On my travels I bought a new piece of pottery with a salt glaze (a finish new to me) that I found interesting. I knew I wanted to use it for something, but I wasn’t sure what for. When I got home I decided that my arrangement of dried curly willow would be perfect for it.

The old container was much wider than my new piece of pottery, yet I just grabbed the bundle thinking I could make it fit in one move. It didn’t work. So I began taking apart the arrangement. As I disentwined and separated it a few pieces broke off. The breakage was minimal because I took the time to figure out how to gently pull it apart.

After I organized all the branches across my floor, I placed the new container in position and began reassembling the arrangement. I took time to reexamine and decide where I would place the branches. Some didn’t go in the right place the first time and I needed to move them after I had placed other pieces of curly willow. It took more time than I initially thought.

When I finished I had a new arrangement. All the pieces were the same, but in different places. Some pieces were a little shorter because ends had broken off when I was taking it apart, but they were still a part of the arrangement.

Looking at the arrangement I smiled at the folly of my earlier thinking of being able to move the whole thing at once. Then the story of the wineskins jumped into my mind.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” – Mark 2: 21

We can find this passage in two other places in the Gospels: Matthew 9:16-17 and Luke 5:36-39. These passages are dealing with how the Pharisees are fasting in contrast to Jesus and his disciples. Around this passage are other tensions dealing with eating and the Sabbath. An oversimplification would be to say that Jesus was challenging traditions.

While one could argue that I put “old wine” into a new skin by using the same pieces of curly willow, a new creation emerged in my new piece of pottery. It is made of the same ingredients as the old, but it is made new again. Sometimes it is good to use the old in a new way


Every time I log onto Facebook or Twitter or any social media outlet, my news feed will undoubtedly show an article or two. I get articles such as, “10 Reasons Millennials Are Leaving Your Church” or “Why I Left Church” or “Brunch is My New Worship.” Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you experienced this?

If this weren’t enough reason to cause fear or anxiety about the state of faith, many churches are struggling financially. This includes my own, Community of Christ. I know that for most of us declining numbers cause fear and concern about our future. When we see a decline of people in the pews and a decline of contributors, somehow we think the “church” is dying.

I want to tell you why this is not true. I want to tell you how I am seeing faith explode in the everyday. I want to tell you that numbers do not dictate God’s wonderful and profound movement. I want to share with you HOPE. I want to share with you the vision and shifting identity of the missional church.

A few weeks ago I sat with a friend for lunch. We had met a few months earlier when he first walked into our congregation. We shared about our passions and faith. He told me he wanted to be baptized! I was amazed and excited. See, I was in doubt, worrying whether my faith was relevant. But in that moment I understood that my faith is not controlled by Sunday morning traditions or experiences. My faith is enlivened by the tangible development of relationships that create and empower an authentic Community of Christ. The church is not dying—it is growing! It is moving through vulnerability and courage to share and extend a hand of extravagant hospitality.

I am humbled by the presence of spirit and vision in a congregation I am working with. This is a congregation, perhaps like yours, that has few in the pews on Sunday morning. Month after month, they host a dinner for people who may not be able to afford dinner out. They gather a community of over 100 to break bread with one another. As I watch this event unfolding I see the reality of Christ being present. There is hugging, smiling, sharing of stories, laughing, and handshakes. Most important, they are forming community. Church is happening before my eyes. There are no hymns or sermons, but there are prayers and the breaking of bread.

They also host a biweekly gathering for youth from the neighborhood to explore the sacredness of creation. This ministry culminates with a week long camp in the summer. Over 100 youth and 30 youth volunteers celebrate God’s creation. This is where mission begins. Right here with encounter!

Another congregation I serve offers a monthly food pantry for their small rural community. I share with them in this experience. It took two days of work to make it happen. I heard from person after person the importance of Community of Christ for them and their community. They shared how the Community of Christ was a blessing for them in their life. Person after person shared how they look forward to seeing one another. They don’t use these words but: they are creating a community where Christ thrives! This is what Community of Christ enduring principles and mission initiatives look like!

When did we stop believing in the scripture from Matthew 18:20? – “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” When did the success or spiritual capacity of a congregation become tied to the number of people attending on Sunday morning or budget?

