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Holy Learning, Modeling Faith

For a few years now, our youth have been faithful in their service to our neighbors living on the streets of DC.  We go through an incredible organization led by an incredibly faithful man – Teens Opposing Poverty founded by Steve Jennings.  You can learn more by visiting their website at www.teensopposingpoverty.org.

Seldom do we have the same the group of young people going to DC on the 2nd Sunday that is ours and has come to be expected by our friends living on 18th and Pennsylvania.  And, despite this reality, rarely do we do training.  Sure, we plot out the rules each time like telling them to go in 3′s and be in an ear/eyeshot from an adult.  But, hardly do we ever tell them exactly how to do the service.

Why is it that we don’t feel the need to go over the mechanics on how to serve or give a little script on asking the right questions?  I think the reason is because we trust the process.  Our service is highly relational.  The goal is not about the number of folks we serve or the timeliness in completing it. It is about being relational with those who are in need, with those whom we are serving with and even those whom passby and ask us what we are doing.

Being relational, requires us to let things happen as they will and allow natural leaders model the faith practices they have acquired (even if they are experts by  coming just one time before).  We foster an immersion experience that kids learn by just getting it.  They observe.  They study.  They watch.  All from their peers leading and adults cheering them.  It is Holy Learning, where faith is caught instead of taught and discipleship is modeled because someone (the youth group friend and often times the one living on the street) invited the other to journey alongside.

And, the seeminly out of the bounds behavior in DC suddenly becomes second nature and a simple matter of being a Christian.  And it often looks this – It becomes ordinary to introduce yourself to someone occupying a park bench with all their possessions at their feet by asking if they need underwear.  Reunion happens with the woman who has just told you her latest conspiracy theory while pulling out her amazing artwork, and it feels a lot like embracing a long lost cousin.  Right across the world bank, the world does come together when black and white, rich and poor, young and old circle up and pray.

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Boundaries – a Sermon on David and Bathsheba

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Logos Worship Skills Activities

lift-youth-worshipThe blessing of implementing LOGOS ministry for our Wednesday night youth programming is the intentionality of reserving time for developing gifts to be used in worship.  It is the time in which we can encourage our kids to prepare their Best Gifts to be offered in worship.   Some of our kids learn bells, other band pieces, produce art and often times drama and visual art.  Here’s a sampling of one dramatic piece for Jesus’ Transfiguration in Matthew.  The other piece is a Visual Art and Dramatic action piece for Psalm 51 that will be used for this year’s Ash Wednesday. 

Tableaux of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-13

General Needs – Two folks to hold sheet to mask the scenes getting ready, step stool, chair and mirror.

Scene 1 – We begin with no curtain with 4 actors. (verses 1/2) and chair for Jesus to stand on.

Climbing the Mountain – use a step stool.  Need a box for Jesus to stand on.  Jesus on top of box extends hands to show brightness. Stage right of Jesus the step ladder is in place, where one person is on top step, the next on the bottom trying to make another step, and another is on the ground stepping with one foot.

Scene 2 – Curtain Goes up until all is set and Pastor Jessica pauses. (verses 3-7) total Actors 7.  Need step stool and mirror.

Keep Step Stool, where someone with a mirror as face points down to Jesus.  Moses and Elijah and Jesus are talking. Peter is acting like he is holding a hammer while bowing a bit.  The two other disciples fall to knees in front of Jesus on the side of Peter.

Scene 3 – Curtain goes up until all is set and Pastor Jessica stops.  (verses 7/8) NO Step Stool Here!

All 3 disciples kneeling.  Jesus standing with one hand on Peter in the middle and other hand raised with palm up.

Scene 4 – FINAL Scene Curtain is up until all is set and Pastor Jessica stops.  (verses 9-13) NEED Step Stool.

Instead of going up the step stool the three disciples are now descending.  So repeat first scene this time going down steps.  Jesus is leading them and is on the group.  He turns back to talk to them but with a “shhh” finger in front of his mouth.

 

 

Psalm 51 Visual Art and Drama Interpretation for an Ash Wednesday Service

                    Goal – create simple poster board drawings with 3-4 words for each pericope to be written upon  posterboard.  (Your group may like to choose different words than listed)Total pericopes are 4 sections/groups– verses 1-6; 7-12; 13-17; 18-19.  The ideal group size for each pericope is 3-4.  There will need to be one narrator who will read Psalm 51.  One person from each pericope will hold up the sign when their passage is read.  The remainder of the group will use dramatic action to illustrate the passage.  It is ideal to have the poster board bearer elevated somewhat from the dramatic presenters.  Dramatic presenters should be wise in being overly dramatic in presenting their action as prompted by the text.

 

  1. Pericope I – Psalm 51:1-6 
    1. Words on Posterboard – Wash Me; Cleanse me; Have Mercy on Me
    2. Dramatic Action – Arms up and face lifted (Mercy/Wash); Hand covering eyes and other arm extended out with hand making stop sign while on one bended knee (Sin against); kneeling with both legs and arms made to look like cradling a child (Behold/Mercy)
    3. Actions should take place when the presenter hears their action verb.  Keep at position until the whole Psalm is read.  Silent, still

 

  1. Pericope II – Psalm 51:7-12
    1. Words on Poster board – Purge me with hyssop, create clean heart; Restore Joy
    2. Dramatic Action – Use hands almost holding a sword to pierce the body  while kneeling on ground(purge me);  Standing use hands to shape a circle in the air then draw the hands to rest on the heart (create clean heart); Jump with arms and legs extended out and when landed head up, smile, with one arm extended upward and the other crossed over chest (Restore joy).
    3. Actions should take place when the presenter hears their action verb.  Keep at finished position until the whole Psalm is read.  Be silent and still.

