Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Readings for 8th Sunday After Epiphany, 3/2/14:
Isaiah 49:8-16a, Psalm 131, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34

Isaiah 49:8-16a
  • Compare these words of promise with the gospel lesson for today.
  • "I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands." Do you have any tattoos? Any scars? What stories to these markings tell? I think there's something about permanency here. And intimacy. Made part of God's body forever, so to speak.
  • How could God forget us, when we are like a child being nursed by God? I love the precious and sweet nature of that image.

Psalm 131:
  • How high have you lifted your eyes? How high is too high? What is too great to even be looked at by you?
  • What do you do to calm and quiet your soul?
  • Do you hope in the Lord? What is your hope? What do you hope for?

1 Corinthians 4:1-5:
  • "stewards of God's mysteries." What a fabulous phrase! How do you care for the mysteries of God?
  • Paul, always confident, admits God may have reason to judge him, but can't really think of any reason... :)
  • Who do you judge? Yourself? Others? Do you feel God's judgment of you? Others' judgment toward you?

Matthew 6:24-34:
  • What master do you serve?
  • Chris Haslam says that the Greek word here is merimnate, which means more literally to “be preoccupied with or be absorbed by.”
  • Sometimes I wonder how Jesus can tell us not to worry. Is he just oversimplifying? An idealist? How do you tell people who are hungry and naked and homeless not to worry? But, I think, more likely, Jesus is tying his words back to him comments about more than one master. When we worry, we tend to make an idol of the object of our worry, because we're putting something else in a more important place than God.
  • I think I worry about everything. And then I worry about worrying too much! What do you worry about? How does worry affect your life?
  • "Strive first for the kingdom of God." I love this phrase, and the word 'strive'. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Readings for 7th Sunday After Epiphany, 2/19/14:
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, Psalm 119:33-40, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18:
  • I love the repeated, "I am the Lord" refrain throughout this passage as an explanation for each command. Almost like when a child asks, "Why?" and a parent says, "Because I said so." Why do we have these commands? Because God is God. 
  • "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great." Elsewhere in scripture, we certainly get the sense of God's partiality for the poor and oppressed. But I get the sense here that we're not to act unjustly in order to favor the poor in a situation unfairly. What do you think? 
  • "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people" - oops. How good are you at this? Any grudges you need to think about? 
  •  "but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" - Sometimes I think we forget and believe that talk about loving neighbors only happens in the New Testaments. It's all here though!
Psalm 119:1-8
  • I like this excerpt, because for once, the requests to God seem reasonable, and less about asking God to smite enemies. What does the psalmist want? To learn and understand.
  • Look at the language: Teach me. Give m understanding. Lead me in your commandments. Turn my heart to your decrees. Give me life in your ways. Your ordinances are good. I have longed for your precepts. In other words: I want to learn, learn, learn how to follow you. 
  • What do you think happened that the psalmist wrote this? A particular event where the lack of learning and understanding God's commands was displayed? A time of study where the student loves learning, wants to learn more? 
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

  • As with last week's text, again this passage has me particularly thinking about clergy who serve before and after  you in a church. Do you feel competitive with them? Collaborative? 
  • Who are the people who have built your foundation? Built you up in your life? Have you helped others build a foundation in Christ and built them up? How? 
  • Dr. Larry Welborn, one of my DMin professors, wrote a book about Paul and his fool imagery. It seems like Paul's tent-making might have actually been more of theatre-set-designer, so when you read about the "fool" in Paul's letters, think of what you know about the fool in theatre, like in Shakespeare. 

Matthew 5:38-48
  • Jesus continues, as in last week's text, to use the "You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you" format. 
  • "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." I think we read passages like this and immediately wonder, "How literal is Jesus being? Does he really mean it?" Followed by, "could I actually do that?" I wonder - would I turn the other cheek? If Jesus doesn't mean it literally, what does he mean? It is easy to say Jesus is speaking metaphorically whenever his words are particularly challenging to us! 
  • "sends the rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" - I know questions of why bad things happen to good people, and vise versa, really seem to trouble people, challenge people - but Jesus doesn't seem to need to offer further explanation here - just "they way things are" in a sense. 
  • "Be perfect." A tall order, right? John Wesley had a clearly developed doctrine of Christian perfection. When United Methodists are ordained still today, we have to answer "Yes" to the questions: "Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this lifetime?" Wesley's understanding of perfection is one of my favorites in his theology. 

