Sheep, Goats and Jesus people

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I was amazed to see

That the appointed scripture reading for today

Is Matthew 25:

When you did unto the least of these,

You did unto me.

 

This comes in the wake

Of President Obama’s decision

To give temporary reprieve

To nearly half of the undocumented residents

Who have lived and worked in our country

For many years under the constant threat

Of being forcibly separated from their families

And sent back to countries that are no longer home,

No longer safe, no longer a place where they can survive

Or find work to support or keep their families safe.

 

The decision has created a firestorm of controversy

Among those who think he went way too far

For people who they believe deserve nothing but hot coals

And among those who think he left way too many

Out in the cold.

 

People on both sides of the controversy,

And every controversy like it,

Scream loudly that they are Christians

To justify their positions,

So for now let’s dispense with that title —

It carries way too much baggage

And means way too little anymore.

 

Let’s remind ourselves

That we are instead,

As the early church called themselves,

Jesus people.

 

We are people

Called to live

By the commandment

That Jesus said encompasses all others,

To love the Lord God

With all our hearts, our minds,

Our souls and strength,

And to love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

We are people

Who know

In our deepest hearts of heart

That to love our neighbor

Means more than to love the people

Who look and live like us.

To love our neighbor

Means to love the stranger

And to love our enemies,

Even if we don’t like them.

 

We are people

Whose faith requires us

To treat the foreigner

As if they were native-born,

Because we too once were strangers,

We too once were aliens in a foreign land,

We too once wandered in exile,

We too once did not belong.

 

We are people who have been adopted,

By the grace of God,

Not because we were the smartest kids in the orphanage,

Not because we were the prettiest,

Not because we were the most loveable

Or the best behaved, God knows,

Not because we deserved it.

We have been adopted into the family of God

Because the love of God

Knows no borders,

The love of God knows no boundaries,

The love of God knows no limits.

The love of God shows no partiality

Except for those who have the least power,

The least voice, the least hope.

 

Where would we be,

My Beloveds,

If we had not been adopted?

Where would we be

If Jesus had not been led

To reach out to the Gentiles?

If Peter had not been led to embrace the Gentiles?

If Paul had not been led to include the Gentiles?

 

We would be the ones left out,

Cast out,

Fighting to be counted as fully human.

 

Many here know what it feels like

To be denied the rights and privileges

Owed to every human being,

Every child of God.

 

We all wait with great apprehension

For the Ferguson verdict,

In fear that the worst of human nature

Will continue to have the upper hand.

 

But it is our work

In the midst of controversy and conflict

To speak and to stand

And to work and to sing

And to cry out for justice,

As Jesus people,

Not as Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Independents,

Not as conservatives or liberals, God forbid, or tea partiers,

Not as advocates for big government or limited government –

 

As Jesus People,

It is our work

To stake our ground

With the least of these –

 

Knowing that there is a cost,

That it may or may not be

In our individual self-interest,

It may or may not be in the best interest

Of our families or “our people,”

Whatever that may mean to us

 

Which is beside the point, anyway,

Because Jesus’ words

About separating the sheep and the goats

are not about individual deeds of mercy

leading to individual salvation.

They are about the destiny of nations,

The salvation of societies.

Nations which care for the least of these

Will thrive;

Those that trample the least of these

Will perish.

 

Historically this has been proven –

Every nation in history

That has had extreme disparities

In income & wealth has perished.

 

Of course the choices we make as individuals matter:

Our choices make the church what it is,

And the choices the church makes

Make the nation what it is.

 

Part of the lesson is

That when we fail to recognize

the least of these as our kin,

and when we cut ourselves off

From our kin,

We cut ourselves off from the Source of all Life.

 

When we are at one

With our kin,

One body,

When one suffers all suffer,

When one rejoices all rejoice,

Then that is eternal presence of the Lord,

That is dwelling in the Light,

That is being connected to the Source of all Life.

 

Is not this the fast that I choose:

   to loose the bonds of injustice,

   to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

   and to break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

   and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,

   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

   and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator* shall go before you,

   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

                                                      Isaiah 58:6-9

 

 

It is not always a clear and easy way of life:

 

What if the least of these don’t want you to help them?

 

What if they offend you?

What if you offend them?

 

What if they reject you?

What if they feel rejected by you?

 

What if they attack you?

What if they feel attacked by you?

 

What if they are the enemy you are supposed to love?

What if they see you as the enemy?

 

What if you are afraid of them?

