Easter Sunday

Dear Bloom--

My goodness Sunday was fun. When my family and I drove home after the 9:30 service, I said to Mandi, “If I had to dream up a last Easter Sunday with Bloom, it would look something like that.” The love, the laughter, the hilarity, the hearty choruses of “Crown him with many crowns!”... it took my breath away.

With my time at Bloom nearly at an end, it also made me think about how far Bloom has come. Those first several months (years, actually) of Bloom’s life were, quite frankly, positively painful. I always expected that at some point I would turn a corner with my preaching, which would then magically gel with the worship, our “thing” would happen, and then word would begin to spread across Denver about the very awesome “thing” that was happening at Bloom. “Hey, have you heard about the thing that is happening at Bloom? Man, something’s really going on there! Let’s go check it out!”

To my great chagrin, our moment of “thingness” never really happened. We kind of just ambled along slowly for a very long time trying to figure out what we were doing. Our first Easter service drew 115 or so people. I remember thinking, “Breakthrough!”

We were back at 85 the next week.

And yet, here we are, seven Easters later, and we might have had 500-600 with us on Sunday. How or when all of that happened… like, if you pushed me and said to me, “So when did Bloom really begin to turn a corner?”, I would be hard pressed to point to a moment in time. Mostly, I think it was a lot of tedium. Coffees and lunches and happy hours and meetings that made my heart sing and meetings that made me want to light my hair on fire…

And God used all of it to make something beautifully substantial.

Resurrection life is like that. The Psalmist said that the righteous are like “trees planted by streams of water…” Want to undertake a peculiarly thrilling exercise? Head down to Wash Park on your lunch break and watch the trees grow. No, really. It will freaking blow your mind.

Except when it doesn’t. Which is all the time. And yet, sure as shoot, those trees are growing; with each passing of the season they stretch out ever more towards their Creator in joyful praise. Because given the right conditions, that’s what trees do.

I’m telling you. It’s like that. Resurrection life is like THAT.

So, with both Easter and a new chapter of your life as a community upon you, I want to encourage you: keep doing what you’ve always done. Stay rooted in resurrection, keep loving each other, keep embracing the happy tedium of it all… God’s glory is peculiarly rooted in all that ordinary stuff, the power of the age to came present uniquely in the mundane.

Grace to you,

Andrew

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Sometimes we tend to overlook this thing called the weekly collect, that prayer we tuck in between announcements and the Scripture readings during our services. This last week the collect read, 

"Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."

The collect often unveils deeper truths embedded within the weekly Scriptures. As I listened to Dave and Melissa reflect on the Gospel and sat through the documentary Cries From Syria later on Sunday evening - I couldn't help but think of that phrase in the collect that says, "among the swift and varied changes of the world." 

In the sermon Sunday we discussed matters of death and resurrection. We talked of the death of ones we love, dreams we've had, and hopes we've longed for. We also talked about rebirth of visions, resurrection of life, and the resurgence of those dreams. After the evening gathering, watched a film that painted a picture of hopelessness and death. We watched story after story of human lives who suffered greatly and a learned about a Nation where dreams could never exist. But in the film, there was a moment where a little hope broke in. This moment felt like a small resurrection. 

They told the story of a group in Syria called The White Helmets - this is a group of everyday ordinary people who serve as Syrian Civil Defense forces. As bombs rain down these people save lives. They are volunteer rescue workers who risk their lives to save others. As people in the film spoke about them they said things like, "They are who bring hope to us people here in Syria." 

That statement nearly brought me to tears. Because... this is us, a bunch of ordinary every day people, trusting in a story about life, death, and resurrection. My desire is that among the swift and varied changes in the world, Christ would teach us at Bloom to love what God commands and that we would be fixed where true joys are to be found. And because of that, WE as the church would bring hope to people in our communities, city, and the world... 

