the NEW view of John 3:16

Remember this verse many of us learned in childhood, and in KJV?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should
not perish, but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

As a child, the emphasis was on the end of the verse, but today we need to take a new look at the first part of the verse, “For God so loved the WORLD…”

It doesn’t say,
For God so loved the CHURCH…
For God so loved the UNITED METHODISTS…
For God so loved the WEALTHY and ENFRANCHISED…
For God so loved the PREACHERS…

No, it says, that God loves the WORLD! Today, we need to focus on loving the world as God did…with depth and sacrifice.

The WORLD is everywhere: in BARS where friends are drowning their sorrows; in FAMILIES that are feuding; in TOWNS that are crushed by racism and racial profiling; in BUS STATIONS and DETENTION CENTERS where children have traveled across one, two and three national borders, seeding safety and home. These are the locations where the WORLD is crying out for the Church to be a very present help in a time of trouble. The world is swirling with news of these events. So today I have a question. What are we doing to show the indisputable evidence of God’s love for the WORLD in the midis of the Swirl?

Last week we buried my husband’s father, a man who lived 90 years and preached until a week before his death.  And he is the last of my foundation to leave. In 2012, my mother-in-law died, and then both my parents in 2013. So in our family, the baton has been fully passed. And knowing they are gone has changed me. It makes one grow up and realize that now that the baton is in your hands, we must do something with it!

So what must I do?  To begin I can think of two things that are unfinished business of my generation of spiritual leaders.  We must take care of these two things before we pass the baton to the next generation of leaders, so that they don’t inherit our left-over crap.

1.  I have to continue to work to rid our world (or at least The Church) of racism in all it’s forms.  Racism that is personal, legal, political, law-enforcement, lingual, familial, stereotypical, and profiling, And I want to be a part of the Movement that fully rids The Church of Institutional racism. My children don’t understand why we make such a big deal about racial issues, but they are inheriting a world, and (my heart stops) a Church, that still hates The Other, The Different, The Hidden-Ones.  I can’t leave them with a Half-Finished Job of ridding our world, or at least our Church, of left-over-and-even-full-blown racism.

2.  Secondly, I hope to clear the way for the Death and Resurrection of The-Church-as-We-Know-It.  I have to pry my fingers off the Buildings, Traditions, Finances, and Theologies that bind us. I have to be open to the Surprise of the Next-Move-of-God’s-Spirit. I have to do my part to clean the House of the Rot-Mold-and-Ruin that I created by my Own-Understanding of What-Is-Right-and-Good.  I want to prepare to hand the next generation a Lean Church that is Faithful, Real (Joe Daniels) and about Love.Period (Rudy Rasmus). I want them to have traditions that are foundational and not binding; buildings that are assets and not shackles; dreams that are new and not worn-out… I want them to know when the baton is passed, we will support the new Pastors and Leaders; we will hold them in prayer, and we will block the Institutional Bullies that attempt to squash dreams with fear and finances. And I want to be ready to LET GO of the Baton, so that they can take the next leg of the Race and Run On…

Because God so loved the WORLD, we have some work to do. As a Church, we have a lot of Loving to attend to. Loving God’s world, ridding ourselves of the sin of Racism, to start with…, and creating a church that is all about Love. This is the NEW view of John 3:16:  first things first. Love the World.
cdn-media.nationaljournal.comimages-1

Walking Different Ground

IMG_2250

Getting ready to head out to LA for MARCHA, and thinking about how different my life work is now.  Where as I used to walk the neighborhood and city surrounding my church, I now walk the neighborhoods, cities, and states surrounding many churches.  I have been an observer with fresh eyes, multiple questions, and the seeds of new dreams.

I’ve seen churches in rural and city contexts; churches with holes in the floorboards, and one with floors made of marble; churches with full use of the space and others empty except for Sunday; churches led by clergy and staff and, others led by volunteers; churches built around agriculture, and some built around mining; churches with money and not enough ministry, and others with overflowing ministry and not enough money; churches that reach the poor and sidelined, and some that reach the rich and centralized; churches with a fighting spirit, and some with a sweet spirit; churches with parking, and churches without parking spots; churches with new pastors, and some with long-time pastorates.  The variety has been astounding.

