Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

May God Bless you with Discomfort

According to John’s gospel, Jesus begins his ministry by showing more than telling.
In the temple, Jesus disrupts and overturns the systems of corruption and profiteering taking place, but ultimately points us to the promise of restoration.

It is a message for our times.

Related to this theme, I am sharing with you, a Franciscan Prayer of Blessing for this week:

Prayer for the Week:

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

Amen.

 Lent 2021 Day by Day: the Journey to Love

Lent reminds us that, day by day, suffering and brokenness find us.

Day by day, we doubt again, we lament , we mess up. Day by day, the story of Jesus on the cross repeats—every time lives are taken unjustly, every time we choose corruption, greed, violence, and indifference, every time we remain silent in the face of systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia, every time we forget how to love.

We cry out, How long, O God?”

And yet, amid the chaos of our lives, God responds “I choose you, I love you, I will lead you to repair.” Day by Day, God breaks the cycle and offers us a fresh way forward.

Agape Love  is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. This Greek word, agápē (pronounced uh-GAH-pay), and variations of it appear often throughout the New Testament. Love invites us on the journey now. 

Even while worshiping apart, we come to God day by day, with our prayers, our dreams, our hopes, and our doubts. Even if from a distance, we will continue to be community to one another—especially when it’s hard—by choosing each other day by day. We will continue to love God with the same persistence God chooses and claims us.

Our sub- theme is strengthening spiritual muscle- in body, mind, soul, and spirit – to develop and strengthen our endurance and our capacity for love. It takes practice! It takes teamwork! It takes discipline to be a disciple. Let’s do it together. For love’s sake!

Embodied practice builds muscle memory. Repetition helps retrain our neural pathways. We need the 46 days of Lent because this season shapes us into more faithful disciples. Join us this Lent as day by day, we bring all of who we are to God and trust that God will meet us, day by day, along the way.

 

February 17 – Ash Wednesday

Day by day, we’re invited in

Matthew 6:1-16, 16-21 | Isaiah 58:1-12

As Lent begins, we’re invited in—, to our own spiritual journey, to  our own transformation. We’re on this journey together, but we’re invited to turn inward. We are reminded that performative acts (of piety and justice) are not the way.

 

February 21 – 1st Sunday in Lent

Day by day, God meets us

Mark 1:9-15 | Genesis 9:8-17

God meets Jesus at the water before he is tempted in the wilderness— this is vital. Above all, God claims us. God meets us in the liminal space, at the water’s edge, at the threshold of something new, and names us Beloved. God’s covenant with all of creation reminds us that God meets us where we are—in the midst of our reluctance, doubt, eagerness, or weariness—and proclaims we are good.

 

February 28 – 2nd Sunday in Lent

Day by day, we’re called to listen

Mark 8:31-9:8¹ | Psalm 22:23-31

 Like the disciples, we are often stuck in the pattern of messing up repeatedly. We cling to power, we climb the ladder, we remember Christ’s teachings rather than embodying them. So many forces, such as shame, guilt, ignorance, pride, and  inaction can block us from seeing and hearing. It requires humility for transformation. Day by day,  loves beckons to listen—to God and to others.

 

March 7 – 3rd Sunday in Lent

Day by day, we are shown the way

 John 2:13-22  1 Corinthians 1:18-25

According to John, Jesus begins his ministry by showing more than telling. In the temple, Jesus disrupts and overturns the systems of corruption and profiteering taking place, but ultimately points us to the promise of restoration. Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that God’s wisdom is more expansive than we can imagine. We are shown the way, even if God’s “way” feels foolish, counter-cultural, disruptive, or uncomfortable

 

March 14 – 4th Sunday in Lent

Day by day, God loves first

John 3:14-21 | Ephesians 2:1-10

After inviting Nicodemus to be born anew, Jesus tells him in John 3 that God so loved the world that God sent his son to restore it. Therefore, when we read John 3:16, we remember that Jesus is speaking in metaphor and poetry. Ultimately, love is where God begins and ends. This love, like grace, is a gift we do nothing to deserve. Day by day, love is our refrain. Before we act, think, or believe, can love be first for us too?

 

March 21 – 5th Sunday in Lent

Day by day, we are reformed

John 12:20-33 | Jeremiah 31:31-34

We desire for God to write on our hearts so that God’s law can re-shape and re-form us from the inside out. Reformation is a journey of letting the old fall away for something new to emerge, of returning to God’s words over and over, of being drawn into the heart of God. This is the process of justification and sanctification; transformation must be internal and communal.

