Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the first shoe...

After more than a year of relative calm and quiet, it looks like I am dealing with my first serious member illness and very likely immanent death. (I say that knowing this is a relatively anonymous blog.) It's pancreatic cancer. Sadly, not good statistics for remission. And she's an elderly lady as well, though fairly spunky. She was diagnosed last week and the family is still reeling. She's been released from the hospital to the skilled nursing facility of the nursing home/retirement community where she and her husband live. I won't speculate at this point about what that means.
I haven't even been a part of a funeral other than observer. While I don't mind them, I fret about saying the wrong thing. While that may be putting the cart before the horse, the truth is, it's just about certain to come sooner rather than later--hers or someone else's.
Prayers for Spirit intervention--for me and them--are coveted as we continue on this journey.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thoughts on Simeon and Anna

I admit it, I'm excited to preach about Simeon and Anna. For some reason, I just really like these guys. They have quite a lot of depth for just 18 verses. I'm thinking of naming my sermon "Of widows, virgins, and barren ones," and talk about the prominent roles that Anna, Mary, and Elizabeth have in Luke as being the ones to recognize the Messiah, even though they were considered next to nothing by their culture and society. We'll see. That's where I am today. I have all week to change my mind. :)
I might even get around to posting it. I haven't posted a sermon in quite a while. Laziness is some of it, shyness is also a part. I usually get good reviews, but I'm never happy enough with them to actually post them where, (gulp), just anybody could read them. (That's actually really ridiculous of me since I'm pretty sure only about 8 people ever come here to read anything--and I know you all love me!)
I know quite a few people right now who are either pregnant or have just recently given birth, several for the first time. I have to admit that it's the first time mothers (and fathers too) that are so much fun to watch. At least one couple I know has struggled with infertility for many years and only just a couple weeks ago had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Another couple I know is having fraternal twins without the help of any fertility treatments whatsoever. No matter what, becoming a parent for the first time is rather overwhelming.
Babies bring something with them that we seem to lack in our daily lives--an expectancy of great things to come. We lay our hopes and dreams on them, what we hope they will turn out to be, what sorts of traits will they inherit, what jobs they will get when they are grown, etc. Even most parents I know who intentionally try not to put undue pressure on their children have some sorts of expectations for them, such as getting a good education, taking some sort of extracurricular classes, whether it's dance, gymnastics, martial arts, or music lessons, or even just going to church regularly. With young children, we make those decisions for them, molding them, even ever so slightly, to our own expectations for them.
I wonder just what expectations Mary had for Jesus when she took him to be presented in the temple. Even then, I don't think she could have known what sort of Messiah he could be. Her Jewish heritage expected a warrior Messiah, one who would overthrow the oppressor with a fiery sword and angry redemption. Yet as she carries her newborn in her arms, can she truly envision him as such? I wonder.
And Mary isn't the only one with expectations for him, after all. What do Simeon and Anna expect from him? What do they see his role as Messiah to be? What about his father? His grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the rest of the Israelites? Sure, we expect great things of our children, but Messianic leadership? That's a tall order for a tiny baby.
What do we expect from a Messiah, even now? What expectations do we place on the one who comes to us in such unexpected ways?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's official...

I'm ready for Christmas to be over! I've made all the cookies and sent all the gifts, ordered to ones to come to our house, planned all the services, made the Little One's costume, and decorated as much as I care to. (No tree in our house this year folks--I'll get to that in a minute.) That means I'm done right? Right?!
Ok, so I still have to write sermons, lead those services I've planned, wrap the gifts as they trickle in from Amazon and Overstock and Apple, and do I have enough 'stuff' for the stockings? what can I get done ahead for our late night, Christmas Eve, right-after-the-service drive to the in-laws house? Too soon for laundry, don't have all the gifts ready, guess that's a big, fat "nothing."
Ah well, one week and counting. As for no tree, the stand of the one we inherited is broken and P doesn't feel like fixing it, setting it up, and decorating since we're not going to be putting presents under it as we'll be at his parents' home. I tend to agree. I have a lighted garland on the faux mantle (it's really a large shelf over the piano as we have no fireplace) and the stocking are hung there, well, all except mine which is in need of some work. Guess we have to add that to the list. It seems the more things I check off, the more I find to add to the end of the list.
On the other hand, I think we've agreed on a name for the new addition. Check.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winding Up

The official wind up for Christmas begins at church this week. We start tonight with the Diaconate team hosting a Chrismon tree decorating dinner. We'll have soup and sandwiches, a short devotion (not led by me) and then go in and decorate the tree. I accepted the request to bring a crock pot of chili (I DO make a pretty good chili, I admit) and decided to bake a loaf of bread to go with it and it's in the oven now, and smelling amazing. Let's hope that I can manage to make it out the door with the camera and then maybe I can have this year's pictures of the little one (who's really not so little any more) by the Chrismon tree again.
Sunday is the children's program, which we'll put on during worship, so that means I don't have to preach--a good thing since I seem to be more tired this week than usual (the dreary, rainy days may be a big part of that) and I can usually find an excuse to come home in the afternoons and take a nap.
Then there's session meeting in a week, then, wow, it's the fourth sunday in advent! that's the week we do gift wrapping for the church's social services christmas family and go caroling afterwards. We'll do a traditional candlelight service of nine lessons and carols on Christmas Eve. I am so proud of my youth, every one of them stepped up, from seven years old on up to seventeen to do a scripture reading that night (ok, so I think some of them were forced by their parents, but still, most of them volunteered)
At home though, we just this week got out the decorations, discovered that P will have to make a new stand for the fake tree that lost a leg in the move and so we probably won't get it up soon since he'll have to make that before we can get it up and he is planning on going out of town to visit his family this weekend so it won't happen then either. Blah. Blah, blah, blah. The tree is the one thing that makes it feel like Christmas for me, at least inside the house. (Outside, it's the neighbors who have had lights up since thanksgiving, covering every square inch of their house and yard--ok, not really, but it's quite a sight!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Conversations with a Curmudgeon

I have this wonderful old man in my congregation. He sits near the front each week in exactly the same spot. He very rarely says a word to anyone, and only ever comes to worship--that's it, nothing else, ever. He usually looks like he's sleeping during my sermons, but will sometimes surprise me with a follow-up email note about something I've said. Usually something he didn't like, but hey, I'm not easily offended, so no big.
Like I said, he doesn't talk much, but he's one of the few old folks in the church who uses email pretty well. So he'll send me a message, and again, it's usually a complaint couched in a 'suggestion.' He'd prefer worship using the KJV and no hymns written before 1900 (not said quite so overtly, but I got the hint). Ok, so that's not really my style, though I've tried not to go too radical for this church. They like traditional. I'm fine with that as long as it doesn't end up mind-numbingly boring with absolutely no room for anything new. So far, as long as I've asked my worship team or session first before I try something too crazy, most of the time people are ok with it (and of course I have the back-up of my session members!) Usually, as long as I tell them that we can just try it for a while and if it is just too horrible, we'll change it back.
Anyway, today my curmudgeon sent me an email with a link to 'youtube' (I told you this guy was hip with the techy stuff!) with the traditional music to the doxology (Old Hundredth) explaing that he prefers this tune. (We've been using the traditional words to the Tallis Canon tune lately-but I switch it up a few times a year.) I explained that I've been using the traditional tune on communion Sundays for people who feel that way that he does, so he can hear it at least once a month. Then he sent back another telling me he doesn't like all the political correctness or 'dumbing down' of scripture. I explained that what he calls political correctness I call inclusiveness. I don't think 'fishers of people' has quite the same poetic ring as 'fishers of men,' but that doesn't mean that I think women should be excluded. I laid it on the line and flat out said I dislike the KVJ because of its egregious translation errors and sexist language, going on to explain that while those were products of its time since they didn't have the scholarship or equality that we have now, I don't understand why people still insist on its use. I said a few more pastoral things about language barriers and modern understandings and trying to use words that appealed across generations, etc. I also thanked him for engaging me in these conversations, giving me his perspective and such. So far, no response. I'm anxiously awaiting it though, to be honest. This is the most I've gotten out of him thus far. I love my curmudgeon!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Truly amazing