 

  1.  Pericope III – Psalm 51:13-17
    1. Words on Posterboard – Deliver Me; Open  my lips for Praise, broken spirit/heart for you
    2. Dramatic Action – Reaching up as to catch a child lift back foot up as if extending your reach and hands should look like a cradle (Deliver Me); Cup mouth like preparing to shout while on teepy toes (Open my lips); with one knee bent and raised use arms/hands to pretend to break a stick (broken spirit/heart)
    3. Actions should take place when the presenter hears their action verb.  Keep at finished position until the whole Psalm is read.  Be silent and still.

 

  1.  Pericope IV – Psalm 51:18-19 (just need two folks for this one)
    1. Words on Poster board – Delight in right sacrifices
    2. Dramatic Action – squatting with legs and make motion as if warming hands/starting fire and then bring hands out as if the fire caught and is going up in the air

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Ovations on the Journey

End of year, time of reflection
wanderings of how and why and what.
Questions and silent wrestlings with life’s calling
only to be reminded it is irrestible.

Shiny awards may not reach the office back wall.
Affirmation of one’s heart and soul delight is of subtle tones.
In hospital rooms and detention centers,
in coffee shops and school auditoriums,
on retreat and mission trip,
while playing and praying,
in meetings, meetings, meetings.
Grace happens, love dances, holy comes
God suprises – even me.

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Christmas Eve Prayer 2011

Here we are Gracious, Loving God, Christmas once again.   We have sung our sweet anthems and lullabies like years past.  We have heard familiar passages of the tender, sweet Holy Family complete with unexpected birthing inn, shepherds invading birth’s immediacy and intimacy and wisemen bearing seemingly impractical yet foretelling gifts.  We are twirling candle holders waiting for the magic of its light to wear on our faces shortly.  Yet in coming to the familiarity of this place and story, we want to know that this Holiest of Nights is one that still changes us and the world.  Emmanuel, we may even dare to ask – are you really with us? 

 As we gather in the sacred walls of this sanctuary, hungering and thirsting for the good news of Christmas, we know the world around still ticks and moves with all the things we can barely stand to name.  Wars are still raging.  Soldiers and innocents still losing life and limb as we trade violence.   Famine still ravishes.  Children still die of hunger and preventable disease.  Poverty still crushes.  Oppression still binds.  Genocide kills still silently.  Hate still mongers fear and prejudice.  Creation still aches from daily damage.  Families are still yet divided and dysfunction from the tiniest of relationship between siblings to the squabbling in the halls of our government to our warring global neighbors. 

We still sin; we still are in Sin.  We still are not completely one with one another nor with you, brother baby Jesus, Our Lord and Savior.

So, how did those gathered in a simple barn do it?  You were just a baby born poor, in occupied land, to a people looking for political revolution, redemption and restored kingdom.  You were just a baby wrapped in simple cloths torn from his mother’s clock with straw for a bed.  How could your mother, Mary, then sing of justice?  How could your father, Joseph, show righteousness?  How could shepherds leave livelihoods to trek out in hope to see Love Come Down?  How could armies of angels in the middle of a field to poor, oppressed shepherds sing of Peace?  After all, he was just a little baby and the world that they all knew still ticked and turn with the things that they, too, could barely speak.

But, You were a just baby, and though sweet and tender, cooing and suckling, the whole of your life was still to unfold.  Jesus, you were a baby holding in the strength of your infant’s fists all the Promises of God.  And so, it was enough to see you face to face and know that you indeed have come to be among us.  It was enough in seeing you face to face that your beginning to make your real your kingdom on earth.  It was enough in seeing you face to face to hear your No ringing out against Hate, Violence, Oppression, Division, War, Poverty, Hunger, Injustice, and all Cruelty and Brutality.  It was enough in seeing you, Jesus, face to face to know at the moment you were knitting together ours and the whole world’s salvation, peace and grace.

Emmanuel, make it enough for us, too, in seeing the babe face to face to know with all the assurance of Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the Magi and the host of Angels – that You have come again to make it all right, to bring your kingdom, to shower us with salvation and that you are working out your promises.  In the holy babe name, Sweet Jesus, Amen.

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Down the Mountain

Down the Mountain – Matthew 8:1-17

A real treat awaited you when we climbed the top of the hill of my family farm.  Taking the path that was dug into the ground by tractor wheels, winding up past fields of corn, hay and straw and the raspberry bushes that could either snag your legs or delight you with sweet berries, up on the highest on the point – you can see pretty far off in the distance.  If we were collecting hay that day, oh what a view to be seen on top of the hay wagon.  On top of my family farm, you can see my entire hometown.  In the distant, you can see the only stoplight that greeted the intersection where two gas stations are placed in the corners.   The post office, the old video store, my doctor’s office – all can be picked out.  Further off still is the original yard of Eighty Four Lumber along with it’s warehouses, office buildings and employee baseball fields.  Houses known and some not can be glimpsed from the hill top.  Trucks and cars moving all about look like ants bustling off to a variety directions and purposes.  The best views from on top my family farm were on those days in which you could recline on those hay bales to look out and see wide and far but also up to the sky that seemed within arm’s reach.  When it was a good and clear day, the view just right, beautiful, breath taking really –

  1. I could see far enough to the outside rim of the town;
  2. I could see wide enough the circle of the community;
  3. I could see the whole, big picture; I could see on top of the hill I was just one small part of a much bigger place (even in a small town);
  4. I could see that I was in the very presence and embrace of God as it seemed for me as a child I could reach up and touch the rim of the heavens robbed in the glory of the sky pressing in closer to me.

