It is a crowded, complex city. Last week, I wrote of being in Israel for two weeks. Our first week was in Galilee, and our second week was in Jerusalem. I was struck by the complexity and density of Jerusalem.
The city, particularly within the old walls, is packed with residents, tourists, and merchants all trying to navigate narrow, winding streets. I was repeatedly impressed by drivers who could navigate the lanes, even as pedestrians flattened themselves against the walls of buildings to let the cars pass. The Christian, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim quarters of the old city each have a somewhat distinct personality. Vistas depict diversity, such as this photograph of the Western “Wailing” Wall, the remnants of the Jewish temple, and The Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine. We know, of course, that pictures cannot show everything. The security screening and armed guards are not visible from a distance. A long and difficult history has created a very complex present in Jerusalem.
One early morning as I stood in prayer on a rooftop terrace overlooking Jerusalem, I reflected on how often we long for simplicity and peace in our lives. There are times we would like to create a bubble of protection around ourselves to keep the messiness of the world at bay. Such efforts are fruitless. Our individual lives, our local communities, and our world as a whole have always been marked by tensions and difficulties as well as joy and beauty. The good news is that God has repeatedly chosen to be present in the midst of it all. Jesus was born in an occupied land and when the time was right he walked straight into Jerusalem.
God shows up in the midst of the crowds and complexity. May this give us comfort and courage.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
Two weeks ago, I sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
I was fortunate to be included in a “Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands” sponsored by Columbia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school near Atlanta. With a group of 18 other people, a mix of clergy and lay people, we spent two weeks in Israel. Our first week was in Galilee and our second week was in Jerusalem.
The Sea of Galilee is a lovely body of water, and much more of a lake than a sea. For someone who was reared near Michigan’s Great Lakes, the Sea of Galilee’s modest size of approximately 13 miles in length by 7 miles in width seems to justify the term “lake”. Nonetheless, our tradition is to call it a “sea”. One day as I sat by the sea, I imagined Jesus and his disciples walking the rocky shore. I remembered the words of our guide, who explained that Jesus’ ministry was limited to only a portion of the shore and nearby region; other parts were inhabited by Romans. Jesus taught and healed in a limited section of a small lake in a narrow country. Sitting by the sea, it seemed like such an obscure location from which to change the world. Yet, it is the location that God chose.
Your present location -- at work, at home, in the community, in the place and time in which you find yourself -- in the grand sweep of history is also rather obscure. And yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, God calls us to change the world from our obscure locations. Jesus opens the way to new life and the reign of God; by the grace of God, we are to reflect this new life to the world around us.
This reminds me that, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
May the peace of Christ be with you.
What if we read the Ten Commandments as a love letter?
This coming Sunday, we’ll hear the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, read in worship once again. If you’re like me, you’ll probably be quick to think “oh, I know this one!” and allow your mind to wander to other things.
Young adults at Duke Chapel have been reading through the book Manna and Mercy together, and the author’s paraphrase of the 10 Commandments invited us to look at these famous verses in a new light. Since Manna and Mercy is a comic book, I’ve included the image below.
Manna and Mercy portrays the giving of the Law as a gift to the people of Israel, and to us—a gift the demonstrates God’s passionate love for a stubborn, selfish people eager to return to the slavery of Egypt even after God has brought freedom and promised to be Israel’s partner forever.
During this season of Lent in which we are called to reflect on our lives, repent of our sin, and run deeper into the heart of God, I invite you to think of God’s commandments less as rules to be followed and more as a way of life with a God to be joyfully embraced.
The Ten Commandments, like all of Scripture, redirect our attention from what often passes for our “real lives” to the most real part of life—the life we have in the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and became incarnate in Jesus Christ.
When we hear them read again this Sunday, may the Ten Commandments be for us not a source of shame or obligation, but a loving call to deeper life in the Triune God.
Right now, because of your gifts and prayers, vulnerable children in Zimbabwe are being recruited and selected to participate in ZOE, a unique empowerment program.
This year, the Congregation is sponsoring two groups of vulnerable children in Zimbabwe. One group is sponsored with budgeted funds and the second with gifts from the Empowerment Ministries fund. The formation of the groups takes several months. When ZOE first enters a community to help children, they begin by engaging the local leaders. ZOE staff members explain how ZOE is an empowerment program, helping the children to help themselves. Although this is often a different approach than local leaders are accustomed to, it resonates with leaders who want to see sustainable change in their village. ZOE staff members, who are indigenous to each country in which ZOE operates, understand local customs, challenges, and resources available so when they meet with the community leaders they quickly gain trust and support.