I can't believe that the end of this month is my 1 year anniversary here at SPC. Within the last year (in no particular order) I've 1) been ordained, 2) celebrated 7 years of marriage, 3) officiated over my first communion service, 4) confirmed my first teens, 4) ordained my first class of elders and deacons, 5) moderated my first session meeting, 6) voted in my first presbytery meeting (never was an elder commissioner), 7) dealt with a tornado and its aftermath (for my own home and my community), 8) begun carrying a new life to add to our family, 9) mourned the death of our beloved kitty Shove, 10) given a home to our kitten, Starbuck, 11) memorized the flight schedule for Southwest airlines from here my parents' city.
There's far more I could add. I've done lots of growing and learning. I feel I've really come far in owning my authority and identity as a pastor (especially a pregnant pastor in a presbytery where I could truly count on one hand the number of other ministers (mostly associates) who are women of childbearing age--most are men over 45 and many are much older).
So, lots going on. I still feel like there is so much good that this church and I can do together in the name of our Lord.
Here's to another great year!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Things that fit... and things that don't

Right now, things at church are fitting pretty good. We're getting started for stewardship season. No 'official' campaign strategy, but we're going for a celebration of gifts theme, sorta. I'm leaning towards doing a faith pledging strategy I think that would appeal to the seemingly intensely private attitude people have towards money in our church. I just need to take this to the stewardship/finance chair and pitch the idea and see how it goes over. We shall see--not that I have any reason to think it wouldn't go over.
On the other hand, clothes that were well-fitted before are starting to get just a bit tight. My favorite black pants are not going to be wearable much longer. I feel like I should be more excited, since it means things are going along well, but I will miss all my favorite outfits and, no matter what, I can't help but just feel fat some days. But I did go ahead and dig out the old maternity stuff from almost 5 years ago now, some of which I never wore since I wasn't the right size in the right season. I washed and folded it all. Some went in the drawers, some in the closet. Some I didn't even remember I had. I won't wear most of it for probably another month or so, but it needed to be done while I could still climb around in the attic fairly easily. I did realize that I'm going to need to find some pajamas. P would get a little testy if I stretched out all his favorite flannel pants. Just sayin'.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pieces of Peace

Right now I have my iPod filled with music that brings me a sense of peace. (Mostly. There's still some Bon Jovi for the times I need energy too.) But peace seems to be a rare commodity these days. So much going on at church. The sad thing is, music in worship used to be so renewing for me. But in this congregation, it pretty much is just sad, sad, sad. The people in the congregation don't sing with any enthusiasm whatsoever. The choir is about four people on average. They rarely sing anthems. Harmony is touch and go. The men? Well, when there are any, let's just say they make a joyful noise, bless their sweet little hearts.
I'm actually thinking about suggesting that we occassionally used recorded music for certain times of the year. Maybe around Christmas we'll see how it goes over.
It's so funny though. When I was talking about doing the Lessons and Carols service for Christmas Eve, some people on the session were just amazed that the choir didn't want to do a big cantata for that service. Hello!! Are you in worship? There are four people, maybe six in the choir. None of whom are, shall we say, particularly gifted in their voices. It was actually the choir director who had suggested the lessons and carols service anyway, since she agrees that while they are dedicated, the usual suspects in the choir aren't strong enough vocally to do anything that large. Now if I could just convince the congregation that singing should be a joyful part of worship.
So, for now, I content myself with Robert Shaw or the Cambridge Singers. Little pieces of peace that invade the busyness of my day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where it all collides

Why is it that the week I tell people I'm pregnant suddenly starts off the busiest next few weeks of my life? It's like it all exploded at once. I make the announcement at session and suddenly everyone wants a piece of my time to talk about, oh, stewardship, worship, fellowship, communications needs, you name it. I have had about six meetings already in the last 5 work days of people "stopping in to say hey" and staying for over an hour. Everyone has an agenda it seems. I guess I should have seen it coming. My one year here approaches in a couple months. Things are settling into a routine with us and people feel comfortable with me. Stewardship season is what's kicking my butt right now. I keep hearing, "We didn't do such and such for the last couple of years since we wanted to wait for the new pastor." Well, here I am so now they want to do "such and such" and I'm finding there are a lot of things that fall under that category.
On the other hand, things are going well, even if busy. They're pretty open to letting me run with my ideas as long as I ask about it first instead of just going it on my own. As long as I say, "Hey, I was thinking about doing (x)," they usually let me go ahead with it. That's been nice. I've got a great class of elders this year. Got to do my first elder/deacon installation a couple weeks ago. That was cool.
We're also gearing up for World Communion Sunday which I don't think this church has ever done before. We've been teaching them a couple of new hymns from other countries so they can have the full experience. I wish we had some people to play maracas or drum or something to jazz it up. Enthusiasm in worship is not a high priority in this congregation. I'm working on that.
Finally broke down and decided to get a PDA this week when I realized that I just had too many places to go and no way to keep it all straight unless I carried around my big planning calendar everywhere. Plus, if I'm going from one place straight to another, it might be a good idea to have all my addresses and phone numbers handy, hence the decision for a PDA. Then I could have wifi whenever I was near a hotspot too. That'd be good for email and such.
That's all. I need a nap after that marathon post. Whew!

Monday, September 15, 2008

I guess it's time

This is the week I will be telling my session that they are going to have to start thinking about a maternity leave policy for me. I'm not terribly worried that they will freak, but maybe just a tiny little bit nervous, since no matter how you cut it, I'm gonna be out over Easter. I'm due the beginning of Holy Week. Oops. (Wasn't thinking that far ahead in the heat of the moment!) I don't think we'll get that far though. I think she'll make her appearance by the end of March. (FYI, I don't know if it's a girl, just hoping.)
We do have a woman who is working on her M.Div and who would certainly, I think, enjoy the chance to fill in for some or even all of that time, though we'd have to find an ordained person to come in to do communion.
I think people sort of expected this to happen sooner or later. They knew they were hiring a young woman with a young family who might want at least one more kid. We'd talked about that a little in my interviews. We'll just have to see if they panic about my leave time and being out over Holy Week and Easter. I'll have only been here about a year and 3 months by the time that swings around. Hopefully the new baby will quickly charm them into forgetting that part.
So around 7pm EST on Wed, say a quick prayer, k?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Apology NOT accepted

I was attending a meeting at our Presbytery office today with several other pastors from our quadrant to learn some things about what our Exec had discovered on his learning sabbatical. It was some pretty interesting stuff, not sure it will apply to our church, but I'm willing to learn more.
Anyway, there were 5 of us total and 2 of us were women. Both of us are moms. The other lady pastor is a few years older than me, and she's been in ministry about 8 years to my 1, but I've got a year on her of being a mom. Anyway, fairly close to the end of the meeting, she gets a note from the presbytery secretary that says her son has thrown up and she needs to come back and pick him up from child care. So what does she do? She apologizes profusely for having to leave early!! I'm like, sister, your kid is sick!! You don't apologize for being his mother or for taking care of him! I flat out told her, "M! Stop! Do not apologize to us! You have nothing to be sorry for. He's sick, he needs you. Get out of here!"
Please ladies--all of you who are moms and ministers (or any other kind of professional, really). Do not ever apologize for being a parent. (Same goes for dads too, of course, but they are much less likely to overdo the guilt I've noticed.) I think it helps me that I was a mom for three years before I got into the ministry. She comes first, always. I feel no guilt about this and I was upfront about this with my PNC, and they were all very supportive of that, many of them parents themselves.
So again I say, Sister! Don't apologize for being a good parent. Just stand up, look 'em in the eye and say, "You'll have to excuse me. I have a sick child to attend to." Thank the host and just leave! Be bold!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When VBS is lame...