What if they are afraid of you?

 

What if you don’t know their language?

What if they don’t know yours?

 

Jesus is in there,

In the midst of it all,

In the muck and the mire of humanity –

Jesus, Son of Man, the Human One,

Is there where it is as real as it can get.

 

I love this passage about the least of these,

And yet I really struggle with the part

Where the goats get sent to eternal damnation.

I honestly don’t know how to talk about it,

Because it seems so contrary

To so many things that Jesus said and did.

 

My gut reaction is, Jesus surely didn’t say that!

 

And perhaps he didn’t.

 

But I read something by Suzanne Guthrie this week,

A woman who I consider to be a contemporary mystic,

That helped me immensely:

 

Recently, when the story of the Wise and Foolish Virgins came up in the lectionary, a friend said, “I don’t subscribe to that parable.” I laughed, because the whole spate of recent readings involving weeping, gnashing of teeth, binding hands and feet and tossing poor clueless folk into the outer darkness doesn’t at all sound like Jesus. Jesus sought the company of sinners, tax collectors and other exploiters and cheaters, prostitutes, women and children in general, contagious lepers and losers of all kinds. Would Jesus suddenly turn face at the moment of death?

 

Nevertheless, I like these doom parables because, like a dream, see myself in all the characters. I’m both a wise and a foolish virgin, I’m the fellow with the five talents, the two talents, and the one burying the single talent. I’m the crazy, irrational king that lost his mind over the guest without the wedding garment. I’m always throwing myself out into the outer darkness.

 

A good story moves the soul to action. The shock of the pit and gnashing of teeth helps dislodge me from my usual mediocre moral groove. But I also know that the good shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine sheep to gather up the one little lost goat balancing on a crag at the edge of darkness.

-Suzanne Guthrie

 

 

I felt set free to embrace the dark side of the gospels,

and the dark side of myself,

and to laugh along with Suzanne.

What an incredible insight,

that we need both light and doom

to shake us from our ‘mediocre moral groove.’

 

Daily at Beloved Community

we touch and are touched

by the least of these.

So I can always easily embrace this passage

until the last line,

and then, wait, what?

Surely Jesus didn’t say that.

Surely he wouldn’t.

 

Now it doesn’t matter. I can receive it as a gift.

 

We are all both – sheep and goat.

 

The Bible is full of promise

That the lion will lie down with the lamb.

So it isn’t so hard to believe

that the sheep will also lie down with the goat.

 

Like Jesus said,

He came that we might all be One.

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Giving thanks at Beloved

You’re invited to join us for TWO shared meals at Beloved this Thanksgiving Day…

2nd Annual Turkey Lunches for Thanksgiving Day Workers

Thursday, November 279 am to 11 am

Great turkey lunch-off of 2013

Once again, we’ll be serving our neighbors who work on this holiday of sharing.

Last year, we delivered over 200 lunches and had a wonderful time.

Volunteers can bring turkey and fixings, assemble sandwiches and deliver lunches!

Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner and Matinee Movie at Beloved
Thursday, November 27,  3 pm to 6 pm

Each year we host a shared meal at the church on Thanksgiving.
Contact Neko and Davey Williams for more information.

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All Saints Day celebration Sunday, November 2nd at 6 p.m.

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This Sunday at Beloved Community, we celebrate All Saints Day.
Sunday night at 6:00 pm
We invite you to bring something for the altar
that reminds you of someone who has been a “saint” in your life,
someone who has passed away or someone still living,
someone you know personally or someone you may never have met…

Who is “a saint?”
 “Those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”
-William Stringfellow
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Reading Changes Lives: Join us in the UCC One Read

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This fall, we’re reading the book Hotdogs & Hamburgers as part of the UCC One Read. This great book highlights the issue of adult illiteracy and the church’s response to our neighbors who are struggling to read. We’re joining with our fellow UCC congregations to help through tutoring, advocacy, and being more involved in local schools.

Join us Wednesday nights at 7 for our Bible study to discuss the book with us!