 

 

It is good to have the top view, right?  Maybe you have been on a top of real, big mountain?  You could today drive up to the Bluemont Vineyard and be greeted with a fantastic view at over 900 feet above sea level.  Perhaps, you climbed the top point of one of our city’s skyscrapers and stood in those observation decks to get your view of the city below and the scenery beyond you.  The view from the top is one that is far and wide – making it both unique and different from being on the corner where the stop light is and also from those bird eye view pictures from aerial photography.

****

Jesus has been on the mountain.  Preaching, teaching, beatitude giving, Jesus was on the mount with the crowds that had stopped what they were doing to hear what he may say.  Salt of the Earth.  Light of the world.  You have heard it say, Jesus said, only to expand the letter of the law to greater love commandment.  Don’t worry.  Today  brings enough troubles of its own. You can pray then in this way – Our Father in heaven…  Judgment and forgiveness, treasure and trust, boldness in prayer and humility in righteousness.  Words to build a foundation on.

 

And, we are told the crowds sitting on mountain with Jesus were in awe, astounded by what he taught them.  Do you wonder in their astonishment if they caught a glimpse of the town, perhaps Capernaum, below?  Did they take a moment to allow their eyes to wonder to see the view from on the mountaintop with Jesus?  Did they take in the big and wide view that the top provides?  Did they see way out to find their house, to see the rim of their town, to notice their small part in a bigger picture?  And, in being on the mountain in arm’s reach of the very presence of God- not just in the cloudy heaven above- but in Jesus, do you wonder like me that  maybe they secretly desired that they may not have to go down the mountain and that Jesus may just stay up there with them forever?

***

 

It is good to be on the mountaintop, with Jesus.  I know I have spent countless summers on mission trips to far off places and weeks of church camp desiring that I may not have trek down the mountain back to the valley of my life.   If I didn’t have to leave Charleston or Malawi or Washington, DC or New Wilmington Mission Conference, my faith would be so big, my steps with God would be more in sync (to borrow a phrase from Martha Grace Reese), my ear and heart could be pick the vibrations of God’s Spirit in my life.  But, seldom if ever, do we see Jesus in scripture say let’s stay and enjoy the view.  Jesus goes down the mountain.

And, Jesus encounters one that can’t be seen from on top of the mountain.  One that requires Jesus and the crowd to leave the top view and exchange for new lens, a new view of things. 

  • It is a view that necessitates the eye to adjust to a messier, busier and less clear kind of a landscape.  It is a view that sifts through and in between. 
  • It is a view that is deeply engaged – a down in it all kind of a perspective. 
  • It is a view that is intimate, personal, eyeball to eyeball.  It is a view that meddles in all the details rather than above them.  
  • It is a view that allows room for Jesus to touch the leper, to say the word that could command the healing of the Centurion’s servant and that even can invite a healed woman into service, ministry.

***

 

In Easter Season and on Ordination Sunday, we may be feeling a lot more like up on the mountain with Jesus – if only liturgically speaking.  With the Empty Tomb, Risen Lord, the laying on of hands, Spirit being poured out, we may be wishing never to leave the mountain that Jesus has met us.  Do we really have to go down, Jesus?

But, as some of you are being called out and for the ministry of the church today and as all of us open our ears so to hear what next step God is calling us to take, Jesus’ trek down the mountain invites us to take hold and see the view Jesus is asking of us.  Who is it that Jesus would have us see to touch?  Who is that Jesus would have us see so to say a word to?  Who is it that Jesus would have us see to invite to be a disciple so to share in ministry together?

***

 

 It was Bill’s Birthday one Wednesday at the Agape Soup Kitchen.  I knew Bill in the heat of one unusually warm NJ summer.  Bill would sneak away to find the one in charge so to ask the same request each Wednesday.  He always needed underwear and pants.  Bill, homeless, hungry, sometimes drunk, not usually clean, needed new underwear and pants each week because he had a colostomy bag.  He was too embarrassed to say it out loud or to one of the teens working the clothing closet.  Bill kept to himself, came later to avoid the rush and crowds, ate quietly, looked out for a table in which he didn’t have to sit with anyone else and hoped each Wednesday for a meal along with some new pants and underwear.  This was most Wednesdays – except for his Birthday.  He came in loud and with full joy.  He came into the Soup Kitchen announcing that it was HIS Birthday!  He told anyone who would listen.  He made lots of noise about it.   He came in with the crowd cheering on his Birthday.  No one could resist all the noise and celebration.  Lots of folks went to offer words of Happy Birthday that brought smiles to his mouth. Others went to extend their arms for a good Birthday Hug which he even opened his arms so to receive their touch.  He welcomed others and made room for more to sit with him that day so to have a birthday party at his soup kitchen table.  And, on this Wednesday, on his Birthday, he did not ask for pants and underwear.  Bill needed a touch and a word of love that could open his own heart to allow others in and to welcome at his table.

