Monday, December 27, 2010

A New Year message to the congregation

I write this as I view the Northeast’s fresh blanket of snow in pictures posted from New Jersey to New England. We were spared this blast but memories of last year’s snow remain rather fresh in my mind. The best part of a snow is the fresh landscape we see. (Especially when viewed from a warm indoor location.) Each step outside creates a new path where no one has gone before, or so it seems. The new year presents similar opportunities to begin again and start over. I trust we can find ways to begin anew this year. May I suggest the following fresh starts:
• A pledge – if you haven’t already done so, a pledge to this congregation is also a promise to God. It includes our finances but can be much more. With a pledge, we promise to do something specific that will bring us closer to God in 2011 with our service. Vague intentions are easy to ignore; “I’ll eat healthier, I’ll work harder.” But specific pledges are goals that are measurable and keep us accountable to ourselves and to our faith family. Here’s a few ideas and opportunities,
o Witness Commission sponsors volunteer options on the 4th Sunday evening of the month at Sunrise Retirement Home, calling Bingo for residents.
o Witness also sponsors the alternate month 1st Saturday at AFAC (Arlington Food Assistance Center)
o Financial Pledge cards are still available from the Financial Secretary, or in the office.
o Stewards Commission is recruiting a “Light Snow Removal Crew”, see related article in this newsletter.
o Stewards maintains a “To Do” List of small items that need work around the church. They can be done on your schedule and availability.
o Church Office help is often valuable, especially when staff takes vacation. Put your name on a list of people willing to sit with phones, make copies or type as needed.
o Attend a Sunday Class or week-day Bible Study. Two adult options, a youth class and childrens class are held on Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. A week-day Bible study will begin in the early spring.
o Form a new relationship by befriending someone new to church. Invite them to lunch after worship or to dinner at your home and learn what you have in common as partners in the congregation
o Form a prayer partnership with someone at church, promising to pray for each other and perhaps with each other during the year.
The opportunities to increase our faith by being a servant and friend are endless. Share your ideas with me and you will soon see them in print or on my blog. May God bless all of us with opportunities to be faithful in 2011.

Storm Results Monday; 12/27 - iWitness Weather Photos and Video Photo

My Home Town in the snow. And DC area is in a "snow hole" according to the Weather Channel. We got only a dusting.
Storm Results Monday; 12/27 - iWitness Weather Photos and Video Photo

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

5 minutes of memory

5 minutes to capture the memories of 2010...GO.

The move to Arlington and getting settled in has been wonderful. It such an interesting time-machine-like feeling to drive around the places I remember from the mid-70's and know I am on the same roads but they all look so different. The reflection that comes with 35 years perspective and the scary thought that so much of my life has passed. Wondering about the neighborhoods as I drive through old short-cuts has me speculating the what-ifs. Yet I am so thankful that my life went in the direction it did.

The snow. I can't remember this much snow since the kids were little and built snow Sesame-Street figures and we colored them with food coloring. Or when I was very little and tanks had to come down the street in Stratford, NJ to clear the roads. It was a great way to meet the neighbors.

Lettuce: Joan Horwitt's lettuce-growing program and healthy lunch at school was an amazing fun experience. My lettuce didn't turn out well and I got involved mostly due to my role as pastor of the neighborhood church and yet it turned out to be FUN and a great way to meet great people. I'm excited about doing it again and again.

Arlington COB! I never want to forget the feeling of working alongside this congregation in partnership-ministry. I don't know how else to explain it. EVERYONE take part in the ministry of this congregation. EVERYONE feels ownership of what we do. People are positive and open to new experiences and adventures. Perhaps its part of the traditional "honeymoon" for the pastor. (This has been my 2nd year.) Still it is a wonderful place to be in ministry and I am so very blessed to have been called as pastor.

The House: How neat to be living in a different house after 25 years in Warrenton. I love this place and really enjoy having space for writing and reading away from TV. A whole office for me to work, a dining room corner for this kind of reflection and morning devotions, a separate living room for people to chat. And to think I never wanted a split-foyer on our property. Sometimes bad memories can cause you to make bad decisions. I love our little Cape Cod in the woods, but am SOOO thankful for the space of this 1960's neighborhood home surrounded by parks and backing onto a small ravine of woods. Life is good.

Health: My ankle healed, doctors are being switched and family crisis overcome. It has been a full year and now we are all coming back together in this house for a while. Life IS good.

Thanks be to God!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Just as I asked the question of you, so John asked the question of Jesus.
It is surprising to hear John asking, after all, this is John the Baptist, the one who said, “but one who is more powerful that I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” (Mt.3:11) and “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt.3:14)
And Jesus has a few things to say about John too. As John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns and asks the crowds, who did you think John was? Why did you go out to see him?
Jesus commends John’s actions, “No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” Yet he turns the world upside down again by saying the LEAST in his Kingdom is greater than John.”
It’s no wonder that John needs some reassurance. Perhaps if John can doubt Jesus, our own doubts are more acceptable? “Are you the one?”
            “This question occurs to just about every person in the church, including the strongest Christians.” (Says Mark Yurs) “Is Jesus the real thing?
 Is there anything to our religion?
Has the church really gotten hold of something that matters, or is this business of Christmas and its Christ only a fanciful tale, charming, but ultimately worthless and powerless against forces that dampen hopes and deaden dreams?”[i]

            We can have questions and doubts at any time, in crisis of self, or after a spouse’s sudden death, or when we look at a world embroiled in conflict. Our doubts mirror John’s question, “Jesus, ARE you the One?”
            John is in crisis when HE asks the question. He’s in prison; his ministry has come to a crashing halt with his arrest. He sits day after day, perhaps reviewing his work and he decides he MUST know if all he believes in is true.
He expected a messiah, one who would judge between the wheat and the chaff to reward the faithful and throw the sinful away. Now John is about to be thrown away, he will never leave prison. The next place we hear of him, his head is served on a platter to Herod’s wife.
            John has to know for sure because – Jesus is NOT the Messiah he expected.

            Jesus is offers compassion, not severe judgment. He walks alongside the people. He’s a healer. John expected someone to come with the baptism of FIRE. He was waiting for everything to be stirred up. Instead we look at what Jesus points out to John’s disciples, and its based on his deeds not his words[ii];
The blind can now see
The lame are walking around
Lepers have been made clean
The deaf, hear
Even the DEAD are raised and
The poor have good news brought to them.

Surely even John can hear the echoes of Isaiah and the prophets who proclaimed God’s priority for the poor and needy. And yet, Jesus isn’t quite what John expected.

The “Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and corruption. The Messiah should be punishing sinners, the criminals of the world.”[iii] Maybe we too would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to our liking.”[iv]

Don’t we wish for a Savior who will stop the fighting in Jesus’ birthplace? The insane blowing up of people, suicide bombers, walls and destruction – all in the precious place this all began? Shouldn’t the Messiah bring it to an end? Don’t we wish for a Savior who will stop children from dying, especially of hunger. How long must people shrivel up and die or watch as their children waste away? Don’t we wish for a Savior who will really bring PEACE ON EARTH once and for all? Jesus’ miraculous curing seems so long ago. Where was he when our mother was diagnosed with cancer? Why did the miracles have to stop in the 1st century? Why is life still so hard, for so many?

It’s ok, we CAN ask, just like John. And what would Jesus answer today?
What do you hear and see around you?

We have to get beyond the REGULAR news for rarely is there ‘good news’ on THE news. But thanks to the internet, we have access to places where people are working alongside of Jesus.
Take the Historic Peace Church Conference in Santa Domingo,
they commended The work of the Brethren in Haiti following the earthquake, where homes are being rebuilt and displaced people are being fed, not just in the church but also neighbors known and unknown....
They lifted up the - many programs for children, adolescents, and families in a variety of countries, ranging from a Brazilian program to prevent the sexual abuse of children, to a project in Venezuela teaching creative play, to those working for healthy families and against domestic violence in Central America, to a Chilean pastoral couple offering counseling to men and women on issues related to gender and sexuality....
Locally right here in Washington, December 10, 2010 -- More than 75 women and men gathered at Wesley Theological Seminary last month to honor the Rev. Drema McAllister-Wilson and other women who have made significant contributions to the ecumenical movement and the many lives of the individuals they encountered.

