Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let the little children come to me....

 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ~ Mark 10:13-16

Beloved Children of God,
After decades of ministry together, Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church and New Hope Ministries have entered into a new partnership. On February 1st one of their after school programs began to meet in our facilities. The program is for Elmwood students and it follows the MASD schedule. The elementary students are with us from around 2:45 to 5pm. Once a month their parents join them for pizza and everyone meets together until 7.

The entire program is run by New Hope Ministries. They were in a different local church, but in order to expand the program to those on the waiting list they needed a church that is within walking distance to the school. That's where we come in. This week only they are meeting in the Youth Center, but they will move into Lower Fellowship Hall beginning Monday.

We are grateful for this opportunity to live out our faith by giving back to the community. If you would like to become directly involved with this program, please contact New Hope Ministries.

Have a great weekend, I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Peace be with you,

Friday, January 29, 2016

Snow Day

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. ~ Matthew 7:12

On Sunday morning the dog and I made our usual trek around the neighborhood. Of course, the streets looked a lot different than I've ever seen them. The snow that had been plowed was twice as tall as I am in some places and sidewalks and driveways were only just beginning to be revealed from under their thick white blankets.

By that time on Sunday the sun was shining bright and a lot of folks were out taking care of their own sidewalks and driveways, and also helping others around them do the same. I've never seen so many people outside at once; talking, drinking coffee, leaning on shovels, working together to clear paths and almost all of them waving, "Good morning!"

From the stories I've heard there have been a lot of these glimpses of what God wants for us. Of course there's been some of the more frustrating stuff too... I'm pretty sure that when John Calvin spoke of the total depravity of humanity, he didn't mean that guy who parked in the spot you just spent 7 hours clearing... but he'd definitely count it! 

I'm grateful for the glimpses of grace I hope we have all seen these last few days, and I pray that we can embody that grace as we move through the days and weeks and snow piles ahead.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Sacred and the Profane

My guess is every profession when mixed with the personal can get a bit surreal.

I can only speak for mine - clergy - and this past week had its definite moments of surreal. The Boy had a project due for school and so the week was peppered with time spent on that. I tried to do that parent dance where you suggest things for the project, but don't push things on the project (admittedly his decision to skip my suggestion of a 3d addition to his poster was a wise one).

In the middle of picking out pictures and printing them out the phone rang. It was the niece of a beloved parishioner - he had been admitted to hospice. I found out the details, hung up the phone... found the glue and the scissors and kept the project going.

Surreal.

My wife has been balancing parish and editing a book and running an organization and parenting... I don't know how she does it.

I'm exhausted by the sacred.
And the profane.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I'm Just Here for the Papers

“I’m just here for the papers.”

I said that to my cohort group at one of our early gatherings. We began in 2008 based on an existing model. A group of pastors from around the country gather together once a year bringing with them two papers each. These papers are based on the Sunday lectionary readings for the upcoming year. A finely tuned schedule through the week guides the group as the papers are presented and discussed in 20 minute segments with the benefit of everyone going home with a huge stash of resources for the upcoming preaching year.

But that’s not all…

Our group began with the instigators inviting one person each and then having that person invite someone else. I was on the outer layer of invitees and so when I arrived at our first gathering I knew only one person. That was hard. Our first evening together was spent at someone’s home and folks naturally split into those who knew one another from one seminary in the south in one room and folks who knew one another from another seminary in the south in another room. I was the only one from the seminary in the northeast.

It was awkward.

I didn’t blame them. We all know how much we miss those seminary connections once we get out into the cold, cruel world of ministry. The cohort group is a great way to have your continuing education budget legitimately pay for a reunion. And this group was incredibly welcoming. I remember how surprised I was when I had slept through dinner and everyone had made sure there was food left for me.

But still… the main reason we were together was to work on the lectionary texts for the upcoming year. And so as we were having one of our logistics meetings about where we would meet the following year and whether we should create more free time and who else should be invited to join us I found the opportunity to say, “I’m just here for the papers.”

And it’s true. The papers – the work – are both the ticket in every year and the glue that holds us together. But we are so much more. We sustain each other through the year in both the sacred and the profane. We create safe space for frustrations with the greater church, our individual churches, our communities and we create safe space for celebrations too. We challenge one another, we question one another, we pray for one another, we support one another.

