Musings Sermon Starter

Jonah, Jesus, and Whale Puke

Image of a small boat with two people rowing over the silhouette of a whale underneath

I love the story of Jonah. It’s so human and gives me hope. God called Jonah to go tell the people of Nineveh to repent. Jonah didn’t want to because he thought the Ninevites deserved to be punished for their sins, and he knew God well enough to know that God would be merciful if just a few repented. As the story goes, Jonah ran in the opposite direction and sailed away. Yet, God knew where Jonah was and turbulence stirred the waters and scared the ship’s crew. They forced Jonah to jump ship where he was promptly swallowed up by a leviathan, a whale of sorts. Jonah hung out in the whale’s belly for a while. And then the whale puked him up and he went and preached repentance just as God had asked. The people of Nineveh repented, of course, and God spared the city from destruction.

Honestly, I don’t think this story is factual. However, it is truthful. God called Jonah to preach repentance to God’s people. Jonah didn’t share God’s grace-filled and generous heart. He thought the people deserved what they were going to get, and shouldn’t have been offered a chance to repent. Yet, Jonah was a prophet and his job was to preach what God put in his heart. Jonah foolishly thought he could avoid doing as God had asked. Did he not know the story of Moses who begged God to send someone else numerous times, and ended up going to Pharaoh anyway?

Jonah thought he could escape to the sea. I suspect that storm that threatened the well-being of the ship’s crew, was likely a reflection of Jonah’s inner turmoil. It’s really hard to remain calm when God asks you to do something and you seek to escape the doing of it. Into the stormy seas Jonah goes where he is swallowed up by something greater than himself, giving him time to think, examine his conscience. After all of this, he does what he should have done in the first place; he goes to Nineveh and preaches repentance. No doubt, the traces of whale puke would be on him for a while. Avoiding God is messy business, and it takes its toll. Maybe not in literal whale puke, though something will stick as a reminder that God has a way of getting what God wants eventually.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John fared a little better when Jesus encountered them as he walked along the Sea of Galilee. They left everything behind to follow Jesus. Maybe they remembered Moses and Jonah and didn’t want to have to deal with delaying the eventuality or whale puke. Maybe there were others that Jesus called who didn’t respond. I can only imagine the whales that swallowed them whole, from which they may never have escaped. However, these four left their livelihoods and families to follow Jesus.

I suspect most of us are more like Jonah than the early disciples. Most of us try to do everything we can think of rather than follow God’s call and embrace repentance as a way of life, one that can save us and others from self-destruction. Life is probably easier without whale puke, though. And our family and friends might understand if we follow God and endeavor to save lives better than if we try to avoid God and come home smelling like fish guts, metaphorically speaking of course.

In my own life I have done both; I have avoided God and I have left everything to follow. The latter is simpler though not easier. Sometimes, because we are human, it is necessary for us to plunge into the depths in the solitude of a whale’s belly and be tossed up onto dry land when the depths are no longer helpful. A little seaweed, a bit of whale puke, and we’re ready to take our humbled selves where God calls. Other times, though, it is easier to drop everything we are doing and follow God to somewhere new because we have the sense that what we are doing is inadequate. Both are valid responses to God’s call, though one is less messy in the long run.

What might God be calling the Body of Christ to do in this moment that we are doing everything we can think of to avoid? I have the sense that the Church (in all its varied forms) has been hiding in the depths, in Leviathan’s belly, for far too long. We have essentially become indigestible and could do with being spit up onto new shores. Maybe our call for repentance would have greater significance if we bore evidence of our own reluctance to follow in God’s ways?

What might Jesus be calling you to do in this moment? Are you ready to drop everything and follow or are you clinging to what is familiar and comfortable? I think it might be time for all of us who claim to follow Jesus to drop everything, leave it all behind, and see where a new path might lead. Perhaps, the smell of whale puke might fade over time and our voices that cry out for justice, hope, and healing might be heard, and our cities could be spared from self-destruction.

RCL: Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 24, 2021 Jonah 3:1-5, 10  • Psalm 62:5-12  • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31  • Mark 1:14-20

Photo: CC0image by Sarah Richter

Musings Sermon Starter

Unfortunate Truths

image of a boy and a girl holding hands on the edge of the ocean at sunset with a map of the earth superimposed over the sky

In the season of Epiphany it is appropriate to be seeking revelations of God’s presence and God’s engagement with the world. Sometimes it is much more clear where God’s work is not being done. I’ve seen a lot of this in recent days. Then I hear the unthinkable – people who engage in terrorist activities claiming to be Christian, or labeled “Christian” by others. In the United States it is time for us to be honest with ourselves and stop pretending hatred and violence are acceptable feelings and actions for those who claim to follow Christ.