On the other side of the world in Kottayam, India, December 6, 2010 -- the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary said, "The Indian concept of family sanctity is noble and one that should be emulated throughout the world."

On any issue YOU care to research, there are disciples at work. Faith communities came together to address climate change, poverty and sustainable development in a side event at the Cancun climate summit LAST WEEK (on 7 December.) This was jointly organized by Caritas Internationalis,  ACT Alliance and the World Council of Churches (WCC).  MANY More disciples working in places “so the poor don’t pay the price for climate change.” they said.
What more evidence do we need to hear and see where Jesus is working today?
Even You-Tube videos are used to reach out to the lost. A recent effort had people of all kinds recording videos entitled, “It gets better.” Aimed at the Many Lesbian & Gay BT youth who can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So everyday people and denominational leaders and politicians recorded videos of encouragement to show them what the future may hold in store. Good news IS being brought to many quarters.
And people of faith have goals to work for more; the 2011 vision for the Global AIDS epidemic is zero, new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDs-related deaths.

What do you HEAR and SEE around you? Do you wonder what promises and commitment it takes to be one who works to eliminate AIDs, or spends months in Haiti with no indoor plumbing?
With all the good news around the world and all the efforts for peace, surely we can hear and see Jesus, Immanuel; God WITH us, working alongside of committed people in these places and more.

So then, WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? AND for WHOM? What holds you back from participation in Immanuel’s work?

Are you waiting for Jesus to call you individually? Perhaps with a lightening bolt-like strike so that you can’t say no? Maybe you are waiting to ‘fall in love’ with him. That magic, picture-perfect moment, when you are struck with cupid’s arrow and can’t look at anyone else. THEN you will turn your life around and promise to work with Jesus. Maybe we are all waiting for the Messiah of our expectations to break into our every day ordinary life in such a way that everything comes to a halt and we have NO CHOICE but to follow.

But Jesus is the unexpected Messiah.
            He works with people one at a time, in small corners of the world, opening eyes and            Standing up for the poor. He’s not the superhero flying overhead.
He sits in a jail cell next to someone who doesn’t deserve help, but still he sits ready to bring comfort to a child-abuser who is all alone in the world and unable to cope with his affliction.

Jesus isn’t in the popular places making a splash and he isn’t in the news. He is most likely to be found in the places we wouldn’t even go.

When we catch a glimpse of THAT Jesus, we too ask, “Are YOU the one?” and perhaps we walk away before we get an answer sure that the image we see doesn’t meet our expectations. Knowing our days are already full and most of us don’t need to make any more promises. 

Today we are left sitting with John’s question.
We sit with it because we NEED to ask and ENGAGE it. We need to be sure,
before we walk to the river to say, “Jesus, I want to join you, “baptize me.”
We need to be sure, before we make a promise that turns our life upside-down.

We MUST answer THIS QUESTION for ourselves, even Jesus won’t answer it for us, he merely points us back into the world to look, & listen. He would say to each of us, “Nancy, Everett, Andy, you have to decide on your own whether I am for real.”

            And then act accordingly.
- - -

And as we walk away, I wonder what Jesus will say to the crowds about us?

[i] Mark Yurs Feasting On The Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK 2010) p. 69
[ii] Ambrose of Milan.
[iii] Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Yr. A (Louisville: WJK, 1995) p. 27
[iv] ibid

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wracking my brains

"What social gathering rocked my socks off?" I'm wracking my brains for a social gathering I attended. What qualifies as a social gathering? Sunday morning worship? There were a few GREAT ones. (In my not-humble-enough opinion.) Parties? Hmmm, did I go to any? I know, there was one at a friend's house; a surprise b-day party. It was fun. I missed the next one b/c I was sick. I had dinner at three homes, a new neighborhood friend, a parishioner, and thanksgiving. They were each wonderful.

I'm not sure what it would take to 'rock my socks off'. hmmm, perhaps this will be a day to think about it. What rocks yours?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blogging when the sermon won't come together.

I've missed several prompts, but have let go of somethings this year, and do have something I'd like to make - just waiting for me to feel like needle work again. I've discovered community in the neighborhood when Boulevard Manor resident and Ashlawn Elementary students and church members all came together to grow lettuce and put on a salad-lunch at school. It was done in the spring and again this winter and has stirred or re-stirred interest in re-claiming the Reeves property for a learning garden site.

Regarding what makes me different, I'm not sure I'm the one to reflect on that. I think its my openness and interest in new things, especially new technology. I see tech as a way to connect and look for ways to use it with depth to connect with people who I might not otherwise speak with or even know. Old technology like phones are taken for granted. Yet they were once the high-tech of the day. I just used the phone to "visit" with several people I would never catch up with in this busy season. Now I will go visit in person IF I can find someone at home. Meanwhile, I have learned how several folks are doing.

Why not Twitter, Facebook, and email and blogger as ways to be in touch? So I use them all and enjoy the new friends and even comments of strangers. It has been a joy to be back in touch with friends from college this year. Maybe another way I'm different is that I seem to move into new phases of life and have little touch with those from past times. There are exceptions; very special friend from High School, a very special friend from seminary, and recently my college roommate, a few others, but even distant family takes a back seat to what's right in front of me. This year I heard from my Uncle Jack who I haven't talked with since my mom died. You just never know what a year will bring. And THAT difference, I love!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reverb '10

It seems that I can only post every few days. But I've been thinking about yesterday's reverb prompt, "Where I felt most alive this year" and now today's "How did I cultivate a sense of wonder". I thought over our recent trip to Florida and the day we spent at Salt Springs. It's a place to feel connected to nature and all that is alive. It feels ancient as if you are at the place life first crawled out of a 'primordial pond'. Then there was the day I got into the ocean for awhile. (which I don't do much anymore) The water is so nice and warm in Florida and the waves were perfect, not the scary surf of storms. I swam and floated and rode waves and found myself laughing out loud because it was fun. Perhaps going someplace new and stretching  beyond the well-known is a good way to cultivate wonder.

But then I've spent a lot of time right here, in my favorite dining room corner chair, looking out at the trees, (or sky, now that the leaves have fallen again). I've watched it snow from here and watched the leaves sprout in the spring. I look at the birds gathered around my feeder and see the buds on the bush that reaches all the way up to the window. It is a place of contemplation. It's a place where I ask God what am I to be doing? Where is God calling the congregation this year? It's a place where I wonder about retirement (in the very distant future) and wonder how wonderful it is to be right here. I wonder how I managed those years of getting through seminary and if I left scars on my family from days when I neglected them. I wonder how long this wonderful feeling can last? And from this place I get pulled out to walk the dog in the neighboring parks, or pulled into another book seeking answers to God's call, or pulled into a call, visit or email contact with someone from church or an old friend.

Perhaps, this chair, that I've been sitting in since before the furniture arrived one year ago this week, is my place of wonder AND where I feel most alive.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reverb '10

I'll give it a try and see how many days I make. Check out the reverb10 link above and see what they are up to.
One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)

 RELOCATE, it have been a year of adjusting to Arlington, revisiting places that I knew in the mid-70's and 80's and finding new surprises, especially in people. It is a delight to be here.
REINVIGORATE, I would like 2011 to hold new energy for mission and passion for leadership in the congregation and for my life as part of it. I'm here on my Christian journey too, not just for employment.

December 2 Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)
Watch TV, maybe, but I don't want to totally eliminate that. Maybe just be more aware of how much time I'm willing to spend watching instead of something else.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Virtual Advent Retreat at RevGals - Part III

I'm back to drinking tea, very delicious tea that I wouldn't normally drink in my hurry to get some coffee and get to work. This "difference" seems to fit into the way Joseph responds in Matthew's story.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
LutheranChik writes,
How easy it is to place parameters on our acts of mercy; to measure out our compassion in easily manageable units, according to our own comfort level, at our own convenience; perhaps, deep down, according to our own sense of competence: "I can go this far; no farther."

By the standards of his own time and culture, Joseph exceeded most people's expectations of how a prospective husband should treat a fiancee' found to be pregnant. He would have been within his rights to publicly denounce Mary as an adulteress and let the community guardians of morality deal with her in the way that patriarchal societies have traditionally dealt with women deemed to be sexually compromised. But no, he decided; he would take the high road: He would quietly call off the marriage, let Mary's family deal with the problem of her pregnancy, and walk away -- embarrassed and disappointed, surely, but blameless; and free to start over. There; he'd do his duty and then some.

