Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Today is our day at VBS - to do the Bible Story and bring the food. I haven't felt real connected with the whole process this year, though we do have 7 kids and 3 leaders there, and I've tried to see them each night. Attendance is low this year. Second year in a row, and some of us are talking about maybe doing something different next year.
Of course, when I got to be in charge a few years ago, we tried something different and everyone went STAMPEDING back to the old way. (But, honestly, I think we had a good year. We had over 100 kids there, and some of them still tell me they remember it and thought it was cool.)
I wonder is we could do something more God/Creation/Renewing the Earth centered. I heard Tolono did that it turned out great. Recycling and gardening and learning. Just a thought. Charleston takes the kids camping for a night and they spend the day in a state park. Wouldn't that be more memorable?
The folks who take the lead with this VBS are such incredibly hard workers, and they put alot of themselves into it. Maybe we should just leave it be.

This morning I'm meeting someone who works with Tim for coffee and to talk about my trip to Palestine. She's from Lebanon and I want to know enough to be a good guest there. Some phrases, the right greetings, etc. So I'm tickled about that.

Jeri and Kirk got home from Malawi. The trip was incredible. The total culture change was both eye-opening and exhausting, as I remember from Nicaragua. But Africa is WAY more challenging than Nicaragua! I think it will take them a few days to get rested up before they can even recognize themselves in the mirror. Tough trip. I'm so proud of them for answering the call to go!!!

Other things to do today - send bulletin material for Paris pulpit exchange
plan 1/2 of service for Youth Sunday.
look toward fall sermon series (arg!)
enjoy the beautiful birds and flowers in my yard.
write thankyou notes to the great folks who helped pull last Sunday together.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Presby Park Picnic Potluck w/ Prairie Dog Band

The Tolono Presbys joined us for a wonderful worship service. Thanks to Rev. Kerry Bean for his help with the service - and to everyone who brought their hearts, their voices, their neighbors and their covered dishes! The Spirit moved. (I hope that's not too presumptuous. I really mean it.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trying to think about what happened yesterday

Yesterday the man who used to run the Philo Country Store shot his brother at his grocery store in Tolono. The brother died. It is so sad and horrible, it is hard to think about anything else.

Brian is just a regular guy - friendly, hard working, a little crude sometimes, but he was generous in helping out the Youth Group with a car wash on more than one occasion. He wasn't religious - in fact the only theological conversations we ever had concerned his good deeds "making points with the Big Guy". I feel pretty sure that that kind of thinking isn't going to be of much help to him as he tries to sort out what has happened now.

I wonder how his family - his parents and his wife and children - are going to cope. The future suddenly is very dark and torturous for all of them.

You know, the Presbyterian/Protestant/probably all Christian way of thinking SAYS that we are all sinners and that without God's help we are capable of terrible things. But I doubt if any of us really come to grips very often with the implications of that. We don't REALLY think of ourselves, day to day, as having evil lurking in our hearts. But then something like this happens and . . . here is a man who is not all that different than most of us, and he killed his brother.

We might try to come up with the ways that we are different from him - hoping to shut out the horror and distance ourselves from it. But I think we might learn more and maybe grow more as human beings if we admit that what happened is an indication of who we all are, at some level at least. And I'd hope that that recognition would redouble our reliance on God's grace and forgiveness in our lives.

I hope that Brian finds someone who can tell him about God better than I did. And I hope his family finds lots of Christian friends who can walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Early Morning Sermon

This one was really hard to write. Why?

Hymn of the Cosmic Christ
Colossians 1:15-29

O What a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day!

I think I’ve told you before how much I love the movie and theatre moments in which characters burst into song. Viewed from the grumpy side of life, those moments seem kind of silly and embarrassing. But they also represent a kind of border between the mundane and the spiritual. Between ordinary life and rapture. Between what can be rationally stated, and what must be heart-fully expressed.

Our scripture reading this morning represents on of those moments - when the enormity and beauty of what he wants to express overwhelms mere prose. And he breaks into song.