And there is another part of this road that I’m looking for.  I’m searching for the places where the world goes to “not-church” to find spiritual connection.  I only have a vague idea where that will lead me…

So I walk farther, or drive the distances, in order to see what God is up to and to feel God’s spirit in beautiful variety.  In some ways, it feels like my territory went deeper, rather than farther, for the depth of God’s love leaves me in a place of silence.

The best part of this new beginning is not knowing the journey, or the territory, or even the Church.  The best part is making room for the surprise that comes when Walking Different Ground…

 

1000 Children

It didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary for the border town of Nogales.  My hometown is used to seeing Border Patrol facilities, and we have always noted the humanitarian actions of the staff.  They see the same things we do on the ground, and you can’t be human without being moved.  So, when a group of United Methodist pastors and church leaders met outside the facility that housed about 1000 unaccompanied children that we’d been hearing about in the news, well…I wasn’t so impressed.  We met outside a gate-like entry that said, “U.S. Border Patrol, Nogales, Arizona.”  That was it.

But Special Operations Supervisor, Gustavo Soto, met us outside the gate and began telling us the story of the children.  About a month and a half ago the children started arriving from Texas.  There are typically around 1000 children, sometimes more, sometimes less.  All the children in this facility are unaccompanied minors. Ok, I don’t know about you, but that fact alone took my breath away.  The oldest is 17, and the youngest was a newborn, delivered at Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales.

Children come in and out in the processing ritual.  Sometimes 300 children are bused in per day, and the same go out.  You can see the buses on the hillside.  While there, they get bathed, medical care, and they make phone connections with family members.  They have Red Cross volunteers to play with the children, and Chaplains help with the spiritual needs.  They are divided into age groups and gender, and sibling groups are allowed to see each other whenever they ask. They have a playground.  And they have toys.  Everyone falls in love with the children.

But the children wear the same outfits while inside, and they have strict protocol to keep everyone healthy.  And they are not allowed to leave, of course, for this is only a stopping point along their already-lengthy journey.  They seek a land of freedom and possibility, but this is a necessary pause along the road.

We asked questions about why they came here, and what the journey is like.  They live in violence, under threat of death by gangs, extreme poverty, and weak structures.  Their parents hope for a life without violence and with food on the table.  So they believe the story that there is a better place for their children, and they pay the Human-Trafficker to take their children on a journey across national borders and through deserts and mountains, on buses and other forms of transportation.  The Human-Traffickers leave them at the Rio Grande River, which is the natural border in Texas, and the children are set on rafts, or they swim, till they make it to the other side.  When they hit American soil, they are known to run to the Border Patrol personnel with relief and gratitude for a country that will take them in and give them safety, and maybe even hope.

We wanted to find out how the faith community could help.  But, they are children who need to be protected from the public.  We felt somewhat helpless for a moment.

But suddenly that unassuming sign that said “Border Patrol, Nogales, Arizona” had a different meaning.  There were children there!  Many thousands of children who are looking for help in our country… Children who left their families because life at home was unbearable.  Children who were lonely, and sad, and happy, and hopeful.  They missed Mom and Dad, and Grandmother.  Children who were braver than I could imagine… Children who had travelled alone seeking hope and life…  Suddenly I felt as if I was standing outside holy ground, and I didn’t know what to do.

There are some things we can do.  We are still figuring them out.  But so far these things pop out:

1. We can pray.  Pray everyday for the children and their families, and their

countries, and for peace to rule over violence.  Bishop Carcano has called July 18-20 (from sunset to sunset) a weekend of prayer.  You can join this movement and follow it at http://www.theyarechildren.com/.

