Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon, Sept 28: "Step #3 Body Work"

Corporate Worship
Since our Sunday School youth and teachers set the beautiful stepping stones in our lovely new part behind the church on Rally Day, we’ve been thinking together about the steps we take along the journey of faith. The first step we talked about was Baptism, which is for many people the initial encounter with God’s grace and love. Last week we focused on what is for most of us the next step – learning the story of God and humanity in the pages of the Bible – Holy Scripture – the Book. This week we are going to look at the step we take in faith when we spend time with God’s people in corporate worship.
Listen with me for the Word of God as it comes from the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 2:41-52

You may have looked at the sermon title and thought – “Oh, Pastor Cindy is going to talk about the car show yesterday at the Philo Fall Festival. “Body work” is what we call it when our cars get fixed up after a little run in with a light post, or something.” Or maybe you thought “body work” was going to be about building our spiritual muscles. But the truth of the matter is, Body in this case refers to the church – the Body of Christ. And “Work” refers to what we do when we get together to worship. The service - our prayers, and songs, our responses and our reading of holy scripture – has a theological term – Liturgy. And liturgy means “The work of the People”
Joining in “the work of the people” is one way that young Christians grow in faith. For this reason, I welcome and encourage children’s participation in the worship service. I don’t mind a crying baby. Or a rambunctious toddler. Or a teenager scribbling notes on the bulletin. I think I’ve confessed before that as a teenager, I slept through about 4 years of sermons. And it wasn’t all my fault! But, looking back, I got so much from other parts of the liturgy! Taking a nap during the sermon wasn’t a bad solution.
The work of the people - the language of church, the stories of church, the worldview of those who profess to put Jesus Christ at the head of their lives – this is almost like a foreign language. It’s possible to learn Italian as an adult. But learning a language, absorbing it into your bones and being able to use it – this happens much more easily and naturally when the human mind and heart are young. Worship is like that.
The story of Jesus’ trip to the temple at age twelve reinforces the importance of including young people in worship. But it does more than that. Let’s look at it again:

The first thing the text tells us is that worship and devotion to God are a habit. I have to tell you, I’m indebted to Brian Stoeffergen, whose commentaries I read weekly – for much of what I am about to tell you:

Our text not only tells us about the young Jesus, but also a lot about his parents -- they were very devout in keeping the Jewish Law.
Eight days after Jesus' birth, he is circumcised (2:21).
Five times in the account of the purification of Mary & presentation of Jesus in the temple, we are told that his parents act according to the "law" (2:22, 23, 24, 27, 39).
Our text begins by telling us that "every year" his parents go to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. When Jesus is 12, they go up "as usual" [ethos in Greek -- more on this word later] for the festival.
Luke stresses the fact in this chapter that Mary and Joseph were very devout Jews. We might wonder how much of Jesus' knowledge and self-identity came from the way he was raised in this pious household.

The word ethos is particularly important to notice. The English word "ethics" comes from this word. It refers to "a pattern of behavior that is more or less fixed by tradition and generally sanctioned by the society" [Lowe & Nida]. The word is frequently translated "custom" or "habit."
Of the 12 times this word is used in the NT, 10 of those are in Luke/Acts. The only occurrence of the verbal form (ethizo) is in Luke 2:27, where it indicates that Mary and Joseph do for Jesus what is customary under the law. Even though there is nothing else written about young Jesus in scriptures, we know that he grew up with parents who made it a habit of obeying the Law. I'm certain that young Jesus was encouraged to obey it when it applied to him. Young Jesus was learning some good religious habits from his parents.
The noun is used of Jesus in Luke 22:39 where we are told that it was his custom (or habit) to go to the Mount of Olives. He goes there to pray.
What "customs" or "habits" are being handed down by parents today? Some have made it a habit of attending church every week. Some have made it a habit of attending church on Christmas and Easter. Some encourage their children give an offering every week. Others give almost nothing themselves.
It is interesting to me that the Greek word ethos is never used in scripture to refer to what we would usually consider ethical or moral behaviors -- like "don't tell lies, don't steal, help other people, don't be immoral, don't hurt or kill other people, be generous." When ethos is used in the New Testament, it almost always refers to religious behaviors -- mostly about attending church!
For example: And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:25).
Another word with the same meaning [eiotha] is used of Jesus when he goes to the synagogue on the sabbath as was his custom (Lu 4:16); and of Paul (Ac 17:2). Do we need to promote regular church as an "ethic" that believers should practice? When we make lists of ethical behavior, is church attendance or taking time to pray on the lists?
If Jesus made it a habit to attend church (synagogue) and to go off on a mountain to pray, how much more do we need to make it a habit if we are to keep a constant walk with God?