- Andrew Devaney

Fourth Sunday in Lent

So the weather has taken a turn again, and it seems the weather, like the state of our country and culture, is finding it hard to settle in one place. As a human living in the US in 2017,  it seems that it is not change into one way of being that we must become accustomed to, but rather it is change itself that seems to be our new normal. And amidst all the uncertainty, there is enough loud talking and insecurity and anger to bring us all down. Every day there is a new crisis on the news, a new position held up, a new offense taken. And many times I have wondered what the role of the church is to be in times like these.

The story in our Gospel last week of the healing of the man born blind came at a time for me that was laced with these thoughts. Reading through it again, this time I was more aware of the insecurity in the hearts of the people in this story. I saw those who were threatened by the miracle of sight given to a man who was in need, who had been among them for quite some time. I saw those who were just unable to support this miraculous act of kindness that was demonstrated by Jesus to this man.

It's humbling. I don't think we have changed much since then. We almost seem bent as a people to attack and to accuse, rather than love.

For over a year now, when I've prayed for our community, I've always been drawn back to one simple prayer: "Lord, help us to be kind." Kind to ourselves... when we are prone to deny and fight against the work that God is doing in our hearts. Kind to each other... welcoming and supporting every act of healing in those around us. Kind to those outside of our community... believing the very best for them and seeking to serve Christ in every person.

So my prayer for Bloom has been that kindness would reign. I don't know much about tactics that we can employ to be a better church in our times. Many times I don't know much about anything, really. But I do know that there's something about what the Spirit has done among us -- something about where God has led us -- that has made Bloom a people that continues to seek the face of the healer, who simply enjoys just being around Jesus. We have been made a people who, when invited into the story of the healed and made-new in Christ, have set down all threatenedness within us and any need to be 'right', and we have invited all who are on the journey with Jesus to find a home among us. Because the story of healing belongs to us all.

I really do see something in our community that's so rare. And I feel sort of funny when I go on about it because I feel like I'm not really that nice of a person most of the time. But I still see this in us. This wanting to get behind every work of Jesus in each other's lives, to make a place where every person that has found healing in Christ is believed in and supported and welcomed.

And that's it. That's all I know for now. So may kindness continue to find expression in everything we do, for the glory of Jesus Christ, the healer of us all.

- David

Third Sunday in Lent

Hey Bloom Family--

On Monday, a couple members of the staff and I sat in an office talking about the art of preaching--a subject I'm just a little passionate about. We talked about the relationship between Scripture and the words of the preacher, and it got me thinking about an image for what happens in a liturgical preaching space that I've sometimes thought about but never really expressed. So here it is. But first, naturally, a story.

I never really drank whiskey until I moved to Colorado. A friend of mine worked at Stranahan’s as a bottler and tour guide. If you did the tour (which was free), you got to sample some of the whiskey (again, free). He told me about his job and asked me if I’d like to come out for a tour one day. Never one to turn down free things--certainly not free whiskey--I signed up.

The tour was fun, and even interesting at times. The real enjoyment, however, was the tasting. He poured each of us a glass and then walked us through the art of drinking whiskey, which went something like:

First, cleanse the palate… now taste some of the whiskey as-is (“neat”)... what do you taste? Now with a couple drops of water… what do you taste now? And now with a few more drops… what do you taste?

And so it went. My friend provided language that helped us interpret the experience: “vanilla”, “smoky”, “buttery”, etc. It was really eye-opening.

What surprised me was how the experience of the whiskey unfolded as each tiny bit of water in differing volumes was added. The water, it turns out, “opens up” the flavors native to the whiskey, releasing what was already there, making the experience of the drink progressively more accessible. And, of course, you don’t need to add much water to make that happen. “A little dab will do ya”, as my mom used to say.

