Thursday, April 30, 2009

30 Things for My 30th Year

Today, I turn 30. I've been joking and lamenting to family and friends about how old I am, but really, I'm fine with 30. It seems strange to me, I'll admit - a little weird to be 30. Where did the last ten years go so quickly? But I'm ok with it. However, I thought I'd work on a list of things I'd like to do/accomplish/try/etc. during the year that I'm 30. Here we go:

1. Make myself get on a plane again. I'm very afraid of flying - my biggest phobia - but I flown many times before, and need to get back into the habit of just doing it.

2. Go to Ireland

3. See the Grand Canyon, visit my friends out West, and take that cross-country road trip I’ve had on hold for a few years now.

4. Start taking tap classes again. I broke my ankle 2 1/2 years ago, and had surgery to correct it 2 years ago, and it's never been the same, and dancing has seemed out of the question. But I really miss it, and want to try it even if I have to go back to a beginner class.

5. Get back into running 3 miles. Again, ankle issues every time I've tried to start running again. But I think I need to go about it in a more systematic way, and try again.

6. Plant a garden. Not sure how this will work, now that I will be living in apartment, but we'll see.

7. Learn a few guitar chords well enough to play along with easy songs that I could use in worship settings.

8. Start learning Spanish (and Gaelic, which fascinates me, but Spanish does seem so much more practical.)

9. Work on or be in a play/musical. I really miss working in the theatre.

10. Finish the scarf I’ve been knitting for a long time. Think 3 or 4 years....

11. Be more intentional about discerning God's direction re: higher education.

12. Find a place in Syracuse, as I did in NJ, to be in regular, hands-on mission work with my congregation.

13. Organize a group of at least 40 young people from our 4 conferences to attend Exploration in November.

14. Start eating more local, organic, vegan foods, even if I can't make the complete vegan transition because I'm wimpy.

15. Speak the truth more often. I know that sounds pretty vague, but applies in so many different ways that I think vague is better.

16. Start spending less. I've been blessed with a good salary, as far as clergy salaries go, for the past couple of years, and I've been amazed (read: distressed) at how I've grown right into spending it. Having a pay cut as I move back to NCNY from GNJ will help me spend less (eek!) but I want to be more careful, more thoughtful about my spending regardless.

Okay, I'm running out of ideas. Maybe Part 2 tomorrow. What would you like to/liked to have done when you were 30? Any ideas?

Friday, April 24, 2009

from MFSA - recommendations on the Constitutional Amendments

You've probably seen floating around UMC blogging-circles links to Maxie Dunnam's and/or Eddie Fox's YouTube videos on the Constitutional Amendments being voted on at Annual Conferences this year. I have a lot to say about the amendments, but no time to write right now. So, please check out MFSA's well-crafted document about the amendments with their recommendations, which you can find right here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lenten Theme: Jesus Christ Superstar

At FLUMC over the last several years, it's become our own 'tradition' to use a musical as a focus or backdrop of sorts during the season of Lent, as a different way of looking at the journey with Jesus to the cross. This year, we used my very favorite musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. One of my colleagues asked for my outline for the season, so I thought I would also post it here, in case any of you are interested.

Theme: "Who Do You Say that I Am?" - using music from Jesus Christ Superstar

Ash Wednesday
Overview of Theme: Who do we say Jesus is? Who did the figures in the Passion story say Jesus was? How did what they said affect their lives? How does who we say Jesus is change us?
Scripture: Mark 8:27-37
Song: We used "Everything's Alright," since it uses 3 characters, to give an overview. "Superstar" might also be an appropriate choice, since it lays out the main theme in the lyrics.
Character Focus: no specific character - all/overview

First Sunday in Lent
Theme: Betrayal - how do we betray Jesus?, being defined by one moment in our life, redemption
Scripture: Matthew 26:20-25, Matthew 27:3-10
Song: "Heaven on Their Minds," or "Superstar"
Character Focus: Judas

Second Sunday in Lent
Theme: Jesus as King, Jesus as one who will come and fix all of our problems. What does "savior" mean? What is the Kingdom of God?
Scripture: John 6:5-15 (A stretch - not really about Simon, but about wanting to make Jesus King by Force)
Song: Simon Zealotes
Character Focus: Simon Zealot