Last week was VBS week. I've never seen one quite like this. They have a lesson for the adults too. Is that common where you're from? I've never been to a VBS that did beyond 6th or maybe 8th grade.
Let me tell you that the adult material from this highly respected company was hands down the worst lesson material I've ever seen! It was written at a high school level (yes, it was the adult curriculum, I checked) and the author told little stories of her trips down memory lane and would occasionally thrown in a question like, "what memories does this story invoke for you?" She even had activities (for adults!) like soaking cotton balls in different liquids like alcohol, ammonia, coffee, etc., and putting them in film canisters and asking people to sniff and see what memories were evoked.
So the poor Episcopal rector and I were pretty much stuck making things up as we went along. IT went ok, but I don't think it was as good as it could have been with better curriculum to point us in the right direction.
I was also pretty disappointed in the music for the kids. I've heard some pretty good VBS music in my day, this was not one of those years. This really surprises me since, like I said, this is a well know company who's been putting out VBS material for years.
Since we work VBS out with two other churches in our town, I'm not in on picking the curriculum, but for next year, I'm going to encourage our representative to look a little deeper into the material rather than picking it because the theme was cute.
Here's hoping.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Camp Nostalgia

I spent last week in service to my presbytery by volunteering as Bible study leader for a week of church camp. It was fun to get away for a while. It is a rustic camp which is the kind I grew up attending, so it was great to have that bit of nostalgia. It was interesting watching the dramas unfold and remembering my own time as a counselor (and being glad I wasn't the one doing it then). I met wonderful children and wonderful staff. I met a nearby minister-colleague's daughter-- a smart, lovely college student and all around beautiful young lady. I think it weirded out a few of the college students to realize that the 'Adult, Reverend, Bible Study Leader Lady' had less than a decade on them. (I also think that most of the other adult, reverend, bible study leaders this summer had been on the brink of retirement and had come the week that their grandchildren were participating.) All around it was a good time. I am glad to be home and back in my routine and with my family again.
Speaking of family... while I was away, we got a new member. P decided that our kitty Push was lonely and so we got a kitten. They actually seem to be getting along fine after only a week. Don't have any photos yet, but I'll post some soon. We named her Starbuck. No, not after the coffee shop, after the Battlestar Gallactica character--the new series, not the old one. She's as much of a spitfire as her namesake.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Overheard today...

From L:
Dear Shove and Jesus,
Jesus make Shove's body feel better so he can be happy.

(She has been 'writing' letters to Shove and Jesus all day today. She found some of my stationary and put the 'letters' in the envelopes. She doesn't quite understand that Shove won't be coming home. It's breaking my heart.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today did not start out well. Our Ugly Cat had to be put to sleep this morning. He had been going down hill quickly the past two or three weeks. He stopped eating well about a week or ten days ago; we tried changing him to soft food and that worked for a couple of days, but finally this morning we found him sprawled on the floor, unable to stand up. I think we knew it was approaching; he was an old kitty--we'd gotten him and his 'brother' from a shelter about 5 years ago and they were at least middle aged for kitties then. But to find him so wretched was difficult. It was particularly hard on P. Shove was really P's cat.(Shove is his real name, but we lovingly called him "the ugly cat." He looked like he'd been put together by committee.) P wouldn't even let me come to the vet with him.

It was the saddest thing I've ever seen to watch P carry his little body, wrapped in a sheet, to the hole he'd already prepared in the back yard, tears streaming. I'm choking up just writing about it. We'll go pick out something special to plant over him this weekend.

L couldn't quite understand when I told her that Shove wouldn't be here when she got home from school. I made sure to keep it simple, but she's still a little young to understand death. I think she's pretty sure that Jesus is coming to pick him up to have a play date.

Shove, you were a wonderful companion. You were as sweet as you were ugly. We will miss you very much.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Five: Summer Camp

I haven't done a Friday Five in ages! But this one is full of great memories, so I just had to play along. Thanks to Mother Laura over at RevGalBlogPals for providing the inspiration:Mother Laura says:
"We're settling into our new new apartment, and after a lifetime at Montessori Katie is having a fantastic summer at YMCA day camp. Meanwhile, Nicholas is packing up for a week at Camp Julian, shared by the Episcopal dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego. His lists of supplies and rules--except for the ropes course available to the teenagers and the ban on IPODs and cell phones--bring back memories of my own happy times weeks at Y camp Ta Ta Pochon, funded by selling countless cases of butter toffee peanuts. So, in celebration of summer, please share your own memories and preferences about camp."

1. Did you go to sleep away camp, or day camp, as a child? Wish you could? Or sometimes wish you hadn't?
I went to sleep away camp. Here's the thing. My dad was an avid camper and even helped to create from the ground up the camp that now serves the presbytery we were living in at the time. I was immersed from the beginning.

2. How about camping out? Dream vacation, nightmare, or somewhere in between?
Well, I like camping out, for sure. However, as I age, my back doesn't always agree. Sleeping on the ground can be a nightmare. But I still love sleeping under the stars, cooking over a campfire, etc. So, somewhere in between.

3. Have you ever worked as a camp counselor, or been to a camp for your denomination for either work or pleasure?
Of course. Two summers in college as a counselor. Going for a week as a bible study leader for current presbytery in August.

4. Most dramatic memory of camp, or camping out?
I'm gonna have to let that one stay undisclosed.

5. What is your favorite camp song or songs? Bonus points if you link to a recording or video.
"I wish I were a (name of camp) counselor. Oh that is what I'd really like to be. But if I weren't a (name of camp) counselor, a ___ is what I'd be." This involved much hilarity and creativity in coming up with new blank fillers and their respective costumes/actions/sound effects.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Church: Unfiltered

I keep getting this image of church and the gospel being run through a Brita filter. Like we take out all the nasty tasting stuff until it tastes really good going down, making it easier to swallow.
I've been in a number of small churches around the country over my life and the ones that were dwindling in membership seemed to have one thing in common. They were too 'nice.' They didn't want to hold people accountable to the gospel, they didn't want to ask people to do hard things in the name of Jesus. They were incredibly apologetic. They were "sorry to ask," but could so-and-so do such-and-such for the church. We're always sorry as though church itself has become a burden to people. As though it's importance is less than that of family and work and hobbies. It makes me want to scream! In fact, I think I will...
Thanks for letting me get that out. On with the tirade...
Jesus was never sorry for telling people the hard truth. Why should we be? Why do we think we need to apologize for asking people to serve and to give? We had to pull teeth to find people to be on this year's officer slate. Why is service Christ and the church such a burden? Where are our priorities? And why am I the only one in my church asking these questions? Why aren't our leaders calling people to task? Some of my committee chairs have no committees because they are so worried that they will overburden someone or offend them somehow by asking them to take on something else, even in the name of Christ.
Are we Christians or what? If we can't even find time to serve, how can we claim that title? Sitting on our butts for an hour once a week is not all there is to being Christian. Yes, worship is a part of it, but so is service, so is study, so is making disciples. We can't choose one over the others.
If we filter what the gospel says, it's not the gospel anymore. Jesus comes not to bring peace, but the sword. That's hard to swallow. That doesn't taste good to our 21st century, status-quo tongues. Let's just drink our filtered water. We're sorry about that Jesus guy. He kind of embarrasses us middle-class, middle Americans. Jesus can be down right tacky at times. And we don't want our children to hang around tacky people, much less follow them around and emulate them, use them as role models. We're sorry Jesus asks you to give your money to the poor rather than spend it on a new fishing boat. We're sorry that the church needs your help and your time to serve Christ as we've been called to do. We're sorry, we're sorry, we're sorry.
I'm hoping I can encourage our church's leaders to call people to task. They need to get out there, hold members accountable. Don't be sorry for asking for help, or for making people uphold their baptismal vows, or for helping them to fulfill the Great Commission.
So I have officer training this weekend. Can you guess what we'll be talking about?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Get a Break This Week!

Our Executive Presbyter has offered to come and preach here just to give me a break after our local disaster a few weeks ago. We've been working pretty hard around here to offer what aid we can and so I've had a few (she says sarcastically) extra responsibilities around here. Have I mentioned that I don't have a secretary at this church?
So I get a week without sermon prep. Of course, I should probably use this chance to start looking ahead, something I don't usually have the chance to do much of.
Then there's vacation. I have officially purchased the plane tickets. Ontario, here we come! Gotta leave the spouse behind; he doesn't have enough vacation accrued at the new job yet. I hate that for him, as he needs it more than any of us right now. His new job is horrible as far as vacation time 8 days! and no personal or sick leave!!!) and not to mention they sorta fibbed about what he'd been hired to do. I have to admit that I love the vacation time that we pastors get. I suppose we need it though or we'd all go nuts.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Long time, no post

I didn't realize that my last post had been the day of the infamous happening. I suppose I've wanted to post a few times about that, but it would be a little bit too telling for what is supposed to be a rather anonymous blog. We've recovered well from said happening; life is returning to whatever passes for normal in our house.
I've been neck-deep in confirmation the past several weeks. We do not have the time or resources to do a year long study, so we have developed our own curriculum to do in 10-12 weeks. It's a small group of kids, so this works pretty well. We meet for two hours each week and they seem like they are getting most of what we're teaching. Of course, there is plenty of repetition, they are only 13 after all.
P had a great b-day. I surprised him with a party at a friend's house. I even surprised him with his gift that I had convinced him he wasn't getting. (An electric guitar pedal--that he is super-de-duper psyched about, I might add.)
I'm starting a bible study group this week that I'm modeling after one I co-created in ATL. It only meets twice a month, Fri. evenings in a coffee shop. Aimed at my generation and a little older, though I'm getting a surprising # of my retirees saying they want to come. Cool!! It is going to focus on faith and culture. We'll be using a lot of the "Thoughtful Christian" material and some of the other shorter studies that focus on faith as it relates to our world, politics, media, etc. So I guess it's not technically a Bible study, it'll be more of a faith study. I'm excited to get it started. It's the sort of things that feeds my faith too, so even though I'm leading (at least the first one) I will still be able to renew my spirit.

