Friday, December 3, 2010

RevGalBlogPal Friday Five: December Survival Guide Edition

It was my turn again over at the RevGalBlogPals and this is what I posted:

Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.

And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you.

1) Lighting the candles on the Advent wreath. We don't do this every night at home, but when we gather around the dinner table I like to light the candles appropriate to the week. It brings back great memories of childhood and marking down the time to both a special time in church and of course until Santa arrived. :)
This year I am once again balancing the sacred with the secular as each candle indeed marks: hope, peace, joy and love... but also marks the time until special visitors arrive from the north just a few days after Christmas.

2&3) New Traditions: Christmas movie on Thanksgiving Weekend & New Ornament. One of the books on keeping Christmas simple that I have read in the past decade included the idea of marking the beginning of the Christmas season with your children in a ritualistic way so that the stores don't claim it for them on October 15th. We have just a few years under our belt but on Thanksgiving night or the next day we watch a Christmas movie. Lately it's been Elf. Love this movie - it's funny, fairly innocent and family appropriate.

We also head out to the local store and The Boy gets to pick out an ornament. Two years ago we were in the store for over an hour as he struggled with his selection. I look forward to being able to watch his interests change over the years and eventually hand the whole batch over to him for his own Christmas tree.

4) Spiritual Renewal Day. On the Friday closest to Christmas Eve (this year the 17th) I take a day off. I know. It's crazy. And there are many reasons NOT to do it but... there are a few to make sure I do. It makes sure I have my priorities in order. On this day I make sure I spend at least some of it with The Boy. I want his memories of this time of year to be about what's important and never about how Mommy was at the church the whole time. This year I have massage on the agenda and probably some cookie making too. The church work will get done. Baking at Christmas time with my son when he is almost 6 - only happens once.

5) Longest Night Service. Some churches call it Blue Christmas. I prefer the Longest Night. It is a service specifically designed for those who are struggling with the mandatory joy that gets jammed down our throats during this season. Whether it be a death, divorce, illness, or [fill-in-the-blank] folks are invited to this service. The truth is that despite its dark undertones I love the simplicity and genuine heart of this service. The music is from the piano, the Sanctuary is dimly lit, the meditation is spoken from the floor and I usually do it from an outline. It's casual, yet sacred. For me it is a pure time of worship, even as the worship leader, and that is rare and appreciated.

And so what is the thing I could do without? Well there are definitely a couple of songs that could be banished as far as I'm concerned (Feliz Navidad and Christmas Shoes come quickly to mind). Fruitcake? Stereotypical punchline at this point.

Here's one - I could do without the constant stream of mindless treats brought into the office. Let me be clear, I don't mean the treats that folks have specifically made with us in mind. What I could do without are the re-gifts where folks don't want the food they've been gifted on their waistlines so they bring it to the church office instead. Minor complaint, but it adds up and I could do without it.

Do you want to play too? Go for it and let me know! I'd love to read about what marks the holiday for others.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: It Is Well With My Soul Edition

As posted on the revgalblogpals website:

We lead privileged lives.

True, some are more privileged than others but the fact that we are communicating right now via technological devices puts us in the privileged category.

There are many perks in my life for which I give thanks and then there are some that make everything right in the world during the moment I am enjoying them. I'm wondering what a few of those things - five to be specific - are for you.

Here are a few of mine...

Coffee in a Mug: Like many of you, I leave the house with a travel mug of coffee. On those mornings when I can actually savor my coffee (or at least drink it without burning my tongue) from a ceramic mug it makes my heart hum. A few of my friends and I have matching mugs so I feel like we are sharing our morning coffee together across the miles.

The Domestic Goddess: For some this is a decadent perk, for me this is life-sustaining and vital to living a sane life. I declare life is too short to clean toilets after the kid has gone to bed! When I walk into our home after she has been there I feel absolute joy and freedom; freedom to spend time with my child and freedom from the burden of carrying around the knowledge that I have to do something I hate - dust, vacuum, scrub.

