Sunday, January 31, 2010

Today's Sermon

The Greatest of These

Sermon on 1 Corin 13 and Luke 4:21-30

Recently, I passed a billboard I had never seen before, I think it was for an insurance company: “Family is always there for you” it said.

Instantly, I finished it in my head, “except when it’s not…”

And I thought about how all of us -- no matter how happy or contented our family circumstances -- have had moments when it felt that our family, whatever that means for us, were NOT there for us:

-perhaps it was your parents who were not there for you, distracted by worries and work you could not understand.

-or was it your children who made choices guided by values you could not fathom.

-or the friendship that faded away

-or maybe it was your spouse, who made promises to love and to cherish, only to break those promises.

We don’t have statistics on absentee parents or disappeared friends or difficult to understand children, but we do have stats on marriages. We know that slightly more than one half of marriages in our culture will end in divorce. And yet, people do still keep getting married. And people keep planning weddings that have a lot to do with romantic ideas of what a wedding should be – sort of pasted together from movies and childhood hopes and storybooks. And, people keep choosing the passage we heard from Corin to be read at those weddings.

In a way, it’s ironic that the Corin passage we heard earlier is so often read at weddings. It wasn’t intended for the storybook wedding at all – it was written by Paul to his chaotic and cranky congregation in Corinth. But it’s not hard to see why these words are so often read at weddings “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.”

Because, what a beautiful ideal – what great hopes are expressed on that day in which two people look into each others eyes and say “always.”

But, knowing what you know about marriage, your own or others, it might be easy to hear these words a little cynically, because with a statistic like “half of all marriages end in divorce,” it is pretty much certain that your own life has been touched by it in some way – a family member, a friend, or you yourself. The pain of these separations is very real, and the shame and embarrassment of making vows that cant be kept for a myriad of reasons is very real. This is your community of faith, a place of healing for amny kinds of wounds including those of shame – how?

In our denomination we have 2 sacraments – baptism and communion. Other denominations have more - as many as 7. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of god’s invisible grace – a very special moment and situation in which god breaks into our lives to make the holy known in a unique way.

Now, in churches that celebrate more than 2 sacraments, marriage itself is often considered one of the sacraments. Not so in our tradition – the UCC. I think that is because we understand that while marriage is very important to many people, and can be a blessing to many, marriage between a man and woman, with children to follow, is only one way to make a family. In this very room are people whose most significant family relationships are between two men, or two women, or grandparents and grandchildren, or siblings, or importantly connected groups of very good friends.

In the UCC, we believe that God, and the Bible, has put blessing on these and many other kinds of relationships. In this letter to the Corin, Paul wasn’t talking about marriage, he was talking about building community. So if you’ve heard these words at a wedding, or a lot of weddings, or even your wedding, And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

I would like to invite you today to start seeing it as a scripture less about the institution of marriage and more about building community thru all kinds of diverse relationships – grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, co-workers, cousins, neighbors, friends, children, parents, nieces and nephews and the guy who sits behind you in the pew every Sunday.

This lovely scripture, this elegant and poetical writing, what does it have to say to us of the many and varied relationships in our lives? “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

We certainly, many of us, know how relationships DON’T work. Even for the relationships we don’t have those statistics for, we have experienced abuse, alienation, or just plain irritation. Even Jesus knew about that. Remember just last week, how Jesus was wowing all who heard him in his home town temple as he read and taught from scripture? Nazareth, Jesus’ tiny home town was made up of not much more than a couple of hundred people and those who weren’t related certainly knew each other very well.

But Jesus, hometown favorite, speaks the most dangerous words you can say at a family gathering “I’m going to tell you the truth.” In the blink of an eye, the warmth and regard that his hometown buddies – Jesus’ cousins and siblings and childhood friends -- turns to dangerous disdain. “We know you,” the crowd sneers “We know all about you. We don’t have anything new to learn from you.” And then, they take him out, those pals of Jesus, to heft him over a cliff.

