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. 

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Sermon for Trinity Sunday, "The Next Step: Commissioned," Matthew 28:16-20

    Sermon 6/15/14
    Matthew 28:16-20
    The Next Step: Commissioned

                Today is a Sunday in the liturgical calendar we don’t often give much attention to: Trinity Sunday. It is the day when we celebrate one of the most unique and most misunderstood doctrines of the church: the doctrine of the Trinity, that we worship at God who is “one God, three persons,” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The word “trinity” to describe God never appears in the Bible. It is a word we have used to describe what we see in the scriptures. Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew is often a text used on Trinity Sunday because it is one of few places where this Trinitarian formula, “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” is used in the Bible. You might recognize this phrase as one we still use today – they are the words that we use at baptism. We baptize with recognition of our Triune God – one God, three persons. The doctrine of the Trinity is pretty complex, because our God is pretty dynamic, and not easily boxed in. If any of you are ever interested, I could share with you a lot of interesting, quirky facts about how our doctrine of Trinity got worked out in church history. I had a hard time not putting all of that in this sermon today! But even though this is Trinity Sunday, I really want to focus on what’s happening in our gospel text today, aside from the appearance of some Trinitarian language about God.
                This passage from Matthew is often described as “the Great Commission.” We have “the Great Commandments” – love God, love one another, which tell us how to live and relate to one another. But at the end of Matthew, we find “the Great Commission,” which tells us more about our purpose, what God means us to be doing. The passage is the very end of Matthew. Jesus has been resurrected. And Matthew has little else to say, once that happens, unlike Luke and John who tell us lots about what Jesus does between the resurrection and Jesus’ return to God. Matthew jumps almost immediately to Jesus returning to God, leaving the disciples with these final words: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." And that’s how the gospel of Matthew ends.
                You have come to know over the last couple of years that I’m fascinated by words and their meanings, especially word-origins, and what the origins of words can help us understand. I looked up the etymology – the origin – of the word Commission – since that’s our focus today. In a moment, we’ll talk about what I found out about it, but first I’ll tell you what I wish it meant, and what I think it can mean to us, one part of commissioning that I want us to remember. What I immediately think of when I hear the word commission is co-mission, as in, a mission shared by two or more parties, a purpose shared by two or more groups. And so when I read this text, I think about how we’re co-missioned by God. God sends us out not alone, but together, with each other, with other disciples, with Jesus – he even emphasizes that here – Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age – in case we doubted – with the Holy Spirit that we talked about last week. With God. Co-mission. This isn’t something we do alone – we can’t and we shouldn’t. Serving God is something we do together.
                The actual definition of commission means “authority entrusted to someone” or “delegation of business to someone.” This is just right for our passage too. The first thing Jesus says in this passage is “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” So, the authority belongs to Jesus, but he entrusts his authority to us. The task that Jesus sends us to do we do only as delegates, with Jesus’ authority, not our own. That’s another important key of the Great Commission. It is easy to think the mission of the church is our own, and that we’re in control, in charge, of what we do. But we’re delegates, representatives, of Jesus, acting under his authority. That means that our message better be the message of Jesus, rather than our own preferences, our own ideas, our own plans. If we’re commissioned, we’re acting with authority that has been entrusted to us, but really belongs to the one who commissions us.
                So we’re commissioned – on a co-mission with God and one another, entrusted with the authority Jesus gives to us to carry out his work. We know what a commission is – but what is the commission? What is it that Jesus is giving us authority to do? He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.
                The main verb in the sentence is, of course, go! In order to do the work of Jesus in the world, we actually have to go and be in the world to do that work. This seems simple and obvious, but our behavior would suggest otherwise. This weekend, I spent some time babysitting my nephew Sam, including getting him ready and sent to bed. Sam is really good and quite adept at all the parts of getting ready to go to bed. He’s equally talented at not going to bed. He can prepare, and prepare: pajamas on by himself, teeth brushed and bathroom routine on his own. I no longer have to read him bedtime stories – he reads his chapter books all in his own. Music on, lights dimmed, stuffed animal nearby, blankets arranged – so many preparations, and Sam can take care of all of it. And then, it’s about an hour of reasons why he can’t really fall asleep yet. “I haven’t even yawned once!” he pleaded with me, wanting to stay awake just a little bit longer. Lots of preparation for sleeping, and very little actual sleeping. Think of all of the things we prepare for, and how senseless it would be if we prepared without actually doing what we’d prepared to do: Planned for months for our Red Bird Mission trip to Kentucky, but then just sat on the bus in the parking lot instead of going on the trip. Setting everything up for the Annual BBQ, and then sat around on the day of the event wondering why there was no food. Confirmands completing all of their homework assignments and requirements to be confirmed – and then not becoming members of the congregation. All of that seems so clearly silly to us. But I wonder, sometimes, in our life with Christ, if we don’t do exactly this all the time. Prepare and prepare and prepare to be followers of Jesus – study the Bible, worship together, spend time planning how to reach out and connect with the community and world, talk a lot about what to do and what’s right and wrong when it comes to our relationships with God – and then, forgetting to actually follow Jesus. Jesus sending us out, us nodding our heads, “Yes, we’ll go, we’ll be disciples, and help others be disciples, yes!” And then expectantly waiting for more information when we already have everything we need to know. Jesus says, “Go!” He doesn’t even ask – the verb is imperative, it is a command, a directive, and we’re commissioned, given authority for the task. Go! And it’s like we say to God, “Yeah, but I haven’t even yawned once yet!”  
                Maybe we need to review the commissioned, what we’re to do when we go. We’re to make disciples. “Disciple” is fancy church language for students. We’re to help people be students of Jesus, like we’re students of Jesus. People who are learning about how to follow Jesus. We’re to baptize – that’s what we do as a way of celebrating someone’s place in the family of God. It’s an act of initiation, a welcome. We say in our baptismal liturgy that baptism makes us part of the church, that through baptism we’re made part of God’s “mighty acts of salvation,” that we celebrate being made new, and that it is a gift from God offered without price. So we’re sent to offer a pretty awesome thing – a free gift, salvation, new life, without price. And we’re to teach others to follow the commandments of Jesus, which he told us were summed up in loving God with all we had, and loving one another. That’s what we’re to go and do, with authority that Jesus gives us, and with the promise that Jesus will be always with us.  
                Friends, in order for the commission that Jesus gives us to mean something, we have to actually carry it out. Jesus entrusts us with something very precious. It’s a great honor that God believes that as faulty as we are, we can carry out, in Jesus’ name, the work that he began. Maybe that’s what keeps us in our seats – we’re overwhelmed, humbled, feeling inadequate. But it is also surely a co-mission. We’re not on our own, but with God, with one another, with Jesus promising to be with us always. And our commission is about news that is good, life-giving, invitational, drawing people into God’s family. We go to share a gift of joy! But in order to be sent out, we actually have to follow through with what we’ve been preparing and planning for all along.
                On your mark. Get set…and there’s only one thing left! Go!