The RevGalBlogPals Big Events: Admittedly I have only attended when they are on a ship, but it is less about the cruise (I never even know where our ports are) and more about the people, the belly laughs, the respect and the camraderie (and usually we learn a few things too). This is an absolute perk in life in that the the church's budget pays for it since it is a Continuing Education event. This year, because of other commitments, I decided to use vacation to go and my Treasurer came to me with the voucher all ready to be mailed. He just needed my signature and to know the right amounts that were due. In his words, "We like you better when you come back from the cruise."

Pandora: Seriously - it's free and it can play a random mix of music for ANY mood you're in. Trying to write Advent liturgy in July? There's a station for that. Want to mix your eclectic taste for kitchy 50's and country music? Create your own Doris Day/Brad Paisley station. I have it on the ol' iPod (another perk) and also use it through the work computer.

My Bed: Rare are the moments that I get to linger in it, but when I get a morning reprieve or return for a nap or to end the day it is so big and comfy and, well, restful.

It's been good to review a few of the perks that make life good and make my soul well.
What are some of yours?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Comfort Media Edition

Today's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five was written up by me:

I don't get to watch that much tv anymore, but I actually wrote today's Oprah show down on my calendar. Why? Because she is hosting a Sound of Music cast reunion!!! Those of you who know me may be surprised that I would care so much about such a stereotypically girly flick, but I love it (although admittedly fast forward through the Reverend Mother's rendition of Climb Every Mountain). I can watch this movie over and over and over again.

It seems no matter how many new movies, tv shows or books come down the pike I still have my ol' stand by favorites that I can watch/read over and over and when I do they actually bring me comfort - like an old sweatshirt or a favorite food.

Today's Friday Five is an opportunity for you to list five of your favorite 'go-to' movies/tv shows/books. You can use images, links, explanations or netflix.

So... since I have already outed my Sound of Music love, here are a few others in no particular order:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hope Without Reason

Hope Without Reason

October 3, 2010 - World Communion Sunday

2 Timothy 1:1-7

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26

2 Timothy 1:1-7

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

We don’t often hang out in the book of Lamentations, and yet that is what the Lectionary has offered us today. If you’ve ever even dabbled in the Old Testament prophets you know that they are made predominately of warnings to the people of Israel that their behaviors and attitudes were going to result in tragedy and suffering. In Lamentations the suffering has arrived in the form of an exile from their beloved Promised Land to a foreign place, Babylonia, where they are without their land, without their property, and without their Temple.

Lamentations contains five dark poems. Four of the five poems are written as an acrostic, each line beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, presumably to better express the loss and grief of Israel in its totality from A to Z.[i]

It ain’t pretty.

Indeed the majority of Lamentations sounds like this excerpt from the first chapter, verses 1-6:

Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture;

they fled without strength before the pursuer.

These verses and ones similar to it are the dark, heavy framework around today’s reading:

Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

The word of the Lord…

Where did that come from?

There is no reason for it.

The way these readings have been layered one over another on one Sunday seems to echo our own society’s handling of suffering and sorrow. We don’t like to see sorrow for too long, we want people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and hope for heaven’s sakes. Depression, sadness – we don’t like those. They make us uncomfortable and so even the best of us can fall i

nto the trap of turning to someone who is suffering and trying to make it better.

It is at those times when it may be best to remember the friends that Job had and how brilliant they were as they sat with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights – a perfect ministry of presence until they ruined everything… by opening their mouths.

Make no doubt about it, the book of Lamentations is a dark, dark place. There is suffering as community and as individuals – we too know about this darkness.

To live in this earthly kingdom is to at least brush up against some kind of suffering:

whether it be your own disease or someone close to you;

your own loss or someone close to you;

your own depression or someone close to you.

“Maybe our city has not been destroyed, though people from Port-au-Prince to Baghdad might be reading these words in their streets. But we, or someone we love, knows hurt, knows the rejection letter doctor’s phone call marriage in trouble desperate addiction lonely and stuck and have no idea why kind of hurt. Our laments may not sound like these poems, but we lament. We wonder why. We cry out to God as we slam our hand agains the steerimg wheel (while) the tears come.”[ii]

The place of lament is a dark, dark place.