In John’s account of the call of Nathanael, Nathanael does not believe anything good can come out of Nazareth in spite of Philip’s pronouncement about finding the Messiah. Philip’s response to Nathanael was a very clear, “Come and see.” Not only could goodness come out of Nazareth, only goodness can come out of the Messiah. If something is not good and loving, it does not come from Christ. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t pain or challenge because change often involves both these things. However, if something is centered in Christ, the outcome is goodness or love. Period. Without question.

This is bad news for those who claim the name “Christian” and then espouse hatred or storm the Capitol. Jesus’ commandment to love was very clear. Living a life based in fear, anger, and hatred is the exact opposite. What might change if we all stop tolerating hatred, especially in those who claim to follow Christ?

Jesus’ entire ministry was about empowering the oppressed, taking religious control out of the hands of those appointed by Rome, healing and re-membering those who were pushed to the margins. Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 310 and the downfall began. Then Charlemagne came along a few centuries later and established the Holy Roman Empire and sealed the fate of the church. We have been in service to the Empire ever since. The events of last week and the on-going pandemic show how true this is.

When Christians support a president who has no ethics, openly mocks people with disabilities, denigrates women, supports white supremacy, removes laws protecting LGBTQ+ people, and more, they reveal allegiance not to the God of Love but to the Empire, the oppressors. When people worship power and position over liberation and care for the vulnerable, ugly things happen. There is no goodness or Love here. Christ is not on the side of those with power.

The unfortunate truth is that you cannot be a follower of Christ and be a white supremacist; Jesus was a brown-skinned man. You cannot hate those who have different religious practices; Jesus said love your neighbor. You cannot fear those from other countries – immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers; Jesus told us to welcome the stranger. You cannot support the mistreatment of anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, and wealthy; Jesus clearly told his followers to Love as he Loves. How have we gotten to a place where the public face of Christianity is so often one of hatred and violence?

No more. Let us make 2021 the year we follow Christ, the one who taught Love, a Love that when fully embrace, fully embodied, casts out all fear. We do not have to accept racism, white supremacy, hatred, and violence as normative. We do not have to remain in service to the Empire. We have more than enough Love, more than enough resources, more than enough goodness, to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity and respect. We can love our neighbors as ourselves and not lose anything except our fears.

Can anything good come out of Christians in the United States? Come and see. God is doing a new thing. Perhaps we can all join in and leave the ways of fear and division behind us. Whose in?

RCL: Year B – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 17, 2021 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)  • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18  • 1 Corinthians 6:12-20  • John 1:43-51

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Sermon Starter

Simple (and nearly impossible) Requirements

This post originally appeared on RevGalBogPals as the Revised Common Lectionary Post on January 28, 2020.

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship these days. It’s not a word that progressive, predominantly white churches are all that comfortable with. Yet, with the lectionary moving from the Magi showing up to pay homage to Jesus to Jesus’ baptism, and to the calling of the first disciples… Discipleship seems a reasonable thing to contemplate. What does it really mean to be a disciple of Christ in the year 2020? This week’s text go a long way toward answering this question.

We start of with what is probably one of the most well-known texts: “God, has told you what is good, O mortal; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Nothing else is required. The finest sacrifices don’t matter. The largest donations don’t matter. We cannot purchase God’s heart; it isn’t for sale. Instead of focusing so much on our own lives, why not focus outside of ourselves. Where are we advocating for justice as individuals and as congregations? Where are we responding to our neighbors with loving-kindness? When and how do we walk humbly with God? I wish more people would hear the truth behind this popular verse. We are loved. We are saved. We are valued. Now let’s live in a way that demonstrates, that embodies, this truth for all people, for the whole of Creation. For Micah, discipleship would be what we do with our whole lives, not just with the pieces we offer up to God.