2. UMCOR, at the request of Bishop Hoshibata, has secured a $10,000 grant

which will be filtered to the ministries that are helping the children and parents who end up at the bus stations.  We can help by volunteering at the bus stations, especially if you are blessed with the Spanish language.  And we can donate to UMCOR at http://tinyurl.com/UMCOR901670.

3. We can volunteer through Red Cross, attending training and

volunteering to play with the children in facilities http://www.redcross.org/support/volunteer.

4. Churches can work with the Office of Refugees Resettlement.  After

leaving the facilities, they will place the children in caring environments, and volunteers are needed to assist and provide care.  http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/unaccompanied-childrens-services.  Or connect with foster care agencies that are looking for foster families to care for the children temporarily.

5. We can call our Congress members, and urge them NOT to repeal the

provisions in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).  This would help to prevent returning children into the hands of traffickers and violent situations.

6. We can advocate for reform and safe borders through the various groups

connecte with the Arizona Interfaith Network.  They work for change at the national level, bringing together people of all faiths for the common good.

7. We can connect with Border Community Alliance at

http://www.bordercommunityalliance.com.  They are hard at work to improve the vitality of U.S. and Mexico border communities.

I left the meeting with the kind Border Patrol gentleman, and the overwhelmed church leaders, feeling like something extraordinary was going on in this spot of earth that I call my hometown.  I felt overwhelmed by the great need, but if each of us did one thing listed above, together we could create a place where this facility would be empty, and where children were free from harm and welcomed everywhere.  I’m sure of that.

And I left with a deep image from my own family.  My grandmother, Sarah Estrada, who crossed the Rio Grande herself, while having labor pains, so that my father, Rev. Louis Escobedo, could be born in America.  She didn’t do it for economic reasons, but because she wanted her child to have religious freedom.  That child of hers became a Lutheran pastor and missionary to Mexico.  And I am his daughter, a United Methodist Pastor and District Superintendent, the granddaughter of one who crossed the Rio Grande with dreams.  I am grateful for her, and for a country that welcomed me.  I join with you in prayer….

On Growing Up…

From the desk of Dottie…

We have been finding ways make major changes in our lives through the series, reStart Your Life.  So far, we’ve considered 1) What needs to die in our lives; 2) How to be your own Life Scout; 3) The need to fail big and fast, and get up and do it again; 4) How to be creative with your new life; and 5)  Falling in Love with God and life again.  It has been a journey that has taken some of us deeper into the stores of our memories, bringing us to look at our current situation, and called us to the place where a reStart is possible.

This Sunday, we will look at Going Deep with God.  What I mean by “going deep” is moving away from our childhood view of God and life, and releasing ourselves to finally grow up!  Jesus wanted us to be Christians who gained height in the faith, and not ones that remained in childhood forever.  He called his disciples to “grow up” and “grow out” right before he left this earth.  And Ephesians 4:14-15 (in The Message) reminds us,

“Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything–and I do mean everything–connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And take on an entirely new way of life–a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”

We all need to continue growing, to resist complacency with life as it is, and to move toward a life that is a reproduction of God’s character.  The invitation to mature faith is not easy, but it is rewarding.  After all, who wants to live with a 2-year old Christian forever?

I’m looking forward to seeing you Sunday.  I’m confident you will bring along those in your life who also are seeking growth.  And I’m so glad that your worship of God will take place every day this week.

See you Sunday!

In faith, hope, & love,

Pastor Dottie

Who Is My Neighbor?

I’ve been thinking about our country’s response to the #Zimmerman verdict.  The senseless loss of #TravonMartin has stirred up a larger problem that has been ignored.  We are still unjustly racist, after all these years.

Preaching on the Good Samaritan this week, reminded me that we need to be asking ourselves the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus’ answer to the question posed by the lawyer was broad, inclusive, and beyond boundaries.  ALL of God’s creatures are our neighbors.  We are not given the choice to segregate our neighbors based on who we like, or who is like us.  As followers of Jesus, we have a standard of “ALL.”