Here is what Beloveds have to say about the book so far:

“I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!” – Kate Hogeland

“A darling book. Such a wonderful story.” -Marianne Dreyspring

“The author’s experiences, and those of his students, were a huge inspiration to me, as someone who has tutored adult literacy students for a long time. It is clear that he cares very much for his students, and I hope to use some of his techniques in my tutoring.” -Nancy Sales

Check out the author, Rob Shindler, talking about why he wrote it:

We also invite you to join one of these great volunteer opportunities:

  • The Literacy Council volunteer orientation Thursday Nov. 6th, 11:30 am (RSVP required)
  • The Literacy Council’s tutor training November 13th and 20th5:30-8pm (cost: $25)
  • M-Power Ministries volunteer orientation Tuesday, November 11, noon (RSVP)
  • M-Power Ministries literacy tutor training November 14-15 (registration required)
  • Volunteer with STAIR (Start the Adventure in Reading) afterschool tutoring program: Contact Evelyn Puckett, (205) 933-3684

 

And check out some photos of our joint UCC One Read cookout launch party last month! We were joined by fellow Birmingham UCC churches Pilgrim UCC, Covenant Community UCC and First Congregational UCC

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Feature on Beloved in Birmingham Magazine

“I believed there was a hunger for a church where people could come together across race and economic and religious backgrounds, a place where they all could be told they were precious in the eyes of God…There are not many churches where you’ll have a doctor sitting next to a homeless person sitting next to a college professor sitting next to a schizophrenic.”

Birmingham Magazine feature 10-2014Birmingham Magazine wrote a feature on Beloved Community Church. Check it out here!

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Human Rights Campaign Faith Forum at Beloved July 22, 2014

Above: Beloveds marched in Birmingham Pride, 2014

Above: Beloveds marched in the Central Alabama Pride Parade, June 2014

By Greg Garrison

Published on July 23, 2014 at al.com.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Lauren, 23, stood up in the middle of Beloved Community Church in Avondale on Tuesday night, holding her Bible. “I’m a lesbian,” she said. “I really didn’t want to be gay.”

She hasn’t told her family or anyone at the non-denominational Bible church she attends. “I knew that wouldn’t go over,” she said. “I go to a literalist church.”

Her mother found out by reading her email. “My mom told me she still loves me no matter what,” Lauren said. But when they had a talk about Lauren having a sexual relationship with another woman, her mother said, “Do you know how disgusting that is?”

Lauren said she had been reading the Bible and been bothered by a passage, Leviticus 25:46, that had nothing to do with homosexuality. She read it out loud: “You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life .”

The group of clergy leading a panel discussion on religion for the Human Rights Campaign nodded in understanding. “They say they believe everything in the Bible,” said the Rev. J.R. Finney, an openly gay minister who is pastor of Covenant Community Church. “But if you ask them about certain verses, they say, ‘That doesn’t apply to now.’ When did God change his mind? Who decides when he changed his mind?”

He said he once did a reading in church of an erotic passage from the Song of Solomon, then asked, “How did you enjoy your reading from the Bible?” People were stunned it was a Bible passage. “People don’t look at all of it,” Finney said.

The Rev. Kevin Higgs, pastor of Sylvan Springs United Methodist Church, asked Lauren to consider moving to a more accepting church. “You do not need to support an institution that is trying to destroy your spirituality,” Higgs said.

A Catholic school teacher spoke up, saying she chose to stay in her church and teach her children to be open and accepting of all people.

“You are comfortable where you are,” Finney said to the teacher. “If you’re comfortable in an institution and want to change it, praise God.”

As for Lauren, “this is oppression for her,” Finney said. “That’s very different.”

More than 50 people had gathered for the discussion of increasing awareness of gay rights in churches in the South, part of the Human Rights Campaign’s $8.5 million Project One America.

“Telling our stories makes such a difference,” said Sharon Groves, director of the Religion and Faith program for the Human Rights Campaign, who moderated the discussion.

The Human Rights Campaign did a recent survey of 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the South and almost half of them said they are people of faith, including 60 percent of black respondents. More than one in five has experienced harassment at their places of worship, the survey said. Joseph Ward, Project One America Faith and Religion associate director, read some of the personal responses from the survey of religious people in the South who said they were persecuted.

One said that when she was 15, she told her father, a Southern Baptist minister, that she was a lesbian. “He beat me to the point of cracked wrists,” she wrote. The beatings continued to the point her mother divorced him, she added.

Another wrote that when he was 17, his parents were cruel and tormented him when they found out he was gay. He tried to move into a Christian shelter for protection, but was turned away because they didn’t approve of his homosexuality, he said.

Groves shared another story, from Minnesota, of a boy who said he told his father at 15 that he was gay. “You know where the gun is and you know what to do,” Groves said the father replied.

