December Greetings, Gayton Road—
And Advent blessings to you, too. This season is a mixed time for many, a time of gathering and anticipation and joy, but also a time that can magnify memory and absence and uncertainty. It certainly was a fretful time for Mary and Joseph hundreds of years ago. Why else would the angels greet Mary and Joseph each, “Do not be afraid”?
If their lives are any indication, Advent is not the absence of fuss and fear. It is the possibility of God amid the fuss and fear. The Latin word advenire means “to arrive.” Advent, then, is the crack through which God arrives into our world. Advent is the womb, the dream, the empty manger. It is the bare and barren places where we welcome God into the mess of our world.
Advent is the dark night. It is the lonely star. It is the sleeping stable.
While the world dreams of an escape from the fear and the fuss and looks for a God above, a great power that will come down and sort things out, Advent proclaims a different kind of God: Emmanuel, “God with us,” a God who walks by our side and confronts the fear and the fuss with us.
This Advent, as we make room for Emmanuel, our sanctuary will look a bit different. The Lord’s Table will be on the floor, reminding us that ours is not a God above who lords it over us, but a God by our side who shares our journey and shows us the goodness of life together. Similarly, scripture and other elements of worship will be shared from the floor, reminding us that the Word of God does not hide in heaven but becomes flesh and lives among us (cf. Deut 30:12-13; John 1:14).
On the third Sunday of Advent, worship will feature an Advent pageant (notice that this is not quite a Christmas pageant). The pageant, written by our very own David Koerner, anticipates the arrival of God and the goodness of life together. To complement this drama, our scripture this season has been selected to highlight the same Advent themes. I have also invited a guest writer—good friend and cousin-onceremoved,
John Hamilton—to offer several meditations on these themes. These meditations will be shared throughout the Advent season.
I look forward to sharing this Advent season with you. As we face the fuss and the fear of the world around us, may we also be blessed with God’s arrival in the bare and barren places of our hearts and our world.
May we be blessed with God-with-us and the goodness of life together.
Yours,
Jonathan

November Greetings, Gayton Road—

Fall has taken its sweet time, but finally the leaves are falling and the weather is cooling. Change is in the air, and it’s beautiful. As this change serenades us, I reflect on another kind of change: the change within. The way our hearts change. The way our minds change.

Consider for a moment your own life. Can you recall your heart changing? Can you remember times when your mind changed? What made you change? Was it the voice of authority? Was it an argument? Did it happen all at once? Or was it an experience? Was it through the encounter of relationship? Was it a process?

In my life, change has happened at the dinner table, where not only is food shared, but also ideas and feelings and stories and grievances and arguments and questions and silence.

Change has also happened when I keep the close company of others for a steady period of time, as on a road trip or on a retreat or in a shared house. Change has happened too when my life is broken, or the life of someone around me. All of which is to say, change for me has happened in those sacred places where Jesus promised to be, the same places where Gayton Road feels called to be: at tables (“in remembrance of me”), in small groups (“where two or three are gathered”), and with the needful (“the least of these”).

There is a certain change that sits at the heart of our faith. Jesus and John the Baptist call it repentance, which literally means having a “new mind.” Paul calls it a “new creation.” Whatever you call it, it’s the way God works in our world. God starts small. In hearts and minds that are broken, that are together, that are gathered around the table.

The good news is not that change is always good. It’s not. The world fails us sometimes. Others fail us. Our bodies fail us. The good news is that amid these troubled currents, Christ is with us. And with Christ, we are always on the brink of the best of changes: new life.

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving! And may the Christ of change, be with us and bless us with hearts and minds made new.

Yours,

Jonathan

October 2017
Greetings Gayton Road—
Fall has arrived. For me, it arrives with a host of memories. I remember, for instance, how a pile of chopped wood would appear in our driveway around this time of year. My brother and I would hollow the heap out into a fort. Splinters, of course, were inevitable.
Fall was real. So real it lodged itself into my skin every year. How was fall real for you? Perhaps you have other memories. Picking apples, carving pumpkins, throwing on a sweatshirt for the Friday night football game, gorging yourself on candy, screaming through a scary movie, crunching through the leaves in the park, or drinking hot cider—these are just a few that spring to mind. Each memory is somehow embodied. In other words, fall was real. It “touched” you. It left its mark on your body: the way your hands would get covered in the slimy, sticky guts of the pumpkin; the way the heavy, warm cotton weighed comfortably on your shoulders; or the way the cider would scald your tongue when you took a sip too soon.
Is God as real as the fall? Does God touch us, leave a mark on us?
Traditionally religion divides things up and keeps God separate: God above, us humans beneath. Heaven on high, earth below. Sacred, secular.
When Jesus came, he made a right mess of these nice, neat boundaries. God above took on flesh beneath.
The kingdom on high was proclaimed to be arriving here below, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The sacred was no longer the private property of the temple, but something that touched the sick and the poor, the unclean and the sinners—literally touched them.
In other words, God was real. Whereas religion would have kept God separate—somewhere above, away in heaven, or safe and secure at some sacred site—Jesus firmly lodged himself into our world.

One of the divisions that the modern church often makes is between Sunday and other days. One day is holy, the others are ordinary.
But I have a suspicion that this boundary is just like the rest, at least in the eyes of Jesus. Can holiness be contained in a day? A place? A special hour?
When I read the gospels, I cannot help but conclude that the most special time and place for Jesus was not the synagogue or the temple. It was the table. For Jesus, holiness could not be contained within an exclusive time or place. Instead it broke loose and lodged itself in one of the most common events of the day, something that happened everyday, everywhere: eating and drinking.
The table was holy. Not only the last supper, but all his suppers. The table was where Jesus welcomed outsiders, where he befriended sinners, where he gave pride of place to the last and the least, where he fed the hungry, where he washed his followers’ feet, where his love was blessed and broken and given for all.
The table was where he celebrated the kingdom and proclaimed its arrival. People often make a big deal about Jesus turning the tables over in the temple (which he did once), but perhaps an even bigger deal should be made about how Jesus overturned the world at the table everyday.
Next Sunday we will gather at Deep Run Park at 11 am to share lunch together. There will be no formal service. But let it not be said that we are not having church, or we are not having worship. For we will be gathered together with Christ at one of the most sacred places in the world: the table. There God’s love is made real. It touches us. It leaves a mark. Strangers become friends. The lowly are lifted. The hungry are fed. There at the table, if Christ’s words and deeds are to be believed, the world is overturned—and saved.
Fall blessings to you all. And may God be as real to us as pumpkin guts and comfy sweatshirts. May God’s tables leave a mark on us all.
Yours,
Jonathan