It is only down from the mountain that we can see the Bills of our world crying out, even just on their Birthdays.  Coming down the mountain with Jesus invites us to switch out our mountaintop lenses for valley bi-focals.  So that we may see who is it that Jesus would have us see to touch?  Who is that Jesus would have us see so to say a word to?  Who is it that Jesus would have us see to invite to be a disciple so to share in ministry together?

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Easter bunny and egg deprivation…my kids will turn out okay, right?

easterbunnyI gave this Call to Worship during the Praise Service at St. A on Easter Sunday. 

Call to Worship – Easter Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Greetings and welcome to St. Andrew.  Happy Easter.  I am Pastor Jessica.  I am also mom to Evan – a very energetic and curious 4 year old boy that collects star wars figures and Camrynn – a tender hearted two year old girl whose favorite color is pink and knows all names of the Disney Princesses.  I am thankful each Sunday for my husband Andy is a single parent on many of those mornings and afternoons and slew of week nights. 

It is a funny thing being both mom and pastor that has required a lot of on-the-job training. There is no seminary class offered for how to conduct a worship service when your infant begins wailing from the back wanting their mommy.  There is not a continuing education event for how to discipline your child while leading the children’s moment, presiding over communion or offering a public prayer. And, I  am waiting to find the article in a professional magazine about what to do when your child confuses the church for your home.   Because there has never been a moment in which I was not both a mom and a pastor, these all have happened.  My kids do spend an inexubertant amount in the church, they do see the kitchen as an extension of their own kitchen at home, they do cry for me when separation anxiety kicks back in and sometimes they can’t wait to have communion and take an early bite.   

But, I can’t imagine this, messy life of being a mommy pastor any way other.  It is a deep privilege that my children are growing up in the big arms of the church community that help to communicate to and for them – How Much God Loves Them!  (Even, when they are being naughty!)  It is a profound kind of thing to watch how being saturated in the body of Christ – complete with it’s liturgy and the stories of God working out God’s promises –  is permeating their own stories and their experience in knowing God.  It is a good thing that this is so because it means it’s not just up to me and Andy.  They’ve got a whole family of faith signing Jesus Loves Me 

Just Friday night following our moving Good Friday service after Andy managed to get two overly tired out the door so go to bed, our music director Doug asked me whether the Kids were excited for Easter.  The question prompted me to stop a minute.  Ready for what I asked?  The fanfare – egg hunts, Easter Bunny bringing baskets of goodies.   Well, not really I thought.

You know it wasn’t as if Andy and I sat down long ago to make an intentional decision about how to handle Easter.  It all just kind of happened.   Holy Week services, up at the crack of dawn Easter Sunrise and then two more services to follow – that’s Easter for us.  Too busy, to kind of plan out how to squeeze in the other things really.  I am not sure if they know the Easter Bunny brings the basket or hides the eggs.  The baskets don’t come to our house until late afternoon and the only egg hunt is the one at church.  I must confess that this year Evan got his picture with the Easter Bunny in Ohio thanks to Papaw.

But, that’s okay.   Evan and Cami are being immersed in bigger narrative that surrounds and gives meaning to all the other stuff of Easter.  They begun this Lenten journey by  playing in the ashes from Ash Wednesday, they dined with Jesus at his Last Supper and were free enough to come and hug the one presiding at the Lord’s Table and they were drenched in the dark (and rain) of Good Friday.  In their play of the sacred, I am beginning to witness they are seeing that at Easter God is at work to make something new.  God is saying no cross – you will not be the last word.  God is readying a surprise.  And, just like that Easter egg when opened, oh what a sweet, sweet reward inside.   An empty tomb!  Jesus Lives!  He is Risen!  Will you all join me in telling them and all the children of God about it?  Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen!

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Stop, Go and Reconcile – Matthew 5:21-37

Stop, Go and Reconcile – Text- Matthew 5:21-37 – Preached on 2/20/2011

Preacher Carol Howard Merritt tells a story from her college days at conservative bible college.  She tells of a hall mate who in suffering from bulimia would take her binge urges out on the common refrigerator.  This caused much strife and discord to the community of girls living on Carol’s dormitory floor.  Well, someone grew tire of loss leftovers and tried to deal with this the best way bible college kids know how – with some scripture.  Carol says that on one morning when she reached for the milk for her coffee from the common fridge she was greeted by a note taped to the refrigerator’s door.  Quoting our scripture today – it said (in bold red letters like red coded bible to indicate the words of Jesus) – if your hand causes you to sin, CUT IT OFF.  Below the sign was taped a serrated-edge knife – in case one wanted to live out the literalism of text.

Are these words from Jesus akin to the sign on that fridge in Carol Merritt’s dorm?  Too much hyperbole?  Way out of reach for us today? Dangerous if taken literally?  Certainly not words that we can easily apply to our lives, right?  

So is this the kind of text that we can simply pass over as antiquated or passé because Jesus’ time and Matthew’s church is not our own?  Much like the times we read the rule oriented texts in the Old Testament, like Leviticus,  that seem to cause our eyes to glaze over.  Are they for us – an impossible set of rules that seem out of reach for us to live out much like those old rules of the Israelite community that told the people of God in the Promised Land how to eat, wash, make offering, etc. 

