Sunday, November 13, 2016

Work to be Done

It's been quite a while since I last posted.  I've so very busy with my family and the churches.  I've just kept my focus there but today, I thought I would share this morning's sermon with you.  The Scripture references are Isaiah 65:17:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, and Luke 21:5-19.  The commentaries I read are from the UMC Discipleship page and also Adventurous Lectionary.


“There is Work To Be Done”


Wednesday was a very quiet morning for me.  I spent a lot of time in prayer and quiet contemplation.  There were a few tears too.  I found myself wanting to sit and cry, not because of who won or lost the election but because of the hurt I was seeing, the meanness,  the fear.  I asked my mom how I was supposed to write a sermon now.  She said she didn’t know.  Later I asked Susan the same question and replied, “I don’t know, but you have to address this.”  But that’s hard!  I know we have folks on both sides here today.  We have some feeling relief and some are hurting.  It’s very real.  On social media this week… well, it’s been hard.  It’s hard to read about the hurt of many of friends, LGBTQ friends, immigrant friends, young people who voted for the very first time.  I saw some of my friends gloating, boasting and spewing some awful stuff at those on the losing side and like wise I saw some on the losing side doing the same to the winning side.  Even STILL! 

And then I saw friends, who I love more today on both sides of the table offering love, understanding and encouragement.  That was beautiful and it comforted me.  Eventually, like many of my friends, I put Facebook away.  I just could take the pain anymore.

I began to try to focus on my sermon and try to remember what it was that I had planned to say and that’s when I realized that I still wanted to share the same message I had planned.  See when I first read the scriptures a week ago, I though how perfect it was for an after election message and now that it IS after the election, I think I was right so, bare with me this morning as we work to begin healing our community by uniting to answer God’s call and continue his work.

Let us pray, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

I love our scripture from Isaiah this morning.  It’s filled with such hope!  And, well, we can sure use some hope right now right?  Every day!  These verses offer us just that.  A light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon of light on a rough sea.

It says, there will be no more weeping, living long lives, and peace.  Peace.  He says the wolf and the lamb will eat together.  That’s hope.  He will answer before we even call.  Hope – light – and we should rejoice! God has great vision for the future.  God is creating new possibilities and the energy to achieve them even when things are not exactly how we want them.  Today we can dream this future with God if we so choose. (Living a Holy Adventure)

Here’s a thing though.  2 Thessalonians tells us that WE have work to do.  Now, a lot times when people read these verses, they think of them as a way of saying they don’t have to help those who aren’t working but I don’t think so and the commentary I read didn’t either.  Here is what it said.
This was no critique of those who were poor and could not physically work to support themselves for whatever reasons. Of course, the community cared for these people and provided them with daily bread. Rather, Paul’s admonition appears to be aimed more at some of the wealthier members of the community who actually did not need to work to support themselves and so could choose lives of “idleness,” becoming “mere busybodies” (verse 11). Very likely, too, it was intended to stave off Christians deciding to cease regular labors in expectation of Christ’s second coming, the major theme of this whole letter.”

I think Paul was telling us as Christians we still had work to do.  Our Bible study on Hunger told us this, “that the idle ones in Thessalonica were failing to practice real love. They not only had stopped working to feed themselves, but they had also stopped working to help others.”

See we all need to do our part.  We need to be there for one another.  We need to work together to make the world a better place.  We need to help those in need, protect those who need us to and we need to stop judging each other and just simply LOVE more.  WE need to be more like Christ.  We have to love through the hate, we have to stop hate in it’s tracks and the best way to do this is to LOVE.  Last week, I told you love is the answer – well, this week, it’s still the answer.

I’m not saying it’s easy.  In fact in our reading from Luke today, Jesus tells us it won’t be.  He tells us it will be hard.  He tells the disciple they will arrested, persecuted.  It’s not easy to be a follower of Christ.  Oh, it seems easy enough to come to church on Sunday morning  and sing a few hymns, listen to a few scriptures being read and put a few dollars in the offering plate, but you KNOW Jesus calls us to do MUCH more than that.  He calls us to stand up for him and his people.  He calls us to love his people – ALL OF THEM.  Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, immigrants, Muslims, women, the LGBTQ+ community, children, the poor, the elderly, EVEN our ENEMIES.  He calls us to love and care for each one – each and every person whether we like them, agree with them or not.  We are to love them – all.  WE are to care for them, stand up for them, fight for them.  We are all ONE in Christ and it’s time for us to remember this and to live it every day in every way.

