Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Read within minutes of each other this morning.

The Word and You, vol 2, Editor Nan Duerling
Read the story of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9. Envision yourself with Peter, James and John as you read. Experience the emotions that might have welled up within you.

Texts for preaching, Year A, Brueggemann, et al

It is no good inviting the congregation to envision themselves there on the mountain with the disciples; it taxes the imagination beyond credulity.

Age? Gender? Theology? Discuss....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How can I write a sermon, when there exist distractions like this?

Thanks Mags!

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME (first pet, current car): Walnut Elantra
2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME (fave ice cream flavor, favorite type of shoe): Vanilla Clarks
3. YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN NAME (favorite color, favorite animal): Yellow Pug
4. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME (middle name, city where you were born): Garrison Toledo
5. YOUR STAR WARS NAME (the first three letters of your last name, first two of your first name): BROJU
6. SUPERHERO NAME (2nd favorite color, favorite drink): Purple Water (hmmm)
7. NASCAR NAME (the first names of your grandfathers): Maranatha Harmon
8. STRIPPER NAME ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy): Lavender Peppermint Patty
9. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME (your fifth grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter): Rowsky Rochester
10. SPY NAME (your favorite season/holiday, flower): Autumn Lilac
11. CARTOON NAME (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now): Banana Slippers (tee hee)
12. HIPPIE NAME (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree): Hot Cereal Apple

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yesterday's sermon

Meeting Jesus
sermon on John 1:29-42

“How are you today?” we ask, hoping to not get a real answer. "And what do you do?" we ask one another at a party, not meaning that we really want to know what they do. We get a list of accomplishments or a résumé and then an “and you?” And when we tell each other “ I’m in real estate, I’m a stay at home mom.” We know what that means. They’re nicknames, short cuts to the real thing.

I’ve been wondering this week, “What if we asked more of one another in our introductions? What if we skipped the world’s nicknames and moved instead to God’s?”

I’ve been wondering, because of this little story. To tell you the truth, I’ve never paid that much attention to its star, St Andrew. Andrew is in the inner ring of disciples, but not much of a big deal compared to his pals James and John and Peter, about whom we hear lot more about in the gospels. But so much hinges on this story. If John hadn’t told what he knew, if he hadn’t repeated it the following day, if the disciples hadnt followed Jesus, if Jesus hadn’t turned around just when he did, if Andrew and the other disciple hadn’t asked to go with him…..what might have happened? how would Jesus’ life and ministry have begun?

Maybe, if you’re like me, you havent given much thought to this story before – this story that so much hinges on. Maybe it’s time to take Andrew a litlte more seriously and to more carefully consider what he has to offer us.

As I see it, in this story, Andrew gives us two models for living, both of which we can use every day. One is how to share our faith – the other is how to make decisions.

Most of us have the opportunity to share our faith every day, and I bet most of us let that opportunity pass us by, me among them. (Did I take a moment to share my faith with the young lady behind the counter who sold me a pile of tokens yesterday during my son’s first visit Chuck E Cheese? No, I did not. )

(the Four I’s are borrowed from Seasons of the Spirit Curriculum)
How is andrew a model for us in faith sharing? It’s laid out here in a four steps – let’s call them FOUR I’s (inward looking, invitation, istatements and In god we trust).

1. Inward looking: First, Andrew began follwing Jesus. Not right away. He let the words and meaning of the words sink in. When he was ready, he took a step toward Jesus and he followed. In order to share our faith, we have to take care of our own faith walk first. No matter our age, no matter if you have been in this church for one day or for 50 years, your spiritual walk needs attention.

We are heading into the season of Lent, the 40 days before easter. I would encourage you to think about how do you pray and how you connect with Jesus? Look INWARD.

2. Invitation: Once Andrew knew Jesus, he wanted to share his experience with his brother. As we think about sharing our faith, we are invited to share faith with the people we already know. A few people have the gift of faith sharing with strangers, most of us are invited to share within our network. That’s why it’s actually good that I did not start sharing faith with the woman behind the Chuck E Cheese coutner, and why it’s a good idea not to do that in the future, unless (heaven forbid) I make more trips there and she becomes a regular acquaintance. INVITE.

3. I statements: Andrew followed Jesus, he shared with his brother. Then what? He shared, using I messages. Rather than saying “you need to know jesus.” or “your life is a mess” (which may have been true), he said “I have found the messiah.” Faith sharing is best done by personally sharing how god’s love has impacted your own life. I messages are a powerful testmony to God. I-STATEMENTS.