 

March 28 – 6th  Sunday in Lent

Day by day, we draw upon courage

John 12:1-19²

On Palm Passion Sunday, we remember that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not a risk-free, palm party. It was a protest parade—a protest against those in power, a parade to prepare the way for a different kind of king. And this was all happening with plots to kill Lazarus (and Jesus) building in the background. We’re reminded that the crowds were brave to show up that day, and that Jesus drew on courage to face his journey to the cross. The root of courage is cour, meaning “heart.” Courage is deep within us; we often find it when we most need it, when everything else has been stripped away.

 

April 1   – Maundy Thursday

Day by day, we are drawn together

 John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Foot washing is a practice of radical vulnerability, of being seen and known. Jesus loved the disciples “to the end.” In this act, we remember that God holds all of our pain, vulnerability, doubts, and sufferings. As we venture toward the cross, we can lean into God’s everlasting arms, knowing we are held.

 

April 2 – Good Friday

Day by day, we find ourselves here

 John 19:1-30

Day by day, we find ourselves at the foot of the cross, at the pit of despair, in the face of death, in the grip of state-sanctioned violence. “Here” is an emotional place. “Here” is grief. “Here” is the reality of sin and brokenness. On Good Friday, we are called to sit in the silence of death, knowing that God is here.

 

April 4 – Easter Sunday

Day by day, the sun rises

 Mark 16:1-8

According to Mark, on the first day of the week, the women rise with the sun and buy spices to anoint Jesus’ body. They are shocked to find the tomb empty, and leave in fear and terror. Mark’s resurrection story is less triumphant than the other Gospel testimonies (as scholars believe the rest of Mark’s gospel was a later addition). Mark’s version, reminds us that Easter comes to us, day by day, even if we don’t know what to make of God’s resurrection ways. Day by day, the sun rises. And some days, that is enough.

Thank You, Leadership, for Blessing Skyline Church

Thank you for our inspiring experiences on Sunday, both in worship and at our 2nd virtual quarterly meeting! I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to each one of you, for all that we’ve accomplished together, in our 50th year, and during the year of Covid.

I am so blessed to partner in leadership with so many of you, in areas such as:

Our evolving Site Protection Plan (SPP) team to ensure the safety of our site and all those on our campus.

Our Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan and forgiveness team to cover the 3 month closure of our pre-school, and the reduced revenue because of the need for fewer students and more staff.

Our Personnel & finance teams creating evolving plan for the preschool to remain open and adequately staffed in response to evolving county health guidelines.

Our Council members, meeting every month to vote upon critical decisions.

Our Worship team (Tom, Gabrielle, Ken), and to our choir, to adapt to virtual worship, through the wonders of zoom and the internet.
We’ve also endured the challenges of keeping our Spirits up, with the blessings of our various service teams:  Spiritual Life, Justice & Witness, Green team, and our ever – emerging groups: Care and Concern, Invitation Welcome and Fellowship, Wellness, Climate Justice, Poetry Lovers, and more to come!
We’ve survived, and continued to be a church, and that is a huge accomplishment.
Thanks be to God and to each one of you!

Skyline Polity: Self Determination and Choice

One of the many aspects that I love about Skyline is our polity, rooted in a foundational tenet of Congregationalism: the priesthood of believers. That includes YOU!  Together, we as a local church, have the right to decide what our faith community’s forms of worship and confessional statements are, who are officers are, how we administer our affairs, and what our ministries are.  Given the insistence on independent local bodies, our structure continues to be important in many grassroots, social reform movements, abolition, temperance, women’s suffrage, LGBTQ rights, climate justice and the sanctuary movement. Skyline has, over these past fifty years, has been a powerful force, locally, and nationally, in these efforts as a progressive faith community.
 
This Sunday, after worship, we will hold our quarterly congregational meeting on zoom, to share highlights of our planned ministries, and to listen to our collective hopes, dreams, and longings for them. Please plan to join us for this powerful co-creative process together, in all of our glorious diversity.
.
This Sunday in worship, we will explore the powerful healing story in Mark’s gospel, about a man in the synagogue possessed by an unclean spirit. I look forward to wondering with you, about this “unclean spirit”. What are you longing for Jesus to name, to silence, and to call forth from you? From this faith community? From this country? What is It that needs healing, and forgiveness, to restore us to wholeness?
 
We will also be hearing Skyline stories from our history, with Tony and Philippia,  who have been members for over 40 years!