The psalmist emphasizes this point well in answering the question of who lives in God’s house. Who abides with God? The ones who do “what is right,” speak truth, and treat their neighbors with compassion and respect. The psalmist says nothing about those who attend worship regularly, make perfect sacrifices, or sing praises to God (loudly) in public spaces. It’s not about religious rituals performed on schedule; it’s about faithful living all the time, especially when it’s hard.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians continues along these lines. When we get caught up in what the world expects and start living that way – seeking wealth and power while ignoring the impact on our neighbors – we end up living very foolishly in God’s eyes. How often do we mistake wisdom for folly? How often to we forget what God requires of us and make it more complex than it needs to be. Imagine a world in which we could live in the wisdom of God’s ways without having to comply with someone’s understanding of “Christian perfection”? What if we left out judgement about who’s in and who’s out and started encouraging each other to be wise in the ways of justice, kindness, and humility?

If we were able to do this, maybe the blessings in the Beatitudes would have more meaning, more depth. It’s hard to know, of course. But what if we started seeing all those folx on the margins, the folx the church has historically kept at a distance, as those who are blessed in the ways Jesus enumerated?

Blessed are those who live with severe and persistent mental illness (and cannot access the care they need), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who have lost loved ones to suicide, gun violence, war, or natural disasters, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the refugees, asylum seekers,and immigrants who survive on the hopes of a better life, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger for justice and stop traffic on our streets with protests, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who respond to their neighbors with loving-kindness, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who actively believe humanity can do better, for they will see God.
Blessed are the ones who risk their safety and well-being to create peace, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed those who are ridiculed and condemned for advocating for those on the margins, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people disrespect, dismiss, and lie about you because of the holy work of reparations, advocacy, and justice-making that you do.

What words do we most need to hear to awaken us to the beauty and simplicity of what God requires of us? We are blessed and we are to be blessings in the broken and forgotten places of the world. How do we let go of the non-essentials of being church and embrace the freedom God lays before us in asking that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

Photo: CC0 image by qcf-avocat

Musings Sermon Starter

Call Me Grateful (Mostly)

When I was very young, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved the beach in all seasons and collecting shells and rocks and discovering the names of them was one of the great joys of my early life. Then someone told me that in order to be a marine biologist I would have to go into the water… with the sharks. That was a heartbreaker and deal breaker. There was no way I was going into the ocean where sharks were waiting with all their sharp teeth. It took a few years before I discovered another possible career path.

A couple of years after my marine biology dreams were shattered, I read a book that made me want to be a missionary. I’d barely begun to attend Sunday School and had very spotty knowledge of Christianity, but the book I had read stirred something in me. I envisioned a life of travel and service in which I’d go to places in Africa, South America, or India and help dig wells or build schools or hospitals. My young self was deeply moved by the idea that making the world a better, safer, healthier place was a good way to serve God.

In my areligious family, the news of me wanting to be a missionary didn’t go over very well. So I kept it mostly to myself. In the next few years I would become more involved in church and I was intrigued by the idea of ministry in a church setting. I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I said it out loud. Somewhere in these formative years, my call to ministry solidified. And, yet, I was wholy unprepared for what responding to this call would mean.

It meant enduring prejudices and dismissals because I was a woman… distancing myself from the already strained relationships with my family of origin… coming to terms with my own limits and woundedness… confronting my own internal biases and racism and risking lending my voice to those so often unheard… advocating for justice when most people remain silent…  moving half-way across the country… challenging political systems of oppression… Essentially, following God’s call has proved to be the greatest challenge and the greatest joy in my life. I’ve learned a lot about grace and forgiveness from the times when I got it entirely wrong. These lessons have helped me cope with the pain and frustration that the institutional church’s reluctance to change has caused me, and with the rejection I’ve experienced at the hands of the church. At times I wanted to, and even tried to, walk away from ministry, from the church, and from God. Yet, God would not let me go… and I am grateful (mostly).

Reading Matthew’s account of the call of James and John, the sons of Zebedee today gives me a sense of affirmation. James and John, along with Andrew and Peter, followed Jesus without hesitation. For James and John, they left their father behind. For Andrew and Peter, they left their livelihood behind. Jesus was worth giving up the lives they might have planned. Jesus was worth leaving home and family, and all that was expected. Following Jesus gave them passion and purpose, and lives that changed the world.

I don’t think for a minute that my life has or will change the world, but following Jesus has filled my life with passion and purpose, enough to maybe save a few lives. Jesus called people to repent because the Kingdom of God is near. If we change our ways, that Kingdom will come closer. If we stop pretending that we have seen Isaiah’s “great light” and actually look for it, embrace it, and live it, that Kingdom will be so much closer. In fact, it might just become reality.