Preaching in a liturgical setting is a bit bit like that. The Scripture, I genuinely believe, stands on its own (like a good whiskey); and especially so in a context governed and enriched by liturgy--creed and confession, prayer and praise, with the Table at the center. If we had no other interaction with Scripture in a worship service than hearing it, meditating quietly on it, and then taking its summons with us as we confessed our sins as we made our way to the Tablethe Holy Spirit would do something remarkable with it. Week in and week out, we would be transformed.

So then what is a sermon? At its best, a sermon is a like a little water added to the whiskey of Scripture which helps open it up, releasing what is there into the life of the congregation, and thereby making the experience of Scripture more accessible. I've learned that it doesn't take much... 

A bit of historical background...

An explanation of a word or a phrase or two...

A summary of the movement and central thrust of the text...

A story and a question that puts the text to the congregation in a fresh way... 

All of it, hear me, in the service of simply "opening up" what is already there. Hopefully no more and no less. It is certainly not trying to "exhaustively explain and apply" what is going on in the text of Scripture; long experience has taught me that that is neither possible nor desirable. Scripture is far too rich for that and the Holy Spirit is far too imaginative to be limited by our finite sense of "how this Scripture applies to your everyday life."

Instead, the preacher is using their words to hold Scripture up as a prism--or better, a window into a new reality through which the hearers may gaze imagining that perhaps everything is not as it seems and my life may be different than it now is because God is my Father and Jesus is Lord and the Spirit is at work in the world and dammit-all we're on our way to the kingdom... The words of the preacher open up Scripture ever so carefully so that it may be "the Word that redescribes the world", as the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has said.

That metaphor has helped me greatly over the years, and its what we've tried to model at Bloom. For the really fascinating thing is not what the preacher has to say (water just isn't that interesting), but the rich complexity and transformative power that Scripture holds--the Word that shatters us and makes us whole.

Grace to you,

- Andrew

Second Sunday in Lent

Dear Bloom,

If you haven't come to notice yet, it is a unique experience to allow the lectionary readings to guide us through the seasons of the church. This last Sunday, being our second Sunday during the journey of Lent, reminded us of the origin of our life in God. 

That in fact eternal life is a gift. The Lord is the giver, He has given light and life to the world. He gave His one and only Son for the sake of the world, and He has given Himself to us. 

If Lent is in fact a season of departure from the world's claims on us. It must be a return to Him who holds our life. Lent is a time for fresh reliance upon the God of the gospel. It’s a time to reflect on the way in which God gives new life that is welcome when we recognize how our old way of life mostly leaves us weary and unsatisfied.

My knee jerk reaction is to do always do more. I find myself often fixed with the questions of how and in what way does one participate with the Kingdom of God. On Sunday, I continued to notice the Holy Spirit prodding me to remember ... to remember that one cannot even see the Kingdom without finding its origin from above; nonetheless, find their way into it. 

"Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above... ”

- Andrew Devaney

First Sunday in Lent

Bloom,

Some of the staff sat together yesterday discussing what we see the Spirit doing among the community. It was a fascinating discussion on where Bloom has been in the past, conversations we've had with so many of you over the past weeks and months, and what God has shaped us into now. We all love this community and feel humbled to be a part of getting behind you, praying for you, playing our part in equipping you to live out who God has made you to be in your house churches, your vocations, and the world at large. 

I was led from that conversation to reflect on my own relationship with Bloom over the years; and I have to tell you that I am so thankful to be a part of a community such as this. Honestly, it doesn't really make sense that I find myself here being tasked with this call to this community. I didn't ask for it. If you had told me years ago I'd be here, doing this -- I would have laughed at you. It doesn't make sense beyond the grace and kindness of God and this weird, still difficult for me to understand, ridiculous amount of belief Dave, Andrew, and the leadership team has in me.

