Oakland church

Archive for Jesus

Lent – Lost in the Wilderness

Ever have an incredible spiritual experience? One where you felt the presence of God so close to you? One where you just knew that God had a plan for your life, and God was walking with you?

And then, has that feeling ever left just as soon as it came? And have you ever felt as though you are lost in the wilderness?

Jesus knew what that was like. So do we.

In Lent we are called share the wilderness experience, for forty days, to resist the temptation of forgetting that we too, are God’s beloved. 

Blessings upon your week, Pastor Laurie 
 
for further reflection: 

Henri J.M. Nouwen, 20th century
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection….When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions….Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Jonathan Martin, 21st century
“But that’s one way we can identify the devil’s voice: It always plays to our fears. It is the voice that tells us we must do something to prove who we are, to prove that we’re worthy, to prove that we are who God has already declared us to be. When we know we are loved by God, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves more beloved than we are.”

A Light so Bright….

It seems fitting to end epiphany, the season of light, with a light so bright that no one on earth can produce it, a flash of brilliant, blinding revelation that illuminates not only who Jesus is, but also his mysterious words about his coming suffering, death, and rising again. May it also illuminate who we are on the journey. 
 
I share with you, for further reflection, two beautiful quotes: 

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 21st century
“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance–for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light….Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

John O’Donohue, 21st century
“Much of the stress and emptiness that haunt us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty. Internally, the mind becomes coarse and dull if it remains unvisited by images and thoughts that hold the radiance of beauty.”

Blessings upon your week! Laurie 

Begin by Seeking the Light

I write this to you on the last day of a decade, and you will receive this in this new decade. 

I encourage us all to begin by seeking the light… be it the light of a single candle, or the light in the clear night sky of the stars and the planets, especially Venus these days. I encourage us to seek the light to remind us of something far greater than ourselves –  the Light of Divine Unconditional  Love that permeates everything, showing us a well-lit path to wholeness, forgiveness, and life.

The star over Bethlehem is a major symbol of Christmas—we sing about it, put it on the top of Christmas trees, even wear it on neckties—yet if you read the story closely, only a few wise men saw and understood the star. The shepherds did not notice a star, nor did anyone else.  Would we have been among the wise? Are we seeing the stars of Christ around us now? Do we understand the signs of light that God is giving us that can fill us with hope and inspire us?

The wise men saw and were moved for a reason: they were looking, they were searching the skies for meaning, they had practiced and made themselves students of the light. They were part of a tradition that passed wisdom along to them. They added their own knowledge and experience and were open to something new happening in their day.

We need to practice looking and finding meaning, too, if we want to be among those who see signs of Christ’s presence in our world, who see the light and understand what it says and follow where it leads. We need to be open to learning the wisdom of our tradition and being changed by the new things that God is doing.

   with love, Pastor Laurie 

A light has dawned. For unto us a child is born…

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;  on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 

For unto us a child is born. 

Unto us,  love is born.  

The highest truth of the human soul is love.

Let us remember love. 

Let us remember this all-powerful force being born in a humble child in an impoverished and oppressed setting.

Let us  remember how this force was at work, guiding and empowering his mother and father.

Let us remember how it has brought about good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and is ultimately more powerful than empires. 

Together, let us bear witness to how love is still is at work in the world, and within every one of us. 

I give thanks to God for each one of you, in the world and in my life! 

Here are some videos of our beautiful Christmas Eve service, for all of you to experience! 

This Sunday, join us, as we experience the beautiful music of Gabrielle and Ken Medema, and the powerful preaching of Rev Jerri Handy! 

The Cathedral, Jesus, and the People

Like many of you this week, I watched along with the world as the footage of flames enveloping the Cathedral of Notre Dame went viral over the internet.  At first, the images of the grand spire collapsing echoed memories of 9/11.  I couldn’t help but ask why?  Why did this happen to this Cathedral, that so embodies the confluence of beauty, majesty, faith, art, history, and human expression?  Why, on the eve of Holy week? Was it a sign? 

On the one hand, it is so heartwarming to see the universal outpouring of support and money from the world, to rebuild this church. But on the other hand, it raises more questions: 

Where is the lament,  the media attention, and the universal outpouring of support to rebuild the communities of poor people of color in this world,  whose lives are on fire? Where is the outpouring of support for the millions of black and brown people living as refugees throughout the world?  And for the millions who are being held in detention centers and prisons in this country?  And right here in Oakland, for the thousands living in tents on the streets of our cities, here, in one of the wealthiest areas in the world.  

Would there be such an outpouring of sadness, if we were remembering a young man of color, in an orange jumpsuit,  arrested for being an insurrectionist, a disturber of the peace? Whose church was not a building, but the people whom he loved and healed and to whom he brought hope: the sick, the poor, the women and children, the people of color, the outcasts, and those in prison.   A man who’s church was the ecclesia, the people, who gathered to be inspired by the stories of the prophets.  Who was executed on death row, by the military, industrial, superpower of his time?

Because this is the story of Jesus, and the Spirit of justice. It’s helpful to me to remember who and what it was that so inspired people hundreds of years ago to build such a cathedral.

On the eve of Holy Week, we remember the brutal public execution of a Palestinian Rabbi, who so embodied such beauty, majesty, faith, love and compassion for the poor and marginalized that many believed that he was the son of God. We remember a man whose life and stories, a thousand years later, inspired people to build Notre Dame Cathedral. Whose stories,  two thousand years later,  give us hope now. 

