Ask-the-Pastor for 6/3/18: Injustice and the Government

Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Psalm 81:1-10, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6

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**** Before you listen to this sermon on injustice and the government, make sure to watch this video on the definition of JUSTICE in the Bible.  Not to be missed and essential framework for to listen.

Sometimes it can seem like the purpose of religion is to make people worse than they are by adding God’s power to our own natural selfishness. And then we end up with the kind of judgments that lead to hate and dehumanization. Non-Sabbath-keepers become law-breakers; law-breakers are dangerous; dangerous people need to be locked up; maybe it would be better for everybody if we remove the danger by removing the bad people. It’s a depressingly familiar path, and it leads very quickly to evil done in the name of good—even in the name of God.
— Bishop Guy Erwin, Southwest CA Synod, ELCA

Upon Further Reflection

I neglected to say something important when I talked about my attitude on our government.  I made a statement that I am generally a hopeful person when it comes to the government. I am not super cynical. And I am thankful for my children's education, my husband's vocation, and the peace and safety I enjoy because of our government.  This probably arises from my travel in other countries where there are no basic services like garbage pickup and safety was not assumed.  I should have said that because of the protections I enjoy, I am compelled to work for justice...in the biblical sense...to work to fold more people into the dignity I assume and have come to trust. In our country, not everyone enjoys this kind of trust, their inherent dignity will be honored by the state. (See video below) So how can I, an individual, help heal that wound?  Institutions can move, albeit slowly, and we can expand the circle of their care.  That is often and should be one role of Lutheran Christians in the public square.

Sermon for 2/25/18: A Death like His

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:23-31, Mark 8:31-38

 Onawa Unfiltered, 2003

Onawa Unfiltered, 2003

If you depend on being emotionally inspired or newly motivated, you will need a new fix almost every day. If it is a true Gospel message, it will be more about regrounding, reshaping and redirecting you from your core.
— Richard Rohr

Sermon Notes

What kind of change does God want from us?  Well maybe that's not the right question. What kind of change is God doing to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ? That's the question we were trying to put answer on Tuesday night with our Lent series, How Men Change.  When God says change, what kind of change is at hand?  

I have found that is easier to talk about what real change is NOT.  And Richard Rohr helped us with this: it is not changing your friends.  Although sometimes real change means new people in your life.  But they are not the change itself.  Real change is not adopting new ideas or new dogmas or a new set of rules or new rituals or new denominations.  Change can bring those things to us...but again, they are not the change itself.  Change is something deeper, more destabilizing, more scary, more humbling, more transforming.  It is a whole lot more about admitting what we do not know than asserting what we do.  And that's the kind of change God does to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ.  And here's the kicker: we have no control over it. 

This is just a taste of the wrestling we have been doing together.  I hope it's challenging you; I hope it's confronting you.  But again, God is entirely responsible for that.  So it's my prayer that you should be confronted with a vision real change in this season. Amen

For a great discussion about change, read this article by Richard Rohr.  It's where I lifted this quote.  And this season, he's how I'm sharpening my understanding of the core biblical message.  Blessings, friends.

Sermon for 2/18/18: On Men

Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, Mark 1:9-15

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Upon Further Reflection

I realized, as usual, Sunday afternoon, I forgot to say the most important thing about change from scripture this week.  We heard the flood story in Genesis.  We heard the verses read in church from the moment when God establishes the everlasting covenant with humanity and places the bow in the sky as a reminder of the promise.  Well if you read the fuller story, you discover that God doesn't rebuild humanity and promise never to destroy us again because Noah or anyone else did anything to become better and more worthy of saving.  In fact, God says quite specifically, human beings are not changing.  And so in response, it is God that grieves the loss of creation and then works to return to us.  And so for all the talk about change and men and women during this season, let us never forget this -- God sees into our stubborn hearts, gazes with honesty onto our harmful intentions and says with mercy, "It's on me to change."

Sermon Notes: Here are couple links to the resources I used to put this sermon together.

For the interview with Arthur Brooks on his book The Conservative Heart, check out this from the Washington Post.  The whole thing is very engaging and worth a listen. It's a political podcast so you can imagine I have plenty of thoughts about it, but the material about happiness and men and friendship is helpful outside the political sphere.

