Musings Sermon Starter

The Ways of Dust

When will we stop honoring the dust and start embracing heaven? There’s more than enough judgement and hatred going around. They conspire together to builds walls and condemn anyone who isn’t white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, economically sound, well-educated, and male. These socially endorsed biases are decidedly not Christian. Yet, we continue to act as if they are. How easily we forget that Jesus was not a white, wealthy man. We just as easily forget that we are to love not condemn or judge.

Jesus was pretty clear that we are supposed to love our enemies with a God-like, unconditional kind of love. We are not meant to judge or dismiss someone because of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or economics, or even religious practice. We are, as Paul put it, called to bear, to embody, to reflect, the image of Christ, the One of heaven. Instead we live in fear of the other. We believe the on-going lies of the Empire that say only the powerful must remain in power and anyone else is a threat. As a result we live in fear of our neighbors and Jesus’ call to love remains mostly unheeded. Or, at the very least, we tend to love only those who love us.

I’m particularly sensitive to the discrepancy between the love Jesus called us to embody and the love we actually embody. I grew up without a lot of love in my life and, as a result, questioned my value as a person. While the church provided safe harbor for me, it did not replace the lack of love in my life. And, later, the church proved just as unsafe a place for me as my home had been. How many times have I been told that a woman cannot and should not be a pastor? How many times have I been told that I cannot be a pastor because I am married to another woman? How many times I have I been made to feel inadequate or shame because I came from a poor family? How many times have I hidden or lied about the mental health challenges in my family or in my own life? How many times have I ignored, hidden, or dismissed my chronic illness? All these judgments coming from those who call themselves Christians, myself included.

We wonder why the church is struggling to survive the transformation that is in progress. We struggle, at least in part, because we have fallen into the service of the empire. Church has taken on all the values of society and tried to shape them into the Body of Christ with far too much success. However, if we are to survive the refining fires of transformation, we must turn our attention away from the powers of dust and toward the powers of heaven. We can no longer afford (if we ever could) to embrace the empire. Jesus spoke against the oppressive Roman Empire with every word and action. If we are the embodiment of Christ today, then we ought to be doing the same.

Our history of valuing what society values – wealth, power, success (as defined by those with power) – has not served us well. It has divided us one from another and detracted from our mission of bringing the Realm of God into the here and now. The time for facing our fears has come. What will it mean if we fully accept women in ministry? What will it mean if we embrace all our LGBTQ+ neighbors and welcome them into the full life of the church? What will it mean if we try out worship styles born of other cultures? What will it mean if denominations come together and create something new? What will it mean if all our buildings become fully accessible to people with physical disabilities? What will it mean if all our services and activities become accessible to people with cognitive impairment? What will it mean if we recognize that it takes the full diversity of humanity to truly embody Christ in the world today? What are we afraid of losing? What are we afraid of gaining?

Jesus commanded us to love one another exactly as we are loved by God – no limits, no conditions, no end. All that separates us is constructed by human minds and hands; we are all equal before God. The Body of Christ is impaired by racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and a whole bunch of other fears handed to us by the empire that would prefer to keep us all separated and disempowered. Imagine a world in which we discard fear and embrace Love… Let us exchange the ways of dust for the ways of heaven…

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – February 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3–11, 15
Psalm 37:1–11, 39–40
1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50
Luke 6:27–38

Photo: CC0 image by Tom

Musings Sermon Starter

Life on the Edge


I am afraid of heights even though I don’t want to be. If I am up high and get the feeling like I could fall, vertigo hits in a big way. I get dizzy and hear buzzing in my ears which increases the feeling that I could fall. It doesn’t matter how safe I am, it happens and I cannot rationalize it away. Truthfully, though, I don’t avoid heights. If need be, I will climb the ladder or the mountain, walk along the bluffs, and peer over the edge. The vertigo will hit and the dizziness will come with its buzzing in my ears and I will wait for it to pass. And it does. Everytime.

I read the passage about the people of Nazareth pushing Jesus to the edge of a cliff because they were angry at him. They were angry that he spoke truth in their midst and challenged the status quo. They were just going to push him over the edge of a cliff so they could resume their life as usual. I would like to think that I wouldn’t have joined in with that crowd that day. I would like to think I was among those who helped Jesus slip through the fear and anger and go on to another town. However, I’m not so sure that would be the case.