Well, to be sure there are plenty of differences from the time and context of this passage.  For example, the rules of divorce then would routinely leave women in a place of abandonment in a patriarchal context.  It is likely because of the ethic of Jesus in the gospels that our divorce law today seeks to ensure abandonment doesn’t happen.    But, to be sure also, we share much with the faith community in which Matthew’s gospel was read and lived out. We are trying, like Matthew’s church, to be the community of God living out the promises of Jesus in tangible ways and as a witness to the one (Jesus) we follow. 

And, as the church today just like Matthew’s one we mess up big time.  We like Matthew’s church have internal squabbling and conflict.  We like Matthew’ church deal with the consequential effects of anger that tarnish our witness.  We, like Matthew’s church, lust over things we want to have – a better marriage, a kid like the neighbor’s, a parent like our friend’s or a teacher from school – and the hidden lust in our hearts begin to cause our light to grow dim.  We, like Matthew’s church and Moses’ people in OT reading, don’t always get the answer right when God asks us to choose life.  We follow after a plethora of gods and miss out.  We miss out on the blessing God poured out on those on the verge of entering the Promise Land and the same kind of one that Jesus wants to shower us with in the promises of the Beatitudes.   

****

 Jesus in these teachings, the  Sermon the Mount, is talking about the how community that will bear his name, Christians, are to live out the kingdom of God that he came to tell and bring about.  (REPEAT),

Jesus just told us we are salt to the earth and a light to the world.  If saltiness is who we are and light is how we are to be Jesus in our passage today is putting meat and flesh – depth-ness –to  how we are salt and light.  Jesus is telling us how they’ll know we are Christians.  Jesus is laying out what discipleship looks like by telling us the how of following.  And what we can say after hearing these words from Jesus – It ain’t easy.           

Jesus teaches – You have heard it said before – but, I say …. 

Using this little linguistic device, Jesus is broadening the scope of the rules his community knew best.  Not just murder – but the anger that leads and causes loss of life.  There is no doubt that Jesus is upping the ante on the 10 commandments.  But, We can also be sure that his disciples weren’t going around with eye patches due to loss of eyes or maimed hands as proofs of their living to the level of commandment keeping Jesus is asking his followers to live.  So, what are we to make of Jesus’ going beyond the letter of the law- Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not swear….  To the deeper and fuller aspects of those law that we certainly do  – we do get angry, our marriages fail, our culture is highly sexualized, we lie and fall down to the idols of our day. 

  • So, is Jesus just condemning us to tell us how much we are in need of the inexhaustible grace that God offers in which we can’t earn? 
  • Or, is Jesus moving the church to the same kind of literal, legalism that he criticizes the religious folks of his day?     

It is neither – Jesus doesn’t throw out the law for grace nor give grace without judgment.  Jesus knows we will fail and fail often.  We need his grace and mercy.  But, Jesus call to discipleship is costly and risky.  God still says No – to the things we do to hurt ourselves and one another and separate us from the love of God.  But, Jesus here is not concerned with rule keeping.  (although wouldn’t be easier following if Jesus would lay it all out in simple terms of do this/not that.)  But, That’s just not who Jesus is.

Jesus knows a thing or two about being human.  He knows that it is not just about abstaining from the big stuff.  With us people, our troubles start with the matters of our heart before they ever reach to the things of our hands, mouth and feet.  Jesus knows that choosing life and having it abundantly begins in the inward part of very being and is not simply about what we do on the outside.  Jesus is concerned about what is going in here (point to body, heart and mind). 

***

There is much too much to deal with in this text for one sermon.  Let’s take the one that Jesus says it not just about murder but anger.  We know anger.  We know a thing or two about being burning mad and how our anger causes us to call each other names and to lash out. It is the kind of feeling in the heart that lends itself to heat rather than light.  We have plenty of stories to share how our anger has destroyed some of our relationships – even here in the church with one another.  For me personally, anger and its enduing estrangement has wrecked havoc on my family.  My parents are divorced as many of you know and it came in a point in the lives of me and my siblings when we were becoming adults.  It was easy as budding adults to choose sides, be angry at one while protecting the other and visit one and neglect the other.  Hate Mom; Love Dad – Love Dad; Hate Mom.  We would vacillate between which parent we were mad at the moment.  So our anger led us to cut each other off in relationship.  We would visit our folks in a clandestine manner so as to not upset the other. We lost trust.  Anger clouded our ability to see one another like we had before.   It wasn’t the divorce per se–  But rather the swirling effects of the anger in our hearts that led to loss of abundant relationship with the other – the same ones whom we once loved.     

 

 

What’s the remedy?  What does Jesus ask us to rid ourselves of this murderous kind of anger we have in our hearts?  Jesus is inviting us to stop, go and reconcile.  Jesus is inviting us to get over the anger by seeking out forgiveness and restoring the relationship.  To stop what we are doing and go and say I am sorry whether or not we think it is our fault.  Anger is most often a two person sport.  Jesus tells us it is not enough to not murder in the literal sense because he knows of the killing we do by saying I hate you and leaving the festering anger unattended.  It’s the same thing.     

What are you bringing to worship with you today?  Have you come to worship angry today?  Lusting after another?  Coming to worship after having lied to someone on the way here?  Gone after another god?  Jesus says go and seek forgiveness before you present your offering – before you sing the first hymn in worship. 

