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Hospitality: A Relationship of Giving and Receiving

Just what is hospitality?

When we think about hospitality and the bible, we generally think about Martha and Mary hosting Jesus. And, we generally believe that Mary got it right. The truth is, neither one of them got it quite right! Why you might ask?

It is helpful to remember the origin and definition of biblical hospitality. In ancient Near East times, nomads practiced hospitality in the desert. A stranger would arrive at their camp, and it was common practice… even expected… that they would take in this stranger overnight, feed them, give them a place to sleep and care for them. In exchange, the stranger would share news with them… things that were going on in the world around them. Both contributions in the relationship were of equal value. The host depended on the stranger to stay informed and up to date on the news. Remember, no cell phones, no internet, no snail mail. This was it. It was a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

So hospitality is both giving and receiving…

There is a reaching out through simple acts of service, but also a drawing in of mutual gifts and surprises.  Neither Mary nor Martha got it quite right, but Mary, according to Jesus chose the best part of hospitality.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home by cooking and cleaning and sheltering Jesus and the others… but Mary, took time to engage and receive the news they had to share. Together, Mary and Martha would have been exemplary hosts to Jesus… but Martha mistakenly thought that it was only about giving and doing rather than receiving. She missed the gift of the stranger… the news Jesus came to share.

In a time where churches everywhere need to grow, the practice of hospitality has never been more important. And we Americans are not so great at it. We tend to be Marthas… doing and giving… but not really good at receiving the gifts or news that the stranger brings.

We can practice hospitality both individually as well as corporately.

In both cases, there is always a mutual exchange. The trouble is, most churches are not ready for a mutual exchange. And yet, the love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our church to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take.  There could be potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist.

“(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.”– Michele Hershberger, A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises

“Airbnb has proven that hospitality, generosity, and the simple act of trust between strangers can go a long way.”   – Joe Gebbia, CEO Airbnb

I believe that churches can and will grow as we practice this kind of hospitality. But, we need to be ready when God brings new people through our doors to receive the gifts they bring. We need to let go of our fears, our suspicions and our need to control and open our hearts to the wonderful surprises that they bring. So how do we work at this? How do we flex our spiritual muscles when it comes to hospitality?

Here are a few things we can try:

As a family:

Invite someone to your home for a simple meal. Try preparing as much as you can ahead of time so that you can spend most of your time listening to their stories and getting to know them better. After they leave, take time as a family to name what you appreciated most about your guest. Do you think that you were enriched some how ? Did you grow in anyway? Did you learn something new?

As an individual:

Make a special effort to welcome a new neighbor or a new colleague at work. Try taking them out for coffee or simply drop off a housewarming gift. Go with the idea of getting to know them and finding something you can appreciate about them. After your time together, offer a simple prayer to God thanking God for the gift in that person.

Just Remember:

Jesus once told a tale of sheep and goats. One group was successful in following Jesus the other group, well… it wasn’t. According to Jesus, the only difference between the two groups is what they did and didn’t do. One group was able to practice hospitality and one wasn’t… and that was important. Because Jesus told them, “Whenever you did it (Hospitality) for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40

 

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It takes a little practice…

“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.

Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.

As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more

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Weekend of Service – August 12-14, 2016

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Our Weekend of Service (WoS) is about a month away and will take place August 12-14, 2016. The Weekend will kick-off on Friday evening and will be followed by half or full-day service projects on Saturday, ending with a cookout and swim time at the community center behind First Church. During Sunday’s service we will hear reports from the different project teams.

During our contacts with different agencies, Middle River Regional Jail indicated that they would like to receive either new or used (in good condition) paperbacks for their library. They are interested in a wide range of reading materials – fiction and non-fiction, auto and biographical, history, and westerns (a particular favorite). If you have books that you would like to donate, please place them in the appropriate box in the narthex.

Meanwhile the Harrisonburg City Jail said that they would like copies of paperback bibles. If you would like to donate toward the purchase of bibles, please write a check to the church and in the memo line indicate “City Jail Bibles”.

In the next few weeks be looking for project descriptions and sign-up sheets, donation boxes in the narthex for needed supplies, and further details in upcoming bulletins, on this webpage and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fcobharrisonburg/.

Hospital Visitation Group 3

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For such a time as this…

Over the next five weeks, we will take a look at the book of Esther.  If you haven’t read Esther, I’d encourage you to read it! It reads like a thriller or even a romance novel. And yet, we can learn much about what it means to live a life committed to God and to one another as the body of Christ during difficult times. Do you ever feel like your swimming upstream? That the choices you make and your commitment to faith seems so foreign to others that you find it difficult to stay the course? Perhaps you feel discouraged and insignificant or unable to change things anyway? These are some of the very things that we read about in the book of Esther.