It’s not easy, in fact, sometimes it can be downright hard, scary even, but in Luke Jesus tells us not to be afraid.  Think of what Jesus endured for loving his people – all God’s people.  Through out the Bible we are told not to be afraid for God is with us.
We had an extra reading in Isaiah in our lectionary reading.  It was chapter 12.  In verses two and three it says, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

He is our strength and our might, he is with us and he loves us and he wants us to love even when it’s hard.  He wants us to help his people all of his people even when it’s hard.  He wants us to follow the example of his son and trust him even when it’s hard. 

I want to close this morning with a couple of quotes from The Lord Of The Rings.  Thank you, Michaela for pointing them out.

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.

We all have to decide what to with the time give to us.  What will we do with this time?  This question brings us to our next quote.  Sam is talking to Frodo this time.

Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.

So that is what we need to do with our time here.  Be the good in the world, be the light, be the love and know that it is worth fighting for.  Amen.





SaveSave

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Small Thinking

This morning, I preached on small thinking and how it holds us back from what God is calling us to do.    I thought I'd share with you all here.

The scripture readings came from Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 13:10-17



“Small Thinking”

Today we move on to a new prophet, Jeremiah.  Jeremiah is different from the other prophets in that he was called young.  The other prophets were all second career prophets.  Jeremiah tries to use this as a way of getting out of God’s call on his life.  He says, “I’m too young!  I don’t know how to speak!  I’m not qualified.”  That last one I think has been used by young and old alike, but this is all small thinking and well, I don’t think God thinks small, he’s more of a Big Thinker don’t you think?

Would you please pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and redeemer.  AMEN.

Small thinking… I think we all do it from time to time.  It’s the thinking that says we aren’t good enough, we’re too young, we’re too old, we’re too small, we’re too big and so on.  This is what Jeremiah was doing.  He was making excuses for why he couldn’t answer God’s call.  He actually used one of the same reasons Moses did, his poor communication skills.  But God wouldn’t have any of it.  He touched his lips and gave him the words he needed.  He told him that he knew him before he was born.  He told him that he had a plan for him before he was born.

Now, as a side note, I don’t think this is proof of predestination.  I think it’s more of an assurance that God’s love, grace and support have always been with us and will continue to be… always.  It’s more of a divine inspiration in the here and now and that the God who was with you in birth will always be with you and seeks your abundant life.
He thinks BIG for us.  He wants big things for us and he calls us to do big things, both as individuals and as a church.  Even as a church we can find ourselves held back by our small thinking, we think we are too small to do much.  We think we don’t have the money to make a difference.  We think small and in our small thinking we forget who we serve, we forget who calls us.  We forget what he can do in us, for us and through us.  We forget his power, his might.

After God put the words in Jeremiah’s mouth, we see another way in which Jeremiah is different. God told him he was set before nations and over kingdoms, not just Judah or in Israel like the others.  He was set before nations and over kingdoms to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.  As I was reflecting on this part of the scripture, I first thought well, this doesn’t really pertain to us today but as I continued to dwell on it I suddenly realized that it does!  Just not in the literal sense. 

I think God did set us before nations… the nations of hate and judgment, the nations of fear and greed.  Just like Jeremiah, we are to pluck them up and break them down, destroy and over throw them.  But how are we to that?  I imagine that Jeremiah was thinking the same thing!  This seems like a really big hard thing to do.  This seems like some pretty big thinking!  But you know, God, he always has a plan and that is what I think the next part that Jeremiah tells us God told him to do is; to build and to plant.  I think this is how we are to take down these nations.  We are to plant seeds of hope and love.  We are build bridges of compassion.

That’s just what Jesus was doing in our reading from Luke this morning.  He was taking down the nation of legalism by showing this woman, this woman who had suffered for some 18 years a little compassion even on the Sabbath.  He was teaching that compassion was more important than the laws.  He was applying the heart of his teaching and preaching to real life.  On the surface he was showing that humans were just as important on the Sabbath as their animals and if they would care for their animals on the Sabbath, they could definitely care for their brothers and sisters. 

