First Sunday in Lent

I've spent the last week packing all of my belongings into my car and moving from one place to another; and even though each house is just miles away from each other I've found all of this emotion bounce around within me. At one house there has been a lot of life lived: mail from loved ones opened, tears shed, naps taken, friendship shared, food cooked, tv watched, prayers prayed, laughter, and so forth. At the other house, nothing. I have no familiarity with it. I have no memories tied to this particular space I am now supposed to call home. I'm just supposed to make my bed there and start living.

As I've reflected on this experience, which in all actuality is farily common and doesn't need to be so jarring, I think it can feel so emotional because it mirrors much of our lives. Whether of our own doing or that which has been done to us, it seems like sometimes we're just dropped into altogether new territory. We find ourselves thrown into new space and we're not supposed to complain about it or fight it we're just supposed to make it work. Yet this weekend Bill talked about a different way of dealing with whatever life throws at us -- whether it be anxieties, fears, wrongdoings, enemies, uncertainties, or longings. We are to pray, not flippantly or haphazardly or with trepidation, but openly and honestly. And his love will prevail in us and for us, all the while ordering us and teaching us to trust that we belong to him. That's a different kind of living.

Bloom, as we find ourselves thrown into the wandering, strange season of Lent, my hope for us is that we would learn to pray as openly and honestly as we know how. At times it may be in utter praise. At other times it may be in silence. At others it may be full of frustration and complaint. Yet if what the Psalmist says is true, then our God is the one who will lead us with "unfailing love and faithfulness" and there is nothing we cannot bring to him. He will prove himself good. He will prove his way is right. And we will receive the gift of knowing the sure, steady, unchanging friendship that can only come from a God whose love is incomparable.

Draw close to him and trust him.

-Melissa
 

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

The Transfiguration is a tricky thing to talk about. Even scholars have trouble deciphering exactly what it means. What we do know, and what David pointed us towards in his talk this past Sunday, is that the Transfiguration as described in the gospel reading is a picture of Peter and two other ordinary guys experiencing the presence and the glory of God revealed in and through Jesus. 

We see Jesus in all his glory, light emanating from him and wearing clothes whiter than any earthly bleach could bleach them. And not only that, but he's having a conversation with Elijah and Moses— long-gone heroes of the faith. Then they hear the voice of God (which they knew from their experience at Jesus’ baptism) tell them once again that this is the Son of God, and to listen to him. It’s hard toimagine what it would feel like to have an experience like that, but we get a a bit of an idea from Peter’s response when he says in Mark 9:5-6, "'Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'  He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.”

When we have an experience with God where it feels like he’s right there with us, I’m sure we all want the same thing: to memorialize that moment forever. To remember the times where he felt closer than our skin. It’s not all the time that we feel that way, so we do our best to remember those times and draw peace from them. The truth is, we don’t have to just remember the presence of God, but we can seek the presence of God every day.Peter recounts his time on the mountain in 2 Peter 1 where he says:

"We saw it with our own eyes: Jesus resplendent with light from God the Father as the voice of Majestic Glory spoke: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of all my delight.” We were there on the holy mountain with him. We heard the voice out of heaven with our very own ears. We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts.” (MSG)

Jesus, the Light of the world, has given us his word and his presence to brighten up the dark times. He’s given us a chance to experience his presence and be changed by it. If there’s anything we can take away from the story of the transfiguration, it’s that God’s presence is important. Remember the times when he was with you, and seek to experience his presence more and more today.

-- Seth

First Sunday After the Epiphany

Acts 19:1-7   Mark 1:4-11

Epiphany has dawned upon the Church and we find ourselves — either to our great discomfort or our great delight — having to grapple with the mystery of Christ Jesus in his fullness, God in flesh. The season of Epiphany is marked with these moments where we are given invitations to see Christ afresh and to behold him. From the lectionary this past Sunday we learn that he is the anointed one, the beloved, the one in whom the Father is well pleased. 

What Dave offered us in his sermon though, is that we are not removed from him because he is the Son, the Savior, and the King. Instead, he draws us into the waters that we may be immersed in the Holy Spirit, and rise again with Him as sons and daughters, prophets and followers, inheritors of the Kingdom. Which is why, quite frankly, you are going to hear more and more about Baptism around Bloom; because it is the entry way into the Church, the Body of Christ, and through it we find our true identity where the chaos of the world no longer has power over us, but instead we enter into the chaos and demand it be silenced and stilled in light of the radiant and transformative love of God.

