Saturday, December 13, 2008

More mileage!

It was great to pick up the phone this morning and hear from our Lutheran walkers. They have been moving right along!
12/1-6 A went 7.25 miles and W logged 5.
12/7-13 the each hiked 8.25 miles. Wow! That's gettin' on down the road.

So . . . 12.25 + 16.50 = 28.75 miles from those two. Hoorah!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Sometimes spell check does not save me from myself.
Exhibit A from the service this morning:
I printed out the words to a hymn that fit the theme for the day (John the Baptist's warning to prepare) perfectly. It was called "On Jordan's Bank the Herald's Cry"

Here's how it came out:

On Jordan’s Bank the Herald’s Cry

On Jordan’s bank the herald’s dry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come then and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of Kings.

The Herald's DRY??? The Baptist is dry? That's not right. Unless maybe he was a SOUTHERN Baptist. ARGG.

Sermon - Dec. 7

Isaiah 40:1-8
Mark 1:1-11
A Christmas Worth Waiting For #2 – Warning
You heard about the city boy that moved out in the country, didn’t you? Yep. Called up the township and asked them to move the deer crossing sign that was out by his house. Said too many deer had been getting hit out there. He didn’t think it was a very good place for them to cross.
It’s deer season. But for weeks and weeks, it’s been deer collision season. Every year, estimates are that there are 1.5 million deer/car collisions. (Insurance companies say 1.5 billion dollars of damage. Remember when that seemed like a lot of money?) Illinois ranks #3 nationally for these close encounters of the bad kind.
And do you know what every one of the 1.5 million drivers involved in those crashes say? “It came out of no where! There wasn’t any warning!” In spite of the thousands of deer crossing signs, it still seems like we’d like more warning of dangerous situations and impending hazards.
Well – the Second Sunday in Advent is traditionally “Warning” Sunday. It is the Sunday that we read about crazy old John the Baptist, out there by the Jordan, shouting that people had better REPENT! REPENT! The Lord is on His Way! Straighten up and FLY RIGHT! Or You’ll be Sorry when He gets here!
And always, this catches those of us who have spent our weekend putting up a tree and decorating, shopping or reading the Christmas story to our children – a bit by surprise. We’re focused on the sweet baby Jesus – and then come to church and hear about a man wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs and telling the crowds that human beings are terrible sinners and we better shape up.
John the Baptist is an important part of Advent – because in order to experience Christ entering our lives in a new way this season, we need to be warned about the things that might prevent that from happening.
This sermon is about the difference between a threat and a warning. Threat is when someone says that they are going to hurt you because they don’t like what you are doing. A warning is when someone says that there is danger up ahead and you can avoid it or prepare to meet it. A threat is hateful. A warning is given out of love.
Warnings and the need for them:
My grandmother, as a very young woman, received a warning in a dream. It was a warning that about warning – sort of a meta-dream where meaning is interwoven and rich. In this dream, which she received as a young mother, she saw her toddler son – her first born child – playing in the yard, and then, she dreamed that he was headed toward an open well. And she called to him, but he just turned and looked at her and kept on going. In the dream, her shouts to turn around were not heeded, and he fell down the hole and she lost him. When she awoke, she felt that she had been warned about the importance of having her children pay attention to her warnings. I remember her telling me, she didn’t like disciplining them, but God had showed her that she had to in order to protect them.
Warnings are about love and protection and guidance and the deep desire for the person being warned to avoid danger and live well.
God’s advent warnings are like that:
The warning in Isaiah – we are like flowers of the field. Our time is limited. Life is fragile and breathtakingly short.
Make straight the paths! There is crookedness in every single one of us. There are mountains we have made out of molehills and valleys we do not wanted lifted into the light. Christ’s coming is for the purpose of reunion, and we have put up some pretty big obstacles in his way.
God wants us to avoid the danger of wasting out lives on meaningless trivia, of wasting our energy on holding grudges. God warns us of the dangers of putting our trust in the riches or popularity or fame. Those are dangerous things. Those are wells, down which perfectly beautiful children of God may, indeed, fall. Children have been lost this way before. But God does not want to lose YOU.
Coming to the table, in some traditions, used to be a time for straightening things out in our lives. It used to be that if you had a bad grudge, this was the time to resolve it. If you had a debt to pay, or an apology to offer, the table was the warning to get that done so that you could receive the sacrament. The rite of “Penance” in the RC church is still practiced. We Protestants have a slightly different take. We understand that table as a way to become Christian enough to deal with the problem. We need grace BEFORE we can turn our lives around, make the apology, mend the relationship, fix the behavior or whatever we need to do to get right with God and one another. So the table shouldn’t be avoided. Neither should it be approached without caution. Be warned! This meal can and should change you from the inside out!
John the Baptist’s warning is out of love for the people, that they should prepared to receive the Christ when he comes. God wants to warn us that our hands need to be free to receive the precious Christ. Our hearts need to be unconflicted and ready to love. Our lives need to have enough space in them for prayer and fellowship. Prepare yourselves. The warning is our time is limited and God’s coming is not on our timetable. Don’t be caught like a deer in the headlights!
Head the Baptist’s warning:

Prepare the way of the Lord.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Late to the Gym, I only walked two miles on Wednesday. I was really glad to get the word at choir that two of the singers had walked 16 miles, between them. And their dog had walked twelve! I think we should count the dog-miles. And my theological justification is this: The camels are the ones that actually walked the miles for the wise men. So I think we should recognize the contributions of animals to the Christmas story, too!

16.5 (from Tuesday) + 28 from choir members and their dog + 2 from me = 46.5 miles logged so far.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Throne Room Humor

In the New Yorker, there's a cartoon of a medieval king, surrounded by knights and lords.  The caption is "I like relaxing in my favorite chair."  Wish I'd had it for the bulletin yesterday.

You Got to Serve Somebody

Reign of Christ Sunday - November 23

Matthew 25: 31-40 (?)

Bob Dylan had it right when he wrote the song, “You Got to Serve Somebody”.  Human beings have a throne shaped hole in our hearts, and our lives seem less than vital and fully alive, until we get something or somebody on that throne, until we have a center to our lives that we worship and adore, we’re always a little bit lost.  That inner throne is, I believe, a gift from God, intended to bring us into relationship with the Divine. 

And there’s no doubt that when lives go horribly wrong  -  (I’m not talking difficult, here.  Difficult is part of the package.  Pain, sorrow, loss, all that.  By "wrong" I mean abuse, addiction, bullying, body -and -spirit -killing wrong) – When things get ugly and hateful  - it is because the wrong thing got put on the throne. 

That throne is meant for Christ to occupy.  That is the throne for Jesus.  We know that.  We want Christ there, reigning in our hearts.  And that’s a very good thing. 

