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Musings Sermon Starter

What are You Doing Here?

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What are you doing here? Are you running away? Are you exhausted? Are you without hope? Are you looking for God, hoping God will show up and fix all that is broken? Will you eat the bread that is offered? Will you withstand the truth of where God is? Will you get up and go out to the wilderness to continue working to bring Divine Love into the world?

I feel for Elijah, I really do. He’s worn out by the resistance to God’s ways he continuously encounters. He would gladly go to sleep and not wake up to face another day of threats to his life. He has fled, seeking rest for his weariness. Maybe he’s even hoping that God will tell him he doesn’t have to be a prophet anymore. Instead, he’s offered food and told to move on to a place where he will wait for God to show up.

There’s the wind, but God was not in the wind. There’s an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. There’s fire, but God is not in the fire. Then there’s the sound of sheer silence that compels Elijah to come out of the cave and answer the question again: What are you doing here? He recounts his failures – covenant broken, altars torn down, and prophets killed. I can almost hear God saying yet again, “What are you doing here?” Seriously, there’s nothing to be done in a cave, hiding out. Sure, the people have turned their backs on God’s holy ways, but that is no reason to give up. Whatever it is you think you are doing here, go on your way. The wilderness waits for you.

Church, what are we doing here? We are still looking for God in the storms and chaos. We still want to flee when the weariness, fear, and hopelessness prevent us from experiencing those moments of sheer silence. We might even miss the nourishment that God places before us. I’m not sure what we are doing here. Are we hiding? Are we being prophetic? Are we taking in nourishment? Are we soaking up the silence? Probably not as much as we are hiding out, desperately hoping that God will show up and fix all that we have broken.

June is Pride month and I can’t help but think that the church is still hiding out in a cave. We want to blame the current stormy political environment for all that ails us and for obstructing the work of God. We can’t blame our disunity on the current administration, though. When it comes to LGBTQ+ folx, we have long been divided. Not only have we missed God’s presence among us by participating in the storms, we have also failed to hear Paul’s words that remind us of the unity we are find in the body of Christ. You know, in Christ there is no immigrant or resident, no refugee or naturalized citizen, no queer or straight, no Trans* or cis, no POC or white, no disabled or abled, no mentally ill or well, no rich or poor. We are to be one in Christ. We cannot continue to hide from that which divides us.

Jesus himself went out to the wild places and called people to himself. He offered healing and wholeness without exception. Even the Gerasene demoniac was restored to wholeness and told to proclaim all that God had done for him. If any of us have survived the winds of rejection that shatter our sense of self, the earthquakes of division that drive us to the edges of society, or the fires of ridicule that diminish us, and then experienced the sheer silence, the still, small voice of God, we must share this healing. We must do has Elijah did, as the healed demoniac did. We must continue on the journey, proclaiming all that God has done for us. How else will others find their way, find their place, within this wounded body we call church?

What are we doing here? Are we huddled in fear and protecting ourselves or are we cleaning up after the storms, strengthened by the moments of sacred silence? We can continue to yearn for the church of years past or we can expand our understanding of what the body of Christ looks like and be a vital presence in the world today. It’s time we continued the journey and proclaim all that God has done for us. In Christ we are one. In Christ we are whole.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Photo: CC0 image by Sharon McCutcheaon

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Song of Praise

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If your house is anything like mine, there are remnants of Christmas everywhere. There’s the tree with a string of lights not quite working. There’s a box of wrapping paper and cardboard waiting to go out to the recycle bin. There’s a not-so-tidy stack of decorations that never made it to the tree. The new gifts sitting out because they haven’t found a place yet. Oh, and the kitchen, well, it’s the kitchen after a flurry of baking and candy making… It’s obvious that something happened here, it’s just not clear what that something was.

It’s just not clear what that something was. For many people, the day after Christmas is the day to put everything away, tidy things up for the new year. In the stores all the Christmas goods are on the clearance shelves and Valentine’s Day products have taken the prime spots. It’s hard to keep up when retail jumps from one holiday to the next without stopping in between. Church is different, though, isn’t it.

The Advent wreath is fully lit as the paraments change to white. Concerts and carols fill the week. How do we keep going with Christmas while the world moves on? How do we linger at the manger, under the star long enough to find some meaning in the annual remembrance of Jesus’ birth?

