Irvine Home Group

Weekly Gathering, Potluck Dinner, Worshipful Fellowship
Thursday Nights 6:30 – 8:30 pm,through Autumn

Michael & Deborah Chesney are hosting a weekly mid-week home​ group in North Irvine.​  We’ll begin at 6:30 pm with a pot luck dinner and end at 8:30 pm after worshiping together.  For more information or to connect with the hosts, please contact Michael Chesney at mchesney14@gmail.com.

Good Friday

Good Friday

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

 – Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

In her poem “Good Friday” Christina Rosetti imagines herself witnessing the crucifixion. Troubled by her hard-heartedness she asks God, and no doubt herself, ‘Am I a stone and not a sheep? Am I less than human, less even than the inanimate sun and moon?’ In my own contemplation of the cross I have often asked myself (and sometimes God) a similar question: Why don’t I feel worse about this than I do? What is wrong with me? Have I become desensitized by sixty-some years of hearing the gruesome details of Good Friday? Has my heart has been hardened by the violence, cruelty and suffering that seem to permeate the very atmosphere we breathe? Perhaps my own sin history does not seem quite as hefty as that of those I consider truly evil, making it easier for me to imagine myself a passive bystander at Calvary rather than an executioner. And finally, maybe I am a fraud. Maybe I do not really love Jesus to the degree I claim. After all, if I were recalling the torture of a loved one, a stranger, or even a pet, I would likely find myself “weeping bitterly” and overtaken by “exceeding grief.”  It seems Rosetti was mistaken when she claimed, “I, only I.”

To some degree these may be valid considerations for my seeming callousness. However, I would like us to consider one more: Though in and of itself time does nothing to diminish the horrors of the crucifixion, the subsequent centuries have distanced us to the degree that there is not a “Jesus Film” out there that can effectively span the years. Imaginative prayer may ‘transport us’ to the scene and awaken dormant feelings, but it is soon back to business as usual.  Though it was essential to the fulfillment of the scriptures and our redemption, perhaps Christ’s suffering alone does not hold the undiminished potency capable of rending our hearts.  Rather, when we consider that Jesus willingly “laid down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), that he “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), that it was “for the joy” that was set before him that he endured the shame and torture of the cross (Heb. 12:2), is it not the timeless experience of his love and grace that spans the centuries and is presently powerful enough to cause our pain and compassion to rise to the surface?  This is Love that stamps no expiration date on our hearts. This is Love the time-traveler, who was, and is, and is to come.  This is patient, invitational Love who has longed since the days of Eden to adopt all his estranged children.  This is Love whose momentum was behind the hammer that drove the nails at Calvary and is still behind the suffering that drives broken hearts to the cross. This is Augustine’s timeless “Beauty so ancient and so new.”

The prayer of Christina Rosetti’s “Good Friday” is met by Love’s invitation in this stanza from her poem “Despised and Rejected.”

But all night long that voice spake urgently:
‘Open to Me.’
Still harping in mine ears:
‘Rise, let Me in.’
Pleading with tears:
‘Open to Me that I may come to thee.’
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
‘My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.’

 

– Pat Conneen

The Afternoon of Lent

After years of living through days, I’ve observed that afternoons are hard for me.

I prefer mornings; they hold more promise. In the a.m., I am energized by a new start, the vision of achievement, or maybe I am simply lifted by the vaguely purposeful parade of people heading out to work or to school or to their tasks and errands.

But in the afternoon, everything seems to slow to a crawl. What I set out to do in the morning has taken more time than expected. I’ve hit a few obstacles and must again confront my limits. The vision I began with has grown hazy or distant. Nothing is quite as meaningful as it was a few hours earlier. I sit in my house or cubical or car casting about for something inspiring but end up rearranging my desk or rereading old emails. The sun, high in the sky and glaring through my window, has not moved for a while. Time appears to be standing still. And there are yet hours before the novelty of night brings its cool release from day. Meanwhile, nothing satisfies, and I feel mildly depressed.

The desert fathers sometimes called this mood and its attendant temptations ‘the noonday demon.” Over time, it can tempt us to the vice they called acedia—which can look either like apathy or nervous busyness, each of which arises from the same source– a lost vision of (or resistance to) God’s will for us each day.