Monday, April 28, 2008


This is the article I wrote for our church's monthly newsletter:

Pentecost. This may be my favorite Holy Day of the church year. For me, it infuses the worship service with an energy that can often be sadly absent the rest of the year. Don’t be surprised to come into the sanctuary that day (May 11) and find it ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

So what is Pentecost exactly? It’s often referred to as the birthday of the church. Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the twelve apostles, Jesus' mother and family, and many other of his disciples gathered together in Jerusalem for the Jewish harvest festival that was celebrated on the fiftieth day of Passover, called “The Feast of Weeks”. While they were indoors praying, a sound like that of a rushing wind filled the house and tongues of fire descended and rested over each of their heads. This was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on humanity promised by God through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29). The disciples were suddenly empowered to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ. They went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began preaching to the crowds gathered for the festival. Not only did the disciples preach with boldness and vigor, but by a miracle of the Holy Spirit they spoke in the native languages of the people present, many of whom had come from all corners of the Roman Empire. This created a sensation. The apostle Peter seized the moment and addressed the crowd, preaching to them about Jesus' death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. The result was that about three thousand converts were baptized that day. (You can read the Biblical account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-41).

In short, it is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the church. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to believe and trust in Christ as our Savior. This gift of faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ is the reason Pentecost is the third "mega-festival" of the church (the other two are, of course, Christmas and Easter) and why we celebrate it with such joy and thanksgiving.[i]

We believe that the Spirit also brings the gifts of wisdom and discernment. You will always hear me invoke the presence of the Spirit before I read Scripture, so that we will hear and understand God’s word to us, and be empowered and inspired to share it with others.

Lastly, it is also an affirmation of our belief in a Triune God. As Presbyterians, we sometimes think we’d rather leave the exuberance of the Holy Spirit to those arm-waving, ‘Amen!’ shouting Baptists and Pentecostals. But without the gift of faith given to us in the Spirit, we could not have found the gift of life and salvation it leads to in Christ. If you ask me, that calls for an ‘Amen!’ no matter what denomination you’re in.

The Spirit isn’t just about boisterous alter calls and speaking in tongues. It represents the power of God in our lives. It comes to EM-power us, giving us the gift of witness and discipleship. It can be as gentle as a breeze or as mighty as a hurricane. It can always move you to marvelous things—if you let it. So I challenge you to let it. Open your arms to receive the Spirit and ask that it work through you to empower others in Christ's love as well.

[i] http://www.stpaulskingsville.org/pentecost.htm

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sermon: "If You Love Me..."

This also happens to be my 100th post. Happy postiversary to me!

"If You Love Me..."
by Rivkah
John 14:15-21

“If You Love Me…”

During my many summers at camp, both as camper and counselor, we often played a game called, “Honey, if you love me, please, please smile.” The object was to get someone to smile, but you could only do it by saying those words. No jokes, no tickling or other touching, just things like making faces or saying the words with a silly accent.

As a shy thirteen year-old, I would melt into the wall at the mere mention of those words. I’d find any excuse to get away. For me, hearing those words brings back a flood of negative emotions, mostly “Oh my God, I might have to talk to a boy, a cute boy, while everyone else is staring at me.” That’s the stuff of nightmares right there folks. I’ve been forced to play it a few times in my life, but I’m not sure I ever got anyone to smile. Of course, I was so petrified, I’m not sure anyone got me to smile either. I still hate that game to this day.

Of course, those words aren’t merely a game. “If you love me…” It’s almost always said in a coercive manner. “If you really loved me, you’d… fill in the blank.” Every father warns his little girl about that line. Teenagers turn it back on their parents to get what they want. Partners hurl it back and forth like stinging darts. The unspoken but under-lying meaning of the statement being, since you’re not doing whatever it was in that blank, you apparently don’t love me, and if you don’t love me, I’ll be angry and I won’t love you. In essence, it’s a lightly veiled threat. The person making the threat is usually trying to gain the upper hand, get something for him- or herself.

So what was Jesus after, throwing out that kind of statement?! Well, let’s go back for a minute. In the passage we read from John, the disciples are scared. They are scared because Jesus has told them that he will soon leave them, that soon he will no longer be among them to lead them, inspire them, guide them, teach them. And the disciples are wondering just what they are going to do without him. They have given up three years of their lives to follow Jesus; they love Jesus, and they know that EVERYTHING is going to change when he is gone.

Jesus is trying to allay their fears, so he says to the disciples, “Just because I am not here in person doesn’t mean that I won’t be with you. You think EVERYTHING is going to change, but I say, NOTHING is going to change. Your goals for life and discipleship should be absolutely the same. Just because you can’t reach out and touch me doesn’t mean that you can’t love me. Even when I am not with you, continue to love me! Love me, show your love for me by following my commandments. Love me by preaching what I have preached. Love me by living as I have lived. You will never be orphans. You are children of God! You will never be alone, the Holy Spirit will always be with you. Keep doing what God wants you to do.”

“If you love me, follow my commandments.” It’s not coercive; it’s simple. Rather than trying to gain something for himself with this statement, he is giving them a gift. The gift of his presence in the Holy Spirit. Keep Jesus’ commandments and the disciples will know his love by loving others.

It might help to remind you what Jesus’ commandments are. He first revealed them when the Pharisees were trying one of their many theological traps on him. They wanted him to reveal which of the ten commandments was the greatest. Of course they intended to trick him so they could make a fool of him and get rid of him in disgrace. But Jesus counters with something totally unexpected. “The greatest commandment is this,” he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” But he goes on, saying, “And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Pharisees are stunned, rather than quoting one of the familiar laws, he has boiled down the entire Torah, the whole of Jewish law, into two rules.

A few months ago I got an e-mail with a very simple joke of the bumper-sticker variety included. “If you love Jesus, tithe. Anyone can honk.” It’s a good joke because it is absolutely true. And it is the crux of what Jesus is saying here: “If you love me, obey. Anyone can honk. If you love me, if you get what I’m talking about, do something special. Believe. Obey.”

I don't use that "O" word lightly. It is a word heavy with all kinds of baggage. But it is, with God, a Good word. We are free to obey. We get the choice. We obey not because we are coerced, not because we are forced, but because we are loved and forgiven and therefore we obey in gratitude. It’s a different kind of freedom than we are used to thinking about. We usually think about freedom in terms of being free from this or that. Free from oppression, free from prison, free from slavery, free from fear. This a certainly a good kind of freedom, but it is not what God has given us. We are given freedom for. For telling the good news, for showing God’s love to others, for being faithful, obedient disciples. And that’s why we obey, because we have been given that freedom.

Obey is one of those unpopular concepts because it has been used to belittle and limit others. I think though, that Jesus is talking about obey in the sense of a sonnet. A sonnet with its fourteen lines of iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme has rules. Within these rules is the greatest freedom imaginable to create image and emotion that can only be created when you commit to the rules. That’s the kind of obey Jesus is talking about here.

Believe it or not, this is Jesus way of saying goodbye to his disciples. This is his farewell speech. It’s a little wordy for what it is. But he’s trying to make sure they’ve gotten the important points of his ministry before he has to leave. Namely, that they won’t be alone once he’s no longer visible to their earthly eyes. They will be united with him in heaven through the Spirit, the one he calls their Advocate. The Spirit will stay with them forever, uniting them to Father and Son for all time.

Keeping Jesus’ commandments will be something of a sign for those who want Jesus to be revealed to them when he comes again. He says to them, “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Those who keep his commandments will see Jesus revealed.

In John’s time, secret societies were everywhere. In fact, some groups of Christians had to keep themselves in secret in order to remain safe. So if the language here sounds like something from an exclusive club, it’s a product of its time. Remember, John is talking to an audience who has been excluded from the Jewish temple for their beliefs. He is reminding them that they have their own place to be included, in the heavenly kingdom where Jesus will reign with the Father. In order to be a part of the kingdom, John wants them to understand that they have to believe and obey the commandments that Jesus put in place. “Those who keep my commandment are those who love me.”

