All are welcome

Who Do You Say We Are?

A Season of Reflection: One Year In …. or 13!

Meditation offered by Rev. Tamara Franks

To High Country UCC

8 August, 2015

Biblical Text: Mark 8:27

A year into my time with you and heading into our 13th anniversary as High Country UCC, as one who taught over and over the experiential learning cycle of briefing, leading and debriefing, it only makes sense to me that we enter a time of debriefing. Maybe some of us prefer a time known as reflection.

Looking back allows for earnest observations about who we are, how we are known and offers guidance towards the paths we take next.

Mentors along the way for me taught watch, listen, ask questions, watch, make observations, listen, ask questions before you make any bold moves or large changes. This year has been about making observations.

Here are some facts……

I suggest that there are roughly 200 people in the greater Boone area who would call this faith community their church home. On any given Sunday we average about 60 in attendance. We are not necessarily a prompt or timely group. We are more last ‘minute-ers.’

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing — we are doers, busy and like to squeeze a lot into our days. So, thanks for showing up at whatever time you arrive! And then, lo and behold, we moved the time UP to 10 a.m. forcing you to show up even earlier…. September is coming with a return to 11.

Over the past year, we have had more than 85 different visitors, from as far away as Germany to as close as “down-the-road,” worship with us.

In the past year we’ve had over 25 different musicians offer their gifts and talents on any given Sunday. And they are all good. We’ve all bee in those services where cringing was a factor – not so here!

Of those 200 who I am surmising call us their home church …….

Over 40 of you work or did work in the field of education – coaches, counselors, teachers, and/or staff and administrators – we have 4 principles or retired principles who call us home and amazingly I have yet to see anyone sent to the Principle’s office or given a detention slip.

We have all sorts of people who work for, with or who serve on the boards of several service agencies around this area including:

  • The Children’s Council
  • FARM Café
  • Hospitality House
  • Hunger and Health Coalition
  • Ag Extension 4-H afterschool programs
  • Housing for seniors
  • Federally funded housing
  • Both the Watauga and the Avery county Habitat for Humanity non-profits
  • Rehabilitation Services for folks who need their homes remodeled with ramps or rooms made accessible for wheelchairs
  • Rehabilitation Services for drug addiction
  • Watauga County Social Services and/or the County Nutrition programs
  • Oasis Women’s Shelter

And then beyond the Service agencies represented we also have representation in …….

  • The Boone Police department
  • Residential foster care (i.e. Crossnore School) as well as individual home foster care
  • Physical and speech therapy
  • Engineering fields of river and stream restoration
  • Architecture including landscape architecture
  • Construction
  • Water systems
  • And a County Commissioner
  • and a couple of School Board members

We have a couple of nurses, a good (ok Large) handful of mental health professionals including a couple of pastoral counselors, a few massage therapists and an acupuncturist.

With all of you who work as service providers whether you are actively called social service or within a particular service agency, it was no surprise to me when we had difficulty filling the Service Team Lead position on Council. This is what you do for a vocation! Who has the energy to do more as a volunteer signing up other volunteers! So, Thank you Jesse Creech for being our ‘service organizer.’ And, good luck!

This church is made up of folks who give and give and teach and give some more. Thank you to each of you.

So, who do you say that WE are? Or, maybe what do you say that we are? When you put all of these ingredients into One Body called a Church, Who or what then were we created to be and/or to do?

As these questions filled my mind, soul and Spirit over the past few weeks and more specifically this week……This would be a really good place for some humor using a piece of sarcasm referencing the Presidential debate on Thursday night. For ones who want to be seen as “Presidential,” …both sides of the aisle seemed flummoxed post debate…

Instead, let’s look at the gospel according to Mark’s perception. “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. So, as you walk and talk to the people as they have watched me heal, seen me walk through the crowds, heard me speak to the crowds, listened to my parables, how am I perceived?

One biblical commentator asserts that this was a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. That there was a tension in the conversation. Writing …….

There is confusion about the role of Messiah in the world. Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied that most thought he was one of the prophets, perhaps even Elijah or John the Baptist. Prophets spoke for God. They were called to proclaim God’s truths in a specific time and place, and to do so with authority. In many ways, Elijah was the prototype who defined the way in which future prophets would be understood. John the Baptist was a contemporary of Jesus and believed by most to be the last of the prophets.

However, many people today still believe that Jesus was a prophet, that he was a good teacher who spoke the ways of God. Prophets are ordinary people. We can choose whether or not to respond to their messages. We determine the nature of our relationship with a prophet. It is much safer to consider Jesus a prophet than it is to recognize him as the Son of God.

Taking these thoughts, shifting them a bit ….. As a Church, what are we known for?

  • We purposefully don’t have a steeple or any crosses anywhere.
  • We don’t have pews.
  • We don’t have an organ.
  • We’ve now had 3 women as our Pastor.
  • We’ve marched in parades speaking out against war, the need for immigration reform and respect for our non-documented workers.
  • We’ve gotten arrested for civil disobedience.
  • We’ve hosted leaders and teachers from other faiths.
  • We’ve spent tremendous energy and resources on Amendment One to not allow the courts to determine the definition of legal marriage
  • We’ve hosted and made attempts of engaging our Hispanic community.
  • We say that all are welcome here….regardless. And, we’re really only open for a few hours a week…….on a Sunday.
  • We purposefully didn’t finish “of Christ” on our name board out front telling all vehicular traffic that this is the spot to find High Country United Church.