I don’t think there is a person here this morning (though I guess you might surprise me) who doesn’t long to gather around that throne and worship Christ.  We want to bow humbly to the magnificent presence, bring him good gifts, made with our own hands.  He want to honor Christ, use our best language and our best behavior, and bask in the reflected glory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  We’d be content to sit at his feet and share his perspective, looking down on the world below in love.  Like James Bond in those 007 movies:  At His Majesty’s Service!  Yes!

Yes.  We’d love to serve Christ the King.

But strangely enough, His Majesty’s service doesn’t happen in a royal throne room.  Jesus himself reminds us that service does not consist of saying, “Lord, Lord!” , with loud prayers of praise and self abasing expressions of piety.  

Serving this King looks like sharing a meal at a soup kitchen, 

welcoming an immigrant, 

buying a coat for a kid from the trailer park, 

outfitting a room for a homeless woman trying to get off the streets, 

visiting  Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes and drunk drivers in jail. 

Christ the King says, When you do these things, you do them to me.  He doesn’t say,  "When you do these things, I look down from my throne and smile approvingly."  He says, “You serve me.  I am enthroned in those poor, sick, hungry, cold, imprisoned ones.” 

On the Sunday in which we recognize and celebrate the Reign of Christ – this scripture reminds us that we worship a King who, above theological correctness or pious behavior or public declarations of religious fealty – is honored in acts of compassion shared with the least of God’s children. 

Praise to the Christ.  Long may he reign in our hearts and our lives.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giant Purses Save

Now we know:

Of course, I've always maintained that there are worse things than dying, and carrying a portfolio sized bag might just be one of those things, for me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sermon- Nov. 16, 2008 "A Story with a Sting"

(An acknowledgment of debt: This sermon owes a great deal to "What Do You Take Me For?" - a Sermon preached in Duke University Chapel on November 13 2005 by the Revd Canon Dr Sam Wells, which can be read verbatim at:  ) 

Matthew 25:14-30

On Thursday night, I attended a preview of Tim’s last show for WILL – a documentary about Abraham Lincoln’s circuit court days.  The preview was at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.  And one of the things I learned about Lincoln was what he thought of preaching:  He said, “I don’t have much use for a cut and dried sermon.  No - when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees!”

Well, this week’s text, the parable of the talents, is one of those stories from the Bible that inspires some bee fighting behavior:  some yelling, and some ducking, and some swatting.  It is one of the “hard stories”

Some people say it doesn’t sound like gentle Jesus meek and mild, mainly because it ends up with one of the servants (which obviously stands for Jesus’ followers – aka you and I) , who fails to satisfy the master (who is Jesus) ,  being cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  That’s the sting of this story.  Failure to adequately care for the talents entrusted to us by the master results in . . . rejection by Jesus.  But before we let that bee land on the end of our noses, let’s backtrack a little bit, maybe blow a little smoke to slow those bees down,  and establish some foundations for interpretation:

This is the middle story told by Jesus near the close of his career and the stories are about the end of time.  Matthew retells them, very forcefully, because the church is living between Jesus’ life on earth and the time when the Kingdom of God is fulfilled in all its glory.  So the master that goes away – that’s Jesus.  Slam dunk.  Got that bee back in the hive.  That’s right.

So what are the talents?  Well, since Jesus is the master in the story, the talents aren’t all your and my natural abilities – great physical beauty, a powerful singing voice, or ability to make money,or a great sense of humor.  Uh Uh.  The talents are things JESUS has given to his disciples.  These might be what we call gifts of the spirit – discernment, prophecy, interpretive gifts, healing, stuff like that.   But this is Matthew’s Gospel and Matthew tends to be a little more concrete:

Jesus has given stories about God’s Kingdom. 

Jesus has set an example of someone who loves sinners and the poor and women and other outcasts.  

Jesus has given the Lord’s Supper, a foretaste of the banquet to which all people are invited. 

Jesus has given the Lord’s Prayer, and the teaching that God’s ear is open to us and God longs to give us what we need. 

Jesus has given forgiveness and the command that we forgive even as we are forgiven. 

These are just your standard issue set of gifts.  This is the one talent range.  Anybody who loves Jesus get all of this. 

Now some of the servants get more.  Maybe the two talent guy gets the gift of prophecy, so that he or she can see beneath the surface of situations, and speak to the hidden depths of people’s hearts, as Jesus does so often.  The talent to do that is special.  Not all of us have that. 

Maybe the five talent servant also gets the gift of healing, or the gift of building extraordinary communities of faith, or translating the Gospel into different languages or cultures.  Not all disciples have that. 

But even the standard issue one talent is more than enough to work with as servants of God:  Jesus’ example.  Baptism.  The Lord’s Supper.  The message that God loves all people so much that God would die for us, so that we might live new lives. 

And these things are enormous!  They are huge!  In the parable, Jesus likens these gifts to mind-.blowing amounts of money.  Even one talent is probably equivalent to million dollars now.  These guys have more than enough.  MORE than enough. 

The first two eagerly accept the challenge and risk doing what it takes to make more.  But, for some reason,  the servant who received only the basic priceless gifts of grace didn’t use them. 

And so the master returns and is greeted by the servants that have used their gifts and multiplied the blessings – The master welcomes them with joy and invites them to share that joy with him.  And from the eagerness with which they greet him, you just know that they’re already joyful, that the work that they have done for the master has been the most exciting challenge and most satisfying work they’ve ever done.  “LOOK!” they say.  “Look what I was able to do with what you gave me!”  When I read this passage, it almost reminds me of a child, bringing home the art project from school:  “Look, Mom!  You gave me an orange juice can, and I made a pencil holder for your desk!!”  Such pride and happiness is the creative process of turning the gift into something greater!  

But the one who has buried the talents comes with quite a different attitude:  He says, “You are a hard man.  (Does a hard master give opportunities like this?)  And I was afraid of you, and what you might do to me.  I didn’t want to lose anything you gave me.  And I haven’t.  You can see – here it is.  It’s a little moldy around the edges.  But it’s all here.  I never used a penny of it for myself.”

Imagine now, Jesus response:   “You never used your baptism – the new life I gave you?  You didn’t spread my forgiveness around?  You didn’t love sinners, like I showed you?  You didn’t pour out your heart to God, and let God make you new?  Never told anyone about how much Jesus loves them?  Never invited anyone to the Table? Never forgave a sin?

What have you been doing all this time?  

Oh, wait.  Let me guess.  You’ve been making up this stupid story about how I’m such a strict taskmaster and such a hard judge, and how everybody had better be as afraid of me as you are?  That’s what you’ve been doing, isn’t it?  You’ve been turning sinners away, and discouraging people who are struggling, and generally making things harder for the people I love.  You’ve been living a life that contradicts everything I have told you about God, and everything I have shown you about being human.  And now you expect congratulations?”

Now casting the servant into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth begins to make some sense, doesn’t it?  Hasn’t this servant already been living, by his own choice, I might add, in the darkness? Don’t we know the life of meanness and spiritual poverty always results in weeping and gnashing of teeth?

