Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lectionary Notes for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B


Readings for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, 8/5/12:
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Psalm 51:1-12, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a:
  • Today is part two of the story of David's act of adultery/deceit/murder/etc.
  • I wonder how much room to disagree Bathsheba had in this whole affair. Could she refuse the king? Did she know of his plotting to kill her husband, or think it was a strange coincidence? Did she want to marry David? As usual, unfortunately in the scriptures, we hear less from the women than I at least would like.
  • "You are the man!" Nathan helps David to see, by showing him the sin in another. We are so much better at seeing the sins of others, aren't we? But as Jesus would later teach, we first have to check for planks in our own eyes...
  • :12 - David's 'private' sin is shown by God to be a public thing. Is individual sin only public for leaders, like David, or like Bill Clinton? Or is part of being in a community of faith realizing that all of our sin is in part a public act?
Psalm 51:1-12:
  • Ah, a favorite psalm. A confession. This psalm is one I'm mostly likely to use if I'm feeling the need to come before God in a confessional mode. Do you have a confessional prayer in church every week? We do not, and I think as Protestants, we sometimes get nervous about confession, even corporate. But even if we don't share sins with a priest, confession is a necessary part of our relationship - any healthy relationship, really.
  • Where I disagree with the psalmist, (thought to be David writing after the sin with Bathsheba) is in his claim: "against you, you alone, have I sinned." Rarely do our sins only affect God - that's the worst about them - our sin hurts others. David's sin, for instance, resulted in a man's death, and a child's death, according to scriptures.
  • This psalm usually shows up during the penitent Lenten season. Today it shows up in connection with the Old Testament lesson. How does reading this psalm in a different season change your understanding of it?
Ephesians 4:1-16:
  • "live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called" - Paul follows with a list of high standards for us to live by. When we respond to a call from God - to ministry, ordained or otherwise, to mission, to whatever, that call comes with responsibility too.
  • one, one, one. Notice a theme? Repetition. Paul wants us to get the message. ONE. In a church that is so divided over ritual, liturgy, theology, social issues, politics, etc., how do we live as the ONE body of Christ? 
  • gifts - one of many great passages on the unique and varied nature of God's gifts to us. Great Sunday to talk about gifts, encourage use of gifts, or discovery of gifts.
  • "no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine." We may feel like this is a concern today, but it is a concern as old as the church! We have such short attention spans, always following the next new fad, even in faith matters. Paul says that's simply immature.
John 6:24-35:
  • This text continues with week two of a month-long series of texts from John 6 that all talk about Jesus and bread and feeding and bread of life and living water, etc., etc. The imagery is rich and meaningful and can communicate a great deal. On the flip side, I remember preaching on these texts three years ago when I was just starting at my first appointment, and wondering if I would ever get to talk about something other than bread!
  • "but because you ate your fill of the loaves" - you can take Jesus' statement two ways. Ie - the people are coming just because they got a free meal, and are hoping for more. Or, in eating the bread, the people realized Jesus could fill them in deeper ways too. Perhaps a bit of both, but probably more of the former. Jesus hopes to teach them of the latter.
  • "This is the work of God, that you believe" The people were expecting something a bit more. They wanted signs. Jesus tells them essentially that they have all the signs they need - they are the signs this time. God in them is the sign.
  • Jesus deflecting from his person to his source - Jesus always turns credit away from him or other individuals to what he names as his source: His father.
  • "I am" - A theme in John, Jesus' "I am" statements. Here, Jesus is telling the people - I've already given you what you are asking for. Now, live like it!

Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost,"Year B, "HxWxL"


