I’m still thinking about Jonah, and the models of leadership it shows. You know by now that Jonah decided to run away from God rather than facing the people it was his job to face, while the leaders in Ninevah looked at the world around them and decided to change what they were doing,
It is back-to-school week in Ankeny. I received an email from the Principal Wichman at Prairie Ridge today laying out the back-to-school schedule. He also reminded us to check Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for important announcements (apparently wanting to make sure that all of us parents also get to experience that Fear Of Missing Out we have heard plagues generation Z), but invited our emailed questions and laid out the policies that are responses to it. Principal Wichman and his team have identified that we are in an impossible situation and done the work to make the best of it for us.
At the University of Iowa, they’ve worked to make as many of the classes available online as they can, and thinned out the classrooms somewhat. At the same time, I saw University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s note to students reminding them that it was their choice to come to campus and therefore their responsibility to not think and act as if they were invincible, and his sternly-worded letter to local bars reminding them of state-mandated rules for distancing, suggesting that the outbreak in Iowa City was their responsibility. It was clear where his responsibility began, even though the giant spike in cases that has been reported in Iowa City was predicted by, well, everyone. Meanwhile, UI Athletic Director Gary Barta spent two minutes with athletes in the four sports he is cutting and then left the call without answering any questions or hearing their reactions, in a message that he did not want to be accountable for his actions.
At the state level, the governor’s office has taken charge of all communication about not only coronavirus policy, but also testing and data, away from the IDPH. But, as you may have read, there have been significant problems with the reported data, and the governor’s office did not take responsibility for its accuracy, instead dismissing and minimizing the errors and urging individuals and institutions to stop trying to understand how the state arrives at the numbers and take them at face value, even though they report 40% fewer cases in Dubuque County than have been confirmed over the past two weeks. In contrast to Prairie Ridge, the message from UI and the state has been, “individuals, take responsibility. As leaders of institutions leading and guiding you, we will not.” A message God was sending to Jonah, and by extension to us, was that no choice is truly individual. Each choice affects others, and we do bear some responsibility. But those choices also come within the framework of institutional leadership. Without God leading Jonah, or the rulers in Ninevah modeling and calling for mourning, and changing their ways, bad things happen. When Jonah faced the responsibility for leadership, good things happened.
James gets at the crux of the matter: what does it mean for you to have faith? Do you have faith that there is one God, or do you have faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ, prepared for us all? How do you show it?
James reminds us that listening and being slow to anger leads to mercy. Quickly judging others often trips us up, since our standards are different from God’s. So when in doubt, show mercy.
Have you ever treated a wealthier person better than a less wealthy person? Are you sure? Why?
Today’s reading gets into the question of how to seek wisdom from God, and also what it means to be rich or poor in the world we are trying to cocreate with God. It’s always good to remember when reading James that this book seems written from a different perspective from the works Paul wrote. How would an assumption that works show faith be revealed in James?
While we are looking for breaks and enrichment in times of isolation, we’re going to be reading through the book of James together.
James, thought to be the brother of Jesus, wrote this book sometime in the 20-30 years after Christ’s death. It’s not a letter, per se, in that the audience is not clear. Instead, it seems to be a collection of general thoughts and reflections. It is one of the few examples of post-Christian writing in the New Testament that does not originate with Paul. Instead, James seems to be concerned with the ideas of Jewish Christianity. Martin Luther disliked this book because it seemed to emphasize works as well as faith. As we go on, I’d ask you to think about that question, too.
Merry Christmas! (keep celebrating with your January Informer)
Christmas doesn’t end until this Sunday, Epiphany. On Epiphany we celebrate the gift of the magi to Jesus and the revelation to the broader world that this child was something different. On epiphany, we celebrate the revelation that Jesus came into the world as a beacon for us. In the days when Twelfth Night (that is, the night before Epiphany) was a bigger time for celebration than Christmas Day, it also marked the start of a new time in our calendars. Some of you may still have the tradition of holding the magi out of your nativity scenes until Epiphany. Here (among other places, including New Orleans) you may even bake a King Cake in their honor.
