Hello Neighbor: Isn’t it strange how watching someone on television can make you feel loved? Mister Rogers loved me. Maybe I’m showing my age! I was actually a little too old to be watching his show and I never wanted any of my friends to find out. I think, given my later college work and first career choice, I was initially intrigued by the use of puppets and humans and the writing that gave inanimate objects like the trolley a personality (you’re not buying that one are you?). There is no doubt I was hooked into the discoveries and visits Mister Rogers made with his neighbors, whether living or puppetry beings and the way he cap-tured my curiosity and made me feel alive in his neighborhood.
We can expand this line of thinking to the impact a television show can have on scheduling. Before VCRs (early version of DVR for you millennials). We had to watch everything live. I remember sitting in the sorority house with everyone to find out who shot J.R. The show Dallas had created a community much like the soap opera General Hospital had done during the Luke and Laura period. Soon it was Cheers, and Friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more recently Orange is the New Black and Scandal. Rather than watching together in these later years, we chat during a coffee break. The way entertainment gives us something to discuss with colleagues and strangers points to the human need to find connections with one another.
To be human is to seek connection, community, friendships, and family.
The state of our nation is fractured, disjointed, isolating, and uprooted. There is no better time than now for our particular church to be declaring that with God’s help, we are finding common ground for the common good. The question before us is can our faith in a loving creator be strong enough to empower us to love our neighbors? Can we accept God’s love for all with enough ardor that we share Christ’s love our enemies? Can we allow the gift of liberation received from the servant Christ to free us for serving friend and foe?
This week – this week in particular – I admit, I am not sure I’m up to the task. Mister Rogers is dead. What if God is? What if all that love that came to me through virtual technology when I was younger has evaporated? What if that in-the-flesh Jesus ascended to heaven and never looked back?
On the other hand, what if the spirit of Mister Rogers lives on, and so does the Spirit of Christ? I’m pret-ty sure I’m not going to find it on television anymore. I’m more than certain I won’t find it by myself. I’m human. I want connection, community, friendships, and family. And it would be even better if the different things that we believe, and the things that make us unique, could bring us together. I’m not ready to give up on that possibility.
“Won’t you please, won’t you please, please won’t you be my neighbor?”
Are you “Alive?”
As pastor of Rock Spring Presbyterian Church in Atlanta Georgia, I am wondering about you. About the deeper part of yourself beyond a great night out with friends or the kickball championship your team wins at the local park. I’m wondering about the life you feel when you wake up every morning and choose to get out of bed.
What makes you get out of bed and go to work every day? Are you driven by the need for a paycheck?
Are you pushed because you need money to enjoy the fun things that make you feel good for a few hours every day or so? Are you a young parent who had no idea a child could cost so much?
Or does your paid work give you a sense of usefulness and meaning?
What moves you toward your unpaid daily labors? What gets you up to make breakfast? Or drop off the kids for daycare? Or rake the leaves and clean the gutters? Or clean up the pile of dirty dishes, empty wine glasses, and clothes strewn around your home?
What is the point of events and activities you look forward to?
I suspect more than a few of you thought, “to have fun, it makes me happy.” Is there more to being alive than fun and games, than doing what you want to do, when you want to do it? Some of my elderly friends and more than a few of my hospice patients have challenged this. Their question, after a lifetime of “having fun,” is, “is this all there is, my whole life has come to this?”
This question focuses us on a common aspect of being human: the search for meaning. This search distinguishes the human and animal spirit. Animals live for the moment. They rest, they hunt or gather. They reproduce. They die. Humans seek inspiration, emotional enlargement, accolades, growth. They, we, seek meaning and purpose in our resting-hunting-reproductive lives.
There was a successful businessman who asked the teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, how can I live forever? He already had a fortune. He was already known to be a strictly moral man obeying the law. Jesus (also known as Christ) said, “give up your holdings and come with me.”