4. In God we trust: Andrew took Simon to Jesus, and then left the results up the two of them. This was a life –changing encounter for Simon, and Jesus in fact gave him a new name, but Andrew did not try to save Simon on his own. Andrew trusted Jesus. IN GOD WE TRUST.

When we make a connection, invite, share our own journey and leave the results to god, we are are bearers of good news in a way that is not offensive but powerfully personal.

OK, but maybe you are not a place to be faith sharing. Maybe you have too many questions yourself, or maybe the 4 I’s are just not your gift. What does this story hold for you, then?

Even if we don’t have the gift of sharing our faith, every day everyone in this room makes dozens or maybe hundreds of decisions a day – starting (if you’re like me) from the first waking moment: hit the snooze button or get up?

I don’t have any little letters for this one, because it is so short and easy, you will never forget. Andrew teaches us. Listen. Just listen.

Every day, Christ is already asking you, as he asked Andrew on the road: “what do you want?” This is not small talk, not “how are you?” “fine” but “what is your heart’s desire?”

If you’re paying attention, you might ask back, like Andrew did, “where are you?” In other words, how can we find you and follow your way?

Listen for christ’s leading and follow christ’s way. You may be on another path altogether, but you can change course! Don’t you think Andrew’s family was tired of hearing him talk about prophet men all the time? “First this John, now this Jesus – ok, pal, what’s next?” you can hear them asking. But Andrew was not deterred. He that he had found the true Messiah and so he followed.

You know you are really in tune with God when these two – the four I’s and the listening to Christ – come together.

Tomorrow we will celebrate MLK day, so this week like many of you, I’ve been thinking about and remembering Martin Luther King’s life and legacy. I was re-reading this week about his first action – the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Here is a young pastor (26 years old!) helping organize a boycott that started out as a one-day protest and grew over the coming months to involve thousands of residents of Montgomery, as well as interested people around the nation and even the world. This is a story we know well. Listen to it again, though. Remember it again, and you might allow yourself to be changed by it again. Do you remember how it goes? How Rosa Parks, after years of training in nonviolent resistance and with the full support of her community behind her, slid over to the window and declared that she would not move. Do you reember how the black leaders of town organized a car-pool, and when that was declared illegal, rallied the workers to walk intstead?

Do you remember how people gave their lives for this struggle for the simplest human dignities, how bombs were thrown, including one into the front window of Martin Luther King Jr’s house, while his wife and baby daughter rested in a room in back?

And do you remember what happened then? How a crowd gathered outside the house, angry and ready for justice, for retribution. And it was Martin who told them, “We must answer this hate with love. Don’t go and get your weapons now. We will keep walking, as we have been doing, and we will defeat this system.” And so the angry crowd dispersed and went home. That was faith sharing by example, of the bravest, most powerful kind.

And then, do you know what happened then? Here’s part of that story I never heard before. After that terrible night, Martin Luther King Jr was stricken with indescision and with doubt. Could he risk the life of his young family? his own life? It seemed too much to ask. He rose early the next day, and sat down at the kitchen table to pray. As the coffee cup at his elbow grew cold, he had a long talk with God. and when he raised his head, this young man, such a young man, he knew what he would do.

Faith was shared, a decision was made. A life was changed. And the world was changed, too.

And so what about the story we heard today? What happens next? A decision made, faith changed and then… here’s what happened. Christ looked into the eyes of Simon, and Christ changed his name. A decision made, faith shared, a life changed. Adnt he world changed, too.

You can call christ by whatever nickname you like – Lamb, Messiah, Prophet, Teacher, Healer, Friend, Brother….Christ answers to all those and others, too. Call him. And then Christ will look you in the eye – so gently, so firmly – and Christ will call you by your new name, the name he has chosen for you. Listen, listen. You can hear it.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Retreat day haiku

The monastery.
A U-Haul idles in front.
Coming or going?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

This post has been around for a while, so you might have seen it already. If not, skip on over to read the Ten Things Christians and Atheists Must Agree On. It's too long to include here in entirety, but here's a sample from #3: In Everyday Life, You're Not That Different.

You Christians, if the transmission in your Camaro explodes, are you going to use prayer to reconstruct it? No, you'll call a mechanic. When your tooth hurts, you don't assume it's possessed by demons. You look for a cavity. Basic, everyday troubleshooting.

