Monday, July 28, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 13, Ordinary 18)

Readings for 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/3/14:
Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17:1-7, 15, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Genesis 32:22-31:
  • This is just a fantastic passage. We all wrestle with God, but there are lots of ways to go about it. Jacob's approach is great - Jacob wrestles, holds his own, and demands a blessing. OK, so it is God's messenger - but good enough. How do you wrestle with God?
  • What are your names? What do they mean? Who named you? 
  • Are you willing and able to ask God to bless you? Demand it even?
  • "I have seen God face to face." Have you? When? Where? How?
Psalm 17:1-7, 15:
  • This psalm fits well with our passage from Genesis, because the psalmist is bold and demanding. The psalmist declares himself to be free from deceit, able to withstand testing, feet not slipping from God's path.
  • Sometimes we need to be bold with God - not for God's sake, but for our sake. Fear of God's justice has its place, but confidence in our status as God's beloved children with whom God seeks relationship also has its place.
  • Read the in-between verse too. For once, they are not totally, just partially, about God smiting enemies. They do also include the phrase "apple of the eye" - did you know that was from the Bible?
Romans 9:1-5:
  • This is an odd little snippet of scripture. What is here? Paul's passion that his people, the Israelites, would hear God's message. He has "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" for them as he worries about their salvation. Who do you worry about? Whose walk with God are you anguished over, hoping for them that they find the hope you have found?
Matthew 14:13-21:
  • Did you know that the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels?
  • Food holds such a critical place in the scriptures. Jesus talks about being spiritually fed lots of times. But he doesn't overlook the importance of alleviating literal hunger!
  • Some look at this as a literal miracle. Others read this passage as a miracle of sharing and abundance in a more figurative sense. I say: either way, it is a miracle indeed. People were hungry, then were fed. People were enabled to stay and hear Jesus preach.
  • Abundance - there was more than enough to go around. This is a great statement for today - we live in a world of abundance, but perceive ourselves to be in a world of scarcity. Jesus tries to show us our abundance. Can you see it? Live it? 

Sermon for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, "The Kingdom of Heaven is Like...," Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Sermon 7/27/14
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Kingdom is Like…

            If I was to ask you what the “Good News” of the Bible was, I might get a variety of responses, but I think a common one, perhaps the most common response, might be this: The good news is that Jesus Christ died for our sins to save us and give us eternal life. There’s certainly scriptural support for that. And our United Methodist heritage echoes that – in our official communion liturgy, for example, the celebrants says, “Hear the good news. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. That proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” And indeed, that is good news.
            The interesting thing, though, is that Jesus talked about good news himself. And when he talked about good news, he wasn’t talking about the fact he would die for our sins. Of course, that hadn’t happened yet, for one. And also, Jesus usually only talked about his imminent death with the twelve, his closest disciples. But he did talk about “good news” with the crowds. So, what did Jesus mean by good news?
            When Jesus spoke of good news, his good news was that the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, used in the same way in the gospels – the kingdom of God was “at hand.” “At hand” is a phrase that means both “arrived” and “arriving,” both “near” and “just here.” So for Jesus, the good news that he wanted to share was that the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, was at hand – both near and here. Our next questions, then, are: what does that mean exactly – that God’s kingdom is near or here? And why is that good news exactly?
            Remember a couple of weeks ago, on my first Sunday, when I told you about my favorite Bible passage? I told you it was John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly. I told you that one of the reasons I loved this passage so much was that as a teenager, and still as an adult, but especially when I first noticed it as a teenager, the idea that what Jesus wants for us, what God wants for us is abundant, full, overflowing with joy lives was so appealing to me. Sure, God wants us to follow commandments – but they’re all centered around the joyful act of love – loving God and loving one another. God wants us to experience abundant life! Well, that’s a little bit, for me, of a way to glimpse what Jesus means by the kingdom of God being here, or near already. I think Jesus really, really wanted people to know that to experience the fullness and joyfulness of life and love and wholeness wasn’t something for later, wasn’t something for only a few, the wealthy and powerful, the healthy, the learned, the scholarly, the religious elite. No, God’s promises of joy and love and abundant life were for all and for now! Because the kingdom is here and ready for us to reach and touch and draw in and pour out and share! When Jesus taught and healed and preached, he was speaking to Israelites who lived under foreign occupation. They lived under the control of the Roman Empire. Conditions were harsh. People were oppressed and facing injustice all around. And yet, Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven was theirs – already!
            And that’s good news, isn’t it! Because even if we’re looking eagerly forward to however we understand heaven and eternal life someday, hopefully after good long lives here – I think Jesus knew that the promises of something that you can’t actually have any time in the near future could only be so appealing. Think of telling a 13 year old about how much they’ll love driving – in 3 years! That’s an eternity. An older sibling telling a younger sibling that they can come along for the fun event – when they’re older. Telling a hungry person who has no food that they’ll get enough money to feed themselves – in four weeks. Sure – all that stuff coming later is great. But what about now? Eternity someday. But what about now?
            And so the good news that Jesus tells us is this: If we want to be workers following our master Jesus, his students, helping with kingdom-work, then we don’t have to wait. The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven – it’s already right here! And in this kingdom things are flipped upside down from the oppressive culture that says might is right, that says money and possessions and status are everything, that says if you’re poor and uneducated you’re nothing, that says if you don’t have the ideal body shape or skin color or lifestyle or birthplace you’re nothing. This kingdom flips that all upside down and inside out and says the last shall be first and the first shall be last and the humbled shall be exalted and the exalted shall be humbled and it is very good news indeed.
            All this finally gets us to our text for the day at last. Like last week, we’ve heard again some parables of Jesus. Several short parables right in a row. I listened to a commentary about this passage, and the speaker aptly said that it is as if either Jesus, or the gospel-writer Matthew, felt like they were running out of time and so frantically started listing kingdom parables as quickly as possible. “The kingdom is like, the kingdom is like, the kingdom is like.”  
These parables though, seem almost unrelated. The imagery is so different, and the point of each parable seems so different. The kingdom is like a mustard seed that grows into a bush large enough for birds to nest in. Of course, that’s not actually true – they don’t grow that large – but as I mentioned last Sunday, Jesus puts details into his parables that make ears perk up. So Jesus is telling them that in the kingdom, what you think is a little faith – when you actually put it into action – can go much, much farther than you’d imagine. The parable of the yeast is the same – a little bit of yeast wouldn’t go quite so far – but the kingdom is pervasive. God’s goodness will fill up every nook and cranny and multiply faster than you can imagine. The kingdom is like someone seeking and seeking and seeking until they find that precious pearl – and they sell everything else to have it. Who does that, really? But the kingdom is so valuable, so worth our lives – Jesus wants our everything. And the kingdom casts a much wider net than you think it does. Everyone is drawn in, invited, included. If there’s sorting to do, it’s God’s task, later. And the kingdom is meant to be shared. We who know it, get it, like the disciples say they do – although their one word “yes” makes me think they think that’s what they’re supposed to say – but we who start to get or at least glimpse the kingdom that’s near and here – we’re meant to share it – bringing our treasure out to be seen, not hidden, locked away, buried. What is the kingdom of heaven like then? Well, not like any one thing. No one definition will suffice. Because the kingdom is God’s life and love and dream for us and hope and faith in us and invitation to us, and home for us, and more, all at once.
And Jesus will keep telling us about it until we realize that. The kingdom is like the kingdom is like, the kingdom is like. Because the most important things in our world don’t usually have just one answer, but many. If you child or spouse or dear one asked why you loved them, you’d probably have not just one answer, one reason, but 1000. Because our love would be too big to be contained by one response. And so it is with God’s realm, God’s kingdom. Too much to be contained by one small definition.
            This week on Facebook, I encouraged people to respond to my fill-in-the-blank sentence. “The kingdom of God/the kingdom of heaven is like ______________.” Here’s some of the responses I got. The kingdom of God/the kingdom of heaven is:
Like being embraced with love.
Like love that cannot be contained, joy that banishes trouble, and peace beyond reasoning
Like Purest love
Like the playground
Like a wish/dream come true
Like perfect peace
Like the Unity of God's People truly celebrating our imperfections and realizing we are an interwoven tapestry of God's perfection.
Like our backyard on a summer day
Like the best of a Volunteers in Mission journey
Like being welcomed into a family on a mission trip, like knowing you are loved and cared for immediately and everyone crying when you have to leave but knowing you will be loved forever.
Like how complicated and complex relationships feel reconciled. Where I can live generously without fear of exploitation. When the search for meaning has culminated. It's laughter where the refugees live.
Healing, beauty, rest, music, poetry, storytelling, feasting, fun, wisdom, and love.
Where Eternity begins. What we do with that is what makes it heaven or hell.
Like the time/space/place where wholeness and holiness are real for all people.
Like a box of chocolates
Like wonderland!
Like love.
Like a series of colorful threads, humming and vibrating as the Source of all being connected together...
Like Gandhi's satyagraha, and MLK's beloved community, full of people who have dared to be vulnerable, facing a perceived enemy with openness and love.
Like a song we can all sing--and a perfect meal with plenty to go around.
            I love the variety of responses, the imagination, the creativity, the ways the images speak to the individuals. And that’s what I want to hear from you too. So I’m giving you a homework assignment this week. I should warn you, I like to give homework. You’ll find an insert in your bulletin with this same fill-in-the-blank prompt. And I’m hoping you – maybe not right this second – but before next Sunday – I’m hoping you’ll think about your vision of the kingdom of God. How do you describe the good news that God’s promises are for us now? How do you put into words that God’s love for us is immeasurable and we don’t have to wait a second longer to experience it in all fullness? How will you let someone know the good news about what the kingdom is like? What would you say? You tell me. What is the kingdom of heaven like?
            The kingdom is like, the kingdom is like, the kingdom is like….


