Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 31 - Sermon

Matthew 16:13—20
I just finished a weird book. It’s kind of like “Black Like Me” that book a lot of us read in the 60s, where a white person disguised himself as African American and toured the country to see what being a minority group member was really like. Well. This one is a woman who disguises herself as a man and spends a year getting treated like a man, to see what that is like.
As you might imagine, it’s not an easy thing to pull off, and at several points in the narrative, she has to tell the person she’s interacting with the truth about her gender. And when the person finally figures out that his bowling buddy, or co worker, or whatever is a woman instead of a man, their relationship changes completely.
That shouldn’t surprise anybody. Our relationships are shaped by our perceptions of who the other person in the relationship is and by how well they understand who we are, too. And those things can change and evolve over time.
For young people, figuring out who they are and how others see them is part of what makes being a teenager so exquisite and so excruciating. But, be honest, identity gets revisited throughout our lives. A man becomes a father. A boss becomes a mentor. A coach becomes a friend. A colleague becomes a rival. Who are you? Who do you think I am?
Our scripture lesson for today is one in which Jesus and his disciples, especially Simon, are confronting questions of identity. It begins when Jesus asks his disciples, who do people say that I am?
It’s an interesting question, and as followers of Jesus, we might try to summon the courage to ask the question he asked about ourselves. Who do people say that we are?
When we are teaching our children to think for themselves and resist peer pressure, we tell them, “It doesn’t make any difference what other people think.” And that’s true. But it is also true that when it comes to being a Christian, it does make a difference what other people think. Jesus said, “who do people say that I am?” What are we saying about Jesus with our actions, our words, our mission, our priorities? What message are we giving people about Jesus? Are they seeing Jesus' grace and peace in our presence in the community? Who do folks say that we are?
I heard two stories about churches who took seriously what other people thought of them while I was at Presbytery on Thursday. One was a story from Rob Dyer, a young pastor in Mt. Vernon, IL. The Mount Vernon church, along with the Presbytery and some other partners, hosted a youth mission trip this summer in Mt. Vernon. This is the t-shirt with all the sponsors on the back and nails bent into the word “HOPE” on the front. Because the Presbytery was one of the sponsors, we got shirts, too. Neat, huh?
Rob’s church, filled with typical middle class, well educated Presbyterians, wanted to show Jesus’ love to their rather economically depressed community. So they joined the Angel Food network. It’s not a food bank, but it is one way surplus food is distributed: People pay $15/mo. For a shipment of surplus food. Volunteers from the church meet the truck, pack up the food in boxes and hand it out to the patrons. And, jus t like that, a family has four or five meals for $15. So the church had been doing this for several months and Rob was down town at a community meeting. He introduced himself as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and one of the women broke into a grin – “Oh! I know that church! That’s the church that feeds people!” It’s not a bad way for a church to be seen.
Seeing ourselves as others see us is difficult. Robert Burns – Scottish poet – Presbyterian poet – wrote the famous words,
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
To see ourselves as others see us. Burns wrote those lines, inspired by his experience in church, in which he sat behind a young, beautiful woman, wearing a fancy, ribbon strewn bonnet, around which crawled a louse. She had head lice. It makes me itch to say it. Isn’t that rich!
It takes a certain amount of courage to ask what kind of witness we are making for Jesus. We hope it isn’t a “lousy” one!!
But Jesus’ first question is not his only one. Besides asking what others’ opinion, Jesus asks the disciples to give him THEIR opinion. “Who do you think that I am?” he wants to know.
This is the crucial question that Jesus poses for each of us as potential followers: Who do you say Jesus is? What do we believe about Jesus that is different than what everybody else believes? What makes our faith different from that of the “unchurched”? The skeptic? The fundamentalist? How does our confession that Jesus is Lord affect what we do as a group and how we relate to one another?
The third “identity” question isn’t really a question at all in the scripture. When Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus turns around a gives him a new identity – a new name.
“Bless your heart, Simon, son of Jonah!” Jesus said to Peter. “You will be called Peter – which means ROCK – and on this rock I will build my church.”
Simon’s is given a new identity and a new way of understanding who he was. “On this rock I will build my church” Jesus said.
Now, Peter seems like a mighty unstable rock to serve as the foundation for the church, doesn’t he? He blurts things out, he jumps out of boats, he doesn’t understand many of Jesus teaching. And we know that, when the going gets rough in Jerusalem, Peter is going to deny that he even knows Jesus.