Everyday I hear about someone pushing Jesus off a cliff and sometimes it’s me who gives the last push. You know what I mean. When someone claims to be a follower of Jesus and refuses to act with love and compassion. When someone says they are Christian and pretends not to see the person sitting out in the cold asking for help. When someone professes Christ and then engages in politics of hatred. When Christians remain silent while racism governs too much of what passes for justice. When Christians hide behind the law and blame victims for the violence they experience. When Christians think that Jesus was white and endorsed the same supremacist views they hold now. All these things push Jesus to the edge of the cliff. Then my own collusion in the racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and zenophobia push him right off the edge.

The irony here is unmistakable. Those Nazarenes wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff because he challenged them to see beyond the limits of their comfort. He wanted them to see God-in-their-midst, standing right in front of them. He wanted them to take a stance against their oppressors. He wanted them to break free of the status quo and claim their power in love, love of themselves and love of their neighbors. He wanted them to live life without the limits of fear and hatred. He wanted them to claim their place by his side as siblings, neighbors, friends, as God’s beloved. He wanted them to claim their place and leave no one out.

They couldn’t do it. They couldn’t hear what he had to say. They couldn’t see who he was. Their fear and complacency was way too powerful. They believed the lies of their oppressors. They believed they were powerless to change the norms of their day. They chose security and predictability over the unpredictable safety of loving those around them with unconditional love that comes from seeking the Divine in everyone, even the Romans and those in Rome’s employ. They chose the security of the Empire over the intensity of living in God’s love. And they tried to push Jesus off a cliff.

Isn’t it time for us to line up along the edge of that cliff and prevent anyone from throwing Jesus over? It’s scary, I know. When you step close to the edge, there’s nothing at your back. Vertigo might hit hard. Your ears might fill with a buzzing sound. Your knees might grow week. But take a breath and take the hand of the person standing next to you. Life on the edge doesn’t mean life alone. All the people who have been dismissed and dehumanized are right there, too. They’ve been waiting to be seen and heard while trying not to fall over the edge into the abyss.

Maybe we should all take a look around and ask ourselves where we are in terms of that cliff. Are we in the heart of the Empire trying to keep ourselves secure? Have we sentenced others to walk the cliff edge so we can keep our privilege? How many times have we pushed Jesus off the cliff so we can keep ignoring the needs of our neighbors? It’s time we address our fears. Our fear of heights and our fear of Love. It’s not too late. Just reach out a hand and see God-in-our-midst in the eyes of your neighbor. The Empire has no power if we unite with everyone on the margins and refuse to send anyone over the cliff.

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – February 3, 2019
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Photo: CC0 image by Sasin Tipchai

Musings Sermon Starter

Fear Not


“You are going to hell.” I was about fourteen the first time someone said this to me. I had attended a youth group meeting with a friend at a conservative church. After the meeting one of the kids asked me if I had been saved. Not having any idea of what was being asked, I said that I didn’t think so. Didn’t I want to be? I wasn’t sure. A little more cajoling followed and I remained uncertain and a little confused; I thought I already was a Christian. No one told me that I needed to be saved. The end result was the certain proclamation that I was going to hell. Since I wasn’t sure that hell existed as a place, I wasn’t overly concerned. However, I did think about it. And I worried that maybe I wasn’t the “right” kind of Christian.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time I was informed of my destined date with hell. It has been repeated more times than I can count over the course of my life. Some people were genuinely concerned for the state of my soul. Others were angry that I understood Jesus differently, and in a way that gave me permission to be me. Some just tried to instill the “fear of God” in me. Of all the things to be afraid of, I’m not sure God should be one of them.

Fear is not the best motivator for human behavior. When we do something because we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t do it, that fear narrows our world view. It’s a slow and gradual shutting down or shutting out of options. Fear eventually backs us into the corner where either meets or and we can see nothing else. I know Proverbs says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” but it doesn’t mean what some people think it does. In this case awe is a better word than fear. Awe implies respect, a recognition of something greater than ourselves. It’s a better to approach God with awe than it is with fear. Fear has a way of narrowing down our lives.

In my teens I was anorexic. I remember the gradual way in which my choices to eat or not eat transformed into something I had no control over. In a matter of months, I was terrified of eating and of gaining weight. I knew what I was doing was unhealthy, wrong even, and I was absolutely powerless. It was a very long time before I could make a choice about my body that was not governed by fear.

