River(s of flowing water) Conditions (of the heart)

1958121_10153861331160564_36610183_nToday we find Jesus speaking to a party crowd.  It’s a 7-day celebration, called the Festival of Booths or the Festival of Tabernacles.  (It’s no Riverpalooza, but the names are just as confusing…)

It’s a celebration that remembers the people’s ancestors as they wandered in the wilderness, living in temporary shelters, with God in a moveable sanctuary.  This festival is bigger than Passover, bigger than Pentecost.  It celebrates the harvest. And it celebrates when Moses got water to come gushing out of a rock, saving the wandering, complaining Israelites once again.

But instead of re-enacting the water coming out of the rock; instead of trying to re-create that miracle, Jesus redefines, once again, the future.  It’s not about finding water again and again.  It’s about Jesus being that which quenches our thirst once and for all. It’s about the Holy Spirit creating rivers of new life in us.

Jesus said: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

Jesus says to these people who are in the midst of a celebration of water in the desert, they will never thirst again because when the Holy Spirit comes and lives in you, rivers of living water flow out of your heart.  And this water won’t stop and cannot be contained.  It cannot be contained within your family or within this gathered community.  This river, stirred up by the Holy Spirit, is meant to flow out into the dry places, out into places that haven’t seen life in a long, long time. Have never heard of this kind of water.

Like taking a meal to a friend who is sick. Or offering a hand in friendship to someone you don’t know well.  It’s about showing patience to a stranger in a long line instead of frustration. It’s about following Jesus in your every day life.

Today we will hear stories of rivers of living water told by many voices from River of Hope.  We’ll welcome some of the newest among us. But, in the mean time, you each have a mini river in front of you that is waiting to help you tell a story.

Imagine that it is a river of living water.  Take some time to draw or write an experience you’ve been part of or seen or received where you know it’s been because of God’s Holy Spirit alive and well.

Then, once you’ve done that, tie your river end to end as a table.

photo-12As we sing, have a representative bring your river up and tie it end to end with all the other rivers.  

The River Conditions below is what I ended our Riverpalooza with on Sunday.  It was a great day!

River Conditions

We grew up asking my dad to tell us “make up” stories at night.  From the creative and seemingly bottomless depths of my dad’s imagination, he’d tell a story that would absolutely sweep us into it each and every night as he perched on the side of one of our beds, telling a story that crackled with light in the dark of the night. I only learned, as an adult, that he’d often re-create whatever he was reading, elaborating on story lines, taking them in new directions.  We’d beg for these stories and we’d beg him to keep going when he’d end with the always eventual and dramatic to be continued.  And then we’d have to wait until the next night.

Yesterday, I attended the Synod’s Equipping Congregations Day in Willmar with a handful of folks from River of Hope.  Our key note speaker reminded us that gone are the days of church being the social center of any community.  Gone are the days of “you just go to church.”  Gone are the days of assuming everyone is a Christian or even cares about church.  Gone are the days of people who know the biblical story and can connect their lives to it.

Now, he went on to pull away the gauzy, dreaminess of yesteryear’s church lest we think it held all the answers.  This wasn’t a talk about trying to get that old church back.  He wasn’t lamenting that that kind of church is what we should strive to get back now.  No, instead he was telling us that gone are the days of faking it and attending church out of guilt and duty or to be seen. He went on to point out that we’ve become disconnected from God’s story and this disconnect is a long time in the making and there are many culprits. Yet without that connection, what does worship mean?  Without that story connection, what do our lives as Christians even mean?

Because we are story people.  We make sense of our lives by stories. So to gather together to worship is an important way for us to practice pointing to God so we’ve got a shot at pointing to God when we leave this space.  If we leave God here and don’t ever notice God in our daily lives, then I’d wonder why we gather. What kind of one-sided, shallow story is that? It’s one we don’t connect with.

So I left yesterday’s conference with these 2 questions spinning around in my head and heart:

What is the story we are telling? What is the promise behind our story?

The story we tell is that Jesus transforms every day ordinary lives – yours and mine included –  and has the power to transform countless more lives.  The promise behind that story is that our lives will never be the same. The promise is our lives are changed by other people’s lives.  And Jesus will even use us to help transform lives.

photo 1The story we tell is that we gather to practice loving God and speaking about God so that we can leave this place and reach out to other people.  The story we tell is that we exist as a church for other people. The promise behind this story is that rivers of living water are not an in-house deal but are stirred up for the purpose of flowing out of us!  Living water for the sake of only the faithful becomes stagnant.

We tell the story of being called to love the community outside of our church community.  And we tell it by showing up in restaurants for meetings to constantly be reminded of who we are called to love.

We tell the story of welcome by wearing sticky name tags and having awkward conversations and not pretending to know everyone who is gathered here.  We tell the story by showing up in casual clothes. The promise behind that story is that we strive to welcome and accept people.  All people.  And we can’t do it apart from Jesus Christ because it’s hard.  Now that’s promise!

We tell the story of being disciples, learners of Christ.  And so we gather awkwardly in bars and at the fair and in the park and at school and at our jobs.  And we reach out to others in love.  And we give them a root beer float.  And we tell them we love them.  And the promise behind that story is that Jesus works through us to do all that.

We tell the story of learning and growing together across the generations through asking both kids and adults to help lead worship each photo 2and every week.  The promise behind this story is that all people are part of this life of faith.  There are no experts. No one is worthier than another.  Now that is promise. That is a story to tell.

We tell the story of practicing faith together in worship. And the promise in this story is that it matters in the rest of our lives, not just here.

We tell the story of being a church without a building, always on the lookout for the next thing.  And the promise in this story is that we can focus outward, away from bricks and mortar and mortgages toward other people.

There is much that we’re figuring out together.  There are not hard and fast answers to being a church, especially a new church.  And that’s ok. That’s more than ok, because the promise behind that is that God is faithful to us and is leading us into the future together.

What stories do we have yet to tell?  What are our future stories?  One certainly would be to plan for our worship and music curator, Jim Nelson, to be full time instead of part time.  So we can dream about and plan for another worship service that helps us connect this story to more lives.

Who is worship shaping us to be?  How is this practice shaping our lives and hearts?  How is it connecting us to God’s story? And how is it preparing us to love and to serve other people, not just our own interests? Maybe someday we will build and I hope it’s a building that shows Hutchinson we love them as we give them a place to gather.

I believe God is stirring us up to continue to reach out to people who don’t know about the promise behind all the stories we tell.  The promise that Jesus transforms our lives.  Brings life from death; loves those who have been stepped on and left out; shows power through weakness and doesn’t lift a finger to harm those who would hurt him.  That’s the story we have to tell.  We have the best news to tell – the story of not having to earn God’s love; the story of being loved not for what we do or the clothes we wear or the money we make; the story of being loved because God created and re-creates us in order to love us.

The story we have to tell cannot be told without God or without us.  How will you be involved in this on-going, “to be continued story”?  Because God is perched on the side of your bed, spinning the most spectacular yarn ever told and beckoning you to jump into the fray – to love all people in the name of Jesus. Now that’s a messy story that takes a life time to live.  How will your story connect to God’s story?  How will your story be forever changed by God’s story?  And how will you be part of sharing this story with the world?  Just where will the rivers of living water take you?

We are part of the best story and it is the story that never ends.

To be continued…