How do we deal with the fact that Jesus chose to build on such an unworthy foundation? How do we deal with the fact that Jesus is still using a lot of substandard building material to build his church? Go to any church you want – you will find it filled with sinful, imperfect people – like Peter. Like me. Like . . . the person across the aisle. No. Like each one of us.
Jesus builds the church with stones like us. That’s the incredible message of this scripture lesson – that our identity is, according to Jesus the Christ, the building blocks of his church.
The other story was part of the sermon that a candidate for ordination preached. (I just have to say that Betsy Braden Wood was one of the kids that went through the Youth Club Program – including Jan Siders choir and MINE) and now she is through seminary, and being ordained to a very prestigious residency program in Indianapolis.
She told the story from Archbishop Chacour’s book, Blood Brothers. I heard the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Galilee tell this story at General Assembly in person. It happened at the first church to which the young priest was called – the church where he is still serving: I’ll tell it in his words:
“After a year and a half, I had made little dent in the reuniting the believers in Ibillin. Few attended church regularly, and walls of hostile silence remained firm. However, most would not thing of missing services during the Christmas and Easter seasons. True to the pattern, attendance increased on the first Sunday of Lent, growing each week as Easter approached.
On Palm Sunday, every bench was packed. When I stood up, raising my hands to signal the start of the service, I was jolted by what I saw. Looks of open hostility greeted me. One group was clustered on one side of the church, almost challenging me with their icy glares. Those whom that group had ostracized sat on the opposite side. I was amazed to see Abu Mouhib, the policeman, perched in the very front row with his wife and children. In each of the other three quadrants of the church, as distant from one another as possible, were his three brothers. I rose and began the first hymn. I thought, with sadness of the battle lines that were drawn across the aisles of that sancturary.
What followed was undoubtedly the stiffest service, the most unimpassioned sermon of my life. At the close of the liturgy, everyone rose for the benediction. My stomach fluttered. It was now or never.
Swiftly, I strode toward the open doors at the back of the church. I drew shut the huge double doors, laced a thick chain through the handles and fastened it firmly with a padlock. Turning to face the congregation, I took a deep breath.
“Sitting in this building does not make you a Christian,” I began. “You are a people divided. You argue and hate each other – gossip and spread malicious lies. What do the Moslems and the unbelievers think when they see you? Surely that your religion is false. If you can’t love your brother that you see, how can you say you love God who is invisible? You have allowed the body of Christ to be disgraced.”
Form many months, I have tried to unite you. I’ve failed. But there is someone else who can bring you together in true unity. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives you power to forgive. So now I will be quiet and allow Him to give you that power. If you will not forgive, we will stay locked in here. You can kill each other and I’ll provide your funerals gratis.”
Silence hung. We waited. Three minutes passed. Then five. Then ten. Still no one flinched. “Surely I’ve finished everything,” I chastised myself. “Undone all these months of hard work with my” – then a sudden movement caught my eye.
Abu Mouhib rose and faced the congregation, his bead bowed, remorse shining in his eyes. “I am sorry, “ he faltered. “I am the worst one of all. I’ve hated my own brothers. Hated them so much I wanted to kill them. More than any of you I need forgiveness.” He turned to me. “Can you forgive me, Abuna?” Abuna means father, a term of affection and respect.
“Come here,” I replied. “We greeted each other with the kiss of peace. “Of course I forgive you,” I said, “now go and greet your brothers.”
Before he was halfway down the aisle, his three brothers rushed to him. They held each other in a long embrace, each asking forgiveness of the others.
In an instant the church was a chaos of embracing and repentance. A second church service, a liturgy of reconciliation – went on for nearly a full hour.
Even then it did not end. The momentum carried us out of the church and into the streets where true Christianity belongs. For the rest of the day and far into the evening, I joined groups of believers as they went from house to house. At every door, someone had to ask forgiveness. Never was it withheld.
Before my eyes, I was seeing a ruined church rebuilt at last – not with mortar and rock, but with living stones.
Questions about identity – who we are and who are those with whom we are in relationship – these are vitally important questions. The scripture helps us to ask them – who do people think that Jesus is by looking at us? Who do we believe Jesus is?
But the Good News is not the questions that this scripture raises. The Good News is the answer that, not by flesh and blood, but by the power of the Spirit of God, our identity becomes living stones. We, by the grace of God, are the building blocks with which Jesus builds a church that witnesses to God’s love in an unmistakable way. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Those who have ears, let them hear. Amen.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Presbyterians together

