Quietly Courageous

I am currently reading a book by Gil Rendle called Quietly Courageous which is making an impression on my thinking as we go through this anxious time. He speaks of the wilderness time that Jesus goes through to determine what God is calling him to be and to do. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he proceeds, not like John the Baptist, not like Judas Maccabees, not like other Messiah figures of Israel’s history, but quietly developing disciples and communities that are built on loving relationships.

Jesus’ core message was that God loved them, God forgives them, God accepts them, even in the midst of their infirmities. Jesus showed this by loving, forgiving, healing and accepting—especially the ones that other communities found unacceptable. The communities that were established on the concept that “Doing unto others as you would have them do to you,” is significantly different than the popular concept of “Do what you want as long as you don’t stop others from doing the same.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching about how this “Godly Community” will act toward one another:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

He also told them a parable:
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
(Luke 6: 32—36, 39—40)

How can we be “Quietly Courageous” as we seek to live in community during this time? Might I suggest one small way… can we begin calling it “Physical Separation” instead of “Social Separation?” We are created to be social. We just have to find new ways to continue loving, giving, healing, forgiving as we do our best to remain physically separated for the needed time.

Jesus’ teachings were meant for his time and his community, but we can learn and benefit from his words of wisdom—especially during this coronavirus lock down. The season of Lent was created from the examples in Jewish history when the people found themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where we may not go voluntarily. And when we find ourselves there, we do not know how long it will last or in what ways we will be changed because of it. While in the wilderness, two questions are needed answering: 1) How will we now be with God? 2) How will we now be with one another?

The first example was Noah and the story of the flood. When nature forces us from our homes and communities, God will be with us as we rebuild. The covenant God makes with us is realized.

The second was the Exodus, and the responses are found in the Ten Commandments and in the organization of the 12 tribes.

The third was the Babylonian conquest, destruction of the Temple, and exile of the community. The responses are found in the Levitical Code, the rebuilding of the temple, and synagogue communities which held the people together in remote areas.

In the New Testament, the fourth example is Jesus’ wilderness experience. And the community’s response to Jesus was to form communities we have called the church, which opened the message of Jesus and God’s grace to those outside of Judaism. A very courageous endeavor indeed!

Maybe this pandemic is our generation’s “wilderness” and we are asked to answer the questions: How will we now be with God? How will we now be with one another?

Maybe this is our time to be quietly courageous.

I end with a prayer from William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church, which was written during the sixties when our country was torn. It was introduced to me by one of my pastoral mentors and I believe it is needed today:

O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who is our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us we plead, for we are a people in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment.
We need an openness about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things, but does not unnerve us.
As a people, we need to remember that our influence is greatest when our power seemed to be weak.
Most of all, we need to turn to you, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be our sole strength in this time of trouble.
In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings: especially health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over,
a nation which despite all, has so much to offer so many.
Help us, O God, to see our failures as lessons to learn and to grow, our losses of finances as a way to find renewable resources,
our mental anguish as a sign to stop and observe Sabbath rest, and our close encounter with death as a means to appreciate and celebrate life.
Send us forth into a new week with a curious mind, and a free and joyful spirit looking for all the ways the Holy Spirit is showing your glory among us. Amen.

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church, Lewisville, NC.

Join Our Lenten Wellness Circle!

Please join us on Wednesday evenings from 5:30pm to 7:00pm beginning on February 26, 2020 for a very special Lenten experience. Living Compass Wellness Circles are a committed small group of adults who meet for six sessions. By the time the group sessions end, participants will have had a chance to:
  • discuss how faith informs our wellness and daily decisions;
  • assess our current state of balance and wellness;
  • learn important lessons about change;
  • and set goals for changes we feel called to make.

Many compasses compete to guide our lives. The Wellness Circle experience makes faith the compass that guides decisions in all areas of our lives – heart, soul, strength, and mind. When we use faith as our compass, we are better able to experience wellness and wholeness.

What:               Living Compass Wellness Circles (small groups of 6-8 people) (Download more details about the group experience.)