The other point Jesus makes is that the one who follows God is the one who is merciful.  When we pass on by the hurting and those treated as “less than” us, we are not living out our faith.  We are, instead, living as “Virtual Christians,” who talk a good talk, but don’t put their feet on the same road.  But when we act out in mercy with compassion for the hurting, then we are a part of God’s kingdom.  Then we are making heaven come to earth.

So it looks like we have work to do.  A whole group of our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, continue to live in fear for their lives, and the lives of their children.  It is time for this to stop.  It will end when each of us love radically, relationally, and sacrificially.  It will end when we march against unfair judgments, or, it you think otherwise, unfair laws.  It will end when we stand up as real people of faith, and say, “No more!”  Loving God means loving our neighbor.

Trayvon Martin, and his family and community, are our neighbors.  Zimmerman too, and the Jury and the Judge…all are our neighbors.

We will find our way through to love.  Not without pain or consequence, but with strength and courage.  We have things to change…  Are you ready to join the life of loving ALL?

The “Do”

img_02932Sometimes we forget, in the daily movement of life, what we are doing.  When I look at this picture, I think about the children at Los Ninos that are being fed:  body, mind, and soul…  And I remember the gift of Central Farmer’s Market, and how it keeps us healthy, whole, and community-focused.  And I recall how CrossRoads gave $727 to Imagine No Malaria, which helped save 72.7 lives from this disease.  And I think about the lives that are new to the faith, and how they are being turned around by God’s love.  Sometimes we forget what we are doing, but today I just wanted to remember…

What we do matters to God.  It is the extension of who we are.  The “do” comes out of the “be.”  We ARE followers of Jesus, and because of our own transformation, we DO things differently.  We notice the hurting people.  We offer help.  We express life in joy and peace.  We face the world with open arms and hearts.  We worship God first.  And we care for each other, and ourselves, next.  These are our “do’s” as we live a life that has been remade.

The gospels give us a “do” as well.  It’s called The Commission. The gospel of John describes the commission this way,

Jesus:  Do you love me?

Peter:  You know that I do.

Jesus:  Feed my sheep.

We cannot separate the doing from the being.  Our love for Jesus compels us to feed the hungry, stand up for the beaten-down, and care for those in hiding.

Today I pray that we love well…feeding bodies, minds, and souls for the love of Jesus.

In faith, hope, & love,

Pastor Dottie

Tragedy in Newtown

unknown2I’ve been thinking about the sadness of the incredible loss in Newtown, Connecticut…  And, I recognize that most of us cannot even begin to understand the depth of grief that is being felt by this loving community. We are shocked, saddened, maddened…and we are speechless.

Which is why it is even hard to write this post.  No words can express our broken hearts. Mostly we want to remain silent, or sit down and feel the sadness and let our tears flow.

The Christmas story has a part in it that we usually keep hidden.  It is when Herod was determined to kill this baby Jesus who would be king, and so, in an effort to rid the world of him, he killed all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem who were 2 years old and younger.  This, too, is part of the story…there is grief, and horror, that sit alongside the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  And we forget to hear the mamas and the papas cries, as they did in the days of old, when it was said,

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving.  Rachel weeping for her children, and she              did not want to be comforted, because they were no more.”  Matthew 2:18

In this story, many children were lost, and the women wept and received no comfort.  And perhaps that is what we are feeling today.  Where is the comfort, O God?

Or maybe we are silently grateful that our child is alive.  We hug tightly, love deeply, and encounter joy knowing that ours is still alive.  But that feeling does not come alone.  It comes with guilt, and sadness for the loss of other children.  Joy and pain.  They sometimes go hand in hand.  And the question is How do we comfort each other?

For now, we accept weeping as our communal offering to God.  We understand the dawn and the light will break through the darkness, but while we live in darkness, weeping is our common response.

And there’s one more common response…the response of a deeper understanding of love.  When we see who we lost, or who we could lose, then we love who we have even more.  Love rises to the top with incredible strength.

So may that Love guide us through this dark moment.  And may we respond today with great acts of love. And may we be comforted in each other’s arms.

In faith, hope, & love,

Pastor Dottie