Well, at the very worst, the atheists are just applying the same common sense, real-world troubleshooting to the God question. At the creation of the universe and in the heart of mankind, they expect to find the same physical, tangible answers they'd find inside a burnt transmission. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken the tried-and-true troubleshooting we all practice one step too far.

On the other hand...

Atheists, even if you reject the idea of God completely and claim to live according only to the cold logic of the physical sciences, you all still live as if the absolute morality of some magical lawgiver were true.

No, wait. Don't go away.

When some guy hustles you out of eighty bucks in an ebay scam, you don't nod and say, "Interesting! This fellow lacks the genetic predisposition toward equitable dealing that generations of sexual selection in favor of social behavior has instilled in the rest of us! A fascinating difference!"

No, you think what that guy did was wrong. You want justice. You think he should have acted differently.

Just a warning: there's some swearing over there at, and some other borderline offensive stuff, so dont click if you're going to be bugged by that.

Do You They'll Take My Pastor Card Away...

...once they found out how consistently I misspell
also baptise/baptize?
and offeratory/offertory?

Saturday, January 12, 2008


...only to the rest of you working on your weight loss new years resolution.

Two weeks into weight watchers I:

1. Have lost four pounds. Not a tremendous acheivement but considering the alternative (gaining four pounds, I mean), not as bad as it could be.

2. Do find myself wondering if news of The Obesity Epidemic is a bit blown out of proportion (so hard not to make a fat joke here....) and perhaps a distraction from other social problems. However, my bent toward being sort of counter-cultural is helping me want to really lose weight, I am sure. "I dont want to be overweight if everyone ELSE is doing it!"

4. Still do not believe that artificial sweetener is better for you than maple syrup.

3. Am surprised that I dont hate the meetings more. I have been on WW two other times, both on-line because I thought if had time to go to a meeting I should just exercise during that time. I sort of like them, though. I try to think of the inspiring little speeches as sermon lessons, so I take mental notes about what would or would not work in the pulpit. And, when someone else is recording your weight and putting it in a little book, it does kind of make you want to work harder for it.

4. Have the same problem with this that I've had the last couple times, which is that (counter-intuitively) I am eating. all. the. time. For one thing, healthy food takes a lot longer to eat than junk food (eat a hamburger. go. now eat a salad. go. see what I mean?). For another thing, I'm trying to eat until I'm full-not-stuffed, which means I eat these little bird-like portions and am satisfied for the moment, but then I'm hungry again 2 hours later. It's very annoying, but I'm trusting this part will get easier. It just HAS to.

5. Would like to exercise more, but I did earn 4 exercise points cleaning out the garage. Which is an awesome way to (suddenly cant remember the pacifist way to say this, so forgive the unnecessary bloodletting of the metaphor) kill two birds with one stone. I promptly ate them in Midel Ginger Snaps, which I'm not sure is the point.

6. hope I dont turn into into the kind of gal who talks about losing weight all the time. But really, now that our house renovation is done and that topic is exhausted, what can you expect?

A serious sermon

I havent preached a real, live sermon for a while it seems. After the last three Sundays -- an all-congregation Christmas pageant (Sue! Did I tell you how great that went? It went great!); a post-Christmas picture book with a carol sing; and a goofy story I wrote about three people named Goldie, Frank and Myrna (got it?), I told them we are going to get serious now. So this is what passes as serious from me.

Some of you know that I come from a long line of pastors and preachers. Some of you have even heard about my uncle and the time he got caught naked in the river, but it's a story worth hearing again. When my uncle was a young man, fresh out of seminary, his first call was to serve several Methodist churches, far out in the country. He was given a house to live in, but the churches he served were not wealthy and the house lacked some of modern amenities – like running water.

On Sunday morning, as he drove from church to church to church, my uncle got into the habit of stopping at one lonely bridge to wash up. One day, he stopped for a quick jump in the river. He dunked under as usual and when he came up, he was surprised to see a man with a gun sitting on the riverbank.
“Hi” my uncle said.
“Hi yourself. Whatcha doing in my river?” the man with the gun asked.
“Well, sir, I’m taking a bath.”
The two talked a while, and after a time the man laid down his gun (much to the relief, I am sure, of my still-naked uncle) and said “You a preacher, huh? Well, baptize me, then.”

