Flawed and Faithful: From Cowardice to Courage

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"Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb... running together, but the other disciple set outran Peter and reached the tomb first." John 20:3

He is risen...He is risen indeed!!!

Have you ever been so excited to see someone that you ran toward them as soon as you caught a glimpse of them? Maybe even risking being in the middle of traffic to get to them? Simon Peter and the other disciple weren't sure what was happening. Resurrection probably wasn't the first thing on their minds. Yet, something was happening. and they had to know what. They had no regard for their safety as they had been in hiding following the crucifixion, and their own arrest was a real potential. Simon Peter was especially risking his own health having recently pulled a sword on the royal guard, but that was the last thing on his mind. Something was happening with Jesus, and he had to know what.

We've been following the story of Simon Peter for the season of Lent, and we've learned that he was simultaneously flawed and faithful. His story is relatable, ordinary, and inspiring. He often is narrated as jumping into action before having all the facts. Who can't relate to acting before we know everything we need to know? It's quite telling that Jesus never scolds Simon Peter for his enthusiasm. Instead, Jesus redirects his enthusiasm and eventually trusts all of the church to this reactive disciple. We won't always get it right, but Peter can teach us how sometimes action comes before belief and complete understanding. Peter may not have always been the first to "get it" (he wasn't even the first to the tomb), but he is the first to enter to tomb and risk it all for the sake of curiosity and love. This Easter, join us as we hear how Jesus' resurrection can show us that faith can give us the courage to move forward in life.

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Flawed and Faithful: I Will Not Deny You

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This weekend, we celebrated Palm Sunday as we remember Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem. The gospels tell us he entered the city with crowds shouting and waving palm branches, similar to the entry of a victorious rebel. It's like watching a movie when you already know how the plot will play out. Soon, the cheers will turn to jeers, and in the end, their voices will cry out for Jesus to be executed. We also know how the plot plays out as we hear Simon Peter declare he will never abandon Jesus. Not only does he ultimately deny Jesus once, but three times.

Simon Peter is often narrated as flawed for his triple denial, but that's just part of the story. Here's what we often forget. Even though he can't seem to admit he knows Christ, he's actually putting himself in incredible danger! By being inside the courtyard of the High Priest's home after Jesus' arrest, Simon Peter has a chance of being recognized by the temple guards as that sword-wielding disciple. In actuality, he shows a level of faithfulness we don't often acknowledge, and he might have something to teach us about being faithful in uncertain times. Listen as Pastor Sarah unpacks more of this story and the ways it can help us in our own times of perceived failure.

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Flawed and Faithful: The Last Supper

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This week we continue following the story of Simon Peter as he tries to be a faithful follower of Jesus. The final week of Jesus life takes up a large portion of the book of Matthew. Rev. Adam Hamilton reminds us that 7 of the 28 chapters are focused on this last week. Combining the narratives of all the gospels we are given incredible detail about the final meal Christ will have with his friends. The preparation of this special passover meal will require Simon Peter to head into town, get a passover Lamb, and prepare a room. Simon Peter is dutifully preparing for a typical passover meal and its deeper meaning isn’t yet clear to him or the other disciples. As preparations are being made, there is a debate over who will be the greatest and Jesus responds by washing their feet. Simon Peter in relatable reaction doesn't want the one he follows to serve him. Jesus is revealing a beautiful truth that the kingdom of God will require us to learn not only how to serve, but how to be served... and that last part is often the hardest!

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Flawed and Faithful: Missing the Point

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We don't have a lot of information about what Jesus and his disciples talked about during their times away from crowds. We can only imagine what wisdom was shared as they were walking between cities or sharing some down time around a dining table.

We do get to listen in on one incredible conversation after Jesus takes Peter, James, and his brother John to pray up on a mountain. Before their very eyes, they not only see Jesus glowing white...but also Moses and Elijah! Everyone seems stunned into silence. Well, everyone but our dear Simon Peter who immediately wants to construct a monument to worship this incredible moment.