Isaiah, the Psalmist, Simeon, Paul all provide a clue to meaning making. They all point toward praise. Praising God in the midst of the chaos and the ordinary opens us to the truth of what happened under that star so long ago. Too many people say that they cannot praise God while refugees wander without a home, while people freeze to death for lack of shelter, while children remain hungry, while hatred runs free in our streets, and on down the list of social ills. Perhaps this is part of the reason for everything feeling overwhelming or out of control; we have forgotten how to sing God’s praises every day.

No matter what is happening in the world, God is still God. God created the world. God so loves the world. God became flesh and lived among us. God reveals the way of Love. If the world is overwhelmed with hatred and poverty and fear, it is not God’s doing. God is still God in the midst of the mess we have created. God was God on that first Christmas when Jesus took his first breath. God was God on that first Good Friday when Jesus took his last breath. God was God on that first Easter morning when Christ emerged from death. God is God, even now, when we live in fear, when we struggle for health and wholeness, when Pharaoh and Babylon are on the rise again, when we forget that nothing can extinguish Love. God is still God. God waits for us to recognize God’s presence here and now. God is waiting for us to sing praises to God even when we don’t feel like it.

There is plenty to sing about, really. God loves humanity collectively and individually, even when we don’t seek out God’s ways, even when our sin has lasting effects. Praising God for the goodness of creation should come naturally to our lips. Praising God for God’s amazing love for humanity should be as natural as breathing. We have forgotten to step back and look beyond our own lives, beyond this moment in time, beyond the remnants of this Christmas. We have forgotten to listen to the stories of those who have gone before us. We have forgotten to come before God in awe and gratitude for the gift of life and Love. Perhaps we have forgotten how truly loved we are. If we remember, we can change the world. If we remember, we will become known for our songs of praise.
Spend some time in these days of Christmastide under the light of the star that still shines, surrounded by the remnants of the day, and remember. Remember the days of old that enable the prophets and poets to sing praises to God. Remember the beauty and wonder of creation. Remember those who have shared faith with you. But most importantly, remember that Christmas is all about Love breaking into the world in a whole new way so that we will not forget that we are God’s beloved. That’s what happened in that stable so long ago. That’s what happened just a few days ago.

May we all become songs of praise to the One whose Love continues to reach for us, even now.

If you’re looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday after Christmas – December 31, 2017
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Photo: CC0 image by anja

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Between Ordinary and Extraordinary

2015-08-25 18.43.05I’ve lived a whole lot of my life in between one thing and another. Even generationally, I am definitely not a Baby Boomer, but I’m on the early side of Gen Xers. In high school I walked between cliques with friends in many, while I fit with none. When I chose my major in college I chose psychology because, at the time, I thought it was between the arts and the sciences and neither English nor Biology had felt quite right as a major. As someone who is bisexual, I have felt on the outside of both gay and straight communities. Even my life in the church is feeling more and more like another in-between space.

The church I was prepared for serving is not the church that is emerging. The church that depends on buildings and programming and committee meetings really isn’t terribly common anymore. So much of what was important in my growing up years and the years early in my ministry, doesn’t fit with where most people are these days. It’s hard to let go of the nostalgic warm fuzzy thoughts of lobster luncheons (I grew up on Cape Cod), strawberry festivals, week-long Christmas fairs, children’s choirs, Lenten Luncheons, and so many other things that were dependent on a completely different social structure. I think about the next 15 or so years before retirement and really wonder if I will be able to continue serving as a full-time pastor when churches are really moving toward part-time, bi-vocational clergy. I have no other vocation. My years in ministry began before I was old enough to drink.

So I find myself asking what I am to do as I read Naaman’s story. I understand his frustration. I understand his desire for something special. He wanted God to display God’s power in some big, extraordinary way. Instead, Naaman was told to go jump in the river seven times. No big deal, really. Still, it was a bit of a letdown for Naaman. Although, I bet he didn’t feel too disappointed by the time he was done and he was healed. It was just God’s way of telling Naaman to check his ego at the door, or to at least leave it on the river bank.

Maybe this is the way it is to be for me, as well. I live in between one thing and another. Maybe my lot is to be a part of the bridge that will lead from what was to what will be. As much as I want God to work in extraordinary ways in my life, I should pay more attention to the ordinary, because that’s where the healing is. That’s where the true path to the future lies. It also makes it easier to leave behind what isn’t really necessary which is what Jesus told the disciples to do. Leave all the unnecessary baggage behind.