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 12, Ordinary 17)

Readings for 7th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/27/14:
Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, 45b, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Genesis 29:15-28:
  • Leah's eyes are here described as "lovely" - I like this NRSV translation better than some earlier ones which call her eyes "weak" - I guess over time we've felt a little sorry for second-best Leah!
  • "Jacob loved Rachel." I'd love to do a study of the number of times the Bible says one person loves another - it is not as often as you'd think, which makes me always notice passages like this where it is so matter-of-factly stated.
  • a seven years engagement period seems speedy for Jacob because of his love for Rachel - we tend to like things a little faster in our society. What would you wait seven years for?
  • Typical man? I hate to be cynical and stereotypical, but honestly, how could Jacob not realize he was having sex with wrong woman! I guess all the wedding-night feasting before hand had impaired his faculties.
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b:
  • Verses 1-5 are right on target for me: Remember to praise God all the time, because God has done some pretty amazing things for you. It is amazing how easily we forget God's role in all that we claim as our own goodness.
  • "[God] is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that [God] commanded, for a thousand generations." God initiates covenant with us. And God always holds up God's part of the covenant. We are less good at our part. A lot less good. The psalmist reminds us that God's covenant is always eternal, everlasting.
  • 45b makes a nice end, while skipping many verses: "praise God!"
Romans 8:26-39:
  • A great passage from Romans. "all things work together for good for those who love God." Do you believe that? In the midst of some terrible sufferings humans experience, God's goodness and God's goodness given for us are maybe hard to believe. But we are promised.
  • OK, but when Paul moves on to 'predestined' (vs. 30), my Methodist heart doesn't follow very far.
  • "If God is for us, who is against us?" Check out some other texts to get your mind spinning: Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23. Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50. What do you think? Not necessarily contradictory, but requiring us to use our brains and interpret meaning, examine context, etc.
  • NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING can separate us from God's love. Paul makes that pretty clear. We doubt God's love for us, and for others, as they doubt God's love for themselves and for us. But we need not!
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52:
  • This is a challenging bunch of little parables, all about God's kingdom (God's reign, God's rule).
  • What do you know about mustard seeds when they grow larger? According to Chris Haslam, we should watch for Jesus' words here, which we wouldn't think much of not being from Ancient Israel. Mustard seeds don't grow into trees! Jesus is exaggerating. The yeast into 3 measures of flour? An exaggeration - that much would feed 100 people! Jesus' point? God's kingdom is, in Haslam's words, quite "pervasive" - a little bit will spread through a long way and have huge impacts.
  • The other parables signify the value of the kingdom: priceless. The kingdom is very near, at hand. What would you give for it?
  • Jesus asks if the disciples understand. They say, "yes." I love that one word response. Do you think they really get it, or are just nodding agreement? A mystery...

Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, "Wheat and Weeds," Matthew 13:24-30