As he's still speaking, a voice reminds those who are lucky enough to hear it that Jesus is indeed God's son, the beloved, and should be listened to. Simon Peter seems to have missed the point of what the encounter was all about. Simon Peter's excitement to build a monument and create a new place to worship is shattered by a voice coming from the sky. Simon Peter is perhaps the most relatable disciple and seems to feel the need to fill the silence by saying something and jumping into action. Simon Peter is reminded that now is not the time to do or say something, but instead to listen. Join Pastor Sarah as we hear how sometimes we miss the point when we jump into action or feel like we need to have just the right words.

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Flawed and Faithful: The Inclusive Church

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As we continue our series on the life of Simon Peter, we're honored to have Halleemah Nash as our guest speaker this Sunday. She explores how we can truly live as an inclusive church by breaking down biases and exploring the powerful conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter. 

Halleemah Nash is Chief Partnerships Officer of The Academy Group, and she has led and established a broad range of social impact and education organizations serving Chicago students. Halleemah managed charitable programs for the Chicago Bulls, developed partnership strategies in service of over 9,000 public housing youth at Chicago Housing Authority, and serving as Executive Director for NFL veteran Israel Idonije’s Foundation. She is a proud Compton, California native and avid California based sports and music fan. She is an author and first generation college graduate, with degrees from Howard University and a Masters in Divinity and Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.

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Flawed and Faithful: Walking With Jesus During the Storm

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During the second week of Lent, we continue to dig into the story of Simon Peter, a character that is both flawed and faithful (just like us). Simon Peter is probably most famous for the time he tried to join Jesus for a stroll across the Sea of Galilee. Oftentimes, the failure of taking his eyes off of Jesus and starting to sink is preached as a reminder that we should have great faith and always trust. Yet, perhaps there is more to this story than just the moment Peter's faith seems flawed. What isn’t often talked about is that out of all the disciples, he is the only one that has the audacity to think he could walk out on the water. Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do in the midst of a storm is step out of the boat that we thought was keeping us safe.

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Flawed and Faithful: The Call

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The season of Lent has begun - 40 days centering on self-reflection leading up to the celebration of the resurrection. As we prepare our hearts for Easter, we're going to journey through the life of Simon Peter, one of Jesus' closest companions. Out of all the disciples, he is mentioned the most, even more than the one often referred to as the "beloved" (John).

Unlike most historical figures, the record of Peter's life includes both his triumphs and his failures for all to see - most likely because he shared them with whoever he met as a reminder that God can do big things even when you are flawed.

In his recent book entitled Simon Peter, Rev. Adam Hamilton refers to this disciple as "flawed BUT faithful." For this series, we're going to look at how the season of Lent helps us recognize that we can be flawed AND faithful as we seek to follow the radical way of Jesus. This week, Pastor Sarah begins by looking at the calling of Simon Peter. This is going to be a great season of Lent together, and we hope you don't miss a week as the story builds towards celebrating Holy Week together! 

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A Life of Intention: Service

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As we wrap up our series on the practices that draw us closer to Christ, we're going to focus on serving our neighbors. James reminds us, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith, but do not have works?" There is something sacred in the act of using our bodies and lives to serve the other. In this message, Pastor Sarah Heath talks about why our faith is grounded in acting to care for the other. Beyond just talking about it, we are going to hear about the ways that First United will be offering us an opportunity to enact our faith. We are also going to come together at the table for communion together - another thing that grounds us in the midst of chaos.

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A Life of Intention: Fasting

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Last Sunday, Kyle Richardson challenged us to take time for a sabbath. This week during the service, we hear from some of us who shared what that experience was like.

If you were to poll people about spiritual practices, fasting probably wouldn't be the first thing they would list. Ironically, the Bible talks a great deal about fasting, and Jesus began his own ministry with this spiritual practice. Fasting was part of Jewish tradition as a way to cultivate spiritual commitment and focus one's attention on God. To this day, there are many Christian communities that still fast in some form - everything from restricting certain foods or activities to only eating certain times of day.