There’s freedom in this in-between place to go where God calls. If it’s jumping in a river seven times to remind us all that in humbleness there is healing, then okay. If it is to live the Good News with those around us as we share our lives with them, then okay. If it is to bear one another’s burdens, then okay. There is beauty in the ordinary. There is hope in the in-between places. It makes me wonder, with joyful anticipation, what the church might look like when it rises from those healing waters with her face all shiny and new. Maybe this in-between life really is quite extraordinary after all…

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 3, 2016
2 Kings 5:1-14 with Psalm 30 or
Isaiah 66:10-14 with Psalm 66:1-9
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Hand on the Plough

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From January of 2000 through May of 2002 I served a small church as an interim. They were reluctant, to say the very least, to have a pastor that was not male and not straight. It was a strange set of circumstances that only God can arrange that led me to be their pastor. We had an interesting couple of years together. We learned some things from each other, both good and less than good. That church struggled with a lot of fear and a huge reluctance to go where God was calling them. Simply put, they did not want to change.

One Sunday I was preaching on Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert on the way to the Promised Land. I’ve always had a strong affinity for Moses and all that he had to endure in service to God and God’s people. In that sermon I laid out the difficulties facing Moses. I started with the fact that he said no to God five times and ended up doing as God asked him to do, anyway. Then I moved on to the moaning and groaning of the people as soon as they left the relative safety and comfort of Egypt behind. Add in the fact that any time Moses left them alone so he could get some clarity from God about what was next, the people became idol-worshiping heathens. Oh, the life of a prophet. Toward the end of the sermon I said, “Thank God I am not called to be a prophet.” And there was much laughter.

In the moment, I didn’t understand the laughter. It was explained to me during coffee hour by several folks. The statements to me were all quite similar. “Um, I hate to break it to you, but you are a prophet.” My response was to just look rather blank and the person would continue, “Are you not trying to lead us where we do not want to go? Are you not telling us that God wants more from us than a slow, steady demise? Aren’t we unwilling to listen?” My turn to laugh. God has an interesting sense of humor.

Today, the mantle of prophet weighs heavily on my shoulders. Two weeks ago I heard the Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon call members of the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ to be “repairers of the breach,” to begin building relationships that would dismantle racism within the denomination, our churches, and our country. This is a huge call and one that cannot be ignored.

Before the weekend ended, the news of the Pulse 50 reached us. This horrific act of violence has shaped my thoughts and days since. These murders have triggered fear and anxiety and outrage in the hearts of my parishioners. We are reminded that fear and ignorance, self-loathing and homophobia are not a thing of the past. We are reminded that there is no safe space – no school, no theater, no mall, no community center, no mosque, no church, and no club can keep out the bullets of hatred.

If this is not enough to daunt even the most committed prophet, add in the voices still crying for reconciliation in race relations in our communities and in our churches. Reconciliation cannot happen where there is no relationship to begin with, where there is no equality of power, where there is no admission of wrong-doing, where there is no sincere ownership of and apology for dehumanizing individuals and communities. Begin to repair the breach by empowering POC and not protecting white supremacy and white privilege. Maybe one day we will get to reconciliation, but not now, not even close to now. This is a white problem and not a POC problem.

Admittedly, I am tired. I am tired of trying to find a word of hope for people who are continuously pushed out of our churches, out of our communities, to the edges of society, to the edges of power. My hand is on the plough for sure, but I’m looking all around for a place to turn. I am searching for words and actions that will change what is. I do not want to hear one more person blame POC for situations that are the result of centuries of systemic racism. I do not want to hear one more person blame Queer folks for the hatred that led one man to kill 49 people. I do not want to hear one more person blame all Muslims for the actions of a very few. I do not want to hear one more person say that Hillary isn’t fit to be president because she’s a woman. I do not want to hear one more person blame President Obama for his inability to get things done while Congress blocks his every move.

My prophetic word for today is to tell you to start doing something different. Start planting seeds that will yield the fruits of the Spirit. If your words and actions are not consistent with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then stop. Stop what you are doing, take responsibility, listen to those around you, and do what you can to repair the breach.

And if all this is too much, and you, too, are tired, then take heart. Jesus warned us that there would be times when we are not fit for the Kindom. Jesus clearly indicated that many would find rest, but those who embody the Christ would be weary and wandering without a place to lay down and rest. The frustration of the prophetic life is that rest comes only when we hear God speaking. In the meantime, the mantle grows heavy. It’s lighter when more hands and more voices join in. God is present and God is good. With God, it is possible to find the way of peace.