As part of our study, we will look at the different characters in the story and the choices that each of them make in their own times; some in faithfulness to God and some quite faithless at all. we’ll be challenged to reevaluate our own choices. We will be reminded that each of us have been given gifts and passions for God to use to effect change and bring about justice in our own communities. Together, we’ll ask ourselves the famous question Mordecai asked Esther:”Who knows if you have not become royal for such a time as this?”

Join us for worship Sundays at 10:30!

Pastor Beth

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12 Baskets and a Goat

12 Baskets and a Goat ImageOn November 14, 2015, the old Sale Barn on Sunny Slope Farm was the site of the first pilot show of 12 Baskets and a Goal, a project of Ted & Co, Heifer International, and the Church of the Brethren in support of Heifer’s work around the world. The event featured the play, The Jesus Stories: Faith, Forks, and Fettuccine, written and performed by Ted Swartz and Jeff Raught, interrupted at two intervals to auction off home-made breads and cakes. It was an evening filled with humor, laughter, and generous support of Heifer International. Over $5,000 was raised during the evening with all proceeds going to Heifer International.

The 12 Baskets and a Goal project (http://www.tedandcompany.com/shows/12-baskets-and-a-goat/) “seeks to raise awareness of poverty and empower communities to restore dignity to those in need.The Jesus Stories “asks two questions….what are we having to eat and who are we eating it with? It’s a play about Jesus and food; about what we need every day to sustain us, nourish us, and connect us with God and with others.” The play, which features original songs and music by Jeff, blends humor and theological reflection. Over the next three years, Ted and Co hope to perform their play and auctions all over the country for the benefit of Heifer International.

Ted Swartz and Jeff Raught performing The Jesus Stories

Ted Swartz and Jeff Raught performing The Jesus Stories

First Church of the Brethren’s Friendship Class gave money to help cover startup costs for the event at Sunny Slope Farm. Members of the class also donated $1,000 in support of Heifer International. The youth donated jars of their recently made apple butter. Other members of the church donated cakes and breads. Many of the breads were auctioned off in baskets donated by Cathy Cupp, Linda Logan’s sister.

Beth and Harry Jarrett’s farm, Sunny Slope Farm, is a certified Virginia Century Farm, owned and operated by the family for 186 years.

Pastor Beth among the gathering crowd

Pastor Beth among the gathering crowd

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Multiply

Multiply  

4 x 5 = 20

6 x 8 = 48

 9 x 7 = ?

Those of us old enough to remember [before the “new math” etc.] had the multiplication tables drummed into us and we still know them.

But “multiply” at First Church is a new thing just now.

Starting this Sunday, September 27, it will become an effort at reNEWal at First Church. We hope it can move our whole church nearer to the potential God sees in us.

Imagine all of us, each of us, growing together in our faith, moving deeper into our connection with the God who loves us.

Two thousand years ago twelve disciples, witnessing to what they had learned from Jesus, changed the world. We hope Multiply can renew us, make us better disciples of Jesus. Who knows where that could take us!

We need everyone to sign up and participate in a Multiply group to be a part of this exciting process. This Sunday it all starts. If you are signed up, Welcome Aboard! If not, Sunday is your last chance to be in on this new thing that God is doing at First Church.

And, don’t worry. We will not be testing you on the multiplication tables.

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2015 National Older Adult Conference

Seven members from First Church are attending the National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in Lake Junaluska, NC, next week (September 7-11): Auburn and Ruth Boyers, Brenda Fox, Larry Glick, Sharon Helbert, Rosie Martz, Pauline Miller, and Carolyn and Larry Seilhamer. The theme of this year’s NOAC is “Then Jesus Told Them a Story.” The schedule […]

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Weekend of Service

Service – Fun – Fellowship

August 21-22, 2015

456-community-service-pictureReady to put your faith to work? First Church is planning a Weekend of Service where individuals can experience a community service project for the first time. The projects are designed to be short and simple, and get us out into the community to meet our neighbors.

The projects include painting a fence for the New Community Project, handing out water bottles, visiting a nursing home, and assembling disaster and school kits. The complete list of projects, lists of items needed to be donated, and sign-up sheets will be available in late July.

Friday night, August 21, we’ll kick-off the weekend with a Bike-A-Thon followed by a prayer service. On Saturday morning, there will be a short prayer service before heading out to morning, afternoon, or all-day projects. That evening we’ll enjoy a cook-out at the church following by swimming at the local pool.

For the truly adventurous, camping will be available at the church on a “bring your own tent and equipment” basis. You can share your plans and experiences with other participants, and enjoy fellowship and S’mores around the camp fire pit.

If you are interested in volunteering your services in preparation for the weekend, contact a member of the coordinating committee: Auburn and Ruth Boyers, Heidi Bunn, Beth Cash, Julie Foster, Brenda Fox, Sharon Helbert, Beth Jarrett, Micah Morris, Karen Moyers, Heather Smith, Peggy Stickley, and Derek Young.