My life is not what my five-year-old self dreamed of. In fact, isn’t even what my thirty or forty-year old self dreamed of. Following Christ means giving up some self-focused dreams and making room for dreams bigger than we could imagine, dreams of bringing the Kingdom of God into the hear and now in a way that matters. Sometimes I dream of a church where grace and love thrive, where all human beings are truly welcome. Imagine how different things might be if we all had the courage of those first disciples, if we let go of what we thought our lives would be and followed Jesus into a future of endless possibilities…

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 26, 2020
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Photo: CC0image by Lukáš Skucius


No Turning Back


Following Jesus, true discipleship, is not for the feint of heart. Jesus is not of a fan of the familiar, routine, or status quo. Jesus likes to challenge assumptions, rouse the rabble, and provoke the powerful with truth. Once you put your hand on this particular plough, there is no turning back. It just isn’t possible because Jesus is unconcerned with what the past holds and far more interested in liberating people from oppression right now.

In the last four weeks I’ve been in four different cities and three different states. I’ve spoken at two different suicide prevention conferences, participated in a workshop at the United Church of Christ General Synod, and attended the Minnesota Conference UCC Annual Meeting. I’ve been in four states (MN, NH, MA, and WI) and met up with friends I haven’t seen in decades, and friends I haven’t seen for a few weeks or months. Waves of nostalgia wash over me as I drive through the mountains and walk on the beach. I’m overwhelmed with a longing for what used to be when I encounter friends I haven’t seen since seminary (more than 25 years). This last month has given me plenty of prompts to think about the course of my life and the unexpected twists and turns of my ministry.

June began with a trip to Western Massachusetts where I spoke at a conference. I met up with a high school friend and talking with her took me right back to the days when we were inseparable. We talked about the weirdness of aging where the body feels the years, but the mind and spirit have no concept that time passes; we could easily have been out on a night when we would have to go to school in the morning (except for the multitude of years between then and now).

This experience was followed by the MN UCC Annual Meeting. While I have made friends in MN, I was momentarily consumed by a longing for folks I’ve known a whole lot longer in other states. In those moments, I would have turned back the clock to years gone by without hesitation. At least I would have until I realized what I would not have in my life if I turned back the years. No time machine for me.

Then I went to General Synod and stood at the intersection between now and yesterday. I was there on behalf of the UCC Mental Health Network doing good work. Then I encountered people from across my years in ministry. The longing for what was threatened to overwhelm me once more. Those close friendships from seminary that nothing else quite replicates… those conversations in the dining hall… the hopes and dreams for serving the church… Oh, to begin again! No, not really.

Today, I stood at the ocean’s edge after speaking at another suicide prevention conference in New Hampshire. Nothing renews my spirit quite like the song of the sea and the feel of the sand on my bare feet. As I watched the tide (and the fog) roll in, I reflected on my ministry and where following Jesus had taken me. Never in the proverbial million years would I have ever guessed where Jesus would lead me. Once I figured out that I was called to ministry in the church and not in academia, I thought I had some idea of what that would be. Nope! Not even close.

The church I had prepared to serve no longer exists, and probably didn’t really exist even as I entered ministry. I had visions of youth group mission trips and adult spiritual formation retreats, with some preaching and Bible study in between. The intersection of mental health and faith, let alone suicide prevention, wasn’t in my wildest imaginings. The fact that I speak openly about my early struggles with mental health, being bi-sexual, wrestling with an archaic theology, and telling my story of suicidality and suicidal behavior, is not what I had envisioned. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

65116850_10157392583029375_1975425480005779456_oIn those moments when I think I would, when I think about going back when I kept all these things secret, it’s like watching the fog roll in on the beach. While the illusion of solitude is good, the temperature drop is a little chilling. Sure, I can tell myself that life was somewhat easier “back in the day,” it’s a lie that takes my attention away from the challenges of today. If I am distracted by the church of yesterday, I can miss the joys of today. If I think the past holds the answers, liberation of any kind may prove impossible.

Following Jesus has taken me all over the U.S. My journey of discipleship has made me go places I wouldn’t have the courage to go on my own. While the beach sings to my soul like no place else, I’ve also been restored by songs of the mountains, the woods, the lakes, and the desert, and the prairies. Without my hand on the plough I would never have come out as bisexual and wouldn’t have given a thought to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. I wouldn’t have marched with Black Lives Matter or protested with Latinx folx, or carried signs protesting the current administrations policies on refugees, or shared the journey with those struggling with symptoms of mental illness, or a thousand other things. Once I put my hand on the plough, I committed to leaving behind the shy, fearful days of my youth to become one who shows up and bears witness and tries to lend my voice to those who often go unheard.