The real hard stinger of this story isn’t how that Jesus names the misery that the bad servant has chosen.  The real stinger of this story is (Sam Well’s words this time) how someone who

had seen Jesus lay down his life,

had heard his words,

had received his invitation,

had been empowered with his gifts and sent forth into his kingdom,

could ever take him for a distant, cruel or merciless master.


The stinger is that this parable isn’t about OUR talents, and OUR gifts and OUR resources and how we use them. 


In the end it is about what kind of God we believe in. 

A strict, demanding and distant God? 

Or One like Jesus?


The answer to that question and that question alone determines what kind of servant each one of us will become and what we will hear when we meet our master face to face.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Abraham Lincoln's Preaching Preference

Abe said,  "I don't like to hear cut-and-dried sermons.  No--when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees."

Well, I'm fighting bees this week with the parable of the talents.  I'm just sayin'.

Old enough to read the obits - But not old enough to understand what they tell me

Last week I saw, in Presbyterians Today magazine, my first seminary roommate's name listed in the "Deaths" column.  So I googled, and sure enough, it wasn't just her name, it was her.  Dead at 54.  And all week I've been thinking about the cause of death:  "She died of natural causes, while on a vision quest in the mountains of California".  
A vision quest. 
This woman was one of the quietest, most conventional seeming women at Princeton Seminary. One of the reasons we didn't room together long (besides the fact that most rooms were singles, and it was pretty natural to want to get one asap) is that living with me was a little stressful for her.  I bent the rules.  I didn't think the professors walked on water.  I was the one who was full of questions, who got a big kick out of challenging what I was told and told to do.  We were opposite characters:  I was a little strange and she was perfectly normal (and I mean both of those words together like that.)
Yet, twenty some years later, here am I. I am the pastor of a small church in a small midwestern town - a pastor who doesn't even say she voted for Obama if McCain supporters are in earshot - I am the essence of conventional and quiet and cautious.  And my well behaved little friend (actually, she wasn't little, she was a big, raw boned, athletic woman) was so "out there" that she died on a vision quest.  A vision quest.  In the mountains of California.  
What happened to us?  

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sermon, Nov. 9 - Stewardship Fun

Matthew 22:15-22

Stepping Stone#8 – Bread (Dough)

 Since September's Rally Day, Stepping Stones of Faith has been our theme.  We’ve talked about markers of growing faith – beginning with Baptism, learning the Bible, Being part of Worship, taking Communion, Becoming an active member and Stepping out in Mission.  Today is our last segment of this series, and it falls on Stewardship Sunday, the day in which we dedicate our pledges of support for the coming church year.  So I’m sure no one is surprised to hear that today we’re going to talk about the step we take when we make the commitment to give a portion of our income, our worldly possessions, our earnings, our BREAD, to God through the church. 


Some people are shy about stewardship.  I was at a conference last week, and some of my colleagues were discussing at one of the meals how stewardship season was upon us, and ugh.  We have to do the stewardship sermon, and it’s not my favorite topic, etc.  And one of the non-clergy spoke up and said, “Yeah, we can tell you hate it, too.”   I guess that stewardship Sunday might seem to some people like the pledge week on Public Radio.  It’s annoying.  It takes away from regular programming, but it has to be done in order to pay for the good stuff – the regular programming. 

Well, those of you who know me know that I don’t feel that way about Stewardship at all.  I don’t approach Stewardship thinking, “Oh, it’s painful and embarrassing to have to ask people to give money, but we just HAVE to do it, in order to keep the doors of the church open.”  It seems to me that if we read our Bibles with an ear, especially, for what Jesus has to say to us, his take might be more like this:  “One of the most important things the church can do is to help people get a right relationship with money.   A right relationship with God is impossible if love of money stands in the way.”

·         Jesus talks a lot about money and possessions. 

Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined.

·         Jesus talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God.

·         11 of 39 parables talk about money.

·         1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talk about money.

This passage from Matthew seems to be one of the less challenging passages about money.  In it, Jesus is confronted by opponents who are trying to trap him into saying something either extremely unpopular on the one hand, or treasonous on the other.  What do you say, Jesus?  Shall we pay taxes to Caesar, or shouldn’t we?  This is the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question.  There’s no good answer.  If Jesus says, “yes” then the crowd will turn against him as a collaborator with Rome. And if he said “no”, then all the opponents would have to do is turn him in to the Roman authorities for making threats against the state. 

But Jesus doesn’t answer immediately.  Instead, he asks for a coin.  Now, do you have a coin with you?  Get it out.  Imagine that, instead of a dead, duly elected President, a representative of the people, the coin had on it the image of George Bush.  And instead of saying, ‘e pluribus unum” and “In God We Trust” it said, “George Walker Bush, divine son of divine father HW, the most powerful man on the planet”. If it helps you to imagine feeling a little queasy about it, imagine that the coin had Bill Clinton’s face on it, and ascribed glory and honor and divinity to him.     

You can imagine that such a coin would be more than a little disturbing to the religiously scrupulous.  They took that no other gods commandment pretty seriously back then. Such a graven image was religiously offensive and politically humiliating. Lots of religious Jews didn’t even carry these coins.  (And in case you are wondering, Herod the Great and Herod Antipas had special non-offensive, sort of politically correct for their day, coins minted especially to be used in Judea and Galilee and Samaria.)  And they would have been especially careful not to carry them in the Temple. 

So when Jesus asks for a coin and his questioners whip out one of these “Caesar is God” numbers, they immediately show themselves to have “bought in” to the system.  They are exposed. The crowd sees who is “collaborating”.  Jesus then asks, the question about who’s image is on the coin.  It’s Caesar’s.  Then he says, “Give back to Caesar what belongs to him.”  It’s a pretty good, smart-alecky answer that fully takes care of what was asked:  Should we pay Caesar these taxes?  Jesus says, “It’s his money.  Give it to him.” 

And that could have been the end of it.  But Jesus adds a little twist that brings his hearers, back then and even today, it brings those listening to Jesus up short:  He says, “Give back to God what is God’s.” 

What bears God’s image?  What belongs to God?  What did God “mint” that bears the likeness of the truly Divine? 

According to the Bible, that would be us:

Genesis 1:26-27 – Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;  . . God created human kind in the Divine image, in the image of God they were created;  male and female, God created them.”

Genesis 5:1:  “When God created humankind, it was made in the likeness/image of God.”

Genesis 9:6:  “. . . for in the Divine image God created humankind.”

So what are we to give to God?  Ourselves.  Our whole selves.  

What does that mean? 

One stewardship trainer says that it means that whatever we give to the government in taxes, we should make sure to give more to God through the church, to show where our greatest allegiance lies. 