As for me, this group has been there through numerous family transitions including a divorce and remarriage. They have heard stories about my Dad and respected my tears when he died. They embraced me when I came out as gay and prayed and supported me when I came out to the congregation I serve. They rallied around this Session and congregation as we all moved forward together in ministry.

So yes, it is still about the papers. But it is also about camaraderie and collegiality; it is about the deep, rich relationship that comes in the walking through valleys and over mountaintops together; it is about the yoke of trust when we put our relationships above the Calls we are trying to discern often to the same churches.

It is about Christian fellowship and friendship in its purest and most Holy of forms – and I am blessed and a better person for it.


But I still want the papers.

crossposted at the NEXTChurch blog 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Heart Healthy


Psalm 51:10-14

I Samuel 16:1-13

I don't remember the grade exactly, but I do remember the moment of revelation. Up until then recess had been a time of a soccer game with no boundaries – literally there was no out of bounds. We'd run and run and run until someone scored a goal or the bell rang when we would file back into the building red-faced, sweaty and panting. Our game always began on the field where two boys would pick the teams. It was never said out loud, but everyone understood that they got to pick because they were the best at soccer.

I was usually the 1st girl chosen after the boys, sometimes second after Dawn who was a fleet forward compared to my willing but slow soccer speed.

But on this day on the playground, the first girl chosen was Liz.
Liz?

As my friends and I gathered around the lunch table later I lamented, "Liz? She doesn't even know how to play soccer, all she did was lean against the goal post and look pretty."

Oh.

Whenever it starts - and I believe it starts earlier now - it happens. That sudden realization that what your parents had told you about what is on the inside mattering more than the looks on the outside - is all a lie.

I can be a cynic, but more often than not I am an idealist. Sometimes I interact with the world as I think it should be, rather than see how it actually is. I want to think that we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us, but I can’t balance that out with the knowledge that I do not have one African American friend or colleague who has not been pulled over or questioned by a police officer and I have plenty of white friends and colleagues who don’t even think that’s a real problem because it’s so outside of their understanding of what happens in our society.

I want to think that we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us, but sometimes I’m privy to information where I learn that two final candidates for a 2000 member Head of Staff ministry position include one who had 15 years of ministry experience as both an Associate Pastor and Head of Staff and the other one who had 26 months of ministry experience in an Associate Pastor position and the one with the least amount of experience and credentials got the job. Did I mention the one with more experience is a woman and the one with minimal experience is male?

I want to think that we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us, but when Martha read an article to me about a criminal, I was picturing him in my head… and when she turned the laptop to show me his picture I was chagrined to realize that the picture in my head did not match the fairly clean-cut image of reality.

I want to think we are living in a world where what’s on the outside doesn't impact how the world sees us… but we all know better than that.

We all do it and in varying degrees we've all had it done to us.

Truly – and sadly – it will be not until the banquet in heaven that we will see Apostle Paul’s vision of true equality become reality – no longer Jew or Gentile, no longer male or female, no longer slave or free…
no longer Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or …
   no longer gay or straight or trans or…
      no longer lower class or working poor or the 1% or…

Then we will leave these childish judgments behind, sadly for now we judge and we are judged.

It does make me feel a little better that Samuel does it too. He had already done this before picking Saul out as the first king. Saul described in this way: There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else (I Sam. 9:2).

Eventually Saul wore out his welcome with God and Samuel (or was it Samuel then God). Either way, God tells Samuel to get over it and go find the next king.

The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.

Samuel goes where he’s supposed to go and looks and sees the one he thinks he’s supposed to find. The firstborn of Jesse who looks like what Samuel thinks a king should look like, but God tells him to move along. ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’

And it is not until Samuel listens to God, that he finds the right one – David.
   The youngest.
      The shepherd boy.

What God wants is often not what the world wants. God’s desires rarely look like what we think they should look like. And the thing is… we know it.

We live in a nation where 20% of the people own 89% of the wealth. That means 80% of us are getting by – or not - with the 11% that’s left over. And some have so little they don’t even show up in the statistics.

Whether we think the government should be involved in helping those who are food insecure or whether we think it should be left to individuals and nonprofits and churches to cover the gap… we know in our hearts, something is not right.

What is God telling us to do? Are we listening?