What were Joseph's thoughts, one wonders, when he realized that God had a different plan -- one that would presumably implicate him as father of Mary's child, bringing his morality as well as Mary's into question; one that would additionally place on his shoulders the enormous responsibility of raising a child not his own, a child whose origin he could scarcely imagine? Did Joseph feel a hesitation, a catch of uncertainty, as he weighed the consequences of assenting to the task assigned to him? 
 Joseph risked the different way. I remember times when I took that path and spent the time to drive someone to the auto-parts store so I could buy her brake shoes. (With the church's emergency fund.) And I remember the times I didn't go, or didn't pick up the phone because I was sure it was a late Friday request for help from the network of people who call churches and know how to time the call so their need can't be verified before the deadline for weekend housing is here.

How can I find the courage to take a different path when presented with it? "Another Way of Living" is what the Brethren call it. Joseph did it and that had to take major courage. How might I even discern the path? Perhaps all I can do is pray LutheranChik's prayer:

Prayer: Loving, gracious and merciful God, help me make room for Christ in my life by making room for risk on behalf of others. Help calm the fears that separate me from others. Let me say "yes" to the next right thing I'm called to do on behalf of my neighbors -- even when it's difficult, even when it comes at a cost. Help me do these things for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Virtual Advent Retreat at RevGals - Part II

 It's not easy retreating at home, but easier than making time (& money) to go somewhere. Part 2 of this excellent virtual retreat brings me to Matthew's story connection John and Jesus later in life.
Matthew 11:2-11
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
 Mary Beth writes
John the Baptist is having a bad, bad time. He is stuck in prison, after all. And the faith and passion with which he proclaimed the coming of Jesus as the Messiah seem to be gone, or at least stretched very thin.

It’s understandable, really. Jesus is not doing what he should be doing, in John’s estimation. He is, in fact, doing everything WRONG. I imagine John thinking, “This is crazy! Jesus can’t be the one, because everything is so screwed up.” He must have felt very desperate to send this message to Jesus.. . . It’s sometimes easy to feel that way in today’s world. We get frustrated at the gloom-and-doom news channels, the machinations of the institutional church and some individuals representing Christianity. Wars, violence, starvation…the list could go on and on. We get stuck in our own self-righteousness and sin, and wonder where God is, and whether we’ve made a mistake. Like John, we get rusty in our faith.
  She challenges us to think about something different this year and not get stuck in rusty old (busy, busy) habits.
This time last year I was packing boxes like mad while I limped around on an almost healed, broken ankle. The moving van came on the 1st. It was a crazy time, far from today's quiet and peaceful dining room where I sit, listening to Christmas music and watching the last of the leaves blow off the trees. I am grateful to be here. Our move has had some surprises, mostly monetary. We expected utilities and taxes to be higher. We didn't expect to pay so much more in taxes by having a parsonage instead of a housing allowance. ah well. There is still so much for which to be grateful. Our son got into grad school and is finishing the frantic end-of-semester papers. He also sold his first written piece this year. Our daughter completed her Masters and got out of the program that seemed to be killing her. SIL is now living with us and she will be too in about 6 weeks or less. Husband has made an easy transition to the new territory and is enjoying a successful hunting season. Life is good.

So what shall I "think about" that is different than the usual fare this year? As I contemplate those for whom life is not-so-good, and the places where there is no peace on earth, I wonder what small thing I could do to make a different for peace. Perhaps it will come in stages. First, I think locally, maybe I can visit a few people who don't ordinarily fall on my list but would enjoy a visit and conversation. What if everyone in the congregation visited just one other person this year? That could make for peace right here because I know there are people who are in stressful situations and would really enjoy a visit to talk.

Perhaps, as today's "retreat" continues, other UNusual ideas will arise for being part of Christ's peace.

Virtual Advent Retreat at RevGals

After a night of coughing, getting up at 5 to see daughter off, taking more cough medicine and trying to sleep, I have no voice and little energy. It's a perfect day for a "VIRTUAL" Retreat. So I'm drinking tea, honey & lemon, reflecting and perhaps some sewing repair while I think. Thank you RevGals!
Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. . .
SingingOwl asks:
For Reflection
Worshipful submission: Am I submissive and worshipful on the outside while the inside is anything but? Or has submission to God become a genuine joy? How does worshipful submission look in my life at this moment and time? Is it a delight or a chore? Why? 
 I don't like the word submission. Of course I don't need to tell this to anyone who knows me. There are moments, truly worshipful moments when submission seems to be the only response to God's awesome presence. Yet I know myself well enough to find my will seeps into any sense of submission to God's will. (As if I really know what that is.) I loved the recent article in Christian Century about finding God's will, or not needing to. I usually speak of God's will for wholeness & peace for all humanity. It's a large concept to bring down to my everyday living.
Obedient respect: Philippians 2:12-13 says, “So...just as you have always out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, [enabling you] both to will and to act for His good purpose.” In what areas do I need to cooperate with what God is doing in me? Am I willing to obey, even when it costs me? Why "fear and trembling?" Why is it such serious business? 
At times I wish God was doing more of a physical weight-loss-thing in me. I'm not really sure at this time what God is doing. I have been in another and different kind of learning for the last 2 years and God's spirit has felt with me in most places. Previously I thought I couldn't come up with "vision" only the practical application for things. But here, where it seems to be needed, the ideas and thoughts come. I guess that's a good thing. I just hope I can keep listening. It is so easy to get distracted with work.
Reverential awe: How long since I was genuinely in awe of God? What did it look like? Feel like? Sound like?

I'm reading The Pillars of the Earth and it has me wanting to visit a cathedral.
National Cathedral is close so I may just do it soon. Meanwhile, I revisit the Florence Duomo and Milan's Duomo, and St. Peter's in my mind quite a bit while I read. In those places I felt AWE. St. Peter's really is amazing. I guess the old Brethren wouldn't think much of it, but I can really see why these places were built. (Altho reading, I wonder about some of the motives. Great book tho!)

There's another section to the Advent Retreat already posted so I will do a little quite work then perhaps come back to more reflection.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Playing at Pies

I rarely get around to playing the Friday 5 but since I'm home fighting a cold, I'll have some fun.

1) Are pies an important part of a holiday meal?

Yes, especially if I don't have to make them! Although I usually make a sugar free pie with pudding and coolwhip for my husband that we ALL end up eating.

2) Men prefer pie; women prefer cake. Discuss.
News to me, my daughter had pie at her wedding reception instead of cake because she prefers pie. So do I, again, especially if I don't make it. I don't make crust but love other people's homemade crust. My son-in-law's father made yesterday's pies and the crusts were whole grain and DELICIOUS.
3) Cherries--do they belong in a pie?
Yes, I'm a cherry pie fan, but haven't tried the cherry-rhurbard variety.
4) Meringue--if you have to choose, is it best on lemon or chocolate?
Lemon meringue, I prefer my chocolate "straight" and the lemon and meringue just seem to go together.
5) In a chicken pie, what are the most compatible vegetables? Anything you don't like to find in a chicken pie?
I hope our English gals answer some questions about meat pie. I have had "chicken-pot-pie" with the traditional peas and carrots but think any vegetable will do. I usually keep my pies for dessert.

Looking forward to replies. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grateful a week ahead of time.

I realize it doesn't have to be Thanksgiving to be grateful but today I am especially grateful for a congregation who acts like we are all in this together (duh). I am losing the battle against a cold and suspect my voice to be limited tomorrow. I've lined up four people to help with the service. How awesome is that?

The choir is singing "Jesus Remember Me" interspersed with the gospel reading from Luke and a few more verses. I think it will be the high point of the service. I've posted my sermon at another site that seems to accept the paste in from Word easier than Blogger does. If you are interested look here.

Council meeting is after church and I have all but one thing in my Keynote presentation. The commissions have created "board games" for their report.
Witness - the Game of Life (of Outreach)
Nurture - Nurture not Monotony
Stewards - Have been working on the Railroad

Since hardly anyone reads written reports, these interactive creations will be a lot more fun to see. They are quite impressive also as you get a visual sense of all the work that was done in a year.