The meeting was a meeting.
Very little drama.
A lot of paper passed and perused.
The location was interesting, though.
Kemmerer Village is a Presbyterian home for children who have been removed from their homes for various reasons. DCFS was the major "referral agency" until quite recently. But the state went to a "no decline" policy. The state wanted Kemmerer to agree to provide up to 36 "beds" - slots for children - and then take whoever the state sent whenever they sent them. So, if they were temporarily understaffed, or had some difficult clients that needed some extra time to adjust, they wouldn't be able to refuse to take on new clients. (Kemmerer is certified to accept and treat the most severely disturbed children.)
In order to provide a managable environment, Kemmerer didn't want to HAVE to take whoever whenever the state said. So they agreed to provide only 14 beds under that agreement. So now they are exploring other methods of referral, which will protect their ability to control their programming and provide the best care for the children they do have living there. That makes sense to me.
But, thinking theologically, I had to consider that our dear God has a "no decline" policy.
We call it grace.
And I guess it takes God to pull something like that off. We, unlike God, have to constantly be making prayerful decisions about what we can do and what is "too much" "too hard" "too many" "too severe a problem" for us.
Those decisions are heart breaking sometimes. But they have to be made. God help us.

Off to Presbytery

Presbytery is at Kemmerer Village today. I can't wait to see what's up and tell you all about it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Today's Science News -;_ylt=ApB8dkKuARgRP9XgqyqUUbFxieAA

Here's a link to a headline that reads:
Research aims to put tongues in control of devices

What would REALLY be news is:
Research aims to put devices in control of tongues.
Now that would be news you could use.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday -

I start the day with lectionary group. This week almost everyone was there, and we were hitting on all cylinders.
The Old Testament text is a lament from Jeremiah. Talked turned to a discussion of complaining. One of us ventured that our culture is kind of "wimpy" about pain, difficulties and opposition. We tend to complain early and often, and often those complaints to God turn to complaints against God, and even the attitude of "I just can't believe in a God who would let me (or a loved one) go through (pick one): . . . sickness . . . or loss . . . or death."
We're living in a very brief, probably soon-to-be-gone era in which health, comfort and prosperity are the expected state. We're spoiled. At least that's one possibility.
But I'm not convinced.
I guess I can think of people whose faith crumbles in the face of suffering.
But I think of more who, when they are in a mess, practice prayer more faithfully, read the Bible more devotedly, and serve others more often, out of refreshed empathy. Sure they complain! That's part of prayer! Some of the most dismal complaints you'll ever hear are in the Bible.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Some people have non-mammal house animals.
This is Loop. I think she is rather handsome. And she is a gentle vegetarian, in spite of her fierce looks. Do people choose "pets" that reflect something about their own essence?
What do you think?

Dog and Cat Diaries

Macey rests after writing in her journal

One of you forwarded this to me. I have to share. It's too good.

Subject: Pet Diaries

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 PM - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 PM - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 PM - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 PM - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 PM - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 PM - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 PM - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Day 983 of my captivity.
My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.
The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.
In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. Bastards!
There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I wasplaced in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.
Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.
I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

First Day of School

The shortest summer ever is over.
Today my 13 year old started eighth grade.
He slouched off to catch the bus, looking cool. (I used to take him to school, which cost a little gas and time, but gave us a few minutes at the start of each day. He's wise to that trick now, and gets himself up early enough to ride the bus with his friends.)
There was no time for my ritual "1st Day of School" picture.
Being a mom can be lonely sometimes.

I'm trying to be excited about my own "fresh new program year" start.
Maybe if I had some new pencils.

PS I had avoided actual tears this morning, until I Googled (Images) "first day of school", to find an appropriate picture. There are all these darling little precious sweet kids, smiling nervously with their backpacks. . . Go look. Type in "first day of school" and be sure you have a hanky handy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dogs and Religion - Joke #3

A man's dog died and he went to the priest and asked him to conduct a funeral Mass.
"Oh no!" says the priest. "We don't have masses for dogs!"
So he goes down the street to the Lutheran church and asks the pastor there.
"I'm so sorry!" says the Lutheran. "But I can't help you out there."
So the man makes an appointment with the Presbyterian minister.
"My dog died, and I'm looking for a church where I can have a nice funeral for him."
The Presbyterian minister hesitated, trying to find the most gentle way to turn the man down.
As he paused, the man went on, "I'm going to donate $1000 dollars to the church that has the service."
The minister breaks into a grin, "Well! Why didn't you tell me the dog was Presbyterian?!"