This first part of our scripture lesson is a hymn - a song - extolling Christ and expressing the wonder of what God has done for us through Christ. This hymn was most probably sung in the early church
(I think it’s worth a moment to think about the fact that as the church was getting started and spreading, one of the first things they did was compse hymns and sing. Writing creeds came much later. Even writing alot of the New Testament came later. Hymns came quickly and took hold - that’s how closely linked our faith is to our songs. That’s why what Betty and our other accompanists do is not just . . . entertain us or show their personal musical gifts. When she plays for us, Betty connects us to one of the most basic forms of Christian expression. And we should never take that for granted. Thank you Betty, for enabling us to sing!)

Theologians and Biblical scholars refer to this portion of scripture as the Hymn of the Cosmic Christ, because it attempts to express who the one we call Jesus is and was, not only in his earthly life, but in terms of cosmic time and the context of all of creation.
Christ is the image of the invisible God, it begins.
In Christ were all things created.
All things were created by Christ and for Christ.
And in Christ all things are held together.
For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.

The majesty of creation is tied to the wonder of reconciliation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A few weeks ago, I asked the congregation to fill out cards, with questions and issues that you would like addressed in sermons or bible studies. And I’ve been praying over those index cards, just keeping the faith of those writers and the themes they raised in mind as I planned for this fall.

And this week, as we continue to read in Colossians, I felt like the passage might help address one of the issues that were raised by thoughtful, faithful people. (Actualy, I thought I might address two of the questions, but the sermon got too long so I’m putting question #2 - about discerning God’s will back to be addressed more fully later.) One was about how we think about other religions, and whether or not God grants eteranal life to anyone but those who are Christians. What about good Buddhists? Good Jewish people? Good and devout Muslims? In our increasingly connected world, these questions take on some urgency. We see these people on tv. We read about them in books and on line. Doesn’t God love and care for them? Does God reject them because they do not call on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ?

Haven’t alot of us thought about that? People of faith, theologians and philosophers have spent alot of time thinking about that question. And this passage is one of the ones that they consider in that regard. Because it opens up a vision of Christ and an expression of the scope of His work that gives us a different vantage point or perspective on questions about God and other religions.

On the one hand, the hymn affirms that it is in Christ Jesus that we know God. He is the image - the mirror - the reflection - the representation - of Almighty God. In human form, God was pleased to dwell. We get much the same language in the first chapter of the Gospel of John- the Word became flesh and dwelt among us - the fullness of Grace and Truth. Christ is unique and we cannot know God apart from Him.

But, amazingly, as music sometimes can, the hymn also pulls us what feels like the opposite direction: Christ was present at the dawn of creation and EVERYTHING that was created was created by and for Him. Our Lord is not just a teacher in Palestine who founded a nice religion - one among many others, which are now in some sort of contest to see who can get the most votes in a worldwide “Earth’s Got Religion”. Christ created the earth, and holds together that creation. Which makes us think, well, Christ can and will work in and through all things to accomplish God’s purpose. In all humility, know that God is God, we have to allow for the possibility that Christ is working in and through in other peole, even of other religions, to care for and love and reconcile people to Himself. The Bible doesn’t just say, Everyone must believe in Jesus. It also says, with equal strength and power, “Through Christ God was pleased (past tense, you guys - Christ’s reconciling work is accomplished) to reconcile ALL THINGS to himself.

One of the ways that Reformed theology differs from Baptist and Anabaptist and New Wave popular TV evangelist theology is that our flavor of Christianity has also carried the insistence that God is free and God can and will “save” those whom God chooses, that it is not up to us to win or earn our salvation by works or any other way. Presbyterians have taken seriously that grace is a gift. And we respect God enough to think that God can and will give that gift out to whomever God wants.

And Christ’s own mission and ministry seem to point to God’s great desire to give it away to all. There is not an ethnic group Jesus leaves out, not a gender group he favors, not a religious boundary he encounters that he doesn’t cross, not a moral failure that is beyond his forgiveness. God’s grace is offered to all. Even to those who reject him and crucifed him. As he was dying - hanging on the cross that saves us - Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Those words are our ultimate hope and our ultimate assurance that we ourselves are saved.