This Epiphany, we have another way of celebrating the gifts of the Magi. Our Capital Campaign Committee has designated January 6 as the day to receive our pledges for the capital campaign. Depending on who you are, different parts of this campaign may speak to you. Maybe you think it’s time, after 25 years, to retire our outstanding debt from building the church. Maybe you’ve taken a look at the bathrooms and wondered if there are more efficient ways to use the space and live into our mission. Maybe, in your hours of contemplation while mowing the back yard, you’ve thought if there were ways to reclaim the topsoil carted away when we built the land, to improve drainage, and to increase pollinator activity around our garden. If you’re like me, you miss having recycling and trash bins in predictable places, rather than as makeshift water pails. And maybe you’ve sunk down into a seat in the blue room and wondered if you would ever get out. As the Magi visited Jesus and imagined something new so many years ago, we imagine something (on a much smaller scale) new and possible for the future now. Our gifts help us build the facilities that we can fill with our imaginations and creations to realize God’s vision for us in Ankeny. I’ll have my card. If you’ve already returned yours, thank you! If not, I invite you to join me with yours on Sunday. Our campaign target is $225,000, roughly 1.5x our budget over three years.
Grace and Peace, Pastor Nathan
Get your June 2017 Ankeny UCC Newsletter!
In the midst of national division, even watching the news can create a feeling of isolation within us. We wonder whether we are alone in our thoughts and beliefs. We wonder whether we are safe going out of doors (we are! It’s just that every crime is reported 20 times!), we wonder whether anyone can understand what we are going through, and afraid to speak for fear of being shown to be weak or broken.
This spring, we read through the Gospel of Luke and some of Paul’s letters to the Galatians. Throughout those stories, we saw messages of connection and community. Jesus certainly new the great global game Israel suffered under, with a king appointed by a foreign power and people subject to military rule. But in the midst of it all, Jesus and then Paul reached out to people who were different, and invited them in for meals. They recognized that power does not come from above. Power comes from the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that joins us whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus not to talk only about the weather, but to talk about our hopes and fears, to talk about what we are seeking, and how we might accomplish our goals together.
As part of the work of the Welcoming Task Force and AMOS, our council spent a large part of May’s meeting talking about the importance of one on one lunches, coffees, walks, and talks that take more than a few minutes and trend not toward talking about other people and other news, but about our own pains and joys, hopes and fears. This is the best way to build our relationships together, so we can welcome more fully, explore more deeply, care more intensely, and serve more joyfully.
In all its newslettery glory! Ankeny UCC May 2017 Newsletter
April 1, 2017
It’s two short weeks until Easter, and with it an end to our journey in the gospel of Luke. Throughout the spring, we’ve seen Jesus’s journey from the manger in Bethlehem to the Jordan River in Jerusalem, synagogues in Galilee, and back now one last time on the road for his final confrontations and meditations in Gethsemane. We’ve seen throughout Luke a warning that deliverance will not come to us just because we are from the right family or worship in the right way, but that God seeks most of all to reach people we put outside our boundary lines. This theme has come up over and over again in Luke’s Gospel, and we’ve tried to echo it both in our sermons and in our studies, as we’ve listened to different stories of people outside boundaries we are familiar with: boundaries of language, boundaries of national identity, boundaries of gender. As we come into the conclusion of our Insiders and Outsiders theme and move back into our annual series on church identity, I encourage you to keep reading the scripture and looking for ways that God has brought people from the outside to the inside. As you do, look around and wonder what it is that defines insiders and outsiders for you. How can we broaden the net, just as the Jesus Luke portrays has?
Easter Sunday, we’ll once again be celebrating at 9am with breakfast, followed by a 10am Easter Egg Hunt and worship led off by the bell choir at 10:30. Come and worship!
Our monthly newsletter and calendar available here!
March 1, 2017
Welcome to Lent! This period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) commemorates Jesus’s time in the wilderness dealing with the weight of understanding who he was and where he was going. Who was he? God’s Son, but fully human and equally the son of Mary and Joesph? A healer? A scholar? A carpenter? A Fisherman? Where did he fit in in the world of ancient Jerusalem? He was a Jew among Jews, but he also had a different understanding of where the world was going. So he was an outsider even as he was an insider.
Throughout Lent, we’ll explore this theme in Jesus’s life. Our scriptures for worship in this Lent contain some of the most famous insider-outsider dynamics of the New Testament: The Good Samaritan, The Lost Sheep, Zaccheus, and even the city of Jerusalem. We’ll complement that with our Wednesday night studies!