Dogs, religion and MONEY! A trifecta of funniness.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another Dog Joke

What, you may ask, are your OTHER favorite dog jokes, Cindy?
And I will tell you.
One at a time:
It seems that a Presbyterian minister and his spouse were looking for a dog. And they were very conscious that this dog should be the right sort of dog to live in a Presbyterian manse, and enter into the life of a Presbyterian congregation and generally bring honor and not shame to the minister and his family.
So they went to a pet store and explained what they were looking for and the owner said, immediately - (I think his name was Mark) - "I have just the dog for you."
He took a puppy out of it's crate and they all adjourned to the office of the store, where the owner put the puppy down and commanded, "Fetch the Bible!" And the went over to the bookshelf, nosed through the books, found the Bible, pulled it off the shelf and brought it to the man.
"That's really something!" said the minister and his wife.
"That's nothing!" said the pet store owner. "Watch this!"
He turned to the dog and said, "Psalm 23."
And, in an amazing feat of doggy dexterity, the dog flipped through the Old Testament until, woof!, he put his paw right on Psalm 23.
"This dog can find any scripture you want," said the pet store owner. "Test him."
So they did, and sure enough, the dog did the Old Testament, New Testament, the whole Bible. "This IS a Presbyterian dog for sure!" agreed the minister and his wife. "His love of the Bible proves it! We'll take him."
They took the dog home and invited the Session to come and see the new Presbyterian dog in the manse. The elders came and the minister put the dog through his paces: Psalm 100, Genesis 2, Isaiah 55, Luke 1, Mark 8, I Corinthians 13. The dog never missed.
The elders were duly impressed.
"This dog certainly knows his Bible! But," one asked, "does he do regular DOG tricks?"
"Like what?" asked the minister.
"Like, heel?" said the elder.
Immediately, the dog jumped up on a chair, put his paw on the elder's forehead and began to bay.
The minister was aghast! "Oh, no! He's not Presbyterian! He's Pentecostal!!"