Third Sunday in Lent
Theme: When do we know who Jesus is, but refuse to let what we know change us, because who we think we are is more important - our own agenda is more important than God and God's agenda.
Scripture: Luke 23:1-5, Luke 23:13-25
Song: Pilate's Dream
Character Focus: Pontius Pilate

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Theme: Debunking some mythology and misconceptions about Mary Magdalene - Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, and the 'sinful' woman, focusing on, in opposition to Pilate, a life that is changed because of who Jesus is: a savior.
Scripture: Luke 10:38-42, Luke 7:36-8:3, Matthew 27:55-56
Song: I Don't Know How to Love Him
Character Focus: Mary Magdalene, (and the other Mary figures)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Theme: The "two steps forward, one step back" nature of faith, faithfulness over the long course, despite glaring examples of getting it wrong. The not-a-straight-line nature of discipleship
Scripture: Mark 8:27-37, Matthew 14:23-33, Matthew 26:31-35, Matthew 26:69-75
Song: Could We Start Again, Please?
Character Focus: Peter

Palm/Passion Sunday
Theme: The Palm and Passion Stories - no 'sermon'
Scripture: Any combination of Palm/Passion Texts
Song: Hosanna (could combine with, "This Jesus Must Die,"
Character Focus: none in particular, although could focus in on the crowds, or the high priests

Maundy Thursday
Theme: Remembering - how we remember who Jesus is, how he wants us to remember
Scripture: Any focusing on Last Supper
Song: The Last Supper and Gethsemane
Character Focus: Jesus

Good Friday
Theme: Jesus' crucifixion
Scripture: I used a Tenebrae service to replay all the scriptures we had used throughout Lent, and closed with Mark's description of the crucifixion
Song: Played The Crucifixion and John 19:41 for silent reflection
Character Focus: All

Easter Sunday
Theme: Time to answer for ourselves - who do we say that Jesus is? Why does Easter matter? Where do we go from here?
Scripture: John 20:1-18 and Mark 16:1-8, emphasis on Mark
Song: None, or Superstar
Character Focus: Us!

Other options:
"Herod's Song" and King Herod Focus
"This Jesus Must Die" and "Then We Are Decided," Annas and Caiaphas

Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year B

(Sermon 4/12/09, Mark 16:1-8, John 20:1-18)

Who Do You Say that I Am?

This year, as I’ve been thinking about Easter, I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent Children’s Sermons during Lent, and the kids’ reactions as I’ve mentioned to them that we’re preparing for Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Generally, the kids have reacted something like this: Ew, gross! What, does he get buried and dug up again? Their responses make me laugh, of course, and occasionally throw me for a loop and leave me a bit speechless, but I’ve been thinking about their responses and reactions. As adults, who’ve heard the resurrection story many, many times, maybe we’ve forgotten exactly the strangeness of what it is we’re celebrating today. Jesus rising from the dead? Maybe the kids’ reactions are actually the most appropriate – because at least they have some sense of confusion, or misunderstanding, or surprise about it all. Celebrating Easter year after year, as adults, we can become pretty blasé about the whole thing. Oh yeah – Easter – Jesus rose from the dead, that’s all. It’s maybe a little hard for us to capture the wonder and the excitement or even the confusion of Easter, isn’t it?

So maybe the kids are really on the right track, leading the way, as they so often do. How do we make sense of Easter today? If we’re talking about someone being resurrected – raised from the dead – how do we take it so lightly? Typically, at Easter, we read the resurrection story from the gospel of John – it’s the most well known, the most liked – the intimate scene of Mary Magdalene discovering Jesus himself at the tomb, finally recognizing him and calling him Teacher. In the three year cycle of scripture texts, you might also hear the resurrection story from Matthew and Luke. But it’s hard to ever focus on the resurrection story from the gospel of Mark. That’s because, like the rest of Mark’s gospel, his resurrection story is pretty short on details. It is only 8 verses long, and it was so upsetting to the early church that by the fourth century, manuscripts existed giving Mark longer endings. In most Bibles today, you’ll see Mark ending at chapter 16 verse 8, with footnotes or other section headings noting a verse 9 listed as the “shorter ending of Mark” and then verse 9-20, called the “longer ending of Mark.” Most scholars agree, however, that verses 9-20, in any version, were added on later to compensate for Mark’s strangely brief Easter story, with some scholars speculating that perhaps Mark died before he could finish the gospel, or perhaps the last page of Mark’s work was lost somehow.