That’s an interesting thought.  Maybe that would work for you.  But let me suggest another –

It means God gets “first dibs” on our time.  Every morning when we wake up, it is because God has given us another day.  Sharing that day with him should be first priority.  That means talking to him.  Prayer.   Maybe a set time of your day, or throughout the day, prayers of thanksgiving, and confession and requests for help for ourselves or others. . . We owe God that.

It means God gets “first dibs” on our talents and abilities.  If we can sing, God deserves the best song.  If we can learn, God deserves some of our focus.  If we can build, what are we building for God? 

And if God has gifted us with the ability to earn a living . . . well, you know where I’m with that.  Returning some of that to God through the church is good and right.

It’s good and right for the church, which has salaries (my salary, as a matter of fact) and utility bills to pay. 

It’s good for the people who benefit from our mission and ministry – our children who get Sunday school instruction, those needy individuals and charities that receive part of what you give through mission. (Wasn’t that mission dinner great a couple of weeks ago?  Anyone who wondered where mission money goes could get a really good answer to that question.) 

But, most of all, it’s good for those of us who give.  To be a good giver is a tremendous blessing.

A pastor whose church ministers to the poor of Haiti tells of visiting a woman there, who had been given a loan to buy some chickens and who now had a thriving egg business.  She’d given hens to her neighbors, and formed a cooperative with some of the women to market the produce.  She hosted Brian in her one room, dirt floor home.  She insisted that he sit in the only chair, and she sat on the floor.  From a box under the bed she produced two cans of pop, which she said she had been saving for a special guest.  She thanked him, over and over, for the help the church had offered her.  He asked her what was the most important thing she’d been able to do with the money.  She said the thing that gave her the most pride was that now she was able to tithe.  She said it was so wonderful to be able to do that.  It blew this minister away.  There she was, in the one room shack, with the one chair, and the little bed and a few chickens, it seems like such a precarious existence.  As he left, he said,  “God bless you.  You’ll be in my prayers.”  And she said, “Pastor, I will be praying for you, too.  I know that it is more dangerous to have a lot than it is to have a little.” 

We have, not a little.  But a lot.  And the danger is that we might, in our wealth and ease, forget that what we have and what we are belongs to God.  Returning a portion to God through the church is one way to remember. 

In a few minutes, we’re going to pass out pledge forms, to record your commitment to financial support of this church.  It’s not intrusion into your personal finances.  It’s an invitation to the joy of giving.  And it is strictly between you and God.  I’m not asking you to turn them in. 

But we are asking that you take a few minutes and pray about what you will give.  Think in terms of a percentage of your income.    And write it down.  That’s because if you write something down you are 5 times more likely to fulfill your intention.  Be specific.  That, too helps us follow through.  God gives us ways to help ourselves be faithful, and we ought to use every help we can.  So write down a specific goal.

And you know, telling someone else what you are committing yourself to do is also helpful.   In past years, we’ve all told the same person, by turning in our pledge cards to the treasurer.  This year, I encourage, invite, URGE you to tell someone that you choose to tell.    If you aren’t comfortable sharing the amount, tell the percentage.  Or, if you don’t feel close enough to share that, then just let a church friend know that you intend to return something to God throughout the upcoming year.  “I filled out a pledge form!”  is really all you have to say.  It’s one small way to be help one another be accountable for what we need to do to take this step in faith.

So – Friends, we have been told by Jesus Christ that we should give back to God what belongs to God.  Shall we take that step together?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nov. 2, 2008 Sermon - - All Saints’ Day

Today we are going to take a little break from talking about the Stepping Stones of faith in order to celebrate and thank God for those who have walked before us along those stepping stones of faith. We call them saints, and our lesson is a picture of what being a saint means.
Text - Rev. 7:9-17

I’m not much of one for crowds? Are you? Yesterday my family went to the University of Illinois football game, and man! It was crowded. 54, . . . people is a lot. There were lots of people crammed into little seats about this wide. On the bench in front of us there were four numbers showing. And then a family of four showed up and the momma and the daddy were each “like this” wide. They just looked at the numbers and went “whu”? And the two little boys, who were about the designated size for one of the bench seats had to sit between them “like this”.
Most everybody was wearing orange – which is not the most flattering color for my skin tone. I wished I could have worn my coffee-colored sweater set – much more practical for the weather, too. But dressing alike is part of being a good crowd, so there I was in my orange turtleneck. “Pushing up sleeves”
Crowd and crowded are related for a reason. And after the game, Mom and I were walking through this mob of people, both of us trying to make sure we were keeping up with the traffic, and that she was on even footing, and we’re getting jostled by people attempting to travel faster than everybody else, or who still so excited by the games big finish that they are throwing their arms around their buddies, or punching them “take that you Hawkeyes”. Crowds can be a little crazy and out of control.
So, on first glance, it makes the picture of the saints in heaven seem a little puzzling, doesn’t it? I mean, this is a picture of a huge crowd of saints, all wearing similar clothing, shouting and singing in unison, and waving palm branches, like pompoms or Zook Zone towels. And this is heaven? Hmm.
But then I remembered the people who first read the Book of Revelations. It was written at a time when churches and church members were being persecuted mercilessly. When to walk in Jesus’ way meant that you were an enemy of the state, and a pariah to your neighbors. Meeting together was forbidden. Leaders were exiled or fed to the lions. Family members were dragged off to slavery or prison or worse. It was hard to know who to trust. Who you could rely on. Christians, lots of Christians, were tortured and killed in a systematic effort to destroy this movement. And the threat that you could be next was always there. And the most effective method of killing off any movement is to make its members feel that they are alone and at the mercy of a more numerous and more powerful enemy. To make Christians feel as if they are alone.
In many ways, we are in a much safer, much more felicitous situation as a church than those earlier Christians. To belong to a church does not make you an enemy of the state. Your neighbors don’t hate you for that. Even if you invite them to church, or tell them about Jesus, they probably wouldn’t hate you. There’s little threat of torture of martyrdom for the faithful. We’re blessed to have it pretty easy.
And yet. I wonder if, underneath, many of us don’t feel, as the Revelation age church did, quite threatened and quite alone. Even if we sit here on Sunday morning, we may find in the corner of our souls, a sense of being alone in a crowd that does not really know what we are going through. And cannot help us deal with the threats to our souls.
Maybe we think that we are the only one going through a period of doubt and uncertainty.
Maybe we think that we are the only one struggling with addiction.
Maybe we think that nobody else knows what it’s like to wake up in the morning and have a mental illness,
or a painful marriage,
or scars of a divorce,
or an impossible boss,
or a soul-sucking job,
or fears for a child’s future.
That we are the only ones who feel the way we do and that, really we do not belong.
The most effective way to kill faith – to make people feel alone and powerless and just plain wrong in the face of implacable opposition. So let me just say this: you are not alone. There is hope. Others have made it through.
And what strengthens faith, and builds hope and inspires courage? A glimpse of the truth that we are part of something much larger than ourselves, much more powerful than the current opposition, ultimately victorious over even them most difficult opposition. That’s what our scripture lesson offers us: a vision of a mighty and triumphant crowd that includes us. And that is focused around the Lamb who was slain, whose is now “mighty to reign” – Jesus Christ who faced betrayal, isolation, torture and death on our behalf, so that we would know that we NEVER face those things alone.
This is a vision of belonging to the saints of God. And the vision is quite specific about what sainthood means:
1) Sainthood is inclusive. The crowd is innumerable. It is from every nation. Every ethnicity. Every language. We aren’t the last little pocket of God’s people on earth. We are connected to African Christians, Asian Christians, Arab Christians . . . and that’s just the “A”s! Sainthood is inclusive.
2) Sainthood is based on redemption. Every one of the saints gathered around the throne is wearing a white robe that has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. There aren’t any that got there on their own. There aren’t any that climbed the ladder of holiness to knock on heaven’s door by their own power. Every single one of us depends on Jesus’ death and resurrection to forgive us and wash away our sins. Nobody becomes a saint by being better than anybody else. We become saints through the grace of God and sacrificial love of Jesus.
3) Sainthood is supremely joyful, because it’s better to win than to lose, and saints are assured that, ultimately, love is more powerful than hate. Faith is more formidable than fear. Forgiveness blows vengeance off the map. God will lead his saints like a shepherd, provide them what is good, and wipe away every tear from their eyes. So that they sing and shout and wave their hands together, losing themselves in thankfulness and praise.
And when it comes right down to it, that’s a crowd we want to be a part of. And the good news is, Jesus has bought us a seat. He’s given us a ticket. He’s gotten us in.
It’s not a ticket to the throne room of the Lamb. Not yet, anyway, though we know some folks that are wearing the robes right now. We’re going to read their names and ring the bell for them in a few minutes. But, for right now, Jesus has admitted us, not to sainthood in heaven, but to a table here on earth that is a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom. Here we share Holy Communion with other saints who, like us, are struggling on earth. But we also share, in spirit, with those who have triumphed, whose earthly struggles are through. And all of us are gathered together by the Good Shepherd that is also the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world and invites us to break bread of life and raise the cup of salvation remembering the ultimate and complete triumph of God’s love.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Nathan, the guy from Salt and Light, came to pick up the food the next day. There was a lot.
Thanks to everyone who helped out!