Higgs, who took part in a United Methodist commission that studied homosexuality and presented a report that was rejected by the denomination in 1992, said the study concluded that gays had been treated poorly by the church, and instead should be welcomed and affirmed. “They are our brothers and sisters,” Higgs said. “We should recognize them and love them as our neighbors.”

He said that is the overwhelming message of the New Testament, not the proof-texting that some Christians use to argue based on certain passages out of historical context. “How are we going against the Bible? That’s always the first stone that’s thrown at me,” Higgs said. “We’re really not.”

Even those who agree that the Bible teaches love and welcoming to all sometimes argue that accepting gays will hurt the church, he said. “It makes me angry,” Higgs said. “They say we can’t do this because we’ll lose money and the church will close. We’re following Judas rather than Jesus. We’re following 30 pieces of silver rather than picking up and carrying the cross.”

See also: Gay rights group wants less hate, more welcoming churches: meeting in Birmingham talks about how

 

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Across the Tracks: a look at gentrification in Avondale

Three of our Beloveds were recently featured in this short documentary by UAB Media Students focusing on gentrification in our Avondale community.

We hope you’ll watch and perhaps learn something new, or will have your own experiences to share. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Across the Tracks by Rebecca Graber and Harsh Shah from UAB Documentary on Vimeo.

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Holy week reflection

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” -Philippians 4:12-13

The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley (1703-1791)

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

From Adam Hamilton, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), page 232. In his footnote to this prayer Hamilton directs readers to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), p. 607

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Holy Week Reflection from Palmer Maxwell

“And they all left Him and fled.”
Mark 14:50

With All Our Confusion Around Us

This is where we begin when we begin to know
The content of your love contains our gratitude as well as our groan.
With all our confusion around us you love us
Turning our pattern of chaos into a dance
Turning our indigence and disobedience
Into something we are not ashamed to own.

All we have been shown about you
Shows us you honor all we are and ever were
Because this too was dearly won through pain and loss
When my infamous “no” became your infinite “Yes!”
Now I too have become a brother to one thought lost
Now I too share in the poverty of your cross.

From the vantage point of having no advantage
You have shown us another way
A way that cannot not include you and me.
A way that cannot not include the confusion all around us.

-Palmer

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Holy Week reflection from Cedric Rudolph

"Skeleton Woman" Image Source:  Imagine Us Free Theatre - http://imagineusfree.com/theatre.html

“Skeleton Woman” via Imagine Us Free Theatre – http://imagineusfree.com/theatre.html

I’ve been thinking a lot about Skeleton Woman.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés retells the Native American myth of skeleton woman very well.  Basically, a lonely fisherman pulls in the twisted ghoul of a woman’s body on his line rather than a fish.  She follows him all the way into his ice-house where he dives, shaking, into a corner. After a while, however, he takes pity on the woman and begins to sing her bones back to life.  Nana-uh-nana-uh-nana-uh-nana, he sings.  When a tear falls down his face, Skeleton Woman drinks it up.

Her bones rearrange themselves, muscle takes hold, and so does skin.  Suddenly, she’s a full-fledged woman in front of him.

Estés uses the story to describe how, in order to have longevity in any relationship, you must love your partner when things are bare, as well as when the relationship is fun and romantic.  Your partner may need time to themselves.  Two people may not talk as much as in the past.  Estés says that every relationship-and life itself, for that matter-has a life-death cycle.  Sometimes things are fertile, and sometimes things are barren.

I’ve been turning this story over and over again in my head.  At Pilgrim, right now, we’re working on finding a permanent pastor.  Things are different and sometimes don’t feel as comfortable as they did when we had our interim, Sally Harris.  In my personal life, my grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and my mother and I are in a sort of a holding pattern until we can get more help.

Why is it so hard for me to see right now that things will get better in my life?  I may be in the death part of a cycle, but the rebirth is on its way.  I give myself credit for hanging pretty tight with old Skeleton Woman. I use humor to add some levity to bad days.  I meditate if I’m frustrated, or confused.  But sometimes, it’s hard to see that Skeleton Woman’s skin will come back to her.

There was a six-month period when I was out of a job.  I was really down.  Some days I would just burst into tears.  One morning, I was lying in bed, and I remembered something Marianne Williamson had said about applying the three days Jesus was in the tomb to the problems in our lives.  You may be in the “three days,” but help is on the way.  When I remembered the phrase “three days,” I sat straight up in bed and stopped crying. I started smiling.

-Cedric Rudolph

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