Sermon, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Disciples: Service," Mark 10:35-45

Sermon 2/16/2014
Mark 10:35-45

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Disciples: Service

“As members of the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our service.” Today as we continue in our series on the seven habits of highly effective disciples, we’re looking at the vow we make to participate in the ministries of the church by our service. We started by looking at our purpose, our reason for being as ourselves and as a congregation. And then we moved to talking about each supporting area – prayers, presences, gifts, and now service. Service can be tricky – how is it different than gifts, exactly? Of course, as Laurel shared with us last week, gifts certainly connects to our financial giving in particular, our stewardship, our generosity, and Laurel helped us think about a life that we share freely with others, as we share everything that we have, remembering that what we have is just entrusted to us by God. Isn’t service the same thing? Using our spiritual gifts, perhaps? Sharing our gifts of time or using our talents and abilities in giving time and energy in the life of the church?
            I think, though, that service can mean so much more. My first district superintendent, when I was pastor in Oneida in the Mohawk District, was Rev. Carl Johnson, and I really admired his deep wisdom. I remember in particular how much one word irritated him – volunteer. He hated it when people referred to participants in ministries of the church as volunteers. There’s no such thing as volunteers in our journey to follow Jesus, he would say. There’s disciples. Students of Jesus who have committed to learning more about him, learning how better to live like Jesus. But there’s no volunteering in discipleship, as if we elect to bestow an hour here or an hour there in the journey with Christ. I certainly think service has a deeper meaning than volunteering. Volunteering is so – optional – isn’t it? Something we can choose to do or not to do. But I don’t think that’s what service is all about.  
            I’m continuing to chug away at writing my Doctor of Ministry paper. The main theme of my Doctor of Ministry research is how to help us think about our Outreach ministry more as the work of justice, less as acts of charity. In our research sessions, I explained one of the key differences between charity and justice like this: charity is optional, and justice is required. When it comes to charity, those of us with financial means are the ones in control. We can choose to give, or choose not to. When we do give, then, because it is optional, a choice, we, the giver, are considered benevolent and generous. But although the scriptures mention individual acts of charitable goodwill, what God demands for the downtrodden, the oppressed in the scriptures is not charity, but justice. Justice, as we’ve talked about, is when what happens in the world is set right, set in line with God’s vision for the world. And things are not set right when people are poor and hungry and abused and alone and hurting. And God’s justice isn’t optional or up to us to control. Certainly, sometimes justice is slow to unfold, as sinful humankind acts unjustly toward one another. But justice is God’s and it is required, because God’s vision for our world is inevitable. And that’s a vision we want to be a part of, so we’re trying to teach ourselves to long for and work for justice, rather than settling only for charity and patting ourselves on the back for it. When I think about charity versus justice, I think about volunteering versus servanthood. Volunteering is something we can add on in our spare time as we see fit. But servanthood is a way of life.
            Our gospel lesson today comes from the gospel of Mark. Just before this, a man approached Jesus asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus talked to him about the commandments, which the man said he kept, and then Jesus told him he should sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and then follow Jesus. And the men went away grieving, since he was very wealthy. Jesus then talked about how difficult it was to enter God’s kingdom, and the disciples wonder how anyone could enter the kingdom. Jesus tells them that with God, nothing is impossible, but that the last will be first and the first will be last.
            Somehow, just after this, apparently not absorbing the previous conversation, we encounter James and John saying to Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus presses them, asking if they could really handle all that is implied – if they could face what Jesus will face in order to claim those honored seats – and they insist that they can. Naturally, their claim to seats of honor causes a fight among the twelve, who are mad at James and John. But Jesus says to them, ““You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