To be alive, even eternally alive, is to be “alive in Christ.” To be alive is to be rooted in a life that connects with people not property. To be alive is to be able to choose a way of life that is rooted in something other than what you own, or what owns you. To be alive in Christ is to look at someone and love them and join together on the journey of life.
As Rock Spring church engages it’s new vision we are just getting started toward discovering the way of eternal life. It’s a journey. But not a journey of owning, gathering, holding. It’s a journey of giving, going, and gaining.
I hope you’ll join me and the church as we strive to follow Christ, come alive in new ways, and find common ground for the common good.
Welcome to the new Rock Spring Presbyterian Church! We are
Alive in Christ, Finding Common Ground for the Common Good!
This week an article appeared in the AJC Intown Living magazine highlighting the difficult decision many churches face to sell property in order to stay financially viable. But the author missed one extremely important point about us:
The MINISTRY of Rock Spring church was, is, and will continue to be ALIVE IN CHRIST—not because of money, but because of God!
Granted, we were not yet using those words when the author visited. This is the new articulation of God’s Vision for our ministry. After several years of consultations and evaluations, retreats, and untold prayers, the Session is excited to share with you a new revelation of this vision of who God created us to be and continues to call us toward becoming.
In the highly polarized culture of this decade, Rock Spring can attest to the difficulty of being on opposite sides of an issue. Indeed, from the earliest years of its existence, our history is a fascinating tale that includes topics as timely today as they were then. Race relations, sexual misconduct, changing neighborhoods, even use (or misuse) of funds, and many other typically divisive concerns have all been part of the past which members have had to work through while walking with each other in faith. More than that, and even with the challenge of selling property, members have always worked for the greater good of the community through it all.
Rock Spring PC has provided a preschool, choral space, self-help groups and community space, community service, global mission, and excellence in theological lay education. The church has been at the forefront of women in ordained leadership, media and religion, becoming an inclusive LGBT community, and acknowledging the difficulties of our own racism, heterosexism, and xenophobia.
Sometimes these conflicts have been pushed underground only to rise up again in conflicts that force us to find common ground and pledge ourselves again to working for the common good. In other words, we have been practicing something for nearly our entire ministry that the world, especially our social and political spheres of influence, desperately need right now.
Rock Spring is here today celebrating the approach of our 148th birthday by claiming our history as a gift for the future of our community. We have experience in sticking together and working through difference. We have a story to tell. We have a mission to serve. And we are ready, willing, and, with the help of God, able to become more fully:
Alive in Christ, Finding Common Ground for the Common Good
If you have a hope for the world to find ways to get along better, Rock Spring may be for you. Come and See!
Community Blessing of the Animals service celebrated at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church
Sunday September 30th
Rock Spring church members and Piedmont Heights neighbors gathered on Sunday for a time of gratitude for our animal companions and a time of blessing for all. After hearing words of scripture and thanksgiving from Rev Bev and elder Mary Gowing, all the participants paraded inside the sanctuary for a time of individual blessing for each pet. Dog and cats came with their people companions and enjoyed pet and people treats at the end of the event, getting to know one another better.
Blessing from the service
Having received the blessing of Love's Spirit in the form of the bond between you and your pet,may you know always the blessing of Love's companionship,may you find in yourselves new depth of character and lovingkindness as you provide and even sacrifice for your pets,may you be blessed by the unconditional grace of God's love in the eyes of your pet, and may the sweet touch of heaven surprise you with every touch. May the creator fill you with all joy.
As pastor of a "vintage" Prebyterian Church (USA) in the city of Atlanta I’ve been challenged to (re)think about creating programs that will grow the church. This is not a new concept. Need-based ministry became, years ago, the go-to strategy for church growth. This is a direct adaptation of a simple sales strategy that identifies the product, the need it fills for a known consumer, and directs the sale to them. We called these churches “seeker sensitive.” And thus we eventually neglected the core of our faith.
God is the seeker. God is the one who seeks the lost. We are a people who have long-forgotten that we need God (total depravity in Presbyterian lingo). We do not seek God.