This can occur not just on particular days but in particular seasons during our “long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life. And it can occur in season of Lent. After the initial promise of a new spiritual discipline and still before a vision of its fruit (or at least its end), we often must move through the “afternoon of Lent.” Like my afternoons above, we sometimes can’t remember—or at least feel—the point of cutting back on Netflix or reading each day’s psalm. We’ve lost a vision of what these were supposed to achieve. In the afternoon of Lent, our disciplines and detachments begin to feel trivial and paltry next to the world’s real needs and problems. We feel spiritually small. We long for the dramatic, to accomplish great feats, to be influential, to turn stones into bread.

At this point it is good to remember that, in Scripture, the small is no less important for being small. In the mustard seed, the one coin, the few loaves and fish, the still small voice– something is beginning that may blossom out surprisingly and disproportionately. Through these small acts, something large is being nudged over in us—a habit, a resistant will, a deep attachment. And who’s to say what might come from this? A kinder word, a more patient response, a wiser choice, an embrace, a gift, a taste of life, a step back from sin, a death to self, a break in the chain and a glimpse of freedom. Who benefits? Not just us. A spouse, a child, a roommate, a friend, a stranger, the pale girl on the screen, that man on the street, a descendant, our children’s children. Where our small act of obedience goes we cannot say because the Spirit, which is at our back, is like the wind. As Dostoyevsky writes, “all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.” Or as Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Jn. 12:24).

Of course, we may know nothing about the fruit of our devotion. But in the afternoon of our weakness, like Paul we may hear God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And growing in grace is no small thing.

– Todd Pickett

Epiphany: A Striking Appearance

I packed up the porcelain wise men, camels, and baby Jesus which were prominently displayed on the fireplace mantle with fresh Christmas greens, now stiff and tarnished by dryness. The lights adorning my house taken down and stored. The trappings of Christmas have slipped back into my upstairs storage closet as I prepare for the liturgy of annual January house cleaning. I’ve spent most of my life learning to inhabit the Christmas story well, with all its intrigue, gift-giving, and ‘tis-the-season-ings. I’ve traveled far and wide seeking how to celebrate Jesus and his gift of Presence-With-Us. But now I ask myself, as the Church pivots into third season of light and wonder known as Epiphany, how do I inhabit Epiphany as a follower of Jesus?

January 6 on the Church calendar marks Epiphany, the twelfth day and end of Christmastide and the beginning of a long season also known as Ordinary Time until Ash Wednesday. During these weeks, the Scriptural readings recount stories of those who travel far to see Jesus, those gathered to hear Jesus’ teachings, those who experience the heaven’s open with descending Spirit-dove resting on Jesus and the Divine Voice revealing Divine Love in Jesus.

Epiphany, as a seasonal theme in our Christian faith and practice, is meant to train the soul to attentively detect the sacred “aha” moments; those uncanny conscious explosions of senses and spirit when we are caught in the cross-fire of Light, Truth, Love, known as the Incarnation as heaven intersects earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In awe, we continue to breathlessly behold the striking appearance of Jesus – with and within us – right in the middle of our everyday rhythms and routines.

Another facet of the season engages our love of for the childhood classroom activity of show and tell. Epiphany is a season of witness. Mary Oliver, an American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner captures the heart-beat of Epiphany as she succinctly writes:

PAY ATTENTION
BE ASTONISHED
TELL ABOUT IT

So how do I personally inhabit the Season of Epiphany? I take my cue from one of the traditional Epiphany passages in Scripture: John 1:36-39. I look and listen for the unusual things and people that point me to the striking appearance of Jesus…those eye-catching glimpses which cause me pause, lead me to inquire, open my understanding to the new, the wonder-filled, the Divine – to who and what Jesus is among us. They come in all shapes and sizes and descend on my day like doves from heaven. A friend’s forgiveness of my inconsistencies in love. A mentor’s caring advice for rest. An employer’s acceptance of my failures. A sunset walk after work. A tender hug from an unexpected acquaintance sensitive to my human need for affection. These pointers all lead me to grasp a Reality that is both simple and striking – God comes in tender human graces that embrace and enfold me and help me along life’s way. I, than in turn, changed by the moment, the touch, the Epiphany aha…share what I’ve encountered with others. I too, get to enter the seasonal activities of show and tell as I become a pointer to others; helping them see Jesus more clearly and experientially.

In the Season of Epiphany we might want to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked his first followers: What are you looking for? (John 1:38). And then, invite others to Come and See (John 1:39).

– Elizabeth Khorey