When:              Lent 2020 (6 Wednesdays: February 26, March 4, March 11, March 18, March 25, April 1) from 5:30pm to 7:00pm (No meal is provided but you are welcome to bring your own “bag supper” if you like.)

Where:             Unity Moravian Church Fellowship Hall | 8300 Concord Church Road, Lewisville, NC

Who:                 Anyone who wants to explore the question: “How is the Spirit calling me to greater wellness and wholeness right now?” Members and non-members are invited to participate. Interested in a parent circle? Let us know when you sign up! Childcare provided. 

How to Sign Up: 

Visit this Google Form (http://bit.ly/UnityWellnessCircles) or use the sign-up sheet in the Narthex (on the round table). You may also call the church office at (336) 945-3801.  A $5 donation is requested to offset the cost of each participant workbook, but no one should consider cost a barrier to their participation. 

Before the Lord Rises, We Clean the Graves

For many, Easter is primarily about giant bunnies and sugary Peeps. But Easter, for Moravian Christians, is much more. Beginning Ash Wednesday and running through Holy Week (with services nearly every night), Great Sabbath and into Easter morning (early!), we focus on the suffering, sacrifice, and, ultimately, joy of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter, many Moravians gather in God’s Acre (the church cemetery) to proclaim their faith in the resurrected Lord and celebrate newness of life as the sun rises. The Easter Sunrise Service gives us a chance to joyously proclaim our Christian faith, beginning with the opening words of the Easter Morning liturgy: “The Lord is risen!” We answer together: “The Lord is risen indeed!”

But we are a practical people too. At Unity Moravian Church here in Lewisville, NC, we don’t have a very large graveyard (like Salem) in which to observe our Easter service. But we take time each year to lovingly prepare the graves for our own Easter service, much in the same way the women visited the tomb that first Easter morning (see photos below). Yes, God’s Acre is a place to mourn and remember those who have died, but it is also a place where we rejoice because we know that even though our loved ones are no longer here on earth with us, they are now living with Jesus. God’s Acre is a place of peace, hope, and faith.

The links below provide some perspective on Moravian Easter, particularly as it’s celebrated in Winston-Salem, NC. Enjoy and remember, the Lord is Risen! That’s who we worship . . . a risen Christ.

We hope you join us at 11:00am Easter Sunday at Unity Moravian Church for a moving service which concludes on the graveyard, but we do also participate in a community sunrise service at 7:00am at Lewisville Square. All are welcome!

Finding That Easter Perspective

As we ponder the Easter season and the heart of our faith in Jesus, as the Risen Christ of God… how does the concept of resurrection impact your life? Is it real for you, or just a story told by a small group of ancient Jewish people over 2000 years ago?

We are continually challenged with the task of believing in truth or in fiction. None of us want to be duped by fake news stories we thought to be true or were told were true. So, we throw up a defense by saying that “you can’t believe everything you read, or hear.” Has our culture successfully molded us into cynics who are more and more willing to accept that things in life have no truth to them? If so, where do we place the art of storytelling to help us discover hidden truths, elusive truths, or God’s truths? Is storytelling just another way of saying something that isn’t true in order to find the truth? Admittedly, it can get a little complicated.

We humans have the mental and intuitive ability to discern what is factually true with regard to science and empirical truths of human and animal natures – at least the ones which can be repeated over and over, and witnessed by the masses. Throughout history, strong and healthy cultures and societies are built with common belief systems and strong disciplined adherence to the communal laws and institutions.

But what happens when trust in these become eroded? When does the truth matter? Does it matter in every aspect of life, say, in business, politics, religion, science, journalism, and entertainment? In the wake of the Madoff and other Ponzi schemes, Lance Armstrong, the Wall Street mortgage collapse, and the Edward Snowden intelligence scandal, perhaps some would say the truth only matters if you get caught.

In the case of religion – especially Christianity, we admit that the things we believe in are based in faith – not fact. We cannot prove or disprove “resurrection” – the very center of our faith.

