Posts Tagged ‘return’

Return (Program and Sermon)

// September 5th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



In 587 BCE, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.  The temple was destroyed and most of the residents were taken into exile.  In 538, the Persian ruler, Cyrus, defeated the Babylonians and encouraged people to return to their homes.  While many Jews remained in diaspora, preferring to keep the lives they had built in exile, some returned to Jerusalem.  Both the passage from Isaiah and the passage from Haggai come from this post-exilic period and represent competing views of how to move on in their new old lives.

For Haggai, things were pretty simple.  People came back and planted crops and built houses and got on with their lives, but things aren’t going well.  They don’t have enough food, water is scarce and no one is making any money.Haggai’s solution is equally simple: make things as they were before.  Build a temple for YHWH and reestablish the Davidic kingdom.  The reason nothing is working is that God is not happy because God is not getting the love and adoration that God deserves.  If we build God a house to live in, God will bless us and things will improve.  We’ll have a king and resist our oppressors.

Isaiah sees things differently.  God doesn’t want a stupid house.  And God never wanted a king.  Everything belongs to God.  What could we possibly build for God?  Instead, God wants humility.  Temples mean nothing, sacrifices mean nothing, because the people do not do what God asks them to do.  They have abandoned the law and follow other gods, which results in injustice.  The law was given for life; failing to follow it brings death.  If they simply listen to God and do the right thing, prosperity will flow like a river and Jerusalem will be comforted.


Obviously, these are not exactly our issues.  We’re not really coming back from exile and we’re certainly not concerned with building a temple.  However, they are competing visions of life in God.  So my question this morning is simple.  Big, but simple.  Where do we go from here?  How do we see life in God as we move forward together?  What kind of church do you want to be a part of?


There are a couple of interesting things about these passages.  The first is that they preserve a genuine debate in the life of the Israelites.  And both claimed to speak directly for God.  It is common among Christians to see the story of God as monolithic and linear: God made everything perfect; we screwed it up; Jesus came to fix it.  If we just read the text, we will know how we fit in that story.  But if we read it carefully, we see that Scripture provides conflicting ways of understanding the world.  Why do bad things happen?  Why is there injustice?  What do we do about it?  Depends on which part you read.  Perhaps, as we move forward, we should bear that in mind.  For as long as I have been here, conversation and dialogue have been foundational values of Church in the Cliff.  You never really know who speaks for God.  So the role of the person standing up here is to create a space where God can speak.  I hope to do that and apologize for those times when I fail.

The second interesting thing is what actually happened.  Haggai won.  The new temple was completed in 515 BCE.  Things did not improve.  Part two of Haggai’s plan was never completed.  The guy he backed for kingship simply disappears from history.  He may have faded into obscurity; he may have been killed by agents of the Persian king.  But the bottom line is that Haggai was wrong, so wrong that people wonder why his words were preserved at all.  One suggestion is that he did get the temple built and the temple, while never solidifying the nation of Israel as a free state, did become central to Jewish cultural understanding.  So maybe by implication, Isaiah was right.  Maybe following the law, practicing justice, being faithful to God, is what is important.  Maybe our understanding of ourselves should be rooted in how we treat each other.

The funny thing about Haggai’s vision is that the exile lasted a long time.  Few people who returned would have even remembered the temple.  Those who did were probably children when they left.  So I’ll speak as one of those old-timers remembering the good old days.  I remember a lot of things from being here before.  In some sense, this is where my ministry started.  I remember two things that made that possible, two things that I cherish.  The first is a kind of luxurious grace where I could try without fear of failure.  Not that I didn’t fail, but that people were willing to go along for the ride, to see what happens.  That doesn’t happen without the second thing I remember: the people.  There was a trust and intimacy, a willingness to take risks and hold onto each other through it all.

Because I did find so much in that time of my life, so much that I needed to get where I am now, it is tempting to try to go back, to rebuild what was here before.  I miss so many people from that time and I often wish I could bring them back.  But if I try to rebuild the old things, I’ll miss out on the new things.  The people that have remained and the new people who have joined us deserve to find that trust and intimacy, that willingness to hold onto each other through our trying and failing.  I intend to make a lot of mistakes.  I hope you’ll join me.


Christian memory is long.  For 2000 years, Christians have gathered at the communion table to remember the story of new life given in death.  When Jesus saw the end coming, he gathered his friends together for a meal.  While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out to release many from sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kindom of God.”

That time is coming and is in fact already here.  God is always returning to us as we are always returning to God.  Today, we eat and drink in the kindom of God.