This kind of governance by fear has no place in church. God isn’t sitting around waiting for us to mess up so God can pounce on us with wrath and punishment. When we act a certain way because we are afraid of God’s anger or afraid of going to hell, it won’t be long until we find ourselves trapped. We will be trapped into believing that there is only a right way or a wrong way to follow Jesus, to please God. Fear limits our vision and our imaginations. It can leave us spiritually hungry with no way to feed ourselves.

On the other hand, if we act the way we do out of love for God and gratitude for God’s love for us, our options open up. The Spirit isn’t limited to the narrow corridors defined by fear. Instead, the Spirit can flow and inspire us in all kinds of ways; either/or becomes a thing of the past. The more we recognize that God’s primary way of being known is through acts of loving-kindness, the more likely we are to generate those acts. As much as fear can narrow our vision, love is just the opposite.

When Jesus read from scripture in that synagogue in Nazareth, he was not trying to goad people into faith through fear; he was trying to demonstrate just how much God loves them. Motivated by love, Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and proclaim God’s favor. Could it get any better than this? Jesus demonstrated God’s love with words and actions, and invites us to do the same. We are to engage in these same actions, not out of fear of hell if we don’t do them, but in response to or gratitude for God’s love for us. Where fear limits, love frees.

We can let go of our fear of God’s wrath and eternal punishment and take our places within the Body of Christ. We can take up the mantle of Love and get busy bringing good news to the poor, releasing the captives, creating new visions, freeing the oppressed, and shouting God’s favor with our whole lives. This is a lot of work and it takes time and commitment, but it sounds a whole lot more fun than sitting trapped in a corner somewhere trying to make a choice between either and or. A long time ago, God declared an amazing, unending love for the whole of the cosmos. Isn’t it time we stopped being afraid that we won’t or can’t be included or that there somehow wont’ be enough for everyone and start living in the fullness of God’s grace and abundant love?

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 27, 2019
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

Photo: CC0 image by Lars Nissen

Musings Sermon Starter

The Place Where God Lives


What would it be like if we all just stopped for a moment and took a deep breath? What if we took that breath and imagined we were breathing in the very breath of God, and then exhaled everything in us that rejects God’s ways? Maybe we should breathe in and out a few more times… How many breaths does it take before we feel calmer, perhaps more hopeful? How many breaths does it take before fear, anxiety, and stress lessen? There are days when I wish everyone in the world would just take a deep breath, come into God’s presence, and relax for a few minutes.

Okay. So maybe I’m projecting. I’m just another pastor who has come through a very busy holiday season and I’m a bit drained. Sure. There’s that, but this Advent and Christmas was not like any I’ve experienced. All those promises of Advent – hope, peace, joy, and love – seemed a bit more distant and harder to bring into reality than in years past. And those of us who made it to the manger to honor the Christ-child were more worn out from the journey than in previous years. The need for the Magi to show up and remind us just who Jesus is, was stronger this year and, yet, so many of us remain unable to respond. In the face of all that is happening in the world, Christmas was a bit of a stretch for many of us. And now it feels like it was eons ago.

We live in a world not unlike Samuel’s where the word of the Lord is rare and visions are not widespread. I suspect God is still calling in the night though our ability to hear is significantly impaired. When fear and anxiety weigh heavily on us, who can hear God calling us out of sleepiness into a life of love and service? If we are able to take a few minutes to breathe, then maybe we will have the courage to listen for God’s voice and the trust needed to follow Samuel’s example.

Unfortunately, I think the problem lies deeper than our need for spiritual hearing aids. It has more to do with our reluctance to believe as the psalmist did – that God is with us wherever we are and God’s claim on us does not change in the depths of Sheol or at the farthest limits of the ocean. God is with us at the rise of the sun and in the absence of the moon. God is with us no matter what we think of ourselves. God made us – fearfully and wonderfully. The psalmist knew this in the center of his being. I’m not sure that we do. We put so much between us and God, that it’s hard to believe that God’s love permeates every aspect of who we are. Our inability to recognize it does not change the truth. Is it possible to breathe deeply enough to re-center ourselves in God’s unchangeable love for us?