Now, some of the commentary I read pointed out that there was more to this than just the healing on the Sabbath.  It also had to do with it being a woman.  It had to do with Jesus calling her forward out of the back where she would have been forced to sit because she was a woman in a deformed condition.  She had become religiously marginalized.  Such people wouldn’t have been allowed in the temple and the commentary said it was surprising she was even in the synagogue.  She would have been in the back, where people were not permitted to participate actively in the acts of worship offered up by the men.  They weren’t even supposed to speak!  And Jesus, who is sitting up front teaching, notices her and calls her forward and lays his hands on her and she was healed and what did she do?  She immediately began to praise God, to glorify God!  Remember, she wasn’t allowed to speak but she couldn’t contain her joy!  The religious leaders spoke out and condemned Jesus for ‘working’ on the Sabbath but he shamed them a bit.  This commentary said it was more about losing control than the actual healing on the Sabbath, control of the culture as he knew it.  A caste system that kept him and men in a place above women and others who suffered who couldn’t even ask for relief. 

Jesus’ actions this day as they often did broke down the nation of this caste system, the nation of the faithful religious social order and planted seeds of compassion and built bridges of love and those who had been shut out worshipped joyfully together with those of privilege.  They didn’t have to hold it in anymore, I bet they couldn’t!

Imagine, what our world could be like if we broke through some of these nations I mentioned before, greed, fear, hate, and judgment, the nation that Jesus himself was breaking through, a nation of social order, whether religious or monetary and then started to plant in them seeds of love and compassion and built bridges of acceptance and friendships.


See I think this is what God is calling us, you and me; this is what he is calling our church, this small single church and the big church in communion with each other to do.  How can we refuse? We can’t refuse anymore than Jeremiah could.  Often we think to ourselves, we’re too old, we’re too young, we’re too small, we don’t have any money, we don’t have the means, this is small thinking.  And you know what?  I think small thinking is like putting limits on what we think God can do.   But God knows no limits.  We teach our kids that God can do anything and yet when it’s time for us to answer his call we say, “Well, we can’t do that.”  And you know what, we’re right, we can’t but God can, that’s why he calls us!  He can do unimaginable things through us if we just answer his call and trust in him.    That’s the thing, we have to trust him, we have to have faith, faith in something bigger than ourselves that wants to work in us and through us.  That’s what we’ve been talking about the last few weeks.  Faith. That’s big thinking.  Faith is big thinking.  It’s hard to step out in faith.  Our small thinking wants to kick in and say we can’t for whatever reason but that’s just when Faith, when big thinking needs to really come in and take over. I read in some commentary that “This is when God wants us to spread our wings.  God seeks the well-being and fulfillment ofus as individuals and as a congregation as way to heal the world.”  We have to stop our small thinking.  We have to answer God’s call in our lives and in the life of the church even when it’s big thinking, even when it’s scary.  We have to break through self-imposed and other-imposed barriers, through the small thinking and join God on this holy adventure to heal ourselves and the world by planting seeds of compassion and love and building bridges of hope.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Blessings

This week we had a backpack blessing at each of the churches plus a school supply drive for the schools right down the street from each church.  I have been so excited about this!  It was so fun to plan and I think we had a pretty good turn out too!  




I worked a lot this week on balance.  I've been finding myself working all day every day on church stuff and neglecting other things in my life.  I'm allotted 20 a week for both churches, each, but both all together.  I know it will be always be more than that but I think it's important to find balance and I did pretty good this week.  

I made time for my little family, I made time to do a little pleasure reading and even for some crafting.  It made my week and my family very happy so I will continue to work on this.  I think it's good for me.

I'm still thoroughly enjoying serving both these congregations and look forward to lots more outreach opportunities with them both!  I hope for us to be a light on the hill for their communities!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A full dunking...

Last week I got to the churches and found the signs looked a bit different! 

How exciting it that?  And very weird too... 

So, as it became 'sign' official, I was fully dunked into the pool of ministry and pastordom... 

Last week, I officiated at my first memorial service.  I was petrified.  I really was.  I froze when I was called and asked to do it and it took me a while to thaw out but lucky for me, I have some amazing mentors in my life who encouraged and helped me through it.  I think it went well, as well as a memorial service can go anyway.  No one yelled at me or fired me yet so I'm taking it as a good sign. 