Why all this speculation and rewriting? Well, if we take just verses 1-8 in Mark, we never hear about anyone actually seeing the risen Jesus. The young man at the tomb that the women see just tells the women that Jesus has risen and to tell the disciples about it. But the women respond differently than the messenger says. We read, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.*” Leaving it where Mark leaves things, no one proclaims the Easter message that Jesus has risen, at least not right away.

I think the early church added to Mark’s ending because they knew that wasn’t all there was to the story. Obviously, if the women had never told anyone what happened, the news about Jesus wouldn’t have spread. No one would have thought he had risen. So eventually, they must have gotten over their fear and shared the news, and that’s the story folks in the early church wanted to make sure was in Mark’s gospel. But however it came about, I like Mark’s short story, just eight verses long, because in Mark’s original ending, the women had probably the most proper reaction of all to the Easter story – they ran away scared! They were baffled by the news, they had no idea what to do with finding the empty tomb and the man’s strange words, and they were afraid to say anything about their terrifying experience. To me, at least in terms of initial reactions to what was happening, Mark’s gospel makes the most sense of all. Sure, the story got shared eventually. But how else would you react if you had the kind of experience these women had?

So we’re back to our question – how do we make sense of Easter today? I think it can only have meaning for us if we try to reclaim a little bit of the wonder of those women, or try to see it from the perspective of children hearing this strange story for the first time – how can Jesus be raised? It is hard to make sense of, and I can’t tell you that I have all the answers to explain how something like eternal life and resurrection could possibly work. For all of our fascination with heaven and afterlife, the Bible is actually pretty vague on details for things like that. It’s up to us, really. How do you make sense of it all? How do I? What do we do with Easter?

As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite scripture passage is John 10:10 – “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” Sometimes we think about being disciples and adhering to our religious beliefs as something that means that we have to give up things, follow “thou shall nots,” and generally miss out on enjoying things that others seem to have no problem with. Why I love John 10:10 is because it reminds me that Jesus wants the exact opposite for us – for us to have full life, abundant life, overflowing life. Are you living abundantly? Is your life full? Full of the deep joy that following Jesus can bring?

When I think about making sense of Easter, I think about this promise of abundant life. I ran across an article this week on death and dying and the work of Hospice volunteers. And one of the volunteers said, “You’re going to die the way you live.” (1) She was speaking about being able to have a meaningful experience even when you were dealing with a terminal illness. But that statement really struck me, in the midst of Holy Week, as I was preparing to write this sermon. Jesus died like he lived – and how he lived was with such love, such fullness, such giving, such openness to God, that death couldn’t change that. He lived too fully, too much, to die, to let death be the final word. In funeral liturgies, especially in the prayers read at graveside services, you often hear the phrase, “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 55‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” They are words that Paul shares in his first letter to the Corinthians, when he’s trying to explain to them the meaning of resurrection. Paul’s trying to say that death doesn’t win – death never wins – if you’ve really lived, if your abundant life is more full than death could ever hold. What does Easter mean? What is resurrection? What is eternal life? What is Jesus promising? I believe this – we die like we’ve lived. Jesus died like he lived – in such a way that death couldn’t contain him – death could not stop Jesus’ life.

So, it's Easter morning again. What will happen here today? How do you answer that question? That’s what we’ve building up to all through Lent, as we’ve looked at who Peter and Judas and Simon and Pilate and Mary say Jesus is – none of it matters until we answer the question for ourselves. Who is Jesus to you? What does Easter mean to you? The truth is, our actions, our behaviors, the way we act from Easter to Easter often indicates that we don't expect anything much to happen here today at all, because, the day after, we tend to live our lives in the exact same way we always have. We don’t have the same reaction as our children do to the idea of resurrection, and we don’t run scared from the tomb like the women on that first gut response to Easter. It seems, then, that we don't expect very much from Easter. Is it just one more Sunday? Is Easter simply a day to celebrate with friends and family, to share in a good meal, to finally indulge in whatever we have given up for Lent? Is Easter is a day when the sanctuary looks extra nice, and we dress up in new clothes, and new stoles? Is that all we expect? All we want? Why doesn’t Easter startle us as the shocking, almost unbelievable, unbearably wonderful event that it is? If you knew that death didn’t have the final word after all, how would that make you react?

