Sixth Sunday of Easter

Bloom,

"If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you forever." (John 14:15-16)

If you're like me, you read or hear verses like these from the Gospel last week and you find yourself saying, "Yeah yeah, I've heard that. I get it. Love Jesus. Be like him. Something about the Spirit. Moving on." It's easy to just gloss over them because they are kind of the crux of the Christian faith, right? We meet this Jesus and then we go about trying to live how he asks us too and we know that at moments along the way there's this Holy Spirit -- ever within us, being our help, guiding us into truth.

But maybe it's easy to gloss over these kinds of verses because they are actually pretty troubling. I've been at this Jesus way of living for awhile now and most of the time I don't think I look much like him. I actually find myself fighting him, "I know you say to treat people with love and kindness, but do you SEE THAT PERSON AND HOW CRAZY THEY ARE?" I stumble and fumble and wander this way and that all the time. I struggle sometimes with the same old sins. I get easily frustrated with friends and strangers alike. I am quick to judge the intentions of others. And before you know it I've left the Spirit out of it entirely and I'm playing a measuring up game with myself. You got that one right - plus one point. You should really pride yourself for that moment. You got that one wrong - minus one point. I can't believe you call yourself a Christian.

Why? Why do we do that with ourselves?

I found Dave's encouragement to us this weekend so refreshing because it took me out of the measuring up game and seemed much more like an invitation to simply fall in love with Jesus, over and over and over again. All we're really after in the end is to know that we are okay, that we're loved an accepted, that we have a place to belong. And finding that is truly to give ourselves over to the Father, through the resurrected Son, by the power and freedom of the Spirit.

Jesus invites us, after all, into a relationship with himself. He isn't playing games with us, like we so often trick ourselves into believing but he simply says, come and be with me, the rest will order itself. Loving someone just automatically produces obedience. Loving someone means that we find ourselves to be safe, which opens us up to be honest and true with the other. Loving someone means that we want what they want. The way into that love is through the person of Christ, who shows us the face of the Father and makes us alive through his Spirit.

So today, I hope and pray that we may all stop playing these goofy Christian games and we'd simply give ourselves over to the one who loves us, who wants our good, who isn't measuring our every move but is instead inviting us to remember who we are and to rest in the fact that he is ordering our days. 

Peace be with you,

- Melissa

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Last week Andrew led us through a section of the Farewell Discourse, where Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples, his friends with whom he has journeyed for the last several years of his life. And those few years must have felt like an eternity, as they were filled with some crazy events... people being healed from all sorts of physical ailments, arguments with religious leaders, times of teaching that reshaped how they see their life and God, and the raising of a friend from the dead. The years held for them conversations on roads and around the table in which Jesus spoke identity straight into their souls; he took time to raise them up and to stand them firmly in who there truly are, in him.

I remember summer after summer of leaving Young Life camp, saying goodbye both to new friends and -- in a sense -- to the space in which so many good experiences were held. All that was left was the memory of what had taken place within me and the pain of leaving it behind. I imagine that I have now experienced one millionth of what the disciples were feeling that day as Jesus told them goodbye. How could you ever move on after this man? Jesus brought them into experience after experience of seeing the love and power of God made manifest both in them and in those around them. How does one say 'goodbye' to that?

Seemingly, with great distress and anxiety. Because that's what we see in the hearts of the disciples. And I find this so deeply human and so core to what our hearts are made of, because they are frightened, and the trouble in their souls is directed to two of our core needs that we have as people. For they respond to Jesus' departure with a cry and a deep longing. The cry is that they could see God, the one who made them, who holds their life in his hands. The longing is one for home, a place to truly belong, where they could be safe and secure.

These two needs that are thrown at the feet of Jesus are so telling of what we are really made of, because no matter what one accomplishes or experiences or becomes, somewhere deep within us still lives this  cry and longing, to know our creator and to have a home. "Yes, we see now that you are leaving us, but still... can we see and know our creator? You're leaving us, and to where do we belong now?" To know God. To find home. The departure of their friend and Lord surfaces these needs to an even greater prominence than ever, and Jesus addresses them with words of truth, grace, and peace.

Simply, he tells them,"If you have seen me, you have seen God," and follows that with describing the home he is going to prepare for them. And the answer Jesus gives them of how to get there, how to find God and home: "I am the way, the truth and the life". Jesus is the answer to their troubled hearts. He himself. Not a map, not a theology, not a moral code. Jesus. Their friend, the one they have come to know, is himself the answer to their deepest cry and their deepest longing.

Jesus. Nothing and no one else can set peace into the troubled heart.

Let us find Jesus the way. Let us trust in him alone.

Grace and Peace to you,

-David

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Hi Bloom Family,

I'm filled with gratitude at your warmth towards me after my talk on Sunday. Thank you so much. 

I've been trying for about 24 hours now to write an email reflection, and my brain is full and tired and nothing eloquent is forming. So I'll bend to the scriptures of the week and hold them up. Spend some time with me in reflection, soaking in the true and gentle words of our shepherd. Read it through a few times. Let it fill you like breath. 

Breathe in the true words. Breathe out the tiredness, the fear and weariness. 

Rest in his words.

 

God, my shepherd!

I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

 

Even when the way goes through

Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure.

 

You serve me a six-course dinner

right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head,

my cup brims with blessing.

 

Your beauty and love chase after me

every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God

for the rest of my life.

 

- Psalm 23 (the message)

 

Amen and amen. 

Grace and peace to us all,

- Dulcy

Second Sunday of Easter

Dear Bloom,

Mandi and I wanted to take a minute to thank you for all the kindness you showed us this past weekend. From the party Friday (special shout out to David and Brad and the rest of the team for the amazing food and atmosphere!) to the services Sunday… the whole thing was so very special to us. The hugs and the cards and the expressions of gratitude - all of it made us feel so loved. We’re leaving here with full hearts.

I said in my message yesterday that part of what made the journey with Bloom so special over the years was how thoroughly and tenaciously this community lived out a robust vision of the kingdom. More than any community we’ve been part of, you did that. You combine so much of what is best in the great stream of historical Christian orthodoxy… your love for Jesus and for the life of prayer and worship that renew our communion with him, your dedication to holy living, your concern for the poor and overlooked of society, your love for the lost and for those whose faith is damaged and/or broken, your dedication to serving one another generously, your openness to the Holy Spirit’s dynamic presence and work, your commitment to and respect for the Great Tradition that surrounds us and orients us and the Scriptures that continually feed and chasten that tradition… I could go on and on. For us, you are a dream come true. Certainly you are God’s dream come true.

That’s a huge part of what gives us great confidence in your future. Add into that the wonderful leaders that serve and surround you, and Mandi and I have every expectation that you will continue to flourish, as God intends.

Leaving you is so bittersweet. I don’t know that it’s the path that any of us would have chosen, but it’s clear that God’s hand is on it. So we follow. And at the end of the day, if our journey with you has been nothing else, it has been a breathless attempt to keep up with the Jesus whose path is always expectedly unexpected. For us, that has hardly been more true than it is right now. Because we trust him, we know there is great good in store for all of us in this.

For these last eight or so years, we’ve carried you as close to our hearts as our own children. This community is precious to us. Your lives are precious to us. And though this is the end of our time with you, the conclusion of my pastorate with you, we hope that you know that we will never stop carrying you in our hearts… we love you so deeply.

I hope that you will stay in touch with us and that you holler at us whenever you’re in or near Colorado Springs (andrew.arndt@gmail.com!). We will covet every chance we get to see your wonderful faces…

Grace to you, and Godspeed.

- Andrew and Mandi Arndt

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