Now I just need a couple paper dolls for the children's story and someone is even helping me with most of that. #awesomecongregation

So I'm going to rest for the rest of the evening. THANKS BE TO GOD.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Long Week: Weary with Nothing To Say

2 Thessalonians has a lot to say, but today I don't...and I need to. It's been a long week and tomorrow I have an afternoon conference with a 2 hour drive each way. So I need to say something about 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 TODAY and get it on paper.

For all I'm worth, the only thing I'm coming up with is complex and not something I have the energy to preach. A warning to seriousness and boundaries while remaining open and affirming and welcoming will not come across well. At least not unless I can really preach it, and I can't, not this week. I know I'm too tired to make the case well with clarity. There are so many pitfalls for mis-hearing.

How about I just chill, watch Harry Potter movie re-runs and Gilmore Girls and hope the Holy Spirit delivers a type manuscript this week?
Or does that sound too much like the idleness 2 Thessalonians is warning against? (And could someone deliver a pizza?)

I'm left with verse 13,
Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Quick Reflections

Today I see why some pastors take Monday off. My usual Sunday is now quite different from the years that included late Sunday evenings in Youth Ministry. Although I miss youth ministry, I usually am glad to have Sunday evenings at home. Yesterday was different since it was COB re-licensing day and I was on the team to do a couple interviews. Add a meeting to it and the fact that it was up in Md. and I didn't get home until after 10 pm. Meanwhile, someone went to the hospital immediately (EMTs) following church. (My sermon has never made anyone that sick before.) Traffic was so heavy I couldn't get there before needing to leave for the afternoon meeting. Others from the congregation went to check on this person, as they'd promised and between texts and messages to the house, I learned that it was eventually decided that a night in the hospital was needed. Fortunately, the patient seems ok.

So this morning, I need to run over there. I have an appointment and meeting tonight and a little prep-shopping for the meeting. I made myself stay in bed (not hard) when I first woke up and now have been reading and reflecting a bit. It's time to move on. I feel the longing to sit in a cathedral. I must need the special "sanctuary" that such a place provides. Perhaps tomorrow will include a trip to National as that is so possible living here!

I want to walk today and to read. I hope I manage to at least get one of those accomplished. Yesterday was a special day in many ways as we lifted up our seminary during the worship service and heard from one of the congregation's seminary grads. It was a good day also, just to hear about others' ministries in the district and to see a few friends at the interviewing event. But we heard a brief presentation on Self-Care, so I think I'll make room for a little of that at some point today.

Ah Mondays.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Time To Right

I'm off lectionary this week back to 2 Timothy for a Bethany Seminary Sunday. Meanwhile the congregation has thrown all their efforts into making everything right for our annual bazaar called "Soup & Pie". I just got back from making the signs listing all the soups and pies to be sold tomorrow. WOW, it will be hard to stick to just the healthy (mostly) soups and stay away from the pies. #NOT

Timothy's challenge is to "Preach The Word" (or proclaim it as the NRSV says) and make your living right. I'm not sure what our soups and pies proclaim, but the table full of Servv International Products, Fair Trade Coffee, recycled items at the craft table and White Elephant sale, and the donation table for Heifer all say something about keeping our priorities right.

So I hope our actions and especially our welcome to the neighborhood, proclaims the word tomorrow. (And maybe this sermon will get right and 'write'n by Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mourning After

"Despite the financial hard times felt across the land, a virtual fire hose of cash has fueled this year's races -- $4 billion, all told. That's an 80 percent jump in congressional campaign contributions from just two years ago, according to NPR's Peter Overby." NPR News

My political loyalties are out today in mourning. I can't help it. I don't believe the way through the rest of this recession is a return to the policies that aided the crash. I think it takes longer than two years to turn things around. AND I don't want my adult children to lose the health care they were just guaranteed. #yespoliticsispersonal

We shall see what comes next.
-My hope is that the proponents of this "new change" will hold all elected officials feet to the fire.
-My hope is there will still be policy makers who care about ending hunger.
-My hope is -for hope- to still exist in the legislative world so we can have change not just bickering while people go without income, without food, without health care.

The quote with which I began shows there is money among the rich or those powerful enough to seek changes that protect their interests. Will any money make it to places of real need? 'Trickle Down' has never worked before. There's too much greed at the top. We need open pipes to pour. Pour your blessings down O Lord, we need them!

"You will save a lowly people, but you will humble the haughty eyes." Psalm 18:28

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stewardship of Prayer

I want to tell you about a new movement in the church. I do a fair amount of reading each week in preparation for the sermon and to keep aware of what is happening in the Christian world.
The religious world has as many fads and trends as the fashion world, or so it seems. It can be hard to get on-board with a new movement before it has seen it’s day and faded into the recesses of old magazines.

The movement I read about this week has real potential.

The people who began it are from several different denominations. They were all at an ecumenical conference on ‘Living the Deeper Spiritual Life’ and discovered their common interest.
A speaker at the conference was citing some statistics that today’s young people think the best place to find a hypocrite is in church.
-We’ve all see the stories on pastors who turn out to use a church to get money for themselves, priests who abuse children, and we’ve heard the ‘prosperity gospel’ preached again and again.
These stories reinforce the impression that Christianity is about how to get the MOST out of life."
-The Christianity we see displayed on TV and media is often one that makes us cringe. I find myself saddened but understanding of teens who think the one place to find a hypocrite is the church.
This one statistic really struck the founders of the new movement and inspired them to look at their faith practices.
They wondered what they could DO to deepen their faith and strengthen the image the world has of Christian church-goers.

Most of the men and women who founded the movement were current officers of their church boards, leadership councils or sessions. These are the people typically called on to be Stewardship Chair, board chair, or asked to hold some position of leadership.
They wanted to challenge each other to a higher level of spiritual practice so they wouldn’t get so wrapped up in their work for the church, that they forgot about prayer and Bible reading.
Since they had so much in common, they came up with a list of goals that would help them maintain the level of piety or spirituality they desired. This would be the way they stayed close to God and could better listen for God’s call on their life.<
Remember, This movement is aimed at people who do a lot at church so there is an assumption that to be part of this movement, you will hold or have held a church position of leadership (board, deacon, SS teacher) within the last 5 years.
In order to challenge each other, people in this movement commit to reading their Bible daily.
Many have decided to purchase a 1-year or 2-year Bible, which simplifies the reading process and insures you will read completely thru the Bible in the 1 or 2 year period.
-The founders are well aware of the statistic that only 17% of US Christians read their Bible daily. This 1st goal, will ground their practice in the words of scripture.

Being the leaders of the church, they have also committed to tithing knowing it takes funds for the church to exist. (You can tell many of the founders of the new movement have been stewardship chairs.) They even decided to take the original definition of “a tithe” which means 10% of their income and possessions.
Another statistic that troubled them says many Christians give closer to 4% or less of their income. So this group wanted to return to the biblical command to TITHE.
And to eliminate any question about what 10% means, they say in any case where there are questions about tithing ‘gross’ or ‘net’, they promise to give the larger amount.
This “pocketbook challenge” they know will help them be serious about their covenant to the movement. You have to be serious to make a promise like this. (Putting their money where their mouth is?)
A unique practice of this group is the reinstitution of fasting on a regular basis. They remarked that we all know more about Islam these days and hear how Muslims maintain days of fasting, where food is only consumed before dawn and at very minimal amounts during the weeks of Festivals or “Holy Days”.
The founders of the new movement think Christians should return to the older practices of fasting. (This is something they have in common with the early brethren.) So they plan to develop a schedule of fasting days and everyone who joins the group will commit to several days of fasting each year.

The key leadership of the movement also recognizes that they will need interpersonal support to maintain this level of commitment.  So, members within the same town, regardless of their denomination, promise to meet together regularly to pray for each other.
They feel this commitment to each other will strengthen the movement and build ties among the new community of those deeply committed to following Jesus, the Christ every day.
This is quite an admirable group who have begun the movement and the prayer they suggest to any of us who wants to join is this, “'Oh, God, we thank you that we are not like other people—. We fast regularly, read scripture daily, and tithe on all our income.”
Adapted from Luke 18:11-12 (MSG)
And the name of the movement is, The PHARISEE Way.