The first months with ZOE are truly unlike anything the children have ever experienced. Many will have come to the first meeting expecting some kind of a handout – clothing, food. Others will have come reluctantly, thinking it might be just another headcount of desperate children that so many NGO’s and government agencies have conducted before. Their disappointment at not receiving immediate goods is replaced by the belief that their entire life is about to change. They leave that first meeting eager to start working together and often will invite others to be part of this opportunity.
During the first meeting the youth elect leaders, make rules to guide their meetings, chose a group name, and decide when and where to hold weekly gatherings. In the subsequent six months, the children begin training on the topics of food security, health and disease prevention, business management, and child rights. If they have access to land they are provided with seeds to start gardens and plant crops; if they have a trade skill they receive immediate grants to start a small business. If siblings are not attending school, ZOE provides uniforms and other resources to get them back into classes; older children may begin vocational training. Most importantly, all experience God’s love through the work of ZOE staff and your prayers.
Thank you for your gifts to the Congregation’s budget. Thank you for your gifts to the Empowerment Ministries Fund. Thank you for your prayers on behalf of our ministries both locally and globally. Your gifts and your prayers are an essential part of our corporate ministry which make a real, lasting, and positive impact on the lives of others.
With gratitude for your faithfulness,
P.S. If you want to meet "our" children, I invite you to travel to Zimbabwe in 2019.
When I was in high school, I learned how to decode a worship service.
I grew up in a "low church" tradition, meaning that our services were less formal and had a bit less structure than worship at the Chapel.
The first time I attended a worship service in the style of Duke Chapel, I was instantly hooked, but also a little confused. I could follow along in the bulletin well enough, but it always felt like I was missing something.
I had a sense, even then, that there was a deep logic to the way worship flowed, and that the symbols and colors and rituals had rich meaning, if only someone could help me see it. In my junior year, Fred Edie did just that, and I've never looked at worship the same way since.
As six youth, along with their mentors and families, prepare for confirmation or baptism after Easter, we will be learning to see worship in this new way. And we invite you to join us!
For five Sundays in Lent, the Congregation Youth Group will be hosting "Liturgy Lab" after worship. We’ll look at the different parts of worship and how they connect to everyday life. We'll cover Baptism (Feb 25), Sights and Symbols of Worship (March 4), the Saints (March 11), Death and Resurrection (March 18), and the Church Sent in Mission (March 25).
Plus we'll have the opportunity to get hands on with worship: act out an ancient baptism, set the Table for Holy Communion, learn about the tombs in the Chapel, and make the CROP Walk an extension of our worship.
Whether you’ve worshiped at the Chapel for many years and want to share your experience of the liturgy, or if you’re still trying to figure out what’s happening on Sunday morning, you are welcome! All are invited to grab lunch after church, and then join us outside the Congregation Office at 1:00 p.m. for an hour of fun, hands-on learning.
RSVP requested, but not required. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know you’re coming, or ask any questions.
I cannot wait to explore the beauty and richness of worship alongside you!
First Corinthians 12 offers Paul’s wisdom on spiritual gifts. The frequently quoted passage declares that "There are a varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." Then, in verse 7 the apostle writes, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
In the book, Rediscovering our Spiritual Gifts, the author Charles Bryant emphasizes this verse. Our spiritual gifts are not learned skills nor innate characteristics. They are not our day job nor our weekend activities. Spiritual gifts are the way the Holy Spirit works through us. It is God’s presence in our lives, showing forth in particular ways – that is, "manifestation of the Spirit." This manifestation may certainly be related to our natural abilities or the activities to which we gravitate, but these gifts originate in God, not in us. Because they originate in God, they are empowering and life-giving. Because they originate in God, they are for God's glory, not ours. For this reason, the gifts are for the common good.
I recently told someone that I thought her cheerfulness was a spiritual gift. I named it as such because in her cheerfulness, I saw God’s presence. And I saw the impact of her gift on those around her.
Where do you see God's presence in your own life or in the lives of those near you? Can you name the gifts? The manifestations of the Spirit for the common good?
With gratitude for God’s presence among us,
Note: If you would like to explore the topic of spiritual gifts, please sign up for the Winter Retreat. More details are online.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27-28
Labels are a useful way for humans to identify each other. When meeting someone who is unfamiliar to us, it is helpful to know if that person is male or female, tall or short, blonde or brunette.
Yet, labels can also set up an 'us vs. them' scenario that can be hurtful and even harmful. We watched this past week as our leaders in Washington D.C., labelled Democrats and Republicans, refused to cross party lines causing the government to actually shut down for a few days. And, the issues they were arguing about are still not resolved. Perhaps they are focusing too much on the 'us vs. them' instead of our shared humanity.