And Jesus, who knows about death, who in a very short time will bravely face the most horrible death anyone can imagine, doesn’t stick around to be tossed over the cliff. He slips away and before you know it, he is gone. Jesus doesn’t stay in a relationship that is about to kill him.

It is good to remember this, the way Jesus slips away from this dangerous crowd of those who are supposed to love him, because it is one of the darker parts of Christian history that, having interpreted the Corinthians words about love (as well as a few other passages) in a very narrow way as about “marriage between a man and a woman with children to follow,” we have explicitly or implicitly blessed relationships based on sacrifice, especially for women. “To endure all things” has been a one-way ticket into an abusive relationship for countless women, while clergy have either looked away, or actively encouraged them to stay, to “endure.”

But today we are freeing this scripture from its rigid interpretation, and in so doing, freeing ourselves from the violence that it has tacitly encouraged all these years. Where to start? With the word love itself?

The thing is, in English we have only one word for “love,” and so we use the same word for our first born grandchild, our favorite sweater and the team we’ll be rooting for next week in the superbowl. It was not so with the ancients – there were different words of love to express the different kinds of love we feel in different situations. The kind of love expressed in this passage is agape love, God love. Since we have only one word for love, we might read this word and think of grandchild love or sweater love or Colts love. But the ones to whom Paul wrote knew differently. They knew he meant God Love. So, for them, this passage would read: “God’s love is patient; GOD’s love is kind; God’s love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God’s love does not insist on its own way; God’s love is not irritable or resentful; God’s love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God’s love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God’s Love never ends.”

GOD’s love is always here and God’s love endures, believes, doesn’t resent, even when our love falters. When our relationships break, any relationships – we tend to feel so embarrassed, so ashamed. But that’s not what God wants for us, because through all of it - the silence or the shouting that marks that brokenness - God’s love has not ended, God’s love has believed in the best in you, God’s love has endured.

If every time we feel impatient, unkind, or resentful in our relationships – whether those are partnerships, friendships, marriages, relationships between parents and children - if whenever we feel those things, we berate ourselves, beat ourselves up for not trying harder, it’s like we are doing the opposite of the hope that God has expressed for us in this passage. God looks on us, all of us, with kindness, with patience, with faith and hope and LOVE, in spite of, or maybe because of, all the ways we cant begin to live up to the wonderful words of this passage.

Look, this is a passage about creating community. But you don’t create community by loving everyone, all at once. You create community one by one by one. As you do, let these words guide you. And as you do, sometimes you’ll stumble into impatience, resentfulness, or unkindness. Then, remember these words and remember that it’s not just the 2 of you, or the 4 of you, or the 90 of us trying to figure it out – God’s love is moving in and around, upholding and supporting, enduring, neverending.

Speaking of love, Valentines Day is coming – this was an important holiday in my family growing up - my mom made my brothers and me homemade cards and heart shaped toast on that day. So it was always a sort of sweet day for me, but when I grew up I learned that Valentines day was the day that many people loved to hate – a day of unfettered commercialism, of unmet expectations, of imperfect romance. Listen, remember this passage from Corinth, God love isn’t about a fantasy world in which you or someone else will be perfect. This kind of love is about god looking at you, seeing you clearly, and loving you anyway, loving you fully, eternally.

(In case you’re the kind of person who needs reminders of this there’s a Valentine on the wall for you to take on the way out today, each one with a message on it from this passage. Feel free to take the one you most know need to hear and to remember.)

Because God’s faith, God’s hope and God’s love abide. And the greatest of these is God’s love. Amen

Thursday, January 21, 2010


...this is actually delicious

Snap Pea Frittata

CascadianFarm Recipe by CascadianFarm

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  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 package (8 ounces) Cascadian farm® frozen organic sugar snap peas, thawed
  • 1 cup shredded lettuce
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 ounce)


  1. 1

    Set oven control to broil. Heat oil in 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Cook onions in oil 2 minutes. Stir in tarragon and peas; cook uncovered, stirring frequently, 3 minutes or until peas are tender. Stir in lettuce.

  2. 2

    Whisk eggs with salt and pepper; pour over vegetables in skillet. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or until eggs just begin to set.