Trick or Treat for Cans pics

Here we are, all ready to go out and trick or treat for cans.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stepping Stone #5 - Mission

Oct. 26, 2008 Sermon
Stepping Stone #5 – (Mission)”Beyond”
Matthew 22:34-39
Deacon’s Luncheon

Stepping Stones- markers along the way of our journey with God. Baptism, The Book, Belonging . . . as Christians who are taking the journey of faith, these are milestones for each one of us. This morning we are talking about the step Beyond our selves, stepping out in love for God and neighbor by doing Mission.
This is not just another step in our personal development or faith formation. This is the heart of the Christian life. This is what Jesus our Lord places at the center of our relationship with God.
Look at the passage - - Episode of folks trying to get Jesus in trouble. This is a test of the depth and breadth and clarity of Jesus’ teaching. Sadducees have failed to trip him up, so here come the Pharisees:
These guys know and love the law. They understand the law as God’s gift to them, to help them live lives pleasing to God. They adore the law. Their goal was to obey all the commandments of the Old Testament. When we think of the law, we might think of the Ten Commandments. But the perfect ten is just the beginning of the law the Pharisees loved. By some count, there are 613
Well, there are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. There are 365 negative commandments in the Old Testament, “Thou shalt not!) and there are 248 positive commandments (You shall!!).
Daniel Clendenin (one Presbyterian pastor) notes :
Nearly every aspect of human life is touched on by these laws: Birth, death, sex, gender, health, economics, agriculture, jurisprudence, social relations, hygiene, marriage, behavior, and even ethnicity. (Gentiles like us were automatically considered impure.) Everything from menus planning to tattoos is covered.
The Pharisees’ intent was to trap Jesus into saying something disrespectful or something nonsensical. Those were really the choices: If he held up one law as more important, he’s be disrespecting the rest, and disrespecting God who gave ALL the laws. And if he didn’t – if he said here as he had before that he had come to fulfill ALL the law – then the easy follow up question would be, “So getting a tattoo is as bad as murder?” Trying to rank sins . . . that’s a no win conversation, let me tell you.
It’s no surprise that Jesus wasn’t tricked. He responds to this test out of His own love – not only for the law, but for God who gave it and the people who receive it in faith.
The first part of His answer comes from the Shema - the most often repeated statement of the Jewish faith: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
And, Jesus went on, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This command, too, comes from the law the Pharisees loved. It comes right between rules against slander, rules for having sex with a slave, and rules about how long a fruit tree should be planted before you eat of its fruit. In fact the whole verse is:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against anyone, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Just like that, our Lord and Savior, God’s own Son linked love of God with love of neighbor. On these two, he said, hinge all the law and all the other sacred writings. I’ve heard it explained (Edward Marquart – Sermons from Seattle) that these two commandments function like hinges for a door. When you look around at doors – cabinet doors, interior doors, all old doors, there are two hinges. The door doesn’t work, it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, it isn’t any good to anybody as an entrance or an exit unless it has two hinges. Not one. You can’t hang a door on one hinge. It takes both hinges to hang a door. And Jesus makes sure we know that love for God and love for neighbor are both essential to a right relationship with Him.
The New Testament makes clear that this connection between professing to love God and showing actual loving actions toward our neighbors is central to the Christian faith. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus saying this exact same thing. The Apostle Paul repeats the commandment in several of his letters. So does James – emphatically! And the letters of John – especially the first one – are like dissertations on this theme. Our affirmation of faith this morning comes from the same place that John writes, “If people say, “I love God,” but they hate their brothers and sisters, they are lying. Those who don’t love their brothers and sisters cannot love God. Whoever loves God must also love their neighbors.”
I guess here is where we could ask “Why?” Why do I have to love my neighbor in order to love God? God is so good, and my neighbor is a pain in the neck. God is always with me, but I can shut my neighbor out. God loves me, but my neighbor doesn’t think I’m so hot. Why does loving God mean I have to love my neighbor?
Jesus doesn’t get into the “why” questions. He just says, these two commandments are vital, do them and live. He doesn’t say think about them, or sing about them, or memorize them, or recite them 5 times a day. He says DO them. These are not the two best suggestions. They are the two greatest commandments. And they go together.
The question for us isn’t why – it is “how?” And for that question, there are answers:
Each of us has many opportunities to treat others in a loving way every day.
We can do kind things for members of our family. But we can do more:
We can consider the well being of those with whom we share our schools, our communities, our workplaces, the roads we drive on and the stores where we shop. But we can do more.
We can purge our closets and our pantries of coats, and clothing and cans of corn that poorer folk could use. But we can do more.
We can be the church in mission. The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning. Mission is just a church-y word for love. It isn’t even the more au courant word. To be hip now, Presbyterians have to say the church is “missional”. Whatever. Mission means that
As a church, we can pool some of our resources with brothers and sisters in the church and extend help to homeless women by furnishing a room for them. That how we love. We can send our young people to work with impoverished children in Benton Harbor Michigan. That’s how we love. We can help underwrite a medical team’s trip to Honduras to surgically repair children’s with hare lip and cleft palate. We do it for love. We can provide cleaning supplies and construction materials to victims this year’s floods through Presbyterian Disaster Relief. Because we would need those things if it happened to us. We can set aside part of the crop from our church farm to help farmers in Armenia get established. Because love of others is Jesus’ command.
These are some of the steps that we take as members and friends of Philo Presbyterian. Our Board of Deacons are so excited to tell you about these projects at the luncheon following worship today. Love is exciting and this is all about Love.
We love our neighbors by stepping beyond our selves, beyond our church walls and our church family. By stepping out in faith and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Shall we take that step together?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Blessing of Insomnia

