At our last Gathered Community meeting, Prairie Sky Church focused on Scripture from Mark 1:12-15. In this Scripture, Mark introduces us to what I call the “Jesus Way” (see Acts 9:2) or the “Jesus Path.” It could even be called the “Jesus Quest”–an epic adventure driven by the Holy Spirit whose goal is the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ decision to give his life to this Quest brings him (and us, if we should choose to follow in this Way) into a confrontation between good and evil in which evil is overcome. It’s no wonder that great Christian writers like J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis invented and used the fantasy genre to tell their stories.

  • Together we talked about the work of the Spirit, which “drives” or “tosses out” Jesus into the wilderness. The Spirit reminds us of the work of the Spirit in creation (Genesis 1:2) to bring something truly new, vital, and beautiful into existence. The work of the Spirit at this point in the Gospel of Mark tells us that the Jesus Way brings about a “new creation” or a restoration of both the creation that was marred and the relationships between God and human beings that were broken when sin and evil entered the world.
  • We talked about the “wilderness” that the Spirit drives Jesus into as a place where life is stripped done to the essentials and where elemental, spiritual forces of good and evil are encountered. We spoke of our own wilderness experiences, including our experience of 21st century American culture as a kind of wilderness where we are constantly being bombarded with media messages that cause us fear and anxiety rather than inspire us to confidence and hope. Nova compared her experience of living in the wilderness of this media age to “having a bag over our heads filled with all these messages. How are we supposed to see past it?”
  • The fact that Jesus was driven into the wilderness also tells us that the Jesus Way is about learning that the world does not revolve around us. The wilderness is a place untamed by human beings. The wilderness is not set up to cater to our desires for comfort and convenience. It demands that we try to understand the world as God intended it and adjust our lives to live within God’s healthy, life-giving limits. This is true Christian maturity–letting go of our self-centeredness and learning to center our lives on serving God and serving God’s world.
  • The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus encounters Satan in the wilderness and is tempted by him. Once again, this reminds us of the story in Genesis 3 where Satan tempts Adam and Eve with the fruit of the forbidden tree. Where Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation and thereby allowed sin to enter the world and alienate all of creation from our Creator, Jesus in the wilderness resists temptation and overcomes Satan. By doing this, Jesus begins the process of reconciling the world to God which he will complete in his death and resurrection.
  • The Jesus Way has a goal. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls it “the kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is that promised future when the reconciliation between God and God’s world is finally fully realized. Revelation 21 articulates this vision beautifully: “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
  • At Prairie Sky Church, we endeavor to walk the Jesus Way together. We invite you to walk this path, too. If we can support you, let us know.

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    This past Sunday, Prairie Sky Church’s “Gathered Community” event focused on the Gospel of Mark 1:1-11. Sunday was our first meeting in our new space–a new beginning in God’s ongoing creation of God’s Kingdom, of which Prairie Sky Church is but a small part. Our conversation was rich. The Holy Spirit moved among us to inspire and encourage us. Here are some highlights of the conversation.

    1. The Gospel of Mark is recognized by scholars as the “first gospel”–the first attempt by a follower of Jesus to write an account of what Jesus said and did.
    2. I shared the story of my daughter, Fiona’s, birth–a new beginning for our family.
    3. Mark writes, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ . . . .” These words point back to Genesis 1:1, the beginning of the Bible, where the story of the beginning of the universe begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth . . . .” Scripture tells us that God created the universe by giving form to that which was “formless and void.”
    4. Mary Lynn, an intermediate school teacher talked about her experience teaching about space science and the origins of the universe. Her experience is that we as humans need answers. We need to find patterns and form so we can make sense of things. Somtimes, however, she’s had to respond to students’ questions with “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
    5. Deirdre shared that Jesus is God in human form–a form she can relate to. Whereas sometimes it can be difficult to talk about God, she finds it easier to tell people about Jesus. For Deirdre “every day, every hour, every moment is a new beginning.”
    6. Mike shared that “the beginning of the Gospel” could be understood as a title for the entire Gospel of Mark, in which case, Mark is saying, “This entire book is just the beginning of the Gospel.” I agreed. Scholars, in fact, have argued for this understanding. Mark could be understood as saying, “This is just the beginning of the Gospel. The next chapters of the Gospel story are for each generation of Christians to write with their lives.” How will we write the next chapter of the Gospel with our lives?
    7. I shared that the idea of a “new beginning” as we find it here in the Gospel of Mark does not mean an amputation of the past; it means redemption of the past. Evidence: Mark not only points back to Genesis 1 and the story of Creation but also, in verses 2-3 to the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, and God’s promise to God’s people to make a way for them from captivity and exile in Babylon to freedom and return to the Promised Land of Israel. Here we find another aspect of new beginning. The people of Israel were exiled from their homeland because of their sinfulness, but God made a way for them to return home. We are separated from our spiritual home because of our sinfulness, through the work and person of Jesus, God makes a way for us to return to God, our spiritual home. The theological word for this is “atonement.”
    8. John the baptizer proclaims “a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” because the practices of repentance and forgiveness are how we reconnect to God and to each other.
    9. We briefly talked about the story of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:9-11. The story culminates with God declaring of Jesus, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Though the Christian sacrament of baptism has been much debated over the centuries, Mark teaches us that on a basic level Baptism is a sacrament through which God claims a person’s life (“You are my Son [or child]”) and blesses that life (“in you I am well pleased.”) In baptism we experience a new beginning, we are made a “new creation,” and we are reconnected to our spiritual home.