Sermon 7/20/14
Matthew 13:24-30

Wheat and Weeds

            This week is enjoyed spending a little time helping out at the Matthew 25 Farm in Tully. The weather this spring and summer has helped to create a plentiful harvest, and the peas are ready to be picked faster than they can manage with their volunteers, so they were enlisting extra, emergency help this week. When I got there, one of the farmers spent a bit of time showing me the difference between peas that were not yet ready to be picked, peas that were a bit past their prime, and peas that were just right, Goldilocks-style. He also showed me that some younger, more eager volunteers weren’t gentle enough with the peas when they were picking them, and would accidentally uproot the whole plant in the process. As tall and winding as the plants are, their roots aren’t very deep or anchored into the ground. So they’re pretty fragile when you go to snap a pod off. Of course, once a plant is uprooted, that’s it for harvesting from that particular plant. He also pointed out that they don’t really spend much time weeding the field. There were rows of pea plants that were easy enough to see. But there were lots and lots of weeds. He said the plants were healthy enough – yielding more than they could keep up with already – and the weeds didn’t seem to be a problem. I guess if you have limited volunteer hours, you better focus on getting the food harvested that will go to feed hungry people. I also suspect, given the fragile nature of the plants and the eagerness of volunteers, weeding might just end up doing more harm than good.
            I had all of this on my mind this week as I prepared my sermon. This summer, we’ll be journeying through the gospel of Matthew, and today we come to what is known as the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Jesus has been teaching the crowds in a series of parables, first sitting outside the house where he is staying by the lake, and then eventually, because the crowds are so great, teaching from a boat to give him a little space while the crowds listen from the beach.
            Now parables are a particular kind of teaching that Jesus uses. Parable is from a Greek word – a verb actually – that means literally to bring something alongside another thing. To set something beside another thing. To bring something parallel with something else. To compare one thing with another. You’ll notice that Jesus, in his parables, is always telling a story that he sets alongside something in particular: “The kingdom of heaven is like” or “The kingdom of God is like.” Whenever Jesus tells us a parable, he’s bringing his story, his illustration, and setting it alongside what he knows about what God’s kingdom, God’s realm, is like. So, he’s trying to get us to learn about the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, by telling us these vivid stories that are maybe easier for us to understand than if we just went straight for trying to understand God’s kingdom.
            So, this time, what does Jesus say the kingdom is like? Well, it’s like a this: Someone sows good seed – wheat – in his field. But while everyone is asleep, an enemy comes and sows weeds with the wheat. When the plants start growing, and the weeds are discovered with the grain, the slaves of the sower seem shocked, and go to the sower saying, “Master, didn’t you sow good seed here? Why then are their weeds? Where did they come from?” The master replies that an enemy sowed the weeds. So the slaves offer to pull the weeds up. “No,” the master replies, “for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” Both wheat and weeds have to grow together until harvest time, when the wheat will be harvested at least, gathered into the barn, and the weeds will be bundled and burned.     
            Jesus’ parables would cause a mixed reaction in the crowds. On the one hand, the parables would use imagery that was familiar to them. They knew about planting crops and working the land. But on the other hand, some things would stick out to the crowds and cause them to ask questions. This is just what Jesus wants. The crowd knows how to find the point of the parable by noticing the details that Jesus presents as commonplace, but they know are quite unusual actually.
            You might wonder how you can figure out the things in the parable that would make the crowds’ ears perk up, worried that our twenty-first century ears won’t understand what sounded strange to first century ears. But if you think carefully, any of us with basic gardening knowledge might have some questions about this parable. Jesus says the sower sows good seed. Who would sow anything else? And why would the slaves think the master sowed weed? Or why would an enemy need to sow weed? We all know that weeds do just fine planting themselves. I was telling someone (Mary?) yesterday about a bag of potting soil that’s sitting in my backyard. I had it open to pot some plants, and left it outside. Now, there’s a big plant – a weed, really, pretty though it is – growing right in the open bag of potting soil. Weeds will grow anywhere, without our effort in planting them.
            So what does this parable tell us? What is Jesus trying to get us to know? First, in any parable, I think it is important to figure out where we are in the story, and where we are not. In this story, as in most of Jesus’ parables – we’re not the master! We’re the slaves! We’re not the sower of the seeds. And that means, as the master tells the slaves, that it is not our responsibility in this world to decide which are wheat and which are weeds. I repeat – it is not our responsibility to decide which are wheat and which are weeds. That responsibility belongs to the sower. And the sower is not us. I’ve found that we’re all pretty sure that we know how to tell wheat and weeds apart. But even if we’re right, our attempts to weed seem to end up like the over eager harvesters whose work I witnessed at the Matthew 25 Farm. In our attempt to pull out weeds, we uproot healthy plants, and find delicate blossoms that could have become good plants to harvest withering without root. It is not our responsibility to decide which are wheat and which are weeds. God has that covered, and God has not asked for our help with this task, as eager to help as we are. We need to do some soul searching, and ask ourselves when and where in our quest to point out the weeds of the world to God, our actions and attitudes have actually resulted in hurting, uprooting, destroying good plants.
            Second, we need to wonder about the parable telling us an enemy has sown the weeds in the field. It seems strange to us, to me at least, to picture some villain sneaking into a garden under cover of night to plant weeds in the field. It’s absurd. There’s enough weed without anyone planting anything intentionally. Who would do that? So, if it sounds so silly to us – planting weeds on purpose – we need to ask ourselves – when have our actions in the world been like planting weeds? What have we done, or failed to do, that has resulted in planting in someone else’s life some extra weeds for them to deal with? Where have you sown division, or bitterness, or envy, or mistrust, or judging attitudes, or unkindness, or even hatred, in the life of another beloved child of God? If sowing weeds sounds so silly, so useless, we all have to remind ourselves to stop doing it!
Finally, we need to wonder about what it says when you can’t tell wheat from weeds anyway. Sometimes good plants and weeds look so similar that you can’t tell one from another. And they grow so closely together, as Jesus’ parable indicates, that it is hard to tell which is which, where one begins and the other ends. What does it say if we can’t tell wheat from weed? If we’re sure we’re wheat, but there’s nothing about our lives, our treatment of one another, our relationship with God, our actions in the world that says we’ve been planted by God as good seed? We don’t only want to be careful not to do harm by taking on God’s role and pulling up what we think are weeds – we need to realize that sometimes others might see the way we’re living our lives and feel like they know that we’re weeds!
I can tell you for sure that everything God created God called good. Go back and read Genesis 1. “And God saw that it was good” is the theme of creation. We are good seed. So let’s live like it! And live like we see that goodness at the core of everyone we meet. It’s there. So let’s claim the goodness with which God created each one of us by living out the love God has poured into us. The kingdom of heaven is like this: God sows good seed with love everywhere, all around. And despite the weeds, God’s good seed can’t be stopped. The wheat can thrive in abundance, undeterred, until the Lord of the harvest gathers us in again. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 11, Ordinary 16)

Readings for 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/20/14:
Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Genesis 28:10-19a:
  • God continues the promise, the covenant, with Jacob, that has been with his forebears. Do you feel bound into your family's religious heritage? Or your denomination's heritage? How do you feel tied in to God's continuing story?
  • Jacob's ladder - a great Sunday School song, but the vision Jacob has is strange. What do you make of it? I guess I can see it showing how present God is with us today - that God's messengers are constantly showing up on the scene, revealing God and God's work to us.
  • "Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it!" When have you realized God's presence in a place or situation only after-the-fact? 
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
  • I love this Psalm - Ok, all except for the last section before verse 23 and 24 where the psalmist declare to "hate who God hates". I do like verses 13-19 very much, but they appear in our lectionary at a different point. 
  • It is both comforting to know that we can't go where God is not, but it is also a challenge, in a way. We're reminded that God, in a sense, chases us. We are "hem[med] in" behind and before. God is strategically cornering us. An aggressive God, who insists, perhaps, on having a relationship with us.
Romans 8:12-25:
  • "not a spirit of slavery, but a spirit of adoption." I'm always torn by Paul's language of adoption. On the one hand, I'm hesitant to think that we're not born into God's family, God's children. I shudder to think that God only adopts some as children, and not others, which is an unfortunate and often drawn conclusion of such theology. But on the other hand, there is a special-ness about God going the 'extra mile', as it were, to make us God's own. Out of God's deep desire to have us as children. I guess I just want to make sure God has no limits or qualifications for who is adopted! That we can all become heirs with Christ...
  • "for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God." I like this - "creation" waiting with "eager longing" - I envision the whole earth and all the creatures just waiting for God's continued work to be revealed in humankind.
Matthew 13:24-39, 36-43
  • take note - the wheat and the weeds grow so closely together, and are so hard to distinguish from one another, that they can't be separated until they are fully grown. Remember that when you are looking at yourself and your neighbor!
  • take another note - it isn't the wheat that up and decides to pick out and destroy the wheat - that is left to God's realm. We're not assigned the task of labeling each other as weeds.
  • Sometimes we have both wheat and weeds in our own individual lives - we can take care of the garden of our own lives, and try to cultivate more wheat than weed by our choices.
  • notice the blame shifting in this text - blame it on the devil, blame it on the sower (God) for letting weeds show up where 'good seed' was sown. 