Who do you say that we are?

Here’s some pretty amazing observations ….. with all of the tremendous outpouring of service to this community and the tremendous community leadership I already listed, these same people are…..

  • People who have been divorced…more than once
  • People working through drug addiction, physical and mental abuse
  • People struggling with the death of children and spouses
  • People who have been told “we don’t want you here” either because of your sexuality, your beliefs or both
  • Alcoholics
  • People whose children have gotten pregnant too early (i.e. out of wedlock)
  • People who’ve lost our children and then had them returned
  • People who’ve lost our jobs and struggled to find others
  • People wondering how are bills will be paid
  • People who soak their troubles and stress in food, sex and raunchy movies

And still, we come here to gather with this group, to create a community that believes in each other, in a still speaking God, in forgiveness, re-creation, and the grace of waking up another day.

So, Who or what do you say that we are?

When someone starts talking church, religion, faith or God, do you speak up?

If someone asks you about churches in the area, do you offer a comment?

Almost each workshop I teach when I leave to go to other places, at some point in the workshop I say — You are known by your behaviors. What you do matters when you want to build a culture or a way of living in your work or your family. We judge ourselves by our intentions: we judge others by their behaviors. And this is what we teach our children when we charge them to “Be on your best behavior!”

Don’t argue. Keep your feet on the floor. Walk in the halls. Listen instead of talk when someone else is talking. Make eye contact. Use a firm handshake. Stand up tall with your shoulders back. Make your bed. Pick up your feet when you walk. Speak clearly. Behave!

What do our behaviors say about how are we doing church here? We have some really cool, groovy t-shirts that I am seeing regularly about town. I like this behavior. And, please be conscious of your behavior as you wear them out and about……. And, as I mentioned earlier, we serve and we serve and we serve. Great behaviors and I hope we also know when to rest and take Sabbath.

Our Mission Statement replies: We come together as High Country United Church of Christ to create a safe, loving environment, to discover and cultivate spiritual growth,

Is Sunday morning enough for you? Would you like some other options to “come together” that might include a weekday or a weeknight? We offered a Lenten “Compassionate Living” Series that averaged 10 each night and about 17 different folks showed up over the course of the 6 weeks. Do we need more of this to fulfill our mission to discover and cultivate spiritual growth? What does this look like or sound like for you? Are we fulfilling this part of our mission?

The mission continues……..and to establish community by reflecting and celebrating God’s love.

How are we doing at establishing community as we reflect and celebrate God’s love?

We have some folks who we’ve not seen in awhile. Some have chosen to not be a part because they didn’t feel much a part of this community. We didn’t do a good job at reflecting God’s love to them. We ostracized them through our lack of tack, directness, unclear boundaries and/or judgment of their behaviors not taking the energy nor time to truly understand them.

Forgiveness, apologies and honest vulnerability create strong, committed communities that will reflect and celebrate not only God’s love but also God’s grace.

Churches are an odd conundrum. We think they are about sweetness, being nice, being on that good behavior all the time. Being quiet. Reflecting awe. Reverence. And, many of you have told me, this Church was started to be something unusual, different, not like other churches. How can we be different as we reflect and celebrate God’s love? Can we offer a strength that is direct, honest, uses respectful tact, accepts all feedback even when it’s hard and stings a little, offers true forgiveness, apologizes and lives out of a vulnerability of grace?

Sometimes we realize we haven’t seen folks and we’re not sure what to do with that. Some of us are struggling with life. You know what this means. And you know how hard it is when life is hard to reach out and say, “Life is hard right now. I am not sure. I am scared. I am hurt and afraid. I don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t want to appear weak. I am ashamed.”

When we miss folks, the thoughts in our heads programmed from the past say that if I check in with them they will feel guilty or shame and that’s not the result you want. So, let’s create a new program here.

Our mission is to inspire positive change in our world

Giving someone a call, a text, or a facebook message to say, “hey, I’ve been missing you, are you doing alright? How can I support you? Do you need an ear, or a walk, or a peanut butter fudge shake?” establishes a community by reflecting and celebrating God’s love. Showing up with a stress ball to squeeze says, “I care about you. Squeeze the hell out it!”

Our mission is to inspire positive change in our world as we are led by Christ’s example of love, compassion and acceptance of all people.

Led by Christ’s example … pretty tall order……..Jesus ate with hated politicians, entered the houses of thieves, touched and healed beggars (i.e. homeless), lepers and wards of the state, sat with, ate with and engaged women whose bodies had been used in disrespectful ways, left his home and his family and walked everywhere…..except for the borrowed donkey that he rode into his last stop at Jerusalem. This is quite an example that leads us.

People judge you based on your behaviors – what you say and even more… what you do.

Who or what do you say that we are?

Fact based on observation or Hope that you dream for us to live into?

Our fantastic trio is going to offer their gifts of music. As they play an arrangement of “On Eagle’s Wings” intertwined with “It is Well” fill out a blank Post-it and then affix to one of the areas around our space here.

Who or What do you say that we are as your reflect on you time with this community of faith? Label it Fact or Hope. And, write as many as you can. Fact observed first hand or overheard. Or hope that we will one day grow to be.

Who or What do you say that we are?