Going to the Dogs - Sunday, Aug. 17th Sermon

God and Dogs
Matthew 15:21-28
August 17, 2008

All my favorite jokes – all three of them – involve dogs and God, or at least dogs and religion. My favorite goes like this:
Did you hear about the dyslexic, insomniac agnostic?
Yep, she stayed up all night, wondering if there is a Dog.
Well, our scripture takes us back to a puzzling passage which includes talk of God and Dogs.
It is a puzzling passage, in which things seem to get turned backwards, like the spelling of God and Dog. It is a passage that troubles us – like a dog wanting attention, who puts his wet nose in our hand, or bumps into the newspaper we are reading, or who whines or even barks to say, “Hey, look up. Pay attention.”
IN this passage Jesus seems to call someone a dog. Then, as the story unfolds, her dogged persistence is rewarded. Jesus says, “Great is your faith.”
Now, I know this is kind of an unusual tack to take, but I was thinking that if Jesus described someone as doggy – but of great faith, maybe we could learn something about faith from looking at dogs. So I want to suggest some ways we can learn from Dogs that might actually help up become more faithful human beings.
The first attribute of Dogs that we might consider is that:
1) Dogs know their master. Dogs look at the world in a fundamentally different way than, say, cats. A dog and a cat were describing their living situations.
The Dog said, The person I live with feeds me, he gives me shelter, he fills my water bowl, he pets me and he loves me. He must be God. The Cat says, The person I live with feeds me, he gives me shelter, he fills my water bowl, he pets me and he loves me. I must be God.
Now I know some of you are “cat people” – you have cats. Some of you have very lovable cats and I’m not dissing anybody’s pet here. But I think we can agree: Dogs have a master. Cats have staff.
Well, there’s a book out called the Theology of Cats and Dogs that challenges us to think deeply about what that basic difference can show us about our own faith. The premise of the book is that a lot of us treat God as if we were cats and God was our “staff”. We believe that the Almighty is there to facilitate our comfort and serve our needs. When we need God, we expect him to be there. But for long stretches of time, we don’t think we need the Divine Presence at all. And, quite frankly, we’d be just as happy if God left us alone.
Contrast that attitude with the faith of a dog. A Dog has a master. And there is really nothing that a dog wouldn’t at least TRY to do for his master. Really, a dog’s main aim in life is to be with and please the person that he sees as Master. Life is about making the Master happy.
Do we have faith like a Dog? Do we know who our Master is? The woman in our story correctly called Jesus “Lord” every time she called on him. “Lord” means Master. It doesn’t mean best buddy, or most important connection or powerful ally. It means the one who is served. How do we think of God? As our Master? Or as our Staff?
2) There’s another bit of Dog behavior that the woman in the story exhibits: She is very persistent in bringing her need to Jesus. She calls out. She keeps on calling. She runs (apparently around the group of annoyed disciples) and kneels before Jesus. Kneeling in front of someone who is walking – now there is an attention getting gesture. She just wouldn’t give up or get discouraged.
That’s kind of dog like. Dogs are persistent. Last week, when Tim and I were with the boys at Lake Michigan, I took a walk down the beach while they swam. And pretty soon I came upon a big black wet Labrador retriever. When he saw me walking toward him, he ran to a blanket, picked up a tennis ball, galloped over to me and rolled it at my feet. Well – what would you do? I picked it up and threw it down the beach, and he bounded off after it, got it, ran as fast as he could back to me and rolled it to me again. So I threw it again. And again. And again. The first 10 times it was fun. Then it just got to be amazing. In the water, out of the water. The dog was unstoppable. It was a game. The first one to give up loses. And I finally had to concede defeat, though I told him I was doing it for his sake - thinking that the poor creature would have a heart attack.
This woman chased Jesus and wouldn’t give up. How persistent are we in taking our prayers and requests to Jesus? How persistent are we in bringing the needs of others to Jesus? How easily are we discouraged when our spiritual life doesn’t seem to be giving us the results we were hoping for?
I’d bet that there are times when each one of us gets discouraged. We have problems that aren’t getting fixed. We have hurts that won’t quit aching. We have weaknesses that we’d like to see strengthened. And sometimes, God seems to be taking his own sweet time in bringing situations to a satisfactory conclusion. At times like that, we might do well to remember the story of the woman who doggedly pursued Jesus, whose faith was such that she just wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t be shoo-ed away, wouldn’t be ignored and who took even an insult and turned it into yet another plea. The poet Edwin Markham, wrote about this encounter:
He drew a circle that shut me out -Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.But love and I had the wit to win:We drew a circle that took him in.
Yes, Lord, she said, but even the doggies get to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. I’m only asking for a crumb. But I won’t go away without something from you.
If we could have something of the persistence of a dog in our relationship with God, and if we could take the doggy attitude that it is our greatest joy to bring joy to our Master – we might find ourselves actually growing in our Christian lives and in our faith. Even if we ain’t nothing but a hound dog – Jesus can be counted on to, at last, bless us with kind words and a healing blessing. He said to the woman, “Great is your faith. It shall be done for you, just as you have asked. This hour your daughter is made whole.” Jesus’ nature is to give to his beloved grace upon grace, even more than we ask.
And maybe that’s enough to learn from dogs. But there is something else – and it’s not about each of us as individual doggy Christians. It’s about life in the pack.
Dogs are very social animals. They like to live in packs, of other dogs or of humans that they think are dogs. "The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue." -
And they have some very good social skills that we should not be embarrassed to adopt.
"A man may smile and bid you hailYet wish you to the devil;But when a good dog wags his tail,You know he's on the level." -
Dogs greet those they love with enthusiasm. When I open the back door, there is Chief, wagging his tail, dancing around me, letting me know he’s glad I’m home. Now, sometimes I’d rather be met by someone who can help me carry in the groceries, or ask me how my day has gone, or pour me a cool drink of water. But even so, being wagged at and loved on is pretty darn nice. And you don’t have to be a dog to do that.
At home, how do you greet the rest of your pack?
At church, how do we greet those who come to our door?
Do we rush to the door to meet our loved ones?
Do we wag our tails to show them we are glad they are here?
I think those are good things. And anyone can do it. We call it “being the greeter” and Jeff Burlew doesn’t want to ask you to do that. He hasn’t got any one signed up to greet and usher this month. So I’m going to be asking. Because hospitality is not just some nice icing on a church cake. It is the cake.
In this story, The disciples say, “Send her away.” We don’t want to be that kind of disciple. We want to be the kind that acts out God’s delight in each person, and welcomes them into this place hoping that here they will find themselves at home with God and with us. Let’s wag our tails and welcome each person that comes as if they are made out of bologna. Which, let’s face it, most of us are.
Sincere and enthusiastic tail wagging is the third doggy like trait we might try to develop as we grow in our Christian faith.
The encounter Jesus and the disciples have with the Canaanite dog-woman is a somewhat puzzling passage. It’s almost impossible for me to conceive of Jesus ignoring someone, almost turning her away, and calling another human being a dog. But in the end, perhaps it was her doggy-ness – her persistence and her calling him Master – that Jesus wants us to see. Maybe he wants us to see that he recognizes and blesses those aspects of faith. Great is your faith! He says to the woman. What you have begged for, you shall have. If there is healing and hope for her, there is healing and hope for us all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Behind the scenes in the exciting life of a pastor

6 am - Rise, make coffee, take a walk/run with the dog. We went to the cemetary and I noticed, for the first time, a little marker for "Jane Doe" name unknown Found May 1, 1995. Who do you suppose that was? I haven't heard the story there.