The fact is, it would be awfully inconvenient for something more powerful to happen to us on the Day of Resurrection. If death can’t conquer abundant life, if Jesus is alive, we might have to take to heart all of those things that Jesus taught during his lifetime. We might have to admit that his way was better than our way, that his idea of kingdom is better than ours, that his idea of living and loving was right after all. We'd have to change our lives, right now, starting today.

But the empty tomb and the risen Christ are only part of Easter. Like that old quip, "if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound when it falls?" - if Christ is crucified and resurrected, and no one tells it, and no one changes because of it, and no one is transformed by it - does it matter? Life where death was expected - what else can God do to show us love? A beginning, where an end seemed certain - what else can God do to challenge us into action? Eternal joy where grief seemed to abound - what else can God do to show us grace?

I think that’s why I like the resurrection story in the gospel of Mark so much, and couldn’t let it go this year. It is like an unfinished story, a choose-your-own-adventure story, one that we are called to complete. We get just a starting point – just a glimpse of the empty tomb. What happens after that – what we make of it, what we believe about it, and what we do because of what we believe – well, that’s up to us. That’s the real Easter story of new life – our own new life, if we choose it, because of the gift of grace, love, and abundant life that Jesus offers. Who do you say that Jesus is? What does Easter mean to you? And what will that mean for you not just on this Sunday, but on Monday and Tuesday and all the days after?

Amen.

(1) http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/04/07/lw.how.good.death/index.html?iref=newssearch

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year B

(Sermon 4/9/09, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Remember

This past Sunday evening, members of the youth groups from our church and from our neighbors at Grace Wyckoff United Methodist gathered together here to learn about the symbolism of the Passover meal. Rose and Justin Peligri shared with us about the meaning behind the different foods eaten at a Seder supper, and we heard about the story of God leading the people out of slavery in Egypt through God’s servant, Moses. We talked about how the Israelites celebrated Passover as a way to remember what had happened to them, how God had led them out of captivity. The Passover celebration is primarily about remembering, retelling the story, so that the people don’t forget their history with God.

We might wonder – how could they ever forget? How could they forget their life of slavery? How could they forget the horrible conditions they were living in? But if you remember what happened after the Israelites left Egypt, it might make a little more sense. They left Egypt only to wander in the desert for 40 years, following Moses to the Promised Land, but going in such a round-about way that they must have had to wonder if Moses – and God – knew what they were doing, and if this Promised Land really existed. After all, during forty years, many of those who had been slaves in Egypt would have died. And many of those who grew into adults would have been just children in Egypt. In fact, many would have been born on the journey, and never have lived in Egypt themselves. How easy would it be to forget, then, if many of the Israelites had never even experienced, or at least could not remember on their own, the time in Egypt? Add onto that the sometimes difficult situations the Israelites encountered in the wilderness – depending on God for manna, searching for water, and just the difficulty of such a journey – when you put all these things together, perhaps we can understand how the people might forget, or start to downplay or underestimate, how things had been in Egypt, and what God had done for them.

Unfortunately, it seems like the people forgetting about God is a huge theme in the scriptures. In the Old Testament, over and over, though in less familiar stories than Moses and the Israelites, we see people forgetting the covenants made with God, forgetting their histories, forgetting what God has done for them, and turning to old ways, other gods, their own way of living. And then, God finds a new way to speak to the people, and they remember, or sometimes have to even re-learn their own history, and start again. Forgetting and remembering. It’s a significant theme in the Hebrew Scriptures.

We forget, too, don’t we? Forget our own stories, our own histories. My paternal grandmother had a pet peeve with me when I was little. I was in the habit of saying, “I forgot” as an explanation for anything that I was supposed to do but didn’t get around to. She always told me that’s what it would say on my tombstone, “I forgot.” I think it frustrated her in part, of course, because she suspected I hadn’t actually forgotten, but also because forgetting just isn’t a good excuse. Forgetting isn’t responsible. Of course, sometimes forgetfulness becomes something out of our human control, a result of illness or injury. But the very reason we care about forgetfulness is because we know how critical memory is to our lives. It’s a personal issue and a societal issue too. We often fear that history will repeat itself – particularly that the mistakes of history will repeat. We fear that given enough time, enough distance, we will forget even the most significant events – forget what brought us to those situations, why we shouldn’t have let those things happen, how we could prevent them happening again. And so we create ways to remember – family reunions remind us of our roots, class reunions help us remember our school days, holidays like President’s Day, and Martin Luther King Day, and so on, are there not just to help us celebrate and have a day off, but to help us remember something. We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays to remember how special people and relationships are. And in the church, our rites and rituals help us remember.