As we read the Scriptures, Jesus warns us against fasting with the wrong intention, and we know fasting can be harmful when people have experienced disordered thinking about food. The point of fasting is not the what, but the why. The practice can help us discover a lot about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. Listen in as Pastor Sarah Heath shares how fasting can be a helpful addition to our spiritual diet.

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A Life of Intention: Sabbath

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Last Sunday, Pastor Sarah challenged us to take time to meditate and pray. This week during the service, we hear from some of us who shared what that experience was like.

In the midst of a culture that often values busyness and productivity, this week Kyle Richardson talks about the practice of rest. When the world yells at us to go faster and work harder, scripture reminds us that sometimes we need to stop.

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A Life of Intention: Prayer

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Last Sunday, we intentionally re-oriented the pews to focus our attention on the altar in the center of the sanctuary as we learned about Communion. What a powerful experience it was to see one another's faces as we worshipped and prayed together! Pastor Sarah challenged us to take time to have an intentional meal (or coffee) with someone by setting aside our phone and looking them in the eyes. This week during the service, we'll hear from some of us who would like to share what that experience was like.

As we continue our series on "A Life of Intention" this Sunday, we'll be learning about the role of private prayer as described in Matthew 6:1-16, and we have an inspirational prayer experience prepared that will allow each of us a time to meditation and solitude with God. Don't miss this opportunity to intentionally connect with God alongside your First United community.

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A Life of Intention: Communion

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Practice makes perfect. Whether you played sports, an instrument, or you were trying to learn how to write in cursive, you probably heard that to improve at anything...you have to practice. Living a life of faith is no different. We have to engage our faith continually to continue growing. Our goal may not be perfection, but as with any relationship, we want to grow closer to God...and that requires intention. 

There are many different ways to practice our faith, sometimes called spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines. Many of these practices have been used by Jesus followers for thousands of years to question, form, and grow closer to the divine. In this message, Rev. Sarah Heath starts our series on “A Life of Intention” by looking at the ancient practice of communion (sometimes called the Lord's Supper or Eucharist) and how it can help us grow in our faith. 

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Now What: The Church - One Body, Many Parts

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When you look back on the past two years, what things happened to you that were unexpected? A challenge? A joy? How many people sitting in the pews next to you know some of those details about your life? Listen in as Jenna Tourjé helps us understand our need for diverse stories to be told within the body of Christ.

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Now What: What Are You Called Into?

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Over the past few weeks, we've been talking about the post-holiday letdown and how many of us are left wondering, "What now? What comes after a big event? How do we respond to the disruptions in our life - whether good or bad?" This week, we'll look at how the disciples were left with the same questions after their encounter with Jesus. Encountering Jesus - then and now - is never a neutral experience, and it always leaves us with an invitation into something different.

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Now What: Jesus' Baptism

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We often talk about “mountain top” experiences as we refer to times when we've had a deep sense of faith and are overcome with emotion. In these moments, we're overcome with a sense of peace, comfort, certainty, or even love. For some of us, these moments happened at a summer camp, during a particularly moving worship service, or an epic sunset.

As we read the Bible, we learn how people created altars as a reminder of the place where they experienced God in mountain top moments. Sometimes, those altars were rocks (like the Ebenezer rock of remembrance in 1 Samuel) that commemorated when God helped the Israelites overcome the Philistines. As Israel went through all of its trials, the nation made altars and Ebenezers to remind them that God had not left them alone. (This is where we get the term "Ebenezer" that we often sing about in the hymn known as Come Thou Font.)

In our own life, maintaining those mountain top feelings can be difficult. As these powerful moments turn into memories, they can become an Ebenezer to remind us that God’s presence is still just close - even when God might feel distant. We’ve been talking about the post-Christmas season as a chance for us to ask, “What’s next?” After scripture's telling of Jesus' birth, we don’t have a lot of information about what’s next until Jesus' baptism. His baptism was one of those mountain top moments that will help us as we ask our own “what’s next” questions. 