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    Lectionary Notes for Trinity Sunday, Year A

    Readings for Trinity Sunday, 6/15/14:
    Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

    Genesis 1:1-2:4a:
    • This is the creation story - an interesting selection for Trinity Sunday! This is the first creation story - not the one with Adam and Eve and the serpent from later in Chapter 2. I love the creation story. I also believe in evolution. I don't find them to be contradictory. I asked my sixth grade Sunday School teacher how the world could be made in 7 days if dinosaurs were extinct so long before people were around. He said, "God's time isn't the same as our time, and a day in Genesis 1 isn't necessarily supposed to be a day like our days." I found that pretty satisfying. Why do we have to make it one or the other? Is our faith not strong enough to believe in evolution?
    • Notice the goodness of creation in God's view. Everything God creates is good. EVERYTHING. One of my colleagues who was a probationary elder in the UMC as I wasgot critiqued in her BOOM interview because she argued that humans are essentially good - her theology wasn't "original sin" enough for some. But who can argue with God? God created us - and declared us good.
    Psalm 8:
    • What a great psalm! Chalk full of good lines. 'How majestic is thy name in all the earth!' The words to one of my favorite praise songs. But beyond this opening line: 
    • "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God . . . " I think this verse is one of life's deepest questions. This is maybe more detailed then 'why are we here?', but it is close. It presumes God, but asks, 'why has God made us?' 'Why does God care about us?' 'What's the point?' I hate not having the answers sometimes, but I think it is part of what makes God God and me not God!
    • "Dominion." This is a loaded word when it comes to our care of the earth and all that is in it. What does dominion mean? Domination? Responsible stewardship? License to do as we will? Care for our human needs above all else? As a vegetarian, and an earth lover, my senses are aware of a word like dominion - just us use with authority from God with great care!
    2 Corinthians 13:11-13:
    • A short and sweet selection - "live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." Ah, what a prayer. Paul encourages us to "agree with one another" and to practice peace. We need those words, don't we? Are we living in peace? Do you have peace in your home? Your heart? Your community?
    Matthew 28:16-20:
    • The Great Commission - a selection for Trinity Sunday because of the words commanding that we baptize, as we now do, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
    • "make disciples of all nations." This is a key verse for evangelism or proselytizing, and, as usual, is used by Christians differently depending on understandings of scripture and interpretation. The word for disciples is mathe^teusate, which literally means pupils, or students. What does it mean to be a student of Jesus? How do you make others into students of Jesus?
    • The disciples are to teach others to "obey everything that [Jesus has] commanded" them. Not just to believe in Jesus - but to be Jesus-like and follow Jesus-like teachings.
    • "I am with you always." I think those are some of the most comforting words in the whole Bible.