            “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Well over half of the times that you read the word “servant” in our modern Bible translations, the actual Greek word means slave, not servant. The word servant conjures up for me a maid or a butler, someone lower class serving someone upper class, but still, a person who receives a wage, who is working maybe not as their dream job, but still an option that could be chosen, even if the other choices were not as good as choosing to be a servant. But slave implies something different, doesn’t it? A slave is not getting a paycheck, or time off they can spend with their family. A slave belongs to the master. In Jesus’ day, both slaves and servants – those who might fill one specific task – had less freedom than the maids in a good Jane Austen novel. They were not in charge of the course of their own lives. What happened to them was up to the master of the household.
            I can understand why translators opt for “servant” instead of “slave” in many cases in the scripture. It sounds better, doesn’t it? Does God want us to be slaves? With our own country’s horrifically abusive system of slavery as part of our history, with the ways that the horrors of slavery still leaves its mark, its pain on our society today, we’re right to hesitate, at least, when we encounter the word slave, to question what exactly is meant. So let me be clear, that when we encounter slavery in the Bible, I do not believe in any way that God intended for us to practice such a degrading, dehumanizing system of refusing to see others as created in the very precious image of God. There’s a history of people using the Bible to condone the system of slavery, and I believe God weeps when the gospel is used in such harmful ways. So that’s what I don’t mean by drawing our attention to this language of slave and servant that weaves through the New Testament.
The most common prayer of our faith is the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it in worship on Sunday, and many of us probably pray this prayer in other places and settings throughout the week as well. It was certainly part of my prayer routine from childhood. How many times have you prayed that prayer? Every time we pray it, we say these words: “You kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray, over and over, for God’s will to be done. Do we mean what we say? Of course, I hope and pray that sometimes, many times, our will and God’s will are one in the same. That, I think, is the goal we aim for in our Christian life. But sometimes, our will, what we want, is different from what God wants for us. Sometimes this isn’t just because we want something that’s wrong or bad or evil, but because God has something in mind for us we haven’t even imagined yet. When we claim the title of disciple, when we say that we’re servants, when we pray for God’s will to be done, I want us to be fully aware that what we’re saying is that God’s will is more important to us than our own. We’d rather see God’s plans carried out than ours. It is in fact the very prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden before he was arrested – if it be your will God. But not as I will, but your will be done. God’s will be done. We pray it over and over. I hope, I seek for myself and for you that we learn to live it, to embody it more fully. We are servants not because God is a tyrant over us, but because we follow this Jesus who shows us that strength and power come from humble service, and deep relationship with God is born of learning to let God’s ways be our ways.  
The difference is choice. God never forces us to be obedient, to choose to place our will below God’s will for us. But God does ask us to do so. God asks us to choose to let God’s will be the guide of our life. God asks for our servanthood. And God doesn’t ask something that Jesus doesn’t model himself. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus lives as a servant, placing our lives before his own life, obedient to God even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus chooses. He chooses servanthood. He chooses God. He chooses us. 
When we promise to support the ministries of the church by our service, we’re promising so much more than donating a few hours of our time like we might rack up community service hours for a school project. Not community service, not volunteering, but servanthood, a way of life where we continually seek to follow God’s will instead of our own and where we place others first and ourselves last. Imagine if, instead of a congregation of members, attenders, participants, volunteers, we cultivate a congregation full of servants, disciples, letting God’s will shape our direction.
O God, holy is your name. May your kingdom come! May your will be done! Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Readings for Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, 2/16/14:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37