Sermon for 7/13/14, John 10:1-10

Sermon 7/13/14
John 10:1-10

Perhaps all of you feel a little bit like I do today. A mixture of things. Excited and anxious. Anticipating and wondering. Ready for change, but thinking about things that have been left behind. Heart full of good-byes and hellos. The time between when you found out Pastor Clair would be leaving here, and when Penny and I found out we would be leaving our last congregations and coming here to you has flown by, and here we are, at the beginning of this new stage in our faith journey. This is an extremely significant time of transition for all of us, and we are all wondering what the future will hold. It’s a lot to take in! I know you all are no strangers to change and transition, and as United Methodist pastors, Penny and I aren’t either. The question is: where do we find God calling to us in the midst of the constant of change?
            Pastor Penny and I are so excited to be here with you today, to be joining you, as we seek, together, to hear God’s call and respond in faithful action. We have been and will be planning and preparing, and we are ready to get started! Penny and I have the benefit of having served together already – we both spent time in ministry at Liverpool First United Methodist Church. We’ve both served large congregations and smaller congregations. I’ve served churches that are congregations born of the combination of previous congregations, too. So some things are familiar to us. But many things are new. Penny and I have never served together in quite this exact way before. I've never served “part-time” before, and have to figure out what that looks like. You’ve never had two pastors at once before. And, we’ve never been in ministry together before. We don’t know exactly what this will look like yet. We plan to watch and listen and get to know you as we figure out how best to use our time and gifts and talents here.
            Today we wanted to introduce ourselves to you, and tell you a bit about what has brought us to this place and this time, about who we are, and what we’re excited about. I grew up in Westernville, a little country town between Rome and Boonville, and then moved to Rome, NY. I have a large extended family, almost all of whom live in Central New York, which is such a blessing to me. My younger brother Tim lives in Rome still. My oldest brother Jim and his wife Jennifer and seven year old son Sam, who you will hear a lot about, live in Minoa. They also have a little girl on the way, due to arrive in September, so I will get to add stories about my niece to my repertoire very soon. My youngest brother Todd is a professional actor who is currently working on his MFA at Purdue in Indiana. You’ll probably get to meet him on Christmas Eve, as I usually enlist him to perform some dramatic monologues in worship.
            I think God was always luring me towards being a pastor. I come from a family of pastors – two uncles, and two great uncles were United Methodist pastors, including my uncle Bill Mudge, who is District Superintendent of the Adirondack District in our conference, and my great uncle Baden Mudge, who served several churches in the Syracuse area. And I grew up attending a small country church in Westernville that had a lot of female pastors – I never knew some people found female pastors unusual – it was just how it was in my young experience! Actually, in my short acquaintance with Apple Valley so far, this place reminds me so much of my childhood church in powerful ways. My mother instilled in my brothers and me a deep sense that we are all called by God for some purpose – and it is our life’s work to figure out what that call is and how we can respond to it. So I was in the practice of listening for God’s voice, God’s direction, at a young age. I grew up attending one of our church camps, Camp Aldersgate, every summer, and for a while, I believed I was called into camping ministry, because that was where I felt closest to God. At camp is still a place I feel especially close to God.
But I have always needed to feel “settled” with decisions, at peace with them, to know that I heard God as accurately as I can. And I knew I hadn’t found the right spot yet. I started to become involved with youth ministry. Of course, I was a youth myself at the time, but I loved planning and preparing youth events, and I felt like maybe I had found my calling this time. But still, God was nudging me. Somewhere between applying for and beginning college, I realized God was calling me to pastoral ministry. I can’t pinpoint a specific date or time when I knew for sure, just God’s persistent tugging at me until I got the picture.
            I attended Ohio Wesleyan for my undergraduate work in pre-theology, and then went to seminary at Drew Theological School in New Jersey. I was commissioned in 2003 and ordained in 2006. I’ve remained passionate about my early loves – I still stay involved with camping ministries, and have spent eleven years now working with our Conference Council on Youth Ministries, CCYM. I love theatre and music, and have been grateful for how God has allowed me to use these gifts in my ministry. I have a love for social justice ministry – mission and outreach and service to those in the greatest need, those on the fringes, those who Jesus was always bringing to the center. In May, I completed my Doctor of Ministry at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in the area of Leadership for Transformational Change, and in particular, I focused my writing on how a congregation’s outreach ministry can move from being charity-focused to justice-focused. God is still calling, always calling, and I continue to listen for God’s voice. I’ve served congregations in Oneida, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, East Syracuse, Liverpool, and now, God has called us together in this place. That’s a bit about my path. As some of you know, I’m here quarter time with Pastor Penny because I’ve been feeling again God’s call on my life, and I’m looking at what ministry paths I can take in addition to this local church ministry that will especially allow me to build on the social justice work I focused on in my doctoral program. It’s another transition in my life, and I’ll admit to you that I find the uncertainty a bit scary. But I’m determined to listen and follow as best as I can for God’s voice, leading me.
            In the weeks and months ahead, we will want to hear about your path – your personal journey, your family, the path this congregation has taken. Your District Superintendent speaks very highly of you as a congregation, especially of how well you have handled transitions, and your reputation for being a warm and welcoming congregation where all people are welcome to come and learn about our God of love and grace. That makes me so excited to be your pastor, and I’m excited to see where God will lead all of us together.
            Today, I chose John 10:1-10, one of my favorite passages of scripture, to share with you. I love this whole chapter of scripture, but my favorite verse is John 10:10: Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This verse caught my eye when I was in tenth grade, and reading the scriptures, and it just stuck with me. In a world that often paints Christianity as a list of thou-shalt-nots, when we Christians often let ourselves be boiled down to things you shouldn’t be doing, I was just fascinated that what Jesus said he wanted for us was abundant life. Abundance! Life that is full and rich and meaningful and complete, not a life where we feel restricted and limited and deprived. What God has in mind for us is that we find that our lives are overflowing with goodness and promise, that we have so much that we can’t begin to run out of ways to use and serve and love with the gifts we’ve been given. God wants us to have it all! Abundant life.
In challenging times, it is so easy for us to focus on what we don’t have, what we think we don’t have enough of. And it is so easy to try to fill up our lives with our own efforts, trying to fill an emptiness with a lot of stuff that has nothing much to do with God. We don’t need to. Jesus promises us all the abundance we could desire. God wants us to have it all. The catch? Of course, God wants us to give it all too. We get abundant life. God always gives us more. And as much as we have been following God, on the various paths we have taken to arrive here today, God is always going to call us further down the path. God is always read to give more and ask more.   
Friends, my hope is that we will learn to look in our hands, look in our lives, look in this congregation and community and recognize all the abundant life God has poured out on us. And then, I hope we will listen. God is calling us still, farther on. Let’s go together, and find out what God has in store.