Now - taken to the extreme - this thought has given rise to the position we call Universalism. The theological position that God saves everyone, no matter what, because God’s love is so great that no one has the power to overcome or reject it.

Presbyterians are not universalists. One of our greatest theologians, Karl Barth, puts it this way: "The proclamation of the Church must make allowance for this freedom of grace. Apokatastasis Panton? No, for a grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God's grace. But would it be God's free grace if we could absolutely deny that it could do that? Has Christ been sacrificed only for our sins? Has he not ... been sacrificed for the whole world? ... [Thus] the freedom of grace is preserved on both these sides." [5]

For Barth, then, and for Reformed and Presbyterian Christians, the place we wind up is held in the same creative tension that we find in this hymn: Faith in Christ means that we can neither affirm nor deny the possibility that all will be saved.
So what can we do? Our answer is clear: we can hope (see CD IV/3, pp. 477-78). [6]
We can cling to Christ and the hope that he offers for our lives only as deeply and fervently as we offer and embody that hope in a world that clearly stands in need of his mercy and grace.
When we encounter people of other faiths, we look for Christ’s reconciling work in them, we have faith that Christ is there - because Christ is everywhere! - and we give thanks for that work, no matter who seems to be involved in it. We don’t presume to know what God is doing in their lives, even as we share with them the good news of what Jesus Christ is doing in our lives. We leave the question open. And we hope. We don’t judge. We hope. We don’t dismiss. We hope. We don’t ignore, or fail to make Christ known as WE know him. We hope and we hope to not only make him known to them. We hope to know Him more fully as we come to know these others, who are also His beloved.

We started by talking about the moment that ordinary life gives way to song . The magic of that moment is, it seems to me, matched by the way that a song when a song ends, the feeling, the melody, the rhythm of the song lingers on and flavors the more mundane, prosaic parts of our lives. You know? How, having heard great music, we sometimes find that the “hook” - that’s what they call it - the “hook” of the song - has caught us and stayed with us and changed us somehow?
The scripture hymn ends, but with these encouraging words:

continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

The great songs - like this great hymn of the Cosmic Christ - burst into our consicousness and then, even after the song ends, we live with the words and music running underneath our everyday lives.
Christ is the image of the invisible God. Even when things seem alien to us, in Christ all things hold together. In Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God has reconciled all things to himself. We, who are reconciled through Christ, in our lives and in our words and in our prayers, go out into the world Christ created and redeemed as bearers of that song.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Five Pet Edition

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five for June 16th:

My friend Judy told a group of friends last week that her beloved hermit crab Al died. She missed Al--after six years of his company, even though she was not sure how pronounced his personality was or if he had one!

With the chewing exploits of our third dog, puppy Maisie, I am wondering about the pets we presently own and have had in the past.What about you? Tell us about the animals in your lives. If you have no pets, give examples of friends' pets or imaginary ones!

1. Did you grow up with pets?
Magnolia Blossom (Maggie B. for short) was a small breed beagle who lived with our family longer than I did. (I left home at 18. Maggie lived to the ripe old age of 19 years old.)

2. Do you have any pets now?
I have a dog - Chief. Also my stepson's dog - Lucky - lives with us. And soon my son is coming to visit and bringing his dogs - Kalie and Evie. It will be canine paradise around here.

3. What is the funniest or worst thing any of your pets have ever done?
Chief once ate 2 pounds of fudge that I had set in the middle of the dining room table in preparation for an afternoon open house. Then, of course, he was very sick and every rug in the house had to be cleaned and/or put away before guests started arriving. And they didn't get any fudge. That is "worst". Even now, years later, it does not qualify as "funny".

4. Who is/was your favorite pet?
Chief, who is a Heinz 57 type mutt, is my favorite. He is sneaky, shy, and sheds something awful. But he is absolutely devoted to me. And every preacher needs SOMEBODY who is absolutely devoted to them. Better and healthier to have a dog than look for devotion among congregation members.

5. How did you train your different pets?
Chief trained me to take him out and give him treats. He doesn't do much of anything else.