In effort to stop a mass exodus out the door, take out the notecard given to you when you came into worship today.  Offer the thing of the heart that one can’t not see but God knows separates you from someone else and God.  Write it down and give it to God. 

(BREAK!)

Seek out forgiveness.  Go tell someone I’m sorry.  Begin repairing what is broken.  Restore the relationship once thought lost for good.  Forgive yourself, too.  And, then may you have life abundantly and be showered with the blessing Jesus is offering those whom walk in his ways.  Amen.

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Did he not know he was Beloved, too?

This is the sermon I preached on Jan. 9th, 2011 – the day after the tragedy in Tuscon, Arizona.  I credit much to Diana Butler Bass for provoking us preachers to not be silent in the pulpit and to speak a word that could reach the troubled spirits of those in our pews.  May the God of grace and peace grant us comfort and wisdom as God longs to have us all know we are Beloved sons and daughters.

Coerced Baptism or Did he know not he was Beloved, too? 

When I left the house as a teenager, my parents would say, Don’t forget – folks know you and know us.  So, wherever you go or whatever you do, we’ll know about it.  My parents weren’t out to make me afraid of Big Brother cameras that watched our every move.  The ones George Orville imagined in the book 1984.  Rather, it was that I was known and they were known.  It works that way, as some of us can attest, in small towns.  In that phrase – folks know you and know us – it said something about who I was and whose I was It was my adolescent identity phrase.  I was Jessica.  Daughter of Bob and Barb McClure.   And, everyone in town or at the mall or at the football game likely knew it.  The second part of my parents’ warning was the description of the first.  Who I was and who I belonged to -  spoke volumes to what was expected of me.  If we put a theological spin on it, my identity called me to a particular way of being – my vocation – even if a teenager. 

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On the river banks of the Jordan, folks in the city were streaming out in the wilderness to go down in the river by John’s baptism.  John cried out, “Repent!”  John baptized with the murky, river waters and knew of its inadequacy compared to the ONE who will baptize with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  On those banks, the now grown up Jesus comes from Galilee to meet his cousin and submit to this kind of baptism.   

            Like John, perhaps, we, too, are left puzzled by Jesus request.  Jesus – the one who will be tempted just as we yet blameless– desires a repentance baptism?  We understand John’s protest.  It is like Peter who first refuses to have Jesus wash his feet.  John, too, wants the washing to be the other way around.  Jesus would not have it so.  For it is right, just, Jesus says, that I be baptized by you, cousin. 

So, down Jesus goes into the river  and then back up again to emerge from the surface to the sweet air that filled his first breath.  And in that moment, the heavens rip open for a Grand Incarnational Moment.  Like a Dove, the Spirit of God descends to rest upon Jesus.  Alighting on him ­– the scripture says.  Alight -  to rest or perch is one meaning but it can also mean to be on fire; lighted up; burning.  Both definitions seem to fit, don’t they?  Then, God spoke.  This, This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.    

Then, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness –hungry and tired, tempted and tested.  And after that – Jesus goes out, calls his disciples, preaches and teaches about the Good News of the kingdom of God, heals the sick and afflicted and folks follow to hear him.   

 

So, this where I was with the sermon yesterday.  I was ready to sit and hammer out what I thought God was saying to me about this text – how Jesus’ baptism speaks to Christian identity and vocation that is wonderfully and powerfully bestowed upon us, too, in the waters of baptism.  You know I really wanted to preach a few good points.  I wanted to tell you how it is only in Matthew that God says This is my Son rather than the You are my Son in the other gospels. I was going to build up to some key exegetical thought Tom Long had about Matthew saying This is my Son as way to cap off all the other titles given to Jesus thus far in the gospel.  Jesus is not only son of Abraham, son of David,etc – but this Jesus is the very Son of God.  I was going to reserve a whole section on the sermon that Jesus’ baptism happens before Jesus’ ministry and just before the Spirit pushes him into the wilderness.  Baptism for Jesus sets him apart as God’s son – his identity – and places a mighty call on his life that he will die for – his vocation.    

 

I wanted also to explain the bizarre title to sermon that comes from a seminary professor’s lecture in which she called infant baptism – coerced baptism.  It was to be the story to segue into how Jesus’ baptism becomes our baptism, too.  It is in the waters of baptism that we are made known who we are and whose we are – as God’s own beloved.  And, also from the moment of our baptisms – God gives us a calling upon our lives that is like Jesus’ to go and tell of God’s kingdom coming.

Yes, that was pretty much how the sermon was going to go until yesterday when constantly streaming on tv and the computer screen where the images of blood, shots and violence that happened outside a Safeway in Arizona.  6 Killed – a federal judge and a nine year old girl among them– the targeted congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, lies in a hospital fighting for her life after a gunshot to the head.   A deeply troubled accused young man detained and accused of doing this thing.  Facebook and blogger preachers like Diana Butler Bass – wrote out to provoke us clergy by asking whether we will be silent tomorrow (today) in the pulpit.  God began to nudge, too.  I think I’d like to change the title.

 Jared Lee Loughner – did he not know he was Beloved, too?  Have we forgotten, too?  