And in the dark there is no reason to hope for God.

In the dark there is no reason to listen for God.

In the book of Lamentations there is no response from God – ever.

We find only lament…

Well, almost…

My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Where did that come from?

There is no reason for it.

The word for the ‘steadfast love of God’ does not translate clearly from Hebrew into En

glish. The Hebrew word is ‘hesed’ which means the unbelievably intense, no matter what happens to you or what you do over the top love for you by God. Hesed – the steadfast love of God.

I know this word well, so well that in a declaration of Whose I was – I had it tattooed on my ankle. This would not be everyone’s choice and if you are a teen hoping to use the fact that the preacher has a tattoo as a reason why you should get one I would suggest that parents allow it… when you reach the age I was – 37.

In Lamentations, this ‘hesed’, The steadfast love of the Lord… is a startling proclamation in the midst of deep, dark sorrow.

Where did it come from?

There is no reason for it.

And yet there it is – so assured in the midst of nothing that eventually there will be something; that even though unseen and unheard from, God is present.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Even when things are going well we need assurance. It is why we take the time to gather around the table for Communion. It is here that our community asserts our confidence of the ongoing presence of Christ in our midst. Charles Wesley called the bread and the cup the ‘antepast’ of heaven. ‘Antepast’ taken from the same root as ‘antipasto’ – a foretaste of the great meal that is to come.

When things are going well, we can see it, we can taste it.

In the light we are able to claim the hope for what is yet to come.

But when it’s dark…. It is hard to see, taste or know anything but despair.

It is a lonely place to be.

And if you are a Preacher trying to write your Easter Sunday sermon with the darkness of betrayal and hurt and grief sinking in on you – it is an incredibly dark place to be.

I may have been sitting at my kitchen table, but it felt like the cold, dark, dead tomb.

I kept reading and re-reading the anthem the choir was going to sing:

We are resurrection people. Let us sing a resurrection song.

Let us tell the resurrection story of the glory of the Lord.

Let the word of Christ dwell in us as His peace lives within our hearts.

So whatever we do, whatever we claim, let us go in Jesus’ name.

Those words… I could not feel them.

Christ’s peace lives within our hearts? How could he? Mine was broken.

I remember imploring myself, “Come on, Kathryn – just write something. Anything! What is the matter with you? Are you not a Christian? Come ON!”

And then I saw the word that was now a part of me: hesed.

The unbelievably intense, no matter what happens to you or what you do over the top love for you by God. Hesed – the steadfast love of God.

I grabbed it – because though my heart was broken, my strength was sapped and my soul was bruised… my mind knew it to be true.

Where did that come from?

A lamenter prays to a God who is absent or hidden from them, but not to a God who is extinct.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…

That… is our reason.

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

[i] Birch, Brueggemann, Fretheim, Peterson, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. (Nashville: Abingdon press, 1999), p. 335.

[ii] Chris Tuttle. 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Well – 2010, Davidson, NC. p. 6.

Friday, October 1, 2010

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: Sometimes It's Just a Job Edition

Greetings Friends!

This week, despite substantial planning, the staff here has been reeling a bit from the wave of fall start-up programming combined with conversations looking towards Advent and Christmas. There is a lot to be excited about (Children's Choir sounded great!), but there are also some things that we just have to suck it up and get through (didn't we just do Officer Training last year?).

So for today's Friday 5 I thought we'd hit on the things that give us energy in ministry and the things that take it away:

1) What are a few of the tasks that you find tedious/energy sucking in your ministry position? Please note I said 'tasks' not people :)
Well I'm the one who wrote up this Friday Five so I will own up to the Officer Training piece. It begins in March when I realize that despite the fact that we have just gotten all of our officers trained, examined, ordained and installed... now the process starts all over again. Another challenge for me is administrative minutiae. My Myers-Briggs 'J' gets very worn out if I have to spend too much time with the drivel of papers in, papers out.

2) Is there anything you could do to make one of them better?
Officer Training just is what it is. I guess I could hand off some more of the responsibilities for it to the staff around me. As for the minutiae I've adapted the 20/5 method of getting stuff done using timers. I work for 20 and then a 5 minute break (no cheating allowed during the 20).