Sunday, July 06, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 10, Ordinary 15)

Readings for 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 7/13/14:
Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Genesis 25:19-34:
  • "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger." What a pre-natal message for a mother to receive! Rebekah doesn't ultimately see a problem in having a favorite of these children - she chooses the stronger. But for my own mother, I know there is nothing worse for her than when her children are fighting with each other. She can't choose, she just wants everyone to 'get along.' How would you receive this news, personally, and for the people it will affect?
  • I've always thought Jacob and Rebekah were pretty nasty and scheming in this story line - but you have to admit, Esau is not too bright to give up (NRSV reads 'despised') his birthright for some stew. I guess we often are willing to sacrifice something of value for our immediate pleasures, even to our own detriment. It's the American way, no?  
Psalm 119:105-112:
  • "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet" - this is a great praise chorus/camp song made popular by Amy Grant - it is also, in my mind, a good view to hold of scripture: A lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I think the words put scripture in its appropriate place: illuminating our way by God's word, without becoming idolatrous of God's word.
  • "I am severely afflicted. Give me life, O Lord, according to your word." This is a great prayer to bring to God - ask God for life! 
Romans 8:1-11:
  • "therefore now no condemnation" - these are such awesome words. We are not condemned, in the midst of a world that is so condemning.
  • "Christ Jesus has set you free" - freedom and free are words tossed around a lot today. How are we free in Christ? Is this the same or different from freedom we talk about in political circles today?
  • the limits of law are clear when held up next to the amazing-ness of God's grace
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23:
  • Jesus' parables are amazing things, because they are always more than they seem. We like to decode everything in them, saying, this = this and that = that, knowing what each image corresponds to. But parables don't really work that way, piece by piece. We must take them as a whole.
  • Where do you see yourself in this parable? Rocky soil? Parched by the sun? Good soil?
  • If God is the sower, why doesn't God only sow seed in the good soil? What can we learn from how God chooses to sow? 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 9, Ordinary 14)

Readings for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/6/14:
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45:10-17, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67:
  • The Bible can't be said to have a lot of romance in it - Song of Songs, yes, but not much else. As far as romances go, I love the story of Rebekah and Isaac. Obviously, it is not a current-day model I'd want to use, but otherwise, it's a great love story, a match-making story. "He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her." Words of love, even, are not often exchanged in the Bible. 
Psalm 45:10-17:
  • This scene describes a royal wedding. As a piece of scripture, I don't find much inspiring, frankly, here. In this particular section, there isn't even a mention of God to inspire. What do you find here?
Romans 7:15-25a:
  • This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, because, to me, it sums up our human condition. We do exactly the thing it is we are trying so hard not to do. I believe in human goodness - God declared us good at our creation. But I also believe in human sinfulness! Sin dwells with in us. Where is our hope?
  • Paul asks too, "who will rescue [us?] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
  • What are the patterns of sin in which you find yourself caught? We all have things that weigh on us because we face the struggle that Paul describes. How do you deal with your struggle? How do you let grace work in and through your struggle with sin?
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30:
  • "damned if you do, damned if you don't" - that's Jesus' complaint here. Do we want a leader who refrains from worldly pleasures and is a loner like John the Baptist? Do we want a leader who is the life of the party, like Jesus? Both were criticized for their very opposite lifestyles. Why? Two possibilities, I think. Either 1) We get so distracted by the packaging that we won't hear the message. This reminds me of a quote Tony Campolo often uses: "I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said 'shit' than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night." Or 2)We focus on the packaging because we see the message and we don't want to deal with it. What do you think?
  • "come to me" - these are some of the most beautiful words of the gospel, I think. And notice - Jesus doesn't say that we will be burden-free, but that we will have rest and our burden (read: work, duty, mission, responsibility) will be light and easy because Christ is "gentle and humble in heart" and will help us. Sign me up! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Laying Down My Burden

Laying Down My Burden

As many of you know, my father died last month, after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle accident. I’ve shared that my relationship with him was estranged, and I know some of you have had similar tensions in relationships with your family members. I want to share with you about why my relationship with him was estranged. I have spent a long time debating with myself whether or not I should write this, and whether I should share with just a few or more publicly. There are people who love my father very much, who were close to him, and I regret the pain that this will cause them to read and live with knowing. I’m sorry for that. But I feel compelled to speak, not to cause harm, but to speak truth, and to let go of a heavy burden I’ve carried with me for a long time.

I am writing this now because I’ve promised myself for years that I would and could. I promised myself that whenever my father died, whenever I no longer had to worry about or had the excuse of not telling my story because of not wanting to cause conflict with him or seem like I was “out to get him” or something, I would finally say it all, share it all, and unburden myself. Perhaps this seems like a selfish act, but I consider it an act of self-care, one that I have been putting off for decades. I have needed to do this for a long time.

When I was a child, a young girl who hit puberty especially early, around 9 years old, my father started sexually abusing me. He did not rape me or force himself on me. I feel compelled to make these disclaimers. So many have suffered much more horrific abuse than I did. Nonetheless, I was abused. I think it started with my father wanting me to lie down with him on the couch. He’d want me to lay on top of him. I felt – weird. I knew something wasn’t quite right with this. But I didn’t say anything to him, or to my mother about what was happening while she was working. Eventually he did things like pull up my shirt, expose my breasts, and lay on top of me, or pin me against a wall, and put his hands on my buttocks inside my pants. It wasn’t necessarily often, or every day, but I worried about when it would happen. He would also make sexual comments to me, especially threatening that he would try to come into the bathroom while I was showering so he could see me naked. Our bathroom door didn’t lock, and for a long time, I would barricade the closet door in front of the bathroom door and use towels to keep the door in place so that I would at least have a warning if he tried to come in. He didn’t come in, but I worried about it. He’d always try to slap my butt if I was walking ahead of him on stairs. Things like that. I had the clear understanding that he desired me sexually.

I’m not sure when this stopped. I think when I got closer to being a teenager, and when we moved to a new home. But even after my parents separated, the comments with sexual innuendo did not stop. One day, while I was in high school perhaps, I was washing dishes, and I splashed water on my shirt. My father suggested I just take my shirt off. After that instance, I wrote about what I’d experienced in my journal. I didn’t even use as much detail as I did in the paragraph above. I think the paragraph above is the very first time I have ever so explicitly shared ever what I experienced.

Perhaps in a Freudian-slip kind of way, I left my journal out on the table, and my mother read what I written. She was devastated. Heart-broken for me. Feeling incredible guilt for not knowing what had happened. Livid, as an understatement, with my father. She wanted to confront him. I begged her not to. I pleaded with her not to tell anyone, or say anything, or do anything. I was so mortified and ashamed of what had happened. All the classic responses of a victim of sexual abuse. My mother believed, and I think rightly, that not agreeing to be silent would cause me such trauma that it wouldn’t be worth it. She wanted me to go to counseling, and again, I refused. I told her I wasn’t impacted by what I’d experienced. I was over it. I could handle it on my own in my own way. Again, worried that I’d shut down if she forced me, she acquiesced. I know it hurt her, wore on her, to be in this weird, secretive, middle-place. She did it because I needed her to let it be this way, at least then. 

What followed were some years of uncomfortable, lukewarm interactions between my family and my father. This was unsustainable and unhealthy. But it got us, me, through. And slowly, we became less and less involved in his life, and he in ours. 