Check this site later on in July for full details about the weekend. In the meantime save the dates of August 21 and 22 on your calendars.

 

the dusty road…

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A note about one of my illustrations: I was heavily influenced by Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis and drew heavily upon his chapter on the dust of the Rabbi as one of my illustrations. I will italicize that section.

Many of you now that I recently returned from a two-week vacation and I want to tell you this morning that I went away feeling a little tired and burnt out. I went away telling God that I really needed to hear from him and that I needed guidance and direction for our church. So a week goes by and I hear nothing… and in fact I was getting a little discouraged… maybe even a little agitated with God for not speaking to me.  But then, two days into the second week, while I was sleeping, God woke me up in the early morning with a whisper. It was poignantly audible;  something that does not happen to me everyday, but I definitely recognized that it was from God. And he said one word: Discipleship. Needless to say, I woke up and went into the other room so I wouldn’t wake up Harry and I began to pray and reflect about this one word. And in that moment, our last year together as a church seeking to become more Jesus filled, the many conversations I have been having with you about education, programming, sermon series, all the amazing kids we have here, and all the amazing youth we have here came into focus. And I realized that God was calling us to not only become better disciples, but to also zealously make disciples right here in our church and in our community.

It’s a long story to say that I tossed out the window all of my plans of preaching this Lent and went with what God was putting on my heart: discipleship. So for the rest of the Lenten and Easter Season, we will be focusing on the Gospel of Mark with the goal of unpacking this word and call to discipleship… and what better way to do that than begin this morning with the calling of the disciples.

Turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 1 14. After Jesus was baptized and filled with the spirit earlier in the chapter, and after he had fasted and prayed 40 days in the wilderness and faced temptation, he goes into Galilee and begins preaching this important message: “The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom is near. Repent and believe the good news!” What does it mean that the kingdom is near? What does it mean to repent? And what is the good news? Well, Mark seems to be answering this with the story of the calling of the first disciples. Read more

For my friends at Harrisonburg First Church of the Brethren… the sermon we missed twice in a row.

Since I missed preaching this sermon twice in a row, I thought I would share a few important excerpts with you. It is my prayer that God will somehow use these thoughts on paper to prepare us for our spiritual journey during Lent. Blessings, Pastor Beth

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Today’s story is about John the Baptist whois also preparing the way for the new thing that God wants to do through his Son Jesus Christ. Even though we typically look at this passage during Advent, I think it is fitting that we prepare for our Lenten journey by looking at this text in Mark. It is interesting that the gospel of Mark begins here and skips over all of the traditional birth stories by “cutting to the chase” with John the Baptist. If we look more closely at this text, we can get some clues on how we can ready ourselves for the new things that God desires to do through Jesus Christ in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

The story opens in Mark chapter 1 with this crazy guy john crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It is important to remember that Israel had been waiting for the arrival of the promised Messiah for well over 500 years. In fact, those 500 years are known as the time of silence. It was a time when people weren’t hearing anything from God through the prophets. Nothing seemed to be happening at all. I am pretty sure that most people had become disinterested, disenchanted and even skeptical about the Messiah’s coming. But now, imagine with me. 500 years later this guy appears all dressed up in some really strange clothes and eating even more strange food. His message? Take heart! The time has finally come! This promised Messiah is about to break into our world and accomplish all of the things we have been waiting for.

I find a real affinity with this story because that is what I sense is going on here at our Church. I believe that the Spirit of God is saying the same thing to us: Take heart! You have been waiting for so long and now I am going to break in and do something among you greater than anything you can think or imagine!

Have you ever wondered why John was in the wilderness to proclaim such an important message? Why not in the temple, or in the town square or at the very least, the top of a mountain? Instead, Jon leads them into the wilderness: a place of solitude, a place where no one would really be able to hear. And yet the scripture tells us that the people came out in droves, multitudes, to hear the message.

John prepared the way for Jesus’s ministry by leading the Israelites into a place where they were familiar with the way God speaks and where God had made himself known in the past. They stayed there until Jesus appeared on the scene. The Israelites recognized the wilderness was a historic place where God met them, spoke to them, and revealed himself to them just as he did in the Exodus. It was also a spiritual place where they were open to guidance from God. By leading them away from the chaos and confusion of the city, John brought them into the place where they were truly receptive to God’s activity; a place where they could listen.

Many of us have special places in our lives where we know that God can get through to us as well as unique ways in which God speaks to us. Perhaps we have dreams, hear his voice, read scripture or journal. Maybe we find God in nature, riding a bike or on a long commute to work. Maybe we find God through worship or through the times of listening in prayer. These are all similar to the wilderness for the Israelites.