3) What are a few of the tasks that you find energizing in ministry?
Preaching and leading worship - even though on Saturday afternoon I might not agree with that statement. I have found that the Officer Training is paying off and so our Session (board) meetings are actually energy givers as well. And as much as it ADDS stuff to do, I LOVE working with a staff.

4) If given a quarterly spiritual day, how would you want to spend it?
We do get quarterly spiritual days and on paper I spend it sleeping in and then taking the dogs on a hike.

5) If given a quarterly spiritual day, how would you actually spend it?
In reality I take my kid to school, run a few errands, meet a friend for something and then hang out with The Boy.

BONUS: What would your Dream Ministry job include?
Well, I made the sign that is on this post so we'll just go ahead with Pastor of Ice Cream Tasting and Continuing Education Cruise Taking.
How about you?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Does Your Husband Do?

I took The Boy to the first birthday party of this Kingergarten class on Sunday afternoon. Parents were encouraged to stay as there was a lot of area to be covered at the farm/orchard where it was held. When the kids were wrangled together it was a time for some of the parents standing on the perimeter to get to know each other.

I struck up a small talk conversation with the woman to the right of me. It was pleasant. They had just moved to the area from a state south of here. Her family actually lived in a place I was familiar with as when I was a Youth Director in a state even farther south I would bring the youth to her area to go skiing. In our back and forth I mentioned those days a couple of times. We spoke about her kids and their move up here for her husband's job. There had been no mention of my current job, which admittedly I was holding my breath a bit for. This may be why it surprised me all the more when after a brief lag in our conversation she asked, "What does your husband do?"

Only a couple of years ago that question would have put me in a free-fall, searching for the closest hole I could jump into to hide from society's judgmental glare. As it is, I simply responded that we are divorced, but The Boy's Dad now works at the 'Marada Hotel' as a desk clerk. I paused and then I said that when we met we both worked in youth ministry. Her next question was then to ask me what I do, but even as she asked it she was backing away, and as I gave her a brief response she walked away mumbling something about having to throw our her cake plate.

I'm not irate.
I don't have Gloria Steinem on speed dial.
I know it is hard to take a quick glance at my hands and determine if I am married or not.
I get that she very well could have been embarrased and that is why she backed away from me even though it looked like she didn't want to catch the Divorce Cooties.

I'm just recognizing the disappointment that we still live in a society where when talking to a woman with no man mentioned or in the vicinity, the first small talk question that came to mind was, "What does your husband do?"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Prayer of Thanksgiving

The prayer said by The Boy at our dining room table last night:

Dear God.
Thank you for the fire on the grill that made Mommy burn the meat that she says tastes just like hotdog. Because I don't think I like it.
And now I have nuggets. Six of them!

God bless him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Good Investment

A Good Investment Luke 16:1-13

"A Good Investment"

September 19, 2010

Luke 14:25-33

Luke 16:1-13

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

The word of the Lord…

[i]Sometimes I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.

When the guy at the traffic light tries to catch my eye while holding a cardboard sign that says, “My family is hungry, ” I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.

When my colleagues write articles on the evils of investing in oil, defense and consumerism and I’m just happy that I can figure out that the number on the mutual fund statement went up and not down, I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.

When I sit down with my pledge card and try to figure out each year exactly how much God is calling me to give the church – a 10% flat cut?, before taxes or after taxes? 5% to the church/5% to favorite charities?, all of it?, I wish Jesus hadn’t spoken in parables.

Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” Jesus says, “so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Did Jesus just tell us to be dishonest?

It’s a bit of a consolation to discover that the early church seemed to be as confused as we are. It appears as though they’ve tacked on some verses to this parable to help it make more sense: Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in very much. Now that’s something I can understand. That’s something I can live with.

No slave can serve two masters. . .you cannot serve God and wealth. This one makes me a little more grumpy. I like taking my son on vacations. I ‘need’ an iPad. I don’t always like it, but I can understand “You can’t make money the object of your life.”