As if to affirm this need to be spiritually and physically anchored in God’s love for us, Paul reminds us that our bodies are not our own. They are on loan from God and they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a moment to breathe in this truth. Think of all the things we do with our bodies, to our bodies, that honor no one. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, no matter what we do to our bodies. Surely, we can be more careful with these temples of ours. And if we can be more careful with our own, can we recognize the sacred temples of our neighbors’ bodies? Still breathing?

Well, let’s keep at it because we are invited to do great things. Yes, Jesus did great things and people marveled. While it’s easy to forget that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, it’s even easier to forget that we are the embodiment of Christ. As such, we are to be doing great things. Maybe not opening the heavens so that angels can come and go, but making manifest the realm of God. This is our job and it requires deep breathing for sure. Every time we give into the fear and hatred that those in power sow among us, we are failing to embody Christ. Any time we respond to fear-mongering, racism, xenophobia, and the other hateful traits of the current administration, we are betraying the one who calls us by name in the deepest hour of the night.

During this season of Epiphany, may we all come to know God’s presence anew. May we breathe deeply and remember whose we are and what we are created to do. God has not stopped calling us. Visions are not as rare as we think they are; have you not heard the prophets calling us to peace and justice for all people? God is present with us always and everywhere (even if we forget or deny it). Our bodies are sacred temples on loan to us. The Holy Spirit would like a bit more comfort in her temples and she’d rather we not desecrate any bodies in which she dwells. God is waiting for us to do great things. May we have the tenacity (or is that audacity?) and courage to take a deep breath and echo Samuel’s words, “Here I am.”

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

Sermon Starter

Perfection Really is Overrated


If there is one thing I have always yearned for, it is musical talent. I have none. Now before all you music teachers out there rush to tell me that anyone can sing or anyone can learn to play an instrument, I assure that I have tried. I spent my childhood singing in church and school choirs. I took flute, piano, and guitar lessons. I sing along to the car radio when I’m alone in the car and I sing only so God can hear me when I’m in church. The honest truth is that I cannot sing well enough to make anything other than a joyful noise and I will never be able to play an instrument since I cannot keep a beat to save my life. It’s just the way it is no matter how much I wish otherwise.

While in seminary I lamented this lack of musical ability often enough. It seemed to me that the vast majority of seminarians had musical talent. And there I was with my specialty in youth ministry without capacity to sing or play guitar. Unheard of in those days. How could anyone be a youth pastor and not be able to lead songs around a campfire or at youth group devotions time? I was cured of this lamentation when a friend asked me what talent I would give up in order to be able to sing. I could think of nothing I would give up. I was being greedy. I wanted to be the perfect seminarian, the perfect youth pastor, and the perfect Christian, but I’d learn to let go of my musical yearnings and be content with the gifts I had.

It was the desire to be perfect that was my personal demon. If I’m honest, it still is on occasion. During my teen years, I was so enamored with the idea of perfection that I nearly traded my life for it. I was driven by the idea that if I were perfect, then I would not feel pain and I would be loved. While I was quite good at a lot of things, I didn’t stand out. I was a good student, but not the best. I had some artistic capacity, but I was not the best. I wrote poetry and stories, but they were the fancies of an adolescent. You see where I’m going. I was good at a lot of things, but I wasn’t perfect at any of them. And I really believed I needed to be perfect at something. Even God expected perfection, or so I thought.

My mixed up understanding of perfection was all about performance and appearance. I became obsessed with the number 100. It was the only acceptable score, the amount of calories I could eat in a day, the number of repetitions for any exercise, and it was my desired weight. I utterly failed to grasp that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, holy unto itself. In my desperate attempts to alleviate my own pain, I did not hear the message of love in Jesus words, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This does not mean that we have to match the perfection of God at all. It does not mean that we have to perfect our performance or appearance. It means that we have to seek the fullest, most complete love, love that is mature and unconditional. Jesus was calling us to live into God’s gift of agape. We are called to embody this unconditional, unlimited love for self, for neighbor, for creation, and for God. Of course, we cannot do this alone; this kind of love is only truly possible in community. This is how we are church – we love without condition and without limit.

The kind of perfection I sought in my adolescence was anything but this. It was not life-giving in any way. The perfection I thought I wanted and needed was life-destroying. It is the ultimate in human foolishness when we think we need to be perfect in order to earn God’s love or anyone else’s. God’s love is freely given. We can’t earn it or lose it, for that matter. We can be unable to see it or accept it and we can deny it. We can also refuse to live into the fullness of our abilities. All these things are sinful in one way or another as they hinder relationship to self, neighbor, creation, or Creator.