    Monday, June 09, 2014

    Sermon for Pentecost, "The Next Step: Confirmation," Acts 2:1-21 (Preached at 9:30am service)

    Sermon 6/8/14
    Acts 2:1-21
    Confirmation Sermon

                 Today, we celebrate Pentecost, known as the birthday of the church, a beginning, a new start, where we read of the disciples seemingly literally on fire with the new energy they have found in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had been on quite the roller-coaster ride with Jesus. For three years they’d followed him, worked with him, ministered with him. They’d been through an ordeal, watching Jesus be put to death, and then they’d received the joy – Jesus resurrected. But now Jesus had returned to God, and no longer walked the earth in human form with them.
    And then, Pentecost comes, as our text from Acts begins. In the Christian faith, we know Pentecost as the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, but in the Jewish religious life, Pentecost was an already existing festival – a harvest festival. And so people were coming to Jerusalem, making a pilgrimage to the city to be there for the religious festival, like they would at Passover and other holy days. And then, suddenly, a sound comes like the rush of a violent wind, and it fills the whole place where the disciples were. And Luke, our author, describes to us these “divided tongues,” like flames, resting on each apostle. And all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gives them ability. The Jews in the city, who are from many countries, many places, all hear the disciples speaking in their own language, and they are amazed, dumbfounded, perplexed. Some even wonder if the disciples are drunk. But Peter stands with the rest of the twelve, and raises his voice to address the crowds that have gathered to witness this strange event.
                “Let this be known to you, and listen to what I say,” Peter begins. They aren’t drunk, he insists, but instead, they embody the vision of God which the prophet Joel proclaimed: “God declares . . . I will pour out my Spirit upon all your flesh, and yours sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Past our text for today, Peter continues preaching, talking about Jesus Christ, and people respond to his words. In his message, they catch something of the Spirit that has filled Peter and the other disciples, and Luke says that three thousand people were baptized on that day. Three thousand!
    We’re celebrating something else here today too. The Service of Confirmation is a spiritual milestone that has been celebrated in conjunction with Pentecost over the years because of the new baptisms that take place just after our text for today in Acts. It’s a day of making a commitment to follow Jesus. But I think it is especially appropriate because both Pentecost and Confirmation are stories about taking what has been taught to you by someone else, and making it your own. At Pentecost, the disciples finally took everything Jesus had taught them, all the encouragement he’d given them, and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, stepped out in front of the crowds to make a bold statement of faith, putting it all on the line. Finally, they had to stop standing behind Jesus, relying on him to answer their questions and tell them what to do, and start acting as his messengers in the world.
                Confirmation is a similar occasion. All of these young people who will stand before you today were baptized when they were too young to make the decision for themselves. But because we believe baptism is a symbol of God’s grace that is already at work within us, parents and sponsors and congregations participate in baptizing babies, taking vows on their behalf, anticipating this very day – when these young people will confirm the vows taken for them and make them their own, confirm that they know about God and God’s love for them, that they want to be in relationship with God. From here on out, they can continue to be guided and helped by their elders, of course: but we’re saying together, them, and us, that their faith journey is their responsibility. They stop standing behind adults to answer for them, and start acting as disciples in their own right, even leaders and messengers of God in this congregation, in our world. 
                 Confirmation is one step on the faith journey of these young people. For some of them, it’s a first step in their path – everything that they’re learning is new. For some of our older students, who are already in high school, it’s a different step in the path. They aren’t all having the same experience today. They aren’t all at the same step in knowledge or life experience. But that’s not what it is all about. Confirmation is about taking on for yourself the vows that someone else made for you at your baptism. Confirmation is saying that now, you are responsible for your own faith journey. Someone else can’t be faithful on your behalf – your relationship with God is just that – yours! At the beginning of our service, our young people weren’t full professing members yet, and in a few minutes, they will be. They certainly don’t know everything about this congregation, or Christianity, or Methodism. Although, until they forget it, they might know a little more than some of you do! But the point is, if we waited to give them all the rights and responsibilities of membership and leadership in the church until they knew everything and were totally ready and prepared – well, then, I’d bet we’d never celebrate confirmation again. They won’t stop learning just because they’re confirmed. But they lay claim now to having their voice in all that we do here, because they’re laying claim to their own faith.
                What happened on Pentecost is both hard to explain and easy to understand. The disciples, even though they weren’t really ready, became the church. Since Jesus had returned to God, they became the body of Christ in the world. They weren’t ready. They needed to know more. They still didn’t have all the answers. It isn’t long before they get in fights with each other and stray from what Jesus might have done. But they take the plunge. They take the leap of faith. They can do it, because once they feel the Spirit moving, they know that Jesus is really always with them. They aren’t alone. When they step out on faith, God is with them.