Deuteronomy 30:15-20:
  • All the readings for today are significant in that this liturgical Sunday - Sixth Epiphany - and the couple following - only show up occasionally depending on the date of Easter. Enjoy these texts - they may not appear in the lectionary again for a while!
  • This is Moses speaking in this text, preparing the people to enter the Promised Land, where Moses himself cannot go. 
  • Moses sets up two clear paths: obey God, and you will be numerous and multiply and have blessings. Disobey, and you won't stay long in this land, and you will be cursed. The first verse of the reading lays it out: life and prosperity vs. death and adversity. Of course, things rarely work out in such a black and white cut and dry way, but Moses' point: your choices have consequences. 
Psalm 119:1-8:
  • These are the first verses of the longest Psalm in the Bible. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each line in the stanza begins with that letter as well. 
  • "Happy are those" - this is the same language as used in the Beatitudes by Jesus. How are the Psalmists sentences similar or different than Jesus'?
  • "blameless," "shame." Blame and shame can be powerful weapons of abuse and oppression. But obviously they have appropriate uses too. When is blaming appropriate? When/how do you think God wants us to feel shame? 
1 Corinthians 3:1-9:

  • Paul returns to his theme from our reading a few weeks ago about claiming to belong to Paul/Apollos/etc. 
  • "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." Paul's point is that Paul and Apollos are both servants of God - God is the one to credit, not Paul or Apollos. I think as pastors we would do well to remember this, as we sometimes struggle with the pastors that serve a congregation before or after us - and we need to help communicate this to our congregations as well. We should be working for a common purpose, not in competition. 
  • Who has planted and watered in your life? How did God give the growth? 

Matthew 5:21-37:
  • This is a huge text covering a lot of ground from the Sermon on the Mount, covering conflicts in the community, adultery, divorce, oaths, etc. 
  • Notice the "you have heard that it was said - but I say" pattern here. In last week's reading, Jesus made it clear that he doesn't come to abolish but to fulfill the law. So his statements here must be interpreted with his understanding in mind. He doesn't see his words as abolishing what is already believed, but as completing, explaining, getting to the heart of what is already commanded. 
  • How many times have you come into a place of worship bearing grudges and anger at  others? I'm afraid I've certainly been guilty of this. Do we place much seriousness on Jesus' words here? What situations in your life stand in need of reconciliation? 
  • Have you preached on divorce? People who have experienced divorce bring a lot of anxiety to this text, to hearing sermons about this text, waiting to be judged by the preacher and by God. I fully believe that God doesn't wish for people to remain in abusive marriages. I recommend extreme compassion and gentleness if you focus on these verses. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Readings for Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, 2/9/14:
Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 112:1-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20

Isaiah 58:1-12:
  • All the readings for today are significant in that this liturgical Sunday - Fifth Epiphany - and the few following - only show up occasionally depending on the date of Easter. Enjoy these texts - they may not appear in the lectionary again for a while!
  • vs. 1 - "Shout out, do not hold back!" - What are you holding back? What needs to be shouted out boldly? What holds us back from saying what needs to be said? 
  • God responds to the people complaining that God doesn't see how devout they are by saying that God knows though they might fast, they still fight and oppress and act violently. Empty devotion doesn't impress God. 
  • vs. 6-7 - "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice . . . is it not to share your bread with the hungry?..." Our acts of devotion must be tied with a purpose of justice for all. 
  • vs. 11 - "You shall be like a watered garden." Doesn't this just sound delightful, especially in the midst of (at least in Syracuse, NY) a cold, snowy winter? That's the kind of abundance and fullness that can only come when our life is lived for the good of all. 
Psalm 112:1-10
  • vs. 1 "Happy are those who fear the Lord." I've asked before and again. What does it mean to fear God? Do you fear God? Is this what God wants us to feel? 
  • vs. 3 - A little prosperity gospel, no? 
  • vs. 7 Of course fearing God here is set up in opposition to evil - the righteous don't fear evil tidings, because they are secure in the Lord. In this way, verse one makes more sense to me. 
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
  • Paul says he came to the Corinthians not with "lofty words" but with weakness. That's so counter-cultural, isn't it? Our culture doesn't value weakness. What would it mean for you to present yourself with weakness to show the power of God? What would weakness look like in your life specifically? As pastors, is there pressure to show only our strengths when we present the gospel? 
  • vs. 9 - Paul quotes an unknown/unclear source - "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" - This verse was very comforting to me at a time when I wondered why it seemed God's plans and my plans were never the same! The verses following talk about God's wisdom, what God knows, the Spirit knows, and the limits of our human understanding. 
Matthew 5:1-12:
  • These verses feature in Godspell, and I can't read them without thinking of the different presentations I've seen of these passages in productions. 
  • Salt flavors, salt preserves/keeps food edible/usable. 
  • Elsewhere, we read that Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is the light, we are the light. I think we are the light because the light of Christ is within us. 
  • "so that they may see your good works." You may debate whether good works are part of "salvation" or not, but either way, we're not excused from doing them, and Jesus says they give glory to God. 
  • "not to abolish but to fulfill." How many different ways we try to get around that and interpret that statement! Jesus brings the law into fullness - the full meaning of the law. Tie this in perfectly with the Isaiah text - a command - fasting - is not "full" if it is done while abusing others. 

