Thursday, January 15, 2009

The In-Between Time

"Change is usually good. It's the transition that stinks."

This quote is from a friend of mine and I have stolen it, preached it and reminded myself of it just about every day since the news broke here at DPC and then at MPC that I was going to be moving from one to the other.

One of the challenges for me has been that I am an 'all-in/rip-the-band-aid-off-quickly' kind of person and everything about this transition has been more like a slow pulling off of the band-aid that seems to grab at you and certainly hurt more than a quicker removal would.

The transition has been slow for good reason. Usually no one would know what was coming, but because of the proximity of the two churches and a desire to be the one that told my current congregation (rather than the rumor mill), they were actually informed before this past Sunday when things became official.

Because all of this is happening at the beginning of the year I had very little vacation accrued and so I had to work at DPC longer, and take only 5 days vacation rather than a preferable longer amount.

Because my home is a new-build it will not be done until late May (or so it is scheduled) and so I am going to be living here on the grounds of my current church - paying rent - while I work at the new church for at least 3 months.


Admittedly my instinct is to skip all transition and just immediately jump into the next thing, but here is where God is in the details.

I want to make sure DPC hears me when I say 'thank you' and in order for that to be heard, there needs to be time to absorb the 'she's leaving' news first.

In order for this to be a healthy transition time must be made to listen to the people who have walked with me the last 7+ years. Admittedly, not all of it will be positive (if they're honest) but it will be good for both them and me if we have some time to reflect together, find our common ground, and then move on from this place with no regrets.

Much like I will open my next phase of ministry by listening to where that church and those people have been, it is crucial that I end this phase of my ministry listening to where we have been together and affirming our individual and corporate roles in it.

One of these Advent seasons I am going to have quite the illustration of what it means to celebrate the past and yet live in the now all with the excitement and expectations for the future.

But for now, I'm living it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

1/11 - The Ten Things They Don't Teach You in Seminary

Psalm 29
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendour.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Mark 1:4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

The grass withers, the flower fades but the Word of our Lord stands forever… Thanks be to God.

There’s nothing like coming to church on a day that promises already be a little bit longer than usual and checking out the sermon title you realize you’ve got not 3, not 5 but TEN points that are supposedly going to be hit in the sermon.

I have good news for you because #10 on the list of things that they don’t teach you in seminary is:
The number of points you have in a sermon must correlate with the number of fingers you have on your hand.
Therefore we are already down to 9. And that was it.

#8 – Folks should ‘friend’ you first.
There are some of you out there who know exactly what I mean. For those of you who don’t – there is a program that you can do on your computer that uses the internet to keep people in touch. It is called Facebook. Everyone on Facebook has an account with their picture on it. In order for people to see what is on your account, they need to be your ‘friend’.

I am literally telling people right here and now that I very much want to friend them but they will need to reach out to me first. This way the pastor at your church is only intruding on your internet space if you invite her rather than you feeling as if you have no choice.

I am also now telling all of you right here and now that I very much want to friend you in the real world too but sometimes you will need to reach out to me first. If I am not coming to your event or program and you think I should – tell me. If you would like me more involved in what you are doing – invite me.

Our original intent was to immediately have folks into our home, but right now our home is a lovely piece of property with bi-level dirt. It is very cold. It is very wet… and I was going to complain but apparently since there is no roof or walls… warm and dry is a bit too high of an expectation.

So in the meantime I will do my best to get around and to meet with you and to hear your stories and be with you… but if you don’t feel like I am ‘friending’ you, by all means – friend me first.

#7 – Passing ordination exams is good for your career… but co-mvp of the seminary flag football league lasts forever.
There’s no moral of the story here, I just wanted you to know that.

#6 – Grab the joy.
Today is, liturgically speaking, Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It is a wonderful morning to be preaching a candidating sermon because the texts are alive and deep and rich and powerful. I don’t mean to take anything away from Ordinary Time Scripture readings from Leviticus but these high holy days of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany and the Lord’s Baptism offer us an opportunity to clamor to the top of the mountain and to soar!

The Psalmist writes:
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendour.

Grab the joy!

The Gospel writer of Mark is always in a hurry. His book is only 16 chapters long – John is at 21, Luke has 24 and I’m pretty sure they had to take Matthew’s scribe away so he would stop at 27. Mark has 16 chapters – that’s it! So when he highlights something it’s up to us to take notice and grab it!

He kicks right in with John the Baptizer – not as Elizabeth’s child but as a prophet, linking the Old and the New. Only eight verses into his book and Jesus the adult is walking down to the Jordan to be baptized.
Heaven tore open!
The spirit came upon him!
And the Lord spoke to him!
Then quick as a flash Mark has him in the desert being tempted for TWO verses then – only 14 verses into the book – he’s choosing his disciples and embarking on his day to day ministry.

