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Philippians Sermon Series Part 1

May 8th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Philippians Sermon Series Part 1

For the next three weeks Glendale Church of the Brethren will be working through the New Testament book of Philippians! Throughout this time I hope we learn about the early church, the life and ministry of Paul, and also the ways Glendale Church of the Brethren lives out this same vision in our neighborhood today!

This week our scripture is Philippians 1:1-11, this is Paul’s opening address to the congregation in Philippi and it covers the themes of thanksgiving and prayer. Here, Paul is thankful for the church at Philippi, thankful for their faithfulness

to God, and thankful for their partnering with him. And so Paul’s prayer is, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:10-11a).

In this opening we have, what Augustine says, is the central point of the entire Bible: love of God and love of neighbor. Paul’s love for God shines through this text as he joyfully bears the chains of persecution even while proclaiming Christ. And, his love for neighbor is evident through warm lines of scrolled fellowship and mutual devotion with the believers in Philippi.

Gratitude and love, thanksgiving and prayer; these are the themes which will ground our study of the early church, the ministry of Paul, and our own church’s ministry in our neighborhood! Stay tuned for how our journey through Philippians brings depth and new life to our congregational life! And, for those of you who cannot join us on Sunday, consider this question, how does gratitude and love shape you and your Christian journey in the world?

 

Weekly Practices: Bible Study

May 2nd, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Weekly Practices: Bible Study

Glendale Church of the Brethren will be receiving the sermon from Pastor Robert Aguierre this Sunday! So, I am taking this opportunity to reflect on our weekly Bible study practice at church.

Throughout the winter Glendale Church of the Brethren has been gathering on Monday evenings from 7:00-8:00pm and Tuesday afternoons from 1:00-2:00pm. We have been looking at different gospel scriptures and then asking ourselves three questions; 1. What does this text teach us about God?, 2. What does this text teach us about humans, 3. What does this text teach us about obedience? It is surprising how difficult it can sometimes be to remain focused on the question at hand, particularly remaining vigilant about answer question number one first, “What does this text teach us about God?” It seems that we want to jump to what we learn as humans, or general truths that we can take away. But we have discovered, through grit and discipline that when we remain rooted in the rhythm of these questions we learn incredible things about God and about ourselves (in that order)!

This past week our groups reflected on Luke 13:10-17. And here’s what we learned:

  • Jesus has the power to heal and would not condemn the woman or her illness
  • Jesus touches people even if they are “unclean”
  • Jesus was a rule breaker/challenger especially when something could keep a person from knowing healing
  • Jesus recognizes the need for healing

 

  • People can treat miracles callously like the synagogue ruler who said to come back on days of the week other than the Sabbath for healing
  • When people think rules are being broken that could challenge their power, they will fight back
  • People were delighted with Jesus like the crowd at the end of the story
  • People praise God when they are healed like the woman in the story

 

  • Jesus was obedient to a different way of interpreting the law
  • Jesus was obedient to God while, while the synagogue ruler was obedient to other people’s interpretation of the law
  • The woman was obedient when she stepped forward

These observations may seem simple, but they unfolded through hours of thoughtful discussion. By placing ourselves closely alongside the text we can begin to imagine the scene, rather than jumping to what we assume the story means for us today. In fact, although we never directly answer the question, what does this story mean for us today? We frequently leave the space with the assurance that God sees us, God reaches out to us, and that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God.

The Road to Emmaus

Apr 24th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on The Road to Emmaus

Our scripture for Sunday, April 28 is Luke 24:13-35. This is the story of two of Jesus’s disciples as they walk with heavy hearts toward a village called Emmaus. Along the way a stranger begins to walk with them. The stranger is actually Jesus, but the disciples are kept from recognizing him. They share about the events of Jesus’s arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection; but rather than feeling comforted by the resurrection, they feel scared and disoriented. Jesus walks with them, allowing them to voice their sadness, but he also reveals how everything from Moses to the prophets actually point to him!

When the disciples and Jesus near Emmaus, Jesus continues to go on, but the disciples urge him to stay with them that night. As the three sit down to a meal, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and broke it with them. Then the disciples eyes are opened, and they recognize Jesus! With incredible joy they reflect, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” (vs. 32)

N.T. Wright reflects of this text when he writes, “The road to Emmaus is just the beginning. Hearing Jesus’s voice in scripture, knowing him in the breaking of bread, is the way. Welcome to God’s new world” (Luke for Everyone, 298). In other words, perhaps we can only recognize Jesus when we learn to see him within the story of God, the First Testament accounts of Israel, throughout the poetry of the Bible, and in the Gospels in which we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the stories of Jesus’s life and ministry.