Now they make very clear, that they know they are not the only Christians in the world. Clearly there are many others who are Christians and they state there is nothing wrong with ‘other folks’. It’s obvious to the new movement that there are plenty of people who really need Jesus in this world. Certainly those who are struggling with addictions, Or who haven’t the resources that allow them time to devote to church work.
They recognize most ordinary Christians can’t take on these promises and they don’t want to burden ‘the average’ believer with such high standards. It doesn’t seem fair to coerce everyone with these strict practices.
They make a point of saying,
“we are the fortunate ones who have been blessed with good jobs and secure futures that allow us to make this kind of commitment to Christ’s church. It’s ok, if ‘you’ can’t all live at this level.”
There are so many people out there whose need for Jesus in their life mean they need the freedom to pray, “'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'
Luke 18:13 (MSG) The movement’s first publicity statement says,
“We certainly want these needy Christians to feel included in our churches so we won’t push to impose these standards on everyone. This movement will remain for those who are blessed enough with the time and finances to be able to make this level of commitment.”
It’s quite a movement, isn’t it? What do you think of it?

Are any of you ready to join?

And Jesus said, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Real blogging & desert islands

Do I have time to blog this morning? Good question but I have the urge to do so.

Real blogging, for me, means writing off the top of my head. This is not always a good thing, I realize. The more controlled, somewhat edited manuscripts of sermons are safer content for blogging. But then "safe" and blogging may not go together.

I just read a diverse group of articles in Christian CenturyThe Best of 20 Years from 20th Century Christian Magazine, just from the last issue I received. I now have swirling in my brain, how our brains are effected by internet-type browsing, how the evangelicals want to encourage Israel so the end of the world will come sooner, and a few good words about poetry and scripture. Yesterday I read why we don't need to find 'God's will' for our lives. What would I do without Christian Century?

When I interviewed for my current position I was asked what one book, magazine or newspaper (other than the Bible; a pat answer) would you want if you were stranded on a desert island? I said the Christian Century because not only do I love the main articles, I get to read about the news of the day and hear comments of how others believe it impacts our faith journeys. It may be some of the best thought-provoking material that I read.

Since I just finished prep for this morning's Bible-study on the Mustard Seed parable, I have thoughts of poetic inferences in my head. Now added to it, the ideas that the way we think may be changing, from Nicholas Carr's book and Philip Cary's thoughts on God's will have me realizing that opening up the thinking process in my head may be the most important thing I do when I read.

So can I justify not doing a work-out this morning because I exercised my brain? If only, this kind of exercise would shave off a few pounds...

Monday, October 11, 2010

What It Takes

On Sunday (yesterday) we heard two stories about people who ended up praising God, after being healed by God’s messenger. These men, Naaman and the unnamed one out of 10 people cured of leprosy, recognized God’s power at work in their healing and immediately acted to praise God; one by turning back to thank Jesus and the other by asking for a piece of Israel’s soil to take home so he could worship the one God on what he considered holy soil. And we wonder, how these 2 stories about miracles, a rare disease, and the gratitude of praise speak to us.

It’s easy to feel disconnected from Bible stories like this. Certainly they are good stories, memorable stories, but aren’t they rather remote from our life experiences?

Hansen’s Disease, leprosy, is not a disease we think about much today. And in most stories, the disease defines the people who have it so they are not people who have leprosy, but they are LEPERS. And even though the disease is rare, we still have people in our society who are treated as “lepers”- kept on the outer edges of society & labeled as non-touchables.

Can you imagine have to call out, “Leper, Leper, or Psoriasis, Aids, or Measles” so people would stay away? “Lepers” were required to do so in Jesus’ day. In our world it is more likely for someone else to point out our “leprosy” and it can get ugly. Bullies play this role in schools and neighborhoods. Children and youth along with adults end up victims to someone’s desire to push someone out to the margins and label them a “leper”.

Recently, the news carried the tragic tale of three different young men, bullied for being gay, tortured with emotional abuse and pushed out to the edge, until each took their own life. I think it is imperative that we clearly state to youth and adults that everyone is welcome here, no matter your sexual orientation or any name society tries to put on you as a label – HERE, we are all equal and VALUED children of God.
If the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t make that value clear, then where CAN people turn for acceptance and wholeness?

At conference this weekend, a sample hearing was held to show us what the process will be like at the district ‘listening’ hearings on the query about same sex covenant relationships and the Standing Committee paper on confession and forgiveness. It was just and example of how the process will work, but one young high school girl shared that in her school, the bullying, and name calling is really ugly. People play nasty tricks on anyone who is gay or lesbian, making life miserable and that the lines are pretty well drawn into a warfare everyday at school.

Do you remember how hard HS was? How much harder must it be today, to have that level of hatred played out again and again, instead of acceptance and the joy of good friendships?

I WISH we COULD say that times are different today than in Jesus’ day. I WISH we could feel superior because we no longer require people to call out, “LEPER, LEPER”

I’d like to say, “That was then and this is now.” But we know from these stories from school and universities, that there are plenty of places where “lepers” still exist today.

And have you ever BEEN the person who needed acceptance? Or longed for Jesus to turn and call you by name and make you whole? I wonder what – it - takes to change human society to the point that everyone is accepted and treasured for who they are ?

I believe change of any kind, starts close to home, very close. Change must begin with us.
What does it take for us to accept our own selves, the way God made us? I think the Samaritan who was a leper, is the perfect example for today.

This man had ‘An attitude of gratitude’. As soon as he realized he had been given the gift of wholeness he turned around to give thanks. He falls downs at Jesus’ feet, which is the sign of worship. How is it that only one healed person was able to see “beyond his body to the one who made it whole”?

His Actions of gratitude demonstrate his faith. Remember, it’s not the quantity of faith one has, but just any small amount (even as small as a mustard seed of faith, Jesus has just said) that allows us to respond to life with gratitude and turn to God with praise.

Naaman’s lack of faith, in Elisha and in HIMSELF, almost kept him from being healed. But he had the good fortune to experience the opposite of bulling. Instead of those around him, tearing him down, his servants and soldiers, encouraged him to go do the simple thing of washing, just as he had been told, and SEE if it would work. And it did.

If only the young men who were so lost that they brought life to an end, had been encouraged instead of labeled, and driven out. . If only, someone had cared enough to reach out a saving hand.

That word “save” is a tough one, isn’t it? In fact, the way it is used in some translations of this text has done more harm than good. Either we make “being saved” seem conditional on our faith (INSTEAD OF GOD’S) or we end up judging someone’s life to say they need saving. We all wish that Jesus would make us whole.

What if we DO have a certain amount of power, at least the power to align ourselves with God’s saving action that makes us whole? When the Samaritan demonstrates unrestrained gratitude and he immediately recognizes the healing/saving action of God in Jesus, it’s his attitude that makes THE difference. He was already healed and so were the ones who didn’t come back, but he got to talk to Jesus. He was commended by the man who ‘saved’ his life. Which kind of healed would YOU prefer?

On Friday, I saw a video about the FISH MARKET in Seattle, Washington. Maybe you know about it? It’s a group of working guys, who receive, clean, sell, and package fish.

Normally, it’s not a spectacular job, but it is how they make a living.
BUT, something about THIS group is different. At some point when people ordered a fish, they started throwing it across the counter. Now these are BIG fish so, catching a big slimy fish, is challenging. The market became known as “Flying Fish” for its ‘show’.

Then, when the order was called out, the guys started fooling around and ALL of them REPEAT the order back as a SHOUT. One fish “ ONE FISH” and a fish goes flying 8 feet across a counter and into someone’s waiting arms. 4 crabs, FOUR CRABS… it becomes a show and then everyone started having fun playing. Now customers get into the act and invited to try catching a fish. And more and more customers arrive. After all, if you can buy a fish and have fun too, why not? As for the guys, well, everyone goes to work everyday, but THEY have fun at it. Attitude makes a difference. They love life, their work, and they likely make more money at it too.

Years ago, Norman Vincent Peale spoke and wrote about the “Power of Positive Thinking”. Now there are plenty of downsides to this philosophy along with its upsides. Maybe you, like me have experienced someone who was so “UP” all the time that they could make you ‘gag’ with cheerfulness. Yet, he had a point about attitude making a difference. I have found that my attitude; good or bad, can make my day turn out completely different.

We were in Florida 2 weeks ago. When I go on vacation, it takes me a couple days to unwind and really get into it. So when we got to Florida, our friends put bathing suits on and everyone hit the beach…except me. I just wasn’t ready yet.