BONUS: Pictures of a pet or one you wish you could have.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spaghetti and the Christian Life

Colossians 1:1-17
New Member Sunday

The opening of the letter of Colossians is like a big plate of spaghetti. All week I’ve been trying to pick it apart, pull out the most important strands, push it into some kind of easily understandable shape, arrange it simply and attractively on the plate so that we can all digest it.

And all week, I’ve failed. It isn’t that it isn’t good stuff. Wholesome, nutritious, substantial. It is well balanced and just what we need. But I can’t serve it up in neat spoonfuls. It keeps sliding off the fork. It’s messy.

Yet spaghetti is so good! I couldn’t give up the idea of serving it to you this morning.

And by Friday I realized why - - - because the letter is to a real church, about a real church, from a real christian about the real christian life. And church life, christian life, is often hard to sort out and explain simply. It is all intertwined and connected up over around and through. It’s messy. And fabulous. Spicy and good. And good for you.

Sophia Loren famously said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

So . . . What I’m offering is a few messy forkfuls.

Church life can be faithful and fruitful. Lots of the letters, Paul’s letter, especially, are sent in response to some problem or crisis in the life of the church. Danger! Problems! People behaving badly! Alot like some or the communication we get about church now adays.

In contrast, Colossians is a welcome reminder that sometimes, by the grace of God, things go right and the church manages to do what it is supposed to do . . . reasonably well. The Colossians are greeted with thanksgiving and congratulated on their Christian life. The writer of this letter points to their faith in Christ, their care for one another and their Christian hope for the future. He says, “People have noticed. I have noticed. God has noticed that you are doing well.”

Now - maybe this is just me picking at a strand - but it’s interesting to me what he doesn’t say here - “Your Christian life is perfect. You are making a huge impact on the world. Slavery, abuse, unjustice, immorality, and heartache are all coming to a swift end because you are living so faithfully. I know that not a one of you ever errs, there are no bad feelings, and everywhere you go people are converted just by the power of your exemplary lives.” That ain’t the message. This is a small church, in a small city, and it’s doing pretty well. Thank God - because that is miracle enough - sign enough of God’s grace and mercy that this little congregation can continue to thrive and grow.

I think sometimes we can get focussed on the ideal way we think church should be - tackling every evil that destroys people’s lives, eliminating hunger, actively evangelizing our neighborhoods and communities, loving each other to pieces, and worshipping with such enthusiasm that we don’t want to stop when 11 oclock arrives - we just want to go on praising the Lord! I’d like to belong to a church like that. I’m sure you would, too.
We can get discouraged, always thinking about what we lack, so that we forget or ignore the incredible blessings with which God has blessed this little faithful group:

By the grace of God, this morning our Session met and prayed over two of our members who have answered God’s call to help out and share their faith in one of the poorest countries in the world. In Malawi, Africa, for Pete’s sake. Something is going right! Very, very right! And the other business on our docket was recieving 4 new members. Who have 5 children, overall. Our church is growing again. In the last month by roughly 5%. 5 people in the last month have said, “Yes, I have decided to grow my Christian life among this group of people.” Something is going right. The prayers of the people are being answered. Our congregation is fruitful. I thank God for that!

We aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems. But that doesn’t mean we are failing to do please God or live a life worthy of our calling. This is where God wants us to be - with each other, encouraging, supporting, etc.

Second forkful:
Two strands of the Christian life are continuously intertwined: knowing and doing. The Christians at Colassus are encouraged to keep up the good work on two fronts: Learning, growing understanding, obtaining wisdom, - - - -the head and heart front.
And bearing fruit, performing God’s will, being persistant in acting out their faith in the world.

One translation puts it this way: we ask God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

One of the most outstanding features of the Presbyterian flavor of Christianity is that heart and head and hands are emphasized in our life of faith. Learning what the Bible says is important to us. Finding out what the Bible means is central to how we grow as Christians. This includes everything from educating our young people about the Ten Commandments and the story of Jesus life to the kind of inductive application that happens around the table of Adult Sunday School, to the devotions that happened on the Senior High Mission Trips to personal study that I know many of you engage in using resources like “These Days” devotional booklets. We do church in a way that lets people know you don’t have to check your brains at the door of the church.