During Lent, Christians have a tradition or spiritual practice of giving something up. In a way, that’s like making space for God. So if you are thinking about giving something up for Lent, I want to challenge you to give up something that makes a space for you to meet God. Maybe it is skipping a meal or coffee so that you can listen to God. Maybe it is skipping your favorite TV show so that you can read your Bible. Be creative, but make space. Prepare the way for him. Frequent that place often. Give God the space to speak and move in your life.

Another interesting way we can prepare the way that we see from John the Baptist are these really strange clothes he is wearing and the bugs that he seems to be eating. Don’t worry; I am not encouraging you to eat bugs! And by the way, these are not carob pods or fruit from a special tree. These were actual bugs, or locusts, that were ritually clean for poor persons who could not afford to buy the more expensive meats that were acceptable for the Jewish diet. By eating the same food and dressing in this way, John is actively aligning himself with barrenness of his time. He identified the place of the deepest spiritual and physical need… the very place where Jesus will come and bless and heal. His clothing and diet are a symbol of his rejection of the religious and socially elite and an embracing of the spiritually and physically impoverished.

We can also prepare the way of the Lord, not by eating bugs, but by opening our eyes to the barren places of our times; to the homeless, the spiritually impoverished, the troubled teen whose life can only be redeemed by the shedding of innocent blood in a shopping mall, the latch- key kids in our own community, even some of our friends and family. Jesus’s ministry was characterized by eating and drinking with sinners and ministering to the poor. Of all the places Christ could have chosen to live, of all the people he could have eaten with and fellowshipped with, he was always with the down and out, the outcast, the poor in Spirit and the sinner. If you were living in the time of Jesus, that was where you could find him.

I believe that is still true today. If we want to see where God is active and moving, if we want to be in the place and setting that Jesus may very well show up, we need to find the place of the greatest spiritual and physical need and linger there.

One thing that blesses me so much about our church is that we have a lot of that going on!! We feed people at the Salvation Army meals every Tuesday night, we open our doors to the community every Wednesday evening, children and youth are coming to our church and not only hearing about Jesus but some of them are having the only hot cooked meal they will have that week. If you haven’t experienced the ministry that is going on here at this church on a Wednesday night, let me tell you that Jesus is present! Just walk into the Jr. High youth meeting and talk with some of the wonderful youth that Abe is hauling over in his car each week. Or poke your head into one of Heidi’s class room and see all of the children. Let me tell you, you will find Jesus working there!

Sharon Helbert was visiting with me in my office this week and shared with me how each year, rather than giving something up for Lent, she actually adds a spiritual practice for Lent. So here’s my challenge to you this Lenten season. Do you want to prepare the way for what God has for us at First Church? Do you want to meet Jesus? Try adding the spiritual practice of serving on a Wednesday Night! Casey made an announcement last Sunday in church that Heidi needs more volunteers. Why not make that your spiritual practice for Lent? Or maybe the fellowship committee needs help with food prep, clean up or service. Why not talk to Julie Kramer about serving as your Lenten practice?

Friends, that is preparing the way for Jesus to show up in your life! And as we look together at the book of Mark and what it means to follow Jesus and be his disciples, we will see the places he invites them and us to come and see, and experience the kingdom of God.

We all know that living together as the body of Christ is important, but if we are so inwardly focused that we miss the barren places where God desires to dwell, we may miss the appearance of Jesus because according to the Gospel of Mark, that is where Jesus showed up… in the desert place… in the barren place… in the place of need. We need to take heart, align ourselves with the need around us, and join God in the new life that he desires to bring. How will we align our resources and vision with the needs of our community and world? Do you still have your puzzle piece from several weeks ago? Maybe that’s the piece of the puzzle that we’re missing and need here at First Church.

Finally, we need to begin this journey by examining our own barrenness. John calls the people to repent and be baptized as a symbol of their consecration to God and their belief in the Messiah’s coming. Jesus came into this world first and foremost to save us from our own selves, the spiritual bondage that keeps us and the rest of the world from being all that God intended us to be. It is difficult to dare to look into the deepest, darkest parts of our own souls.

Have you ever noticed when we have had a good snow or ice storm, where the last places to melt are? (You should have had plenty of opportunities to do that this week) They are always in the shade. Hard ice always forms in the dark places and they are the last places where the warmth of the sun can penetrate. So it is with our souls. It is not until we bring our sins into the light of the son, that we experience the melting of our hardness and the washing away of the things that bind us.

Where are the places in our own lives that need the breath of God blown into them? What are the dark areas where God desires to shine the healing light of his presence? Are we allowing God to see those places? Are we allowing ourselves to acknowledge those places? Do we really believe that God can turn those barren places into something fruitful? That is the true beginning of our spiritual journey this Lenten season; Opening those places to God’s coming. In doing so, we are opening ourselves to the power of Jesus.