Sermon, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Disciples: Presence," Hebrews 10:19-25

Sermon 2/2/14
Hebrews 10:19-25

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Disciples: Presence

“As members of the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our presence.”
            Many of you have heard me joke before that I consider a mildly overcast cloudy day with a low probability of precipitation to be my favorite weather for a Sunday. See, in my experience, you don’t want snowy weather, of course – slippery roads always impact worship attendance. You don’t want it to be too cold or too rainy either – hard to talk yourself out from under the covers on a day like that, when instead, you can worship at Church of the Divine Mattress. But you also don’t want it to be too nice out either. Sunny, gorgeous, warm days aren’t good for worship attendance either, when everyone decides they’d rather worship at the Church of the 18th Hole instead. No, for optimal worship attendance, a mildly overcast day – not too cold, not too warm, not to sunny, not to snowy, but just right, like porridge for Goldilocks – that’s the perfect weather for everybody to show up for worship.
            Ok, I jest, a bit(!). We’re in the midst of sermon series on the 7 habits of highly effective disciples. We’ve talked about our life’s thesis statement – our purpose statement. And now we’re looking at our life’s supporting paragraphs, the evidence in our lives that proves our purpose. Last week we talked about prayer, and today, we’re talking about presence. Not presents as in gifts – that’s next week, actually. But rather, presence – as in – showing up.
            In some ways, this seems like the easiest one of all, doesn’t it? Support the Church by your presence? Well, you’re here, aren’t you? I mean, isn’t this sermon a bit like preaching to the choir? You’ve all come today to be in this time of worship when you could be home fixing your food for the Super Bowl, or recovering from last night’s ‘Cuse/Duke game. You’re here! You showed up! Done, right? And indeed, I’m thankful that you are here, that of all the things you could be doing, what you are doing now is gathering together with a group of journeyers on the way, praising God, and trying to listen for God’s direction in your life. That’s a part of showing up that means a lot. And when we make the vow to participate in the ministry of the church by our presence, actually showing up to worship and to ministry and mission events – that’s a very serious part of what we commit to doing. But it’s more than that.
            Today our scripture lesson is from the book of Hebrews. We don’t know who wrote Hebrews, which is really more of a sermon than a letter. But despite our not knowing who authored the text, we find in Hebrews some of the most moving sections in all of the scriptures. You’re probably most familiar with Hebrews 11: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” which the author follows with a beautiful litany of how people responded to God and how we are called to do likewise: by faith, by faith, by faith.
But here in this section we find the author reminding us that because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are able to draw even closer in relationship to God. We are able to come into God’s presence without a barrier, without a curtain that keeps us separated, as did the designs of the temple in Jerusalem that kept people away from the holiest place where it was thought God would dwell. Because of Jesus, we can claim the gift of being invited into God’s very presence. The author goes on to tell us how we ought to come into God’s presence though: by seeking to have a clean heart and a clear conscience, by holding fast to our faith, “provoking” one another to good deeds and loving actions – I love that language, that idea of provoking each other to do good – not normally how we try to provoke one another, is it? – and by meeting together, encouraging one another as we prepare our hearts and lives for God’s kingdom.
The scriptures attest to the gift of God’s presence. I think particularly of the recurring theme of thankfulness for God’s presence in the Psalms. Psalm 139 in my bible is titled, “The inescapable God.” I love that. The psalmist asks, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” In this case, the psalmist’s tone lets us know that sometimes he wishes he could escape God’s presence. But it isn’t possible. God is always with us. I’ve tried to stop in my prayers asking for God’s presence, because that’s a given, unchangeable; and instead I’m thanking God for God’s presence.