I can’t really explain it and I even tried to argue myself down there, but I sat in the room, watching the ocean from a distance and telling myself that I didn’t want to start the vacation with a sunburn, I wasn’t ready for conversation and I just wanted to be alone.

I sat, and let most of the day get away. What I didn’t know was there were tropical storms forming off the coast and each day of sunshine was precious. And I let most of that one get away.

Naaman almost let healing get away. Stubbornness, resentment, low self image, and lack of gratitude are just some of the things that keep us away from the saving wholeness that God desires for us.

The Samaritan had the RIGHT attitude and he is remembered to this day for his response more than his healing.
Professor David Lose challenges us to examine our attitude both toward ourselves and toward God. He said,
“When we look to God, do we see stern judge or loving parent?

When we look to ourselves, do we see failure or beloved child? . .

. .how we answer dramatically shapes both our outlook and our behavior.”
How do you great your day? Is your attitude one of gratitude or resignation?

When you look at the world, do you see others with labels that keep you at a distance or are they fellow children of God, someone that might join you in gratitude and praise for what God gives each day?

OUR Attitude changes the way we see the world and the way the world sees us. Attitude changes the way we interact with the world and THAT is the way people see Jesus in us.

We need an attitude of gratitude to appreciate what God gives us, from hope to healing, to salvation. An attitude of gratitude is what it takes to make individuals into the body of Christ, joined together in praise of our AWESOME GOD.

Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Year C (Louisville: WJK, 1994) p. 553+

Friday, October 8, 2010

I love pictures of the earth

I love pictures of the earth. Bob Ryan just posted this one because the USA was mostly cloud free. How beautiful it is. If only we could do a better job of being stewards.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just A Grain of Faith

Luke 17:5-10
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 17:6 The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. 17:7 "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? 17:8 Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? 17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
(A draft of tomorrow's sermon.)
Fresh tomato, Rotten tomato:
(ripe) “Would you say this fruit is worth having?”
(rotten) What about this one?

We decide value or worth based on what use we can make of the fruit. A rotten tomato is good only for the compost pile. Yet at one time, this tomato was ripe and full of potential. It grew as God intended and developed fully, I just wasn’t around to see it then.
Is the tomato worthless? Even tho it grew as intended just because I wasn’t there to see it or eat it?

I think only God can judge the value of the fruit, knowing that it reached its full potential and it grew just as it should. Once again we find that human perspective falls short of God’s view of value and worth.

In today’s story we might wonder what caused the disciples to ask Jesus to increase their faith? Were they feeling worthless? Their question comes right after Jesus warns them not to lead anyone astray. “Occassions for stumbling are bound to come, (he said) but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. . .(and Jesus told them they must forgive,) “even if the same person sins against them seven times a day and turns back to say, “I repent,” you must forgive.” (Luke 17:1-4)

? What must the disciples have been feeling after IMAGINING a huge stone (millstone) tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea. ?
? What must the disciples have been feeling after being told to forgive and to forgive again?

I suppose they were feeling “worthless” enough that they asked Jesus to “Increase our faith, Lord”.
It is easy to feel ‘worthless’
It is easy to feel ‘worthless’. You know the feeling, don’t you?
that feeling when it seems like you can do nothing right,
the feeling that you will never measure up to God’s expectations
the feeling that you aren’t worthy of church leadership, or even mentoring another Christian
the feeling that Christ “died for your sins” individually and that somehow YOU ALONE were the sole reason for his arrest, crucifixion, and death.

Some branches of Christianity seem to revel in pushing that kind of guilt on their members and it spills over into a generic understanding of Christianity. Seldom do we take the time to examine how the beliefs of early Brethren or even later Brethren theologians viewed Christ’s death or our own sense of guilt related to it. So then how ARE we to feel about our worth as children of God?
Are we merely slaves, required to do what is expected of us? As it says at the end of the text?

“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

Is this how Jesus meant us to feel?

Although there is a sense that as Christians we can’t expect to be thanked for each gracious thing we do. Following the behaviors Jesus’ set out in his interpretation of God’s law that says, “1st love God, with ALL you’ve got, then love your neighbor as yourself.” Means this is just the way we should live and we CAN’T and SHOULDN”T expect to be THANKED for it.

But we needn’t feel that we are worthless either. Remember we don’t have the same sense of being accustomed to the behavior of slaves and ‘thanks be to God’ for that! God’s view of our value, our worth, is different than a human perspective.

I think the beginning of today’s scripture tells us more about how we feel. We just need some help from the Lord. Even if it is just a little.
A mustard seed is not very big. (pull out the seeds) Describe mustard seed and indicated packets in pews where each person may have a seed.
When Jesus spoke of this particular seed he knew his listeners would know how small a single seed is.

Jesus says that even this very small amount of faith is enough to do great things. Is that as crazy as saying a spoiled fruit is as worthy in God’s eye as the fresh one?
Perhaps we need a different perspective on value.

Fruit is delicious when it is ripe. We all love a ripe tomato, a ripe orange, or a perfect apple – and the bigger the better!

It’s why so many still life paintings are of fruit. A big, ripe piece of fruit can make your mouth water.

Surprisingly, fruit and vegetables can still have worth even when they are shriveled and small. When a pepper gets dried like this one, it is still useful for putting in a big pot of chili and spicing it up.
And, When a fruit is left on the vine beyond its ripening point, its seeds develop fully allowing it to be the bearer of future potential.
Certain Seeds can even be food in themselves. In fact these mustard seeds can be used to make some very sweet BREAD & BUTTER pickles, even as tiny as they are.

If we look at the great potential built into the cycle of life, we find that we cannot determine value or worth merely by the looks we prefer or the stage of life most appealing to us. (HOLD UP ripe fruit.)

Mustard seed faith is not only small faith, it is faith in God and in God’s great cycle of life.
Mustard seed faith is trusting that what we CAN do, however small it seems, will fit into a larger plan.
Mustard seed faith takes the contingency of belief from being centered in our ability and puts it back where it belongs, on God’s plate.

Mustard Seed faith is the beginning of faith.
It allows us to take however much we can believe, whatever little thing we can do and make it enough because of who Christ is and what he has done.

How often have you read a scripture verse about having faith in Christ, and wondered if your faith was big enough? You see we tend to translate these passages as contingent on our ability to believe and when we face part of life where our faith seems very small, or even gone, we think “oh how unworthy I am” but if we read as far as the footnotes, we see that our translation needs adjusting according to the mustard seed principle.
…because of Christ’s faith… means that whatever we face isn’t dependent on the amount of faith WE have, but is only dependent on the amount of faith Christ had.

Therefore we hear Christ’s words, ‘if you have faith, if you only have faith the size of a mustard seed’ well then you can tell a plant, a tree, to pick up and move into the sea. Even a miracle of this size is not impossible to us, because what we lack, Christ has. This is God’s perspective on our worth -
Our faith; our mustard seed-size- faith - is enough.

And we are reminded of this when we lift up a very small piece of bread and recall “the life that was lived and broken for us”.

We are reminded when we pick up the smallest of cups and hear the words, “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood, drink it in remembrance of me”

These small symbols are big enough to remind us of Christ’s faith.

This mustard seed is big enough to remind us that we are enough, - worthy enough, to sit a Christ’s table, and to take on the work he left us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vacation Rain

It's raining in Florida today. I held back from the sun on Saturday so I wouldn't burn on our first day and it's starting to look like that was our sun for the week. Actually yesterday was nice, we just played golf in the morning and had a leisurely lunch indoors. I did get out to the beach for a few late afternoon hours. Late afternoon is my favorite time on the beach.

We had a great breakfast thanks to Liliana's wonderful cooking. Now a couple people are fishing and Steve went to swim in the rain. The sun is coming out but it's still raining. So here we sit.

I've looked at the lectionary texts since I'm preaching on Sunday and I've left the outline for the bulletin. Motivation for scripture study in preparation for some sermon writing might be helped by this rain. But then there's the Museum of Arts and Science in Daytona Beach that we are likely going to visit today. It has a large Cuban art display given to them by Batista just prior to his overthrow. I'm looking forward to seeing this display. I'll be thinking of Frank who reminds everyone that he is "BC" (Before Castro).