Finally, with some distance from him, I allowed my mother to confront my father. I realized we both needed it. I think maybe I was in college? I’ve honestly lost track of the exact timeline. Anyway, she confronted him, and told him she knew what had happened. He didn’t deny it. In fact, he had read my journal both when I originally wrote about it, and then read my journal when I wrote about mom finding what I’d written. He’d known all this for years. And when she confronted him, he said, “I can’t believe that still bothers her.” I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT STILL BOTHERS HER! Infuriating! It still baffles, shocks, appalls me. Even so, even as enraging as his response was, it also made me weep with relief that he didn’t deny what had happened. I felt justified in some way. He wasn’t going to try to paint me as a liar or crazy or delusional. He sexually abused me, and he admitted it.

For the longest time, I didn’t, wouldn’t, tell anyone about my experiences. The best I could do was allude to it vaguely: “My dad isn’t a great guy.” In a strange turn of events, the first time I ever actually willingly said, “My father sexually abused me” was during seminary during a game of “Truth.” (Hey, it was seminary. We played Truth but not Dare.) It was not even exclusively among my closest friends. I was not the only one in the circle who had such an experience. But it was a turning point. It was easier – not easy – but easier to share my experiences when I needed to. Sometimes it still takes me years to be so revealing even to people I am close to, and sometimes it slips out just as a fact about my life with people with whom I am less close. But I can say it, speak of it. Speak the truth. 

And so, I am writing this, for me, and for others. I’m writing this because my church, Liverpool First UMC, has participated in Vera House’s White Ribbon Campaign every year, and the ribbons mean, “you will not commit, condone or remain silent about domestic or sexual violence.” I have been staying silent about my own experiences, while telling others to speak up, and I don’t want to do that anymore. 

I’m writing this because #notallmen, but #yesALLwomen.

I’m writing this because what happened to me is not ok, and because the abuse that children experience is not ok, and it is not their fault, and because they are victims, and because if in anyway my voice can help someone else find theirs, I should speak up.

I’m writing this because it shouldn’t be wrong to tell the truth about things that have happened.

I’m writing this because I want to continue a process of healing and grieving, and telling the truth is part of that process.

I have to talk about my mother in all of this. My mother is one of the best people I know. She just is. If you know her, you know that already. She embodies unconditional love. She once argued in a class she was taking that none of us, except God, could truly love unconditionally, faulty as we humans are, but she disproves her own argument. I have never, ever, doubted or questioned my mother’s complete love for me.

My mother didn’t know what was happening when I was a child. She wasn’t at home when these things happened. She was working hard – sometime multiple jobs – to take care of us. And I never told her. Children don’t, often. I was ashamed, and confused, and didn’t know how to even put words to what I would try to say to her. So how could she know? The comments and innuendos he never made in front of her. She had no way to know. And yet, I know, she’s struggled with feeling guilty and responsible somehow. That’s what happens with abuse, with victims of abuse. They try to take responsibility. They end up being the ones who feel guilty. But that’s a part of the lie. This was not her fault. It was not my fault. My father was responsible for his own actions. The end. However many times I have to tell her that, tell me that, I will. We will remind ourselves until we know it. 

I tried, as I mentioned, when my mother first found out about what had happened, to convince her that I hadn’t been impacted by what had happened to me. But she knew better, and I knew better over time, as I became an adult.

What happened to me meant my first experience with my sexuality was an abusive experience inflicted by someone who was supposed to love me and protect me from harm.

What happened meant that I found it difficult to accept people finding me attractive. I found and find it difficult when people look at me in this way. I feel uncomfortable and exposed, and have had to work hard to process healthy, normal interaction between adults seeking out romantic relationships.

What happened makes it hard for me to watch fathers and daughters together without an eye of scrutiny. I’m glad that I’m aware of and intuitive about unhealthy relationships around me, but I regret that I sometimes overanalyze, sometimes have to check myself and ask extra questions of myself to figure out if what I am seeing is normal, that I have to make those assessments. 

What happened made me feel ashamed and dirty and wondering what was wrong with me that my father would want to treat me that way. Why did he want to do that to me? What was I radiating that made these things unfold? Rationally, I knew I was a victim. But I’m amazed by how hard it is, emotionally, to not feel like you are at fault, somehow, in some way, causing the abuse. It was hard to tell people what I experienced because I was embarrassed, mortified at what happened. I could only ask myself, what kind of girl has a dad who wants to do that to her? It’s hard to explain that feeling, and it is hard to shake it.

What happened made me so very thankful for my mother, and for her courageous breaking out of an abusive relationship, breaking a cycle of violence, abuse, mistreatment of women. She endured a lot too, and has her own story. And when she decided to separate from and then divorce my father, she didn’t always get a lot of support. She didn’t want to tell folks about why she was ending her marriage – in part, because she didn’t want to betray things I wasn’t ready to talk about. I think some people she had been close to believed she was leaving my father to be with someone else. In actuality, she was ending her marriage because over time, with help, she learned to value herself, to see herself as a precious child of God, created in God’s image, worth being treated with kindness and love and respect, to see herself as capable and able to be on her own and take care of her children on her own. I am so thankful to Bruce Webster, my pastor, for the role he played in helping nurture my mother as she ended a deeply unhealthy relationship. It is so hard to leave abusive situations. If you’ve ever tried to walk with someone and help them exit an abusive relationship, you know that. If you’ve ever tried to leave yourself, you know that. My mother is strong and brave, and I’m thankful for people who helped draw that out of her. And I am thankful for the strength she then had to protect and help and love and care for and go to bat for me in so many ways. And I am thankful for her getting my brothers out of an environment where they would only be learning to repeat patterns they would grow up with every day. I am thankful for the men my three brothers have become, for the way they treat women, for the respectful, caring ways they are in relationship with women. I am thankful for my brother Jim, for the way he is an excellent, loving father to Sam, who is teaching him already, explicitly, how men should treat women and all people. I am beyond thankful for the men in my life who were not like my father, and who have tried to step in and nurture me and my siblings in the ways that we missed. I am thankful for my grandfather, Millard Mudge, and his extraordinary gentleness, and extraordinary kindness. I am thankful for Bruce, his mentoring, his friendship, and his commitment to help my family when we so needed a hand to pull us through the biggest change in our lives. I am thankful to Uncle Bill, who still tries to protect me from harm however he can. I am thankful for Uncle John, who has modeled “tough guys” with big, loving hearts. I am thankful for men who get it, who speak up for and with women, who are advocates for and with women, who do not keep silent, who do not see women as objects, but partners, and who teach their children to do the same.

I don’t know why my father did what he did. I remember taking a class during my freshman year of college called “Family Violence.” We learned a lot about the reasons, the causes, the factors, influences that led people to act with violence toward their families. And I remember saying in class, “Isn’t it sometimes because they’re just jerks?! Is there always a reason, an excuse?” Of course, I know some of the things that influenced my father, some of his family history, some things that shaped him. But I also know that he has to be responsible for his own actions, and that not all people with his particular family history acted in the same way. I don’t know what was in his heart.

His death has left me mostly confused and overwhelmed. I am not sure what to feel. I feel many things. I feel partly relieved. I can’t deny that. I feel sad – sad for the father he wasn’t, and for the father he was. I feel a loss of what will never be, a relationship that I will never have had with a father. I feel overwhelmed by all that his death has stirred up – memories and anger and pain that have caught me off guard. I feel sorry that my brothers and I are not simply mourning the loss of a beloved father, no strings attached, that things are so complex and muddled. I don’t hate my father. I have, of course, some good memories too, that I try to set aside, apart, if such a thing is even possible. I can honestly say that I have wished him wholeness and healing. And I believe that God’s amazing grace is available to us all, even him, even me.