Sermon 7/29/12
Ephesians 3:14-21

HxWxL

“She’s finally set down roots.” I’ve never had so much feedback on a post I made on facebook as I did this week, when I posted words that were music to my own ears: “I am officially a homeowner!” Many of you know that I’ve been in the process of buying a home in Liverpool, and if you’ve been through the process yourself, you know that it is an arduous process! By the end of it, I wasn’t sure whether I was more excited to be a homeowner, or simply be done with submitting document after document to verify that I would be able to handle buying a home! But I was definitely touched and cheered by an outpouring of congratulatory posts of my facebook announcement. And that one stood out to me: “She’s finally set down roots.” I would definitely describe myself as a grounded person, but these last several years have involved a lot of moving around for me. I spent a short time serving a church in New Jersey, but longed to come back to my friends and family and home in Central New York. I rented an apartment for a year, and then moved into a parsonage belonging to another church that didn’t need it right then, and now, I’m packing up and ready to move my boxes into my own home in Liverpool. There’ve been a lot of transitions in my life. During the home-buying process, my realtor kept emphasizing that I would want to make sure my home would have a good resale value. But all I could think at the time was: resale? I’m just buying the house! I don’t want to think about selling it already! I know his advice makes good financial sense. He’s looking out for my future. But I’m looking forward to putting down some roots. I remain covenanted to the appointment process of The United Methodist Church, but I also feel like God has got some big plans for us right here, right now, and I hope very much to set down roots in Liverpool.
We’ve been working our way through the book of Ephesians, and last week, we heard Aaron talk about how the work of Christ breaks down the walls that we put up to separate us from one another, so that because of Christ, there’s no longer “them,” no longer “those people.” Today, we hear a spontaneous prayer, plopped right into the middle of this letter to the congregation at Ephesus, where “Paul” expresses his hopes for the young faith community, and it’s as if he has so much hope, so much anticipation about what they can be, that he just can’t contain his prayer any longer, can’t wait until the benediction, to offer these words to God. He writes, “I pray that . . . [God] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
“Paul” wants the Ephesians to understand, to know the incomprehensible: how much they are loved by Christ, so that they can be filled up with God. He knows it’s a tall order. He knows it “surpasses” our knowledge. But he wants us to have a sense of it. Have you ever talked to a child about how much they are loved? How much do you love me? Do you love me this much? No, I love you THIS much! We know our words are inadequate to express the depths of our love. But “Paul” tries to give voice to his hopes – that the Ephesians know the vast and endless dimensions of God’s love.
Do we “get it?” Do we understand that we are loved by God? I think, unfortunately, that it can be pretty hard to convince someone that you love them, truly, as unconditionally as we humans are capable of loving. It can be hard to be convinced that you are that loved! We hurt one another. We act carelessly. We break trust, break promises. And thus, we make it challenging to believe that we can be loved with all the length and height and depth “Paul” is telling us about. I think it is easy to say that we believe we are loved by God. We know we’re supposed to say that. After all, Jesus loves me is probably one of the first songs of faith we learn as a child. But do we believe it? We spend a lot of time and energy acting like we are still trying to earn God’s love, earn something that is offered to us as a free gift. If we think God offers love because we’re good enough, because we’ve completed some checklist, we really don’t understand what love is. “Paul’s” earnest prayer is that we would be able to have a glimpse of the marvelous truth that is too awesome for us to really know: We are loved, we are loved, we are loved.
So is “Paul’s” prayer of hope actually hopeless? If God’s love is just too good to be true for us to believe in, if we are too hurt and suspicious to believe it, is there anything to be done? “Paul’s” prayer actually gives voice to the way we can begin to touch on the mystery of God’s love for us. “I pray that . . . you may be strengthened in your inner being . . . and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Rooted and grounded in love. My grandfather, Millard Mudge, was a gardener. Half of my childhood memories of my grandpa are of him working in a garden that seemed enormous to me. And for many reasons, but especially out of our love for him, many members of my family have given gardening a go at one time or another. But I’m afraid none of us have had the same success he had. My older brother has been engaged in a prolonged battle with squirrels and rabbits. No matter what kind of fence he erects around his garden, they seem to eat his veggies mere hours before planned harvesting. My seedlings, so carefully nurtured this spring, withered almost immediately when I tried to move them outside this scorching summer. One summer my brother forgot what he planted where, and was caught trying to shell green beans, convinced they were peas. But one of my favorite stories comes from my mother’s garden. Mom had a nice row of corn growing, doing really well, when suddenly, the corn stopped growing, and started turning yellow. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, she discovered that a certain brother, who certainly is not here today, was helping her by watering her garden – with water from the swimming pool. All that chlorine in the water permeated the soil, and was soaked up into the plants, and bleached the corn into a lovely shade of yellow. Sorry – that was supposed to be a family secret! Turns out, what the corn is planted in, the source of its nourishment, is pretty important for the plant to thrive.
How do we come to know and trust in God’s love? We get rooted in it. We plant ourselves in it. We sink our feet into it until we are filled up with it, immersed in it, made of it, from our toes to the top of our head. If Christ dwells within us, if we are rooted in and grounded in Christ, how could we doubt that we are loved? But what exactly, then, does that mean – to be rooted and grounded in Christ? To have Christ within us?
Thursday night we gathered for a social for Vacation Bible School – all of the teachers and helpers got together for a question and answer time, but especially for fellowship, prayer, and worship, a time to prepare spiritually for the week ahead just as so many hours have being spent preparing our space physically for vacation bible school. We talked and prayed about, among other things, what we hope happens at Vacation Bible School. One of the main purposes of VBS is to help children (and the adults who are helping) but to help the children experience the love of God. I think we’ve seen, in the planning and preparation for Vacation Bible School, some of the excitement and urgency that “Paul” felt for others to make sure they start to know the height and depth and length of God’s love. I’ve watched the fellowship hall be transformed into a space that makes me wish I was a child again, and I’ve watched a group of teens and adults try to outdo their previous year’s themes with such energy and excitement, because they want these children to have an awesome, life-changing experience this week, where they learn about God and God’s love, and having that love in their own lives.
What does it mean to be rooted in Christ? We do what Jesus did, as best as we can imitate, follow after him, let his life fill us up and permeate our own lives. And Jesus spent most of his time seeking out people who desperately needed to know it and making them feel worth it, valued, loved. The best way to know love, it turns out, is to let ourselves love. Love with abandon, excitement, urgency. The urgency of “Paul” who bursts into prayer in the middle of teaching, filled with hope for Ephesians. The urgency of vision the creates Promise Island in Fellowship Hall for kids to encounter love this week. The urgency of Jesus, willing to give of himself and give his life so that we might know how much, how deeply we are loved by our Creator, how deeply our Creator desires us to live in love with one another. If we are rooted and planted in Christ, in the ways of Jesus, we’ll begin to understand just how much we’re loved. And that kind of love – God’s love – that’s a power that will change lives, and change the world.
Dear Friends, “I pray that . . . [God] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lectionary Notes for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Sorry these have been missing the last couple weeks! 