Neither is God a product we can shop around in different packages until we find the one that fits the consumers we want in our buildings and circles of friends.
The lost less often want something like a program and more often want someone -- like you. Yes, you, disciple and child of God.
God is love. God is slow to anger, abounding in mercy, and steadfastly loving. God is holy. The only way to package that is to be a holy, slow to anger, abounding in mer-cy, and steadfastly loving person. This is the work of Holy Spirit within each one of us. God is recreating us in the image of the divine through Christ. That’s the meaning of being clothed in Christ. Or that it is Christ who lives in me.
Evangelism is not about creating the right program to meet the right need.
It is being good news to people who forgot they needed it.
It is being more than doing.
The church is not meant to sell God. We are meant to praise God. The God who said, “I am with you,” sends us out to be with others. When our programmatic efforts be-come opportunities of with-ness, we will be witness to God.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus, to his disciples, John 15: 12
Above my computer that I use as Pastor at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, I have a card that states, “Seven Steps to God.” If only, right? However, I wouldn’t have kept the card if I hadn’t found the path it describes to fulfill its promise of helping me know the nearness of Christ in my daily life.
Herb Miller wrote the plan in 1996, but the path is ancient. It is so clearly marked that it arrives over and over again in every generation with a new name. In our lifetimes it has been “meditation,” and more recently, “mindfulness.” Self-help books and websites recite essentially the same steps. Most of these more secular cousins describe their guidance as leading to inner peace, or a higher power, or a higher consciousness.
The apostle Paul, speaking to the Athenians, said, “I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23) This is the task of the church: to tell the people worshipping at altars of “unknown” gods, that it is the Creator, the Prince of Peace, whom they are seeking in their meditations and spiritual yearnings for peace.
As Paul declares elsewhere, “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10: 14)
Before we can proclaim, we must know ourselves. Here’s the 15 minute pathway Herb Miller outlines:
1. Gratitude: Every day—acknowledge 3 blessings.
2. Intercession: Every day—ask God to help 3 people.
3. Repentance: Every day—ask for forgiveness –specific mistakes/sins over the course of the day and to help you forgive others.
4. Intercession: Every day—ask for help for someone you don’t really like.
5. Supplication: Every day—ask for insights into you own problems.
6. Guidance: Every day—ask for help achieving goals.
7. Silence: Every day at the end of the above—3 minutes of silent listening.
May you find Christ by your side, every day, every hour.
Much has been said about Sen. John McCain having reached across the aisle, about how he and Sen. Kennedy were friends, about his interrupting a supporter to stop a false narrative about his opponent, then future President Barack Obama. Almost without exception these narratives have been celebrated as a universal common good we should all strive towards.
Democrats and Republicans alike have affirmed this conviction. Yes, they actually agreed on something. And surprisingly, it was that our differences should not divide us.
Soon the reverie around the Senator will fade and his grave will settle, and that goal will recede thus leaving little more than a footnote to the narrative of McCain’s death and life. Once again we shall return to the habits of division we have been manipulated into upholding, even promulgating.
Christian—you have another option! You can make a different choice. You have the freedom in Christ to freely associate with those you would name, “sinner,” “outcast,” “undesirable,” “deplorable,” “illegal,” “alien,” “evil,” “different,” “not like us.”
Christian—Christ has set you free to accept yourselves and to love God and neighbor, and be bound together with all believers in the church. (Brief Statement of Faith)
This particular invitation is specifically directed to the members of the Church. What better place to demonstrate the unity of God and the reconciliation of all creation? Where else is God going to do this work if not in Christ’s own body, the church? Who else to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation if not the followers of the Risen Christ who is our reconciliation? If we in the body of Christ cannot hear and be the word that proclaims, “there is no longer [many] for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then God’s word of full reconciliation will be fulfilled without us leading the Way.