(I want to be completely clear here: I lifted that entire section from Brian Stoeffergen. The whole thing. I didn't preach it in exactly those words but he deserves all the credit for that whole section. I am plagarism-phobic. So I want to make that perfectly clear before I post this thing!!! )

The second thing this passage tells us is that :
The Work of the People is give and take with God
In the passage it says that Jesus was there asking questions and listening. Then the next verse says that he was speaking and giving answers as well. It’s verses like that that make me believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. What was he doing? Listening or speaking? What was he doing? Asking questions or giving answers. Thank goodness for the scriptures that tell us that in the house of the God, our Lord was doing both. There is a rhythm to worship. A rhythm like breathing in and breathing out. That was the first song the Praise Band played this morning – “like breathing in and breathing out”. There is a give and take to what we do in worship, too.
We give God praise
We receive a sense of the divine presence.
We give God an accounting of ourselves.
We receive an assurance of his forgiveness.
We give God prayer in the Psalm.
There is plenty of give and take in the Children’s sermon.
We receive God’s Word in scripture – we read scripture and scripture reads us
We respond in faith
We receive the sacraments
We share them with one another
We receive God’s blessing and out we go, to live in faith.
The work of the body is give and take. How fully we can participate in that give and take depends on a lot of things. Age is only one. Our openness, our preparation, our need, our desire. What parts of the worship service are most gratefully received? Which parts are most joyfully offered up to God?
Jesus shows us that the give and take is part of God’s plan and pattern for our lives. In worship we act out that conversational pattern with each other’s help.

Third thing this passage can tell us about corporate worship is discerned by looking at vs. 46-47. At the beginning of the story, Jesus’ parents take him up to the Temple.
At the end of the story, Jesus goes back with them to Nazareth. There’s a real subtle shift in who’s in charge.
Worship is a step toward helping us put Jesus in charge.
Letting him chart our path and decide on our destination. Beginning to trust him with our steps and our lives. Did you ever hear the Christian life likened to a tandem bicycle? I think the original version came out of the 12 step AA program. Lots of good things do. But basically it says becoming a Christian is like riding a bicycle built for two. At first you realize that life is a little bit easier, with Jesus in the back there, helping you pedal. But then, one day, you hear him say, OK. Let’s switch places. And that’s when the fun really begins! Where we tend to take the quickest, most boring and predictable route between two points, Jesus steers us on some incredible, breath taking long cuts. He pilots through tough mountain passes, and down long stretches of twists and turns. Sometimes you travel at breakneck speeds. With Jesus in charge of the itinerary, you meet strange and wonderful people who give priceless gifts of acceptance, and healing and love. And sometimes Jesus brings us you to a place to give those gifts away, to lighten the load. The life of faith is a great adventure. And all you have to do is pedal.
I like that image.
But the scripture gives us one I like even more: It says that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in divine and human favor. Isn’t that our goal as Christians? Isn’t that why we come to church and participate in worship? In order to grow in wisdom – to understand more clearly the ways of God and the world? To grow in stature – that means to grow physically – and it is a joy to watch some of the young people grow up in front of our eyes. But I think even adults, who won’t grow “up” and try hard not to grow “out” – grow in health, or in strength to handle physical challenges. And to grow in divine and human favor. To grow in close and loving relationships with God and with one another – this is the natural outcome of taking the step of corporate worship, of joining with your brothers and sisters in taking the this important step in the life of faith.
Shall we take the next step – together?