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Now What: What Are You Looking For?

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For many folks, the couple of days (and even weeks) after Christmas can feel like a let down. After all the busyness and chaos that the holiday season can bring, the sudden return to “normal” schedules can feel disorienting. You may be asking, "Now what?" Advent had us waiting and anticipating, but what happens when the wait is over?

For those anticipating the Messiah long ago, there was a deep communal sense of waiting and hoping. For a people experiencing oppression, a messiah couldn’t come soon enough. Yet, for those in power, the idea that someone was coming to disrupt the status quo was always something to be guarded against. In the back of everyone's mind was the question, "What happens once the Messiah appears?" With Jesus' arrival, many were asking the question, "Is this what we were waiting for?" and "What now?"

On Sunday mornings at First United, we're going to take a couple of weeks to talk about the 'now what' of Christ’s entrance in the world - not just long ago, but in our own lives today. What does it mean for us (in varying stages of faith) to believe that Christ entered into this world? We'll begin this week as we talk about those referred to as the “wise men” or “the three kings” and how their encounter with the Christ child had them asking, "Now what?"

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Life of Jesus: A Worried Mother

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This Sunday, Kyle Richardson takes a look at Mary’s life after Jesus was born, and how it may not have turned out the way she expected. As we reflect on the past year, did you have expectations that weren’t met? As we look forward to next year, may we find comfort in Mary’s story, and remember that Jesus isn’t always who we expect.

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Christmas Eve 2018

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On Christmas Eve, we will celebrate the final gift of an advent-urous life - one that gives us a vision of a Kingdom that looks radically different as we celebrate the birth of Christ. This is going to be an incredible couple of days! In the midst of what can be chaos and stress, we can hear the voice of God offering peace and presence - truly God amongst us - Emmanuel.

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An Advent-urous Life: Peace

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What an incredible week as we conclude Advent and look forward to the celebration of Christmas! This Sunday, we'll learn how an advent-urous life leads to peace. Mahatma Gandhi is often credited as saying, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it." This quote can't be linked to him directly, but different versions have been shared by many famous leaders including Ronald Reagan who had his own spin saying, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it using peaceful means.”

Whoever is defining peace, one thing is clear...peace isn’t a denial of difference or a spiritual denial of the world in which we live. Peace is more than a denial of conflict. The Advent story of Christ coming into our world reminds us that peace is possible even in the midst of what feels like incredible strife and conflict. This week, Pastor Sarah will examine how Mary’s very identity and the manner in which Jesus was born help point to the possibility of peace. This type of peace stands in contrast to the peace that was offered by Rome and continues to be offered by simply stomping out conflict. Advent-urous peace is an invitation to look beyond conflict with a different kind of vision. On Christmas Eve, we will celebrate the final gift of an advent-urous life - one that gives us a vision of a Kingdom that looks radically different as we celebrate the birth of Christ. This is going to be an incredible couple of days! In the midst of what can be chaos and stress, we can hear the voice of God offering peace and presence - truly God amongst us - Emmanuel.

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An Advent-urous Life: Joy

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Advent-urous living requires us to look at the world with a different view. It requires us to be open to how God is working even when things don’t look as we had hoped...and even when it's sometimes difficult to see how God is working at all. On the first Sunday of Advent, we talked about how advent-urous living requires us to have hope even when it appears the darkness is winning. Last week, Scott Erickson helped us see how advent-urous living requires us to see the Love available to us even in the times when we don’t feel lovable or feel like loving others. In this message, we'll take our advent cue from the angels as they speak to the shepherds in Luke’s Christ birth narrative. Though the shepherds have a sense of fear (as one would seeing the heavens open and celestial beings appear), we are told that they are assured that this message is one to bring great joy. It is easy to get joy and happiness confused, isn't it? Happiness is situational, but joy is something that exists at a deeper level and requires us to tap into the hope and love from the last two weeks. This week, Pastor Sarah is going to spend time looking at how advent-urous living can help us experience joy and share that joy with others even in the midst of a difficult season.

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