                What will you do? God is with you. You aren’t alone. So whatever it is you are waiting for to be ready to start following God, really – remind yourself that we’re never ready for everything we’ll face. But we can be ready to put our trust in God, who has never failed us yet. Are you ready? Probably not. But let’s get started anyway. Amen. 

    Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, "The Next Step: Pentecost," Acts 2:1-21 (Preached at 8am and 11am)

    Sermon 6/8/14
    Acts 2:1-12

    The Next Step: Pentecost

    Since Easter Sunday morning, we’ve been talking about Resurrection Stories – stories of new life, celebrations of resurrection that take place because of God’s amazing power drawing life out of death, as we saw demonstrated in Jesus’ own death and resurrection. We’ve seen how this story – life instead of death – is woven all throughout the scriptures. Life, where death was expected. Today, we’re shifting gears. Today we begin a sermon focus called, “The Next Step.” When Pastor Aaron and I picked this sermon focus, we didn’t know exactly the nature of the transition we’d be going through as a congregation, but we knew we’d probably be experiencing some changes, and that the changes we’d be going through would fit right in with the experience we encounter in the disciples on the day of Pentecost.
                Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost. It is the day we call the birthday of the Christian Church. Today, we read about the disciples receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today we read about that strange experience where the sound of a mighty rushing wind broke into the house where the followers of Jesus were celebrating Pentecost. Today, we read about the beginnings of Church as we know it – where Peter steps up and finally does what Jesus had been preparing him and the others to do all along: he shares the gospel – tells the Good News about God’s grace to anyone and everyone he can get to listen. Today is when we hear the story of the next step. After years of following Jesus, after his death and their confusion about what was happening and after Jesus’ resurrection – and the disciples confusion about what was happening – today, we look at their next steps – their first steps, in many ways, as leaders of the Jesus movement, as followers in the way, as leaders in what will become the church.  
    Our text from Acts opens with the disciples already gathered together. They are gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost, a Jewish festival set out in the Torah, the law books for the Jews, which make the first five books of our Bible today. Pentecost was a celebration taking place fifty days after Passover, and was called also “the feast of weeks” or Shavuot. The festival celebrated the “first fruits” of the early harvest in spring. So the disciples were gathered together for this traditional celebration – this is what was planned. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem after he returned to be with God in order to receive this strange gift he was to send them – the Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter. So the disciples were gathered with everyone else there for the Pentecost festival. And suddenly, a sound like the rush of a violent wind came, and filled the gathering place, and the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, which seemed to them like divided tongues of fire. And they began to speak the gospel message to all who were gathered in such a way that everyone in the city could understand them. Many people from many places were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, and it seemed that everyone could understand the disciples. Some were amazed at this, but others were a bit cynical, and accused the disciples of being drunk. Peter stands and raises his voice to the crowds: We’re not drunk – we are speaking as the prophets spoke – and he goes on to speak to them of visions and power that will come to all – young and old, men and women, slaves and free. He quotes the prophet Joel, saying, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
    Today, when we celebrate Pentecost, our focus is on not on the feast originally celebrated, the planned part, but on the out-of-control wind that swept through and stirred up the celebration – the giving of the Holy Spirit. This is the gift that Jesus has promised the disciples they would receive, the thing that would be their Advocate, their Comforter, helping them to make the transition from followers of Jesus to those who would be leading and guiding and sharing with others. The Holy Spirit is the gift that helps them with all their other gifts, in a way. It’s the foundation for their work, the source of their confidence in their abilities. After all, being filled with the Holy Spirit is being filled up with God’s own self, right inside of you. God dwelling in you certainly should inspire you with confidence! On Pentecost, we celebrate that the Holy Spirit is the gift that is available to each one of us.
                Still, I think it is hard to understand the Holy Spirit sometimes. In my little childhood church where I grew up, in Westernville, we’d usually talk about the “Holy Ghost” rather than the Holy Spirit. This made it even more confusing. (It was hard not to picture this: image on screen.) So how can we think about the Holy Spirit? One of the first Resurrection Stories we talked about was Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones, remember? And he had a vision of God breathing new life into dry, lifeless bones. Well, the words for Spirit and Breath are the same in Hebrew and Greek. So Holy Spirit is Holy Breath. It is God’s breath that brings us life – that’s the Holy Spirit. When you are filled with the Spirit, your breath is God’s breath – you breathe God in, and you breathe God out. If you could visualize how your life would be different if every breath you took, you were aware of breathing in God, and every breath you exhaled, you were aware that you were breathing God out into the world – that’s the Holy Spirit, Holy Breath.