But it’s not all “head” knowledge. It is living out the central truths of the faith as we learn them. The forgiveness that restores relationships when things go wrong. The love that reaches out to those in pain with reassurance and hope and a hearty casserole. The humility that says, “Who am I to judge?” rather than shunning those whose choices seem unfortunate to us. Hands opened to give and to recieve life . . . this, too, is part of the Christian life we share.

Head and heart and hands are intertwined and integral parts of what God wants from us and for us.

And the last forkful is what the writer of Colossians prays will be served up for the future of the church: May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully
12giving thanks to the Father
Strength of faith, Patience to endure setbacks, and Gratitude to God for what is set before us. Here’s a trio of virtues that characterize the Christian life - strength, Patience and gratitude.
Where does God’s power flow through you?
Is it in your work?
Your family?
Your involvement with church?
Your prayers?

What difficulties are you having to endure right now?
What areas of your life call for patience?
When it is hard to wait, how can your faith and how do your church friends help you?

And what about this joyfully giving thanks to the Father business?
Do you spend some portion of every day just being grateful?

Strength. Patience. Gratitude. Can those strands of Spaghetti be woven in and around all the meatballs of your life?

Life in the church is like a huge plate of spaghetti. It is sometimes messy. I remember when I was younger and single, and eating out with a date, I didn’t order spaghetti until the relationship was pretty secure, because, no matter how careful you try to be, or which technique you try for twirling it around the fork, or scooping it with the spoon in your left hand, or even cutting it up into little bitty bits of pasta . . . it’s hard to eat spaghetti without looking a little foolish sometimes. Sophia had some advice about eating spaghetti, too. She said the best way was just to inhale it. It’s not an elegant meal. It’s a challenge.

But when this is what is set before you,
and around the table are people who are also willing and ready to dig in and give it a go,
it is time to tuck the napkins in, thank God for the bounty, and let ourselves spill over in thanksgiving and joy.

Blog as substitute for memory:

This is from an article about a vote in the church of England to reject a two-tier system of bishops that would women always "second tier". I just was struck by this one sentence, which MAY (I'm not really sure about this at all) describe what's going on in a lot of "mainline" churches:

That is what compromise bargains: schism in slow motion.

Right now I'm posting it just so that I can think about it later. What immediately comes to mind is the thought that slow motion breakups - whether of high school romances or denominations - seems unnecessarily cruel to me. Better (more humble and more kind) to affirm that life goes on for both parties, even when the relationship is over.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Misreading the situation

"New language offered for ordination standards"

This was the banner headline on the PCUSA website this morning. And my reaction was, "Isn't Greek and Hebrew enough????"

That's not really what they were talking about. Oh well. It's early. I may sharpen up as the day wears on.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Faith and Fireworks Sermon

July 4, 2010
Luke 10:1-17?
Faith and Fireworks

Sparklers, Black Cats, Smoke Bombs, M-80s, Fountains, Roman Candles, Bottle Rockets, . . .

The aisles of Shelton Fireworks are full of all the things that make Fouth of July so fabulous - especially for those of us who have the hearts of teen age boys. And then there are the big guns - the huge mortars and gigantic bomb like things that pyrotechnic technicians set off in the night sky to help their unite audience members of every age and situation - families with kids smelling of bug spray, corraled on big blankets, teenage couples with their arms draped around each other, elders comfortably seated on folding lawn chairs with drink holders holding plastic cups of lemonade - every one united in the Oohs! and Aahs! that accompany the spectacular display.

Fireworks are fabulous. There is something just so soul satisfying about seeing the night sky lit up with all those beautiful and short lived lights.

Even Jesus would have liked fireworks, and I sight as evidence his statement to the 70 apostles that he sent out to tell the world about the nearness of the Kingdom: He describes their success with the expression - “I saw Satan fall from the heavens, like a bolt of light.” Doesn’t that sound like fireworks? It’s a phrase that expresses joy and triumph and heart stopping wonder.