This is not to say that the day to day ministry of Jesus was not interesting and exciting, but it’s not exactly the heavens tearing and the spirit of the Lord ‘dive-bombing’ his head either.

We spend the majority of our time in the Ordinary. We are all on the cusp of it right now. We also walk through Lent. So when we have these opportunities to taste, to see and to hear the glory of the Lord – to feel the joy – it is up to us to grab them!
Grab the joy.

#5 – There are uncomfortable ramifications when we invite the Holy Spirit to invade our lives.
The invitation to the Holy Spirit was given. I know that this presbytery has been praying. I know that this congregation has been praying. I know that the Pastor Nominating Committee has been praying… and look at the ramifications!
What happened?! Was the Minister Store all out of balding, white guys?

Don’t blame me. When I was growing up I wanted to be Reggie Jackson! Looks like God has God’s own plans for all of us...
And God is good. All the time.
All the time. God is good.

#4 - Don’t tick off the music program.
I don’t think any more needs to be said about that.

This next lesson I learned as I sat on a counselor’s couch with my husband on one end and me on the other. In my hands were a letter written by him that discounted our past and ended our future.
I turned to the counselor and declared, “I believe in fighting for a marriage to the death.”
To which he responded with #3 on our list today:
It takes two to be in a relationship and only one to destroy it.

We are well past that now. I am fine. Will is thriving. And we are on the cusp of a relationship with the one I was afraid had gotten away - you.

I am ‘all in’ on this commitment with [this church]. And I hope you are too.

I don’t just mean by checking ‘yes’ on the ballot.
By ‘all in’ I mean coming to worship.
Bringing your friends.
Engaging in the programs.
Participating in mission.
Supporting your staff.

By ‘all in’ I mean stewardship.
Where is your heart?
Your time?
Your talent?
Where are the things that God first gave unto you?

I am all in on this commitment – All. In.
Are you?

# 1 & #2 – We are beloved children of God who are bound to one another through our Baptism.
Certainly they teach us this in seminary. But the way I have lived it far exceeds the bounds of what the Book of Order can define. I was raised in a church similar to this one. Believe me, it took a committee. Babyfold, nursery school, kid’s choirs and clubs, Sunday School, youth group – I was there.

And even though when I go back and visit some of my old Sunday school teachers still do not believe me when I tell them I am now a minister – those folks who said ‘I do’ when asked if they would help nurture me in the Christian faith – are still doing it.

My parents.
Their peers.
My peers.
So many folks – praying, cheering, embracing.

According to the Book of Order baptism signifies the faithfulness of God, the washing away of sin, rebirth, putting on the fresh garment of Christ, being sealed by God’s Spirit, resurrection and illumination in Christ… and adoption into the covenant family of the Church .

It is this last piece that fits significantly into the puzzle of why the sinless son of God came down to the Jordan to be baptized.

Think about it. If Jesus never sinned, then why was it necessary for him to be baptized?

Why does he voluntarily join the ranks of penitent sinner?

One reason is because it is a common bond shared by a specific community of faith… our community of faith. And not ‘community’ as defined by these four walls but community as defined by three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I am not leaving one community of faith to join another. The vows that congregation took to guide, love, encourage and pray for my son at his baptism do not stop midway down the [road between us]. They are your vow too… and I expect you to abide by it just as I will for you.

And so there are our nine; some silly, some sound and some in between.

Our Scripture today reminds us that we are involved with a powerful God. The Psalmist speaks of a violent storm, the Gospel tells of heavens tearing and voices booming. Our own baptisms rarely come with such accompaniment but the warning found in Hebrews remains true: it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God .

I’m fallin’...
Are you?

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

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Covet Do-Over

Upon further review - and almost getting run over by a Ford F-15o - I have decided what I really want is just to get my Ford Ranger back... but new. With satellite radio. And in red. Or blue. Or green... extended cab.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thoughts on Baptism of the Lord

This is just me sitting in my virtual coffee house throwing out random thoughts as I do research/prayer/thinking about this Sunday's sermon:

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
Working Title: The Ten Things They Don't Teach You in Seminary

I am preparing this sermon as my 'candidating' sermon which is a big word meaning: they vote on whether or not they want me as their next pastor. No pressure.

- Water was first. (Gn)

- Our God is a strong God. Our God is a powerful God. Our God is a DANGEROUS God. (Ps)

- I am now totally weirded out because a commentary I just read, written in the past year, totally echoed what I preached on Psalm 29 in 2003. So if I use excerpts from that sermon again do I have to prove I wrote it first?

