Oakland church


The UCC’s taglines,  “that they may all live as one” ,  and “no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here”, to me, speak of the essence of atonement. Atonement is about.. “at one ment”, radical hospitality and welcome.  This Sunday we join with our Jewish brothers and sisters in marking Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and reconciliation.

Last Sunday morning, as I was driving up the church driveway, I was greeted with a banner that said, “Welcome back Pastor Laurie.”  I felt warmly welcomed!

Before the service, I was greeted by many children, who came dashing across the courtyard, with outstretched arms, saying, “I missed you so much this summer Pastor Laurie!” My heart filled up with joy, as I crouched down to greet and hug each one of them – Olivia and Talia, Josh and Lucy, Nathan and Gabriel, Nina and Elijah and Aiden. In a few short months, Nathan and Joshua had either grown several inches, or that I had shrunk. I also noticed quite a few missing teeth in those smiles. And there are others… like Pablo and Diego, that I’m looking forward to getting to know better and McKenna and Kyle, whom I miss and hope to see soon!

After the service, these children rushed up again, so eager to “help me” cut the creamy welcome back cake during fellowship time. I was so proud of how they “helped me” by first serving our visitors before enjoying their own piece of that delicious cake. What beautiful ambassadors of radical hospitality and welcome!

Jesus wisely pointed out the wisdom of children. I encourage all of us to open our hearts with that same radical welcome and hospitality, not only on Sunday mornings, but to begin each day this way, welcoming and including everyone with this spirit of life.

But, it’s hard to always maintain this level of radical openness and hospitality, this sense of “at one ment” isn’t it?

Last Saturday morning, after finishing my peaceful centering meditation, in a quiet sun filled room, I was in my living room, standing up in my PJ’s before breakfast, ready to recite my reflections for Doris’ memorial service. I wanted to give myself enough time to take a shower and have breakfast, and also to pick up fresh batteries for the AV.  I wanted to plug in the laptop for the PowerPoint presentation and test the sound before the service as well as check in with Rhea about Kay before going over to the church.  And I also wanted to call my Aunt Estelle to wish her a happy 91st birthday.  I wanted to arrive at church before Doris’s family to greet them and be fully present.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang… At my house it’s not the gentle, “harp- like” sound that I’ve set on my cell phone. It sounds more like a fire alarm. I was startled, embarrassed. Looking out of my window, I could see two women standing at the door, nicely dressed, and I thought to myself, “hmmmm….”

What would you do on a morning like this?

Guess what I did? I hid! I slipped out of sight from the window, and hid until they were gone.

As I walked out of the house that morning, I picked up the brochure they left on my porch, entitled, “Do you want to know the Truth?” I thought to myself.. truthfully?  Not right now.  The truth for me was that now was not the time for this conversation. I hoped that the two women didn’t take offense. I imagine that they must be prepared to face a lot of closed doors.

Skyline community church started off this way, 40 years ago.  People, inspired by the good news and the ecumenical movement, walked door to door inviting people to come and join this new experiment in church.  They were welcoming all, finding those who were lost in the search for a more inclusive faith community.

How do we, in this day and age, in this context here in Oakland, (with the highest incidences of burglary per capita in the country) reach out to each other and build community?  How do we welcome the stranger, and practice radical hospitality?

How have we built up barriers between us? We’ve built not only with physical fences and gates but emotional and psychic ones based on our fear of differences.. of race, class, age, gender, etc.

How do we break down these barriers… to restore the beloved community?

This is the essence of Rabbi J’s parable about the lost coin and the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-10). Come and join us this Sunday as we explore the parable’s deeper wisdom and healing for us.

Blessings, Pastor Laurie

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