It’s been a weird and wonderful journey. But looking back with yearning for what was takes me off-track. Jesus wants us to carry the lessons of where we have been not so we can recreate the past, but so that we can build the Realm of God here and now with the wisdom and compassion we’ve gathered on the way. And lest we forget, the plough creates the best furrows when many hands are on it. We do not and cannot follow Jesus, be healthy disciples, if we fool ourselves into thinking that we are alone. There’s Paul’s great cloud of witnesses and there is also the folx who are with us, hands next to ours making sure we plough a continuous row.

May we all stop looking back with yearning and celebrate all those whose hands guide the plough with courage and strength, wisdom and compassion.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Musings Sermon Starter

Letting Go and Showing Up


If I say that there is something missing in Mainline churches today, I’m not expressing a new thought. I’m merely echoing church critics everywhere. If I say that I’m tired of the things that divide us – religion and politics – I’m just adding my voice to a lot of others whose exhaustion might be tipping into apathy. After some prayer and some reading (Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward), I’ve come to the conclusion that we are missing. We only show up half way and ambivalently expect God to fix what we have broken. In short, we focus on how God loves and values each and every human being without giving a thought to whether or not we love God and what that might mean.

We don’t so much love God in progressive Christian circles. We’re so worried about being politically correct and not offending anyone that it’s become uncool to love Jesus with our whole hearts. We want assurance of God’s love for ourselves (and maybe some of our neighbors), but we don’t want to think about loving God simply because God is. Because we don’t think about our love for God very deeply, we miss out on passion and mix up the Truths of scripture with the desires of society and end up with a very bland, watery version of the Gospel.

There is nothing wrong with leading with God’s love for all of humanity. It’s a positive, healing message. But why does it matter? Why do we care? It isn’t likely because we want to go to Heaven or avoid going to Hell. These are vague notions in progressive churches. Is it because we want saving from our own self-destructive tendencies? We want a better way? Or at least a way that is less troublesome and painful? What if we sought a relationship of mutual love, or at least as mutual as the limits of our humanity allow?

God loves me and God wants only goodness for me. If I love God, then I want only goodness for all of God’s creation. If I love God, then I trust that God’s ways are better than my ways, than human ways. I trust God enough to let go of everything I’ve held too close. If I love God, I want to be my very best self, I want to live into the vision God has of me. Loving God means allowing God’s love to define and guide me in all that I am and all that I do. That’s so scary! I have to let go of so much pain and accomplishments and possessions and everything I think defines me if it is not love…

In light of all that is happening in the United States and the world that is anything but love, loving God means listening and praying differently. James urges believers who are hurting or struggling to go before God in prayer and assures us that prayer leads to divine healing. If we are only focused on ourselves and having enough faith to earn God’s favor, then are prayers are not an opening but a small fissure in our egos. When prayers are uttered without being grounded in a mutual love, how are we to recognize when God answers? It becomes far too easy to blame the one who prays when our prayers are not answered exactly in the way we ask. Healing comes in many forms when we love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

It’s time to show up and be church more fully. Yes, God loves us. Do we love God? If the answer is yes, then why do we continuously worry so much about what others are doing or what others might be thinking about us? If we love God, then shouldn’t be motivated by love and not by fear, anger, or hatred? If we love God and seek to serve God by serving our neighbors then oughtn’t we be able to let go of a need to read scripture as if it were an inerrant book of history rather than the collection of sacred stories of mythic Truth?

Church, it’s time we show up with our whole selves and stop worrying about whether or not everyone who calls themselves a Christian shows up the same way. Love God. Trust God’s love for us. Stop supporting a culture of wealthy white male dominance and believe those who tell their stories of victimization and oppression. It’s time we stop talking so much about how God loves everyone and start demonstrating just how much we love this amazing God of ours.

We are the Body of Christ at this moment in history. Now is not the time for fear, hatred, or apathy. Now is the time to let go of some of the foolishness that we call Tradition and embody Christ in a way that transforms those who are vulnerable, victimized, or dismissed. The world does not need the watery ambivalence we sell as good news. The world needs sure and certain evidence of a Love that is steadfast and enduring, even when offered by human hands. Let’s stop paying lip service to faith and start living fully in mutual love with the One who has never let us go.

For sermon help you may want to try here or here.