                Like Ezekiel’s vision of what happens when we are filled with God’s breath, and like the prophet Joel’s words, shared by Peter on the day of Pentecost, where young and old and men and women are filled with dreams and visions, God’s Holy Breath is meant to inspire us, to see the possibilities for life and hope and abundance that God sees. When I was in my first church, serving in Oneida, there was a gentleman named Al Spawn, who chaired the Evangelism Team. Al was elderly, and made more frail by persistent heart trouble. But he was incredibly faithful, and deeply passionate about his faith walk. In October of my first year there, he came to an Evangelism Meeting and led in a time of devotional study, focusing on Proverbs 29:18, which he read from the King James Versions: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Al was passionate about his hopes and dreams for our church, emphasizing how imperative it was to have a vision for being active, vibrant disciples of Jesus Christ. That night, Al went home and went to bed, and died in his sleep. Sometimes I can’t believe I knew him for only a few months, because his impact was so significant. I think of him and his devotional often: Where there is no vision, the people perish. This verse, in modern translations, has a bit different emphasis, but we get the gist. Without vision and direction, without an intention of where we are going, we cannot survive. To live, to thrive, we must have hope, a dream, a direction. Even in times of transition. Especially in times of transition. We seek, now, especially, for God to plant a vision in our hearts, to fill us with Holy Breath, to inspire us.
    Today, we celebrate confirmation, when several of our young people confirm vows once made on their behalf in the sacrament of baptism. Our confirmands all made stoles with personal and spiritual symbols that are meaningful to them that are part of the confirmation service today. I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness and depth of some of their choices and descriptions, and I hope you’ll read about them all. But one in particular I felt connected with today especially, on this day of Pentecost, this day we seek vision, and God’s holy breath.
    Lindsay Richards included a butterfly on her stole, writing of it: The Baby Butterfly – My mom has always called me her butterfly. Whether I’m her “social butterfly” or just her “beautiful butterfly.” My mom’s song that reminds her of me is “She’s a butterfly” by Martina McBride. The butterfly isn’t necessarily a ‘baby,’ but it is new to being her adultish self. Going through confirmation, I will have been done being a caterpillar, have prepared all my knowledge in my cocoon, and I will sprout into a beautiful butterfly. I’m destined to be.
    The process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly is a process most insects go through, called metamorphosis. This is a process of transformation that involves a kind of recycling of cells, in which old cells are turned into completely new kinds of cells. This abrupt kind of change is much different than the kind of changes humans go through. But, there are about 200 million insects on earth for every single human being – that’s a scary fact, right? – so in a way, you can say that our slow way of changing and developing into adults is actually the unusual way. Metamorphosis is more common in the rest of the natural world. Even now, we’re still learning about metamorphosis. You can’t see inside a chrysalis and watch metamorphosis happening without damaging the butterfly. I read that we’re just starting to use a mini-CT scan process to see metamorphosis step by step, and we’re still discovering things we didn’t know. I find that amazing. For all we know and all we can do, we’re still just scratching the surface of the amazingness of the world God has created.
    What’s all this have to do with Pentecost? Here’s what I think. God loves us so much that God will continue to try to work with us even if we insist on changing, growing, developing, maturing in our faith at the glacial speed of typical human development. That’s one option, and God won’t ditch us, but be faithful to journey with us as we grow, millimeter by millimeter. But with the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, if we let the Spirit in, if we breathe God in and breath God out, God’s usual way of working change, God’s usual way of changing lives is through metamorphosis. God is about changing caterpillars into butterflies. Dry bones into living flesh. Tongue-tied introverts into leaders of nations. Year-season women into bearers of infants. Shepherd boys into kings. Maiden girls into mothers of saviors. Fishermen into rabble-rousing preachers. Persecutors of Christians into martyred apostles. Struggling congregations into vibrant places where disciples are called, equipped, and sent out. That’s the way God seems to like to work – turning it all upside down, inside out, transforming us in ways we can’t even describe.  
    Changes are coming our way, and quickly. I think God is calling us – me, and you, and this congregation, to go through a metamorphosis. I wonder if a caterpillar is astonished when they come out on the other side in the form of a butterfly? We might be astonished at what God plans to do with us. But then again, our God has a reputation for astonishing us, so much so that we can depend on it. We can depend on God’s breath, filling us. We can dream with God’s vision, inspiring us. ““I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams.” May it be so. Amen.