For the dowload of the lecture by Father Richard Rohr, check out his website:

Sermon for 2/4/18: On Silence, Part II

Isaiah 40:21-20 and Mark 1:29-39

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’
— Mark 1:35-27
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In Silence -- a poem by Thomas Merton

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.
Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”

 

Sermon for 1/28/18: On Silence

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, and Mark 1:21-28

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Not all of us are called to be hermits, but all of us need enough silence and solitude in our lives to enable the deeper voice of our own self to be heard at least occasionally.
— Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk

Upon Further Reflection

One of our church members left the sanctuary laughing on Sunday.  After my sermon on silence, she said, "You sure can tell you don't live alone!"  It's true.  This sermon is very much a product of someone who does not live alone.  But I have to say in thinking about it, I have never lived alone, even when no one else was with me. I have always had enough inner chatter and reflection to take up the space of a couple roommates or family members. The sermon says less about the people who populate my house and work than it does about what goes on in my inner life.  They are related to be sure. My inner life is a place of constant conversation: talking and listening and meeting needs.  (In fact, I recently started playing a musical instrument so I could take a break from my thoughts.  I was surprised to discover it works!)    

This woman's observation speaks a wide truth: all of us experience the quiet differently. For some, we fight the quiet even as we crave it (that's the sermon). For others, we have made friends with the quiet, many times after a loss. It comforts us now. Still others experience too much quiet and not enough connection.  Remember what I said about isolation as a spiritual crisis?  

Each of us knows something about silence the rest of us need. My gift to this church is an active inner life that supports my teaching and preaching and accompaniment. I wrestle my world for the quiet I get. I am not the only one with a restlessness inner life in this church.  And you too are a gift to us.  If you have too much quiet, you know something the rest of us need to remember about loneliness.  You are a gift to us as well.  If you are at peace with the quiet, than you have an essential way of being that will nurture the rest of us when we feel chaotic inside. Your gift is the stillness God has cultivated in you.  You ground this faith community.

Our relationship to silence is not straight forward.  It changes over time. This week was an invitation to pause and wonder: where am I right now?  What Word of God works on me in the silence?  What do I know that others may not because of the way I am quiet?

Sermon for 1/14/18: The Dimension Of God We Forget

1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18, John 1:43-51

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Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all human knowledge.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel

Upon Further Reflection

This week I have a smattering of other thoughts and reflections that arose as I worked with these passages evoking beginnings, and callings, and wonder.  So for your own further investigation, I commend you this:

On Truth verses Fact -- I saw this week an amazing video explaining how in recent years, for the first time, scientists have been able to capture how animal eggs send out a flash of light at the moment of conception.  Well the video mentions mice, frogs, and humans anyway.  The brighter the flash, the healthier the egg.  I was so captivated by the imagery.  Connecting to the themes of my Sunday sermon, I offer you this.  Scientific fact tells us this is a reaction involving zinc. Our faith tells us, in the beginning, the first thing God said was let their be light!  This seems true as well.  Neither one of these is wrong.  They both answer and deepen the mystery of our beginnings. If only we could remember more often in our culture wars how badly science and faith need each other.

More amazing science: One of our church members called out attention at a small group session to this podcast.  It's about the discovery of plate tectonics, a fascinating listen to how change happens both physically on earth, and also when human assumptions and entrenched ways of imagining our world are challenged.  More wonder!   CLICK HERE: The Day the Earth Moved

On DACA and Jesus: Sunday, I did not talk about one of the most important lines of our passage on Philip and Nathaniel as they are called by Jesus.  It's that amusing and ironic line, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" -- the one Nathaniel asks snidely when his friend invites him to come and follow. It's a crucial revelation: assumptions about class and place of origin almost thwart Nathaniel's encounter with Jesus.  Will he hear the call of God or will he stay rooted and unseeing and isolated in his prejudice? 

That's a question we have to navigate all the time as individuals, and a question that has brought us spiritual anguish as a global community with a migration crisis. Amidst the divisive immigration politics of our age, the who-said-what, and our  binging on the fallout of it all, we can't lose track that the issues at hand are faith issues. Tonight I heard a brilliant and touching sermon by Pastor Charlie Little of the First Presbyterian Church on Matthew 25. He said that to refuse to care for the stranger in need is an act of self-hatred.  It was a profound moment of preaching because we are seeing that wound on a national scale not just in our daily Christian living. Sobering words.  So however we choose to move forward as a nation on these issues of faith, may we do so loving the image of God that we are.  And may we love not just in church on Sunday or in our own homes, but in the messy, mucky, wider world.