I have preached two Sundays now and it has been, much like we talked about this past weekend, a wilderness experience for me. You all were kind, gracious, and encouraging to me a couple of weeks ago after teaching through the Beatitudes. Then, let's just call it what it was, I missed it on Sunday morning. I came off a really difficult week, filled with a lot of personal struggles, and I landed in the preaching space, and I just missed it. It was a humbling and disorienting experience. That afternoon I was having all of these crazy thoughts: Maybe I should just quit. Well, you might not have to quit because they might just fire you. Maybe I could just never show my face at Bloom again, I'll just walk away and end up in some other community and they'll wonder what happened to me and I'll just get a job in some other state and Bloom will be better off and...

I couldn't do that. God has been too kind, and He has made you a people too gracious for that. So I put my head down and went back to work. A couple of you checked in on me, I kept reworking the message, and at 4:50pm I ran down the stairs at Hope into the basement knowing I had to confront the fear and insecurity I felt and swing again -- maybe I would miss and maybe I wouldn't. The evening service and the sermon went a lot better. Not perfect, and I still have so much to learn and grow in, but it went better.

This is a community of authenticity and wild belief in people. Whether it's a task like preaching or singing, or it's showing up to a house church with a couple of cans of black beans and a story to tell from the week, we show up. We tell our stories. We look each other in the eyes and we say things like, "I'm sorry that happened, but that's not who you are. You're better than that. You are loved and God is for you; now get back out there." And all over the place, we're seeing people rise to their strength, confront insecurity and fear and mishaps, and continuously be gloriously transformed into the image of Christ. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it is who we are. I can't thank you enough for having the patience and love to continue to let me learn and grow. But more so, I hope you know too that this is the kind of community to which you belong.

There's a place for you to be you, where sometimes you are soaring to life and other times you are stumbling around and bumping into things, but regardless... we are for each other because we truly believe Christ is for us. There is space to be vulnerable or afraid and to confess our embarrassing moments to one another, and then there is space to go back out there and keep working at it all. We hold each other before God and demand that he does something with us, and he IS. He is doing it right now. So keep at it Bloom. Keep wanting more of the Spirit. Keep wanting more from each other. Keep showing up, keep swinging. Keep kicking each other out the door with wild belief and love in their sails, so that their good may be made known and the Kingdom may arise.

- Melissa

Last Sunday After the Epiphany

Early iconography depicting the Transfiguration of our Lord shows the three disciples on their hands and knees, afraid and vulnerable. Although Peter by this time had acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, seeing a glimpse of what this acknowledgement actually looks like when breaking into our world pushes him to the ground. It causes fear; it brings humility. For what is the light and beauty of God if it can be fully imagined by the human mind? They gaze upon their friend, as they have over several miles and meals and gatherings before, but this time they are allowed -- even if for a moment -- to peer into a deeper reality of who Jesus actually is, into the realm beyond time and space and the realities which they have known.

The power and beauty of God shone bright before them. And then it all shifts back into the familiar. Soon they are walking with their friend down the mountain. To the places where people will once again come to know the love and kindness of this man, Jesus, who is God.

Last Thursday there was a group of people in the Bloom community cooking food for our guests on Alpha and The Marriage Course, setting up tables, arranging flowers and lighting candles. They chopped vegetables and cooked rice and made everything look perfect for those whom they would be serving that night. And to give an even more complete picture... there was wine and laughter and so much joy as they worked together.

Every Thursday it happens. And I can't help thinking that it may be the most tangible representation of the Church for me in this season. For how do you take the experience of God -- the ones you have in worship or in prayer or when staring at the sky or emerged in the beauty of creation... the times you encounter something that is so outside of our world, but that is infinitely connected to us -- and bring that back into this realm of the tangible? Is it possible for the stuff our our world to contain the infiniteness of God?

But look: "But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Get up and do not be afraid.'....  And as they were coming down the mountain...."

He just calls them right back to the work they were doing before they went up the mountain in the first place. Because through people being loved and helped and listened to and healed, we start to see what it looks like when the Transfigured One gets a hold of our temporal reality and does something that makes no sense to us at all... He makes it beautiful; he makes it mean something to the lost and the broken and the forgotten.