Being missional is responding to our discipleship not with an agenda for creating mega churches or extravagant programs, but rather living into the movements of God around and through us in our communities and contexts. The missional church is not a church concerned with numbers or budget. The missional church, courageously, moves forward with a powerful stubborn hope in a culture full of doubt, anxiety, and fear communicated in articles on our news feed. We are reminded, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Henri Nouwen reminds us in his book, Reaching Out, “Therefore, as the people of God, we are called ekklesia (from the Greek kaleo=call; and ek=out), the community called out of the old world into the new.” I could go on and on with story after story, experience after experience, of the church growing and becoming. The truth is I don’t need to. When we pay attention and open our eyes, we have our own stories of hope and possibility. The church is not without hope and the church is not dying. The church is shifting, which is an indication that we are becoming.

May we become ekklesia. May we go into a world groaning with suffering, division, hunger, and fear and proclaim a movement that promotes communities of joy, hope, love and peace. May we become who Christ has called us to be and embrace the mission of Jesus Christ in a world challenged by apathy and a loss of hope. May we have stubborn hope and passionately, courageously, and vulnerably respond through everyday encounters with the living God. I certainly understand the complexities and difficulties, but I am not concerned with numbers or budget. I am empowered and inspired by Christ’s mission and encouraged by HOPE.

“The most important question for a missional church is not about long-term survival. It is about how we passionately pursue Christ’s mission in a suffering world that groans for the liberating truths of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 155: 7).” – Steve Veazey – April 2011


I have been an employed minister of the Community of Christ for 15 years. I have taught a lot of classes and I have preached a lot of sermons. After a sermon, many times, people come up to me and thank me for my “message.” This is always awkward and sometimes embarrassing because it is difficult for me to accept praise or gratitude. These times are always humbling. Even though I find it difficult to accept thanks, I graciously accept because my acceptance of their offering is a way for grace to expand and a way for the expresser of gratitude to be a blessing.

Many years ago I began a practice to express gratitude to others for what they have meant to me in my life. I remember the first time I thought about an intentional expression of my gratitude was to Dick, a fishing friend. I had known and worked beside him as a volunteer for several years. We had shared shop time and stream time, coffee and pie and prime rib. Dick was moving away from where I lived and I doubted I would ever see him again. I wanted to tell him to his face just how important he was in my life. This took us both by surprise. He moved on to his life in a new place knowing what I thought of him and how important he was to me in my development as a man.

On my better days I express my gratitude to those around me. I remember once in a restaurant where I received very good service. Before leaving I asked to see the manager. Usually that is bad news to a server and to the establishment. When the manager came out, the server was present. I praised the young man for how he had taken care of our group of diners. I also suggested to the manager the young man should get a raise.

Expressions of gratitude do not need to be sappy or tearful to be sincere and heart felt. An expression of genuine gratitude comes out of practice. Practicing gratitude is an essential part of being a disciple of Jesus. We are challenged to express to God our gratitude for all things in life. Even after times of struggle and pain we can find things to be thankful for in that time of struggle. I moved a lot as a child, it was hard to make friends every year or so, but I am thankful for that part of my life for the ways it has prepared me for ministry. I am not shy.

Gratitude as a spiritual discipline follows our recognition of the abundance of God’s grace expressed through the created order. If we are consciously seeking the movement of God in our lives and our communities we will find such abundance that our gratitude will flow freely from us. This free flow of gratitude will include all that we are and all that we have and that outward flow is called generosity.

Look to the blessings in your family and in your congregation. Tell people who serve you and those who you serve how grateful you are for them. In that expression you both will experience God’s unbounded grace and the kingdom will be near.


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
— Isaiah 9:2

I enjoyed reading Barbra Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark. One of her points is how we often think of the dark as evil or dangerous, yet how many powerful events in the Bible happen in the dark, such as the visitation of angels and visions.

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him. – Daniel 2:22

I went to an art museum that I hadn’t visited in many years, especially to see a Chinese Temple on display there. I was impressed with the museum’s renovations and new displays and how they were lit. I noticed how the color of the walls allowed the light to bring greater contrast to the art, making it even more vibrant. Fitted lights at a restored shrine, allowed visitors to see the detailed woodcarving. New technology was allowing pieces of art to be viewed in exciting ways.

I made my way into the Chinese Temple and I was disappointed. I could see the light fixtures were updated, but I desired more light to see the details. I made my way to the wall plaque and began to read the text. The temple would have been lit only by light that came through the walls, small windows and by candles. I stopped my 21st Century mind and thought that the curators might be trying to honor the idea of how much light (though modern) might have been in the temple.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:5

So, I went to a bench, I sat down and closed my eyes to accelerate my eyes adjusting to the light of the space. I opened my eyes and slowly the details of the temple began to reveal themselves. The longer I sat, the more I could see. No longer desiring more light, I could see how the light was filling the space. Most interesting to me was a bright spot of light on the ceiling. Looking for the source of this light, I realized it was the light from outside the temple space bouncing off the marble floor that created this place of brightness. If I hadn’t let my eyes adjust to the darkness, I wouldn’t have noticed the spot of brightness or its source.