My uncle refused (and lived to tell about it, evidently). Forty years later, when he told that story to me, he shook his head with regret. “I should have done it, but that wasn’t how they taught me to do it. They taught me that it had to me in a church, with the community there to witness it. I still wish I would have baptized him. Who knows what good it might have done?”

What does it mean, anyway, baptism? What is it for? For the man with the gun (whatever his name was), it was a greeting, a way to seal a relationship that could have gone sour and didn’t. For a young preacher it was a rite of the church, to be conferred only in a certain time, place and way. It was not at all everyday, not at all to be confused with the washing up that he was doing there in the river.

What about for you?
I’m willing to bet that baptism has as many meanings as there are people sitting here.

For some people, baptism is hell insurance. I heard of a woman who encouraged her children to quickly baptize their infant before the new family took an airplane trip for this reason. “What if there is an accident, and that baby dies unbaptized?” she worried. My own dear ancestors, the same people who gave birth to the uncle who was so reluctant to baptize the stranger at the river, were products of a missionary movement that joyfully counted baptisms as proof of work well done, as proof of souls saved.

Here is one thing I can tell you about which I have not doubt or question. The souls of little newborn babies, all of them, baptized or not, go to be with God and God welcomes them, all of them, with open arms, baptized or not. So let’s not talk about baptism as hell insurance. If somewhere, in some dusty corner of your subconscious, there is lurking that idea that baptism is protection against the potential dangers of the afterlife feel free to sweep that corner clean.

For some people, maybe those on the far opposite end of the spectrum, baptism is a social ritual – not so much a religious rite at all, but a chance to dress up Baby in grandpa’s christening gown, to take some pictures and to have a nice party afterward. You have experienced this kind of baptism some time in your life, I am sure. Perhaps as a witness to a baptism you have made promises, certain promises that you meant to keep about helping the child to be baptized grow in the Christian faith, and then perhaps you felt let down when you could not keep those promises, when the child did not appear again.

Well, you can never know how baptism will affect a family or an individual. I know of a child who was baptized as an infant, and never returned to church again until, at 11, he was old enough to walk himself. Then he went once, out of boredom, one cold winter day when he couldn’t find anyone to play with. Now he never misses a Sunday. (Thanks More Cows!) You may have chances to keep those promises in ways you never imagined, for the babies-grown-into-children we bless here in baptism. Or maybe we’ll have a chance to keep those promises with other children, whose baptism we did not witness, but whose education and formation is in our care just the same.

All I’m saying is, God has a way of bringing people into the care of the church, even if they, or those acting on their behalf, did not intend it to be so. Still, baptism is more than a social ritual.

For some, baptism is like adoption into the family of faith. This is getting closer. Babies do not choose to be adopted, that choice is made for them. This is one reason, those who like the adoption model say, that we baptize infants. The baptized one is received into a new family, hopefully to be loved and cared for there, just like an adopted one is loved and cared for by a new family. A new family now surrounds the baptized person, ready to love and care for that one. Just like in families, though, sometimes churches do not or cannot live up to their end of the covenant. Sometimes, the church wounds those in whom trust is placed, just like a family sometimes wounds. More than one person here has felt that sting of being hurt by a church in whose care they had been placed, or placed themselves. When I think of the pain in those stories, the adoption idea breaks down for me.

What it is baptism? It’s not exactly adoption. It’s more than a social ritual. It sure as heck is not insurance against a fiery afterlife. Maybe it would help to ask what it was for Jesus, who showed us what to do.

For the Jews of Jesus’ time and acquaintance baptism was washing up. The Greek word for baptism "baptizo" literally means "to wash." The Jews were constantly baptizing people and things. If something or someone was unclean they would baptize it. If someone died on a bed it would be unclean by contact with a dead body. So they would ritually wash it or baptize it. When the Pharisees criticize Jesus for not washing his hands they literally asked why Jesus doesn't "baptize" his hands. (Thanks Lindy!)

That is what John was doing at the river Jordan. He was ritually washing people. They came confessing their sins and repenting and he was washing them to ritually demonstrate the change taking place within them. This is another meaning of baptism, one that many of us carry with us still today – that baptism is about washing clean from sin, about repentance from the evil that lives within us.

That’s why John is so confused and troubled when Jesus appears. Because he sees in his cousin a person already free from the heavy burdens that weigh us down, Because he sees in Jesus a person already clean, a person who did not need washing up.