RCL – Year B – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 30, 2018
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Photo: CC0 image by Free-Photos

Musings Sermon Starter

The Truth about Greatness

***Trigger Warning:  The following references sexual violence. It does not describe any events in detail, but names things that could be difficult for some readers.***


Jesus valued what society dismissed. He didn’t care which of his disciples could most accurately quote scriptures or put the most in the offering bucket or walked the longest distance. He didn’t care if Peter could say with this lips that Jesus was the Messiah and he didn’t care that they had all left something behind to follow him. What mattered to Jesus was how they served each other and those around them. Did they see the least among them? Did they gain power by taking it from someone else? Did they disregard the outcasts of their day or did they seek to bring hope and healing?

I don’t remember the first time a man demeaned me with inappropriate comments or actions. At seven I was told that girls don’t play baseball and at nine the wolf whistles began. I was bullied because I cried easily, among other things. At twelve a photographer told me I would be beautiful if I lost a few pounds. It got worse from there.

I’ve been sexually assaulted and raped. I’ve been propositioned by teachers, professors, family friends, and strangers. I’ve been dismissed by potential employers because I’m a woman. I’ve been paid less than my male colleagues by most of my previous employers. I’ve lost friends because I was ordained and, according to them, women shouldn’t be ordained. I lost more friends when I divorced because, even though the relationship was very unhealthy, divorce was not Christian. More friends walked away when I came out because what’s worse than being a divorced, ordained woman? Being those things and not being heterosexual, apparently.

Men have stalked me, propositioned me, hurt me, abused me, dismissed and devalued me for most of my life. I don’t talk about these experiences often because I am more likely than not blamed for what happened to me. Surely, I wore the wrong clothes, said the wrong thing, led the man on, didn’t have the proper qualifications for employment, or whatever else gave men permission to treat me badly. The funny thing is that none of it was my fault.

As it turns out, girls really can play baseball and it wasn’t my fault that puberty struck when I was nine. Being a sensitive child shouldn’t be a defect; where else do poets and artists come from? And no, I didn’t need to lose weight when I was twelve; I was beautiful as I was. And nothing I did or didn’t do gave anyone the right to physically or verbally assault me or rape me. As far as the other stuff goes, woman are quite capable of doing whatever it is they feel called to do. It’s ridiculous, outdated, misogynistic, social conditioning that says otherwise. Worse still is that the church has supported these dangerously foolish notions either by endorsing gender biases with an erroneous reading of scripture or by remaining silent on the issue of sexuality in general and the abuse of women and children in particular.

Too many children and women remain unseen in our society. Being unseen and unheard and invalidated with startling frequency contributed to the development of an eating disorder and a long struggle with suicidality. This happens all too often. Children who are brave enough to report abuse are seldom heard and validated. Women who report sexual assault or rape are dismissed and blamed. It’s also very likely that the perpetrator of such crimes won’t be convicted or will be imprisoned for a comparatively short time.

It’s long past the time to change this. Instead of watching women who are brave enough to report sexual assault be harassed, demeaned, and destroyed, we would do better to listen. Instead of assuming that such stories are made up or excusing the behavior of the perpetrator, we would be doing women a great service by celebrating their strength and supporting their endeavors to end victim-blaming and hold abusive people accountable. In addition, wouldn’t it be a healthier option to teach our children that all have equal value and no one’s body is a plaything for those who are more powerful? And that male or female or Trans* makes no difference in one’s value as a human being?

Jesus overturned the disciples’ understanding of greatness. He placed a child among them and told them that to be great was to be in service to all, especially those who were viewed as the least. To follow Jesus and be truly great is to be servant of all and to uphold the value of every human being, especially those who are vulnerable because they are unseen and unheard by those with power. Jesus saw the value in children and women centuries ago. He saw them and offered them wholeness and abundant life. When will we?

RCL – Year B – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 23, 2018
Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1 or
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Photo: CC0 image by Free-Photos

Musings Sermon Starter

Call Me Jonah


God has a way of getting what God wants. Ask Moses. Better yet, ask Jonah. Jonah did everything he could think of to avoid doing as God asked him to do. What did he get for his efforts? He became whale puke. He then had to go and do what God asked him to do anyway, whale slime and all. I have a lot of affinity for both Moses and Jonah. For Moses because he argued with God, saying “no” five times before becoming the reluctant leader of God’s people. For Jonah because he just didn’t want to do what God was asking of him and went through all kinds of stuff before doing exactly what God asked of him to begin with. I have a tendency to respond to God in this fashion.