And when I read it in our lectionary reading, I thought, wow! It’s like Jesus, as an observer of the missionaries he sent out, was seeing what we will see tonight - fireworks!

Only the fireworks he saw were not the result of gunpowder and carefully selected chemical reactions. The fireworks in this passage are found in the faith and faithfulness of the 70 men and women who went out, two by two, to tell the world about this Jesus whose love was lighting up their lives.

What does this passage tell us about faith on this day and night when fireworks fill the air? What do faith and fireworks have in common?

Well - fireworks always come with explicit instructions. So let’s start with the instructions that Jesus gave these earliest missionaries as they started out:

We can tell from Jesus’ words is that both faith and fireworks inherently contain a large element of risk. 13,000 fireworks victims keep hospitals busy every year. More than half of those injured are children. Fireworks not only injure users, but also 40 percent of fireworks mishaps injure bystanders. In 2004, fireworks started an estimated 1,600 structure fires and 600 vehicle fires which were reported to local fire departments. These fires resulted $21 million in direct property damage.
More than half (54%) of 2005 fireworks injuries were burns. Contusions and lacerations were second (29%), and were twice as common as burns when the injury was to any part of the head or face, including the eye. Hands or fingers were the part of the body injured in 30% of the incidents.  In 24% of the cases, the eye was involved; other parts of the face or head accounted for 20% of the injuries.
One of the reasons fireworks injuries continue to occur is because people just don't consider how dangerous these devices can be.
Faith is evidently risky, too, Jesus said, “I send you out as lambs among wolves.” The world is not an easy place to live out our faith. Far easier to be faithful here, as we are gathered in this safe place.

What are the risks? The primary risk is that we are going to be sent out. “I want to live a faithful life, but what if God calls me to go somewhere I don’t want to go? Talk to someone I don’t want to talk to? Do something that might embarrass or inconvenience me? The words to the old country tune come into my head: “I want to get right with Jesus - but not right now”

Well - I love the certainty of this part of the Christian life - we can be sure that God WILL be sending us to places and people and situations that mean we have to take some risks. That’s why we can it faith. There are risks to living faithfully. Now, we are very blessed to live in a country in which the practicing our faith does not ordinarily mean that we risk imprisonment or death. There are still countries like that, and we should be praying for the Christians in those places. But here - usually - we don’t risk death. And Jesus didn’t seem to say his followers were risking death, either. The biggest negative outcome Jesus mentions is the same one we risk in living faithfully: The risk of rejection. The risk that people won’t welcome us, listen to us, speak kindly to us. The risk that we’ll get made fun of, or shouted at rudely, or flipped off. (There were rude gestures in Jesus’ day, too.) And Jesus say we can’t retaliate. He says we have to just shake the dust off our feet and go on. Both faith and fireworks entail real risks - that is part of the thrill of using them.

Fireworks depend on the right elements being put in close proximity to one another. Contact between the fuse, and the igniter, and the thruster and the are what make fireworks go. If you have any experience with fireworks, you know that if any of the connections between there segments gets jostled loose or is missing, the firework is a dud.

Likewise, we can tell from Jesus’ instructions to his 70 chosen ones that faithfully fulfilling his mission requires close proximity to the people to whom they are sent. Jesus asks those he sends to go out, not with a credit card in their pockets, a reservation at a moderately priced but very nice hotel, and a picnic basket full of goodies, in case the nearest Subway or McDonald’s is not near enough. Jesus sends the faithful out with the knowledge that they are going to have to get into people’s homes, belly up to their tables, and sleep in their beds or on their floors if they are going to get the job they are sent to do done.