Love is the order of the day here. Jesus says that only those who love him will be loved by his Father. Those who are loved by the Father will see Jesus revealed and he will live in them through the Spirit. But the secret handshake, the outward sign of this love is to keep Jesus’ commandments. That’s what this love is all about.

Jesus is about to leave and in order for more people to know him and know about him, someone has to continue his works, continue showing his love for others and for God. That’s why he tells them to keep his commandments, so that others may know him and live in him and perpetuate the cycle until Christ has been revealed to all and in all.

If we did not love Christ, we could not obey his commandments. We would be unable to do so. I think that is where the exclusivity comes from. It’s not a shutting out of others, as Christ invites all to his table. But if we do not come to the table with love, we cannot find what we need for fulfillment. So not everyone comes, or they may not come with love. That is why I think Jesus is telling them that keeping his commandments for love are so necessary to be believers.

It is so important that he is even sending the one he calls the Advocate, whom we call the Holy Spirit. He says, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” John tells his readers that Jesus realizes that not everyone accepts the way they believe; they are not ready for the spirit of truth. But they already have this Spirit within them. The truth has already been revealed to them and so they are asked to carry out Jesus’ commandments so that others might see the truth revealed in them.

Jesus might not be there to lead them in the flesh, but the Spirit will show them the way if they only remember to follow his commandments to love God and love others. We too, have the Spirit with us and within us. We only have to follow the commandments to love God and love others and Christ will be revealed through us and to us.

We may not be a secret society, but we are set apart. Just as we read last week, we are a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood of believers. God has chosen us to reveal Christ in our love for him. Not just anybody can do that, only the ones who obey the commandments to love. We obey because we know we are loved even when we don’t obey. That is how we show that we are set apart. As the old hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” When we love with the Spirit that Christ has given us, we reveal his presence with us and in us. And we will not be alone, for Christ has promised that he will be in us, and we will be in him. Glory be to God! Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Talk about your bad timing...

I didn't realize it had been so long since I'd blogged. I guess moving will do that to a girl. Vacation was great. L and I flew to see my parents, sister, grandmothers and various other relatives that all live in the same city. Lots of fun. We went to the zoo, we did LOTS of shopping (I got the grandmother treatment and came home with a whole new work wardrobe), and did lots of visiting.
Then we came home to a new house with lots of boxes to unpack. So for 10 days we've been working on it as much as we can in the evenings and on Saturdays. (Sundays are, of course, a working day in our household.) Then, this past Wednesday, just after I've gotten out of bed, I start to head downstairs to get a clean towel out of the dryer... and I slip on the carpeted stairs... and I fall down about 5 steps to the landing... and break my big toe on my right foot.
Now if you've ever broken a toe, you know there's not a darned thing you can do about it except maybe buddy tape it and wear that big ugly velcro shoe for a few weeks. I have crutches, but the doc said I can do whatever doesn't hurt, so it's easier to walk on the side of my foot than use them. Yes, I'm driving. I'm trying not to walk too much, not because it hurts my toe, but because it hurts the outside edge of my foot that I have to walk on. Can I do much unpacking? Let's just say that I don't want to see P have an aneurysm.
However, he's been a maniac getting things done today. We (he-I just supervised) got more done today than in the entire past week. I can't tell you how much cardboard and packing paper we've recycled today alone. We can finally eat at our kitchen table. The living room is almost livable. Props to L too, usually a very underfoot preschooler, she played very sweetly in her room for most of the day and stayed out of the way.
Now I just have to write a sermon... sigh.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Million Dollar Friday Five

Over at RevGals, Singing Owl posted this up:
Lingering effects of a cold have me watching more television than usual. There appears to be a resurgence of the old daytime staple--the quiz show. Except they are on during prime time, and a great many of them offer the chance of winning one million dollars.
I think it started with Regis Philbin and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" but now we have a half dozen or so.
My husband and I started musing (after watching "Deal or No Deal") about what we could do with a million dollars. I thought I'd just bring that discussion into the Friday Five this week. It's simple. What are five things you would want to do with a million dollar deposit in your bank account?

1. Pay off the mortgage.

2. Travel the world, bringing along friends and family

3. Taking a page from cathy's book, I'd give a tithe to the church, but like her, I'd want it to be allocated for something special.

4. Invest for kid's college, retirement, etc.

5. Donate to some of my favorite charities.

Bonus: If there's a little left over, obviously it will go for SHOES!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Good Friday... it was indeed.

We had a lovely community Good Friday service. I have to admit that I was the one who prepared the service. I daresay that creativity is not the strong suit of my ministerial colleagues. Maundy Thursday could have been any other communion service I've ever been to. We did the solemn reproaches of the cross out of the Book of Common Worship and darkened the sanctuary and removed the paraments and draped the cross. Then we sang "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" with a guitar, entirely in the dark. Then we left in silence. I saw not a few eyes sparkling with tears on the way out. That is when I love my job.
I like Maundy Thursday with the remembrance of the Last Supper and Passover. I've never done a foot washing, and I have to admit that I can't say I want to. I am one of those people who get the willies about other people's feet. I always wear flip-flops in showers at hotels, gyms, etc. Some people find it very humbling. I'd just find it gross. Maybe that makes me a bad person, or at least a bad pastor. But I'm sure it's just one thing in a long list.
But I love Good Friday. I love a tenebrae service, the descending into darkness. I reminded my congregation on Sunday that we simply cannot have a resurrection without a death. To skip from Palm Sunday to Easter is doing a great disservice to the one who suffered and died for us. We have to take the time to remember the bad in order to appreciate the great good. To me, it is one of the most meaningful services of the year. We need to be a little uncomfortable in church sometimes, probably more than we are most times.
Have a blessed Easter everyone.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Holy Week?

It seem to me that Holy Week is often the least holy week of all for us pastors. We go crazy trying to plan as many as 5 services for some (I'm planning 3.5) and making sure someone ordered palms, someone has the fabric to drape the cross, maybe you're doing a tenebrae? someone's gotta know how to work the lights. Got baptisms and/or communion on Easter? Gotta plan for those. It's enough to make a girl take the name of the Lord in vain once or twice, I tell ya.
Our church does community Holy Week services with two other churches in town. We switch out locations and who is doing the preaching, though those do not coincide (i.e.- the G.F. service is at our church, I am in charge of the bulletins, but I am not preaching) So, I have no idea what the other pastor is preaching on (yes, I've asked) and I have to prepare the rest of the service around that. I fully intend to pester him again on Monday or Tuesday so I can get those bulletins done ahead and move on to Easter. Turns out our church always hosts Easter sunrise since we have the largest and prettiest outdoor property. Also turns out that I'm preaching for that. 7 a.m. Have I ever told you how much NOT of a morning person I am? Until we move at the end of the month, I have to drive half an hour to get to the church. That means I have to leave by about 6:15. I don't even get up by 6:15 most days. I'm going to have to be up by about 5 to get ready. I really think this must be some sort of divine punishment for something, though I know not what. So what I really want to know is, how tacky is it to give a sermon with a cup of Starbuck's in one hand?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sermon, Lent 5: Can These Bones Live?

Can These Bones Live?

by Rivkah

Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

I don’t know about any of you, but I got a terrible case of spring fever this week. Temperatures soaring into the 70’s, daffodils everywhere, knowing that by the end of this month, I will have a garden to plant in. It made it very hard to sit inside and work on this sermon, I tell you. I wanted to be out soaking up the sunshine, getting my hands in the dirt. I spent quite a lot of time pouring over seed catalogs this week, wondering what I would like to grow this season.

There is nothing more satisfying in spring than to see the tiny heads of seedlings poking their verdant heads out of the black dirt, reaching for the warm sun and knowing that come summer they will delight with the radiant color of flowers or the delicious bite of vegetables. But I admit, I am not a patient or even terribly skilled gardener. What I grow survives mostly by the grace of God. I do try to pick things that aren’t terribly fussy or fragile, but that’s about it. But each year as I pick out new plants to try, I envision with hope a bright and lush garden filled with color and flavor.

These images of spring and bringing forth life out of the seemingly dead ground swirled in my head as I read this week’s scriptures. I hear the dry twigs and grass rattling and rustling and I can hear the dry bones rattling too. The imagery in the Ezekiel text is wonderful. Rattling bones, the sinews and flesh returning to their frames. A little gory maybe, but beautiful in its own way.