I love to sleep. Falling asleep is the best. Staying asleep . . . even better. Waking up in the middle of the night is not one of my favorite experiences. But it happens.
So last night I got up and looked through a New Yorker I hadn't had time to read. And I found the best article - "Late Bloomers" by Malcolm Gladwell. (Just his last name should have tipped me off that I'd be happy to read it.)
It's all about how some artists and writers show genius early on in their lives, and others build their craft over many years, producing their best work beginning in their forties or fifties and extending from there.
The well known examples of Picasso (early genius) and Cezanne (late bloomer) are interesting. But so are two writers - Ben Fountain, whose first critical success came 18 years after he quit his job as a lawyer to write - and Jonathan Foer, who had a best selling novel he wrote while in college.
The article goes on to explore how the late bloomers managed to stick with it. Without exception, they had "patrons" or supporters who believed in them and encouraged them to continue their work, even when it did not appear to be producing fabulous results.
(Fountain's "patron" was his lawyer wife, and the article talks about how they made this decision to have him stay home, raise the kids and write together. That was cool.) I just have to quote the penultimate paragraph of the piece:
Late bloomers' stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We'd like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it's just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.
That insight, to me, is worth waking up for and waking up to.
So I start out the day at four in the morning, saying, "Thank you, One-Who-Never-Sleeps, for the occasional blessing of insomnia."

Friday, October 17, 2008

What did George know and when did he know it?

George Bernard Shaw:
New opinions often appear first as jokes and fancies, then as blasphemies and treason, then as questions open to discussion, and finally as established truths.

Apropos of nothing. Just a thought I want to post somewhere so I don't forget it.

Have you seen "Amazing Grace" - the movie about the abolitionist movement in England?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Considering lilies

'Just finished the bulletin for Philo (we're having a guest preacher Sunday) and sent off my stuff for Tolono.
The current economic news has gotten me thinking about my favorite scripture - the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. I got out a sermon I preached on that text a long time ago and decided I'd like to preach it again. It feels good to get to use a sermon a second time. At least if you loved writing it and preaching it the first time, it does.
It feels like finding another occasion to wear your prom dress or something. You know?
The first time was so fun, but you felt a tiny bit guilty for having something so expensive you were only going to wear once. And now . . . you can wear it again, so it was only half as expensive as you thought. (I calculate clothing costs per wearing, do you?) Guilt is relieved retroactively, which makes remembering the original occasion even more enjoyable than it was the first time around. It's just all good.
Of course, even in that thrifty and beautiful gown, you still are not arrayed as spectacularly as the lilies of the field. Still. God provides.

JAM o Lantern Party

The Junior High Afterschool Meeting was a blast yesterday.
We carved pumpkins. Every year I forget how much fun that is.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What I learned on the church steps last Sunday.

As she shook my hand after worship on Sunday, KB said, "This stepping stone series reminds me of a poem:

To each is given a bag of tools,

a shapeless mass, a book of rules.

To fashion then, 'ere life is flown

A building block or stepping stone."

I love it when people quote poetry! Isn't that wonderful? I was so taken by the verse that I looked up the poem, which is by R.L. Sharpe. Here's what I found:

Isn't it strange how princes and kings,

and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,

and common people, like you and me,

are builders for eternity?

Each is given a list of rules;

a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.

And each must fashion, ere life is flown,

A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.

Masperpieces of Religion Verse, edited by James Dalton Morrison (Harper, 1948).

AND, there's also a ??Grateful Dead?? song called "Book of Rules" that's based on the poem. Here's a cover of it by a group called Inner Circle posted on YouTube:

It has kind of a reggae beat. Very uplifing. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Afternoon at the Women in Transition House

After lunch, Caleb and I headed to north Champaign to see how we could help out with the house that is being refurbished for Women in Transition. Jan Siders met us there, checked out the progress that had been made since she and Jeanne painted "our" adopted room. Then she made a run to the paint store for some primer.
Caleb and I spent a couple of hours sanding woodwork and patching nail holes in the recently installed trim. We were supervised by David Kay, who has put in COUNTLESS HOURS (unless maybe he's counted them!) on this project. He's still cheerful and optimistic. What a blessing!
The house is beginning to take it's final shape. The floors are in. Walls are painted, cabinets installed, etc. Still no plumbing fixtures and the power hasn't been hooked into all that wonderful new wiring Kirk did. But things are certainly moving along.
Just thought you might want to know.

Sermon – October 12, 2008

The beautiful stepping stones in the new park behind the church have prompted us to think together about the steps we take along the journey of faith. So far we’ve talked about everything from Baptism, which is for many people the initial encounter with God’s grace and love to encountering the Bible, to communion. This week we are going to look at confirmation – or BELONGING - the step we take in faith when become an active member of the church.
The parable Jesus tells in Matthew 22:1-14 speaks to what it means to accept God’s invitation to participate in his kingdom.
Confirmation is a stepping stone that many of us have taken or will take around the age of 12 or so. In some churches, professing one’s faith comes much earlier. In some churches, it is usual to wait until 16-18 to choose one’s faith and step into the privileges and responsibilities of discipleship. Whenever the step is taken, we say that we “belong” to a church. Belonging – a sense of connection to a larger group and participation in a larger purpose – is one of the deep human needs that is met by God through the church. In most churches, including ours, people who are confirmed, or who join through other means, have a different sense of “Belonging”.