    Whew! So that’s a “brief” synposis of our conversation. We covered a lot of ground in a relatively small amount of time. It just shows how densely packed those opening verses of the Gospel of Mark are. We find tha the Gospel is rich and full of lots of good spiritual food when we take the time to read it well.

    Last Sunday, April 27, we had a great Family Day at the Park. Prairie Sky Church hosted an event at Brooks School Park in Fishers for people to come out for free food, games, and fun. It was an opportunity for people to socialize, get to know their neighbors, and enjoy a beautiful afternoon in a beautiful park.

    The weather was perfect. The sun was warm but not too hot. The sky was clear and blue.

    making lemonade

    We had a bunch of kids. Some came as a part of Prairie Sky Church. Many more stopped by for games, for food, to explore the creek, and to play basketball.

    games

    more games

    connor

    creek

    We had invited hundreds of people to share in this event through postcards, emails, personal invitations, and flyers posted around town. We had no idea how many would show up. We ended up having plenty of food. And our master grillers cooked each hotdog to perfection . . .

    hotdog

    The sunshine and beautiful weather brought many people to the park, including two women’s rugby clubs and their fans. This was a great, unanticipated opportunity for us to be generous servants of our community. Not only did we bring a picnic to the park, but we also brought the picnic to the people. I took trays of hotdogs around the park and gave them away to anyone who wanted them. I also shared with those who were interested the story and ministry of Prairie Sky Church. In all, we gave away over 120 hotdogs that afternoon. It was fun, and we met a lot of good people.

    Many people were genuinely surprised and appreciative of our generosity. Several people made small donations to our ministry. We are especially grateful to one family who afterward sent us a note with a generous check enclosed. The note reads:

    “Thank you for being so nice to our grandson. And thank you for the hotdogs.”

    The family day at the park ended up being a great success. We are deeply grateful for the chance to serve and connect with our community. Thanks to the McKelveys, Grant Yonkmans, Moores, Wyatt-Popes, Wrights, Lois W., Wendy B., for all their good work in hosting this event.

    This past Sunday our “Gathered Community” house church event focused on two pieces of Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-3 and John 1:35-50. Together these two Scriptures tell us some important things about the Christian practice of invitation.

    The Isaiah Scripture shouts, “Ho, all who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy, and eat.” As this Scripture continues, we learn that the practice of inviting should be “open, safe, and satisfying.” In other words, no pressure and no ‘bait and switch.’ Simple, open, generous inviting is what we seek to practice at Prairie Sky Church.

    In the Gospel of John, we are struck by how the author portrays Jesus’ process of gathering disciples, especially when this is contrasted with the other gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we get a bare bones story of Jesus simply approaching people (without any apparent prior relationship or connection) and commanding, “Follow me.” The disciples respond with immediate, unquestioning obedience.

    That’s Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In John, Jesus’ invitations arise naturally out of his prior relationships with people and their prior relationships with other people. In other words, Jesus practices networking! John the Baptist, Jesus’ relative, recommends Jesus to disciples whom he (John) has already gathered, and two of John’s disciples leave him and join up with Jesus! One of these (former) disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew, has a brother named Peter. Andrew goes and gets Peter, and Peter becomes a disciples. Jesus then finds Philip, who is from Andrew and Peter’s hometown and is presumably an aquaintance of theirs, and calls him. Philip then gets his friend Nathanael. Nathanael is skeptical about meeting this Jesus. Instead of arguing with his friend, Philip makes a simple, open invitation: “Come and see.”