  3. 3

    Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; broil 5 inches from heat 1 to 2 minutes or until frittata is golden brown and puffs up. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why we're cracking up over here.

Warf: (briskly entering the room) You wanted to see me, doctor?
Dr Crusher: (thoughtfully) Yes, concerning your memory blockout.
Warf: (irritated, as usual) I still dont remember having one!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Today's Sermon

Tomorrow, we celebrate and we remember Martin Luther King Jr., who just a few months before his death spoke these words:

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

What I wanted to tell you about today was Corinth, Corinth the city to whom Paul wrote that snippet of letter you heard today. And it’s a good story about an interesting city. But this week, every time I sat down to write it, this interesting story about this ancient city, Haiti kept coming into my line of vision.

Here’s what I know. Today is not the day to tell you about an ancient city in Greece. Today, is not a day to look back and wonder, as fascinating as that may be. Today is a day to look at what is happening right now. Today is a day to look to the future and to hope.

So today, instead of telling you about Corinth, I’m going to tell you a story, a story written by Kim Bentrott. Kim and her husband Patrick Bentrott are friends of Mark Roberts – they worked together in DC. Now the Bentrotts, are working as medical missionaries in Port Au Prince Haiti. They were in their third floor apartment when Tuesday’s earthquake hit, and somehow they emerged unharmed.
Here’s what Kim says about the hours that followed:

“I loaded up the injured from our neighborhood with plans to take them to the hospital. Patrick took Solomon to Walls International guest house to check on our visitors that were staying there…There is no way to accurately describe the streets of Port-au-Prince as I made my way to the hospital. People were streaming from homes, down sidewalks, flooding streets. The religious were praying out loud, giving thanks to God. Others were evangelizing, predicting this the beginning of the end of the world. Many were wailing, crying, desperately searching for loved ones. Others were quiet, stunned. I scanned the streets for injured, stopped when people looked horrible and their family loaded them into our truck with words of thanks. Soon the truck was packed with bleeding and battered women, men and children. No one cried. Silvia was still praying at the top of her lungs. The old woman beside me was telling me her body was going cold, stiff, that she was dying. With my one-handed exam, I could gently reassure her that her heart was beating strong, her skin warm... that fear was responsible for the cold…

When we finally got to the hospital through inching traffic and streets flooded with people, the scene was heart breaking. Tap-taps full of injured were parked outside of locked gates, ambulances were lined up and blaring. A woman came to our window and said that the hospital had collapsed and they were trying to get some of the injured doctors out, that they couldn't see any patients, there was no need to stop. "People are only coming here to die."

Inside the car, the anxiety increased. Everyone started shouting out names of hospitals all over the city. I chose the closest one, but only found more of the same. It was decision time. I was almost out of gas and desperately needing to see Patrick and Solomon again. I told them all that for tonight I was going to take them back to their families since there was nothing to do right now.

Slowly but surely I got people back. …I found myself yelling out first-aid instructions to people hovering over people with broken extremities. We inched through traffic. The last rider in the car was a man with a broken leg, horribly broken and crushed arm who endured the bumpy ride without so much as a moan. We left him outside the television station with his family after searching for material to make a basic sling….

(Kim met her husband and son and together they walked back to the guest house where a visiting mission ary team was staying)

We stayed there for the remainder of the night, trying to send out text messages, trying to make calls to no avail. All systems were down. The aftershocks were so disconcerting... happening every 5 minutes or so, some stronger than others... Sleeping on the ground, you felt every shake, and looked up to see if anything was going to fall. There was no sleeping that night…

The sky was full of stars... We could see Orion, Andromeda, Scorpio, the dippers, Mars. I've never seen a sky like that in Port-au-Prince. Hymns rose up all around us from groups gathered: How Great Thou Art. When the music subsided, the wailing resumed, then the music rose up again, as if to add comfort for those enduring such pain, such loss. Everyone in the guest house camp was taking care of each other, sharing water, divvying up snacks, taking turns sleeping or sitting on mattresses, offering a back rub or support. The night guard kept watch all night with rifle by his side, not leaving his job despite not being able to get in touch with his family, not knowing…”

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity

Friends, today is not the day to tell you about an ancient city in Greece. Today, is not a day to look back and wonder, as fascinating as that may be. Today is a day to look at what is happening right now. Today is a day to hear a word of hope.