- Do I incorporate Will's baptism? Renewal of everyone's vows? Jesus?

- How much Book of Order is too much for a sermon? I'm guessing it doesn't take much.

- With 10 things I think at least 5 need to be quick hit funnies... maybe even 7 sprinkled throughout.

- The serious ones: Professing our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior often bears repeating, childhood Christian nurture counts, there are uncomfortable ramifications to inviting God's spirit to invade our lives, Don't downsize God just to make God easier to handle, focus on God, enjoy the highs of our faith because ordinary time is always just around the corner, we are beloved children of God...

Focus (what the sermon aims to say): Vote for me.
Function (what the sermon aims to do): Get people to vote for me. :)

Actually, probably more like:
Focus: The waters of baptism are not a tepid bath but rather a powerful flood.
Function: Encourage folks to dive into who it is God is calling them as individuals and as the church to be... and of course, vote for me.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Covet

It's not economical.
It's not necessary.
It's not even cost effective.

But oh how I want this truck.
In red.

1/4/09 - Gift Exchange - Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

The following is the opening from 1/4/09's sermon.

We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse a far.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following yonder star.

It sounds simple enough. And such a story is clearly worthy of early celebration. Early because officially Epiphany is not until January 6. Of the 12 days of Christmas we are really only at day 10… so be sure to check your boxes for your 10 lords a-leapin’.

One version of Christmas tradition lore is that we exchange gifts in honor of the 3 kings – or magi if you prefer – bringing gifts to the Christ child. If we really wanted to imitate the gifts each and every gift we gave would extol a virtue of the recipient other than ‘you like movies’ or ‘I got this free from the bank’.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never Over us all to reign.

The current equivalent of this gift would be… well, gold. Or a safe cd making about 6%.
The gold was a gift for royalty. It symbolized an everlasting presence and longevity to the rule of the one it is given.

Frankincense to offer have I, Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising all men raising, Worship Him, God on high.

The current equivalent of this gift would be maybe a stole.
Our reformed Protestant tradition does not have a lot of use for incense. The stole would represent the priestly duties of the recipient much like the gift of incense does. However, in the case of this gift to Jesus, it also represents that he himself should be worshiped.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

The current equivalent of this would be embalming fluid...pick one – formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol…
THAT’s not Christmas talk…

It is a hard, cold slap of reality… lest we forget that the visit of the magi is followed quite closely by the massacre of all the male children in the region under the age of two.

Lent, after all, is only 51 days away...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Motivational Speaker

So... I'm thinking that if even the almost 4 year old says that it is time to get the ornaments off the tree because Christmas is over, then it might actually be time to do so.

Of course, when I handed him a box to start putting them in he declined the offer.


At least I already removed his underwear that Santa put in his stocking from the tree. He chucked it there while pulling out presents. Tough crowd.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Thoughts on Epiphany

I work better with others so I thought I'd try typing out my thoughts while working on my sermon as if I were speaking them out loud to a fellow sermon writer sitting across the table from me at the library... or more likely, Panera.

Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Working Title: Gift Exchange

- Have you subscribed yet to Feasting on the Word, Barbara Brown Taylor and David L. Bartlett's commentary? It breaks every passage down into the Theological, Pastoral, Exegetical, and Homiletical Perspective. And more importantly, it has made me look BRILLIANT in the pulpit every week since receiving it.

- Epiphany miracle = magi asking Herod where the (real) King is... and they weren't killed on the spot.

- The gifts presented really miss the baby shower mark. Did Mary scan the wrong items at Target?

- Once you meet Christ, you can no longer walk the same road back.

- We 'miss' the real Epiphany moment that these magi had because we hear the Hebrew Scriptures with the correct timing as we walk through the Advent and Christmas seasons. These men realized it in their own 'a-ha' moment (thank you Oprah) - the prophecies of the Messiah had become a reality.

- Interesting that Matthew - the Jew that believes his own people have missed the point - would take such painstaking care to describe the story of how outsiders opened their hearts and minds and followed the signs to find - and bow down to - the Christ.

- The hymn breaks down the gifts the magi bring, but the real gift is their recognition of who the toddler before them is.

- What do we do with the gift that for many in our pews has simply been handed to them, no excruciating journey necessary? Do we exchange it for other things/values that make us feel better? That don't challenge us as much? Do we keep the gift wrapped because it is easier to assume we control it that way?

- God is determined to be found.

Focus: "Lift up your eyes and look around" - This Gift is for you.
Function: Encourage folks to embrace The Gift and allow The Gift - the light, the love - to change them.