We are each on our own road to Emmaus, wrestling with questions, and agonizing over our life of discipleship to Jesus. But Jesus walks beside us, whether we recognize him or not. Jesus, our key to scripture and our friend at the table.

Holy Week Readings and Reflections

Apr 18th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Holy Week Readings and Reflections

It is Holy Week, and rather than preview the sermon for Sunday (we will absolutely be celebrating the resurrected Christ!), I want to suggest some scripture for reading and reflection for this Maundy-Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday!

Maundy-Thursday: John 13:1-38

Jesus is our Lord, but Jesus also came to serve us. One way Jesus’s service to us is modeled is when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet. This, incredibly humbling act, placed Jesus in the category of servant. How does it make you feel that God’s

only Son, Jesus, came to serve you? How does this knowledge inspire you to live your life?

 

Good Friday: John 19:1-42

This week as I reread the story of Jesus’s arrest, torture, and crucifixion, I was struck by how quickly the friends and disciples of Jesus abandon him. On top of this, I was struck by how much power Jesus had. As God’s son, Jesus could have stopped every event from unfolding the way it did. When you suffer, do you remember that Jesus also suffered?

 

Saturday:

During my seminary training at Fuller Seminary I visited the Jewish Temple and Center in Pasadena, CA. Twice, during the service I attended that day, congregants were asked to stand if they were bereaved. This practice captured my interest then, simply because I had never seen grief acknowledged communally in a worship service before. Now, the image of those few men and women standing comes to me as I think of Jesus’s friends and disciples on Saturday. I wonder if they went to synagogue or to the temple that day. I wonder if they stood to show their grief. When you mourn the loss of a friend or family member, how do you share your sadness with those around you?

Sunday: John 20:1-18

Hold your head high,
Christ has risen.
Rejoice and shout,
Christ has come calling us home.
Home to the heart of God,
Home to God’s living presence,
Home to God’s banquet feast.

Hold your head high,
Christ has risen.Death has been conquered,
Christ has come calling us home.
All that was broken has been made whole,
All that was dislocated has been set right,
All that was oppressed has been set free.

Hold your head high,
Christ has risen,
Bringing God’s healing,
Christ has come calling us home.
Redemption is complete,
God’s eternal world has begun,
Love reigns over all,Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Christ has risen calling us home.

–Christine Sine

 

 

 

Jesus comes…riding on a donkey!?!

Apr 10th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Jesus comes…riding on a donkey!?!

Ronald Heifetz may have been talking about Jesus when he said, “Leadership is often a matter of failing people’s expectations at a rate they can stand.” Think about it, for the Jews of Jesus’s day, they had pretty clear expectations about who their messiah would be! A warrior who would bring political power back to Jews; a judge who would bring ethical, moral, and religious truth to an unfaithful world; but a peaceful servant-leader? Jesus’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey was certainly failing people’s expectations, but perhaps not at a rate they stand!

From Jesus’s birth to his baptism and ministry, his work was always about teaching, healing, and reconciliation to God. Forcing people to follow or coercing them to take a side wasn’t Jesus’s approach. Rather, when the disciples are called, he invites them, “Come follow me”; when he sees someone who is sick he asks, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus sees people’s faith, and Jesus’s word casts out demons and heals the sick. What is gentler or more powerful that words spoken in truth? It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this allegory, four children prepare to meet Aslan, a lion who represents the Christ figure in the book:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The servant-leader, King Jesus, riding into the Holy City, Jerusalem on a donkey is a surprising sight. It fails people’s expectations and challenges us to seek God’s vision for the world. A vision that teaches us that peace triumphs over hate and violence. A vision that teaches us that love ought to guide our decisions. A vision that shows us that gentleness and humility have more power than all the armies and war toys of history.

I invite you to join the crowd’s ruckus, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is our surprising King! Our Messiah! Watch carefully, listen intently—become like this King, become like Jesus.

“Lazarus, come out!”

Apr 4th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on “Lazarus, come out!”

“Lazarus, come out!” This is the resounding call I hear coming from John 11:1-44.

Jesus hears of his friend’s approaching death and yet he waits two more days to make the journey to Judea. Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 9:4b).

Jesus encounters Lazarus’s sisters who, through their tears of grief tell him, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 9:21b and 32b). But Jesus responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever live and believes in me will never die” (John 9:25-26).

Jesus arrives at the tomb, and though overcome by his own grief and sadness, speaks the words, “Lazarus, come out!”