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We know not much about who Jared Loughner was or is.  They say he was a loner, dabbled in drugs, had erratic in speech and was not accepted in the military or likely not much elsewhere either.  We don’t know if he was raised in the church or if he received the claiming waters of baptism.  But what we do know is that he is a son.  He is a son of the parents that bore him and held him in their home for 22 years.  He is a child of God, too.  A son that desperately needed to know, to have someone tell him he was Beloved.  Oh how much he must have needed help to hear this voice.  This voice, God’s own that comes from out Heaven to overpower the mix of the other voices that likely played on his mind.  In the mix of you don’t fit in, you are not smart enough, pothead, loser and fear – Jared was likely drowning in the baptism of the world that seduces to claim us.  Yesterday morning then, those voices won out and crushed the claim that God had on him that promises both a new name, Beloved, and the gift of the Spirit that calls to new way of being in the world.

 

Have we forgotten we are beloved, too?  Have we all forgotten what it means that God loves and calls us Beloved?  Diana Butler Bass says it another way.  In America, she says we have a history of two kinds of baptism.  One is the one that Jesus offers of water that forges new life, a new creation.  The other is that of blood brought through revolution.  There is no doubt our discourse and very way of being is much more violent.  We don’t miss a beat to describes things in stark terms of good v. evil, nor seem to hesitate to brand someone that we disagree with charged names as socialist or as hostage takers.  So, Diana Butler Bass asks what baptism do we proclaim?  What baptism, she also asks, is the world, full of Jared Loughners,  in need of?  It is clear, isn’t it?  It is the baptism that says despite what the world says – it is God who says who we are and whose we are.  We are Beloved sons and daughters all of us because before we entered the world God knew us by name and formed us into our very selves.  We are in need of a baptism that calls us to a new way of being, truly a new creation, in the world.   This new way of being is our vocation.  It is the same one Jesus was called to after his own baptism.  And, it is a vocation, a ministry that the world is hungry to receive. 

 

  • We are called to be disciples sent out into all the world to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God. 
  • To work toward reconciliation and peace. 
  • To stop calling each other names and branding one another with words that are much too extreme.
  •  To cease pretending we are not really all part of the same household God. 
  • To pursue justice and the end of violence.  To seek the lost and lonely and befriend them.
  •  To go into the streets of DC and tell someone cold and hungry this afternoon  that they are Somebody. 
  •  To stand up and say enough with sound bite yelling that forgets there are fragile and ill minds out there that don’t know the difference between rhetoric and actual call to bear arms. 

 

This is the baptism in which we have received.  This is the one in which we are called and the Spirit pushes us to live out as disciples of the One we proclaim as Lord – Jesus Christ.    

Diana Butler Bass’ questions still hangs – To which baptism are we called?    She asks – Do we need the water of God, or the blood of a nine-year old laying on a street in Tucson?  The answer is profoundly and simply obvious.  We need redemption gushing from the rivers of God’s love, not that of blood-soaked sidewalks. 

Beloved – let us go and proclaim such a baptism – that God loves us and calls us to love one another.  Amen. 

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The Swagger of the Cross

The Swagger of the Cross – Galatians 6: 1-18 Cross-&-Shadow

There must be some kind of relationship between this text and food.  More than one commentator on this passage used a food dish as a tool to go about understanding this last chapter from Galatians.  The food dish of choice was one preacher’s momma’s pineapple upside down cake cooked in cast iron skillet and the other was from south of the border – sweet fruit peppered with chili powder.  The food imagery tried to capture the upside down turn of one’s expectation in the delight of savoring the delectable morsel of an cake cooked upside down and the sweet complemented with the spicy.  Something to akin of the upside down reality of living out the law of Jesus Christ that Paul wants to capture for his sisters and brothers in Galatia.

I had a similar food experience myself recently.   I was trying out a new dish for guests coming to dinner.  I wanted something quick, fast and easy.  I went to my recipe box – the Internet.  The recipe that caught my eye and would work in time constraints was Jerk Shrimp with Mango, Avocado and red onion salsa.  I prepared the sweet salsa beforehand and had it chilling in the refrigerator.  I coated the shrimp with Jerk seasoning of paprika, salt, pepper, all spice, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and got the grill nice and hot to cook the shrimp.  Being a new recipe that was to be served to new friends, it is mandatory for the cook to taste test.  I took one of the shrimp from the plate, cut into it and placed it in my mouth.  And, it was HOT!  And, the heat was not just from the temperature.  I was nervous that the dish would be too spicy for my guests, but since it was all I prepared, out it went.   The spicy, Jerk shrimp was served alongside the mango and avocado salsa.  With just one bite of it, I was rested assure that all would be fine.  Something unexpected happened, an upside turn of events in my mouth! – Jerk shrimp is not too spicy when paired with the sweet taste of Mangoes. 

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We have moved our whole way through the book of Galatians this summer.  Picking apart the chapters of this small book as it may speak to us today about the issues we face in our community and world – eco and economic injustice, modern day slavery and addiction.  Not much different than the intent Paul had for the first reading of his letter to the Galatians.  He wrote to confront them about their attachment to the Law and their worrying about being circumcised or not.  He scolded them for giving up their freedom to being bounded by the Law.  He ached over the divisions they created in their community.  Paul longed for them to remember the goodness of God’s grace in Jesus that freed them to love one and accept one another.  We too have been challenged to see -  how expansive God’s grace is  and who has a seat at the Lord’s table.  For there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.