And then, during worship Sunday, a member became ill and we had to call an ambulance.  It scared us all terribly but the person was cared for and is on the mend. 

See what I mean when I said I was FULLY dunked into the pool of ministry and pastordom?  I didn't get to just get my feet wet for long!  Week 3 was the week of dunking.  But it felt good to be there for those who needed someone.  It felt good to be in ministry.

As I went for now, my second hospital for visits, I remember a day back in high school when Daddy was going to visit an elderly member of the church in the hospital and he insisted that I go with him.  I always thought that strange and wondered why but now I'm ever so glad that he did.  He was preparing me well for today. 

I discovered, or was reminded, last week, that God knows better than I what I am capable of doing for him and I have to tell you, that is so comforting. 

Last week was a hard week but it was good too and I'm grateful for all those who offered words of encouragement to me and those who had such confidence in me as well.  You guys all ROCK!! 

THANK YOU!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Are you Listening?

What a wonderful morning of worship with two lovely churches!  Attendance at both were up from last week and that is exciting for me!  Someone asked if I would share some of my sermons here so I thought I'd share today's.  Let me say that I use the manuscript as a guide, so this is not exactly how it was presented but it's close.

Luke 10:38-42English Standard Version (ESV)

Martha and Mary

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus[a] entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,42 but one thing is necessary.[b] Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Are you listening?

Last week we talked about being a good and compassionate neighbor.  I wondered if we all worked towards that how our lives, community and world might change.  Being a good and compassionate neighbor can help us to be better disciples.  This week, I’d like to share some thoughts on something we can do help us be just that, good, compassionate neighbors and better disciples.  But first would you please pray with me?  “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.”  Amen.

In our gospel reading this morning, we find ourselves in the home of Martha and Mary.  Now, I want to point out that this is kind of a big deal.  It says, that a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  It didn’t say she welcomed him into her brother’s home.  It didn’t even identify her as being a man’s sister, wife, daughter or anything.  It named her as her own person and that’s a pretty big thing for back then.  Women only had property under rare circumstances and this scripture identifies this house, this property as Martha’s! 

Now traditionally when we talk about this story, we think of Martha as being busy with chores, household chores, things like preparing the meal for Jesus and his companions, doing dishes afterwards, and so on but I read some commentary this week that looked at this a little differently. They pointed out that Luke chose a very technical term to describe Martha’s work in verse 40.  The word was “diakonian” which as you heard from the reading from the English Standard Version I just read means “much serving.”  This word was used in Luke-Acts to denote participation with others in leadership and ministry on behalf of the community.  Six of the eight uses in Acts point to leadership in the church and proclamation of the Gospel.  So this kind of makes us think  well, maybe Martha is distracted by ‘much ministry’ rather than domestic activity.  Which would also make us wonder if maybe then she was upset about Mary not being more active in the hands on ministry they shared.  If maybe Martha thought Mary was spending too much time in the study part and not enough time on the doing.  I think this an interesting way to think about this.

Something else I thought was interesting was in another commentary I read.  It talked about Martha being overwhelmed.  So much so that she is lashing out not only at her sister but also her guest.  She put Jesus on the spot to take sides and wanted him to put Mary in her place.  Instead he calmly says to Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things.” Or another translation says, “You are distracted by many things.” 

Martha was busy in the details of ministry or in her housework, she was busy, too busy to see what was in front her.  Too busy to see and listen to what was important.  She was too busy being busy.  Busy in ministry.  Too busy to listen.

How often are we too busy.  How often do we find ourselves busy just to be busy?  Our society rushes from here to there, to that activity or that.  Churches are busy in ministry with this program and that program.  But I wonder are we being too much like Martha and not enough like Mary?  Are we so busy that we aren’t listening where we should? 

This commentary really got me thinking a lot about what all is going on in our world lately.  We often don’t listen to each other we talk over each other.  We don’t listen first we just react to what we think is being said.  We don’t listen to what people need we assume we already know. 

What would happen if we listened, truly listened to what each other was saying?  What would happen if we listen, really listen to what is going on around us? 