A sign of the times

Carol, our tech-savvy sometimes accompanist, sent this link to a Garrison Keillor bit that gives a whole new meaning to "LOL". Check it out if you want to LOL. And thanks, Carol!

Presbyterian participation in Philo Phest is a success!

Over 100 people visited the art show, which Betty and Bob Lauchner so carefully tended and nurtured. That's great! And we gave away over 100 pens and pencils at the booth downtown. And the youth group got orders that will make over 100 dollars. And more than 100 people came to the interdenominational prayer service this morning. So all that is good! Let's do it again next year, OK?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Artists' Showcase

Today is our little village's fall festival.
Our church is going to have an information booth downtown. And we're part of the interdenominational prayer service tomorrow.
But the event we are hosting at our chuch is a show of local artists' work. I'm so excited about it!
We have lots of quilts, watercolors, photography, woodworking, oils, acrylics, collages, glass . . .
Yesterday, as more and more people brought in their pieces, the fellowship hall became so lively and bright. Sixteen artists + are represented. (The "+" is because the Sunday School is just counted as one, and of course LOTS of kids contributed to those pieces.) So I'm hoping and praying that lots of folks show up to see these wonderful, creative people's work.
I'll try to have pictures next time I post.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happy, but not too Smart

So here's a funny thing about the happily married couple pictured below:
Neither of us could remember the date of our anniversary.
I thought yesterday. Wrong.
It is tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary (to me)

Four years ago . . .
I was so happy.
Four years later . . .
I am so happy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sermon, September 21

Stepping Stone #2 – The Book
2 Timothy 3:14 ff.

