Oakland church

Archive for Messages from the Pastor

Labor Day and Immigrant Rights Day as a Sanctuary Community

When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

May is here. May 1st marks, for many people of the world, International Workers Day, also known as Labor Day, a time of honoring and advocating for laborers and working class people.  Relatedly, May 6th is Immigrant Rights Day to champion the rights and contributions of immigrants as a vital part of our country, especially here in California and in Oakland.  

Celebrations on May 1 have long had two, seemingly contradictory meanings. On one hand, May Day is known for maypoles, flowers and welcoming the spring. On the other hand, it’s a day of worker solidarity and protest. Though the U.S. observes its official Labor Day in September, many countries will celebrate Labor Day on Wednesday.   I’d like to share with you an article that reflects on the bloody history of this day.
 
Come and learn more about how we can become better friends and advocates as a sanctuary congregation and a justice faith community.  For example, supporting the children of Guatemala and their families through the Nueva Esperanza preschool; advocating for those held in detention centers and for children separated from their parents at the borders; and advocating for living wages, affordable housing, education and healthcare for all people.
 
with love, Pastor Laurie 

Earth Day – “I come into the peace of wild things…”

It’s Monday, Earth Day, and it’s a glorious spring afternoon. I am sitting in the Garden of Eden which exists in my back yard; as the warm sun kisses my shoulders through the shade of graceful redwood and bay trees, and my senses are filled with the fragrance of roses and trees.

It was Wendell Berry who wrote: 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

All of us who know that all is not as it should be in the world, and it is easy for despair to grow-yet today, Earth Day, we remember our interconnection with Earth and with one another, while pledging to make a difference in how we live, work, and worship.

I give thanks that I am part of a faith community and a denomination that embraces God’s calling to us as active participants in caring for this Garden of Eden.

Join us this Sunday as we are blessed by the music of the Pacific Boychoir Academy, and learn more about how we are advocating for the Green New Deal!

Power of Love in the Midst of Destruction

The prophet Isaiah, thousands of years ago, described God’s creative power – bringing forth new life in the midst of destruction, within and all around us:

Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah 43:16-21 

Join us this Sunday, as we awaken to this power of love within, and all around us. 

Photo by ardito-ryan-harrisna-1194309-unsplash

“Even there your hand shall lead me” Psalm 139

Psalm 139 is a breathtakingly beautiful testament to God’s constant, intimate presence in our lives. “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
 
God is with us even in our darkness, even when we plunge into an abyss of doubt or depression or despair, even when we do wrong. Even our darkest darkness is as light with God. God turns our darkness into light. God turns our messy, wounded, flawed selves into healed and redeemed lives, and then God’s light shines through our stained glass into the world as pure love.
 
The Psalm ends with a plea to God. “See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” It is a plea to save us from unbelief, to help us believe the beautiful promise that God is with us always and forever.  The transfiguration story in Luke is also about the ability to believe.  Join us, this Sunday, as we worship together, praying to God to strengthen our belief so that we may see the truth of this beautiful vision unfolding around us…

Everyone has a Place at the Table

Lately, I hear myself thinking, “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer”, especially when I read some of the insights from the Poor People’s campaign, a revival of Dr King’s vision, from 50 years ago:  https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/demands/.  (The Justice and Witness Team shares this event – A Poor People’s Hearing – contact Nancy Taylor about going),

Did you know that while the U.S. economy has grown 18-fold in the past 50 years, wealth inequality has expanded, the costs of living have increased, and social programs have been restructured and cut dramatically?  It’s tempting to think that’s the way things are doomed to be. 

 I take comfort in our sacred scriptures that remind us of the way that God wants things to be,  and why God gave ancient Israel laws about how the poor are to be treated: “These rights and obligations are also rooted in the goodness and justice of the created order”.

Well, we look around, and things often don’t resemble that beautiful created order much at all. 

We are called to participate in the co-creation of a heavenly banquet, where everyone has a place at the table;  where everyone has a roof over their head, to live more fully, more intentionally, in the “already” part of “already but not yet” nature of the Reign of God.  “The shape of God’s future must shape our present.”