Let Us Be the Light, Together: Inauguration Reflections

It’s Wednesday Jan 20th, a new day, Inauguration day. The sunlight broke through the clouds over our nation’s capital this morning, in this  epiphany moment.
I’d like to share two moments that moved me deeply this morning, and look forward to hearing your experience of this historic day.
First, Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, read an original work at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Her words are on my mind….
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated
Let us see the light.. let us be the light”.
Second,  President Biden made reference to another January on New Year’s Day in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
“When he [Lincoln] put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote, ‘if my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.’
On this January day, my whole soul is in this:
Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation.
And I ask every American to join me in this cause.
Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.
I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.”
Find full transcript here.
Let us be that light, that goodness together.  
 
Amen,
 

Behold What is Beckoning Us this New Year

Those of us who are hikers know what a cairn is, right?  A cairn is a little pile of stones that we sometimes see along the trail — or maybe a marker of some sort — that marks a turning point, or a crossroads in the trail, a decision point.

If you’re a hiker you know that when you come to a cairn on the path it’s usually a good idea to let your pack down and sit down and maybe take a sip of water and eat some trail mix, take out your map and figure out where exactly you’ve come from and where it is that you’re going.  A time of reorientation, to make sure you’re still headed in the right direction.  That’s what New Year’s was for our ancestors, a kind of milestone, a reckoning point on life’s journey.
I can remember hiking in the high Sierras, where the stars are so bright that you can see our home (our galaxy-the Milky Way), gracefully revealing her light, which so often is obscured with our light pollution. In such moments, it is so important to stop, and behold, like the Magi long ago, to consider this journey, and what it is that is beckoning us, and what it is we are all a part of.
.
We, like the Magi, are walking toward you.
One foot in front of the other, we are walking
toward you. 

It is our very prayer to move your way. 
So if you can, oh God of love, leave the light on
and the front door unlocked. 

Leave a fire in the hearth and food on the stove. 
And when we start to get lost or doubt our dreams, 
Give us the will to persevere. 
We are walking toward you, O God. 
So like the parent that throws open the door, 
Open the door to us and welcome us in. 
Amen. Join us as we begin the new year together, this Sunday in worship! 
Peace, Pastor Laurie

May Our Souls Magnify God’s Love

Those of us who take the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally may wonder what Mary really said when the angel told her that she was about to become an unwed teenage mother.

This could not possibly have been good news for Mary, a poor peasant girl among an illiterate people who never heard of a thing called “virgin birth.”

“I’m what? Pregnant?”

“And you want me to tell people what?”

“You know that in the eyes of all my neighbors, he will always be regarded as a . . . you know what they will call my baby.”

And yet the truth of this text is profoundly present in Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, whose birth will so change the world that the years on earth will be measured as being before and after Jesus’ birth. And Mary’s prophecy in this text is still coming true. People of the light still believe and work for it to this day.

It is Mary who utters these radical words, who says this about God:
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Who says that God sides with the poor?

And we will still work for justice as God’s partners, until the poorest and most vulnerable on the earth realize God’s mercy as present “for those who fear God from generation to generation.” God’s strength has and will continue to bring down powerful despots on thrones; God will continue lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry on the earth, filling them with good things.

No matter what actually happened, I know this text is true.

God is still magnifying the souls of those who say, yes.

May our souls magnify this love.

Amen, Pastor Laurie

Enjoy these video replays from the Magnificat service and the Longest Night Vespers! (Passcode: 3Q+54v9P)  Simply click on the title to watch the video. “My Soul Magnifies the Light” starts at about 44 minutes into the Magnificat.

     
Magnificat    (video)              Longest Night Vespers  
 Passcode: 3Q+54v9P

Special thanks to our musicians: Ken Medema, Gabrielle Lochard, the choir ensemble. 

Join us for this Thursday evening’s Christmas Eve service!! Learn more at this link: https://skylineucc.org/christmas-eve/

With Love, Pastor Laurie

(421-2646)  revlauriemanning@aol.com

Image: “Magnificat,” by Thomas Mainardi (2018)

Care of Your Soul in these Trying Times

How ARE you? 
 
Increasingly we are all experiencing the fatigue not only of this emotional time of year, but of the pandemic. 
 
The SIP ( shelter in place) orders we’ve been living with have gotten more restrictive. It’s in our best health interests collectively to switch to more restrictive rules. And at the same time, the changing of the rules, the unknown future, and the general stress and worry of the pandemic is exhausting.
 
In the midst of the darkness, self-care is important. Diet and exercise are important. Paying attention to what you’re feeling is important. Finding a spiritual practice that feeds your soul is important.
 