7 am - Drink coffee, eat oatmeal, check and answer email. Make plans for lunch with my husband, sister and her family. (Sea Boat in Hessel Park, doesn't that sound fun?) Realize that I cc'd an email to someone I shouldn't have. Whoops.

8 am - consult with Betty about moving the organ and other church-y matters. Call the movers.
Call the floor guy. Pray a little.

9 am - take the screw driver, a wrench, a flashlight and pliers over to church and remove the pedals from the old organ so that it can be moved for the floor refinishing. Sneeze alot (dust inside the organ). Re-read the scripture lesson for Sunday. Think hard.

10 am- More coffee, more emails, more phone calls. Post baptism message. Decide I need to make a to-do list.

It's a glamorous life, but someone has to lead it!

Are anybody's feet wet yet?

What would it take for us to step into our deepest fears
and find ourselves in the arms of our Savior?
That's the question I am living with this week.

Meditation on Baptism

This is the "message" from Sunday's service. It's not polished up. I'd like to think I preached it better than these notes indicate.

August 10, 2008
Matthew 14:22-36

The little girl had hoped that her pink bathing suit, with the silver fish scales pattern would give her a graceful, mermaid look. But as she stood by the pool, and looked at her reflection, she was afraid that it just made her look like a pink, chubby fish. She listened for the teen age life guard, the very cutest one at the pool, to tell her she was a good swimmer and that she could do it. But, just as she feared, he explained the procedure without enthusiasm, “4 lengths of the pool. Crawl stroke. No hanging on the sides.” If she passed the test, she could swim in the deep end. But she was afraid she’d fail. She was afraid that anyone who was looking could see her heart just about beating out of her chest. Most of all, she was afraid of the water. She curled her toes over the edges of the pool. Beneath them the black tiles read 6 FT. Over her head. She was about to get in over her head. She tried to take a deep breath. But she couldn’t. The water was so deep. And the far side of the pool seemed like a mile away. She jumped in and the water closed over her. Her legs seemed to pull her down toward the drain. The water stung her eyes, and she shut them and swam, blindly, toward the far side. Don’t be a scaredy-cat, don’t be a scaredy-cat, don’t be a scaredy-cat, she tried to get into the rhythm. But it was no use. She was already too afraid.
Fear is a powerful thing.
In the Bible, water is a symbol of life – to be sure – but also a scary symbol of the opposite – of death. Water is a symbol of the things that are most fearful – losing control, losing order, losing orientation, losing power, losing life. Noah. The crossing the Red Sea. River Jordan.
Not surprisingly, the sea was a fearful place for the fishermen followers of Jesus. Even though they made their living on the sea, they knew the dangers of the open water. And they were justifiably afraid when they were out on the sea and the wind changed, a storm blew up and their ship was battered by the waves. Then, in an utterly inexplicable turn of events, the looked through the wind driven rain and the tossing waters and saw Jesus approaching them, walking on the water.
There was so much fear in that little boat. Matthew says that the disciples were “terrified” – a word he only uses one other time in the whole Gospel, to describe how Herod felt when he heard there was another King, born in Bethlehem. They were deeply afraid of what was happening to them, and what might happen to them in the future. Because, clearly, they were no longer in control. They did not hold their own lives in their own hands anymore. The storm, the wind, the waves. And then Jesus! And Jesus, far from calming their fears, seemed to be one of the things that frightened them the most. So much fear!
Then one of the disciples did something remarkable – He stepped back from his own emotional response to a threatening situation. He stepped away from the contagious fear of his friends. He stood up, despite years of training in how not to rock the boat. He threw his leg over the side and stepped out OUT into the rolling, unstable, dark and story sea. And, for just a moment, he walked toward Jesus.
Then, not surprisingly, he sank.
It’s not surprising that he sank. It’s surprising that he had the courage to walk.
It’s not surprising that he fell. It’s surprising that he attempted to answer Jesus’ call.
It’s not surprising that he failed to do what only Jesus could. It’s surprising that he took seriously what it means to be a disciple – to follow Jesus ANY WHERE Jesus may lead.
For just a moment, the call of Jesus Christ was undeniable, and one disciple answered – not with a faint “I will” or a promise in his heart or a pledge of financial support. One disciple got out of the rocking boat and set his feet into the waves. And when he did that – it didn’t matter that he fell, that he sank, that he failed. Because Jesus reached out his hand – immediately – and lifted him from the deep.
Jesus carried him in his arms, as a lifeguard carries a drowning man, or a mother carries an exhausted toddler, or a lover carries his bride across the threshold. Peter stepped out in fear and was carried home in faith.
To be baptized is to take that step out of the boat. It is to enter the water at the invitation of Jesus, in spite of what others are thinking, saying, fearing. It is to walk the impossible way towards him, in the full knowledge that you can’t get there on your own, but that you can count on Jesus to reach out and take a hold of you where you are, and lift you up and save you. It is to jump out of the boat where your fear traps you, and into the water where Jesus grasps you.
It is not that you will become someone who can do the impossible, but that the impossible grace of God will become real to you . . .
It’s not about success. It’s about faith. It’s not about stopping fear. It’s about not letting fear stop you. It’s about dying to death and rising to new life.
The little girl failed her swimming test that day. She made it across four times, flailing and gasping for air. She dragged herself out of the water on shaky arms, snagged her pink swimming suit on the cement deck, and tried to catch her breath. The life guard bent over and said, “You didn’t quite make it. But you will next time.”
And I did. For some reason, the next time, it was no big deal. And I’ve passed lots of swimming tests, and lots of other tests since then. But the one I remember is the one I failed. Because I was so afraid, and I jumped in anyway.
What is it that frightens, really frightens, us? What keeps us white knuckled clutching the sides of our little boat in the midst of the stormy sea?
As we celebrate the baptism of yet another little Christian, dying to the old life and entering the new, let’s ask ourselves what it would be like to live out our own baptism.
What would it take for us to say, “Jesus, if it’s really you, bid me come” ?
And to step out, into our deepest fears and enter the arms of our Savior?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sermon - Aug. 3