Theologian and pastor, R. Kent Hughes reflects, “[God] wants us to pour our hearts out to him. He cares so much that he enters into our sorrows. He is not an impassable, stoic God. Rather, he feels our pain and weeps along with our weeping. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He brings joy and resurrection life into our afflictions Believing him, we find peace and joy in the delays” (John: That you May Believe, 292).

I will be the first to admit, that sometimes I am frustrated by the mysterious working of our God, I am angry and discouraged by a world wrecked with violence. However, I also want to say, I take great comfort in our God, the creator of this universe, who will, “wipe away every tear from our eyes”, who will make, “death will be no more, neither mourning, or crying, or pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We do not need to look far to realize that our God is committed to life, to healing, and to restoration. While it is healthy to have a realistic perspective in this life; we can also claim hope, life, and the resurrection power of Jesus!

Light from Darkness

Mar 27th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Light from Darkness

In John 9:1-41 we read the miraculous account of Jesus restoring the sight to a man who has been blind from birth. As is so characteristic of the book of John, Jesus represents light in the world, while some others around him contrast darkness.

Specifically in this story, a man who was blind from birth, who only ever knew darkness is now, not only revealed Jesus (the Light of the World) but also literal light in the physical world we live in. However, the Pharisees, who by every account ought to know and recognize “The Light” when they see it, can’t seem to understand who Jesus is. In this story roles are reversed, Sabbath is certainly treated as holy. Indeed Jesus fully restores the man on that sacred day.

During Lent it is important to learn about the teacher Jesus, to understand what kind of Messiah he is, and to notice his servant-leadership. When the man born blind is questioned about his healing he replies, “Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25). The gracious and loving God we serve moves and works in mysterious ways. But we can be absolutely certain of God’s faithfulness, we can be certain of God’s love, we can be certain that God brings restoration when we are broken.

Let us turn our eyes towards Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2)

Jesus Teaches us to Pray

Mar 20th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Jesus Teaches us to Pray

We are halfway through the season of Lent, a time of Spiritual Retreat, of turning toward God and learning from Jesus so that we may be for the prepared for journey through Holy Week.

This week our church is looking at the text of Matthew 6:5-14, Jesus’s teaching on prayer. This is the beloved text leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, and Jesus is careful to instruct his disciples to pray prayers similar to his in secret, without calling attention to themselves, and leaving behind flowery language—I love the way The Message Bible interpretation explains Jesus’s words,

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.”  

God doesn’t want us to try to impress others through our prayer, we don’t need to use big words or worry about perfectly spoken phrases. God does wants our attention, God wants our time. When we pray God desires our gratitude, our ability to acknowledge who God is, to humbly ask for the things we need, and to seek reconciliation with the only one in the universe worthy of extending forgiveness to us. And, we can pray with faith, because our Heavenly Father already knows what we need and is ready and able to provide for us.

Jesus’s Baptism

Mar 5th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Jesus’s Baptism

John the Baptist preached a radical message of repentance from sin, John lived in the desert far from the sacred caverns of the Temple, and father still from the rituals and staunch practices that most Jews would have abided by in his day. And yet, this is the very man Jesus seeks to begin his ministry. The rule followers among us have red flags flying and sirens blaring: “What are you doing Jesus?! Don’t you know that it’s the Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the law, scholars and scribes that you need on your side? Not your crazy cousin in the desert!”

I suppose Jesus is simply not a rule follower. Jesus is sinless though, and John knows this. He attempts to persuade Jesus to baptize him instead of the other way around. But Jesus insists and what follows is the assuring voice of God from heaven; saying what we all long to hear from God, praising his child as we all desire to hear our Heavenly Father praise us, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Jesus does not engage in the act of baptism to repent from sin—he is sinless, Jesus is baptized because Jesus came to be in relationship with us. Jesus came to be near to sinners, Jesus came to be near the lost, to be near the broken and sick, to be near to those who recognize their sin.

This is why John’s message of repentance is so beautiful. John prepares the way, teaching us that the Kingdom of God is coming because God is coming. Our repentance does not hinder or quicken the arrival of the Kingdom, rather it is because God has turned to us that ensures the Kingdom’s arrival. Jesus is this turning, Jesus is this coming, and Jesus’s baptism shows us that God is not too lofty to humble himself to the dirty waters of the Jordan, and the image of a dove descending on Christ shows us that God will bring new life—-just as the dove that brought a sprig of leaves to Noah after flood—we will find our salvation in this man who has come to teach, heal, and befriend us.  

 

Name that story!

Mar 4th, 2019 by Annali Topf | Comments Off on Name that story!

We have a group of five congregants participating in a church membership and baptism class! This picture is from our most recent gathering where we discussed the early church. Can you guess which scene they are acting out?