Here at Skyline, we’re involved in both charity and justice to bring good news to the poor.  To learn more, just click on our website: https://skylineucc.org/justice-witness/.

In a beautiful reflection on Jesus’s upside down kingdom, Frederick Buechner writes this:

“The world says, ‘Mind your own business,’

and Jesus says, ‘There is no such thing as your own business.’

The world says, ‘Follow the wisest course and be a success,’

and Jesus says, ‘Follow me and be crucified.’

The world says, ‘Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own’ —

and Jesus says, ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’

The world says, ‘Law and order,’

and Jesus says, ‘Love.’

The world says, ‘Get’

and Jesus says, ‘Give.’ 

May it be so with us. Blessings upon your week, with love, Pastor Laurie 

Our Calling and Vocation to Love

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


This week, our adventures continue as we explore our calling and vocation to love. Jesus calls his first disciples, who are fisherman, to cast their nets out into the deep where they will find abundance; and re-defines them as fishers of men. It reminds me of this beautiful quote by the French novelist, author of Le Petit Prince,  Antoine de Saint-Exupery: 
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
It helps to keep the big picture in mind.
  1. Notice where you have settled for a small life, for a life that is shallow, or wasted on trivial things.
  2. Plunge into the deep. Take up the practice of contemplative prayer, or selfless service, or whatever helps you to relinquish your small self and to discover again that the deep

    Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


    ground of your being is love –  Ephesians 3:17. When our consciousness is open to the divine Presence in which we are submerged, then we can return to our ordinary tasks with fresh energy and a new perspective.
  3.  And finally, listen for your call. God has a mission for you! When you know that you are loved; when you know that your deep self, your real self, is in God and that you are made for union with God; then God will send you back out into the world to speak and act fearlessly for peace,  healing, and reconciling and setting free. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to Simon, and to us, as well. The outcome of our efforts is in the hands of God, and we trust that God will work through us, and that, in a way we cannot possibly  imagine, our lives will bear abundant fruit. God is whispering in our hearts, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, and we dare to reply, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 )
Blessings upon your week, Pastor Laurie 

“You are the Light of the World, Let Your Light Shine”

Altar


My heart is full of gratitude for the greening of the earth, and for the timeless stories of hope and justice that live on in our time in the countless acts of courage and love.
 
I am reminded of our closing ritual in our Christmas Eve service, that in lighting one candle and passing it on, together, our light shines in the darkness. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in John’s gospel, reminding us, “You are the light of the world, let your light shine”.  Even during the brief neighborhood power outage, the light and the music shined on!
 
I am grateful for the light which shines so brightly in each one of you!
  • The inspired vision of Sunday’s Christmas Pageant, the Bethlehemian Rhapsody, through our very own Tim Carter and David Guerra, our resident Rogers and Hammerstein! Special thanks to our Holy family (Amie, Justin, & Josiah), Angel (Anna), Herod (Boyd), and our choir!
  • The soulful, joyous music from Monday’s Christmas eve service, featuring so many songs from black spirituals, like Rise up Shepherds and Follow, Mary Had a Baby, Ain’t that a Rockin, songs that emerged from the sufferings of slavery, that lift up the timeless scriptures, and inspire God’s timeless vision of freedom and liberation, and good news for all people. Special thanks to Benjamin Mertz and the choir!!
  • Our kitchen angels: led by the wonderful Marcella Hardy, supported by Paula & Dave Byrens, Becky Taylor, Philippia Pegram, and all of you who donated treats!
  • The recent generosity to support the children of East Oakland Community Project, the largest transitional homeless center in Alameda County. Special thanks to Nancy Taylor, chair of our justice & witness teams!
  • The Green team for their recent community sing, to support for the Camp Fire victims, to their consistent dedication in maintaining our beautiful campus, especially in this Christmas season! Special thanks to Catherine Kessler, and Michael Armijo!
  • Our spiritual life team in offering the well -received Saturday morning advent bible study
  • The joy of welcoming those of you who have been away, the pleasure of welcoming those of you who are new, and the love that unites us all, across time and space.
I encourage you to enjoy the photos (see below) and the videos (see links below) from our worship together!
 