Matthew 14:
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
“5000. But Whose Counting”

This picture is the scene for today's scripture/sermon.

I’m one of those who don’t count. When Jesus feed the crowd beside the sea in galilee, and the disciples were counting the people (One one thousand, two one thousand – five one thousand) they didn’t count me.
“There were five thousand. NOT COUNTING women and children.”
But even though I don’t count – I was there that day. I can give you an eye-witness ACCOUNTING of what happened. You can COUNT on that!
All right, maybe I didn’t see how it all started. I heard later that Jesus had taken a boat across from down the lake, trying to get some private time after he heard about the death of his cousin John. And the folks that had been with him saw where he was going and walked around the edge of the lake to meet him. From my garden, I heard the sound of the crowd down by the water. I looked across the field and saw the men passing by our little village. Where were they going? I wondered. So I wiped my hands on my apron and started in that direction. I got to the road before all the women and children had passed, and who should I see but Martha from down the road.
“What’s going on? Where are you going?” I asked.
She pointed to the lake. “We’re following Jesus”– she said, “You know, the prophet from Nazareth. He’s in a boat and some of the men think they know where he’s going to land. He’s been teaching about the kingdom of heaven like you’ve never heard it before, Suzanne. It’s crazy. Come with us and see for yourself.”
I fell in step with her, intending to walk just a little.
“What do you mean “crazy”? I have enough “craziness” in my life.”
“Yeah. But I don’t mean crazy crazy. I just mean “like you’ve never heard it before.” Like – he said the kingdom of God – bless his holy name – is like that infernal mustard that’s always invading our fields and gardens. Just a tiny start, Jesus says, and pretty soon you’ve got big problems.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
“When you own the field, like the Romans own us, I guess it’s not so good. But what if we’re the mustard seed? See what I mean?”
By this time, she’s got me thinking, so I go along a little more.
“And he says the kingdom of God bless his holy name is like leaven that a woman kneads into the bread dough.”
“A woman? Leaven? Doesn’t he know not to talk about God bless his holy name with unclean things like women and leaven?”
“Of course, where would the men be without us to get a rise out of them?” she laughed at her own joke. “This Jesus totally gets that. Clean and unclean don’t seem to count with him. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Come on. You’ve got to hear this guy.”
So that’s how I ended up in the crowd that greeted Jesus when he stepped out of the boat. And I have to tell you, what I saw was awesome. Even though he must have been tired and disheartened and heart sick over the death of his cousin, Jesus didn’t send anybody away. He waded into the crowd and began healing them.
And lots of us needed healing. Including me. I’d gone that day feeling beat up by life. Picked apart. Pulled in a thousand different directions. Dis-abled when it came to making things better. I was heartsick and tired, tired, tired. But Jesus compassion healed me. How isn’t important. But being in his presence healed my heart and made me glad to be alive again.
It wasn’t just me. People around me- people I knew had been suffering lately – were up on their feet, smiling, greeting one another. I looked around for Martha, but she wasn’t around. It was getting late, and I wanted to start for home. But I didn’t want to go without telling the person who brought me “Thank you” for a wonderful day.
I pressed my way through the crowd, looking for my friend. “Martha!” I called. A young woman in blue told me that she’d seen Martha heading down toward the lake, so I turned in that direction. I pulled my head scarf more closely around my face as I passed by groups of men. Still no Martha. I lowered my eyes and pressed on, hoping to see her sandle.
That’s how I ended up right next to Jesus, as the disciples huddled around him. So I heard distinctly what each one of them said:
One of the disciples, maybe it was Peter, said, “Lord. It is getting late. The people are getting hungry and we’re out here in the sticks. Dismiss the crowd so they can make their way to villages around here and get themselves some food.”
That sounded like a good plan to me. And to the other disciples, too. I fully expected Jesus to give his blessing to the disciples suggestion.
But Jesus surprised them. He raised his bowed head, look around the circle of men, made them meet his eye – really – look at him. Then he shook his head. He disapproved. And he said, really slowly and really clearly: “You give them something to eat.”
