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. Oikocredit.org 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.org: 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.

[iv] www.tenpercentisenough.org

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

[vi] www.oikocreditusa.org

[vii] www.kiva.org

[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

Friday, September 3, 2010

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Storms of LIfe Edition

Martha Hoverson over at the revgalblogpals writes:

I'm listening this morning for word of Hurricane Earl. Is he coming to visit, or will he bypass my part of Maine and move further Downeast, or veer toward Nova Scotia? Should I buy those bottles of water, just in case wind brings branches and power lines down? And how many times will the tracking map change today?

Herewith, a Friday Five about the storms of life:

1) What's the most common kind of storm in your neck of the woods?
Wind.... I think. Although I guess it is probably thunder storm but the wind that whips through this valley at times is more than I have dealt with in previous places I have lived.

2) When was the last time you dealt with a significant power outage?
There was an ice storm a couple of years ago that knocked out power where I lived for quite a few days. I remember waving to the electric trucks from Iowa, thanking them for coming out to help.

3) Are you prepared for the next one?
Sort of... we could manage for a couple of days and would then need to seriously regroup. Last time I went to my parent's house for refuge (although their power was out for awhile too). I no longer have that option as my house is their house.

4) What's the weather forecast where you are this weekend?
It is supposed to be cool with the front arriving as one of those wind storms I mentioned earlier.

5) How do you calm your personal storms?
I try to slow everything down and keep things as simple as possible. Of course, that has its drawbacks.
Feel free to jump in and play yourself. If you do, let me know and I'll come check it out!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

#6 - Does not complete homework

My son's Kindergarten class has a fairly intricate disciplinary system. On a wall there is a chart with pockets, every child has a pocket and in every pocket are three cards - green, yellow and red. In the morning when they come in everyone starts on green. If there are any issues throughout the day the child may need to turn their card to yellow or red. In the folder in their backpack that they bring home every day is a calendar and the calendar lets the adults at home know how the day went - green, yellow or red. The latter two are accompanied by an explanation.

The whole system reminded me of the numbers that were put on our quarterly report cards to help communicate with our parents how we were doing socially in the classroom. I remember the three I received the most:
#6 - Does not complete homework.
#7 - Does not follow directions.
#9 - A joy to have in class (or something like that, I didn't get that one as much as the first two)

When I pulled out the calendar report for my son I was HORRIFIED to see that he had received a yellow sticker on the second day of school and a RED sticker on the first day of school. HOW DID THIS SWEET-DIMPLED ANGEL CHILD RECEIVE A RED ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL?!?!?!?

Seeing my panic rise, my Mom pointed out that the background color of the square was green. The sticker was a smiley face. At the end of the day if your square is green you get a smiley faced sticker.

All of this I would have known if I had read the letter that was sent home (#6)... and followed the directions (#7).