The whole Sermon on the Mount is a call to live into the limitless love God has for us, to use all that we have and all that we are to bring God’s realm into the now. It is a call to embody divine love to those who are most vulnerable. In these days of uncertainty and public displays of racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and so many other fear-informed bigotries, focusing on perfection is foolish; not one human being is perfect nor will any ever be. However, we can be agents of God’s grace. We can commit to loving to the fullness of our capacity, using all of our gifts to ensure that there is light and salt enough for all.

Teach me, O God, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding,that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – February 19, 2017
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Photo: CC0 image by Michelle Maria

liturgy Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer of Confession

I’ve struggled to find appropriate words for this week. So I offer the following prayer. If you are looking for sermon help, try here.


Patient and steadfast God, how is it that you continue to love us so completely? So many years have passed since you spoke with Micah and made it clear what we are to do. Yet, still, we ask what we can do to please you. We fill our lives with routine, worship you with hollow words, and make meaningless sacrifices to feel justified in claiming your favor. It seems that we would rather do almost anything other than what you ask. Self-preservation protected by hatred and fear seem more palatable than kindness. Hunkering down and clinging to our traditions and views of what the Bible says are so much easier than going out and actually doing justice. Mistaking self-hatred and shame for humility keeps us from taking the risk of wholeness. Have mercy, O God. Draw us out of our fear, away from false security and shallow beliefs, and into the abundance of life you offer. Remind us that your ways call us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lord of all, so many of us claim to live in your tent and dwell on your holy hill. However, there are so few who are blameless and do what is right. Truth spoken from the heart is rarely heard these days, even from those who call your name most loudly. Threats to build walls and deny entry into this country based on religion sounds an awful lot like doing evil to friends and reproaching our neighbors. Fear and greed cannot be our ways if we want to live in your tent. Destroying sacred land with pipelines will not lead to peaceful living on your holy mountain. Remind us of your desire for us to be repairers of the breach rather than creators of more harm. Continuing the ways of the past only ensures the continuation of oppression and your Word speaks of liberation for all people.

Wise and wonderful God, how foolish we are! How little we have listened to you and learned from our history. We know what happens when our leaders seek only to serve themselves. We have seen the results of worshiping everything other than you. Yet, we are still fooled into thinking that human ways will save us from ourselves. We fall for it over and over again. When will we stop blaming you for all the challenges we face while congratulating ourselves on our successes? You name us Blessed when we are peacemakers, justice-seekers, and risk-takers. You promise your presence when we bear witness to suffering and speak holy truth to human power. Why do we, so often, think the easy way is the righteous way? Let us hear and claim your blessing on those who repent, resist, and repair for we shall be engaging in holy wisdom and be called fools.

God of abundant blessings, may your words fill our lives, change our hearts, and call us from our self-serving sinfulness. We who rest in our privilege when others cannot find safe harbor cannot claim your blessings when we do not live them. Blessed are the oppressed. May our hands be actively bringing in the realm of God. Blessed are those who mourn. May we offer gentle comfort even as we cry out for justice on their behalf. Blessed are the meek. May we step out of their way so they may claim their rightful place on earth. Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. May we cry out until all are satisfied. Blessed are the merciful. May we be foolish enough to learn the ways of mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart. May we have the sense to let them lead us to you. Blessed are the peacemakers. May we have the grace to seek peace and pursue it until we are called your children. Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness. May we all have the courage to take our place alongside those who are persecuted on your behalf. Blessed are the reviled and falsely accused ones. May we align ourselves with the innocent until we all live on your holy mountain.

Merciful God, your faithfulness to us remains a mystery. You shower us with grace, forgiveness, and love and we fail to respond with our whole hearts. Let this be the day when we claim the blessings you lay before us. Let this be the day when fear gives way to hope and we recognize your presence in the midst of chaos. This may be a season of light and revelation, yet we are reminded that you can also be found in the depths and nothing can extinguish your wisdom. May today be the day we truly make your ways our ways. Grant us the grace to repent of our sins of fearful selfishness, the strength to resist the pull of the oppressors, and the courage to repair the breach with all our neighbors. Have mercy, O God, and hear our prayers. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 29, 2017
Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Photo: CC0 image by Petra

liturgy Prayer

Praying the Texts

If you are preparing a sermon this week, you might want to look at the reflections I shared here. Otherwise, here is my prayer based on this week’s texts:

2012-08-09 20.43.56God of all creation,
You knew the Prophet Jeremiah before he was born
and set him aside to speak your word to a people in need.
He doubted your choice to make him a prophet,
maybe even after your touch put words in his mouth.
You gave him such power.
He could destroy or build with his words that were truly yours.
Forgive me when I am filled with more doubt than Jeremiah ever was.
Forgive me when I don’t want to speak your words at all.
Perhaps even more so, forgive the times when I fail to see, acknowledge, or wield the power that comes with being a prophet, even a small one.
Touch my mouth once again, Holy God, to lessen the doubt that silences your voice.

Cape Trip May 2010 028 (2)God who is unfathomable love,
You inspired Paul to call a community into embodying you.
He articulated your vision for your people so clearly.
I’m not sure that I pay enough attention to these words that are so familiar.
The love Paul describes is not the warm, comfortable kind that I want it to be.
Your love is more.
Your love asks me, calls me to be more.
Your love challenges me to let go of arbitrary distinctions and quick judgments
until I am able to see you in every face.
Forgive my desire to tame the wildness of your Spirit and limit you to my understanding.
Touch my heart once again, Holy God, to dampen the fear that limits your love.

God Incarnate,
You risked human fragility to show us the way of peace.
You revealed yourself in the presence of those who knew you from boyhood.
They turned from you.
How like them I can be!
I’ve known you for many years, or I think I have.
But when you show me something new or call me out of my comfort,
I respond with disbelief if not outright anger.
I don’t want to see my face in the crowd that eagerly wanted to throw you off a cliff,
but I’m there more often than I want to admit.
Forgive me.
Touch my feet once again, Holy God, to alleviate the reluctance that keeps me from readily following you.

God of steadfast love and incredible patience,2013-04-04 19.21.05
hear my words as I pray with the Psalmist,
“In your righteousness deliver and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.”
These words have power even when I forget them.
These words can anchor me on the days when the cries and the needs and the despair of your people overwhelm me.
Forgive my moments of forgetfulness.
Touch my hands once again, Holy God, to lighten the burdens that prevent me from carrying hope out into the world.

Hear my prayers and the prayers of all in Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday – January 31, 2016
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Musings Sermon Starter

Saving Lives

banner-949932On February 14, 1983 I woke up in the local emergency room and I was not happy. Apparently, I had woken up in my room at home and made it downstairs before passing out. My mother then called 911 because she could not wake me up. Sometime later, I woke up in the hospital. By then, it was no secret what I had done. The day before I had purposely overdosed because I did not want to live anymore.

I was fifteen and completely overwhelmed. A few months before I had lost a few pounds and received a lot of praise. By February I had a full-blown eating disorder that would soon be apparent to everyone. But on the day I overdosed, my slowed digestion might have prevented more serious consequences to what I had done. Even so, my memories of that day and the week that followed have never been more than hazy.

People came to visit. Some I remember and some I don’t. I have a few distinct memories. One is of the senior pastor of my childhood church in the emergency room holding a basin while my stomach forcefully ejected its contents. He was kind and caring. It was either that day or a later time when he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how much pain you were in. I would have tried to help.” He wasn’t alone; no one really knew what I was experiencing.

Another memory I have is less clear only because I know there are pieces missing.  It is of the associate pastor showing up in the emergency room and not leaving. Of course, he had to have left and returned several times during the week that followed. At some point I promised that I would not try to kill myself again. Over the weeks, months, and years  I learned to trust him enough to share some of the most painful parts of my life because he kept coming back. He continuously showed up and did not leave me alone in the utter darkness I felt.

These pastors weren’t the only ones who showed up. The congregation also demonstrated care and concern and support. By June of that year I was hospitalized for eating disorder treatment. During those two months, the congregation sent cards and gifts and welcomed me with genuine care on my weekend visits home. They truly embodied what it means to be church. I was one of the fragile, most vulnerable members and they cared for me without hesitation. They gave me a place of belonging, a place where I was loved and valued. Because of this 9 years later this same congregation would lay their hands on me, ordaining me to ministry in the United Church of Christ.

