Monday, February 18, 2008

Pondering Praise

I'm struggling to find a direction for my sermon this week. I know it's only Monday so I shouldn't stress out too much, but I think this is going to be a hard one and my week is, too! I'm typing here at the church now with a sick toddler in my lap. Her fever was over 104 last nigth in the middle of the night. It was 103.5 this morning. She's at work with me now where we have no thermometer, so I'm not sure what it is, but I know she is making my lap VERY warm. I couldn't convince her to fall asleep in the nursery when naptime would have been good, so now she's sleeping in my arms for the first time in well over a year. She never has been one for cuddling to sleep, at least not since she weaned. It's sort of cute and comforting except when I remember that we're only doing this because she's sick. I hate that she's sick.

Next Sunday is my installation in the afternoon after our regular worship. I'm working on that bulletin and the morning one, but at least I don't have to do the major "content" prep for both services. I have a few friends from my previous call who are coming to celebrate this new step in my ministry. I am thrilled and humbled that they are making the long drive to join us - the long drive to an even colder part of the country! It's going to be a joy to have them here, especially if my Sunday sermon is complete and ready to go by the time they all arrive on Saturday. I can pray and hope, right?

My initial planning for this sermon series from the Psalms had all "p" words as the themes - - penitence, protection, praise, providence, promise. I haven't actually published (no "p" intended) that list anywhere so I probably shouldn't feel stuck to it or anything, but for some reason I keep coming back to it.

This week would be the "praise" week. Psalm 95 just bursts forth with praise, calling us to sing to God, come to God with thanksgiving because God is our Maker and the Maker of all things. I don't know if I read all the way into verses 8-11 when I first read this psalm, though, because now I'm sort of baffled by where it goes. It goes from praise to prophetic warning (at least it's a "p", right?). That last half is not so much "good news". I want something to come after verse 11, the one that says "They shall not enter my rest." I need verse 12 that says, "But remember, I'm the forgiving one, so I let them in anyway." Where's that message? Or maybe "For forty years I loathed that generation" being followed by, "But now they know my love like an everflowing stream." Something, anything to bring the mood back up. Remember, God, we were just praising you!

I think the sermon is somewhere here in this struggle. I just haven't found it yet. I want to know the purpose (hey - - another "p") of putting these two together. My good ol' Oxford footnotes tell me that "the declaration that worship without obedience is displeasing to God is a cardinal principle of Old Testament religion." That might be a starting point. It almost seems to me like God interupts the worshiper, sort of like "I've heard this before. Make sure you mean it this time." God sounds more than a bit frustrated.

I don't know. There's something here for me about the connection between praise and prophecy, but I don't know yet what it is. I might be preaching ("P"!) this perplexing (big "P"!) relationship. Hopefully more comes to me tomorrow. I don't have much going here!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Five - Baptism

For today's five, tell us about your baptismal experiences.

1. When and where were you baptized? Do you remember it? Know any interesting tidbits?

I was baptized when I was about 3 months old, so I don't remember it. Our baptisms were not something remembered or talked about in our families growing up so I don't know too much about it. During seminary I found a picture of my family at my baptism with the chaplain who officiated; my father was a civilian working for the Army, stationed in Germany. That picture is now on my desk at the church so I can remember my first calling and my first "ordination". The only interesting tidbit that I know that always makes me chuckle is that I was sprinkled as an infant by a Baptist minister. He was the Protestant chaplain so he did what he needed to do, but it always makes me giggle.

2. What's the most unexpected thing you've ever witnessed at a baptism?

Nothing too crazy, but at one of my last baptisms at my last church (not quite a year ago) the baby pooped a BIG ONE during my prayer over the water, and came into my arms with a huge cloud of stink! The mom looked at me so apologetically, but there was nothing we could do. I mean, I have two kids of my own and I have NEVER smelled anything more icky in my life.

3. Does your congregation have any special traditions surrounding baptisms?

This Sunday is my first baptism in my new congregation, just started Jan. 1. I know that they make a banner for the family that hangs on the font on the Sunday of the baptism, and then is a gift to the child. I haven't seen one yet, so I don't know what it looks like, but I think it's sweet. in my last call my favorite tradition was the gift of a white baptismal prayer shawl. I was a part of the knitting group that made some of these so that was also special.

4. Are you a godparent or baptismal sponsor? Have a story to tell?

I'm Presbyterian so our theology teaches that I am a "godparent" to all who are baptized. Other than that I have no particular children or adults I have been a godparent or sponsor to.

5. Do you have a favorite baptismal song or hymn?

I like "Baptized in Water", a baptismal hymn to the same tune as "Morning Has Broken".

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Protection on the Journey

Psalm 121

God holds us when we're vulnerable. When we decide to make a journey toward God, to uproot our lives, to change directions, to move somewhere new to come closer to God for worship, for sacrifice, for the building up of our faith, it can be scary!!! Yet, we need not be afraid. God keeps our lives, and helps us on the journey, protecting us when we need protection, but not preventing the journey from happening.