When God is preparing to bring life to the bones, he tells the prophet that not only will the bones live, but they will also know that Yahweh is Lord. Those statements inherently belong together. Living and knowing Yahweh are practically synonymous. That is how we live, by knowing who Yahweh is.[i] And it follows that if those bones do indeed know who Yahweh is that they will praise him as well. And how could they not? Knowing Yahweh is to know what wondrous things Yahweh has done, like bringing life to dead, dry bones. Praise God, indeed!

Ezekiel is wandering among those bones, commanding them to get up. “Oh, bones! Hear the word of the Lord!” he tells them. He explains that they will have their sinews and flesh returned, that God will give them breath, spirit, life, but most important, that they will know that Yahweh is Lord. And to know that Yahweh is Lord is to praise him, praise him with the very breath that Yahweh gave to them.

Ezekiel is offering hope to the exiled Israelites with this story of resurrected bones. The prophet makes sure there is no misunderstanding by telling them straight out that the bones represent the people of Israel and that their resurrection represents their homecoming. They will be returned to their former lives, no longer dead in captivity, away from their homeland and their God. God will restore their breath, their spirit and because of this, they will use that very breath and spirit to praise Yahweh and rejoice in his name.

How foolish this must have looked. The Lord's prophet, standing in the middle of a pile of dead bones, is telling them not to give up hope. If I was Ezekiel, I would have gently suggested that the Lord first bring these bones back to life, and then I'll do a little preaching. "See," I'd say, "See what God can do?" But that is not the way of God, who calls us to believe without seeing. That is because the Lord's words always make room for hope. And it is the hope that brings us back to life. Hope rises up from our bones, and chooses to believe in spite of how it is.

Walter Brueggemann has written that hope proclaims that the way things appear is precarious. So we dare not absolutize the present. Don't take it too seriously. Don't bank on today because it will not last. Thus, hope is revolutionary. [ii]

Jesus is commanding the dead to live again too. His aim too, is that by raising the dead, the living might praise God’s name. But before he gets to that point, he has to make his way back to Bethany where his good friend Lazarus has been buried. His disciples are pretty sure that’s not a good idea.

I don’t know if Jesus had spring fever, but his disciples undoubtedly thought he had some kind of illness, wanting to go back to the place where he had just almost been stoned to death. Not only that, but he’s claiming he can raise a man dead already for a few days. Many of them went, I’m sure, out of sheer curiosity, that outweighing their fear of the stoning.

Did you catch the part in the reading where Thomas, always the doubter and cynic, says, “Let’s go too, so we can die with him?” You’ve got to hear it with the extra side of sarcasm that this is delivered with. They’re going back to Judea where some of the local Jews just tried to stone him, and Thomas is pretty sure that they’ll succeed this time if they go back. But Jesus wants to go to Mary and Martha’s so that he can raise his friend and their brother, Lazarus, from the dead and “so that they may believe,” he tells them.

No one really understands what is at stake here. The disciples don’t think it is safe to go back, and Jesus has to spell out that Lazarus is dead after they completely miss his sleeping metaphor. When they do arrive, Martha is baffled and doesn’t grasp the immediacy of what is about to happen. The mourners are miffed that he didn’t prevent the death of Lazarus in the first place. And good old practical Martha again, at the tomb, is a little wary of opening the grave, because of the smell of a body dead for four days.

I’ve always wondered if Jesus wasn’t testing the waters a little here with the raising of Lazarus, seeing how people would react to the idea of reanimating a dead body. Would they believe that such a thing was possible, even after seeing it with their own eyes? Some yes, some no, it would seem. No one understands. No one expects that life can come out of death. No one grasps that Jesus himself is the life-giving power of God.

There is so much protesting before the resurrection of Lazarus that you might think that these people didn’t want Jesus to bring Lazarus back to life. And I daresay that most of them probably did not. That would completely upset the natural way of things. Smelly, decomposing corpses are not supposed to stand up and walk around again. I imagine that the very idea of that sort of upset of reality invoked extreme discomfort and fear.

The lectionary doesn’t actually have us read what happens next, but I’m going to tell you that not all of those Jews believed in Jesus because of what happened. Some of them went off to tell the religious authorities about what he’d done. They were very frightened of this man who had the power even to bring life from death. The authorities respond the only way they know, with violence. Not only do they begin the plotting of Jesus’ own death, but the religious leaders are even plotting to get rid of Lazarus.

There is not much rejoicing at the raising of Lazarus. Even Mary and Martha are a little stunned at this unnatural turn of events. Martha has said that she indeed believes that there will be a resurrection in the end times, but this is absolutely not what she expected. It turns out to be a menace to those who think they control the future. It turns out that this story of the giving of life then leads to a story of death. We know what is coming in the next couple of weeks; we know that this resurrection is just a prelude to the one that is to come.

Now the disciples and the others have seen the power of God to raise the dead. This will give them a glimmer of hope when Jesus himself is in the tomb. Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate display of this power. Death and sin are defeated once and for all. And that enormity is what so frightened the religious leaders. In the face of God’s power, they saw how powerless they themselves truly were. They who believed themselves to be the ultimate authority in the religious world were brought to their knees by the power of God as displayed through Jesus and his raising of Lazarus from the dead.

We, too, are powerless. Powerless to solve the problems of sin and death, to overcome them on our own. God and only God has power over them. God can bring flesh and bone together. God can bring Lazarus out of the tomb, God can erase the power of sin.

The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome that the one "who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Rom. 8:11). The church has always found its life not in what it sees today but in the Spirit of the God who raises dead hopes. The day we lose our ability to envision a better tomorrow is the day we deny that we really believe in the resurrection.

So we will take our stand beside Ezekiel and proclaim our hope to the dry bones. "Thus, says the Lord, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live!" You who gave up hope, who gave up dreaming--who have settled for a comfortably routine life of work, bills, and dirty laundry. You who think your best years are behind you. You who think the Lord God has forgotten all about your little life.

To you, we say, "Arise!" Arise from the heap of discarded dreams. Arise to discover that the Holy Spirit is breathing life back into you. Arise to live with magnificent hope! Because the world is dying for you to believe God is not done. Amen![iii]

[i] Brueggemann, Cousar, Gaventa, Newsome. Texts for Preaching: Year A. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995.

[ii] Craig Barnes "Resurrected hopes - Living by the Word - Ezekiel - Brief Article - Excerpt". Christian Century. Feb 27, 2002. FindArticles.com. 08 Mar. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_5_119/ai_84054088

[iii] ibid.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We finally got an offer accepted on a house. Not the one I originally posted about though. That fell through for some reason having to do with it being a "flipped" house and the fact that no one will finance those right now. So, we found one that we like even better. It's a little bigger, has a fenced yard and the attic is ready to be insulated and drywalled and made into P's "man cave." He's so excited to have that project. He's been telling me all the things he's going to do up there. It's good too, because that means we can use the third bedroom as an actual guest room. He can go up there and play his guitar and not bother us downstairs.
I can't wait to have a garden again. I start drooling just thinking of the tomatoes I'll get to have the end of this summer.
We close the end of this month, so by April, we'll be homeowners. The dog will have a yard to play in and L will have her own room again. We also live two doors down from the playground that is on our cul-de-sac. It's a nice, quiet side street, about half a mile from L's pediatrician, just down the road from the hospital. The neighborhood is just across the highway from the YMCA, a great local coffee shop, and the area is being built up left and right. And it's also a good 15-20 minutes closer to my office and L's preschool. Can you tell I'm excited?!
Ok, gotta get back after it. Let's see, Holy Week, Easter, Confirmation, Spiritual Gifts workshops... yep, they're all still waiting in various stages of undoneness.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Putting my foot down

After agonizing over how in the fireplace I was gonna cram confirmation into 8 weeks, I finally called up my Ch. Ed. chair and said, "No way. It ain't gonna happen. Give me 12 weeks at the least." So I got 12 weeks, even without a fight--he actually agreed that this worked better after I explained what we'd have to miss and skim over if we tried to do it in 8. I feel better now. It isn't the best scenario, but it beats 8 weeks by a lot. 12 weeks I think I can do. If anybody has any great suggestions for curriculum or things to do with middle schoolers-please send them my way. Working with Jr. High kids is NOT my gift.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I am spending my last remaining hours of total quiet trying to get down an outline for the confirmation class that I was told I would be leading after Easter. (didja catch how I was told that's when I would be doing it, rather than asked when it would be a good time for me?) Course, I was also told that in order to keep things from conflicting with finals and summer vacations, etc., I would have 8 weeks to do it. 8 weeks!! I can't imagine how we're going to get into all of the important things in 8 weeks. We'll barely skim the surface! Yikes!
Ok, well, that being said. I'm trying to figure out what is most important and how to work it all in. Now, working with middle schoolers is not my forte, but our Christian Ed. team decided that I needed to be in on this. At least my committee chair is also a parent and will be helping out with this endeavor. It will be an adventure!
Right? (crickets chirping.......)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Alone at Last

I had almost forgotten what silence sounds like. I like it. P is taking L to visit his parents this weekend. I get the place to myself--well, and the dog and two cats, but they don't talk much. I can sleep in, at least as much as my internal alarm and a hungry dog will allow. I can work, uninterrupted on whatever project I choose--knitting socks or a throw, reading a book, or I suppose cleaning the bathroom or finishing my sermon (but hey, a girl has to have priorities!).
I'm sure it won't take too long though before I start to crave human interaction. I'm sure I'll think of a couple of errands I'll need to run rather than finish writing a sermon tomorrow.
Now, off to watch something that isn't animated!