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – June 26, 2016
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

Photo: CC0 image by Unsplash A

Categories
liturgy Prayer

Pastoral Prayer for Humility

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Mysterious and wonderful God, throughout human history you have been present. You have shown up and repeatedly demonstrated your power, a power beyond human understanding. We want to believe that we know the whole truth of you who are. We lament when you don’t seem to act in the dramatic, awe-inspiring ways as you did in the days of the Prophets. We want you to consume our offerings—plates, coins, altars, and all. But we are also terrified for what that might mean. Forgive our self-serving foolishness, and remind us of the depths of your mystery and wonder.

God of all people and places, you are known throughout the world by so many names. You are honored by worship and songs of praise in countless tongues. Somehow, still, we want to know that the name we call you is the one true name and our worship is the one true worship. Our quest for certainty often closes us off to your abundance. We forget that all the people of the world are your children. We are filled with fear and hatred when we ought to be living in love and praying for peace. Forgive us when we believe that our small view of you defines the whole of you for ourselves and for all peoples.

Singing and creating God, you make all things new again and again. You want us to sing you a new song, a song that opens all to the glories of your love. We are so easily swayed by shiny, fleeting things or fooled into believing that the gods of our own making are enough. We blame you when things go wrong and we suffer. Yet, we fail to sing your praises when we are well and happy. We judge others as less deserving when compassion and justice are what you ask of us. Stir your Spirit within us that we might let go of a faith too small and open ourselves to all the possibilities you hold for us. Forgive us when we forget to sing to you and when we are too comfortable to create what needs to be.

God of love and mercy, you claim us as your own. You know our names and you hear the secret whisperings of our hearts. You thought Creation wonderful enough to send Jesus to show us the way of love. Even when humanity responded in fear and violence, you did not let the story end there. Instead you spoke Love and breathed out Life. Still, we seek the approval of those around us long before considering you. Show us your way once more; call us off paths that lead to violence, hatred, and harm. Forgive us when we act as if your love and mercy do not exist.

Patient and steadfast God, you love us as we are. You so patiently wait for us to see you, hear you, love you. We think faith is something to be measured even though Jesus made it clear that even faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. When things go wrong or we didn’t notice the answer to our prayers, we think we did not have enough faith or that we did not pray correctly. We worry too much about how much faith we have or what “right” faith might look like. You tell us simply to believe – yes, I believe; help my unbelief or no, I don’t belief. That’s all it takes. You provide the rest. Forgive us when our narrowly defined faith gets in the way of our experiencing the miracles all around us.

Holy One, you are beyond our knowing. With humble hearts we lift up to you all the places of pain in the world. Teach us anew how to embody Christ right here and  for all those whom we meet. Fill us with humility enough to walk with you, bring justice into the world, and act only with kindness. In gratitude, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For sermon help, you might want to go here.

Photo: CC0 image by 547764

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost – May 29, 2016
1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39 with Psalm 96
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 with Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

Categories
Musings Prayer Sermon Starter

Naaman, Paul, and Jesus. Who Knew?

Do you know how, every once in a while, a song gets into your head? Not in an earworm sort of way, but the song stays with you because it resonates with something in you? That has happened to me. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to a song by Matthew West called, “Hello My Name Is.” There’s something about it that has grabbed hold of me in a way that lets me get beyond the traditional language to the heart of the message. Here are the lyrics, but I encourage you to give it a listen.

“Hello, My Name Is”
Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief
These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life
What love the Father has lavished upon us
That we should be called His children
I am a child of the one true King

It’s the idea that when we encounter God’s transforming love, we are set free from the lies we believe about ourselves. Maybe it is under the influence of this song that I read this week’s texts. But I think Naaman or one of the members of the church in Galatia or one of the seventy could have written this song.

The last time I read the 2 Kings passage about Naaman, I heard nothing but Naaman’s sense of entitlement. This time I heard a story about a man whose expectations and the lies he told himself nearly cost him a whole new life. Naaman was an important man. He had power and position and respect. He believed he deserved an audience and a personal showing from the prophet Elisha. Namaan was, after all, an Aramean and, therefore, better than an Israelite (at least to his own thinking). He had expectations about the treatment he deserved from Elisha and, likely, from the God of Israel. If not for his servants, Naaman would have remained a leper, blinded to the simple act that would bring him healing. Instead, he is healed and maybe sees himself differently as a result of God’s grace.