Return (and a Letter from the Board)

// September 1st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Whenever we return to someplace we’ve been before, memories bubble up like a spring.  My memories tend to be visual.  When I think of Kidd Springs, I think of the light.  Three walls are glass looking out over the pond.  The light filters in through the trees and bounces off the water in the pond.  Life wanders by outside and the visuals yield to narrative, a small part of the story of this church.

I remember making “stained glass windows” out of tissue paper for Advent.  I remember one of the first services I led, where we did art as a spiritual practice.  I remember Courtney pacing around the outside of our circle of chairs, seeming to externalize the journey we were all on.  I remember creating a labyrinth out of sand and hearing the crunch of people’s feet as they walked it in prayer.  I remember the smack of a bird against the window as we tried to have a moment of silence.  I remember the ducks nesting in the beds outside the windows and watching the ducklings hatch and follow their parents around until they were big enough to fly away.  Kidd Springs seems a constant reminder of life.

But I also remember a lot of goodbyes.  To Laura and Neeki.  To Ed and Amy and P.J.  To many more.  Too many more.  We lost a lot at Kidd Springs.

When we remember, we tend to filter.  We talk about the light and the ducks, all happy memories.  When we actually return, we remember a lot more.  In the end, Kidd Springs is just a place.  We make the memories there.  Say a prayer that our return finds more hellos than goodbyes.  Say a prayer that we find what God is doing at Kidd Springs and how we can join in.

Please join us at Kidd Springs Rec Center, Sunday at 11am, as we talk about where to go from here.

Grace and Peace,

Letter from the Board

Here we are days before moving back to one of our old homes,  Kidd Springs Park.  We have spent the time at the Kessler regrouping, reconsidering and refocusing on our church, ourselves and our mission to the greater community. Scott and Sara have done a great job helping hold things together as several of us on the board have been focused on our individual issues.  Thanks to Scott and Sara specifically and everyone in the community for stepping up.

For those of you not at our last community meeting, we voted to affirm a revised Budget based on more up to date numbers.  This is the budget we will carry into next year.  There were some things we renamed and others we reprioritized.  There are fixed costs for Rent, Worship Leading (now that Scott is our official intern), and Infrastructure (phone, website).  We have committed to Affiliation Dues for the Alliance of Baptist and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.  We are planning to have two people helping with the younger children, Sara is filling the Admin. Asst./ Bookkeeper and we are putting our money where our hearts focus us.  The zeros at the bottom are areas we will fund as we can.  If we have money in excess of the budget as outlined these last items will be considered.

Newly Revised Budget

Budget 2991
Rent 1100
Worship Leading 1000
Infrastructure Costs 61
Affiliation Dues 68
Children and Youth 240
Admin. Asst./Bookkeeper 250
Social Justice 272
Worship Supplies 0
Community Events 0
Marketing 0
Savings/ Long Term Projects 0
Music 0

As a part of being a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists we will need to draft a statement reflecting our affirmation of LGBTQ persons and place it into our Bylaws.  The proposed statement is:  “Church in the Cliff stands firmly for the full inclusion of all people in the family of God.  The full range of human difference – race, age, gender, sexuality, nationality, disability, and any other ways that humans devise to separate us from another – shall be welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated as an expression of God’s love for all.”

We will have a Community Meeting on Sunday, September 2 at 10:00 at Kidd Springs Park, 711 West Canty St.  Help us begin a new cycle in the life of Church in the Cliff.  We need everyone’s participation and input to continue to grow and develop.

Thank you,

The Board of Church in the Cliff

Packing (Program and Sermon)

// August 31st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



Living on the Gulf Coast, you become deaf to the warnings.  Threats constantly loom in the Gulf from June and November.  When I first moved there, I obsessively checked weather sites, monitoring, projecting, guessing, hoping.  Most of the time, storms go elsewhere; there’s a lot of coast to destroy.  Even when they look like they might head your direction, they often turn aside or weaken at the last moment, a little wind and spit is all that’s left.  Still, occasionally, it is prudent to evacuate.  For those of us with salaries and vacation time, it was pretty easy to take off for an impromptu evacucation.  All my coworkers kept lists of resorts and B&Bs within a couple hundred miles.  But always the question: What do I pack?  In theory, everything you own could be destroyed, but in reality you’ll probably be gone for a few days and return home with a few limbs to clean up.  Pack for the end of the world or a vacation from the world?  Will I need dress shoes?  Or a belt?  Noah’s packing list was pretty clear: toothpaste, toothbrush, two pairs of sandals (one black, one brown), forty changes of underwear, some snacks, and two of every creature on earth.