Not too much to add, but a shot of inspiration that just came and I needed to write down before it left me. I'll figure out where it goes later.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pilgrim Protection

I'm working with Psalm 121 this week. It just so happens that this is my FAVORITE psalm. It's the first psalm (of only two) I have memorized. It was during Sunday school, I think, in the 3rd grade. I love it. I love the comfort it brings; the promise it makes. When I was little I read verse 4 different than it was intended. I thought "he who keeps you" and "the one who keeps Israel" referred to someone who held Israel and me hostage, or was harming us. I sort of secretly liked that God was "getting" those people for us. The sleepless revenge felt good to me! I had some grown-ups I was a little angry with at the time!

Now that I am older, although a little revenge sounds good every now and then, it gives me even more comfort in those scary times to remember that there is no where I can go, no where I will ever find myself that is outside of God's reach. The Lord keeps me wherever I am.

So, this is a song of ascent - - one of the psalms sung by the pilgrims making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Pilgrims were completely vulnerable on their journeys. They couldn't really pull out their GPS to locate the nearest Motel 6, then call ahead on the cell phone to make sure there's room. At night they either had to trust a welcoming stranger who might open his or her home (dangerous) or camp on the side of the road (even more DANGEROUS). And the roads - - the pilgrims of Israel didn't benefit from the interstate highway system. Their roads were rocky, uneven and untrustworthy. The rivers cut canyons through the landscape, leaving tenuous ledges on which to balance. I slight mis-step could mean the loss of a fellow pilgrim. Simply surviving the pilgrimage was enough to lead them to compose and sing this song of trust, of confidence in God's protection over them night and day. Even while they slept, in unfamiliar territory and unknown lands, God stayed awake to guard them and keep them. With every step along the way God guided their feet. God's protection is ubiquitous for those walking the pilgrim path.

Our pilgrim path looks a little different. It's not a literal road with highway bandits and wild animals waiting for us to drop off to sleep. It is the journey of the faithful navigating the wilderness of culture and reason, conflict and temptation, priorities and passions. Our pilgrim path is this season of Lent, when we open ourselves before God, making ourselves vulnerable to the temptations around us as we are trying to move in a divine direction. What does God's protection look like for spiritual pilgrims? From where does our help come?

God helps those who help themselves. This is totally one of those phrases that defines American Christianity although it's WAY more American than it is Christian. It's one of those ways the gospel is confused by the culture, or that the culture becomes the gospel for some. Right?

This psalm tells us that God helps those who are helpless. God helps the vulnerable. God helps those whose hearts are exposed, those who place their lives in danger not to tempt fate, but because they know it the only way to grow closer to God. Putting our lives in danger for the pilgrimage means letting God have access to everything. It means laying everything open to God for God to see, adjust, prune back, renew. It means being willing to be reborn, not with our own fleshly desires, but with the desires of God's spirit.

The testimony of those who have been before us tells us that when we do so, God is faithful and God's protection is to be counted on. God will keep us from this time on and forevermore. Thanks be to God!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday Five

Here are the Friday 5 from Rev Gal Pals

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
I didn't do anything for Mardi Gras, but I led the Ash Wednesday service at church. It was short and sweet, no preaching. I combined the imposition of ashes (very new for some folks) with a confession of sin in the old campfire style. Folks wrote what separates them from God on slips of paper, brought them forward, received ashes, then placed the sins in the fire as a symbol of God' forgiveness. It was received well and went well. Our regular Wednesday service is working through a series called the "Liturgy of the Senses". It just so happened that this week was smell so the fire connected Ash Wednesday in with that.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
My most memorable Ash Wednesday was probably my first as an ordained pastor. That was probably the hardest observance of the year for me, and it still remains so. This one was better than most. It's just hard to me to put the ashes on others because it feels like I'm in a position of judgment even though I know I get the ashes myself. I know I'm not judging, but it's just completely awkward for me. It's very intimate, and I'm usually OK with intimacy, but this is so different.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
My family did not at all, and my church only did minimally. We had mid-day services once a week. My senior year of high school I got permission from my vice-principal to leave school once a week to attend the services. That was my first hint at Lent. I really picked up on it more in college where my closest friends were Catholic. My church in college also had a mid-day mid-week Lent service so I had that to attend and learn from.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
A little of both. I tend to pick something to give-up so that I can take-on. Usually my give-up is something time related, so that I can spend more time in spiritual disciplines. Many years I also pick something to give up that is basically a sacrifice just for sacrifice's sake. I sort of grew into this. In college it seemed like some people turned Lent into a diet-for-God. I was skeptical about giving up food that I enjoy for what seemed like the wrong reasons. I've since seen value in denying something I enjoy in order to look for my enjoyment in God instead of food, TV, or whatever the thing is for the year.