The journey to my ordination day was not an easy one, though. In spite of the lessons of love I received from my childhood church, it took a long time for me to believe that God loved even me. I could tell myself that if they really knew me, they would not love me. That faulty reasoning allowed me to believe that God could not love me because God really knew me. It was with another pastor in another church while I was a seminary student that I finally realized God’s love and care for me.

lifesaver-242667.jpgIt was a typical Sunday night youth group meeting. The associate pastor and I were leading a discussion on peer pressure. It was all the stuff one might expect in the early ‘90s. Kids were struggling with alcohol, drugs, sex, grades, sports, etc. One of the girls finally burst out with, “You don’t know! You don’t know how much pressure there is to be perfect!” She went on to list her struggles with grades and sports. The pastor looked at me and I essentially told my story. The tone of the meeting shifted and became much more “real” after that.

When the meeting was over, the pastor and I were debriefing. And I lost it. I confessed that I didn’t think God loved me. Where was Christ during the traumatic times in my life? Where was Christ when I wanted to die? Where was Christ when I fought so hard for recovery? Where was Christ if he loved me so much? My friend kept quiet and let me come to the realization on my own. Christ was present in those bleakest moments. Christ surrounded me with a faithful community and people who embodied God’s unconditional love. Christ’s own heart broke when the pain was more than I could bear. Christ remained present, waiting for me to see, feel, and accept the love, forgiveness, and healing.

Emotional and spiritual healing are slow.  My journey has not been pain-free since those
early days. However, the way the church I grew up in embodied God’s love for me kept me anchored in church through all the pain and struggles that would follow. They lived out what Paul was describing to the church in Corinth. It was a lesson I learned early and one that has been foundational in my ministry. The church at its best is a church that cares for the most vulnerable. The greatest gift of the church is the power to save lives.

It is this power to  literally save lives that is what makes church the body of Christ. Like those early Corinthians, we forget this. We want our pews full. We want our budgets balanced and our buildings well-maintained. We want clear doctrine and guidelines for membership. We want the church to grow in numbers and be what it once was in our society. None of this matters if we are not a community that demonstrates Christ’s love in very real ways.

The world is full of people who are fragile, flawed, and lost. Why are we as Church not shouting out our message of faith loud enough to drown out the pain, violence, and hatred of this world? Who are you? You are God’s beloved and you belong in a community that loves you, values you, and wants you. We are in the business of saving lives. Let’s get to it!

The law of God is perfect,
   reviving the soul… 
More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21


Musings Sermon Starter

What Will the Neighbors Think?

2015-11-24 15.28.48

I grew up in a household where the unspoken motto was, “What will the neighbors think?” As a child, I found this rather confusing. The neighbors on one side had eleven kids; I don’t think they thought of us much at all. The neighbors on the other side were close enough that we joked about building a tunnel between our homes. The people across the street were older and kept to themselves. Really, what neighbors were going to care if my clothes matched or my hair wasn’t brushed, or I didn’t look perfect?

My mother had her own set of rules and lived by them religiously, even when they didn’t make much sense. One of those was that People of Color were not acceptable company with very few exceptions. From an early age, I knew she was wrong but I was powerless to do anything about it. Even in more recent years, I would remain silent whenever she went off on a racist rant or I would just point out that her beloved Tiger Woods is a Person of Color. I kept my increasing discomfort to myself.

Until I could not. I recognized racism early enough. However, it took me a long time to recognize my own privilege and the ways in which I benefited from racist systems. I grew up without much money, in a single parent home, with a whole lot of dysfunction. Later, I derailed my career for a decade by coming out as bisexual. I didn’t feel very privileged at all. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that privilege and economics are not necessarily linked. Doors open for me that will not open easily for People of Color. I have more education than most people and that is a mark of privilege. I now earn a fair wage and that is a mark of privilege. The anxiety I have when a police officer pulls me over has nothing to do with fear for my safety and this is a mark of privilege. There’s more but I will trust that you get the idea.

martin-luther-king-25271This week in the US we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream of creating a Beloved Community. I’ve been reading quite a bit about the early Civil Rights Movement and how similar things are today. Quite frankly, I don’t like what I’m reading at all. The way so many people denounce Black Lives Matter for the tactics they use in seeking justice angers me. Folks ought to read MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and hear how they sound like those who justified the systems of racism in days gone by.