 

 

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2017 -- Wildfire, Hair Salons, and Mangers: Encountering the Word of God

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
— John 1:1-5.....NRSV
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I hope you all had a blessed Christmas.  May love, peace, and joy be yours in the New Year!

Sermon for 12/17/17: Confusing Mary with a Nice Lady -- Youth, Part III

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-38

 Labyrinths by the Bethel Middle School Youth Group

Labyrinths by the Bethel Middle School Youth Group

Upon Further Reflection

This week, I do not have a thought of my own to share, but rather, a prayer.  Recently, in Bible Study, we talked about the trouble some of us find with the Lord's Prayer because it limits our understanding of God to the realm of Father.  What happens to the mothering nature of God?  Is it necessary to even think of God as a parent?  How is that liberating?  How is that stifling?  These were all good questions with good wrestling.  Each one of us in the room had different ways we've come to terms with the Father language of this abiding prayer, let alone our tradition as whole. 

In that class, I mentioned a different version of the Lord's Prayer that might be helpful, one that holds to the original intent of those words, but has used more expansive language to achieve its end.  Words are limited vessels to be sure -- but they are what we have.  Try this on though and feel what language can accomplish:

The Lord's Prayer
(from the New Zealand Prayer Book
Rev ed.: He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa)

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen

Sermon Notes

In my sermon, I reference the claim of Mary as the first preacher of the gospel.  I think that idea came from this interview with Rev.  Nadia Boltz-Weber.  I recommend the unedited version.  Hang on to your hats though -- she's not polite either.  

Sermon for 12/10/17: Being Hard To Live With --- Youth, Part II

Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

 Rock Prayers painted by the Middle School Youth Group

Rock Prayers painted by the Middle School Youth Group

Youth ministry is not about getting things accomplished - only the act of God can bring about the transformation we seek. Youth ministry is about participating deeply in young people’s lives as we await, together in suffering & joy, the coming of God.
— Andrew Root

Upon Further Reflection

I forgot to tell you that John the Baptist was an artist.  In all my comparisons between John the Baptist and teens on Sunday, I forgot to say that.  It's an insight by Richard Rohr, that John the Baptist shaped containers for the Holy Spirit; he shaped pathways for God. He was never confused between the object he was making and the spirit it held within it in the way we are often confused.  In church life, we often mistake the container for the contained. 

I don't know about the kids you know, but the ones I know are always making stuff.  From an early age, they are always, always building, molding, creating.  My son has been out at 7am for the past week in the 25F mornings hammering on the fence.  He says he's working and fixing and building.  My daughter's hands never weary of shaping paper, wax, candy wrappers, you name it, all of it transformed into stuff she has an internal logic for making.  It's all a mystery how these things appear at her fingertips.  Kids have this inherit creative drive.  We need this drive in our churches if we are meant to renew.  And in the midst of all that messiness as we embrace the spirit of our prophets, our kids, we can't forget...Jesus was a crafter of containers, a sculptor, an artist. The wild thing though is this: it is us he's always tinkering with.

Sermon for 12/3/17: Waking Up to Youth in the Church

Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

 Liturgical calendar constructed by middle school youth

Liturgical calendar constructed by middle school youth

Upon Further Reflection

The crisis of young people in the church -- That’s what I addressed on Sunday – a crisis that has been dogging us for a couple generations: why don’t they stay?  This is question for the whole ELCA, not just little ole Bethel.

I want to leave here some of the powerful quotes from Sunday.  They are ones that informed my sermon or spoke to me while I was leading worship.  This is one of the most important sermons I have preached about ministry at Bethel.  If you are someone who feels attached to an idea of what church is or has to be in order for worship to feel like worship, then I encourage you to let the words of scripture and sermon dwell in you for a while.  They were hard words no doubt for some of you, but very hopeful ones too.  And that’s what we are called to cling with our hearts – to hope.

By Michael Warren

“[Confirmation] efforts that are failing are those that reduce young people to the status of consumers, accepting doctrinal ‘capital’ on a ‘handout’ basis and putting it to good use.”

“The stumbling block to full participation of the young in the church is that they are invited to participate in the reproduction of religious meaning but not the true, original production of that meaning.”