Seeing Naaman as one limited by his own view of himself, I thought of my patients. As a psychiatric chaplain I frequently meet people who are trapped in their own expectations and are truly blind to opportunities for healing. Unlike Naaman, these people have very poor expectations for their treatment at the hands of others. They believe themselves truly unworthy of love and compassion. They tend to dismiss the idea that life could be different for them if they could see themselves as deserving of kindness if nothing else. Their own self-hatred keeps them bound to a cycle of self-destruction. They are provided with many opportunities to make small, uncomplicated changes which they cannot bring themselves to make. They would say their names are Regret or Defeat or worse. If there is a river of healing out there, it’s for someone else.

By the time I get to the Galations reading, I’m thinking about the Naamans and the psych patients I’ve met. And I marvel at how easy it is for people to get lost in the lies we tell ourselves – for better or for worse. Then I read these words:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Now I’ve stopped thinking about other people and I’m questioning myself. I realize how many times I’ve been like Naaman and like my patients and I’m thinking that I’ve missed out on lots of things. I’ve not joined in very many protests against injustice… stopped using zip lock bags and bottled water… donated blood recently, gone to any disaster zones to offer aid… kept up on all the happenings of the world… taken any big risks for the sake of improving life for someone else… prayed as much as I could for Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Arizona, New Hampshire, my neighbors, or my loved ones… Just what am I sowing, let alone reaping?

Just when I am beginning to despair, I read the Gospel lesson. The sending of the seventy and the instructions to essentially take nothing for their journey speaks of trust. Go where you go in the name of God. Bring peace and offer peace. If it is not received, don’t dwell there. Trust God to give you what is needed. I know it’s more complicated than that, but it comes down to trust. If I put my faith in my own achievements, my expectations are going to be skewed. I could become like Naaman and believe that I deserve better and miss the simple opportunities for cleansing and healing. Or I could become like some of my patients and expect only rejection and mistreatment and miss out on love and grace. The harvest would be rather limited.

Clearly, these readings hit me where I live these days. I am still questioning my expectations and how they might hinder me along the way. I want to pay far more attention to what it is I am sowing based on those expectations. And I want to let go of all the extras I carry when I could be trusting God. I want to live the belief that I am a child of a holy God and I am saved, changed, and set free.

So, Lord, I pray for the Naamans of the world who do not have brave servants and miss bathing in humble waters. And for the times when I have been Naaman. I pray also for the brave ones who speak out in your name to humble and heal the powerful. And for the courage when it is my time to be a brave servant. I lift up those whose expectations hold them captive to illness and self-destruction. And for those who try to show them the way to the river. For all those who sow only in the moment and think nothing of the harvest that is to come. For those who think only of the harvest and have forgotten for whom they sow. For those who weary of laboring for what is right. To this I add prayers of gratitude for all those who have trusted in you and have reminded me what is possible when we follow you, and for the love you lavish on us all. Amen

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RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
2 Kings 5:1-14 with Psalm 30 or
Isaiah 66:10-14 with Psalm 66:1-9
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Categories
Prayer

Do You Know Where God is?

This week I have written a prayer that is drawn directly from the 1 Kings, Galatians, and Luke readings. These are the prayers  that emerged as I read the passages. By praying the texts in this way, they become more alive, more relevant for me. Maybe this will be true for you also.

God who is present all the time – when we notice, and when we do not – hear these prayers. I lift up to you:

Those who see nothing wrong with violence and threats of more violence to get what they want

Those who need to flee to places unknown in order to save their lives

Those who feel overwhelmed by the tasks before them

Those who grieve for what was lost in tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes

Those who grapple with wild fire

Those who fail to sit still long enough to hear the sound of shear silence and the still, small voice it holds

Those who spend more time focusing on whom are heirs to the promise than on the promise itself

Those who live as outcasts

Those tormented by today’s demons, legion or not quite so many

Those who are fearful of who they find sitting in the presence of Christ

Those who are afraid to sit with Jesus

Those who are terrified of transformation and healing

And for all the times and ways I am like all of these…

Amen.

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RCL – Year C – Fifth

1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or Sunday After Pentecost – June 23, 2013
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39