Since our Sunday School youth and teachers set the beautiful stepping stones in our lovely new part behind the church on Rally Day, we’ve been thinking together about the steps we take along the journey of faith. Last week we talked about Baptism, which is for many people the initial encounter with God’s grace and love. This week we are going to focus on what is for most of us the next step – learning the story of God and humanity in the pages of the Bible – Holy Scripture – the Book
Listen for the Word of God as it comes to us from the 2nd Letter to Timothy, Chapter 3, beginning at verse 14.
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
This is my Bible. It was given to me by my parents, as a birthday gift the summer I graduated from seminary. My old Bible (the one I got from church when I was in the fourth grade) was all marked up with multicolor highlighters, it had lost it’s cover, gotten caught in the rain more than once, and Ephesians was beginning to fall out. My father and I went to the bookstore and picked it out. We didn’t look at the study bibles, or the fancy paraphrase bibles, or the heavy show Bibles. Daddy said he wanted to get me a “working Bible”. I know he mostly meant a Bible that I could use in my work as a minister. But it is equally true that this is a working Bible because it works on me.
From this Bible I have learned, more than from any commentary or course, what salvation in Jesus Christ means. It is to this Bible that I have looked when days were dark and courage failed me. This is where I am reminded about the hope of the Gospel, and challenged to walk more faithfully with my friend and redeemer, Jesus Christ. And these are the words I wrestle with in an attempt to communicate the promise and the demands of the Christian life.
I want you to know that when I speak to you about the Bible, I do not do so primarily as a person trained in interpretation of ancient texts, or as a church professional, whatever that means. I speak to you as someone whose life has been saved by the person of Jesus Christ I have encountered though this book.
I love this book. Learning to love the Bible is one of the first steps that we take in our Christian walk. It is a step the church tries to encourage, even in our youngest members: Timothy’s letter says, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings”
The stories we learn in Sunday School point us to Jesus. Jesus loves me, this I know. For the BIBLE tells me so.
Maybe in the beginning, our first story is the story of Jesus welcoming the little children and blessing them. But we learn others, too. We learn the Christmas story, and the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, even as very little children. Sometimes worship, sometimes music, teaches us the Biblical witness . . . That’s why I repeat some words in the liturgy every Sunday. “ Friends, believe the good news of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. . . . All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”
Do we understand all the depth and fullness of these stories as children? No, but then you could argue that we don’t understand the depth and fullness of the Biblical narrative much better when we are 80 than when we are 8. The important thing is that we HEAR and learn these stories, so that they become part of our lives. Scripture is meant for us from childhood and then throughout our lives. Learning how to read and interpret scripture is a life long – in fact longer than life long – engagement. There is not a stage of life to which the scriptures do not speak.
As we get older, we may encounter challenges to reading the Bible in a way that strengthens and challenges our faith. We notice that some stories don’t seem to make sense. Or they don’t match with what we know from other parts of our life or other parts of the Bible. Love your enemies doesn’t exactly fit with stories in which God commands cities to be destroyed and all the inhabitants slain. And we begin to wonder how to make sense of this book.
Timothy says “All scripture is inspired by God.” But what does that mean? Some people decide that the Bible is just
an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men and women
Very few Presbyterians take that route – only 4% of members, and less than 1% of pastors.
In the Bible Belt, we may meet fellow Christians who insist that the only way to read the Bible with love and respect is to insist that every word of the Bible is literally true. In the 1990s about 30% of US adults held that view. That if Genesis says the world was created in seven days, then God demands that we believe that in the same amount of time we pass from Monday to Sunday, all the universe was brought forth and every earthly creature was created. A much smaller minority of Presbyterians hold that view. But we might secretly think that we should, since that’s what these more vocal denominations and TV evangelists insist upon, and they seem to be serious and devout. 77% of Presbyterian members, and 94% of Presbyterian pastors understand the Bible differently – as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, NOT all of which is to be interpreted literally, word for word. (Presbyterian survey 1990 and 1993)
This is not a “weaker” view of inspiration than the more fundamentalist one. But it is different. Believing as we do, more study, more thought, more engagement with one another as we study together is required. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, not just inspired in the writing of it, but in the reading and interpretation and application, too. God’s Spirit, moving among us, continues to be involved in bringing the Bible to life for us.
Presbyterian Bible Study tends to be a group activity more than a solitary pursuit. Even when we read the Bible devotionally, we are likely to have other people – in the form of a devotional booklet, or the notes of a study Bible, or some other resource – at hand. We aren’t biblical Lone Rangers.
Maybe some of you have given up on the Bible, because you’ve been trying to go it alone and it’s not working for you. Join a Bible study. Buy a study Bible. Call me up. I’ll come over and have a cup of coffee and puzzle a passage through with you. Or maybe you don’t know where to start to get back into the Bible. Don’t be discouraged! Step back. Take an overview, and get the big picture before you dive in. On your bulletin is the link to a very good, very short “summary” of the Biblical story. It makes plain what can seem sort of confusing if Sunday School was sort of a long time ago.
The Bible is our foundational story. It is our guide. It is an important stepping stone in the life of faith. But here’s the take home point – We are not saved by our Bibles. We are not made holy by memorizing scripture. The reason the Bible is so important is because it helps us grow in our understanding, appreciation and love for Jesus Christ, who DOES save us.
Timothy’s letter says, “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. Scripture doesn’t save us. Jesus does.
We understand scripture as a witness to Jesus Christ. We don’t say it is literally, historically, geologically true. We say it witnesses to the truth of Jesus. Jesus said, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
And it is Jesus’ way that we hope the Bible will teach us, correct us and train us to follow. It is so that we may be proficient and equipped to do as Jesus did, in every good work, that we love and study the Bible.
There’s a great story that preachers have been telling since the Civil War, about what makes the Bible such an important stepping stone in the life of faith:
An army chaplain, working the field after a battle, found a wounded man and asked him if he would like to hear a few verses of scripture. The man replied, no, but that he was thirsty. The chaplain gave him a drink from his canteen. Shall I read some scripture now? “No, thank you,” said the soldier. But could you put something under my head?” The chaplain did so and repeated his question once more. “No, sir, not now. But I’m cold. Could you cover me up?” And the chaplain took off his great coat and gently tucked it around the wounded man.
By now, the chaplain had put away his Bible, and prepared to walk away. But the soldier said, “Look, Chaplain, if there’s something in that book of yours that makes a person do what you’ve done for me, then I want to hear it.”
There’s something in this book that moves us one step closer to our Lord and Savior, and through which he equips us to take the next step in faith.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What I did say