But Jesus stepped through the crowd on the bank and on into the water anyway. The water was cold and muddy and Jesus stepped in. This is not a story about getting clean (whatever John may have thought), about being adopted, about social ritual, about hell. It’s a story most of all about words spoken as Jesus standing dripping in the muddy waters. It’s mostly about God breaking though the ordinariness of life – breaking through two men, cousins, standing in water, performing a ritual that had been performed countless times before and feeling, and KNOWING that God was present there.

Baptism is one of two sacraments we celebrate in the UCC (the other is communion). There are lots of ways to describe sacraments, but one way is to say that they are the visible sign of an invisible God. They are the way God makes herself known. They are how, in our everyday lives, in the simplicity of the most basic elements – juice, bread, water, the faces of those we love and the hands of strangers – God is known.

In the novel, Gilead, two young preacher’s sons decide one afternoon to baptize the litter of kittens produced by a barn cat. Years later one of them, now an old man, remembers it like this:
Their grim old crooked tailed mother found us baptizing away by the creek and began carrying her babies off by the napes of their necks, one and then another. We lost track of which was which, but we were fairly sure that some f the creatures had been borne away still in the darkness of paganism and that worried us a great deal. So finally I asked my father in the most offhand way imaginable what exactly would happen to a cat if one were to say, baptize it. He replied that the sacraments must always be treated and regarded with the greatest respect. That wasn’t really an answer to my question. We did respect the sacraments, but we thought the world of those cats…I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand. Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing. It stays in the mind…There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that.”
Do you ask what baptism is for? If it’s not hell insurance, not adoption, not social ritual, not even getting washed clean, what then? Baptism is a sacrament – a chance for God to break into our everyday lives for a moment, a chance for God’s voice to be heard loud and clear above the hubbub of the crowd, a chance to feel fully and completely feel the love that surrounds each beloved child of God. Baptism doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Overheard: Some Short Elijahlogues

Scene One
Overheard while sitting next to E while he tries to dodge the dragon that is firebombing his race car on (everybody sing!) hotwheelsDOTCOM.
"I dont care about that guy. All I want to do is LIVE."

Scene Two
Overheard 26 minutes after the one scene in a ridiculous romantic comedy that included (everybody sing!) rockandROLLmusic!
::walking out of the room, shaking head in disgust::
"I only like the awesome parts."

Scene Three
Overheard phone conversation with pal Sarah.
"Knock knock!.....What!......What what?"

Scene Four
Overheard while doing that thing with new shiny white Christmas-present dominoes where you place them close together in a row on their narrow end, hoping to knock them down and make a cool thing happen. (Isn't there a shorter name for that game?)
"These look like the gates to Heaven! There are so many of them!"

That last one'll preach, I think. Also, the song we've been hearing a lot (and by a lot, I mean about 70 times a day) around here lately "Peace on earth and mercy wild...."

Yeah, he's pretty great these days. Now if only we could do something about this problem of weeping and gnashing of teeth whenever we have to go somewhere or come back from somewhere.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

friday five

1. Do you make New Year resolutions?
Not usually, but this year I can think of two things I want to accomplish before my 40th birthday, which is only 11 and a half months away. They are secret, though.

2. Is this something you take seriously, or is it a bit of fun?
Hmm, I would say a bit of fun, but then why would I be keeping them secret? I must be more serious than I think. (Did you know that in my family I'm the serious one? Well, every family needs one. But imagine what crack ups the rest of them are....)

3. Share one goal for 2008.
Ok, really. I'm being serious now. I would like to be in better health by the end of 2008 than at the beginning. And, I would like to not nod and smile more than once a day at something I disagree with.

4. Money is no barrier, share one wild/ impossible dream for 2008:
My answers to these kinds of things are always so mundane. But I would really like our family and friends from around the country to see our beautiful new city. So I guess I would say that I could get lots of plane tickets and invite everyone who wanted to visit. And I would like a new elevator for our church.

5. Someone wants to publish a story of your year in 2008, what will the title of that book be?
Forty Is Not Too Old For Your First Tattoo
(oops, there's the first one. well, I'm not telling you the other one, so stop asking me.)

Still here....

....but busier than I think I'd like to be just now.

In spite of unusual busy-ness, dont have much bloggable going on. Would you like to hear a dream?

This one from last night: I am wearing scuba gear and trying to dance with Claudia Schmidt - my big flipper-y feet keep getting in the way and we are laughing. Later, I go weigh myself and learn I have lost ten pounds in just one week!

Not sure where to go with this, but I sure woke up cheerful.