The early church adds these conclusions onto this parable hoping to sum up Jesus’ teachings into a consistent maxim that we can live by 100% of the time, hoping to come up with a mission statement that would tell them what to do all the time, hoping to come up with a principle that would never lead them astray.

Bulleted guidelines and moralisms are a lot easier to understand and follow than general concepts and parabolic meanderings…. and the great thing about morality checkpoints is that they make it easier to note when others aren’t abiding by the same rules. Of course, that was actually one of the things Jesus was pretty clear about: Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you… how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye…” (Lk. 6:37-38a, 42).

Whatever Jesus was teaching in today’s parable, it is clear that faith is not moralism. On the contrary, faith - much like life - is messy.

“If you are going to live in the world, with God’s people, with choices that have to be made, you know that those choices are not often as clear as we wish they would be. I know the money that’s building up in my pension isn’t always coming from industries making the world a better place. I know the money that ends up in bank accounts sometimes is built by destroying the environment or taking money from the poor, or increasing the power of people who couldn’t care less about the welfare of their neighbors. I know the money that builds churches, and political campaigns, and nonprofit organizations isn’t always as clean as we wish it would be. Unjust money puts [clothes on our bodies, roofs over our heads and] food on our tables. There’s no way around it.”

“And yet, it takes money to build organizations that help the poor claim what they deserve. It takes money to build relationships with [kids in Honduras and missionaries in Lithuania]. It takes money to keep these doors open for worship that sends us out into the world to do justice, to love kindness, and practice healing in the world. It takes money redirected from the world’s purposes for greed, redirected from injurious power, redirected from abuse of the earth to slowly build a community of grace.”

“Money is a messy business. The early church wasn’t always clear what to do with it. But like the shrewd manager Jesus must have known that the church cannot run from the messiness of money, not while we’re still waiting for the new economy that Jesus has promised. We are caught in between a vision of the coming economy where everyone has their needs fulfilled, and the one we know right here where too often the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”[ii]

These two passages from Luke this morning ask the hard questions: How do we manage our money? How do we live our lives? Is it Biblical to be shrewd? What would we need to re-prioritize in our lives in order to be Jesus-approved shrewd managers of our resources?

The official Stewardship Campaign is just around the corner and I know that the majority of you do not look at the pledge card and say, “Hmmmm, how little can I give to the church this year?” Most of us want our bank accounts and the checks we write to reflect our priorities and for those of you in this room I believe your greatest priorities are God and family.

But what if you’re already in the credit card debt hole?

What if you’re trying to live on a fixed income that seemingly gets smaller while expenses get bigger?

What if you’re piecing together odd jobs to cover the loss of the one you had?

It’s hard to participate in a new economy when you can’t quite recover from being run over by the old one.

One has to be shrewd if they want to reprioritize and participate in the new economy and as an example Jesus points us to this picked upon middle manager. Shrewdly he “navigates that in-between time by doing what he can to re-direct the money of injustice toward a fairer, grace-filled world. By investing not in the world that is falling away, but in the new world. And we can’t afford to slack off because the world is filled with unjust managers whose object is greed.”[iii]

If you are in credit card debt you know exactly of whom I speak. In 1978 the laws that had kept a cap on interest charges (usury laws that had literally been around as far back as human history can be traced) were removed and the practice of overcharging borrowers took off. Pay day loans can charge up to 300%, the adjustable rate mortgages that contributed to our recent economic meltdown ballooned to up to 14% and credit card companies charge up to 30% and more, although at least now they have to warn you.[iv]

All of that is set up to keep us trapped in the old economy.

If you are caught up in that trap, the first step in re-prioritizing is getting out of that debt. Sell what you can, only buy what you need, pay the higher interest card first. In short, be shrewd!

It is only then that you can focus your energies on the new economy that Christ calls us to.

And how do we participate in this new economy? Simply put? If you want to be shrewd about it, you give back to God. “Stewardship arises from discipleship and in turn forms disciples. The greater the spiritual maturity, the greater the trust in God’s provision and the greater the generosity. As disciples learn to give, they see God at work and so grow even more.”[v]

Are you looking for a shrewd investment over and above your tithe to the church?