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
I have decided to get up each day earlier than usual in order to be sure that I can have some time alone with God in devotion. I am reading Bread and Wine in that time, spending time in Scripture, and I think I will continue with the "Giving Up Clutter" devotional posted about on another blog.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Hmmm....(makes weighing scale motions with hands) work on my bulletin or write in my blog? Work on my bulletin or write in my blog? I think we can all see how this debate went.

I should say that in an indirect way writing on my blog is working on my bulletin since this seems to be the place that my ideas are spread out before me so I can see where the Spirit is leading. That's a good thing. From here I get my direction for sermon title, prayers, theme, and everything else that goes into the bulletin. I really wanted it done before I left the office today, though. That ain't going to happen since I'm writing on the blog!

Oh well - - this week is my first week trying a series of sermons explicitly. My last church turned into a series in a way, but it was more for my own benefit in planning and writing them, than an advertised, organized series everyone was aware of. For the Sundays of Lent (not including Palm/Passion Sunday, at least in this point of my planning) I will be preaching from the Psalms. I have never used a Psalm for a sermon, so this is new to me in several ways! Just gotta jump in there and try new things, right?

So anyway, this Sunday is Psalm 32 which leads me to almost do an Ash Wednesday-type sermon, especially since our AW service won't include a formal sermon. The pain of sin is very real in this psalm, but so is the truth and restorative properties of God's grace. I like that we are restored, our sins are covered, so that we can continue praising God.

I haven't done a LOT of thinking on this passage yet, but I found and purchased a video clip to be used as part of my sermon. I have NEVER done anything like this before. It is way out of my usual realm and comfort zone, but this sanctuary is so well designed for this sort of addition, and I think I found one that is theologically sound (it helps that there are no words to mess it up), interesting for all ages (including older adults), and isn't so "contemporary" in music, theme, or design that it annoys the different generations for different reasons. I like the metaphor of how God removes and literally covers (repaints) our sin (like in the Psalm). It just seems good, so I'm willing to take that risk.

So, the video addresses pretty well the restoration and forgiveness part of the sermon and psalm. I will work mostly with the sin part. What is sin? Is it just things we do wrong? Things we don't do? Our attitudes, thoughts, tendencies? Do I even think about trying to address original sin? I don't think I will, but we'll see.

OK. I've got to go. I have a sick baby here at work with me today, and he has reached his limit of being able to sit nicely and play on the floor while I work. Poor little feverish guy! That's probably why my thoughts are still all over the place. Hopefully I can get more done tomorrow!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Found the good news

I guess it wasn't necessarily lost, but I was bumping up against a wall in my sermon planning. Back in Preaching 101 we learned about that checkmark shape to sermon development. I was getting us down in the depths with descriptions of how we try to keep God in a box (build a dwelling place for God) because that seems like what is good and right and comfortable, but I couldn't figure out how to get out of that. I know that isn't right, but short of just saying that it wasn't resolving.

Then I went back to the Scripture (duh). It seems so obvious, but sometimes I forget to do that. I read it a bunch early in my preparation, but sometimes I think I remember it well enough and don't go back to it until later if at all. Well, yesterday I went back to it, and remembered to pay attention all the way to the end. That's another thing I tend to do. I figure I know the story so I just sort of skim the end once I've started to read it, because, of course, I know this old story.

Well, in paying ATTENTION this time, I noticed something I hadn't paid attention to before. In their fear, Jesus touched them. He comforted them with those traditional "Be not afraid" words, but I think the compassionate touch is my key, the good news.

In our fear or discomfort, or in our times when we desire to control God and the good place we are with God, Jesus touches us. Jesus takes himself out of the box, even refuses to be put in it, and makes his presence physically known to us (GREAT for a communion Sunday) by touching us going down the mountain with us. We aren't just sent down the mountain to face our fears, we go down the mountain with Jesus at our side. We may have difficult things to face, and times when faith won't be easy, but we will not live those times alone. Jesus reaches out to touch us with compassion and walk the road with us.


Friday Five

First Superbowl (someone explain to this Brit the significance)- love it or hate it?
5 reasons please!!!!

I don't know if I can explain the universal significance, but I know why I love it. Love might be a strong word. I definitely like it and never plan to miss it.

1. It's my indulgence in all things that I feel like I'm not supposed to like (commercialism, overpaid athletes, etc) for just one night.

2. There are some REALLY clever commercials that just make me laugh.

3. Football food is yummy - nachos and dip, nuts, barbecue cocktail weinies, popcorn, beer.

4. We usually get together with friends to watch, so it's a fun time to hang out with folks we don't get to see often enough.

5. An enterprising fellow Presbyterian came up with a great way to redeem the totally American event.

I admit the game isn't always the most exciting, but I'm interested this year. I have affection for the Manning family, so it's fun to see one of their boys play. A so-far-undefeated team playing is kind of exciting, too, this year. On one hand you want to see them pull off the whole season, but on the other hand you can get behind the excitement of the other team being the only ones who could beat them. Since I don't have real ties to either team, I need to pick the boys who I will pull for since it's always more fun when you're behind one team or the other.

OK, everyone, remember to post here to help a good cause!