Samuel goes to find the next king, but he can’t identify him until he hears and accepts what God is telling him.

God calls us too – but when we look in the mirror do we think, “Well, that can’t be right.”?
I’m too short, too old, too busy.
I’m not smart enough, not spiritual enough, not experienced enough.

What if God knew about me what I know about me – there’s no way God would want me on God’s side.

Grown up King David did amazing things, but he also did things that weren't pleasing to God.
He decided that he liked his neighbor’s wife. He got her pregnant. He then attempted to cover his tracks by having his neighbor killed.

In one tawdry story David breaks at least 50% of the commandments.

You might think that would be the end of the relationship between God and David. But the Lord looks into the heart of David and although it’s a mess, God still loves him. God doesn’t give up on him. 

But God does expect more of him.

David gets the message. And David responds…
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit. 

There are many reasons we might think there should be no relationship between God and us.  
But the Lord looks into our hearts and believe me, it’s a mess 
– and yet God still loves us. 

God doesn't give up on us. 

But God does expect more of us.

How will we respond?

Let us pray... Holy One, we give you permission to carve away all that is not pure in our hearts. We invite you to create space in our crowded hearts for you to dwell. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. We ask you to align our priorities with yours, and awaken our hearts from their sleep.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What's In a Name

September 29, 2013 - Narrative Lectionary - Year 4, Week 3

Exodus 3:1-15

But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 
God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ 

I know how people know me by the way they say my name.
If you call me, ‘Z!’ – then you know me from college.
If you call me, ‘KJ’ – then you probably played sports with me, most likely in seminary.
‘Pastor Kathryn’ – church.
‘Coach Kathryn’ – You are most likely 8 or younger.

Katie, Kathy… are among my least favorite.
But the one I dislike the most is, “Hey Honey... can you tell me if the Pastor is in?”

What’s in a name?

Respect.
   Trust.
      Relationship.

Moses gets some pushback from those of us looking back at him 3000+ years away. Who does he think he is arguing with God – but there he is.

Before he argues that no one will believe him.
Before he mentions his speech impediment.
Before he flat out asks that someone else be asked instead.

Moses says to God: Whom shall I say sent me?

Our translation of the text says: I am Who I am.

But that’s not quite right. The Hebrew letters are (from right to left)  ‘yod’ ‘he(y)’ ‘vav’ ‘he(y).

Which all together means… well, it’s not translatable.

Y.H.W.H.

Yahweh is how it looks in print and how we often say it, but those are just the consonants with helpful vowels in between them. It’s not an actual word. As if we put the letters ‘K’ and ‘T’ and ‘R’ down on paper and asked people to read it. You can’t. So we might add some vowels, let’s go with ‘a’: KaTaR which means… nothing.

God is so beyond our understanding that even God’s name is outside of our grasp.

But there cannot be relationship without a name. And so God does respond…

YaHWeH…

YaHWeH is the sound of breath. It’s a presence. It’s the embodiment of God everywhere we go.

God is here.

Every breath, God is here.

Yahweh…


I AM here…

I AM all you need…
I AM not defined by you…

Yahweh…

I AM your God…
I AM with you…
I AM enough…

Yahweh…

I AM…

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What Would Jacob Do?


September 22, 2013 - Narrative Lectionary - Year 4, Week 3

W.W.J.D. – What Would Jacob Do?
I always thought the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bracelets were asking for too much.  It certainly would be a lot easier to hold ourselves accountable to a ‘What Would Jacob Do’ bracelet.

What would Jesus do? He’d sacrifice himself in order to overthrow the evil in this world.
What would Jacob do? He’d trick people so he could get what he wanted.

Maybe the world is so challenged because everyone is reading their bracelets wrong.

In two weeks – three Sundays – we have catapulted from Creation to Abraham to Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac as a child to now Isaac as an old man, on his death bed. His twin sons, Esau and Jacob, have been at each other’s throats since the womb when all of their jostling and pushing caused their mother, Rebekah, to say, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”
And the LORD said to her,‘Two nations are in your womb,   and two peoples born of you shall be divided;one shall be stronger than the other,   the elder shall serve the younger.’ When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. (Genesis 25:22-26)
Esau was a hunter, Jacob was… well, according to the Bible – he liked to hang out in the tents. 
Isaac, the father, loved Esau, but Rebekah, the mother, loved Jacob.