There was a moment in which the disciples glanced sideways at each other, checking each other for an appropriate reaction. But no one could come up with one. Finally, two or three of them spoke at once – We don’t have enough to feed this crowd! Said one.
Look! There must be 5000 men on that hillside. Come on! Chimed in another.
We’ve got nothing, Jesus.
That’s right! We don’t have anything.
It was the one they call Judas who said that. He was holding a sack with their provisions in it. Jesus looked at it.
Well, at least we don’t have anything EXTRA.
We don’t have even enough for ourselves. You took off so fast, and I grabbed this little bag and it isn’t full and . . .
We have five loaves and two fish. Five thousand men. You do the math.
What difference would 5 loaves and two measly fish make here?
Don’t you get it? We have nothing. Barely enough to get by.
Not enough to share.
Not enough to meet their needs.
His protests petered out. Jesus continued to look around the circle.
He sighed. Bring your “nothing” to me.
Then Jesus turned to the crowd, got their attention and ordered everyone to sit down on the grass. Like lambs, they did it. I hurried back toward the women and children. It was easier to find Martha with everyone still, and I sat down beside her.
From a distance we saw Jesus take the loaves and the fish from his followers, lift his arms up to heaven. We heard him blessing Baruch adonai Elohim – Blessed art thou, O Lord, who brings forth bread from the earth. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples began to distribute them to the crowd.
Jesus, who had done so much that day, sat down. It was up to the disciples now.
The men were served first. We women sat and watched. A few of the ladies from my village wanted to get up and help. The disciples had a big job. Have you ever fed 5000 people? Or even 500? At my daughter’s wedding there were 150, and I thought I would never get to sit and eat. But I told those ladies to sit back down.
I said, “I think this is something Jesus wants his disciples to do. This is for those who follow Jesus. A sort of training, I think, to see what they have learned from following him all these months.”
We talked amongst ourselves as the disciples worked their way through the crowd. Every once in a while I glanced that way. Peter had rolled up his sleeves. The twin disciples chatted with folks in the crowd as he worked. Judas didn’t. It was interesting to see that after each group was served, the disciples were able to go on to the next. I kept watching to see when their supply would run out. But they made their way from group to group and the nothing they had seemed to turn into abundance in their wake.
When they finished with the men, they approached the crowds of women. A couple of the older ones held their backs – sore from bending down, extending their arms. It was work. I could tell that. But their hands were not yet empty. I’m not sure where all the food came from. The folks in group had plenty. And my portion was delicious. Satisfying.
By the time we were finished, the disciples had gone back to the men and started to clean up. That’s what gets you about a big meal, isn’t it? The clean up.
When they came around to get our left overs, we ribbed them a little. “I bet when you signed up to learn from Jesus, you didn’t expect advanced leftover removal – did you?” He didn’t mind our teasing, “Look at all this!” He said. “Can you believe how much food we served? Look! I didn’t think we even would have enough. But Jesus was right. There was more than enough. There was an abundance. And look around. Each one of us has a big basket full of scraps and crusts and broken pieces. We could feed even more!”
How many did you serve? Martha asked him.
Between the twelve of us . . . we counted nearly 5000 men. Not counting the women and children.
Aw, Martha, don’t believe him! I said. He can’t count! He thought that all he had was 5 loaves and two fishes. He just smiled and shook his head.
So you see – I don’t count. But I can count. And by my count, the “not enough” of the disciples + the blessing of Jesus = an abundance, a feast, a experience of the overwhelming grace of God- bless his holy name. What happened when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat” filled our stomachs for a day and our hearts for a lifetime. I wonder if a hungry world can still count on Jesus and his disciples

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I finished, thanks

Not fast. But not last. I finished. Yeah!

Saturday morning

I'm going to go and try to run a 5K. I haven't done this for several (four?) years and I hope I remember how.
Wish me luck.