Getting close to other people, figuratively as well as literally, is a stressful experience for many of us. There are sociological studies that show that people in general need a certain amount of “personal space” and people in the Midwest, especially the rural Midwest, need a little more of that personal space than average. We live in the wide open spaces and, in part, that may be because we aren’t particularly comfortable pressed up against, and dependant upon, other people. Jesus seems to know this. Because he puts quite a bit of effort into specifically instructing those he sends in the details that will inevitably result in their close proximity to the folks they are supposed to reach with the faith.
If we are going to live as these faithful ones did - we need to be aware that sometimes this is going to result in uncomfortable closeness to folks we don’t really know and wouldn’t, if it were up to us, choose as hosts, guests, dinner companions and friends. Sometimes these instructions can be read literally: I think of the plates of food and the glasses of drink that were set before me in Nicaragua. Sometimes, I had to think twice about where the food had come from, how it had been prepared, and whether it was going to taste anything like what I’d prefer eating. When the farm hand asked if I’d like coffee, and then poured some from his cup into mine . . . and when he asked if I’d like cream and went over and squirted some straight from the cow into the cup . . . Well, putting that cup to my lips and drinking meant something more than when I share a cup of coffee with you during coffee hour. I know that Jeri and Kirk will be facing some of the same sorts of situations in Malawi. Sharing someone else’s food, in someone else’s home, eating together takes on a kind of intimacy that is both uncomfortable and thrilling at the same time.

But you don’t have to go to Central America or Africa to find that faith’s proximity principle comes into play. You just have to visit someone in the hospital, or their home. Or share a ride with them to a ball game or a personal conversation with them on the street. Proximity is priceless. Not always comfortable, but absolutely necessary to sharing the faith.

What would happen tonight, when you spread out your blanket to watch fireworks, if, instead of situating it as far from others as possible, you actually plunked yourself down close enough to the next group that you could talk? Find out about them? Share snacks? Think about welcoming, rather than avoiding, contact with acquaintances and casual friends and strangers in the week ahead. How many more opportunities would there be to find out what God is up to in their lives? How many steps would that take you toward the place where you could share with them the faith that sustains you? Try it. Faith and fireworks depend on contact, on close proximity, on sharing space.

But you know what I think is the most important thing that fireworks and a faithful life have in common? The way they light things up. They way they fill the darkness with beauty and joy. The way they surprise us - stop our hearts a little - even if we are watching for them, they always burst into bloom with ever new patterns and colors and forms. The faith of members of this congregation never cease to shock and awe me.

The fireworks tonight will last a few minutes. The risk and the reward of faith in Jesus Christ last a lot longer than that. Amen.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Black Lint in the Dryer (again)

The boys are home from their mission trip to Mt. Vernon. They had a good time and feel good about their work there, which is all I wanted. Caleb built a porch and repaired a wheel-chair ramp. Sean built a couple of ramps and put up fences. The residents whose homes they fixed up were very appreciative, which is also a plus.
They met some friends who they have already "facebook"ed. And they are glad to be home.
Doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Someone in a truck whistled at me. Just sayin.

From Eunice Attwood - the newly elected vicepresident of the Methodist Church in Great Britain -

I found this on revgalblogpals today and just loved it. I want to put it somewhere I would see and be encouraged/challenged by it.

Vice- President Eunice gave an inspiring account of the type of church she wants to be a part of:

I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.

I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.

A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.

My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.

Last day of the quiet week

Well, tomorrow we get up early and head to Mt. Vernon to pick up the boys who have been at mission trip all week. I do so hope that it has been a good experience for them. Teenagers seem to have such a difficult time focusing on what is so right in their lives and in the world. It's a tough age. For them, first of all, but also for those of us who love them better than life itself.
I'm trying to begin and finish up a sermon for Sunday. Sitting on the back porch with the computer is the best office set up in the world. Thank Goodness for this fabulous weather!
The quiet this week has given me a chance to get centered again and take care of some planning for the season ahead. It's been very energizing. Can't wait to see a bunch of stuff coming into focus.
Speaking of focus - I've finally "retired" my too old right eye contact lense and have switched to my other eye (and set of contacts) for seeing distance. My brain is a little confused to have to read with the right and see signs with the left, but I think it will work after I get used to it. Brains are plastic, right?
I want to do desk work for a little bit today and then put on my garden gloves and clean up a couple of weedy places that are pushing right up to the edge of "out of control" this afternoon. That will be fun. The flowers continue to be gorgeous! What a blessing a garden is!