Esau was forthright and simple.
Jacob was sneaky and conniving.

If this family was around now, they’d have their own reality show.

Interview with Esau:
“I went out hunting for days and it didn’t go well. When I came back I was so hungry I couldn't even think straight and Jacob was hanging out in the tent cooking red stuff. I wanted the red stuff.”

Interview with Jacob:
“It was a lentil stew with coconut milk, tomato and cilantro.”

“It took a lot of effort to make and I knew Esau was just going to gulp it down so why not get what I could for it. I went for it all, asked for his birthright – that I would be considered the firstborn son – and he gave it to me. “
“No one was there to hear it though, so really the whole thing didn’t matter anyway.”

And this is what eventually leads to Jacob tricking his father, Isaac, into giving him a blessing instead of Esau.

The thing is, even with all of that conniving and manipulation, the outcome was not a Jacob who was obviously blessed. Instead the outcome was an Esau who was obviously ticked – and when one is used to hanging around in tents and cooking lentils, it is best not to anger the one who can hunt you down and kill you.

Jacob had to run from home and in between there and his next stop on the Biblical Family of Deceit Tour, he spent the night unprotected in the wilderness and fell asleep using a stone for his pillow.

Genesis 28:10-17 
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 

And the LORD stood beside him and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ 

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ 

Along Beach Boulevard in Gulfport, Mississippi there is St. Peter’s Episcopal Church by the Sea. For a long time after Hurricane Katrina you could stand under St. Peter’s roof and see the Gulf of Mexico and the beach, not through a window, but through the gaping holes where walls used to be. The walls of the church’s lower half were completely ripped off by the force of the storm, windows were blown out, pieces of the altar were heavily damaged or missing. Inside, the baptismal font was knocked over either by winds and water or debris striking it. Even a substantial granite sign at the end of the church's driveway was damaged… toppled like dominoes and broken into three large pieces.

In the days after Hurricane Katrina, parishioners returned to St. Peter’s by the Sea and found hymnals and Bibles, church records, robes, and stoles strewn outside the building, just part of the rubble and debris.***

Many churches rebuilt, but they did so on higher ground, across the highway. The Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the other Episcopal Church – all of them left. It made sense, really. Except that those who still live in the downtown neighborhoods of those beaten shores needed a church.

I give thanks for the Old Testament and its stories of real people and real families. This is not some Legends of Israel comic book where the patriarchs have no sin and God loves them only because of their perfection.  Family systems then and now are riddled with strife – both from natural and human causes. 

Whether it’s the winds of disaster or the trickery of humanity – things get destroyed - and nothing is more devastated than a church that has been blown away by a storm. 

What Would St. Peter’s Do?

In a Mississippi business magazine, the building chair of St. Peter’s tells their story:

“After the storm, nobody knew at first what to do. We survived the first year dealing with our personal lives,” he said. “Then we met and prayed about it trying to figure out what to do. We’ve always been a downtown church. We minister to downtown and will remain a downtown church… We saw a need here and chose to stay.”

Despite the destruction and the heartbreaking trauma of a natural disaster, the people of St. Peter’s by the Sea stayed by the sea and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”

MPC is blessed – we have faced no natural disaster, there has been no building destruction. But the winds of secular apathy are howling, and the forces of family dynamics can threaten. 

What will MPC do?
We will continue to build on the faith of those who have come before us.
We will stay and look around and see… the Lord is in this place… How awesome!

  • Over 300 pounds of fresh produce delivered to New Hope Ministries in one summer;
  • Vegetables prepared week after week and paper products crowding the stage for CROSS;
  • Sunday school hallways and classrooms bubbling with laughter and fresh understandings of the Word of God;
  • Dozens of youth and adults sent out to serve by this congregation locally, nationally and abroad;
  • Brand new Bibles placed in the hands of our 3rd graders and our Confirmation Class this morning;
  • Our voices filling the Sanctuary giving thanks and glory to God through song and praise.
Surely the Lord is in this place…
How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Preacher's Note: I've been brushing up on my family systems theory lately, and especially how it relates to church dynamics. Edwin H. Friedman is the genius on such things and his last book reminds leaders to avoid getting caught up in other people's anxiety, but instead respond by giving their I Have a Dream speech. This is mine.)