What does belonging – being active members - mean? Matthew, writing to the early church, was quite concerned about helping people understand what it meant to belong to the church . And Matthew connected belonging to the church with what he’d heard Jesus say about belonging to and participating in the Kingdom of God. According to Matthew, belonging to church is like attending a great big festive party, thrown by a King in honor of a significant occasion. Active, engaged membership is participatin in a party. What’s the last great party you went to? Wasn’t there a joy, a deep sense of satisfaction in enjoying your relationship to the host and to the other guests?
Matthew’s story –
1) the King makes every effort to include the “A” list. When Jesus first told this story, it was clearly a big old spit wad aimed at the religious establishment of his day. He likened them to rude and mean subjects in a Kingdom. Their refusal to participate in the King’s Son’s wedding party is a slap in the face of the King. This is an active statement of non-support. It is a rebellion against his Rule.
2) the King changes the plan and opens the banquet hall to all sorts of folks who wouldn’t expect to be invited? God’s grace is abundant. He spreads a great table. He welcomes even the likes of us. The unlikeliest one is included. Maybe you think you don’t belong. But you’d be wrong. God thinks you do. And God thinks that unlikely person you know but wouldn’t mention church to belongs, as well.
3) God sends his servants out to beat the bushes. Do we beat the bushes? This is the part in the story that I think Matthew was aiming right at the church. If we are God’s servants, shouldn’t we be out in the highways and byways, extending the invitation to the big event God hosts? Shouldn’t we be urging, inviting, encouraging, giving incentives? God wants everyone to belong!
Belonging is, in large part, just a matter of accepting the gracious invitation to the party. Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is just showing up.” A large part of it is just doing the right thing by showing up. People who specialize in studying such things actually have a list of seven things people who belong to churches have in common. And three of them are pretty much just showing up:
2) Worship participation.
3) Financial support –
5) Show some care for the less fortunate outside the congregation.
The Gallup Organization – polled members and found that as many as 82% of people who belonged to a church recognized these expectations and fulfilled them. But. And this is a big but. . . more than half of that group said they did these three things and still did not feel that they belonged to the church in a way that brought them closer to God or closer to one another. They didn’t experience the rewards of membership, even though they considered themselves to be paying the cost. Clearly, belonging means something quite different than just showing up and getting in the buffet line. They were at the party. But they weren’t feeling the PAHR-TAH.
That’s because belonging goes deeper than anything that we may think of as “doing church”. Belonging is about “Being church” in heart and soul. I think that is what Matthew’s story about the wedding guest without the wedding garment is meant to convey -
The Host spies someone at the table who hasn’t bothered to change his clothes. Now, I know this part of the story is rather jarring. Dress codes are not a big issue with us. The last time I remember clothes being this big an issue was when I couldn’t stand with Sarah Fink and Elaine Dunagin at 6th grade recess because I wasn’t wearing a Ban-Lon polo shirt. That caring about clothing is sooooo superficial. Getting kicked out of a group for not having the right clothing is so . . . junior high. (And, in this case, I don’t mean in a good way.)
OK. So here is a picture that, on the surface, makes God look superficial, mean and snobby. That can’t be right. And sure enough, it isn’t. Here’s where faithful reading requires us to do some further study, and find out what the wedding garment was and how it functioned in Jesus’ day.
When people came to a wedding, they always changed out of their dirty workclothes and into something clean and . . . if they had enough money – white. They might borrow or rent a longer, cleaner robe. Or, it is also possible that a very affluent host – like the King, you know – might provide a robe for his guests who might not have one on hand. Like at some really nice restaurants, they have sport coats for men who didn’t wear them. At Catholic churches, they used to have little lace-y hats for women who didn’t cover their heads. Well – it’s quite likely that the Host in this case, since he had invited so many people who were not wealthy or prominent, would have provided a wedding garment for those who didn’t have one.
Wearing the wedding garment was an outward sign of one’s happiness to participate in the occasion. It was an acknowledgement that belonging is a joyous state. It was saying “A party! Yes! Count me in!”
Remember that Gallup poll of aspects of belonging? The ones that members do just by showing up are important. But they turn out to be insufficient to a real sense of belonging. The joy and satisfaction and growth and connection that we hope for when we JOIN the church comes from deeper, more heart – centered participation. Think “Less Doing. More Being.”
1) Being on a journey of spiritual growth –participating in a prayer or study group that promotes reflection and growth, and where we encourage one another to mature in faith.
4) Being committed to the congregation’s mission and vision. This begins with an emotional investment in the church’s future. Evident in our words, attitudes and actions.
6) Being hospitable: making friends, offering forgiveness, expressing encouragement, sharing a meal, inviting someone out for coffee, or doing a simple kind deed. This makes a huge difference to our sense of belonging.
7) Being in prayer for the church and the people in it.
(Source – The Parish Paper, October 2008, Cynthia Woolever)
These deeper, less quantifiable yet very real characteristics are what make belonging rich and full and fun.
The guest without the wedding garment didn’t belong. And the Host asks him, “Friend (there’s nothing ironic or sarcastic here – this is as nice an opening as one could hope for when being greeted by the KING) - “How did you come without any regard for the occasion?” And the person looks at the king and says not a word. No apology. No excuse. No sheepish story about hoping no one would notice. Stony silence. The guest gives God the silent treatment. This person thinks so little of the host that he doesn’t even bother to answer when addressed directly.
This is an unacceptable breach of the invitation. And he throws the bum out.
Please note that the other guests aren’t involved in this conversation. This is between the guest and the host. The King is the only one who has any right to question the worthiness of one of the guests. Only God can judge. And God does not want the judgment to go badly. “Friend?” he says. “What’s going on with you? Why aren’t you celebrating? Why aren’t you happy to be here?”
This part in the story is . . . a challenge. But it is not a call to do more. Not a call to attend some function, or mend some bad habit, or perform more good deeds. This is a call to examine our attitudes and our hearts.
“Am I gorging myself at the banquet table, but unwilling to speak with the Host?”
“Am I taking my invitation to belong for granted?
“Have I clothed myself, have I put on the grace and love and joy that God has provided for me? “
“Is my heart wearing the wedding garment?”
And, to be honest, I’ve preached this passage a couple of times in this pulpit, and I’ve always just lopped off this last part. Because this is the party! You are the people who have answered the invitation! You are trying to be good guests, right? And the last thing I want to do is make you think there’s some detail you’ve neglected that’s going to send you to the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing your teeth. My fourth grade class had some rowdy kids in it, and my teacher ended up yelling a lot. And when she yelled, it was the geeky, quiet kid in the back row – me - who felt bad and cried. Because the weird thing about texts like this is that the people who ought to squirm don’t. And those who are trying really hard to be good guests think that they ought to try harder.
So - if you are worried about behaving in a way worthy of your invitation, then you just concentrate on the first part of the story. Don’t worry! Be happy! God’s event planners have been working overtime, decorating and cooking and hiring the band. The hall is ready. The feast is on the table. Come on in! God’s grace wants the banquet hall filled with those who are willing to celebrate with His Son.
Belonging to a church as an active member is about showing up – but so much more. It is about being a joyful guest. It is about not just putting our butts in the pew and our backs in the work. It is about putting our heart-y in the party! It’s about putting our dancing feet on the path that leads to God’s throne. That’s what belonging is about!
Belonging is one of the stepping stones of faith. Shall we take that step, together?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


One of the women's groups at PhiloPres had a lesson last night on John the Baptist and repentance. Which must be in the air these days, since my internet friend, PeaceBang, just posted this:
about how repentance can be grace-based, rather than shame-based. It gave me quite a bit to think about. How about you?