So here we are, having fun with our large group in spite of the rain. Yeah for WIFI and lots of good coffee.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Preaching Timothy

This is last week's meditation which I never got around to posting. I think it applies to all the Timothy texts showing up in the lectionary of late. You'll see I read past the verses for the day into the ones about women being silent in church. It's kinda obvious why I have a problem with this. .

"A Word About Preaching"

I enjoy preaching, yet there is a difficult part to preaching that you may never hear about. It’s called predictably, “preaching difficult texts” especially one that the preacher (personally) has a problem with. But there’s a discipline that comes with being a Lectionary Preacher that calls us to preach even those texts we find most difficult. It occurs to me that you too, have trouble with Biblical texts, perhaps for some of the same reasons.
This scripture in Timothy is one of those texts that I find very difficult. Actually, I tend to avoid Timothy whenever possible.

Yet all NT texts have something to say to us, we just have to decide how we will approach them. BEFORE I can hear what Timothy has to say, I have to understand the context. (You’ve heard me talk about the importance of context before.) It is VERY important if we are to ‘get anything’ from the somewhat strange instructions in this letter.
We don’t have time for all the details but let me summarize a few bits of Timothy’s context and you can always ask me questions later. (Whether or not I have the answers.
1st – Timothy is a psuedographical letter, it was not actually written by Paul. It was common in the 1&2nd century to write in someone else’s name to lend authority to what you were saying. This is not as ingenuous as you think. Imagine a painter learning to paint just like a master, possibly under the master artist’s tutelage. Imitation of the master was a way to be part of their “school”. It isn’t an exact comparison but it’s a good way to think of the letter unless you want to do more serious research.
2nd – The letter was written around 125 CE, actually up to 25 years on either side of that date, but we’ll pick a mid-point. This is 100 years after Jesus and times, and “the church” have changed!
3rd – These conclusions about author and time are confirmed by WHAT is written, which is our concern for today.

Timothy’s letters sound vastly different than Paul’s actual letters.

The concerns about behavior, church conduct, and church officers weren’t even dreamed of in Paul’s day. The content then is an important clue for context.

You can be sure that if a certain behavior is PRESCRIBED, then it was NOT the behavior currently found in the church. (Or else why would you write to someone about the behavior?) The specific language used is another clue, but is harder to see in the English translations so let’s just look at content.
3 Concerns come across in these letters purported to be to Timothy:

1. The church’s organization is described as a Hierarchal household with the Father, or Chief patron at the top, and all the children, siblings, women, and slaves stretched out below. This would later become the actual hierarchy in the Roman Church (we know as Roman Catholic) but in Paul’s day, he wrote about small house churches and the equality of all, even slaves and masters. (Remember Philemon?) We have only to turn to Philippians 4:2-3 to see that women were a key part of his ministry and the early church.
" I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life."

            So the first thing we notice about content, is that something has changed drastically since the first decades after Jesus.
2. The church in Timothy, is also the guardian of ‘official’ doctrine. In Paul’s day, doctrine was almost non-existent. In fact, it was from Paul’s writings that the later church developed doctrines.
            When someone writes about the importance of a single way of believing, you can be sure there are other ideas around.
Early Christianity had a plethora of ways of thinking and ways of practicing the “Jesus Way”. There have been many books written in recent years about the “winners” and “losers” of those arguments. We know that some arguments continued to develop for a century and ended up dissolving ‘THE church’ into 2 - WESTERN Christian Church and the EASTERN Church (900 years later.)
3. The content of this letter is Prescriptive of desired behaviors, NOT Descriptive of current behaviors. The author writes about what he wants and from that we can infer what is actually occurring.
If we read further into Timothy,

            "I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."

You see my problem. We can be sure that an instruction saying ‘women should be silent’ means that women were speaking as equals in the church. Why was that important? Because 100 years after Christ, Christians were trying to fit into the dominant culture, not stand apart from it.
For the author of Timothy, it was important Christians to live quiet, peaceful, respectful lives as good citizens of the empire so that tensions with the dominant culture would cease.
In time, due to similar pressures, women disappeared from church leadership completely. The ‘equality of all’ developed into a hierarchy of bishops and priests. And the church changed.

It took from 150 to 1950 for the church to involve women as leaders again. At least that’s when the COB began to ordain women. Some denominations are still not there. It took many years after NT letters were written for the church to hear God’s inspiration regarding slavery. And it took years until people like Alexander Mack were convinced that simple living and the equality of members was true to Jesus’ teaching.

God finds ways to speak through God’s people so we will hear the word needed for the day. This makes God’s word always relevant. We call it the “continuing revelation”. It has always been important in the brethren world to show what we believe by our actions. Like St. Francis of Assisi said,
“PREACH THE Gospel WORD ALWAYS, when necessary use words.”

In the Church of the Brethren we try to balance ‘tradition’ or what was done or ‘heard’ in the past with what is being heard now. It takes years for us to hear. 

You can find many Annual Conference decisions that were non-decisions or decisions to NOT DECIDE YET. Because the wise elders knew that acting in haste is not the way to listen to God’s continuing revelation.

The hardest place to be is in an in=between time, when the spirit-inspired voice is heard by some, but not all. Ask any woman who heard the call to ministry before 1950 and they will tell you how hard it was to try to live out their call, when their church didn’t recognize it.
Read the Martyr’s Mirror of people burned at the stake because “the church” couldn’t understand their desire to be baptized by immersion. Read the stories of slaves who went to their grave counting on Heaven’s goodness to make up for the evils they experienced in this life.

‘In-between’ is the most difficult place to be.

We are in an in-between time again. I believe the Spirit is speaking and has been heard in many places. Arlington COB is one of those places. We are a place that has learned to live easily with differences of sexual and gender orientation. I am sure we don’t all agree or understand the issue in its completeness, but we DO AGREE to live together in love and unity, putting the mission of sharing Christ’s love and compassion above our incomplete understanding.
Those who can hear the Spirit’s voice more clearly need to speak now, as hard as that is to do. And those who can’t hear as clearly but believe in love’s priority, need to speak in support of our brothers and sisters.

In this in-between time, the COB needs to hear from us. In the upcoming listening process, our voices – plural – are KEY to helping this denomination stay together and learn to live together. Even if you think you don’t have a story to share, your experience right HERE, can open eyes and ears in fearful circles.
Our voices, speaking at hearings and in letters, need to share the context we’ve experienced so God’s spirit can continue to reveal the Jesus’ Way for today. THIS is the way WE PREACH THE WORD, balancing spirit-inspiration, & tradition.

This letter to Timothy balanced the revelation of the day with the need to accommodate society’s requirements so that Christianity could flourish. We can criticize it or we can listen for the message that comes through their context.

If we listen, rather than discard this teaching, we will hear the instruction to pray for ALL PEOPLE, making supplications, intercessions and thanksgiving for EVERYONE. And if we FOLLOW this advice,
what we hear,
what we pray and
what we PREACH, will surely be inspired by God’s Spirit.

May God use each of us in ways that “preach the word”.


I have another week of vacation beginning on Thursday, with my off day moved and tacked onto the week. I love taking this last week of September, even if we are going south and it will be hotter. But taking this week reminds me how hard it is to be away in Sept. Even with a smaller congregation, there are program starts and things to do. The fact that our week away ends with World Communion Sunday and I have to come back prepared, means extra work before leaving and probably a sermon while I'm away. (I don't see that getting written today!) District Conference is the week after and all those October start programs begin next. How crazy is that?
Add a good crisis or two in the world and we have this week. It makes vacation look good. Still, I lose sleep over the things that won't get done, merely because there are not enough days left for the situation to resolve. Now for the good news; a congregation of caregivers! These folks at ACOB are really generous with there time and efforts to help wherever they can. So I may have to limited looking at my phone and email, but I know congregational life will be in good hands, the hands of a caring congregation! How cool is that?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oh Dear Timothy

1 Timothy 2 & Luke 16:1-13 - You might overhear any number of preachers this week groaning a prayer, "Oh dear God, what do I do with this/these texts?" And here I am blogging instead of finishing the sermon which indicates my own difficulties. So tomorrow I will take some time for "A Word About Preaching" and the discipline of lectionary preaching, along with the importance of understanding context for biblical interpretation. That will help us hear Timothy, but what about Luke's "Dishonest Manager"?