We have had a lot of conversations on staff the past few months about Baptism specifically, and where it fits into our life together. And Bloom, the truth is — is that Baptism is the whole of it! To be baptized is to be yoked to Jesus. To be baptized is to be proclaimed as his sons and daughters, whom are only found in the Father's heart to be loved, adored, freed, and empowered. To be baptized is to be welcomed into the family of God, the faithful saints of the past, present, and the future. To be baptized is to be filled with the Spirit, so that we may know, love, worship, and serve the Lord. To be baptized is to be sent to every place and to every person with the good news that they are invited to come to the waters and discover him there waiting for them too. Bloom, may baptism in Christ Jesus become our hope, our banner, and our song and may you know today the freedom, love, and empowerment of the Spirit afresh.

Grace and Peace to you.

- Melissa

If you would like to hear the sermon from Sunday night, you can do so here.

Third Sunday of Advent

This Advent has been, for me and I think for many in our community, oddly hopeful. Hopeful perhaps for obvious reasons: the remembering and anticipating of Christ's coming tends to set our hearts towards the promise that we know Christ comes and with His coming means something better awaits us. But odd because the Scriptures the lectionary brings us this Advent have not yet been filled with scenes of mangers and shepherds and a baby. Instead, they've been about John the Baptist and preparing the way and being ready when Christ comes again. 

This week as we heard about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus to go about capturing the hearts of his people through the advent of a new Kingdom... I found myself struck by Steven's call for us to be patient. To be patient for the work of the Spirit to actually accomplish something good in us. To be patient for the work of the Spirit to bring us what we need, when the time is ready, and that what we need is often much different from what we want. To be patient with our temporary, yet trudging struggles, because on the other side there will be a depth of faith and love in Christ and a grace to be found there that will truly fulfill the longings of our hearts.

And as I've rolled these thoughts around in my heart and thought of the more anticipatory, apocalyptic images of this Advent... the words that keep coming to me are... patient endurance. Patient endurance is not exactly what I would have thought as being one of God's whispers to me this Advent. Yet, it has brought about much hope in me because of the swelling brokenness I keep stumbling upon in myself, in others, and as I read the headlines in the news. Were it not for this odd hope of Christ this Advent, it would all be much to discouraging. But odd hope means patient endurance... to wait. to watch. to bear with. to long for. to prepare. 

That is a message we all need. Stay awake, beloved people of God. Be watchful and prepare for my coming, because on the other side of your endurance you will find Christ himself, in great glory in power, standing ready to meet you. 

Melissa

First Sunday of Advent

There's a magic that comes along with Advent that makes my heart sing. Christmas music (of course, not till after Thanksgiving), the smell of fresh pine filling the living room, and Christmas lights twinkling from house to house make it a truly special time of year. As the staff and I at Bloom began to look at the Lectionary this year for the season of Advent, I think we all assumed we'd be talking a lot about a baby being born in a manger, a son born with the government resting on his shoulders, and a pregnant Mary on a donkey being turned away from an inn. If you came to one of our Gatherings this past week, you will know that this was not the case. Instead, the topic was a bit less magical: death and destruction. 

In the gospel reading from Mark, Jesus uses some Old Testament prophesies about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem to point us to an apocalyptic future. But, as David spoke about it in our Gatherings, he painted a picture for us so we could begin to see that this apocalyptic message was not without hope. This hope begins at death crashing into a new reality and ends with Christ reigning on the throne. It was after this past weekend that I realized what advent was really about. It's not just about Christ's first advent beginning the work of this new reality through his death on the cross and resurrection, but also about his second advent as the fulfillment of that work. And the beautiful thing is that we get to be a part of it. 

My kids this year are finally old enough to get excited about Christmas, and of course what they're most excited about is presents. As a parent, my goal this year is help them understand that this season is about so much more. It's about family and house churches gathering together to celebrate, reflecting on Jesus' birth and his coming to bring us into the newness of his kingdom, and the love that we should extend to each other and the world because Christ first loved us, and most of all HOPE. May our hearts be filled to the brim with the hope of christ and the new reality he brings this season, and has brought already through his coming to earth as our savior.