What we do, then, is to listen to the stories from those earliest believers and try to hear from their words and experiences how believing in Christ’s resurrection reshaped their own view of God and of themselves. The truth they were living under about the Messiah was one truth, until they experienced Jesus. When he was crucified, that truth was also put to death. Then, the “unexplainable” experience of his resurrection allowed them to take a second look at Jesus and his hope for God’s kingdom to become real.

For those earliest followers of Jesus, after this experience, they realized that their error was a matter of believing and telling the wrong story…or, at least believing and telling the right story in the wrong way. But now, after encountering a risen Christ, and with the right story in their head and hearts, a new possibility started to emerge before them.

Would they dare suppose Jesus’ execution was not the clear disproof of his Messiahship, but that the cross actually validated his passion and his willingness to be martyred for God’s cause?

Suppose the cross was not one more example of the triumph of the Empire over God’s people but was actually God’s means of rising above evil once and for all?

Suppose this was, after all, how sins were to be forgiven and how this kingdom of love and inclusion of the “least in the world” was to come?

How often do we try to squeeze what we are told happened on Easter morning into our understanding of the world and how things work in the world?

And, then, after we have experienced what we might consider the worst thing that could happen to us or to our world, only to step back and see it from a new and different perspective – let’s say from an “Easter Perspective” – it’s the other way around.

Our new understandings of the world begin to fit into the reality of a resurrection world where we come to know a love that is more powerful than death, a love that conquers all, even the evil power of lies and injustice.

This, I believe, is the truth about resurrection. It’s Jesus’ way – the way of love – even love for the enemy. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that when we follow his way – love’s way – we will come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

May this be a most meaningful Easter for us all!

Faithfully yours,
Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina.
This article was first published in the April 2017 church newsletter. 

Welcome to Lent

The Lenten Season arrives on March 1st – Ash Wednesday. The word “Lent” comes from the Middle English word for “spring” or the “lengthening of days.” It is a six-week season in the Christian year prior to Easter. (Technically, Lent comprises the 40 days before Easter, not counting the Sundays, or 46 days in total.) In the ancient church, Lent was a time for new converts to be instructed for baptism and for believers caught in sin to focus on repentance. In time, all Christians came to see Lent as a season to be reminded of their need for penitence and to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Easter.

Historically, many Protestants rejected the practice of Lent, pointing out that it was nowhere required in Scripture. But, as time has a way of softening protests and rejections
the Protestant denominations began to re-appropriate some of the more spiritual and meaningful attributes of the Roman Catholic Church – like the liturgical calendar and the seasons of Christ and the Church.

So, welcome to the Lenten season of the church calendar, where a king saddles up a donkey, where best friends deny and the most faithful scatter. This is the time when a murderer is set free so the Holy one of God can be executed. This is the ultimate “darkness before the dawn.”

Lent is a season of ashes and the reminder that life comes from God, a season of solemn worship, reflection, prayer and repentance. Our scriptures take us to the desert, to encounters with the evil that resides in us, and to wrestle with our own temptations and weakness.

We stand with Christ on the outskirts of Jerusalem as he prays out his sorrow for a people he came to champion, but who ultimately claimed no king but Caesar. In the immediate background is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would soon pray in anguish for acceptance of his role as sacrificial lamb for a fickle and self-absorbed humanity; where just beyond is the spot where his body would hang.

And, then, the shock of the universe would happen… this Jesus, who began a vision of God’s kingdom of love and grace for all, appeared before his closest friends to let them know his cause is not dead, they can continue, because God will be with them. Jesus did not die in vain…God would not allow it because God loves us! Christ’s church remains to tell this story, to live in Jesus’ new reality.

Six weeks is a long time to prepare for an instant, but this instant makes it all worthwhile. When the sun (Son) rises on Easter morning, the promise Jesus made to the criminal beside him comes true for all of us. In that moment, the ancient prophesies are fulfilled and the world clock is reset to zero (so to speak). May grace and truth accompany you on your Lenten journey to prepare you to fully embrace and proclaim “He is Risen!” on Easter morn.

Faithfully yours,

Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina.
This article was first published in the March 2017 church newsletter.