The Presbyterian Foundation has wonderful programs for investments in the long term future of the church while at the same time giving benefits to the individual in the earthly kingdom.

Looking beyond our denomination there are other opportunities as well. is a worldwide financial institution that promotes global justice by empowering disadvantaged people with credit. [vi]

Another organization that uses microfinancing to make a large difference in the world is Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. [vii]

Those three organizations are listed in your bulletin, and there are many opportunities out there to be shrewd for Jesus. And no matter how small the gesture, it counts.

One of the commentaries I read about this passage listed the names that are sometimes used for the main character of this parable. “Dishonest Manager” and “Shrewd Manager” are two of the more popular, but this commentary also listed "Prudent Treasurer".

I participated in the life of a church where a woman who struggled to keep a roof over her head due to the addictions and mental illness that plagued her would come into the office quite regularly and bring the Treasurer what she called her tithe. One time without them noticing I witnessed him welcome her and accept her wadded up roll of singles in the same way I had seen him welcome the man who came in monthly with a large check for the endowment. After she left, he placed the cash in an envelope marked with her name in his top drawer.

I recognized the envelope because it was the same one the ministers used when she would come back in asking for money for groceries.

Certainly this was not an act that would grab any headlines or shift a greed-driven old economy into the new economy Christ is calling us to, but this small act of microfinancing was one way to make a difference. It was a shrewd way to make a difference.

“It is through small gestures of faithfulness that Christians mark out the contours of a new social vision. When enough of us make such gestures, God’s reign becomes just a bit more visible.”[viii]

It’s true they don’t make ‘Where Would Jesus Invest’ bracelets. It is also true that it’s hard to decipher what Jesus meant when he said some of those parables.

But in other places he is perfectly clear: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (Jn 13:34).

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength… You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12:30-31).

The shrewd manager received the master’s commendation when he stopped investing in things (the old economy), and began to invest in people (the new economy). We too are called to make shrewd decisions with our earthly kingdom resources that benefit the heavenly kingdom’s commands.




These are a good investment.

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

[i] Andrew Foster Connors. “25th Sunday in Ordinary Time” The Well, 2010. As always I am thankful for the scholarship found in the lectionary study group, The Well. The trajectory of this sermon as well as the opening riff on the complexity of parables are credited to the Reverend Foster Connors.

[ii] Foster Conners, p. 7.

[iii] Foster Conners, p. 8.


[v] Brad N. Hill. “How Churches Think About Money: Ways of Giving” Christian Century. September 7, 2010, p. 28.



[viii] Bader-Saye, p. 27.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sinkhole or Swim

My church has a sign out front where a member of the congregation puts out the title of our sermons each week. This sign is on a very busy corner and I have found that it creates in me a strong desire to be clever and witty in preferably five words or less because just maybe one day - ONE DAY - someone will walk in and say, "I came to church today because I HAD to hear what that sermon title was all about."

I know, I know... it will never happen. But still, it's there. One of the challenges I have is that the more clever the title is, the harder time I have writing the sermon. I get so caught up in the title, I struggle with the sermon. This was very true for "Snakes on a Plain." (No, I did not use the famous quote in the sermon.)

It was even more true for this past Sunday where I admittedly picked the title to give a nod to the neighbors
that yes, we had a sinkhole and we can be good natured about it. But when you already have coins and sheep, as this past week's passage from Luke did, the greater part of valor may have been to skip the sinkhole reference all together (maybe the sheep and coin were in the sinkhole? No.)

So I managed to shove the sinkhole reference into the sermon, but I need to be a little more careful about picking titles from now on:
I’ve learned some things about circles this past couple of weeks, or to be more specific I’ve learned some things about big holes in the ground. Did you know that in order
to fix a sinkhole, the radius of the hole must be extended out by three feet all around. Basically, the larger the circle, the better the stability.

In these parables Jesus is saying the same thing, the larger we extend the circle, the better the stability of the community, and even beyond that – a reason to rejoice, to celebrate, to dance at the reunion of God’s beloved children.