If I’m honest, I first felt called to ministry at age 10. I felt it again at 14, and again 19, and accepted it at 24. That call has been challenged many times in the intervening decades. I’ve argued with God. I’ve said “no” to God. Others have denied my ability to be in ministry for a variety of reasons. Yet, God always finds a way to make it happen. God’s ways are often surprising and unexpected. We also have a remarkable way of disrupting God’s plans, thinking ours are better. None of these things place us outside of God’s reach. Just ask Jonah. In the depths of the sea, in the belly of a whale, God still called Jonah. There is nowhere so deep, so filled with denial, that God cannot reach in and pull us out again. I suspect God would rather not have to work so hard. There are easier ways to serve God than becoming whale puke in the process.

Peter, James, and John were smart. They followed Jesus pretty quickly. Maybe they thought becoming Jesus’ disciples would be easier than working Zebedee’s fishing nets. They would smell better for sure. I like to think that they were young and impulsive and had no idea the enormity of what they were agreeing to when they left their nets that day. They went along, though. And they got really good at being disciples. We know they gained skills and insight because we’re here now. We also know that they weren’t perfect human beings; they were ordinary people like you and me. God saw potential in them and called them to a life that would use their gifts, gifts none of them knew they had when Jesus first walked into their lives.

We are all filled with potential. I was lucky in that teachers and professors saw all kinds of potential in me. I was luckier still that God called me and I heard it, however reluctantly. We all have gifts that we are called to use. It’s just a question of how graciously we will follow. You already know that I tend to fall into the school of Moses and Jonah – the reluctant disciple/prophet types. I’ve always wanted to be more like Peter, James, and John and drop everything to go where Jesus calls. It’s just not in my nature. I’ve never been very impulsive or trusting that what I hear God calling me to really is what God is calling me to. I’ve trudged through the wilderness and I’ve seen the inside of some whales. I’ve responded to God’s call and sometimes made a mess. I’ve run from God’s call and tried to hide. But God always has a way of getting what God wants, leading us to where God would like us to be, awakening the gifts dormant inside of us.

There’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes right down to it. God wants a future filled with hope and good things for all of us. Yes, it’s not always easy getting there. Sometimes our efforts to use our gifts leave us wandering in the wilderness for a long while or huddling in the belly of a whale wondering what could possibly come next. On the other hand, God calls us each by name and invites us to follow. No matter what happens after that, God does not leave us alone. Whether we are like Moses and Jonah or Peter, James, and John, God is delighted when we claim the gifts that we’ve been given and use them to bring a bit more hope, love, and healing, into the world. If you are a skeptical, reluctant disciple or an impulsive, enthusiastic one, it’s time to get moving. Turn on your GPS if you’re wandering in the wilderness. Take a shower if you’re covered in whale puke. God needs all of us to get busy because the realm of God is at hand. If you and I don’t share this good news with all that we say and do, then who will?

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Photo: CC0 image by Dimitris Vetsikas

Musings Sermon Starter

Gone Fishin’


Many people love fishing. They spend hours with their rods and reels waiting to catch “the big one.” I’ve participated in conversations about the best kind of bait to use and the right time of the day or year to catch particular kinds of fish. I’ve fished in lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans. I cannot tell you how many stories I’ve heard about “the one that got away” that was the biggest fish ever seen in human history. And, yes, as a child I was up before the sun on many mornings to go fishing. I had my own fishing poles and I learned how to fly fish and tie flies. The problem is, I really don’t enjoy fishing at all.

I have nothing against those who fish for sport or for a living. I’ve been known to enjoy fish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Fishing just isn’t fun for me. All those hours spent waiting and watching for a fish to bite always felt like I could be doing something else. As a child I’d rather have been reading if I was going to sit in a canoe for hours. It isn’t exactly boredom; it’s just not excitement. Even though worms creep me out, I don’t want to kill them just to catch another creature that I will also have to kill. Honestly, if I had to kill the fish I eat, I’d never eat fish. It always makes me feel sad. (Yes, I know someone else kills the fish I buy at the market or in a restaurant; I don’t claim to be rational about this.) I don’t need to kill to eat and my livelihood doesn’t depend on it. The bottom line is that I don’t like to get up early, I don’t like worms, and I don’t like to touch the fish, and really don’t like the idea of killing something.