Stepping Stone #4 - Bread (Communion)

Listen with me for the Word of God as it comes from the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 24:28-35 (The Road to Emmaus)
Several of the stepping stones are like mile markers we’ve been thinking together about along the journey of faith – we see as milestones on our path. Baptism is like that. It is a stone that we encounter once in our journey of faith, so that we can ever after remember God’s first step toward us. Next week we’ll talk about confirmation. Other stepping stones, like learning the Bible, are more like stair steps. Hopefully, we keep climbing, getting more and more understanding and wisdom as we go. Communion, however, is a stepping stone that is really a home base. Like in a child’s game, of tag, maybe home base is the place where you go to tag up, to get a breather from running around, to get reoriented somehow. Communion is the stepping stone that we come to, if we are lucky we come to it early and often.
The premise of this sermon is that we all have times in our lives when it’s especially appropriate and helpful for us to seek the table of our Lord as our home base. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month. But I’m not talking about a set time – what the Greeks called “chronos” time – that can be measured with a watch, or a sundial or a calendar. The Greeks had another word for time: Kairos. And Kairos meant – the right time. A good time. A fitting time. I want to talk about times of our lives in which we especially need to return to experience this stepping stone of faith as part of our walk. The times when we need to pause at home base before – metaphorically speaking – getting back in the game.
One of those times is When we need to remember how very much God loves us. How precious each one of us is in Jesus’ sight. “This is my body, broken for you” – Jesus was willing to be broken in order that you might be made whole. Breaking the bread and pouring out the cup are to be done remembering that Jesus made this sacrifice out of love for humanity. When we need to remember the greatest love the world has ever known, it is time to come to the table.
Another right time is when we have run into a stretch of road full of dangers and difficulties. Maybe the difficulty is illness. Maybe it is an injury to body or soul. The danger may come from people who are trying to hurt us. Or who just don’t care whether we live or die. I think of walking in some pretty rough urban environments, in which getting mugged was a real possibility. I was pretty young, and remember asking my citified friend, “Why would anyone want to hurt us?” She said, “They don’t want to hurt us. They just care about what they need. We don’t even exist to them.” That’s scary. When you are walking through a dangerous place, your very existence is in peril, it is natural that a person would long for the security of knowing that God is present in the midst of the tough times.
As a chaplain in a hospital, and as a pastor now, who goes to the hospital – one of my most important “jobs” was just to embody God’s presence to people whose lives were in peril. In that situation, communion is a powerful sign of God’s presence. Take this bread . . . means that the doctor may be beside you, the nurses hover around you, your family may watch over you. But Christ’s love and peace are INSIDE you. God is really with you, in your struggling body in this wilderness place. The 23rd Psalm captures this experience so beautifully with the image of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and finding there that God has spread a table there, in the midst of the enemy, at which one may be nourished and sustained. When danger and difficulties arise, we are welcomed at the table where we can receive grace and courage to face whatever lies ahead.
Times of illness, difficulty and danger are not the only times we may have a special need to return and touch base at the Table. In fact, sometimes we may need to come to the Table because our daily routine has become so . . . daily and so . . . routine. Get up, go to school or go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch a little TV, and go to bed. Next day – the same thing. And you think, “Gee. Is this the wonderful plan God has for my life?”
When tedium of routine threatens our sense of calling, we may need to get back in touch with the joy of life. The Eucharist is one way God has given us to do that. Here’s how: Eucharist means Thanksgiving. It’s used very early in the church – in the Gospels and even in Paul’s letters, to mean this sacrament. The joyous acts of thanksgiving that permeated the observance of this rite undoubtedly caused the second-century Christian writers to use the term Eucharist as the standard name for this meal.
Thanksgiving – consciously being grateful – is to take a break from boredom and opening our eyes to the blessings and gifts that have been showered upon our lives. Paul and the Gospel writers knew something that has, in recent times, been proven by scientific studies: The act of gratitude- of thanksgiving - lowers stress, boosts the immune system, eases depression, and improves a person’s perspective. It just makes us feel better, too. We have so much to thank God for in the stories of Jesus, the love he showed his disciples in their everyday walk, his care to give us this meal to share. There is so much for which to be thankful. Eucharist – thankfulness – brings us back into God’s presence and allows us experience the blessings of God in new and surprising ways. As we focus on thanksgiving, we notice that God is among us in ways so ordinary they might escape our attention were it not for the stepping stone we encounter at this Table.
1) When we are in danger,
2) when we are caught up in the boring details of living, and
3) when we feel alone and lonely. Loneliness is a big part of our experience in this culture because we are taught “self” reliance, independence and individual initiative. And those things are good. But the Bible gives us a much more balanced picture of who human beings are. Each one of us is part of “us” And the Bible teaches us that this “us-ness” was a huge part of the meaning of what we do at this table. It is called “Communion” – “Koinania”. This word is variously translated as “ Sharing” , “Fellowship”, “Partnership” as well as “communion” . It is the word from which we take “community” - and the understanding clearly is that what we do at this table is a community business.
When you are lonely – and think that you walk alone. Touch base with the table as a tangible reminder that you are drawn here with brothers and sisters. Some of the brothers and sisters you see. Here we are. A body of believers. And some of the brothers and sisters you will never see. But the ties that bind you are not imaginary. God has drawn us into His family and this is the family table. Close your eyes and see some of them: Zion Lutherans who sang in the choir, Zach LeCrone whose steel guitar makes “Precious Lord” rock. They are around the table this morning, too. Tolono Presbyterians who do mission with you, Sue, whose house is decorated with Bible verses, the African American congregation in Benton Harbor. They are around the table this morning, too. Think farther . . . The Disaster assistance teams working in Galvaston, and Houston, and Cedar Rapids. They are taking communion this morning. The Synod of Livingstonia, in Malawi, that works year round to bring clean water to villagers there. The staff of the Beit Jala Boarding Home, who show Christian love to boys in Palestine. They are gathered around our family table. Everyone that God has called in love and made his own – God has joined us together and made us One family and today we are having a virtual family reunion. Wherever we are, we stop what we are doing and spiritually join hands across the miles, across the oceans, across all the racial and ethnic and political and economic differences that divide us, and we share this meal with Jesus Christ sitting at the head of the table, smiling at all of us in love.
Wherever we may be in our spiritual journey, we are invited and encouraged to come to the table for nourishment and strength to go on. It is a way God has given us to touch base with him and with one another at important times in our lives.
Let’s have a good time as we take this step of faith together.