    Saturday, June 07, 2014

    Lectionary Notes for Pentecost Sunday, Year A

    Readings for Pentecost, 6/8/14:
    Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39

    Acts 2:1-21
    • I have to admit - speaking in tongues is something that I don't connect to, don't understand, and frankly, usually don't take seriously. My only witnessing of speaking in tongues has left me more than a little skeptical. But I can't deny its frequent presence in the scriptures - so where does that leave me? Last year, a girl of approximately 9 year of age read this passage in church on Pentecost, and she whipped through Phrygia and Pamphylia like they were her hometowns. It was amazing. If I think about her reading this passage so flawlessly, I think I can get my head a little bit around the idea of speaking in tongues. When an unlikely vessel communicates an even more unlikely message, with unlikely abilities?
    • Pentecost. In some ways, these scene is one of the most exciting in the Bible. This is the moment of truth - Jesus is dead, risen, and ascended. The disciples have been taught, prodded, encouraged, but most of all, entrusted with the good news. Will they carry it on? Will they stand up in the face of opposition and accusations? Yes! The start of the church.
    • Everyone who calls on God's name will be saved!
    • Notice that Peter quotes how God's spirit is poured out on all flesh: songs, daughter, young, old, slave free. Seriously, where do we get the idea that God only speaks through some people, whom we deem acceptable?
    Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
    • manifold: many and varied
    • Leviathan: same name as Jonah's whale is given - a big sea 'monster'/creature, or just generally a big thing of its kind: the 'Leviathan' of the redwoods would be the biggest of the trees. (check out
    • The dependence of creation on the Creator. While I don't like to think of God hiding God's face from me, the psalmist makes the point that we are dependent on God.
    • "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being." Amen!
    1 Corinthians 12:3b-13:
    • This passage, and the following week's passage from Corinthians, are great passages for congregations. No matter how many times we say that everyone has a ministry, a call to follow from God, it seems our congregants don't really believe that God means them. We will be using these two weeks to do a spiritual gifts inventory in our congregation, or at least spring off from these two weeks of texts. How can we get people to believe that God has blessed, gifted, and called them?
    • The hymn "Many Gifts, One Spirit" is perfect for this occasion, and will bring the message home. Some lyrics: "In our difference is blessing, from diversity we praise One Giver, One Lord, One Spirit, One Word, known in many ways, hallowing our days. For the giver, for the gifts, praise, praise, praise!"
    • Speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues. I can't help but feel that most modern-day incarnations of speaking in tongues miss the mark somewhat. After all, the beauty of the speaking in tongues recorded in Acts 2 (see above) was that everyone could understand the good news in their own language, not that no one could understand anything at all...
    John 7:37-39
    • This little passage is short and sweet. Jesus calls to him all who are thirsty, and speaks of living water, as he does elsewhere of course. I'm reminded of the passage from Isaiah 55 that begins, "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters."
    • John indicates that Jesus is here speaking of the Spirit which they were yet to receive. That is certainly not how I would read the passage without John's input. What do you think?