One of the chronic ongoing impacts of the pandemic on mental health has been an increase in feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. If you’re feeling any of these, I know it can be really hard to reach out and ask for help. Still, I encourage you to do so. It is honestly the only way your family and friends can know that you need extra attention. It is the only way your pastor and your beloved community can know that you need some pastoral care.
 
If you need something new to feed your soul, you might want to consider these:
  • Even though Advent has already started, it’s not too late to make a daily practice of sitting in reflection and prayer. You can download this free Advent Devotional for your personal use. It was written by members of the Sequoia Association of the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.
  • Join us on Fridays at 1 pm for our prayer and care check ins. It’s a time to be present to our souls. 
And, please, remember that we have a special service on Monday, December 21, at 7 pm  This Longest Night Service” is simple, meditative, and healing. 
 
peace, Laurie 
 
 

From Gratitude to Service

Our guest preacher last Sunday, Mr. Benjamin Mertz, lifted up some powerful challenges to us, on the eve of this 400th anniversary of the first “Thanksgiving”, shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanaugs.

He asked,
What do we do with this fantasy story of this Thanksgiving of the big meal, shared among people who are different getting together? How do we square it with the rest of the story?

What do we do instead? All of these gifts, given to us justly, or taken through the spoils of conquest & slavery? What do the prophets say? They are calling us, to agape love, to loving our neighbors, to loving those as the parable of the Good Samaritan taught us, those we view as enemy, as other. To love them, not as an intellectual exercise –but as active, alive, agape love, in service to others. .
  
Let us remember, on this 400th anniversary of that feast shared between Pilgrims and the Wampanaugs that this is not our land. Let us remember, that for many of us, too much of our money is in the bank, not much has gone to our neighbors right here, from the Ohlone tribe.

 


 
Here is another great piece for us to reflect upon this Thanksgiving:
 
Yes we are in the middle of a pandemic, yes, Corona has taken so much away from us., and many of us are mourning. But, despite it all, we are so blessed, there is so much abundance, food, housing, clothing, bank accounts, internet.
 
Let us transform Thanksgiving into a day of justice,
Let us transform Thanksgiving into a day of agape love
That doesn’t mean just sitting around the table with our families & friends, it means being active in the community, lifting up the oppressed & the poor.
Let us transform the fantasy of Pilgrims and Indians from the past ..  into the dream & strategy for the future of racial and economic of justice for all.
 
Let us transform the fantasy of giving thanks into giving help.
Let us transform the gratitude of what we’ve been given into service of others.


 
Here are some opportunities to do so, safely, even now, in this pandemic:

1.    Donating to land reparations to the Ohlone people in the Bay Area:
 
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/31/native-american-land-taxes-reparations
https://sogoreate-landtrust.org/shuumi-land-tax/
 
2.    Offering support for the children and families of East Oakland Community Project, the largest transitional homeless shelter in Alameda County. Our chair of justice and Witness,  Nancy Taylor, encourages you to reach out and contact her, if you are interested and able to help provide a meal (boxed food or gift card) for families who have found permanent shelter from East Oakland Community Project (homeless shelter). 

Together, may we transform the gratitude of what we’ve been given into service of others. 

The Fierce Urgency of Now with the Climate Crisis; We are in Kairos Time

“The Fierce Urgency of Now” is a phrase that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deployed in his address at New York’s Riverside Church when he articulated his opposition to the Vietnam War:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.”

 

Kairos:  Jesus’s Understanding of Time

Jesus’ ministry begins in a time of turmoil following the arrest of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Theologians such as Paul Tillich have unpacked the nuance and significance of the Greek word for “time” in these opening words of Jesus.

Unlike English, Greek has two distinctly different words for “time”: chronos and kairos. Chronos is time that is measured and definite, as of a ticking clock. Kairos, by contrast, signifies the fulfillment of the right action at the right moment. In the New Testament, the coming of Jesus is what the apostle Paul describes as the fullness of time.
 
Tillich elaborated an understanding of kairos by situating it within moments of profound catastrophe which are paradoxically also moments of unique opportunity. For Tillich, such moments are charged with God as “the eternal breaks into the temporal, shaking and transforming it.”
 
I recently recalled a quote from the Russian author, Dostoyevsky, that moves me deeply about our climate crisis, “in the end perhaps it is the beauty of nature that will compel us to save it.” I also came across a poem that I fell in love with in my early 20’s, written by English poet and Jesuit Priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, entitled Pied Beauty, which speaks of this sense of wonder about the glorious diversity of the earth: 
Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-color as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscapes plotted and pieced-fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
    With gratitude for the beauty and the preciousness of this Earth! Love, Pastor Laurie