From the Bible

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come….”  Mark 13:35

From Marty Haugen

“Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night,                                                                                  though dark the winter and cheerless,                                                                                          the rising sun shall crown you with light,                                                                                        be strong and loving and fearless.                                                                                                Love be our song and love our prayer                                                                                         and love our endless story;                                                                                                            may God fill every day we share                                                                                                      and bring us at last into glory.”

      In Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn

Sermon Notes

Quotes on confirmation come from Warren, Michael (1991). "Youth, Cultural Agency, and the Confirming of the Church's Commitment." Word and World (Volume XL) 4, pg.396-403.

Sermon for 11/12/17: Fractal Grace...reflections on oil, lamps, a grandfather, and equations

Amos 5:18-24, Psalm 70, and Matthew 25:1-13

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
— Elsa in Let It Go from Frozen
 My grandfather with us and a fractal he generated containing the Mandelbrot Set

My grandfather with us and a fractal he generated containing the Mandelbrot Set

Sermon Notes

 For some casual reading on fractals visit THE FRACTAL FOUNDATION.

For commentary on the meaning of oil and lamps in the Bible, see the study notes for Matthew 25:1-13 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (reference and library here).

10/15/17 & 10/22/17 Two Sermons on Integrity Before God

Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 and Isaiah 45:1-7 and Matthew 22:15-22

 Treasures of Darkness     Cambria 2009

Treasures of Darkness     Cambria 2009

During the day it is hard to remember that all the stars in the sky are out there all the time, even when I am too blinded by the sun to see them....
— Barbara Brown Taylor

Upon Further Reflection...

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places....Isaiah 45:3 

This week, I noticed I haven’t been taking J to the park after dinner to run out the last of his wiggles because it is too dark.  The nights are getting longer. I can’t sense when it’s time to make meals. I find myself disoriented when the alarm sounds in the morning, unsure of the hour.  Thank goodness for the grain elevator greeting the dawn. 

If I were back in my childhood home in this late October, the darkness would be setting in for the long winter even more deeply than it does here.  And with the change, came the bare limbs of trees, no longer decorated with the vibrant blasts of autumn leaves.  Everything was stripped down: no more lush forest, no more scent of rich soil and blooming things, the land denuded. 

One year, when I was old enough to walk in the woods alone, I noticed something.  With all the trees stripped to pure bark, you could see across the hillside to far horizons; you could see the outlines of distant ridges that maybe I knew were there all along, but were hidden by the dense foliage of summer.  The setting of autumn into the winter meant vistas revealed, it meant landscapes emerging; it meant perspective. Longer nights brought new vision in the little daylight we had. 

Darkness also brought the cold. Sometimes by now in Maine, the driveway ruts were hard with frost in the early morning.  And it was not uncommon to navigate through snow on Halloween to trick-or-treat. And with the cold came the descent into our inner selves, another reorientation of our vision.  Even here in winter, some of us spend more time in reflection, more time inwardly watchful.  In a way, like the land we go dark and somewhat bare as we fall into stillness.  We find we have changed in a year; we find those around us have shifted.  We wonder at the passage of time. We perceive things we did not notice a year ago.

In church come the fall, we experience judgment in some of the harder scripture readings of the lectionary; we are confronted by what we would rather ignore about ourselves.  The Word is working on us, laying on a demand of truth…even if it hard. It too is cold and dark and revealing.

Are these then the treasures and riches of the darkness God intends for us: this honesty, this quiet drawing down, this gaze onto the far ridge lines of our lives? What is this pull toward the subtle, secret Presence of the Holy One? What are these emerging distant horizons if not the invitation to rest in the wideness of God’s mercy?

Sermon Notes for Judgment, Mercy, and the Indestructibility of Love

Quotes on sin come from Defense of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord, Article II (I): Of Original Sin.  Link to full text HERE.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - childhood classic and masterful depiction of anger an mercy.  (Public library and reference HERE.)

Sermon Notes for You Can't Have it Both Ways

"If one believes Caesar is due taxes, then pay; if one believes everything belongs to God, then do not pay" from The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  (Reference and public library HERE.)

Thank you, Bishop Gabriel Abdelaziz at The Revival Center in Templeton for your enlivening comments on transformation and touch!