I will see where the next couple hours take me on the road to "Preaching the Word". I'd like to travel into the alternate universe of Michael Creighton's Timeline. Because if I could look into Jesus' eyes as he told this story, and hear his inflection when he says, "And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. ." then perhaps I could better interpret this text.

Meanwhile, Joel Green's insights in the New International commentary on the NT and a few from Feasting on the Word will have to help me limp along.

(Plus a little help from my Sermon Writing itunes mix!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where Do We Fit In The Story? Luke 15:1-10

Where do you fit into the story of the lost sheep?
        Can you imagine being the owner of 100 sheep?
               We’d be Fairly rich for those days, to own 100 sheep.
                    How much would we be willing to risk the whole flock for just one?
 Are you the seeker who goes after that lost sheep? -OR-
         Are you the sheep?
                Can you feel the joy of finding it? And bringing it home on your shoulders?
                     Are you the neighbors who share the joy and comes to the party?           

We assumed in part of our prayer that we are the lost sheep and feel comforted that God seeks US, when we have strayed. We can be excited that there is GREAT rejoicing when we are found. THIS is true, no doubt. Yet there is much more to the story. Jesus’ parables are always ‘more than meets the eye’ or ear.
He begins with a question we can’t even hear. “Which of you having 100 sheep would leave 99 to go after the lost one?” Let me phrase it differently.  “Which of you having 100 dollars would leave the $99, unguarded, to go off in search of a dollar?”

            The most likely answer is, “none of us”. We’d cut our losses and keep the $99, forgetting the dollar as too insignificant to chase after. (Certainly when the object is a penny, we are unlikely to even exert the effort to search in a pew for a single penny.)

So the first surprise in the story, is the owner or shepherd (we are not sure which) considers the SINGLE LOST SHEEP of such importance that he goes after it. Jesus tells us that in God’s Divine Economy a SINGLE ONE is valuable, every single one.

The parallel story of the woman with 10 coins is also surprising. While we might understand searching for 1 dollar out of 10, we don’t usually picture GOD as a WOMAN tearing the house apart with a broom and sweeping until she finds the lost coin.
In fact, this is the ONLY New Testament story that pictures God, presumably the seeker, as a woman.
For those of you reading The Shack in Sunday School, you might be able to see God this way easier than the rest of us.

There is even another surprise within the context of a woman’s household. If this was an area where many women were in and out of each other’s homes, there is a potential threat that someone might have taken the coin.
We all know the experience of doubting and wondering if we’ve been victimized when we aren’t sure if something is ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’. This dimension could add some real rejoicing AND repentance (for our doubt) to the party when the coin is FOUND and the assurance comes that it was actually lost so there is no thief in the community.

Context is always important for Biblical understanding. Jesus is hanging out (AND EATING WITH) ‘tax collectors and sinners’; ALL of them, according to Luke’s telling, which is threatening to the elite in the audience.
Jesus tells the parables to the Pharisees, the religious literalists, and to the scribes, the most educated of his day who are also the attorneys. And they have been ‘grumbling’ because they don’t like this mixing of classes. After all, The LAW commands separation of those who are religiously clean from the unclean. In fact, the interpretation of the LAW says, that inviting a tax collector into your house makes the whole house unclean.

Jesus (somewhat surprisingly) is both defending his table partners AND interpreting God’s priorities. It’s a message we hear in the gospels in many ways. “The community is not whole, when any one part is missing.”[i]
In HIS interpretation of Divine Economy, purity doesn’t come from separation by type, but by inclusion of everyone for whom God seeks.
We need reminding of this Divine Economy regularly. Those called “sinners” in our text are people living outside of the law. We can guess that the people around Jesus have ‘repented’ and turned to a new way of living.
Jesus redefines categories that set context OVER content; who you are (male/female, Pharisee/taxcollector) Jesus says, is not as important as being found and restored to God.

We might be surprised that we have another place in the story.
We can join God in seeking the lost. This fits into traditional categories of seeking and saving that we are used to hearing. What we must also hear is Jesus’ emphasis because it is a bit different than what we hear in traditional Christian talk of salvation.
Saving is primarily focused on the individual. It’s about power residing in the one doing the saving. While WELCOMING is about the intimacy of eating at the same table. WELCOMING is focused on the community being whole and complete.[ii] Viewing some as in need of saving creates an imbalance of power that puts us into the same shoes as the Pharisees and Scribes. Inviting someone to our table equalizes or balances the community and brings everyone into God’s fold.

Divine Economy is a balanced economy of equality before God.

Perhaps it is time to ask again, “Where do we fit into the story?”
Are we still in need of being found? Or are we the inviters, setting the table for those coming to repentance?
Unfortunately, the widely-publicized Christian community is often as exclusive as the Pharisees and Scribes. I read a story by Penny Nixon this week where --
a Christian church refused to give communion to people wearing rainbow sashes, “Indicating their solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.
A person who WAS offered Communion took his wafer and began to break it into pieces to share it with those who had been denied and deemed unworthy. The church officials, (the religious insiders,) called the police.[iii]

Where do WE fit into the story?

This week’s news blasts have challenged many Christians to answer that question. Some have cringed to hear Christianity identified with one pastor in FLA who threatened to burn a Qur’an yesterday on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Maybe your co-workers or neighbors had something to say about it. . .
Maybe you commented on it too.
            I wonder if our neighbors know we are Christians so instead of Rev. Jones as the IMAGE of what a Christian is, they have US as an IMAGE OF A CHRISTIAN. ?

I keep asking where does Pastor Jones and his ideas of exclusion fit into this story about lost and found? (b/c I’m convinced it does)
If Divine Economy includes a party for the lost, who are the invited guests today?

In each of Jesus’ 2 stories, the lost ‘object’ is dependent on the Seeker’s DILIGENCE in order to be found.[iv]
The lost sheep is immobilized by fear and unable to make a sound or move from the extensive weeds it has wandered into. It is stuck and can only WAIT to be found.
The coin just lies there, without voice or movement, whether in a corner or under a hymnal, a coin can’t contribute to its own ‘salvation’.
God seeks the lost, without condition of their wanting to be found - - -yet we know  there is a role in the story for repentance.

Once found, some sheep will wander away again, others will TURN and follow the shepherd. We get caught in Jesus’ puzzling images wondering how all the pieces fit into these stories. -?-

There IS a Divine Economy that puts the highest value on repentance. Thedefinition of repent is ‘to turn around’. “The TRUE NATURE of repentance is not to FEEL bad but to change one’s mind.”[v]

Perhaps today’s Divine Party (then) includes rejoicing over one pastor who ‘changed his mind’.
(and) Is our biggest challenge to invite even Rev. Jones to our table?
Even this one who made us cringe and want keep our distance as Christians.-?-

If God’s RADICAL HOSPITALITY is represented in these stories by inviting ALL to rejoice that the lost are found;
 all our family, friends, and neighbors, including the LOST ones, shouldn’t our table include, even those with whom we disagree when they have ‘turned around’?

Now that we are all turned around in these stories, what might also ask, “If we define the ‘lost’ as those whom God seeks, how do we define the found?”

I think that Jesus purposefully makes it difficult for us to answer that question. It may be that it is not our question to answer.
Whether we stay with these 2 stories about sheep and coins, or read on to the son  (we know as the prodigal) who gets ‘lost’ and then returns
‘when he FINDS himself and is FOUND by his father’,
we encounter challenging definitions of God’s ECONOMY;
            Value is placed on one penny out of 100.
            Value is placed on the people who are known to cheat others.
            Value is placed on the helpless who can’t find their way to repentance on their own.
            Value is placed on a son’s return even after he’s done the MOST despicable things in our eyes and received coverage by all the world’s press corp.
People, of all kinds are VALUED so highly in God’s Divine Economy that a party is thrown for the whole neighborhood when even ONE of these is ‘found’.

Where do we fit in the story?
            as lost?
            As found?
            As seeker?
            As rejoicer?
It’s your question and its mine, where do we fit in God’s Divine Economy?

[i] Scott Bader-Saye Feasting on the Word Bartlett and Taylor, eds. Theological (Louisville, WJK, 2010) p. 70
[ii] G. Penny Nixon  Feasting on the Word, Bartlett & Taylor eds, Homiletical (Louisville, WJK, 2010) p. 71
[iii] ibid p. 71
[iv] Scott Bader-Saye ibid, p. 70
[v] G. Penny Nixon ibid p. 73