If you’ve made it to the end of this, I thank you for letting me share these words with you, even if they were hard to read. I have been so blessed by the kind words and thoughts and prayers of so many of you during this difficult time. You’ve made me feel overwhelmed with love, and strengthened on every side. Thank you. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (Proper 8A, Ordinary 13A)

Readings for 3rd Pentecost, 6/29/14:

Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

Genesis 22:1-14:
  • OK - I'll be up front: I hate this story. I hate a story that has God granting this precious child and then asks for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, as a "test" of Abraham's faith. I hate that God would test him in that way, and I know how I would respond: No way God! I'm not willing to agree that this is exactly how such a story literally unfolded. But that's beside the point. The point is: the story is here, so what will we do with it?
  • What's the hardest thing someone has asked you to do? What's the hardest thing God has asked you to do? How did you respond?
  • "The Lord will provide." This statement can be a statement of faith, or a statement that sometimes leaves unexamined the ways people do not have their needs provided for in this world. Use with care!
Psalm 13:
  • "How long, O Lord?" It is ok to cry out to God. God can handle it. Sometimes I think we're afraid to give to God all of our emotions and fears and states of being. What kind of strong relationship has such a strong element of fear in it? Cry out. God wants to hear.
  • The psalmist shows faith that God will respond, even in a time of great trial. Do you trust God will answer you? Confidence that you will hear God's voice?
Romans 6:12-23:
  • *We're in the midst of several weeks of lectionary texts from Romans. It's a really good idea to know the text as a whole - Paul is making complicated and interrelated arguments in here, and it is difficult to take his words in little chunks and not lose some of his momentum.
  • The 'peak' of this passage is verse 23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus." Paul is trying to make it clear what our smartest choice is: grace. It's a gift. And the alternative is not nearly so promising.
  • Paul is also working carefully to make sure that his readers understand that God's grace does not free us from the law or from obedience to the law - in fact, it binds us to it, just in a different way than before. Better obedience to law than sin. But our obedience is freeing, because the 'end' is salvation through grace, he argues.
Matthew 10:40-42
  • A few short verses with a lot of power. We spend a lot of time in churches worrying about how we welcome people, which is important. But the kind of "welcome" described here is something beyond shaking hands with visitors who happen by our churches, isn't it?
  • The Greek word used in this section for 'welcome' is dechomai, meaning "receive," "take," "accept," and the like.
  • Check out Chris Haslam's notes for a little more on this passage and how the "in the name of" piece works in Jewish understanding. 

    Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, "The Next Step: You Look Just Like Him," Matthew 10:24-39

    Sermon 6/22/14
    Matthew 10:24-39

    The Next Step: You Look Just Like Him

    Our gospel lesson this morning is a sort of hodge-podge of things, and at first, you might have a hard time threading them together, because they seem like separate sets of instructions. First, the part about disciples and teachers. Then, a section about fearing only those who can corrupt our souls, rather than those who can kill our bodies. Then finally, Jesus talks about coming to bring not peace, but a sword, resulting in family members being set against one another. But, Jesus concludes, “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” These seemingly disconnected instructions are all part of a larger section of Matthew. Jesus is sending out the twelve during his years of ministry, giving them authority to heal and preach and teach as he has been. And before he sends them, he wants to give them instructions for their time away. These verses we read today are part of the list of things the disciples should keep in mind as they travel, and in that context, they make more sense together. Remember that they are still disciples, even though they’re preaching and teaching and healing. Remember not to be afraid, even though they’ll face threats. As long as their souls are safe, so are they. And remember, their ministry will cause people to need to make decisions about whether to follow or not, and sometimes this will result in division and conflict. But, following in the subversive, upside-down, cross-carrying way of Jesus is the only real way to find life. In context, then, it seems these verses are really quite perfect for our time together today, as we, all disciples, prepare to head our separate directions, but still seek to remain faithful in our journeying.
    Have you ever seen one of those stories online showing people who look like their pets? Or maybe married couples who remarkably look very much like each other? It turns out, scientific studies actually show this to be true in certain scenarios: couples who have been together for years and years actually do begin to resemble each other over time. Even when couples “bore no particular resemblance to each other when first married had, after 25 years of marriage, come to resemble each other,” the research shows. And what’s more, “the more marital happiness a couple reported, the greater their increase in facial resemblance.” Scientists say this is because of “decades of shared emotions” between couples. The theory is that “people, often unconsciously, mimic the facial expressions of their spouses in a silent empathy and that, over the years, sharing the same expressions shapes the face similarly.” (1)  
    Who do you resemble? Or who are you trying to resemble? When I saw little, about 4 years old, I asked for “boy toys” for my birthday. My brother Jim is 6 years older than me, and I adored him, and I wanted to be as much like him as possible. So I wanted to have the things that he had, so that I could imitate him all the better. I wanted to be like Jim. Of course, I’ve also read stories about people who are trying hard to look like celebrities, going to the extent of paying for plastic surgery to alter their appearances. “Toby Sheldon, 33, has spent almost $100,000 in an attempt to look like Justin Bieber. He underwent hair transplants, "smile surgery," eyelid surgery, and Botox, among other things, over a period of five years.” (2) Who are you trying to resemble? These days, one of the biggest compliments you could pay me would be to say that I remind you of my mother, or my grandfather. Who do you so admire that you would love to be told, “You remind me of….”
    Jesus sent out the disciples during a time in Jewish culture where it was typical for students, when they’d learned all they could from a teacher, to either find a new teacher to learn from, or to set themselves up as a teacher. (3) Jesus says we don’t need to do that. It is enough for us to focus on being like our teacher and master. Because we’ll never learn all we can – we’re always still in process. We need to be honest with ourselves, though, about our discipleship. How hard are we working to resemble Jesus? To be more like him? Are we putting as much in as the people who are giving their all to look like a celebrity whose fame is fleeting? Are we even trying as hard as my 4 year old self, making sure we’re well equipped to be like the one we want to resemble?  Like the study about the married couples, I think it takes years of practice, of shaping our lives to look like Jesus’s life. We may feel like we start out pretty different. But years of sharing Jesus’ emotions, of feeling empathy and compassion just like Jesus does, of making the same expressions with our life that Jesus does, will result in us resembling Jesus. And that’s why Jesus asks us to do what he does, even when that means picking up the cross like he does, and putting ourselves last, and being a servant, and losing our very life like he does.
    Jesus tells us that our journey to be like him might be challenging. He knows it will, in fact. He tells us that following him will be more like balancing on the edge of a sword sometimes than like strolling through peaceful meadows. Because we’ll constantly have to choose. We’ll constantly have to choose, again, following Jesus, seeking God’s kingdom, instead of other choices. And sometimes our other choices will look so good, or pull so strongly on our hearts. There’s no promise of no conflict. But he tells the disciples, and tells us: don’t be afraid. God knows even about the lives of every bird of the air. And we’re even more precious to God than that.
                Our two years together have been such a short time in the scheme of things, friends. In our time here, I think Aaron and I have most emphasized to you that as a church, we always need to remember to ask ourselves “why” we’re doing what we’re doing. Why are we coming here? Why are we willing to support a budget for the work of the congregation? Why do we want more people to come here? Why do we spend time planning and in committees? Why do we want our youth to make a confirmation here that they too choose this family? Why?  
    My answer is that I choose this path because I want to be like Jesus. I choose it because I’ve found nothing and no one else that helps lead me into a relationship with God, that helps me glimpse the kingdom, than following Jesus. So I want to spend my life trying, even if so often I fail, to be as much like Jesus as possible. I hope you want that too, that you choose that too. If it is Jesus you want to resemble, I hope that you will commit with me, wherever we are, to the lifelong task of choosing again and again to follow Jesus, even when it is costly, even when we will be offered endless opportunities to follow other shinier, glossier things.     
                Be as much like Jesus as you can, so that eventually, people even say you look alike, that looking at you is like looking into the heart of the living Christ. Don’t be afraid, because you are precious beyond measure to God, who guards your soul. Know that you will have opportunities again and again to choose paths that aren’t about following Jesus. Hard choices to make. Other paths that look dazzling. Choose the way of Jesus, even if it costs you everything to do so. Even if it costs your whole life. Because in the choosing, in choosing the way of Jesus again and again, you’ll find your real life. Amen.