Global Mission Sunday: Photos, Films, and Poetry

This past Sunday, Guest Lauren Amundson from Young Adults in Global Mission was our preacher and we celebrated the work of our global church...over fifty each of sewn quilts, school bags, and personal care quilts to ship overseas.  No recorded sermon but check out the poem from worship and view the video from Lutheran World Relief if you missed it.  They have many more inspiring short videos at https://lwr.org/videos.  Click the link!

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Lutheran World Relief receives these donations.  This organization stays on in communities working with local partners for years after devastating events.  This video documents the achievements after Typhoon Haiyan.

Here is the blessings we read over the quilts, a blessing for those who are suffering by poet John O'Donahue:

May you be blessed in the holy names of those

Who, without you knowing it,

Help to carry and lighten your pain.

 May you know serenity

When you are called

To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom

To avoid false resistance;

When suffering knocks on the door of your life,

May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you

With the hard-earned light of past travail;

To remind you that you have survived before

And though the darkness now is deep,

You will soon see approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds.

May you know that though the storm might rage,

Not a hair of your head will be harmed.

9/24/17 The Sermon I Never Preach

Jonah 3:10-4:11, Psalm 145:1-8, Matthew 20:1-16

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of people: few are guilty, but all are responsible.
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Prophets
 Thank you to all the Sunday School teachers around the world who make THIS happen.

Thank you to all the Sunday School teachers around the world who make THIS happen.

Sermon Notes

I rarely preach this kind of sermon.  I hardly ever spend my time in the pulpit telling everyone what a bunch of miserable, undeserving "maggots" we are. (Ah, quotable Luther! He thought that of himself at times.) I don't exactly do this here.  But I talk about who deserves what and I level the playing field as to our own notions of entitlement.  I resist this classical mold of preaching because I don't think it encourages a healthy approach to ourselves or to our work especially in my specific community. I don't think it encourages a right relationship to God either.  I am a law/gospel preacher, but it's a little more out of the box than tapping into the anxieties we already have about ourselves and reinforcing dangerous attitudes about our powerlessness and lack of worth.  So there you have it. 

But I did this Sunday. And it was largely successful....as in, people heard it.  It fascinates me that my congregation loves these kinds of convict and redeem (law/gospel) sermons.  Perhaps it's familiar terrain for these American protestants, a throwback to the piety and narratives of former times.  Or are we suckers for punishment?  I wondered about that until yesterday when it occurred to me, maybe there is something freeing about being told our needs aren't any more legitimate than anyone else's needs.  Maybe it's about wanting to be like everyone else in our helplessness and our sin-bearing.  Maybe it's a relief to know we aren't special, but that we are common before God.  Common and breathing together.  So I'm going with that -- I like the idea that we can be released by the Word into our shared human experience even when it's the shadows and undersides we'd rather not address.  Maybe we do need reminding how much we need God in just this kind of way more often than I've been willing to preach.

You may not hear it again for awhile.  So soak it up while you can!  

And by the way, in former days, these two works were hugely influential on my young and pliable seeker mind - deeply influential writing on leading, sin, redemption, and responsibility:

On Hiatus

Dear Friends: As much as I've enjoyed curating sermons for this site, I have new responsibilities that need my attention.  If anyone would like to volunteer to record them, edit them, and return them to me in a timely fashion each week, your services would be welcome. It doesn't take a lot of time.  Just more than I have at the moment. I have the equipment and the software.  But until that time or until my responsibilities change, I'm taking a breather and focusing on other ministries.  Hope to be back at it soon.  Thank you for listening at a distance and staying in touch with the ministry.  Peace, Pr. Amy

Ask-the-Pastor: The Heavy Burden of Relationships

Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-14, and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

THE FIRST SERVICE THAT ONE OWES TO OTHERS IN THE FELLOWSHIP CONSISTS OF LISTENING TO THEM. JUST AS LOVE OF GOD BEGINS WITH LISTENING TO HIS WORD, SO THE BEGINNING OF LOVE FOR OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IS LEARNING TO LISTEN TO THEM.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

Sermon Notes

The story I told about Thistle Farms comes from this easy to read and lovely meditation by Becca Stevens -- The Way of Tea and Justice.  Check it out and order here.  Also check out their full work in Nashville too:

Ask-the-Pastor: Institutional Church and Spiritual Orphans -- May 21, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-20, Psalm 66:8-20, John 14:15-21

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

References to Dietrich Bonhoeffer come from (public library and reference).