Tonight, Jesus calls us to remember. He’s sharing a Passover meal with his disciples, and so they are already in the mood to remember, to think about symbolism and meaning. And then Jesus takes bread and takes wine and says to them, “When you eat this, remember me – my body for you. When you drink this, remember me, a new covenant made with you. Do this often, remember me every time you eat and drink.” We usually remember this meal and Jesus’ words when we celebrate communion in worship – but Jesus says something with a broader meaning – he wants us to remember him, remember the new covenant, remember his gift of love to us every time we eat and drink. And that’s not all. Throughout his ministry, Jesus tried to get his disciples, the crowds – and us – to remember by pointing out all of these common day connections when he was explaining God, God’s kingdom, and how we should live: Bread. Wine. Water. Seeds, Soil. Birds. Trees. Vines. Animals. Coins. Whatever was part of people’s everyday lives, Jesus used to help them remember. Because he wanted them – wants us – to remember who he is everywhere and all the time.

Jesus calls us to remember him in everything we see and do, to remember God, to remember who Jesus is and who we are in everything, every moment, every day. This is actually a pattern I’ve developed in my children’s sermons, though it happened by accident. I have to admit, I used to be afraid of children’s sermons. They stressed me out – wondering if I could handle the unexpected directions the kids’ responses sometimes take you! So I would look for a way to ‘tie up’ and conclude my message, and got into the habit of saying to the kids: “So when you see X, (referring to whatever item I’d brought to show them), remember X (referring to whatever lesson I wanted them to learn.) It started out by accident, my habit of ending my messages that way, but when I stopped to think about it, it made sense to me. That’s exactly what I want our children to do – to remember God, to remember their church, to think about their faith in all of these different things they see in their lives – to remember God loves them when they see Chutes and Ladders, or when they see Before and After pictures, or when they buy something new to replace something old and worn out – I want them to remember all the time.

That’s what God wants for us, too – to remember all the time. And what are we called to remember? Who Jesus is, who God is. Who do you say that I am? That’s been our theme all this Lent. We know, don’t we? We have our answers. We know, at least I hope we know, or are beginning to know, about God’s unconditional love, about Jesus’ call to discipleship. We know, but we forget. We come to worship to remember, and that’s good! But we’re called to remember everywhere, at all times. Jesus wants us to remember so that we never forget, so that who he is touches us in everything that we do. And so he calls us to remember.

Holy Week is about reenacting, replaying the Passion, the journey, so that we remember, can practically remember being there ourselves, experiencing it all for ourselves. And so we see the story – and remember. Hear the scriptures – and remember. Sings the songs – and remember. Take the bread and cup – and remember. Come to the table, and remember who God is, and who you are because of it. Amen.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reflections on Palm/Passion Sunday

I didn't preach on Palm/Passion Sunday this year, so I thought instead of posting my sermon, I would highlight some of the resources I used in worship.

Lately, I've been loving the liturgies written by Rev. Thom M. Shuman, here at Lectionary Liturgies. We used his Great Thanksgiving this Sunday for communion. I can write liturgies myself, but it is not one of my particular strengths. However, cultivating a good list of liturgists who really write in a way that moves me is one of my strengths.

I also used this responsive litany, written by Deb at Palabras de Deb. I've actually had that litany bookmarked since last year when she posted it, and have been waiting to have the chance to use it this year! I also used the monlogues she mentions, found here and here. They are written from the point of view of a person in the crowd on Palm Sunday, and then later in Holy Week. We have a wonderful actor/singer, Richard Koons, in our congregation who performed them for us. I used these, along with a reading of the passion story, to constitute the message, rather than a regular sermon, and the service was quite full.

If you are my "facebook friend," you also know I had a small panic thinking we had forgotten to order Palms. (Turns out, I just didn't know where they were.) Everyone chimed in with great ideas to solve the problem - including using 'regular' branches, or making construction paper palms, or blaming the economy (hee hee!), but luckily, it didn't come to that!

I hope, for those of you spending the week planning and prepping for many worship services, that you find time this week to experience the events for yourself, and not be undone by panic and stress!