This made me think of the greeting “How are you?”  You know when see someone at the store or even here in church.  We greet one another with “Hi!  How are you?”  Have you ever said that someone only to have them say hello and then walk on?  They never answered the question?  Have you ever done that in response?  How often do we just say, “Fine.  How are you?”  How often is that question asked without really wanting or hearing the response?

I remember during one of my husband, Shannon’s, deployments.  I was tired.  He was gone 15 months and this was about 10 months into it.  Every Sunday, people asked how I was or how Shannon was.  Usually I would offer the standard reply, good, or fine.  But one day I was tired of that same ol’ same ol’ and I replied with the truth.  I told them we were tired.  I told them that Shannon just wanted to come home.  I told them the truth.  Some people were so shocked they didn’t know what to say and others didn’t even notice!  They weren’t really listening.  I even had someone ask if I needed anything or any help.  I told them that my lawn mower wasn’t working and the guy I hired to mow hadn’t come in a month and I didn’t know what to do and they didn’t hear me.  They weren’t listening.  If this happened to me, I wonder how many times it’s happened to other people.  I wonder how many times in my rushing about I didn’t hear the needs of someone else.

In all the things going on in our world, I wonder how many times things could have been prevented, or changed if we’d just listened.  If we listened to what people, communities were saying.  If we just noticed other people more and paid attention. 

They say that around 22 veterans commit suicide every day.  22!  I wonder, are we listening to them?  Do we hear what they are needing?  Are we there for them?  Or what about the teens who are bullied for this or that that commit suicide?  Did they tell us before hand that this was coming?  Did they try to let us know and we just weren’t listening?  Or what about the people who commit these mass shootings?  Did they warn us?  Were we so busy talking that we didn’t hear what we were saying?  Were we so busy and distracted that we missed an opportunity? 

What about the people who join cults?  Cults lure people in by listening to them, by hearing what they need and giving it to them.  Many cults hear that people want acceptance and love and so they offer that to them draw them into their circle.  Others, perhaps, Isis hear people saying they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something that gives them a sense of purpose and so that’s what offer them.

How are we missing these people?  Are we not listening to them?  Do we really not hear them and their needs? 

I think about our politics right now.  Are we really listening to one another?  Are we really hearing each other?  Or are we too caught up in the us vs. them in the “my way is the only way”.  I’ve heard republicans say “those pro-abortion democrats” or democrats say those “anti-women republicans”.  Are they really listening?  Most democrats I know are not pro-abortion, they are pro-choice.  They don’t want women to get abortions but they don’t feel they have the right to make that choice for everyone.  Most republicans I know, aren’t against women.  They just want to give unborn babies a chance to live.  But we get so caught up in the ‘my way’ that we’ve stopped listening and made up what we think the other stands for and in most cases are wrong and it leads to more divisiveness.  More anger, more hate, more name calling and we never get anywhere. 

Ok, Shannon said I went too big here but I just wanted to show the need for more listening, more hearing because as a society, we have stopped listening to one another.

I realize that we can’t stop all the bad things in the world just by listening but if we are going to be in ministry in the world we have to first listen to see what the world is needing from us.  We have to listen in our communities, we have to be present and truly want to hear what people are saying, what people are needing so that we can be there for them, so that we can see where they are, who they are, so that we can see a way forward.

We have to be in prayer with and for the world, our communities, our church and our families.  Prayer is active.  In prayer we ask for guidance, for comfort, for help, but in prayer we also supposed to be actively listening for those very things for which we are asking.  We are to listen to see where God is guiding us, where he is calling us to be in ministry.  We are to listen to see what God is saying to us, teaching us so that we can use that in our ministry. 

I sometimes think Martha gets a bit of a bum wrap here.  She is busy doing the things, whether it’s housework or ministry that needs to be done.  She is doing nothing wrong but she was so busy that she didn’t see what was right in front of her.  She was so busy she forgot to listen.  To listen to her Lord, so that she could better serve, so that she could be refreshed and filled to go back to work less overwhelmed, less stressed, more aware of what she needed to be doing, and just full of what she needs to better serve her household, her church, her community, and her world.  And don’t we all need that?

We do all need to listen, both to God and the people around us.  We need to truly listen.  We need to open our hearts and our minds to hear, to really hear what, who and where we need to be.  We need to stop talking so much and listen.  We need to stop judging, stop assuming and listen so that we can better be in ministry of Christ.