This year, we’ll kick off our Lenten potlucks at 6pm on Wednesdays, with the program to start at 6:30. We’ll have speakers March 15, March 22, and March 29, with in-depth studies and activities around Bible stories on March 8 and April 5. March 15, Beth Yale will share some of her work from her, Martha, and Teddy’s fall in Germany. March 22, we’re talking with Dhoal Larjin, a US citizen, ISU grad, and Ankeny resident, who has twice been made a refugee from conflicts in South Sudan. And March 29, we’ll host John and Karen Campbell Nelson, missionaries in Indonesia with UCC/DOC Global Ministries.
Along with our adult programming, Sarah has been working on youth CE opportunities and projects, so bring your whole family as we explore Insiders and Outsiders in the Bible and our world today.
Come, explore with us.
Hot off the presses: 2-17 Ank UCC NL
A recurring theme in the New Testament is a gathering of disciples to figure out where they should go. Whether it is in Jesus’s call to the first disciples, the determination of the 12 apostles, the great commissioning of missionaries, or the gathering in an upper room to figure out what Jesus’s death meant, the gospels and Acts are full of planning sessions. And this is a model for us as a church. How do we listen to one another’s stories and then understand the story our church is to tell together?
Our Church Council gathered for retreat on January 24 to ask “Where Are We Going?” As we explored our faith together, and what it meant to us to be a Welcoming Church Family, Exploring Progressive Christian Theology, Caring Within and Serving Beyond, we set goals for each of these areas in our church life, from the important question of ensuring consistent greeting and welcome every week to examining once again whether we should adopt a church inclusivity statement and add our names to the list of Open and Affirming churches in the UCC to increasing participation in studies and helping people identify the ministries of the church they’d most like to live in their lives. On February 19, we’ll have an opportunity in worship to talk and explore more about what that looks like for each one of us. I hope you’ll join us as we find new ways of being the church together.
Come, explore with us.
This week’s scripture lesson continues the theme in Luke that we have been seeing of Jesus’s compassion in ministry. He announced to his synagogue that he was fulfilling Isaiah’s call to declare freedom to the oppressed and relief to the poor; when some fishermen were discouraged after a day with no catch, he brought them fish. When he saw suffering in front of him on the sabbath, he healed anyway. And this week, Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s servant. Jesus could easily have seen this Roman as an enemy, and turned him away in retaliation for the harms Rome was doing in Israel, but he showed compassion. And, then, to finish, Jesus sees a widow who is defenseless in the patriarchy of the time, with no husband and no sons, and performs a miracle resurrection!
In these acts, we are reminded that we are called by Christ not to have stone hearts as Pharoah did, but to have compassion for others-to suffer with them-even when we are afraid or aggrieved. It is why Christians across the country are deeply involved in refugee resettlement (as Ankeny UCC was, back in the 70s), and see the pain that people suffer in countries beset by war who, after years of waiting and processing, hope to come to the United States for a new life, and in the name of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets welcome them with love and compassion.
Grace and Peace,
Here’s your January 2017 Ankeny UCC Newsletter!
In Luke’s Gospel, we see the constant theme of Jesus reaching out to the dispossessed, the poor, and the unlikely; in his account of Jesus’s birth, Luke shows us shepherds rather than kings as the witnesses. In Jesus’s revelation to John the Baptist, Luke gives us the context of a sermon urging people to not use their power to enrich themselves, but to share with others.
This week’s scripture tells of Jesus’s return to his home synagogue in Nazareth. There, he tells his church family that he has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to lift up the brokenhearted and liberate the oppressed, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (which we read in December). But the tone quickly turns when he shares the long prophetic tradition of proclaiming this liberation to outsiders, people not in the audience. In response, the congregation promptly runs him out of town.
It has usually been the case that it is easier to hear a message for our own liberation that that of others. In the United States, we have seen this with the see-saws we have had over slavery, civil rights for freed slaves, Irish and Italian immigration, Jim Crow, Asian immigration, Japanese internment, Civil Rights and women’s liberation, and now again voting rights, the legacy of state-authorized discrimination, and religious freedom.
It is a national tradition to recognize that we work best when we work together, drawing in people from different backgrounds to common purpose, and one place that has manifested itself is in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. In honor of this preacher, who was killed for proclaiming liberty to the oppressed, people come together every year to serve in their communities. My family will once again be at Community Youth Concepts at 1446 MLK Parkway in Des Moines, where they have morning service projects for people of all ages from 9:30-11:30am. I invite anyone who has a day off to join us for the day on, or to find other opportunities to go out, connect, and work to build the future that Jesus promised.
Grace and Peace,