I didn't say it quite this way. But this is what I said:

Stepping Stone #1- Baptism
Exodus 14:10-31
A Matter of Life and Death
Baptism is the first stepping stone of faith – and this fall, having laid stepping stones made by our young people on Rally Day, we’re going to spend a few sermons mulling over where we are in the journey of faith, and what steps Jesus our Lord is inviting us to take next as we seek to follow Him. In the Exodus story, Christians, from the first century on, have seen God doing what God does in baptism – giving new life by a passage through water.
Scientists tell us that the life they study began in water. And what is so for the physical origin of life, the Bible tells us is also true for the spiritual life of God’s people. The water is where it all begins.
This story is the time capsule, that takes us back to the very moment in which God’s people came to be.
Before the escape from Egypt, they were a bunch of slaves. Their lives were nasty, brutal and short. They served a master who valued their lives not at all, but used them up, draining their hopes and dreams and energy and will until they were as dry and as sterile as the desert sand. Before the events recalled in this story, they were nothing and they knew it.
After – they were God’s chosen ones. With an identity, with a future, with a hope. Biblical scholars’ best guess is that the story of the Exodus is the foundational story of God’s people. They experienced this. They saw that God had done this. Their relationship with God began here. All the stories that come before this come because, knowing that God had brought them out of slavery through the sea, they looked back to try to figure out what else God had done before. They were formed by water and the word, on the floor of the Red Sea, walls of water, looming to their right and to their left. With the spray in their faces and the roaring of a mighty wind in their ears, this is what melded them together with one another and with God.
The Exodus story is a story of life and death, of the end of an era and a new beginning. It is a story of what God can do, what God lives to do, what God wants more than anything in his heart of hearts to do: save people and give them a new life.
It is a story that belongs to you. And me. And to everyone who has passed through the waters of baptism and into the new life of Christ.
Baptism is one of only TWO sacraments which Jesus commanded us to observe: The Lord’s Supper is the other, of course. As He left this earth, Jesus gave his disciples what we call “the great commission” – Go, therefore, into all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the earth.” We baptize at Christ’s command, because Christ’s love is extended to all people, and baptism is the sign and seal of inclusion in God’s promise of life.
Here’s the first thing we need to bear in mind about this stepping stone: Baptism is what God does – the Exodus story says (v. 14) “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (v. 30-31) “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day . . . and Israel saw the great work that the Lord did . . . ” Baptism is the first step of faith. And it is a step that God takes toward us. When we stand at this font and pour water upon the head of a new Christian, whether that new Christian is 8 months or 18 years or 88 years old – baptism is the embodiment of (here’s a theological word for you) PREVENIENT grace. Prevenient means – going before. It’s another way of saying that baptism is God’s action, not ours; in Baptism we receive and are empowered to respond to God’s grace with faith, but we do not act.
Baptism is how we enter the Christian life and the body of Christ. It is a matter of dying to self and being born again into the new life God has planned for us. Dying. Being born. These are events over which human beings rightly exercise little or no control. And we only experience them once. That’s why Baptism is a once for all stepping stone. Because it is something God does. God makes sure that once is enough. As John Calvin once argued, “The benefit which we derive from the sacraments ought by no means to be restricted to the time when they are administered to us. . . . The benefit of baptism lies open to the whole course of life, because the promise which is contained in it is perpetually in force.”
Here’s the second thing Christians know about baptism. In baptism, our sins, our old self, is washed away. Baptism is connected to forgiveness of sins – it is a plunge into the cleansing waters of forgiveness. And when we are baptized, the spiritual truth is that we come up out of the waters of baptism WET. We don’t usually immerse people when we baptize. I’d be glad to! With all this rain, we could have a great baptism in the Embarras right now! But even though our font doesn’t hold that much water, when I baptize someone I strive to get them really wet. It’s not because I’m mean or trying to make a show of it. It’s because when God forgives us, and washes away our sins, God does it in a big way. He doesn’t just sprinkle a little forgiveness on us. He soaks our whole self, our whole being, with forgiveness. Being baptized, truly, means a life saturated with forgiveness and reconciliation. We who are baptized ought to be like a dog coming out of the river – you know how they do?! They shake off, flinging droplets all around, they get everyone around them wet. That’s the way it ought to be for us: Christians can not keep the water of forgiveness to themselves.
The New Testament lesson for today in the lectionary is the parable of the forgiven but unforgiving servant. Here, as many other places throughout the gospels, Jesus emphasizes that the good news of our forgiveness, the canceling of our debt to God, the sending away of our evil thoughts, words and deeds makes possible a life in which we, too, can and can and must forgive one another. We are baptized. We are forgiven. We have been born again and the life to which we have been born is one of grace and forgiveness, through and through.
Hughes Oliphant Old stated: “Baptism is a sign under which the whole of life is to be lived. Our baptism is always with us, constantly unfolding through the whole of life.”
Baptism is the outward and visible sign of the grace of God’s forgiveness, and the watery passage to a life of forgiveness lived with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Which brings us to the idea of our walking in our baptism.
Baptism is about what God does – saving us. Forgiving us.
Baptism is also about how we are to live .
Luther, Martin Luther, said that every morning a Christian should put his or her right hand on her head and say, “I am a baptized person. Today, I will live my baptism.”
Baptism is, at one and the same time, totally God’s gift to us, and also a stepping stone upon which we are invited and encouraged to walk.
In verse 15, in which God says to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the people to go forward.” At the Exodus, God saved the people of Israel. But in order for the salvation to be effective, they had to turn around, quit staring at the oncoming Egyptian army, put all their fears aside, take courage and, against every instinct in their being make themselves walk into the sea. Can you imagine the terror? Walls of water on either side. How strongly their children must have pulled on their hands, trying to get away, trying to wriggle free from this terrifying ordeal?
God saved. God parted the sea and opened a way for the people. But they had to walk. In fact, they had to step lively in order to stay alive, in order to live in the salvation God made for them.
In the same way, God saves us from sin and death through Jesus Christ, who gives us baptism as a sign and seal of that salvation. That’s God’s doing. And at the same time, we must take courage, face forward and move in the direction baptism points us.
God spoke to Moses and said, “Tell the people to go forward.” And that’s what I’m telling you. God has opened a way for the people of God. God has opened a way for you. It is through the waters of baptism, through the unspeakable gift of forgiveness and new life.
It is a scary passage, this passage from death to life. We have to fight our instinct to turn back, and trust ourselves to a power so mighty and so awesome as to be incomprehensible. With walls of water looming, to our right and to our left, we are vulnerable. We are powerless. We are in mortal danger. Yet, with hearts pounding and eyes wide, we see the way ahead is clear. And so we take the next step.