Here’s what’s happening right now, here’s a reason to hope. In a scene of unimaginable disaster, people look up and see the stars for the first time. People sing How Great Thou Art. People share water, divvy up snacks, offer one another back rubs. They try to love one another. They try to love and serve humanity.

It’s s special kind of love to see a problem that needs addressing, and to act on it. It’s that kind special kind of love we see Mary, Jesus’ mother, exhibit in the gospel story we heard today about the wedding at Cana, the turning of water into wine.

Pastor and writer Martha Hoverson writes, “She identifies a problem, then asks Jesus to do something about it, then ignores him when he says it’s not his time! 'Do whatever he tells you,'she informs the servants at this wedding, sure that he can work a wonder, and more than that, sure he will. It’s a funny little story,” Martha goes on to say. It may even seem insignificant. “Recently-baptized Jesus, making water into wine because his mother pressured him, may seem like a weak link in the divine chain of being. It’s such a minor miracle, hardly more than a sleight of hand trick.

But, seeing a need, and responding to it – is there any greater miracle than that? Maybe, like Mary at a family gathering, you see a gift in another and help to draw it out and that’s how you see that need and meet it. Maybe like Martin Luther King Jr, you are ready for your whole life to be an act of giving, you are ready to see all humanity as somehow belonging to you, and that’s how you see that need and meet it. Maybe you are sleeping with a group of strangers on the ground, naming the stars and passing snacks around, even as the world crumbles around you.

Open the vessel that is your life.

Jesus has taken what it once was – something clear and tasteless and ordinary and made of it something rich and nourishing and precious, something to be shared. Here and now, today, there is a need to to be met here. Long ago in the fascinating anceint city of Corinth, Paul assured his dear friends, and his words cross the generations and reassure us too, that in the Body of Christ are all the gifts that are needed. Each one of us has something to contribute. Each one of us has something to give.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.”

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Sunday Night Random

1. Somewhere out in the blogosphere, I read something about choosing a word for the year instead of making resolutions. Wanna try that? I have been thinking of the right word and have settled on NOURISHED.
Yes that is in the past tense. So that I'll remember that I have ALREADY been fed (physical, spiritual, psycholgical) and I dont have to worry about gettingenoughbeforeotherpeoplegetit.

2. Still sitting around with my leg in the air. I am going back to work tomorrow, though, so I guess I'll have to get back on it. After visits to 3 docs, still dont know whats wrong with the knee. Hope to get an MRI this week.

3. I swear, I didnt know any of this was going to happen when I scheduled A Service of Healing with Annointing With Oil and Remembrance of Baptism for next week. I guess we do make the church we need, even when we dont mean too.

4. My son, the 7 year old, is being the most awesome trooper through all this, btw. Since he has the only working legs in the house at the moment, he's doing quite a lot of fetching and carrying - mostly without complaint. DH isnt complaining either, even though I'm quite sure I've been a total drag this week. I have a pretty great family.

5. Saw Avatar in 3D. The writing was pretty terrible, but loved the visual world. Totally worth it to see it. And, a few touching wheelchair guy moments, so liked that too. Also, have watched ALOT of TV and read a couple of detective novels. So, a relaxing vacation, if you are into that sort of thing. Me, I'd rather be painting the back bathroom, you know.

6. That 2 week kitchen remodel that started in October? Should be finishing up tomorrow. No really, they mean it this time. Just loving our new house, though, so not feeling too cranky about that.

7. Really looking forward to going back to work (see number 5) - we have a really cool project coming up I will tell you more about when it gets more solid. I think I have to say no to the other potentially really cool project, though. So hard to only be one person.

8. RE #7 No, I havent forgotten my word already (see #1). Just speaking the truth.