This was the end.  He wasn’t coming back.  The home he grew up in, the place he met his wife, the place where he proposed and she accepted, the place where his children were born, the swing set and the kitchen garden, the place he expected to die – all would soon be gone.  Whatever there would be after, it would have to be something new.  This was God’s do-over.

There’s a structure to the first creation account found in Genesis 1.  The first three days establish the setting and the second three days add the characters.  The story of Noah found here is a restatement of that.  The ark – which is a box, not a boat – has three levels, mirroring the world with the heavens, the earth, and the deep.  The ark is to contain all the animals and all the creeping things that creep on the earth, the same language that is used on the sixth day of creation.  The ark and the world both hold all the food given by God for people and animals.  Noah is making a little box that looks just like the world to put all the living things in, taking all that is good for life and packing it up to keep it safe.


What are some things from the past year that you would like to pack up and take with us?  What has given you life from our time here?

What will things be like after?  What are you looking forward to?


Through all of the changes and all of the moving, this church has proven to be a little box that gets packed up to create new life.  It has been that for me.  I know it has been that for others.  But the one thing I want to pack up and take with me, the one thing I think necessary for life, is the people.  There are people who started this church as a fully inclusive church and have stuck around to hold us to that.  There are people who have just recently joined us, invigorating our efforts.  And along the way, some people have stopped by on their way to somewhere else.  Each has left a little bit of themselves and all of those bits have made us who we are.  I would pack up all of it and keep it safe.


This is the last meal to steady us on our journey.  It contains all that is necessary for life.  The grain and the grape nourish our bodies.  The gathering of our brothers and sisters nourishes our souls.  God bless all of this for the fulfillment of your promise of life.


// August 23rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

There was a period in my life, during college and dropping out of college and returning to college, that I moved fourteen times in seven years.  After Lisa and I were married, we slowed that pace to moving only once every couple of years.  Sometimes, the move was only across town and sometimes it was across the country. Either way, the packing is the same, the boxes just as heavy, the furniture just as difficult to fit through that one door.

You would think that, after so much moving, we would have pared our stuff down to the essentials.  The reasonable person makes choices about what he or she really needs.  But the hurried, procrastinating person just throws everything in a box, saying, “I’ll sort that out when we get to the new place.”  So many new places and so much old stuff.   Here we are in Dallas – sure to be our final resting place – with a studio and an attic and a couple of closets full of all that stuff, boxes containing God-knows-what that haven’t been opened in years.

In light of that, I have to respect the kind of grisly discipline portrayed in the story of Noah’s ark found in Genesis 6.  Certainly, there are problems with this story; it’s not all rainbows and oddly congenial animals.  However, at its base, the story of the flood is a story of recreation. The world was created for life, but it became a place of violence and death.  God packs up all the things necessary for life, puts them in a little box for safekeeping, washes away everything else, and starts over.  Yes, it’s harsh and perhaps there was a lot to love that got washed away – honestly, this isn’t my favorite depiction of God – but sometimes you just have to move on with life.

This will be our last week at the Kessler.  Fortunately, the Altarnators, our altar guild and hospitality specialists, are better people than I am and have already done some organizing and culling.  They run a pretty tight ship.  But I wonder what we – both as individuals and as a church – would pack up from our time at the Kessler.  What from this past year supports life?  What needs to be left behind, lest it drag us down into the flood waters?  When the rain stops and we emerge into the light breaking from behind the clouds, what will we have to sustain us?  Will we be transformed by God’s promise?  Or will we be carrying the dead weight of the past?

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at the Kessler, as we talk about packing up and packing it in.

Grace and Peace,

What We Leave Behind (Program and Sermon)

// August 22nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff



We just went on vacation.  We went to a place in the Hill Country, to a little plot of land that has been in Lisa’s family for almost a hundred years.  The Hagy Camp sits on a bluff above the Western fork of the Frio River, about six miles north of Leakey, Texas.  Lisa’s ancestors started going there in the early 20th century, taking covered wagons from San Antonio to get there.  There were no roads in, so they went over land, making some twenty-seven river crossings along the way.  Given the effort to get there, they often stayed a month or so.  In 1927, they built a little cabin that we still use to this day.