In these stories what no longer matters is how the lost got lost; what is to be celebrated is that they are now found –
the tax collectors,
the sinners,
the pastor with the strange ideas,
the son or daughter who can’t seem to pull their life together,
the brother or sister who disappoints,
the sheep who wanders off,
the coin that rolls out of sight,
the too small,
the unimportant,
the wretched,
the irredeemable…
and yes, even you…
and yes, even me…
We are all invited to the Celebration of Being Found.
It is this table where we know God has finally and completely found us.
And what we’d better say out loud is, “Thanks be to God… thanks be to God.”

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Checking In

I have friends and colleagues who are using their blogs to pontificate on things with deep spiritual meaning. I just want to use mine to check in.

I've been blogging for over five years now, with most of my posts in another place. Some of the stories over there are honest and funny as I journeyed with a congregation that had some real characters in it. They were heavily pseudonymed (Random Thought Woman, anyone) but it was still a dangerous game. My new Call is one of greater responsibility (read: less time to blog) and a far more tech-savvy people, so I do not talk about them here at all. As so many have learned the hard way, it just ain't smart.

But one of the things my Spiritual Director has encouraged me to do is find joy, and for me and my extrovert joy comes in community and relationships. When I was isolated at work and at home it was the blogging community who supported me and through the years and thanks to a big boat I have even met a few of them in real life.

So although the blogging world seems to have shifted to self-promotion (absolutely NOTHING wrong with that) and platforms... I just want to check in with my community, with my friends... and say, "Hi."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How I Know It's Fall

Pastor's Meeting
Staff Meeting
Presbyterian Women - Circle 1
Presbyterian Women - Circle 2
Presbyterian Women - Circle 3
Mission Lunch
Kid's Choir
Premarital Counseling
Individual staff meetings
Lectionary Bible study
Inquirer's Class
Officer Training
Early Church with Communion
Sunday School
Meet with Confirmation Class Parents
Sunday School Teacher Commissioning
Late Church with Communion
Committee Night

And that's just this week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Where Philemon Reconciles Me with the Apostle Paul

It pains me that so many use verses of Paul as a battering ram, pulling them out of their context and swinging them around without care to Paul’s original intent, removed from the lens of the love of Jesus Christ. They use him to hold us back from one another when the truth is that Paul is way beyond any of us. He is way more loving and way more focused on behavior that reflects positively on the new lens through which he sees the world, namely the grace and mercy shown to each and every one of us through the life-altering love of Jesus Christ.

Throughout his letters, including this one, the smallest one of them all, there are three directives:
1) Don’t dominate or be dominated. In God’s eyes we are all equal and beloved children of God.

2) Love God deeply, no matter what. We are to unchain ourselves from our culture’s version of morals and legalism.

3) Let the Holy Spirit in. Leave keeping up with the institutions of this earthly kingdom up to those who think that this earthly kingdom is all they’ve got.

This letter is pure Paul, and the echoes of these three refrains can be found throughout. The beauty of Philemon is that we have every reason to believe that it has made its way through the centuries intact. The earliest manuscripts found match almost exactly with what we have today. The frustration is there is no letter in return. We have no addendum or epilogue. We don’t know what happens next.

Did Philemon accept Onesimus as his brother in Christ?
Did he step out of the chains of the morality and legalities of his culture in order to embrace a brother in Christ and welcome him as a beloved child of God?

It reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son. There too, we get no ending.
Does the older brother accept the return of his brother?
Does he step out of the chains of the morality and legalties of his culture in order to enter into the celebration that is going on just beyond the doors that he himself has closed?
Does he embrace his brother in Christ and welcome him as a beloved child of God?

And what about us? What will be the end of our story?
What would Paul write to us about? Who is our Onesimus?

What are we so right about that we are no longer open to the thought that we may be wrong?

Who can we not embrace because we are chained by the morals and legalities of our culture, keeping us from stepping out towards our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Who do we refuse to welcome – our brother, our sister - as a beloved child of God?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit and mine as we discern these things, strive to love God deeply and let the Holy Spirit in