They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
Psalm 112:4

How many times have we been somewhere and thought, “I need to shine a light on this.” Or, “I can’t see what they see.” Have we taken the time to allow ourselves to adjust to our environment? Will we take the time to discover where those places of light are unfolding in our spaces? Will we be humble and gracious during those moments when we may be the ones bringing that light? Are we willing to sit in darkness?

RHYTHMS BY Michele McGrath

Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’

They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet.’
— Matthew 2:1b, 5 NRSV

Waiting, preparing, journeying, hoping.


Unless you’re newborn yourself, you may have experienced it before, many times over. Christianity’s rhythm is cyclic, repetitive. Still, in the same way that we can continually find new gusts of loveliness and truth in old scriptures our eyes have taken in before, each Advent is a fresh encounter. Not because the story is new, but because the cosmos has changed—we have changed. The Word is new because the world is new.

To tell it straight, I have never felt anything like a wise man. But this year, my wandering has crossed theirs, and our intersection is giving me hope. Let me explain.

First, these wise men and I, not a one of us seems to possess anything resembling a map. Since the territory for Christians in a postmodern world is all new, there just doesn’t seem to be a reliable map. There is no “Mission for Dummies” or “Ten Steps for Living Incarnationally.” (I’ve Googled it.) Passing through Christendom someone tried to sell us a map, but now we know better.

These magi have something better. Something ancient yet new that points the way: a star. So too (cyclic and repetitive, remember?) we have something ancient yet new that points the way: renewed engagement in the spiritual practices that have borne the faith of would-be disciples for millennia. These spiritual practices are deepening our ties with God, others, and the cosmos we occupy in ways that are real and meaningful. They are working themselves out in our lives with amplified attention to hospitality, generosity, and justice and what that looks like in our own contexts.

It is all around us. I hear it in random conversations on the train. I see it in a hundred mundane daily interactions. I feel it in the air—crisper and more breathtaking than the coming snow.

With our eyes no longer blinded by neon Christendom, we are beginning to once again accustom our eyes to what Barbara Brown Taylor calls the “Really Real.” Then and only then will opportunities begin to emerge from the darkness and we will be able to see the Hope of the World more clearly.

SACRED INVITATION by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

You who are first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cries out with a desire as vast as the universe; ‘In truth you are my Lord and my God.’
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The whole spiritual life is a pull toward unity: unity with our true selves, others, God, and creation. Through spiritual practices like centering prayer, we dwell in that space that awakens the oneness impulse within us. We begin to see our connection with all other life as more than theory. It is the way we live God’s vision for our world. The peaceable kingdom we are called to co-create resides in each oneness impulse lived.

This is why invitation is such a holy act. In western church culture, invitation carries a lot of baggage from religious proselytizing that has felt diminishing and dehumanizing at times. We wonder: what is the motive here? What is the agenda?

It is a shame that this is the case. In a society that can be so lonely and isolating, invitation is a powerful way to live God’s oneness vision together. It is sacred because it is about belonging. Rather than dehumanizing because of a hidden agenda, authentic invitation always honors the full worth of others in a truly mutual way. Despite how resistant we have become to anything that feels too much like proselytizing, we all deeply crave real invitation to what is most meaningful about this life we share.

This is at the core of the purpose of Lent. It is a season for stripping false distances and getting closer to the heart of things, which leads closer to your heart… and his… and hers… and every other heart that beats wild desire for deeper connection so often subdued because of the risk of being real. What if I’m not accepted for who I truly am? is the fear that drives so many false-self actions. Life in God’s Spirit reveals another way- where all belong in love to God and one another. This is the invitation we yearn to receive.

Let this spirit of invitation emerge naturally within you. As you dwell in God as the source of all life notice who you feel drawn toward. How is the pull toward unity coming to life in you? Who do you yearn to belong with? When you pay attention to these inner movements, you may be surprised. You may feel drawn to someone you don’t know or hardly know or wish you didn’t know. You may feel drawn to someone you think you know really well but realize how you have become casual or clumsy in a relationship in need of renewal.

Pay attention to this inward union pull.
Allow it come to life through you anywhere, everywhere.
Dare to release a sacred invitation and see where it may lead.

It is about deepest life in God’s Spirit coming to expression in the world. It is about wholeness. It is about restoring worth. It is about paying attention to how we are called to belong to one another. It is about the world as it could be.