Time spent at the Hagy Camp is idyllic.  I think there is a clock, but we don’t pay much attention to it. There’s a phone, but no one knows the number.  We sleep when we are tired, dip in the cool, crystal clear, spring-fed water when we are hot, and we eat when we are hungry.  I’m not sure I’m ever happier, ever more relaxed than when I’m there, sitting on that bluff with the light filtering through the trees, floating in and out of sleep as I read whatever my whims dictate.

Lisa and I have a ritual when we leave that place.  It’s a lot of work to shut the place down, so we often take one final dip after clean-up to cool down and wash away the sweat before piling in the car with a week’s worth of trash and dirty clothes for the long drive home.  Once we have left the gate behind, as we drive away, first on rough dirt roads and then on the winding highways beyond, Lisa begins to analyze the logistics of the trip.  Should we have shopped the day before?  Is it better to leave early in the morning to arrive in the afternoon?  Or perhaps later in the day so that you arrive late and wake up to your first full day fresh and early?  Should we not bring stuff for sandwiches and just eat leftovers for lunch instead?  Did we really need to stop for ice in Leakey?  Did we get too much or too little?  I don’t generally hear a word of it.

I’m looking at the flowers that just popped out from the previous evening’s rain.  I’m soaking in the sunlight, whether bright in a cloudless sky or filtered through dark clouds, making the colors on the ground seem deeper and richer.  The limestone bluffs rise above us, first on one side of the road and then on the other.  Every house poking out of the trees on every hill causes me to live a lifetime in a brief moment.  Maybe it’s for sale!  We could farm.  I could build a studio.  We could run a retreat center or a B&B.  The truth is, I have spent the past twenty years trying to figure out how I could just stay on that bluff.  And whatever Lisa is talking about, I know she’s doing the same thing.  How do we get back to the one place where we are the most happy, the most ourselves?

I wonder if Adam and Eve are having that kind of conversation as they walk away from Eden.  What went wrong?  How did we end up in this place?  Maybe we should be more skeptical when animals start talking.  Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten that fruit.  Maybe we can find a way back.  But then Adam says, “Hey, honey.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”  And Eve says, “Yeah, alright.” And along comes Cain.

I could totally nerd out on this passage.  I think I took Hebrew just so I could read the original.  But I’m just going to point out a couple of things to support my reading as a coming-of-age narrative.  First, the way the narrative is structured.  In the early part of the narrative, they are like kids, running around naked and thinking nothing of it.  By the end, they have a baby.  In the middle, they make some mistakes.  Sound familiar?  Second, there’s a lot of word play here, which is very common in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The snake is described as “cunning” or “crafty,” but the Hebrew is arum, which is the same root as the word for “naked.”  And “cunning” adds an element of menace to it that may not be fair.  People who are arum are usually thought of positively.  They know things, practical things. They know what to do.  In this case, the snake knows what to do with nakedness.

I’m sure most of us have heard someone say something like “he knew her, in the biblical sense.”  It’s a euphemism.  We even have it here, in 4:1: “Now the man knew his wife Eve.”  Since Cain is the result, I don’t think it means that he figured out what to get her for their anniversary.  So the knowledge that the snake has and the knowledge that is contained in the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is a very particular kind of knowledge.  It is everything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask.  And you should be afraid to ask because it is both the good and the bad of it.  This story is often interpreted as if the knowledge is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, but another way to read it is as a merism.  A merism is when we name the extreme ends of a field as a way of describing everything in between: “alpha and omega,” “heaven and earth,” “A to Z,” “soup to nuts.”  And here, “good and evil.”  After eating the apple, they are sexually aware, the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Part of the good is that they can make babies.  They can create life, which up to this point was a divine prerogative.  In 3:22: “”See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” The bad is that, if you can create life, life must also end.  You have to die.

This is reality.  As you move toward one thing, you move away from something else.  When you cut off other possibilities, you create new ones.  But the memories never die.  You remember who you were before.  You even remember who you hoped to be.  So you mourn the loss of things undone and hope for something new, a constant dialog between hope and regret.  And too often we forget the place where we are right now.  Richard Rohr says we transmit whatever we don’t transform.  We can get so caught up in nostalgia for what has been – and even for what never was – or dreaming of what might be, that we entirely miss what actually is: the community we’re a part of; the family we have built; the friendships that enrich us; the person we actually are.  We see the world through the fog of our hopes and regrets, rather than what is.

Questions for Conversation

What is your experience of change?  How does that connect to this story?

What do we forget that we should remember?  What do we remember that we should forget?