I read the words of I Corinthians and wonder how it is that we fail to see the gifts of all people and the one Spirit who gives them. I read the words of Isaiah and wonder how anyone can think that we are God’s Delight when we dismiss anyone different from us. I read the words in John’s Gospel and I long for the sweet wine of God’s transforming presence. Mostly, I find myself asking how long it will be before we dismantle the oppressive systems that keep racism alive and well in this country. How long will it be before the people of God become truly free and leave behind being Desolate and Forsaken?

As long as any people are marginalized and dismissed, we cannot truly be God’s Delight. It is time to put an end to racial divisions in this country. The fear and ignorance that creates distance between neighbors and blames individuals and peoples for their circumstances has no place in the body of Christ. The Body of Christ is racist and it breaks my heart.

I’ve long since stopped worrying about “what the neighbors will think” and have endeavored to follow where God calls. I’ve lent my voice to those unable to speak for themselves for decades. Now I offer to hold open the doors I can walk through for those who are demanding justice. Simply adding my cries to those already rising is not enough. It is my responsibility to make sure the doors stay open so that their voices may be heard by those with the power to make changes. And, by the way, all of us have the power it takes to make systemic change if we choose to use it together.

I pray that we can stop being afraid and start being Church.

How precious is your steadfast love,hands-63743
   O God!
All people may take refuge
   in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance
   of your house,
and you give them drink
   from the river of your delights.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Top photo by Rachael Keefe. Other photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.


Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

This week I am taking a break from current events. This won’t be a sermon starter or anything else quite that practical. I’m going to share my personal reflections on this week’s lectionary.Cape Trip May 2010 064

I arrive at these readings with echoes of last week’s scriptures still running through my head. Somehow the convergence of the 1 Corinthians passage and the Luke reading created something new for me. As I was preparing to preach to my unusual congregation, I saw myself in those Corinthians or those Nazarenes. I have always wanted to be the one chosen, to be the best, to get noticed. But Jesus pointed out that God chose one widow out of many and one leper out of countless. It struck me very powerfully that there is nothing wrong with second place or third place or even last place. God does not need us all to be number one. God will not choose us all to be extraordinary in a standout kind of way. But, as Paul points out, we are to use and to celebrate our gifts and the gifts of those around us. Does someone else preach better? Rejoice and give thanks to God. Is someone else healed? Rejoice and give thanks to God. Does someone else receive recognition for a job well done? Rejoice and give thanks to God. Have I worked hard and done well without anyone noticing? Rejoice and give thanks to God. I don’t say this lightly. It was an eye-opening and spirit-freeing moment for me. I can be second place girl and God is well-pleased with me.

Now I read the transfiguration story.  And guess what? I feel the same yearning deep within me. I want that. I don’t want to be transfigured. I want to see it happen. I want to see the face of God and know for sure that it is God I have seen. But last week’s lesson was a powerful one. Others have had this experience. It’s okay. I will rejoice and give thanks to God. Because this story reveals a God who is close by, who invites me to open my eyes and see what I have not seen before.

So I take a deep breath and relax. It is highly unlikely that I will see Jesus in quite the same way that his first disciples did. I will not heal anyone in quite the way that Jesus did. It isn’t that I don’t have enough faith or that I have too many doubts, it’s just that Jesus isn’t in the world now in the way he was then. He’s still here, though. And I at this moment I’m pretty sure I’ve seen his face.

Just this week I have seen the glory of God in the psychiatric patients who seek God, seek hope, even in the midst of unfathomable pain. I’ve seen the wonder of God in all pictures my friends post of their beautiful, innocent children. I have seen God in the face of my beloved when I realized how close she had come to dying just yesterday, and how blessed I am to have her in my life. Words lose their ability to capture the intensity of the joy and gratitude I feel when I think of all the places where I have seen the glory of God.

It won’t take the yearning for more completely away. I will need further lessons in humility and self-acceptance. But today, right now, I can marvel at the display of God’s glory on that long ago mountain top. I will also take this story of transfiguration as a reminder to invite Christ into all my relationships that God’s face might be revealed in others. And maybe then I will be better able to rejoice in their successes and share in the burdens of their pain, all the while rejoicing and giving thanks to God for who I am, for those I am privileged to encounter, and for a God who is in this world waiting for me to open my eyes and see things just a bit differently.

RCL – Year C – Transfiguration Sunday – February 10, 2013

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
Luke 9:28-36 (37- 43)