-Seth

Pentecost

The Gospels record Jesus saying several times to the disciples that "if you have seen me you have seen the Father." To see the Son of God, the fleshly Jesus standing before them, to see how he acted, lived, served, and loved -- was to see the Father and to know his loving, giving, healing, powerful character.

I've had people ask me before "How do you see Jesus at work right now?" Sometimes I've kind of fumbled my way through that question... err, I don't know, I guess technically Jesus was a man so I haven't seen HIM in the flesh outside of what I see of him in the Scriptures... It's a minor difference, but this weekend as Dave taught through who the Holy Spirit is I found myself reflecting on the fact that it is more accurate to say that to see Jesus at work in the present, is to know the Spirit.

Much like Dave shared, I lived a lot of my life holding the Holy Spirit at an arm's length. The churches I found myself in either didn't talk about him or talked about it in a way that felt like I was either going to become a crazy person or believe in some voodoo magical entity. But a few years ago, I had an experience where I realized I'd totally missed the Spirit and that it's actually pretty difficult to go about the Christian life without him. 

So often what I think we need to hear, in this present day where we've all either heard a little too much crazy Holy Spirit talk or have heard nothing at all... is that there is nothing to fear in the Holy Spirit. He will not hurt you. He is the very essence and experience of love. He is the one that quiets us so that we may hear his voice. He is the one who orders our lives. He is the one who sets our broken, hurt, unsure, fearful places within us right. He is the one who proclaims us as beloved sons and daughters. He is the one who sets us free. He is the one who gives us dreams and like wind fans those dreams into actual flame. He is the one who readily offers more and more and more of himself, never running out of what he can give. He is the one who gives us breath and words in prayer. He is the one who allows us to cry, "Jesus is Lord!" He is the one that fills us with the very power that raised Jesus from the dead, and says "you will do even more works than these..." healing every disease, casting out demons, curing the sick, raising the dead... Sure, sometimes it might look a little crazy to the rest of the world but the Spirit is good and kind. If you're like me and are holding him at an arm's length may I just offer that you can put the fear down, because it truly has no place in this life with God. He wants only to love you! I promise, promise, promise.

Bloom, to know the Spirit... is to see Jesus alive in the world... which is to proclaim the Father's heart to the world. My prayer for us all is that we would become a people humbled to receive God, and continually filled and alive to the Spirit. This Pentecost, may you open yourself to the Spirit afresh and may we journey together into the heart of the Father, becoming more and more like Jesus in the world. You are loved, Bloom.

-Melissa

Seventh Sunday of Easter

“We are the Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” If anything could sum up Bloom's time through the season of Easter, I hope it’s that quote from Saint Augustine that Melissa included in her message this past weekend. This weekend was all about the ascension of Christ and the disciples being empowered to continue the work that Jesus started on the earth after he’s gone. It’s about a community of people who are weak, uneducated screw-ups who are given authority by Jesus to do some incredible things—the same authority that has been give to us, Bloom, as a community of resurrected, Jesus-seeking people. Melissa challenged us to be like the disciples, faithfully going in unity with those who know and love Christ to point people to what it means to know and love Christ. As we move into the season of Pentecost this next week, my prayer is that we as a church community will be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, unified in our mission to love people and bring the light of the kingdom of God to the darkest places in our city. Sometimes it seems like I need a wake-up call like the disciples who were just sitting and staring as Jesus ascended to the clouds. “why do you stand there looking up toward heaven?” I wonder if it would be an effective motivation technique for an angel to come and kick my butt into gear and move me into action, instead of just waiting for things to happen. I think instead, we’re called like the disciples to move toward something that is bigger than ourselves. To  be bound together in love, as Paul says in Colossians 3:14 and to seek the unity of Christ that Melissa so lovingly and gently pushed us toward. “We are the Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” Let that be our mantra as we continue on, because there’s nothing and no one more unifying than Jesus, and there’s nothing more empowering than the Spirit, "which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:6). So, let’s make it our mission, Bloom, to work together for the good of our community and the Kingdom to love God and love people as Jesus taught us. 

Peace be with you, 

- Seth

PS: If you’d like to watch the interview of Cardinal Tagle that Melissa spoke of in her message, or any of the other talks from the Alpha Leadership Conference our Staff experienced last month in London, go to http://alpha.org/lc/talks.

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