            In Jesus, we find the one who is God’s presence embodied, God-in-the-flesh. God, already ever-present, becoming one with us, because we still didn’t seem to get it – God’s inescapable presence. In the gospels we see Jesus demonstrate the power of being present. Yes, Jesus’ ministry was about his preaching, teaching, and healing. But I think one of the most powerful things Jesus did was spend time with people. He spent time with all kinds of people that most went out of their way to avoid. And in these instances, it isn’t always the content of the conversation between Jesus and the person that the gospel writers viewed as significant. It was the very act of Jesus spending time with others that was powerful. It was Jesus eating dinner with Zacchaeus. Jesus spending time talking to women as equals. Jesus spending time in regions filled with Gentiles. Jesus eating meals with Pharisees and sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors – Jesus honored them all with his presence, with his time, with conversation, with relationship, and made them feel, maybe for the first time ever, worth it. His presence was powerful. And so is ours! Giving someone the gift of your presence is just that – a gift you have to offer. A gift we too often withhold, intentionally or unintentionally.
I think of that commercial – I wasn’t sure even what product it is for and had to look it up to find this image (bad job commercial!) but I knew the “plot” of the commercial well. Schoolchildren are putting on a concert for their parents, singing, while the parents, with iPads and smartphones and cameras and other devices try to get the best shots and recordings of their kids performing. They get closer and closer and push and shove, all to capture the special moment – all of them, except, of course, the smug parents who have the cool technology that allows them a high-quality zoom without leaving their seats. The question I’m left with, though, is: was anyone actually listening to the concert? Don’t get me wrong. I love photography – it is an art form. But if we’re honest, most of us aren’t really photographers. I encountered this commercial coming to life when I attended Sam’s kindergarten graduation last year. Everyone, me included, was busy trying to record and photograph the graduation. I wonder how much we missed in the process! I mostly remember being frustrated with the kid who kept standing in front of Sam on the risers, blocking my good picture. It definitely isn’t just teenagers. And it isn’t just technology. Our dependence on our technological devices is just the current way we avoid being really present. Just the current way we put up a wall between us and everyone else. Everywhere you go, you see people who are at an event, with people, but they still aren’t really present. Their attention, their minds, their spirits are somewhere else entirely. There, but not really there. Are you present in your own life? Are you present here? In your relationship with God?
In my last Doctor of Ministry class, the one I took over the summer, the professor had us start each class by rating ourselves – in our notebooks, not out loud, but just for ourselves – on a few questions. And the first question was always, “On a scale of 1-10, how present am I today?” It was a helpful question to ask. Some mornings I was ready to go, excited. Some mornings I didn’t feel very present at first. But just asking the question reminded me that I wanted to be fully present to my classwork. Why would I bother spending money and time to take a class for a degree that I don’t have to have, unless I was going to be fully present for everything I was meant to be learning? I wanted to be present. And asking the question helped me remember that.  
            This week, I want you to ask yourself that same question. Not just at the start of the day, but several times a day. On a scale of 1-10, how present am I? You can start right now, in the quiet of your mind. On a scale of 1-10, how present are you in worship right now? And then ask yourself that question all week long. How present are you at work? At school? How present are you when you’re driving? When you are at the store? How present are you when you speak with your children or your parents or your spouse or your friends? How present are you at meetings? At church? When you volunteer? When you walk down the sidewalk? When you interact with a cashier? How present are you when you talk to God? When God is trying to talk to you? How present are you in your life?  
            Ask yourself that question, and see if you can figure out if you are showing up to life. What areas of your life do wish you were more present for? Can you start making sure that you are really present with your family? With friends? With those in need? In the life of this congregation? In your relationship with God?
            God is here. God is always here, and here is always wherever you are. And everything God does is an attempt to get us to show up too, to realize God’s presence, to be fully present ourselves, to invite others to start showing up too. God is here. Are you?