    The Bible gives us helpful instruction in the Christian practice of inviting. In the context of natural, everyday relationships we invite people in a safe and open way simply to “come and see,” to experience and judge for themselves what it means to follow Jesus.

    This week Nicole, our girls, and I traveled to Richmond, VA for Church Planters’ Boot Camp. We gathered with 73 other church planters, pastors, and lay leadership to learn the skills and concepts behind successful church planting. The “boot camp” speaks to the intensity and the discipline of the training, which matches the intensity and discipline of the work of planting a church.

    It will take some time for us to process and put into practice what we’ve been learning, but we can say that it’s been very helpful. Thanks to the Atkins family, sister of one of our Prairie Sky people, for looking after our girls while Nicole and I were at the training. Church planting does not happen without generosity of many kinds! We are so grateful.

    This past Sunday afternoon, our Prairie Sky Church house church event focused on Scripture from Isaiah 43:15-21 We talked about how just as in Isaiah’s day, God is “about to do a new thing” among us. We prayed that God might give us the ability to–in the words of Scripture–“perceive it.”

    We talked about possibilities for a new meeting space to accomodate our growing faith community. We also talked about plans for upcoming community events. We will be hosting a family picnic and games event Sunday afternoon, April 27. We will also have a booth at the Fishers Farmers’ Market in June.

    We prayed for God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we participate in this “new thing” God is doing among us.

    This past Sunday, our house church event focused on Scripture from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:14-16. This text from the Bible gave our spiritual ancestors, the Pilgrims of Mayflower and Plymouth Rock fame, the vision for their new faith community founded in the wilderness of the New World. The vision was of a “city built on a hill.” The image conveys the intention of the Pilgrims to create a community that would be both a blessing to and an example for the wider world. Wow! That’s chutzpah!

    The Pilgrims had grand visions for their mission. Reality turned out to be a bit different. The Pilgrims faced many obstactes, disappointments, and adversities during their journey to America. They lost one of their ships and a large part of their group along the way. Their voyage was delayed so that they arrived at Plymouth Rock in December 1620 to face a bitter winter during which half of the small group that actually made it to America survived. They didn’t even manage to arrive at their intended destination–the Hudson River–instead they landed on Cape Cod before making their way to Plymouth.

    Later, William Bradford, pastor to this tiny, fragile faith community would write,

    But here I cannot stay and make a pause and stand half amazed at this poor people’s present condition. . . . They had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or towns to repair to, to seek for succor.

    What astonished Bradford was not that half of the Pilgrims would perish that first winter, but that half of them would survive.

    What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His Grace? May not and ought the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.’

    Everyone comes from somewhere. One of the first questions I get when I’m introducing myself to people in Fishers is, Where are you from? Or, when they find out I’m a church planter, some form of What denomination? This question is a way of asking Spiritually, where are you from?

    The story of the Pilgrims is important to Prairie Sky Church because it gives an important part of the answer to Spiritually, where are you from? We are tied to the story of the Pilgrims at least two ways: 1) Nicole is a literal descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims, and 2) as a United Church of Christ community, Prairie Sky Church is a spiritual descendant of the Pilgrims, who formed the Congregationalist Church, which became in 1957 the United Church of Christ.

    As a new church start, we identify with and take strength from the earliest chapters of the Pilgrim story. Many of us are newcomers to Fishers and have our own stories of landing in a “new world” and struggling to make a life for ourselves and our families without the support of friends and relatives nearby.

    We also took away from our conversation a key word for defining our spirituality: Simplicity. When you have a vision for being a “city on a hill” in a “new world” that presents obstacles, challenges, adversity, and opportunities, you need to pare down the clutter of your life to the bare necessities. As pastor Craig Parker of Bridgeway Community Church (Fishers, IN) put it in a sermon this past Sunday morning, “Jesus plus nothing equals everything.” Like our Pilgrim forefathers and foremothers, it is our desire to keep our hearts, minds, and faith community focused with great humility and simplicity on our Savior, Jesus. In doing so, we trust that the light of Jesus will shine through our words and actions and that people will respond to that light by praising God with their lives. Is that chutzpah? Maybe. But it’s all for Jesus.

    For more reading on the triumphs, trials, and failures of the Pilgrims, see Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.