Monday, February 11, 2008

We put in an offer for a house today. Everyone send prayers that it's accepted. We found out that there is at least one other offer on the table, so here's hoping they like ours best. I'll definitely keep this updated with how that goes. I can't wait to get out of our teeny tiny apt. and finally have all our stuff out of storage.
In other (older) news, I did end up with 15-20 people at my Ash Wed. service--way more than I expected. I was going to be happy with 6 or 8. So that was encouraging.
Oops! Gotta run, didn't realize it was time to go get L from preschool. More later...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

I actually got my liturgy for Ash Wed. done today (two days ahead-gasp!) I'm going to burn some palm-like grass that grows behind our apartment since I guess no one saved the palms from last year. No big. If I get desperate, there's always old hymnals laying around (inside joke). I'm just hoping that someone besides me and P show up. I don't have a congregation that is much for showing up outside of Sunday mornings. Gotta work on that. Maybe they just haven't been inspired? Dunno.
I did have coffee with our realtor today. He had a much bigger list of prospects than I expected, so I'm going to weed through them and maybe even go look at a few on Friday. Wow! This is moving fast now. Petty exciting.
I find myself now a mentor to an inquirer for ministry. She is a second career and taking all her classes online right now. I'm curious to see how that will work out. I look forward to guiding her through the process and hopefully helping to make it a good deal smoother than mine was.
Got a stack of new books in the mail today from Upper Room press. Can't wait to dig in. A couple are for my inquirer, though I wanted to read them before getting her a copy. I don't like to give away books that I haven't read, even if they come recommended to me from someone else.
Hope everyone has party plans for Mardi Gras. In honor of my Louisiana childhood I say, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Together at last!

Finally, after about two and a half months, P is coming to live up here permanently. He found a job and will begin soon. Though his old company is seriously courting him with promises of enough work to keep him busy remotely. I guess we'll have to see how much he loves this new job, 'cause I'm pretty sure they'd give him the old one back in a heartbeat. But I guess it's always good to have a back-up!
We're pretty excited about looking for a house so we can finally be settled and get our things out of storage. I'll be glad to have a yard for the dog again and enough space to turn around without a cat, dog or kid under my feet all the time. Yay!

Sermon: Recalculating

Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4; 1 Cor. 1:10-18; Matt. 4:12-23

When I was getting ready to move up here from Atlanta, one of the things I got for myself was a GPS unit. I found a good deal on a nice Garmin and thought it might come in handy for not only getting to know the area, but getting me around to other churches in the presbytery for meetings and such. I call it my magic box, since it seems as if by magic that it knows where I am and how to get me where I’m going.

I knew I was getting brave the day I decided to go a way home that was not what my box suggested. It doesn’t matter really, as it will figure out quickly where I am and design a new route from there. Whenever I take a turn that it has not laid out for me, a voice, a nice alto female, comes over the speaker and tells me, “recalculating.” It may be my imagination, but sometimes she sounds a bit testy that I’m not following her directions and she has to figure out a new way home.

When I first was learning the roads, since none around here are straight, I sort of had to go on faith that my magic box knew where I was going, since I generally had no idea. There were, in fact, a couple of times that it was wrong. See, you can type in street addresses, but it also has a database of gazillions of retail locations. You can tell it you want to find a fast food place and then narrow it down by type of food and further by specific chain. So I only have to push a couple of buttons to find the nearest Chic-fil-A or Starbucks. And it has lots of other types of stores in its memory, though like most people, it apparently isn’t a faultless one.

I had used the location by name finder, typing in ‘Borders’ and it told me where I could find the nearest one. I followed the directions laid out for me by my magic box, peering around intently when it told me “approaching destination” only to find there was not a Borders in sight. It seemed to think that the Borders-owned Waldenbooks inside the mall was an appropriate substitute, which was not at all what I had had in mind. So even with satellite-guided electronics there are still sometimes I just have to go on faith that it’s going to take me where I need to be.

That’s pretty much what the fishermen who went with Jesus had to do too. They had to go on faith that he was the Messiah, they only had John’s word at that point, and that he would indeed take them where they needed to go to be fishers of people. Remember, they hadn’t seen any miracles or heard him preach yet. All they’ve heard is Jesus calling out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Pretty strong words for a guy who is still pretty much unknown at this point. Jesus is just beginning his ministry now. He has not, that we are told, performed any miracles yet or even angered any Pharisees. At this point his words sound like most of the other prophets that the Israelites had heard over the centuries. Even rather like his cousin John the Baptist. Unlike John though, Jesus isn’t telling the people about their awful sins and the need for confession and forgiveness. “Repent,” though it has some of those connotations, is a pretty interesting word. When most modern Christians hear it, they do think of asking for forgiveness for their sins. Repent, say you’re sorry. But that’s not really what it means, at least not entirely. The Hebrew root of the word means to turn round, to go a different way. It’s not just a change of heart, it’s a change of life. “Repentance here means more of a change of direction, the gaining of a new set of values, the readiness for life under the reign of God.”[i] Jesus’ isn’t issuing just a blanket call for repentance. It’s a call to repent because the kingdom of God has come near. “It is so radical and powerful, its presence calls men and women from their safety and routine to a life of unheard-of newness.”[ii]

Jesus is really telling these fishermen, “Recalculate, figure out a new way to go. And the way to go is to follow me.” It entails a good deal of trust and allegiance to just drop everything and take a new direction. We have to be willing to let Jesus take the lead, and to follow him, trusting that he knows the way to the kingdom.

It’s difficult for some of us to take directions from others. We like to strike out on our own. It’s often easy to recognize those people. They’re the ones who drive around in circles, or have pieces left over from an IKEA project. They’re people who have a difficult time trusting in someone other than themselves, I think. Not that they can’t, just that it’s hard for them. We might call them self-reliant or independent. And those aren’t bad traits, but they do get a bit in the way when Jesus is asking us to drop our nets and follow him. We want to ask “But why, Jesus, why should I follow you?” But Matthew tells us that the disciples did it “immediately,” with no hesitation, with no backwards glance. And we might ask why, why did they drop everything to follow?

Our family used to go on “get lost rides” when I was a kid. It was our way of adding some adventure, a get away, on an otherwise ordinary day. We’d all pile into the car and head out into the country, sometimes wooded, sometimes fields, depending on where we were living at the time. My sister and I would get to pick the direction we took when we came to an intersection. We’d go places I’d never seen before, my sister and I (and probably Mom, too) thoroughly lost, but always trusting that Dad knew the way home no matter where we were. And you know, he always did.

The disciples remind me of that. They themselves not really knowing where they would be going with Jesus, but somehow trusting that he knew the way to go, so they just left everything and followed. All Jesus says is “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And like that, (snap), they dropped the nets they were casting and followed him. We aren’t told anything beyond that. Matthew doesn’t elaborate. The difficult thing about this story for me is the fishermen's unflinching, immediate decision to follow this man. Where’s the rational "let’s think this over," or "I’ll get back to you?" We have no indication that they had counted the cost. We’re not even sure that they stopped long enough to say goodbye to family and friends. They just up and leave everything connected to their life. Immediately and with no looking back. To get back to the question of why they did it, the answer is simple. Almost too simple. Because it was Jesus. It was Jesus who told them to follow.