So through a simple setting of tables and the serving of a meal on Thursday nights, those that volunteer have seen the beauty and power of God that they have come to know in the deep places of themselves be made manifest in the world around them, in the very things to which they put their hands. And all across the Bloom family, Jesus is being made known to us to and to those whose lives our closely linked with ours because of simple acts that we do -- because Jesus has taken them for himself. In every moment of our lives, he is with us. He is drawing people to himself. In the ordinary. In the seemingly meaningless. And he is showing us and all whom we serve the beauty and the power that is behind it all. I am thankful that we get to be a part of that.

-- David Blankenship

Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany

Bloom family,

As I listened to Andrew share a bit of his journey with Bloom over the years and what he sees in the community now, I felt a sense of loss and a great excitement all at once. As we say goodbye to Andrew and we step into this new season at Bloom, the very nature of it is going to be filled with moments of missing Andrew and of joyful anticipation of seeing what our community could become.

Honestly, I don't think we should be too surprised by that because that kind of paradox is definitive of the Kingdom. I have been following Jesus for over 15 years now, and if there is one thing I've continued to see and learn over and over again it's that life in the Kingdom means there is not much for which you can plan. We know this, of course, but when transitions like the one we're experiencing happen it forces us to own that truth in a different way. Life with God is not a handbook. It isn't a step by step process. It just isn't that easy and it can't be.

And the truth is that none of us anticipated this; none of us would have written it this way. Yet, here we are -- this group of people in Denver, Colorado in the year 2017 -- trying to give our lives to Jesus, fumbling and bumbling and celebrating along the way. Sometimes God calls some of us to other places, and we mourn and bless and send those people on their way. Sometimes God asks us to go in a different direction than we would have chosen, and we mourn and bless and go on our way believing he has something for us. Sometimes God asks us to jump into his Church and be a part of something that we can't quiet get our hands or hearts around, and we mourn and bless and jump in and try to hold it and love it because we believe he is a God who only gives good gifts to his children.

Bloom -- life with God is as wild as the mountains we see on the horizon every day. We see them from our apartments and as we drive down the roads, and they appear inviting and fun. Then you drive into them, and you realize they're even more giant than they appear. Then you park your car, put on your pack, and walk a few miles into them... and you start feeling like "What am I doing here? I have no business being here, besides these things on my back I couldn't survive here for even one week." THAT is what Jesus is doing here among us... The dream of Bloom has and and is and always will be exciting and inviting. And the more we give ourselves to it, the more we find paths and obstacles we never could have seen beforehand. We're a few miles in and here we all are -- saying yes to the things Jesus has given us and trying to let the Spirit use them in such a way that life arises. And we're brought to another new place.

Hear me. We're going to be okay. God is not surprised by Andrew leaving or by our uncertain emotions and reactions to it. God is not surprised about where we will be next year or the year after. Our God sees us and loves us all. He has ALREADY made us into a strong and beautiful and vibrant Church. Bloom -- when the leadership looks out at you we see such vitality and creativity and kindness and love. God has brought us all to a new place, and we're going to run into it because that is what you do in the Kingdom. Some of us will have skinned knees and will need to take it a little slower, and that's okay. Some of us will run forward and see something exciting and scream back to the rest of us to come and see it, and that's okay. Some of us will need to sit down and cry because we had to leave our home or family behind, and that's okay. Some of us will put our heads down and start walking because we don't know what else to do, and that is okay. But the point is, is that we're in this together.

So I invite you to come with us. This leadership team will continue to miss Andrew, and we will joyfully look to the future right alongside you. There is room for you. We believe in you. We love you. We need you. And all the while, there is this God, who is our foundation and our covering, our first love, our maker and our dream giver, and he is the one who will carry us, his bride, into his bright future. He is not done yet.

-Melissa Guthrie, along with David Blankenship