Fortunately, the kind of fishing Jesus invites his disciples to do, doesn’t involve killing anything. Just the opposite, in fact. Fishing for people is all about bringing new life. Although, I wonder about churches today. For whom, exactly, are we fishing? I think it’s been decades in which we have not cast our nets wide enough. In fact, we might need a whole new set of nets.

fisherman-1592840_1920I’ve read so much about attracting Millennials to church, what we should and should not do. I’ve read a lot about the impact of Boomers as they’ve entered into retirement. All fine and reasonable information. But what happened to Gen Xers? Have we just written them off as lost causes? Why aren’t we interested in this generation that bridges the gap between what was and what is coming? Don’t we need these folks who are in the midst of their careers and raising their children? Some of these Gen Xers are now looking for ways to contribute to their communities now that their children are grown. Why aren’t we as concerned about their spiritual needs as we are about the Millennials’? These are some great fish who could really benefit from being part of our churches!

And what about the folks who might not add much to our budgets but could seriously benefit from being part of a loving, faithful community? Why are more churches not reaching out to those in recovery from addiction or mental health crises? How about reaching past the margins to those who are experiencing homelessness, living on the streets or in shelters? What of the folks who are most vulnerable around us? These are not small fish, useless fish. These are people who need community and a sense of belonging and to be affirmed as God’s beloved children.

I wonder if we have been fishing for the wrong purposes. It seems to me that we, as church, have been seeking those who could benefit us. You know, people who can chair committees, put money in the offering plate, and run our children and youth programs. Perhaps it’s time we start asking who could benefit from being part of our churches. Whose spiritual needs are going unnoticed and, therefore, unmet? Whose life would be changed by being shown that they are God’s beloved and they belong in a loving, faith-filled community? These are the fish we should be seeking. Are our nets adequate? Do we need to try fishing somewhere new?

In these days when life feels so uncertain for anyone on the lower rungs of the privilege ladder, wouldn’t it be great if churches could offer a place to be that is free from fear? Fishing, in the name of Jesus, is all about bringing hope to the hopeless, wholeness to the broken, peace to the anxious, and love to the hated. Let’s stop worrying about having the best boat and the latest and greatest in fishing equipment, and start paying attention to those who need to us to be church for them in real, life-saving ways.

I don’t know about you, but I am going fishing…

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 22,2017
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Top Photo: CC0 image by Lorri Lang
Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Paul Brennan

Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

A Little Fishing Trip

2015-01-19 14.02.38“Stop killing us,” she said in answer to the question of what the BlackLivesMatter movement wants. The words of this young activist have followed me through the week. They wrap themselves around the story of Jonah and the Ninevites and they sit with Zebedee in his boat with the hired hands.

While I am still contemplating this, my Facebook feed is flooded by announcements of Marcus Borgs’ death. This man was responsible for introducing a generation of seminarians (and others) to Jesus and the Bible again, for the first time. I feel sadness over his death, knowing he will not write anymore books that make me think differently about who Jesus was and is. These thoughts tangle with the others and make me want to pull something meaningful out of these texts, something real.

Jonah preached the shortest sermon in history and got the biggest results ever. He told the people of Nineveh to repent and they did. They repented. That doesn’t happen these days. Plenty of voices are calling us to change our destructive ways. Too many aren’t hearing. When thousands march to save black lives and they are dismissed as creating a nuisance, is anyone hearing the plea of “Stop killing us!”? I don’t know. Racism is easily justified by those in power. When will those of us born with white privilege stop ignoring the deeply broken justice system and take up the cry that will save lives?

Similarly, I wonder how many people would drop everything to follow Jesus if he were gathering disciples today. When I read Marcus Borg’s books, Jesus became more human for me but no less divine. Jesus invited Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him, learn from him, change their lives. They went seemingly without hesitation; they were eager to fish for people. What’s different for us? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure how quickly I’d jump out of Zebedee’s boat.

I think of the young activist and the thousands that marched, being in the crowd demanding change. Laying down in the middle of the road to show that black lives do matter, joining in the call for justice stirred something in me. I’ve spent my career advocating for people who have no voice and I didn’t see how needful it was to add my voice to the black voices crying out for justice until recently. Why? What gets in the way of seeing injustice? And once we do see it, what prevents us from jumping out of the boat to stand with those who suffer?

With a nod to Marcus Borg I will say I don’t know. But I will say it is time for us to repent. It is time for us to stop engaging in activities that harm our neighbors and ourselves. It is time for us to leave Zebedee in his boat and follow Jesus on the road to justice. It’s time to meet Jesus again, or maybe for the first time.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 25, 2015
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20