Underneath all the labels that define us, we are all made in God’s image. Paul’s words to the Galatians remind us that we all "are one in Christ Jesus." Let us live into the knowledge that we are all connected—all one—and leave the 'us vs. them' mentality behind.
Donell Shaw is smiling because he has a job! It is employment you made possible. Thank you!
Donell, who is in the center of this photograph, was recently hired by Durham Habitat for Humanity as their Repairs Apprentice. It is a one-year position designed to provide training and experience that creates a pathway to a living wage job for someone who is un/underemployed. This new, full-time, position which was initiated by our Congregation Council and developed through a year of dialogue with Durham Habitat, is funded with your gifts to the Empowerment Ministries fund. Your gifts have enabled Donell to move out of the Urban Ministries shelter and into his own apartment. You have given him a job, which makes him smile, and yet he is not only thinking about himself. Donell says “God places our two feet right in front of us to show us the way to go. I’m looking forward to contributing to the Habitat team’s values, helping them meeting their goals, and working towards a better job.
In October 2017, the Congregation Council announced the creation of the Empowerment Ministries Fund and challenged the congregation to contribute $50,000 above and beyond our sustained giving. This new fund was created to support the Repairs Apprentice position and an additional group of vulnerable children through ZOE. In this way, we could join together to empower neighbors both locally and globally, enabling individuals to become economically self-sufficient. This has already begun by hiring Donell. Next month, I will write about ZOE children.
As of this writing, we have raised $44,000 of the $50,000 goal for the Empowerment Fund. In a few short months, you have generously supported this new outreach initiate. Thank you. If you have not yet contributed to this fund and want to be part of Donell’s smile, I invite you to make a contribution above and beyond your typical giving. You may simply put a check in the offering plate noting that it is for the Empowerment Ministries or choose one of the other ways to contribute as listed on our Giving webpage .
The Holy Spirit has been and is at work among us. I am convinced God has guided us in developing and supporting these initiatives. Let’s rejoice in what God calls us to do together, both what we have already accomplished and what we will yet do.
I am grateful for your faithfulness.
I can’t remember the first time I saw this map on the left. From my earliest days, this was just the way the world looked. I never questioned it. Until the day I saw the map on the right of the pair in Mr. Temple’s 10th grade history class.
Called the Gall-Peters projection, the map on the right approaches the problem of putting a spherical Earth on a flat piece of paper in a different way, with a shockingly different result.
On my internal map, the one I had never questioned, Africa and Greenland were about the same size. But as Mr. Temple told us, in reality, Africa is 15 times larger Greenland, and this new map showed it.
I will leave to others to describe how maps are made and why this makes a difference in how we think about the world; for the moment, it is enough to say that questioning something I had always taken for granted turned my world upside down. At first, it was disorienting, but over time, I learned that I could never return to my simple, unquestioned assumptions about the world.
Starting on January 23, young adults and university students will gather to take a hard look at the maps we have been given, to question the ways we have been taught to read the Bible that so often lead to death and destruction. We'll use the book Manna and Mercy to read the Bible with fresh eyes. From Genesis to Revelation, we'll dive deep into the Scriptures, and discover a new, life-giving way to read the story of God.
Like trying to project a sphere on a flat piece of paper, capturing the story of God in just one perspective is an impossible task. Reading Scripture is always a conversation that begins with humility and takes place in Christian community.
If you would like to join us for this 6-week conversation about reading the Bible with fresh eyes, email me to sign up, or attend our information session after worship on Sunday, January 14 in the Chapel Kitchen.
I can’t wait to read alongside you!
In the days after Christmas, children and adults alike will ask “What did you get for Christmas?” The pious answer is “Jesus”. The secular answer enumerates the tangible gifts that were under the Christmas tree. Both answers may be true and honest.
As we enter this New Year, I invite you to think about another kind of gift – spiritual gifts. God has graciously given each of us a variety of gifts. Period. We are gifted, each of us and all of us. In addition, God calls us and gives us the privilege of using these gifts for God’s glory and the betterment of the world around us. That, too, is a gift – the gift which gives us meaning and purpose in our lives.
If you are curious about your own spiritual gifts, there are several ways you may explore them. Starting next week, two book groups will gather to discuss Rediscovering Our Spiritual Gifts by Charles Bryant. Details are below. On February 10, our half-day Winter Retreat will explore “Interior Movements and Holy Desires: Discerning What is Mine To Do”. Retreat details are online . And if you can’t wait a moment more to explore your gifts, this online assessment will give you an immediate answer!
I hope you will join me in exploring your own spiritual gifts and seeking new appreciation for the gifts of others, for indeed, we start this New Year as blessed and gifted by God.
May the peace of Christ be with you.