerability is the thing that allows us to share a dream with one another, it helps us answer the question, “Who am I?

For myself this vulnerability has been true in an image of church that I have followed for several years now. Until I started thinking about it in terms of vulnerability though it didn’t quite make as much sense. For me God is most revealed when we can share our lives, our hearts with one another. Church’s goal is therefore to create space for us to share that spark of God inside each one of us. We share the spark of God through art, conversation, learning, service, mission and connection. It is when we are able to share that spark most openly and in our own way that God shared most vividly.

The most recent episode of Parenthood on NBC was a striking example of this sharing of the divine. Parenthood is a show about a large family with adult children and the adult children’s lives. Crosby, the youngest, has been working in the music industry and has a pretty crazy life. As the show progresses he learns he has a young son named Jabbar. Crosby, this fairly carefree young adult, has to learn quickly how to be a father. In the episode last week Crosby is walking down the hall in the house and passes his son Jabbar’s room. Crosby does a double take and sees Jabbar praying at the end of his bed. This was not at all what Crosby expected and especially due to the reality that Crosby really doesn’t have a defined understanding of God or prayer. Following this there is questioning of relatives pushing Jabbar into praying or forcing religion on him. Crosby and his wife confront the grandmother whose response is wise. She states that she is sharing her faith. She then inquires what are the parents doing to be vulnerable about their beliefs with their son. She may be a bit of a Bible thumping grandma, but she is right. We need to vulnerably share our faith with each other to help each other dream what this universe is for.

The final scene with Crosby and Jabbar has them sitting on the back porch drinking root beer and watching the stars. They engage in this amazing sharing of their beliefs with one another as father and son. It is in this vulnerable moment you can see the grace of God transforming both Crosby and Jabbar. They share with each other a spark of God and see the dream a little more clearly.

Jesus told us clearly in this story who we are. We are beloved children of God, who when vulnerable with one another can create beautiful dreams for the world. Jesus declares that God is with each of us and has come near to us. God has been vulnerable with us and grace is available to us all. May we continue to find ways to play with one another, to create space to be vulnerable, and to grow in God’s love.

[1 ]Mark 8:27-30, New Revised Standard Version(NRSV), Retrieved from www.bible.oremus.org, September 12, 2012.
[2] Brown, B. (Researcher Storyteller). (2011). Brene brown: The power of vulnerability . [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o
[3] http://cdn0.sbnation.com/imported_assets/1025923/CH940221_JPG.jpg, Accessed September 12, 2012
[4] Skinner, M. (2012, September 16). Commentary on gospel. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=9/16/2012&tab=4
[5] Skinner, M. (2012, September 16). Commentary on gospel. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=9/16/2012&tab=4
[6] Spong, J. (2011). Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. HarperOne. Pg 222.

Playfulness is what Church is….it is the second coming!!!

As I think about church leadership in the future it is a group of people who are willing to play with the people they work with.  When I say play I mean this…that we will be willing to share in life, show new ways to see God, reach out to those who want to explore God with us, not be comfortable with one way of being with God, and constantly asking questions like a child.

We need people willing to play with people in all walks of life, to be in the messiness of life.

“The badge of this new world? Service….. just plain doing good to other people, all other people, any other people, any time they need help or encouragement.”

We are not trying to bring about a second coming anytime, we are trying to bring playfulness to the world now.  We are trying to help people be less serious about their realities, to not hold on so intensely to life and instead learn how to play through life.

Quiet play, loud play, compassion play, loving play, explorative play….

It is through an openness of play that good accountable Christian movements will happen.  A complete change will happen.  People can trust people, and we will learn how to be kinder to one another.  Jesus did this…he learned how to play with people and love them.  He re-taught the imagination and became accountable to all through this way.

Let’s God play and play well…..