As much as this is a coming-of-age story, this is also an origin story.  Every culture – and every superhero – has one.  Where did we come from?  How did we get here?  But most importantly, who are we?  It’s fun to examine origin stories and look for commonalities, to figure out how we are all a part of one people.  But whether you emerged from a block of ice licked clean by a cosmic cow or float on the back of a giant turtle or were created from a stalk of corn makes a big difference in how you understand yourself.  This story embodies what I see as the core values of the Judeo-Christian tradition: faith, love, and hope.  Faith is engaging the memory of who we have been.  Hope is engaging the possibilities of who we might be.  And love is the beautifully muddled middle, the part where we are actually present, where we live every day.


1) Death and life are intertwined.  If you’re going to make something new, you have to let old things pass away.  But part of that new thing is finding the old in the new, learning to remember the things we have loved before and see them in what we are moving toward.  In doing so, we see ourselves more clearly, seeing a continuity that is the eternal connection between ourselves and others, ourselves and the Divine.  This is usually a painful process.  Death hurts.  Creating life hurts.

2) Because of the pain, the labor, the sweat, we can’t do it alone.  When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they had each other.  And, even though this is traditionally read as the eternal separation of God and humanity, if we read it closely, we’ll see that God is right there.  God makes them some new outfits and sends them on their way.  And when she has Cain, she credits God: “I have produce a man with the help of YHWH.”  As Eve sees it, God is still with her, helping her through it all.


Normally, at this time in our service, we would have communion.  Communion is, perhaps, the longest standing ritual in Christian practice.  It celebrates salvation through the body and blood of Christ.  It invites all to God’s table.  It joins us together as the family of God.

But something else joins us together.  Before the communion table, before the cross, before anything else, we share our humanity.  Each of us lives with the curse and the blessing of being sandwiched between all that has been and all that might be.

So today, I ask you to eat the apple, the forbidden fruit, not as a symbol of sin, but as a symbol of change.  Eating the fruit was inevitable.  And it had consequences.  We grow.  We change.  We can’t ever go back.

So as you eat this apple this morning, I ask you to allow it to mark the changes in your life.  What are you holding onto?  What have you left behind?  What chains you to the past?  What do you miss?  Acknowledge it all.  Embrace it all.  See who you are now because of it.  And love every bit of it.  Love yourself for who you have been and what you will be.  Love others for the same.  When you eat, you will surely die, but you will die so that you may live.

A Little Bit of Death, but So Much Life

// August 18th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  There’s this naked lady living in a garden with her boyfriend, also naked.  A talking snake tells her to eat an apple, so she does, and things go downhill fast.  The God of the garden knows they’ve been bad, so they lie about it, blame each other, and get kicked out.  Not just kicked out, but cursed for eternity with hard work and pain in child birth.  They’ve been bad indeed.  So bad that we are bad because of it.  At least, that’s one way to tell it.  It probably won’t surprise anyone if I choose to tell it another way.

My way goes like this.  To me, there is a sense of inevitability to the story.  The all-knowing, all-powerful God puts in the garden the one thing that can ruin everything.  Not hidden away in a dark corner or even hidden in plain sight, like the keys you don’t see on the entry table.  It is specifically highlighted, desire enhanced by its prominence and prohibition.  So when things are ruined, why is God angry, or even surprised?

There’s also something about sex here.  In the Hebrew, let’s just say that is one sexy tree.  The woman really wants it.  And when she gets it, she gets it.  Suddenly, she and the man are sexually aware.  They grow up.  They suddenly find that life is not simply handed to them.  We can’t just pluck dinner off a tree.  Our laundry doesn’t magically get done.  They didn’t even have laundry before that day!  And, yes, of course, someday they will die.  The illusion of the garden passes away and, faced with this new reality, they get busy.  In the biblical sense.  Busy makin’ babies.  A little bit of death, but so much life.

This is an incredibly rich story with many more possible ways to read it – it might be about farming! – but this time I want to focus on our theme: change.  As I’m reading it here, this is a coming-of-age narrative.  Life for the two humans is changing, perhaps in some ways that they could have expected, and certainly in some ways they did not – as it always does.  Even when we fully expect a change to come – even if we welcome or seek that change – it is often hard to account for the enormity of it.  It can feel overwhelming, like something is being lost that we can never get back.  But, oh, how we will try.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at the Kessler, as we continue to talk about change, movement, and return.  If you’re going through a change, it can feel like a little death.  Come and see the life on the other side.

Grace and Peace,