Yesterday at the presbytery meeting, we heard a woman preach on this same Scripture passage. While her sermon went a different direction than mine, I did come away with this thought. When the disciples put down their nets to follow Jesus, the nets they put down, cast aside, were not just fishing nets. They were also safety nets. They represented what was safe and familiar to these men. They were a source of income and stability, a link to their family and their homes. No, they were not just nets to catch fish. But once they were put down the disciples had empty hands. Now they could use those hands to catch people, to heal them, to feed them, to hold them. We have to come with our safety nets put down, cast aside, so that we have empty hands to offer to Christ so he can fill them again with the tools we need to help others.

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Notice though that he doesn’t tell these fishermen, “Follow me and you can be shepherds for my sheep,” or “Follow me and you can be a soldier in God’s army.” No, he meets them where they are, who they are. These fishermen will now fish-for-men. It is right here that we get a glimpse of the way Jesus works in the world. He doesn’t start a conversation with them about farming or shepherding, even though those will be metaphors he later uses. No, because he is speaking with fishermen, he speaks to them in their own terms, not what he knows best, but what they know best.

A professor of mine at Columbia Seminary played around with some of the other calls Jesus might have extended. She offers these.

Follow me, you miners, and I will make you mine for people!

Follow me, you bankers and tellers, and I will make you bank human life!

Follow me, you builders, and I will make you builders of God’s house!

Follow me, you shopkeepers, and I will make you keepers of God’s shop!

Follow me, you clowns and fools, and I will make you fools for God!

Follow me, you landscape workers, and I will make you landscapers of life!

Follow me, you cooks and chefs and butchers and bakers, and I will make you season and leaven and serve and preserve more than food!

Follow me, you instrumentalists, and I will make you instrumental to others!

Follow me, you friends, you parents, you children, you siblings, you neighbors, you strangers, you hosts and guests, and I will make you all these things—to every other human being!

It’s not as hard as you might think. Christ always starts where we already are.

Take a deep breath, put down your nets…and follow, simply because it is Christ who is asking us to do so.

[i] Brueggemann, Cousar, Gaventa, Newsome. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year A. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1995.

[ii] ibid.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sermon: "Eye Witnesses"

“Eye Witnesses”

We get another servant text this week. This is one of the primary texts that led me to believe last week that the Servant was meant to be the nation of Israel, for in this text it is explicitly said “Israel, you are my servant.” The rest of the language is also similar to the passage from Isaiah that we read last week.

This week we are hearing God tell the servant
Israel that it is not enough that she is free from captivity and restored to her rightful land. No, God wants all the people, even their captors and the infidels to know God’s saving love. “I shall make you a light to the nations,” says God, “so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of the earth.” God’s salvation is not just for Israel, but for the whole world, and it is for Israel, the chosen people, to spread the word of their God to all the nations. It is their job as servants of God, as witnesses of God’s power and glory, to tell others what they have seen and heard; to tell the world of the faithfulness of Yahweh. It is their birthright, what they were chosen as the descendant of Abraham to do, says Isaiah. “Yahweh has spoken, who formed me in the womb to be his servant…”

We are all formed in the womb as God’s servants, made to proclaim the glory of God to the nations. From the moment of our birth, we are called to be witnesses to God’s power at work in our world. As we discovered last week, we are also God’s chosen people. God gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us the strength and courage we need to undertake such a daunting endeavor.

Being a witness isn’t always easy. Often doubters scorn and scoff. How many of you heard on NPR the story of the supposed UFO sighting in Stephenville, TX this past week? I have to admit, I’m a bit of a skeptic about UFO’s, though I try to remind myself that UFO just mean “unidentified flying object,” and not ‘alien spaceship.’ Some folks seem to confuse the terms. I certainly believe that people saw something unidentified, just perhaps not alien. Apparently dozens of people saw the same thing in Stephenville though, which, at least to my mind, makes it somewhat more credible. But what I want to point out to you is the fact that none of them tried to keep quiet about what they saw. In all of the interviews, every person said that after their initial shock, they immediately called someone else, anyone else, to come and see what they were seeing. It was too incredible not to share, not to have someone else to talk with about this amazing event they were witnessing.

Even after the experts at the Smithsonian Institute’s astrophysics lab said it was most likely explained by a fairly common atmospheric mirage, some, or even most, people were still convinced of what they saw. Not all were jumping on the alien bandwagon, many just believed it was a secret military aircraft. But no matter what they were convinced it was, they all had to tell somebody. The little local paper was inundated with calls and emails about the event. Everybody had an opinion or a question. The paper contacted several of the eye-witnesses to get their side of the story, just an the interviewer from NPR did. These eye-witnesses were eager to share their story, to tell what they saw and to convince others of its truth.

John the Baptist was an eye-witness of another sort. John saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus, something of his own UFO, you might say. And he could not sit idly by and not tell anyone what he has seen and heard. He had to tell others what he saw and convince them of its truth. He was given this revelation as a gift from God, a gift that he was to share with others. “The revelation does not remain the private possession of John only to nurture his own faith and experience, but becomes the opportunity to address others. Furthermore, John’s witness echoes beyond his own control. Andrew, one of the disciples who abandons John, becomes yet another voice to speak to his brother, Simon.”[i]

And so it goes, he tells another, who tells another, who tells another, and so on. John’s witness cannot keep to itself and be a quiet faith. Ours is a telling faith. We have not been given this revelation to keep it quiet, hidden like a treasured secret. What good does that do us or the world? No, like Isaiah’s servant, we are to be a light to all the nations. As Jesus will later explain in a parable, what good is a light if we hide it under a basket? We ourselves will not be able to see, nor will those who enter our home.

When the disciples, first of John, soon to be of Jesus, ask him a question to get to know a little more about him, his answer is, “Come and see.” In other words, don’t take my word for it, come see for yourselves. Witness with your own eyes. And they do. They see, they really see. Andrew sees. He tells his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah.” Simon sees, he really sees. He becomes Peter, the rock of the church. They become followers of Jesus, witnessing to all who will hear, sharing what they have seen and heard.

How can we sit idly by and not tell what we have seen and heard in Jesus Christ? Just as was John’ revelation, our own revelation is a gift, a gift that is to be passed on to others so that all may share in the delight. I found myself thinking that this gift of faith that we share is rather like sharing a wonderful book. In my family, when one of us picks up a good book, it is not long before it has been passed around, even mailed half-way across the country to be shared. We’ll email the recommendation to friends we know with similar tastes to pick it up in their library or local bookstore. We want to share our own enjoyment with them and later be able to talk about it, sharing the pleasure of a discussion, discovering new insights and points of view as we talk.

That is why we share the gospel too. So we can discuss it, enjoy it with others, find out their points of view, know the myriad of ways that Jesus shows his love to us and to others. It is a way to let others know that we have found something too good to keep to ourselves. Though it seems that is often what Christians do these days. Now we are often ashamed of our Christian identity and won’t tell others what we know to be true in God’s story. We keep Jesus safely inside our sanctuary doors. Some might say that is where he belongs, inside the church. But Jesus’ was a ministry that wandered about, place to place. Come and see! he says. Everywhere he went, people came to see and went away telling of the amazing things they’d witnessed.

If John hadn’t witnessed and then testified to what he saw, Andrew would not have had anything to tell his brother Simon Peter. If Peter had not heard Andrew’s words and wanted to see for himself, he would not have witnessed the miracles that he saw as a disciple of which he told stories to others. That is how we have the Gospels and the Letters that make up our Bible. They are the written witnesses of those who wanted to share what they had heard and seen of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

It takes a willingness to muster our courage and be willing to take the risk to tell others what we have seen in Jesus Christ. It feels safe to talk about it here, inside these walls, but it is a harsh world beyond them that often does not welcome talk of religion, at least not beyond the status quo. That is why Christians often talk of ministering by example. It somehow seems easier for most of us to demonstrate rather than to speak of Christ’s love. In many cases it can even be more effective to ‘practice what you preach’ as the saying goes.

John was quite bold in his witnessing. He’d shout out, “Look! There goes the Son of God!” Even if we cannot bring ourselves to be quite so bold as individuals, we can be so bold as a community of faith. We can shout, with community services we can shout, with our mission work we can shout, with our facility we can shout, with whatever means we have, we can shout, “Look! Here is the Son of God. Come and see!” And some will come and see, and they will go out and tell others what they have seen. And they will tell others, who will tell others…. to the glory of God. Amen.

[i] Texts for Preaching, Year A. Brueggemann, Couser, Gaventa.