You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Those Who Dream… prepare the way, HERE.
If you have a copy of the bulletin nearby, I invite you to take a look at the title for this morning’s reflection: Those Who Dream… prepare the way. I have been sitting with those words, and in particular the phrase “prepare the way” and have been wondering what the gift—and the challenges—of being forced into an exodus the past 9 months might be preparing us for.
All of this COVID-19 stuff hit us so quickly. As we settle into Advent and the upcoming winter months, I have been pondering how we might use the time ahead to pause and prayerfully name the dreams we have for the future. Do we know what dreams are out there? For ourselves? For the Church? For our communities? As we anticipate the approval of the coronavirus vaccines, and await their distribution, what is God preparing us for?
Maybe the prophet Joel can provide us with a glimpse of what lies ahead. After all, the book opens after the people who had been exiled in Babylon have returned to Judah. The story begins with a catastrophic natural disaster. A time of death and destruction. Joel cries out to God for forgiveness and the restoration of the country.
And God responds,
“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters.
Your old men will dream, your young men will see visions.
I’ll even pour out my Spirit on the servants, men and women both.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below…”
(Joel 2:28-30, The Message)
God comes to us through words. Prophesy. Dreams. Visions.
Dreams and visions, and prophesies. Living during these unprecedented days of the pandemic, how might our congregation’s motto of “reaching out in ever-widening circles,” encourage us to dream about what God is doing in our community? And how can we join God on the mission?
Do you remember when… waaaaay back when we could gather together (here) at the church building on Lacy Road, that we use to have gift tags either on a tree or a table in the narthex during Advent? After worship you could pick up a gift tag which listed the Christmas wish of a child or adult in our community? Maybe it was a toy, or an XL men’s shirt, or women’s gloves. Dreams people had submitted. Wishes that they had.
Well, I brought some gift tags with me to church today. Years ago, I was on the Board of The Crossing. It is an ecumenical ministry on the U.W.-Madison Memorial UCC has long supported. At the time I was on the Board, the Rev. Doug Pierce was the Executive Director. Doug made a comment one day that has stuck with me. In the many changes churches have been facing—decreased worship attendance, decreased financial resources—The Crossing was flourishing in the community and global work they were doing that was student led. Doug said the students of The Crossing were the “Research and Development arm of the Church.” I love the Holy Imagination woven into that statement.
And now in 2020, as congregations… as we… have responded to the pandemic, we have ALL suddenly become the Research and Development arm of the Church. For we are innovating and developing EVERYTHING we do as church. What is God preparing us for?
In the eNews and on FaceBook, I posted requests, asking you to come to worship today prepared to share some of your own dreams for the church in 2021, and beyond. If you have an idea, a hope, a vision, I invite you to type it in the chat on Zoom, or comments on FaceBook now.
While you are typing, I will share with you the responses I got when I reached out to several of Memorial’s community partners this week. I asked them the same question: What dreams to YOU have for the future? I brought their answers with me to church today:
Good Neighbors Personal Essentials Pantry
One of the collaborative efforts Memorial UCC has been engaging in this year is with two other faith communities: Arbor Covenant Church and the congregation of Foundry 414. Right now, we are in the process of collecting extra items for the Good Neighbor Personal Essentials Pantry. These are things which the pantry is not able to regularly provide, such as skin lotion, all-purpose house cleaner, and fabric dish clothes, which are being given as gifts to families during the holidays.
Nancy Baumgardner, who coordinates Memorial’s contributions noted that in part the Good Neighbors Personal Essentials Pantry brings together “communities of faith… working together to help persons in need with the essentials of personal household hygiene.” This enriches “people’s quality of life… by preserving individual dignity.”
I personally want to extend a “thank you” to everyone in the congregation who has purchased and dropped off items for the pantry. If you would like more details, check out the article in the eNews or contact Nancy.
Bright Stars of Bethlehem
Memorial has long had a partnership with Bright Stars of Bethlehem. Each year our Craft and Cookie sale raises money for student scholarships to Dar al Kalima University College. I asked Bonnie Van Overbeke about their dreams. She responded,
“For the people of Bethlehem, the dream is always for the opportunity to live out their hopes and dreams. To be able to tend their vineyard or take their sheep to graze without needing a permit from the Israeli government. To send their children to school without worrying whether they will be bullied by settlers or detained by soldiers. To sleep through the night without fearing that Israeli soldiers will come and threaten someone in their family or, worse yet, arrest them for unknown crimes. To study and become a teacher or artist or chef not only so they can make a living but in order to make their community vibrant and prosperous. Each Advent a Christmas tree is lit in manger square just steps from where Jesus was born and the people gather to sing carols and pray that God’s dream for them of life abundant will come to pass in the little town of Bethlehem.”
Arbor Covenant Church
I reached out to the pastors at Arbor Covenant Church and Foundry414 too. The Rev. Peter Morris responded their congregations dream is, “being a part of the new thing God is doing. Local, sustainable, nimble and creative; ready to welcome people without dictating the terms. Open to a future filled with fresh possibilities.”
Christina and Chris Roberts are co-pastors at Foundry414. Pastor Christina wrote that their faith community dreams, “of increased collaboration within our neighborhoods so that we can collectively experience Shalom in Madison and beyond.”
Oakhill Correctional Institution
I reached out to the Rev. Karin Wells this week too. She is a member of Memorial and works at the Oakhill Correctional Institution. Karin says, “A dream/vision that is driving me now is the promise/hope Jesus/God gives the people who are incarcerated, and all of us, that redemption and restoration within us and around us is happening and will continue to happen if we’re attentive to it/intentional about it.”
Be attentive. Be intentional. Dream. Vision.
Dreams of the Members and Friends of Memorial UCC
Several of you have responded in the chat on Zoom:
Jim Veloff writes that after not being able to host Vacation Bible School (VBS) in 2020 due to the pandemic that “Jann wants’ to be able to have our VBS this Summer!” Jann Veloff is Memorial’s VBS Director.
Lisa & Kelsy Schoenhaar/wetter hope “That (Memorial UCC) continue(s) to build our social justice ministries.”
Rev. Karin Wells dreams of a time when, “All prisons close and we find a new way to help restore/redeem people who commit crimes. Dreams (which) come a size too big so we can grow into them.”
Sonjia Short envisions a “Dream for a time when there is no longer need to have food pantries or day shelters for homeless because there are no longer people who have those needs.”
And the dream shared by Mark Sieger is, “That the many faiths worldwide work together for the benefit of all instead of existing in fear and opposition.”
The Rev. Mark Tidsworth notes we are moving “from church-as-we-have-known-it to church-as-it-is-becoming.”
God is birthing something new.
Watch with anticipation…
And prepare the way…
Reflection on Joel 2:12-13, 28-29 offered December 6, 2020