Readings for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/29/12:
2 Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21

2 Samuel 11:1-15:
  • Uh-oh. Things were going so well. Then David saw Bathsheba. Today we get part one of this story of temptation and sin. What tempts you? When have you given into temptation? What do you think makes you take that 'plunge' into committing a sin you know you shouldn't?
  • Poor Uriah is the big loser all around in all of this. Cheated on, by the king. Tricked. Murdered.
  • No where in the story when David is having Uriah set up does someone question his intention/authority. No doubt, people would fear questioning the king. Still, wasn't their someone who could step in and ask David what he was thinking? Could you question authority in a way that would bring risk to yourself?
Psalm 14:
  • "Fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.' Chris Haslam, my first stop for quality exegesis, says that this verse doesn't indicate atheism for the fools, but those who doubt that God actually cares about human affairs and behaviors. A lot of fools today, eh?
  • "There is not one who does good, no, not one." This statement is perhaps exaggerated, or, if not, at least extreme, unless only in the sense that we are all sinners. But it reminds me of the quote from Augustine: "If we have understood, than what we have understood is not God." Likewise, we are not good, not even one of us, because God is good. If God is good, we are only a shadow of that...
  • I wonder about the context of this psalm - the psalmist seems to have something very specific in mind - specific folks upon whom the psalmist wants God's 'terror' poured.
Ephesians 3:14-21:
  • "rooted and grounded in love" Great imagery. Roots run deep underground, and are often invisible above the earth, except in bits. And yet, though they often look fragile, compared to the thing they give root to, they are essential for the livelihood of the plant/tree. What are  your roots made of and grounded in?
  • "breadth and length, and height and depth" - just more great imagery.
  • "surpasses knowledge" - In today's age, it is hard for us to deal with things that surpass knowledge. I know personally I like to have all the answers to everything. Can we accept that God's love for us is so great that we truly can't 'get it' all?
John 6:1-21:
  • This text begins a month-long series of texts from John 6 that all talk about Jesus and bread and feeding and bread of life and living water, etc., etc. The imagery is rich and meaningful and can communicate a great deal. On the flip side, I remember preaching on these texts three years ago when I was just starting at my first appointment, and wondering if I would ever get to talk about something other than bread!
  • "he said this to" - I always worry when the gospel writers try to explain why Jesus said something. Do they really know, or are they giving us their own guesses?
  • Feeding so many, by magical multiplication or by a generous stirring of hearts of the crowds is truly a miracle, given that so many go without.
  • "But what are they among so many people?" How often, like Peter, do we look at what we've got and see only "not enough" to be worthwhile? We, in our abundant society, live like we have a culture of scarcity.
  • The people follow Jesus wherever he goes. Today, it seems only movie stars have such command of a crowd, and our attention. Who today are you willing to follow? Really?
  • "do not be afraid." A phrase so often communicated to us by God through the scriptures. We need these words.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Non-lectionary, "This is Different," John 10:1-10