My heart and prayers are with all of those for whom this season carries grief and sadness. You are part of the circle of light. You are part of this family of love. May you experience God’s healing light, bringing comfort and peace to you and to those you love.  
 
Video Links

Prepare a Space for God “to be Born Within Us”

It’s Monday, December 17 at 7;30 pm, and as I type this, it’s hard to believe that next week, literally at this time, we will be celebrating our Christmas eve service! 
 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of grief, to feel that the promise of new life is not meant for us. 
 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of stress,  to lose sight of the deeper meaning  of God with us
 
    It’s so easy, in the midst of fear, to want to close ourselves off from the hope and promise of love. 
 
   As the great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart once wrote, “God is always wanting to be born within us” 
 
    I believe that it’s true, and like pregnancy and birth, we need to be active participants in the process. 
 
    I offer you some suggestions for preparing a space within yourself. 
  • Take time to read the timeless words of the prophets, that speak to us, personally and collectively,  as people 
  • living in the wilderness, in need of comfort, living in a land of deep darkness. I love the words of Isaiah 40, and 35, and 9.
  • Take time to read the birth narratives, especially  Luke 2.
  • Take time to be still, to breathe deeply, to breathe in peace, to breathe out fear, and to allow yourself to be fully open, vulnerable, and real, with the God who loves you completely. 
  • Take time to be grateful, even in the midst of all of the pain,  violence, and suffering,  for the gift of life, of love, of this moment, of the beauty that is all around  and within us. 
     
Blessings and peace to you this week, with love, Pastor Laurie

“Let Us Walk in the Light of Our God”

copyright nathan mcbride 2018 unsplash

In this season of Advent, may you walk in the light of peace! God bless you and thank you, for the privilege of serving as your minister.

An Advent Reading

Some day,

the Lord’s house will be there,

on that highest mountain.

And people will climb the mountain

and learn, from the Lord, how to live.

And they will spread the word to others,

so that everyone will know

how to act in the right way.

No nation shall invade another nation.

No, never again shall anyone be trained for war.

Swords shall be hammered into plows for the farm,

and spears recycled into tools for the garden.

Come,

let us all walk in the light of the Lord. 

                             adapted from Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah reminds us that Advent is about creating a new world in which there will be only one center, one people, one Light and one reason to be. “The mountain of God’s house shall be established as the highest mountain . . . and all nations shall stream toward it…O house of Jacob, come,” Isaiah pleads. “Let us walk in the light of our God.” 

In this season of advent, let us look up, to the mountaintop, let us walk together in the light of God. 

With love, Pastor Laurie

God’s Time

On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin to prepare for the story of Jesus’ birth with the strangest of readings, near the end of Luke, and just a few lines before the story of his death. 

“When you hear of war and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first. But the end will not follow immediately. ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes and famines and plagues, and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven…’” 

He predicts persecution for the disciples. He says “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days.”  Woe is right!  As in whoa! Ease up, man! We haven’t even digested our Thanksgiving leftovers!

So much for ‘little baby Jesus.’  Instead, we’ve got super serious, super stern sounding, adult Jesus.  What’s more, he goes all kinds of end-timey on us, here!  What does it all mean, especially now in the troubling times we are living in?

This Advent season, we are called to see these troubled times not just as our time, but as God’s time as well. That long view of time which spans millennia and generations, a time which encompasses memory and hope, with God as our mercy and our judge. The season is about God’s coming to us, to be sure, but it’s also about our coming to God,  about our coming to Jesus, returning year after year, and perhaps especially this year, to his prophetic voice of hope, to his way of radically inclusive love, to the long view of human history and with it the long view of our human redemption.  May we heed his call to be on guard, and to be not afraid. May we draw near to that already and not yet day of God, even as it draws near to us. Amen.

     peace, Pastor Laurie