Water, Water, Everywhere

It was just a coincidence, but today when I preached on baptism and God bringing us new life through the water, the church basement flooded. Terry Pratt, then Sean, Tim, Caleb and I bailed water for 21/2 hours. Tim went out and got a little shop-vac. The water is now coming in at no more than a gallon a minute, so we can keep up. But I'm sick of water. And I'm ready to claim that promise that the people of God will walk with dry feet.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What I didn't say

I'm working on this sermon series about "stepping stones of faith". I'm going to try to touch on the important milestones that Christians mark as our faith develops and matures. The first one is baptism.
I always find that I can't fit everything I've read or heard or thought about a particular passage into any one sermon. One Easter season I preached on the same passage 7 times. Which I really liked. I could come at it differently, and dig a little deeper each week into what the Gospel (of John, in this case) was proclaiming about our Risen Lord.
Anyway. Often there is something I wish I could say about a passage that just doesn't fit. That was true this week. Then I remembered - I have a blog! I could put it there!
So here's what I didn't say in the sermon:
We don't repeat baptism. But we are asked to reMEMBER our baptism. And that suggests that what happens is that we get "dis-membered" - pulled apart and separated from the fullest meaning of baptism. We get cut off from God's promise of life, and we get cut off from being part of the body of Christ, the church. And so we are called to reMEMBER who God has made us in baptism. We are asked to reconnect with God and reconnect with the people God has given us to live with and love.
The words from the Book of Common Worship (to be spoken while the congregation is being sprinkled with water) are "Remember your baptism, and be glad!"
Remember and be glad. I want to do that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sept. 7 sermon

Matthew 16:21-28
Sept. 7, 2008
“Take the Next Step”
Rally Day

Craig Barnes, Presbyterian pastor and preaching professor at Pittsburgh, told a group of us about visiting a monastery. He spent some time there, and, in the course of his visit, learned something very interesting: In each monk’s closet, along with their robes, hangs the set of street clothes that they wore before they entered the monastic life. He asked why that would be. And his monk friends told him that that set of clothes was there because each day, when they opened their closets, they were reminded that they had to decide whether or not to accept Jesus’ call to live as a monk. The other clothes were always there. Any morning, they could put them on and leave. And every day they could choose, indeed, they had to choose, to put on the robes and live the life to which they had been called. They had a choice. And each day they had to make it.
In the 16th chapter of the Gospel, after the disciples have been with Jesus, going from town to town. After they have left their fishing boats, left their tax stalls, left their families and their villages for parts unknown, after they have eaten hundreds of meals with this man from Nazareth, heard him preach and teach in the synagogues in many towns; after they have witnessed his healing power, learned that with his blessing, they themselves can feed multitudes. After all this time of being with Jesus, the disciples hear him say, “If you want to be my disciples, follow me. . . “
What do you think we’ve been doing? Chopping liver?
We’ve been following, Jesus. Haven’t you noticed?
But Jesus isn’t insulting the disciples, he is inviting them to continue the journey, or perhaps to pick up the pace, to look a little at the road ahead and see what challenges and opportunities lie there.
On this Rally Day, when we kick off our year of youth Christian Education, it’s appropriate that we think about how Jesus moves us along on the path of discipleship. Whether we are just beginning to call Jesus Lord, or we are long time active members. Whether we are first time visitors or elders or deacons who’ve served multiple terms, we share this common characteristic: We are still being called to follow. We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. And no matter where we are in our journey, we can each take another step. The Sunday School children have created reminders for us, and placed them in the church’s lot: Call them stepping stones of faith:
Some of us are just beginning to walk the stepping stones. We are blessed, as a congregation, to welcome those who are, literally, taking baby steps. Because they are babies. Each child is precious to God. Set apart to live a life with God at its center. One way that God has given us to show this choosing and setting apart is through infant baptism. There aren’t two baptisms, meaning one thing for believers and another for babies. There is one baptism, and it reveals and represents the baptized person’s death and resurrection in Christ. For children, whose parents and whose congregation makes promises that we will do everything in our power to nurture the Christ life of the child, it means that at every stage of development and growth, God claims that kid.
God claims each one of us in baptism. I hope we are thinking of that as parents and grandparents and as young people, too. It’s not as though Christian Education is for us or our kids when they are in grade school, when they are cute and cuddly and don’t ask too many questions we can’t answer. Although, and when they get to be in Jr.Hi. they can do confirmation and then decide to stay home. Our high school youth, as you saw Sunday before last, are at a tremendous age for spiritual growth. They shine with the Spirit.
The Stepping stones for Sunday school are baptism, first communion, receiving a Bible, confirmation and (lately) service. Mary Simon and the SS staff are interested in strengthening their program. But they have done a wonderful job of offering ongoing, challenging, age appropriate ways for our children and young people to follow Jesus.
They do it because they care. Because they are on their own path of following Jesus.
The path doesn’t dead end after confirmation. Studies show that over 70% of young people confirmed in the church leave after high school and do not come back. This is common and may sound discouraging, but I can’t help thinking that it would be great, in our mobile society, if we could hang onto those 30%. And know that, even if they don’t continue to live and worship here, that doesn’t mean God isn’t still wanting to lead the young people who begin their journeys here. Churches that put resources into enabling the first steps need to help young people who are entering adulthood to find the path, the stepping stones, that fit their new stride.
If you are wondering about your next stepping stone along the journey of faith, I’d like to remind you of some of the ways this congregation encourages you along. SS opportunities. Bible Study options – women’s groups, Thursday night. I’ll extend the offer that if there is a topic or a life issue that you’d like to get together to explore with your brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll do everything I can to enable that to happen.
Worship is a time of seeking deeper understanding. Personal devotions are also a time of growth in discipleship. As is service to others.
I want to let you know that I’ll be asking Session to take an inventory of where each one of them is in their faith journey. And where we, as a church, could strengthen our celebration and encouragement of continuing spiritual development.
The journey of discipleship gets more complicated, more difficult as we go along. Jesus plainly warns his disciples that following him means taking up a cross bearing His burden – the cross – which is the price of love for the world. It means denial of self in service of others. It means losing our old life – with its comforts and cares – in order to enter fully into the life that God intends.
Maybe that sounds daunting. But remember that Jesus also promises that the road leads to the kingdom of God, and that those who walk it will not taste death – but feast on God’s eternal life. That feasting starts the moment we begin to walk. And the table is still set before us.
What is important today is that, no matter where we are on the journey, how long or how short a time we have been following Jesus, that we hear him say to each one of us, “If you want to be my disciple, follow me.”
No matter how long or how short a time we have been following each day is a day in which Jesus invites us to make a decision:
Will we follow him?
Will we continue to put one foot in front of the other on the way that he shows us?
Will we answer his call to be a disciple and walk with him today?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