    (1) Daniel Goleman, Long-Married Couples Do Look Alike, Study Finds, August 11, 1987.


    (3) Chris Haslam,

    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Lectionary Notes for Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

    Readings for Second Sunday after Pentecost, 6/22/14:
    Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Psalm 17, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

    Genesis 21:8-21:
    • "But Sarah saw." This is a complicated story. Certainly, jealously comes into play in a number of biblical stories. I also think of the horrible rock/hard place role women have in this story. How would you feel if you were Sarah? Abraham? Hagar? 
    • "For it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also." Although of course this is unfair in so many ways, God is also quite ahead of the times, as usual. A blessing, too, for the child of a slave woman? Making him into a nation, too, like Isaac? Ishmael has his own story that will unfold, which today we see in the Islamic faith tradition, which traces its roots to Ishmael. 
    • "And sent her away." What do you think Abraham expected to happen to Hagar and Ishmael? How vulnerable they must have been! Do you think Abraham told Hagar of God's promise for her son? Why would he or wouldn't he have? Her actions suggest he did not reveal this. 
    • "The God opened her eyes." Literally, figuratively. 
    Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17:
    • "For I am poor and needy." Contrary to what you might think, according to Chris Haslam these words indicate the psalmist is a king. 
    • What reasons do you give to God to convince God to help you out? What attributes of God does the psalmist praise? Is the writer sincere, or flattering, or both? 
    • "Save the child of your serving girl." Haslam interprets this as the king taking on an attitude of humility. I can't help, though, but read this psalm thinking of Hagar. What is this was Hagar's song? Or a woman with a similar story? Whose voice do you hear in these words? 

    Psalm 17:
    • This psalmist is bold and demanding. The psalmist declares himself to be free from deceit, able to withstand testing, feet not slipping from God's path. The language to God is imperative, commanding. 
    • Sometimes we need to be bold with God - not for God's sake, but for our sake. Fear of God's justice has its place, but confidence in our status as God's beloved children with whom God seeks relationship also has its place.
    • This psalm includes the phrase "apple of the eye" - did you know that was from the Bible?
    • Verse 15 is probably the boldest, most confident of all: "I shall behold your face in righteousness ... I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness." Is the psalmist overbold? Exaggerating? Properly faithful/trusting? 
    Romans 6:1b-11:
    • "Should we continue in sin ...?" Paul is on to any great arguments we might have to keep doing what we're doing wrongly in order to experience more grace. Paul says, "nice try." 
    • Paul says: our old selves are dead. That's freeing - and sometimes scary! What part of your old selves are you having a hard time letting go of? Do you need to mourn/grieve what you let go of to embrace new life in Christ? 
    Matthew 10:24-39:
    • "like the teacher ... like the master." Who have you been told you are like? Who do you remind people of? Be careful of who your teacher and master is! 
    • Kill the body/kill the soul - I can't help but think of the dementors in Harry Potter novels, who don't kill the body, but steal the soul in a kiss. Or Voldemort, who split his soul into pieces to gain eternal life, missing the point entirely. 
    • "even the hairs of your head are counted." Have you ever been so in love that you felt compelled to learn every detail about a person? With a significant other? A spouse? A child? This is how much God loves us ... times infinity!
    • "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of peace. That means he must have a particular point here: The sword is the decision-moment, the choosing, the declaring of priorities, above everything else. What and who do you choose? 
    • Take up the cross and follow - find their life/lose it, lose their life/find it: I find these to be some of the most challenging and compelling words in the scripture. 

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season after Pentecost: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

    A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season after Pentecost:
    Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
    (Tune: NETTLETON)

    Come, dear friends, now to the table
    Lift your hearts up to the Lord.
    Let us gather, kneel together
    Raise our voices! Praise God!
    Now we gather at the table
    Now we come to sing our praise
    At the table of forgiveness
    Oh, God’s goodness: see and taste.

    Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
    Tune our hearts to sing thy grace;
    streams of mercy, never ceasing,
    call for songs of loudest praise.
    Teach us some melodious sonnet,
    sung by flaming tongues above.
    Praise the mount! We’re fixed upon it,
    mount of thy redeeming love.

    Out of love we were created,
    From God’s breath we drew our life.
    But God’s goodness we rejected,
    Bound for pain and grief and strife
    So God sought us through the ages,
    Called to us to turn from sin.
    Yet we would not heed God’s pleading,
    Lost and suff’’ring, broken

    So God sent to us Christ Jesus,
    God-made-flesh to walk with us.
    By his wounds: we found redemption.
    In his life: abiding love.
     Jesus sought us when still strangers,
    wandering from the fold of God;
    he, to rescue us from danger,
    interposed his precious blood.

    On the night of that last supper
    Jesus broke and shared the bread.
    “This my body, take and eat it;
    Broken so the world might mend.”
    Jesus took the wine and poured it,
    Offering with it his own life.
    Telling us: “You are forgiven,”
     Telling us we’d gained new life.

    O to grace how great a debtor
    daily we’re constrained to be!
    Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
    bind our wandering hearts to thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, we feel it,
    prone to leave the God we love;
    take our hearts, O take and seal them,
    seal them for thy courts above.

    Holy, Holy, God Almighty,
    Holy Spirit, fall on us.
    Make these gifts of bread and cup now
    Jesus’ body, Jesus’ blood
    Though this gift we are Christ’s body
    In this meal, we are made one
    Here we raise our Ebenezer
    At this table, we are home.

    Prayer after Communion:
    We give thanks for holy mystery
    As you give yourself to us.
    Send us forth now, by your spirit
    As we journey out in love
    Blessed be the tie that binds us
    Blessed be the kindred love!
    Lead us God, by your good pleasure
    On the paths where we now go.

    Text: Beth Quick, 2014, with adapted text from Robert Robinson, 1758, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." 
    Permission is given for free use of this hymn text with author attribution.

     Creative Commons License
    A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season after Pentecost:
    Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Rev. Beth Quick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.