In this last chapter, Paul grabs the pen from his scribe to tell of the upside down reality that is in following Jesus and glimpsing the kingdom reality of God in breaking around us.  Paul is all about inversion here.  He urges them to fulfill the LAW of Christ.  That there is boasting in the cross.  And, the New Creation comes only through death. 

The sermon title today is The Swagger of the Cross!  Is there a swagger to the cross of Jesus Christ, for Paul?  If there is a boasting to the confrontation of the cross that meets our faith, do we not live out our lives as Christ bearers in the world with the swagger of the cross?  The swagger of the cross is seemingly just as outlandish to say as the boasting about the folly of cross in Galatians, right?  Scripture tells us the cross is a stumbling block and cursed is the one killed upon the tree.  The cross was used a physical tool of the empire to deter others who liked to cause an uproar.  It was a method of controlling power, keeping the status quo and locale of power where it was.  The cross was for criminals – bandits and political rubble rousers alike.  It was place of derision as passersby ridiculed and soldiers mocked and taunted. 

But, yet Paul boasts of nothing but this, THE cross of Jesus Christ.  The place of God’s big reversal and upside down surprise.  Dead and buried  – but God turns this upside down too – The Resurrection.  Crucifixion brings the new creation.  Paul boasts in the cross because the cross of Jesus turns things upside down.  The cross – a sign of weakness and death – confronts that which opposes God’s kingdom.  The cross confronts boundaries the keep people out and the barriers that we put up that block others from dining on God’s grace.  The radically good news of the cross challenges us to see our sin and participation in waging war on each other and to the planet.  The cross says no the power that oppresses people as modern day slaves, ethnic, religious and GLBT groups as a second class citizens and maintains a system of haves and have nots.      

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“Her name was Lena – Lena Schultz, “ recalls Bishop Harold Skillrud in a sermon about Paul’s boasting in the cross.  Lena was a woman along his paper routes as a boy.   He remembered how Lena lived in a tar paper shack, just outside the city limits, in his home town in Minnesota. Her neighbors considered her homely.  Her dresses hung on her gangly frame like clothing on a scarecrow. Several of her teeth were missing, and her face and arms often bore the marks of bruises when her husband returned home in a drunken stupor and beat her. It was not strange that she had no friends. Hers was a sad and lonely life, he remembered

 I was 12, the grown up Harold tells, when I first met Lena as her paper boy and she was the last customer on my route. By the time I reached her home on those frigid winter afternoons, I was cold and tired. Slogging along through snow drifts with the heavy newspaper sack on my shoulders, I would look longingly at the front windows of my customers’ homes, hoping that someone would invite me in for a few minutes to warm up. It never happened. That is, it never happened until I reached the tar paper shack. There I could see, through the tiny window, the frost freshly scraped away, the face of Lena Schultz, peering out into the distance, awaiting my arrival. The ritual was always the same. She would fling open the door, welcome me with a big smile, remove my heavy jacket, scarf, cap and gloves, and set me down at the kitchen table. There we would sit, a 12 year old shivering newspaper boy, soaking up the warmth of her pot bellied stove, and an elderly, lonely, somewhat eccentric woman, drinking hot chocolate and eating a cookie or a piece of freshly baked cake.

Years later, Bishop Skillrud received a package in the mail.  It was from his sister who was going through the things of their parents.  It was his diary he kept as a 12 year old.  In the back, he found a record of gifts he received from his paper route patrons.  It was the depression and they weren’t much.  He stopped when he got to Lena’s name.  All the other gifts were dimes and quarters but Lena’s gift was a whole dollar bill.  He had remembered how he thought all the years ago the biggest gift was from the poorest one.  He remembered another memory of Lena just then, too, – the time when his father took him to a worship service of a spirited, congregation meeting in a store front.  There – singing with the others the Gospel hymn, “There is power, power, wonder working power, in the blood of the lamb,” was Lena with bible on the lap, hymnal in hand, singing her heart out. 

Lena met the cross of Jesus, he thought, and her life was changed forever.  She could do nothing less than share what she had been given at the cross of Jesus Christ.  What could Lena boast?  How could Lena’s walk have even an ounce of swagger in her step?  A frail, homely, toothless  kind of a woman who was beaten by her husband and often friendless could simply boast in the transforming love that one is showered with when confronted by the upside, down reversal God does in the Cross.

Paul’s body likewise scarred and maimed calls us in Galatians to live in the swagger of the cross that is living into the New Creation, the New Being as theologian Paul Tillich says.  What does such a swagger look like? 

  1. It is a walk into the world fully assured of God’s radical grace for us and for all of creation.  So radical a grace that we can’t work to earn nor others to receive such grace from us. 
  2. It is a walk into the world in the knowledge that Lord’s hospitality offers everyone a seat at his table.  Such hospitality turns upside the lines that divide us and separate us.  For there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, black or white, poor and rich, gay or straight, for we are one in Christ Jesus.
  3. It is a walk into the world armed with the love God has for us in Jesus Christ.  A love that tells us we are loved and all are beloved.  It is a love that bears one another’s burdens.  Shares in the community’s needs and seeks to serve them.  A love so big that we can’t keep it to ourselves and give it all away.   

We boast in nothing less than the cross of Jesus, walk only in the swagger of the cross’ shadow as we pray and watch for Thy Kingdom come.  Amen.

 ***Lena’s Story comes from Rev. Dr. Harold Skillrud’s sermon, “A Time to Boast” All italics are direct quotations.***

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