As I'm sitting at the computer, working on the bulletin for Sunday, when out of the top corner of my eye I see a huge spider, outside the window, lowing herself down from the gutter, all the way to the top of a holly bush in the garden below. Pretty soon, she's back. Then down, then up. She's construcing the spokes of a web, pulling herself along with two front legs. After she has about thirty spokes, she starts at the center and makes a gradually opening spiral, using much lighter silk, and using her back legs to fasten it to each spoke. Now she's doing something else with the heavy thread again, maybe reinforcing the edges. Yes. She's going around the outside edges, making stronger connections there.
She has striped legs, red and yellow, and the light shines through her legs. Her body is dark dark avocado grean and about the size of a soybean. She seems to know exactly what she is doing.
The bulletin is done. The theme for the week is baptism.
Does my little friend know "down came the rain and washed the spider out"?
We'll see.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Late Summer Rain

Ah! The rain is late. But doesn't it feel good?
Yesterday was the first "JAM Session" - the meeting of our Jr.Hi Afterschool program. And it went really great. Good leadership. (Suzanne and Pastor Rich are FABULOUS) Good kids. (Some boys, some girls) Good parents. (Who filled out permission slips and offered to bring snack) Good snacks. (Chocolate covered frozen bananas - need I say more?) Good times. (Wednesdays, 3:30-5:30) I think we're on to something and I'm so pleased. A couple of the kids took home multiple permission slips to give to their friends. Yeah!
I've got to get something into the paper. Especially because we have some really cool programs coming up: Officer Franzen, the school resource officer is coming. So is Jay Freese, the funeral director. And next week Barry from our own church, who works at the juvenile detention center and knows whereof he speaks, is going to talk to them about how to defuse tense situations. It's news you can use, boys and girls!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day

I have no party plans for Labor Day, but I certainly have a celebratory spirit!

Labor Day reminds me how blessed I am:
To have work to do in this world.
And a job.
And a pretty large area of intersection
between the two.
That's not always been true. And it's not a disaster when work and job don't overlap too much. But it's sweet when it happens.

What's the best job you ever had?
What's the best work you ever did?