Christ offers an invitation, a place to practice our unity. Christ invites us to supper. We don’t come to the Lord’s Supper because we have everything in common or because we all believe exactly the same things or because we have the same theology. We come because we have ONE thing in common: we are invited by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
On Sunday, come, all you who are weary, and let Christ give you rest. And don’t worry about who else is invited, just rejoice that your name is on the list! Christian, maybe, the world would take notice of our reaching across the table—if we actually did so.
Peace, Rev Bev
What’s a pastor to do?
One of the challenges I have encountered as a pastor of Rock Spring Presbyterian Church, in Atlanta GA, is being prophetic while also being pastoral. I do not always succeed on either count! And people have pointed it out when they miss one or the other.
The challenge is, being prophetic always includes a critique of our socio-political-economic environment; and no matter which party is in office, that kind of preaching sounds partisan in our day and age. I am aware of my own personal biases. That said I am very intentional with preaching or teaching, as best as any preacher can, to hear and share the bias of scripture and how it speaks to us in our current life. At times, I want to reject God’s word because it forces me to choose between how I’m doing things and how God calls me to do things. In the church we call this turning “repentance.” Other times I find my understanding validated and feel like I’m on the way with Christ.
I suspect if I feel this way, you may too. However, when a preacher goes to preaching, we are often told we’ve, “gone to meddlin’.” And so the second challenge is being attentive and caring to people who feel slighted by a particular point of view when it comes from the pulpit or church class.
Our culture has not helped us talk across our differences. However, Scripture and our reformed theology do. There is hope for us! We can learn and teach others. We can witness to the power of loving kindness expressed in true friendship. Scripture calls us to bear each others’ burdens, outdo one another in showing honor, be ambassadors of God in reconciliation and much more. For examples, see Romans 12:10;14:1,10,19; I Corinthians 10; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:25-32.
These texts support the Presbyterian principles of “mutual forbearance.” Stemming from a belief that “truth is in order to goodness,” we believe “there are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good character and principles may differ… the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” (BOO F-3.0105)
I am committed to this principle as it helps me learn from people with differing points of view.
And, as you may already know, I believe that the strong voice of the evangelical Christian churches is heard loudly; so, I am committed to offering the counter balance, a progressive Christian understanding. I can only do this well in the context of effective conversation across the spectrum of socio-political ideas.
I look forward to sharing with you the power of true friendship!
Resurrection People. The church (big church not just our Rock Spring Presbyterian Church congregation) is often criticized that we are too heavenly- and after-life minded to do anything worthwhile on earth. We are regarded as paying more attention to what happens to a person after they die, than how they live in the here and now. This is a critique we need to heed.
Jesus focused clearly on who was in front of him. He spoke clearly about the presence of heaven here now, not after death. He went about his ministry without concern for being socially acceptable or get-ting elected or making a buck. He lost friends, he was ridiculed, he likely had a trade but was unem-ployed and supported by donors. Few of his friends really understood him, and even fewer were with him in his excruciating death. And, never asking for anything for himself, he gave without reward or recompense, with joy.
What could possibly allow him to offer curative power to the ill, a welcome to the outcast, hope to the oppressed, and community to the disenfranchised?
Faith. A rock solid belief that death was no challenger to the power and love of the Life-giver we call God. Jesus didn’t give his time and energy to avoiding death—whether end-of-life or the daily slings and arrows that nick and prick and kill slowly. He simply lived, fully devoted to his service to God.
Every day was new. Every day offered another opportunity to live more fully in love with God and God’s creation. Every day offered one more chance to love the people with everything he had. Every day was a resurrection to new life.
We have one advantage Jesus did not. We know that actual resurrection from death to life can occur because he was dead and now he is alive. To say that we are his disciples is to believe that death has no hold on us and to live and love with that kind of fearlessness. By doing so we can begin to bring to fruition the promise of God we pray for each week, “on earth as it in heaven.”
By doing so, we become a Resurrection People.
If you’ve been absent this summer, come back to worship Sunday and let God work some resurrection power into your day.