What do we do, in the face of such unanswerable questions? We remember him. We join together, and stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, out in the streets, near the prisons, and in the homeless encampments  to pray, sing and support one another through the power of these Spirit inspired stories, to rebuild our lives and our world, bringing good news for all people. It’s what humans do, and have always done. It’s called the ecclesia, the gathered community of faith, the church. 

We invite the same Spirit that gave birth to Jesus,  inspired Jesus, and resurrected Jesus to inspire us now into the new life that God is bringing to us, and to all of Creation. Join us as we pray and sing together in this Holy Week, and as we open ourselves to the new life that God is inviting us to, even in the midst of destruction and death. 

I’m inspired that  #NotreDame has already raised almost $1 billion in pledges toward reconstruction.  I’m even more inspired to support churches  less equipped to rebuild, like the 3 Black Baptist churches destroyed by arson earlier this month.  Join me in making a donation to these congregations, today (if you haven’t already). They need to raise $1.9 million to rebuild, and so far they’ve reached just $70k.  Click here for their gofundme site. Thank you!

Easter at Skyline, 2019

Skyline Community Church, United Church of Christ
Invites Oakland Community to Attend Easter Services

Come celebrate the Spirit of Easter where we welcome ALL of God’s people. Experience fabulous music and an
inspiring message with a spectacular view of the Oakland Hills.

Good Friday Service: Friday, April 19, 7:00 PM

Our Music Director, Benjamin Mertz, and Reverend Laurie Manning lead an empowering, spiritually expansive candlelight, meditation and music service, in the Taize tradition.  During the service, we will listen to and join in singing Taize chants, a form of meditative chant and silence, to quiet the mind, open the heart and feed the soul… time of quiet and solitude in the presence of God. A few words sung over and over again reinforce the meditative quality of prayer.  All are welcome.

Easter Sunrise Service: April 21, 6:30 AM with OEBGMC

Rise and shine to the uplifting music of the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus! Experience sunrise from our Sanctuary which rests on the summit of the Oakland hills and has windows spanning 30 feet high! As you look out on a stunningly beautiful view listen to inspiring preaching, heavenly music and feel welcomed into the warmth of a loving progressive and inclusive faith community.

Rev. Laurie says, “The music in this service sings out about a God of love, of freedom, of liberation… and that the world is more wonderful with the great diversity of all of humanity. This is good news!”

Easter Sunday Traditional Service: April 21, 10 AM

Skyline’s sanctuary windows overlook Redwood Park to Mt. Diablo Here we have a traditional Easter Service as a loving progressive and inclusive faith community. Rev. Laurie Manning , the choir and orchestra (directed by Benjamin Mertz) and the people fill the sanctuary with joy, celebration and love. Today’s service will have drama, singing, prayer, and a special honor garden for loved ones. And to top it off, all are welcome (especially families) to a family service that includes an Easter egg hunt for children of all ages: 12:00 noon.

Family Easter Egg Hunt: April 1, 12:00PM

Join families from our church and the neighborhood for a fun hour of learning and celebrating! Families of all configurations (we are an LGBTQ+ affirming church!) are invited!

We’ll gather at noon in the sanctuary to sing Easter songs, learn a bit about the Easter story (and how eggs are connected to it!), do some art, and participate in a service project for Nueva Esperanza, a preschool for immigrant children that our church helps to support.

Kids will also be invited (by age group) to participate in a (small) Easter egg hunt. Please bring your own basket/bag!

We also welcome you to join our community Easter service at 10 AM before the hunt, if you wish. We offer a children’s program for your little ones.

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Skyline Church UCC is a community faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge the worth of all beings, regardless of ability, age, ancestry, family or economic status, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual path, cultural origin, or any other visible or invisible difference. We invite all who wish to enter our Sanctuary and the full life of our church family. Ours is a God of justice and compassion, and our church lives in covenant with God to do its utmost to pursue justice and compassion, as an Open and Affirming congregation.

For more information please contact our office at:

Skyline Community Church,
United Church of Christ
12540 Skyline Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94619
510.531.8212

Email Skyline Office

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 

Put on those Crash Helmets

The scene of Jesus cleansing the temple has always been more than a little bit scary for me. I think the reason is that my “turn the other cheek” version of Jesus doesn’t allow for this kind of radical behavior. This is over-the-top and scary Jesus sort of stuff. Angry Jesus, the one who turns over tables and scatters sheep or who curses fig trees,  is an unpredictable and fearsome Lord,  one who will not be tampered with, placated, or pandered to.

This is the Lord author Annie Dillard images, saying, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

She’s right!

Just in case you think this week’s gospel reading has nothing to do with us in 21st century western Christendom,  consider what moneychangers exist in our modern congregational edifices. Consider what  currency must be exchanged in order to “rightly” worship and enter the community today. We may not have doves, sheep, and cattle in the sanctuary, but what about the worship battles between organ and piano lovers, or competing capital improvement project plans that so many faith communities struggle with?  We are still at risk of falling into the trap of a currency exchange of faith.

What are we to do?  I believe that it’s about falling wholly in love,  being swept off our feet by the risen Christ and fully focused on following him.

Branding, innovating, reframing, and reimagining church is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it is necessary to measure how we’re doing in communicating the good news and equipping God’s people, but being church is not so much about marketing and metrics as it is about faithful discipleship. You can bet your last goat or turtledove that when we do get sidetracked, the all-consuming Jesus will start turning over a few tables and discomforting the comfortable.

Be ready. Be prepared. Put on those crash helmets and expect a miracle.