Sermon 7/1/12
John 10:1-10

This is Different!

            Perhaps all of you feel a little bit like I do today. When I first found out I was being appointed to Liverpool First, it was early February. July 1st seemed like something off in the distance, a long way away. But of course, these last months have been busy and full, and time has flown by, and here we are, at the beginning of this new stage in our faith journey – new for you, new for me and Aaron, new for Nancy and Chris, new things for Penny, new things for Russ and Irene. 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!
            Aaron 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 planning and preparing and dreaming, and we are ready to get started! There is a lot that is new and different for Aaron and me in this appointment. We are both co-pastoring for the first time. We don’t know what that 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. Fortunately, Aaron and I have the benefit of knowing each other for many years, and although we’ve never worked together in this way before, we have spent years talking to each other about ministry and discipleship, and I feel we have a strong foundation for beginning our work together.
            Today we want to introduce ourselves to you, tell you a bit about what has brought us to this place and this time. I grew up in Westernville and then 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 Mom and one brother live in Rome still. My oldest brother and his wife and five year old son Sam, who you will hear a lot about, live in Minoa. My youngest brother Todd is a professional actor who lives with me between acting jobs that take him here and there. I hope you will get to see a bit of him here (although, ok, probably never at the 8am service!)
            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. And I grew up in a small country church 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! 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. 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, thanks in large part to my childhood pastor, Rev. Bruce Webster, now a colleague and friend, and mentor to me still. 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, where I was apartment-mates with Aaron’s mom, Beth. I was commissioned in 2003 and ordained in 2006, in the same class as both Aaron, and our friend, Heather Williams. Small world! I’ve remained passionate about my early loves – I still stay involved with camping ministries, and have spent nine years now working with our Conference Council on Youth Ministries, CCYM. 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. I love theatre and music, and have been grateful for how God has allowed me to use these gifts in my ministry. Right now, I’m working on a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in the area of Leadership for Transformation Change. Each July and January, I spend one week in Ohio completing coursework, and I hope to complete my degree a year from May. 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, and in East Syracuse, and now, God has called us together in this place. That’s a bit about my path.
            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. You should be proud of the reputation that Liverpool First has in the community and in our Annual Conference. You have been engaged in ministries and missions that have been well-spoken of by those who have only heard about what you’ve been up to. For example, you have a reputation in the conference of being a place of hospitality, that opens its doors to people, since you have been so gracious in inviting conference teams and meetings to take place here so often. Your LIFE youth program is well-known by other youth programs in the conference – you have a commitment to young people and young people who are committed to serving God that has caught the attention of other faith communities who want what you have! I’ve been excited to just begin to hear about Beautiful Mess Productions, to see this new vision from some of your own, and imagine how we can support and nurture and send out this new thing. You have a music program that has been exceptional – I have heard so much about Joyful Noise, about Amahl and the Night Visitors, and so on, and I am excited to work with Nancy and Chris. These are just a few things, and for every ministry that is known beyond the community, I know there are five more that might be quieter, but are just as committed to serving God and changing the world by transforming lives in Christ.
            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.
Amen.