Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking Up or Looking Out

So I'm working on my sermon prep for next Sunday. I didn't intend to do Ascension, but John just isn't speaking to me today. Not. one. word. The Acts passage (1:6-11, not 14) is. I feel like it has been too many weeks since I've had good characters to work with. I've missed getting inside a good story and playing with the folks we meet there. Here's what I'm seeing so far - -

As if they haven't seen enough yet, the apostles (v. 2) are still looking for more. Jesus was born, preached, performed miracles, died, and was raised from the dead, but these guys are still looking for more. "When are you going to do what we want you to do? When are you going to make this place like it used to be?" As I begin the 5th month of my new call, I can hear these undertones in some of my congregation members' comments. I think things are going very well. They had a rough history in the last 7 years or so. There was some unhealthy bickering before that, some major conflict or and with pastors. They lost a lot of members and a lot of morale. The interim period was long, but necessary. They spent an admirable amount of time and energy (and money) getting healthy (healthiER? Are any of us ever fully healthy?).

So now here I am. There have been and are a lot of expectations about where we will go from here. Many of those are described in the language and memories of the good old days. Now that we're back on our feet we need to restart the Wednesday Kids' Club. Now that we're back on our feet we need to revive our Youth Group. Now that we're back on our feet we need to get our membership number high again. Or as the apostles put it, now is the time to "restore the kingdom to Israel".

But resurrection doesn't = restoration. It isn't just bringing back to life what has died. It isn't just conquering what has been tying us down so that we can do the same old thing over and over again. What we had before didn't necessarily work, right? The resurrection frees us to do God's will in a new way. It releases us from the former understandings of success. It releases us from responsibility from saving the world ourselves, but calls us to witness to the one who is the Savior. Restoring the church through our own efforts to bring things back to some picture of "ideal" as remembered from the past isn't the goal. Following the Holy Spirit into the unknown territory of the future is.

Now a bit of a preaching dilemma. I love the question, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" Standing alone it says so much to me about being stuck in one place (the "stand" part) and being oblivious to the needs and Spirit's leading around us (based on "looking up"). In that question and the posture of the apostles I see a church that is looking for what has been instead of what will be. I just don't know if that's what it says with the sentence that comes next which refers to Jesus' going and eventual coming.

Is there a way to read the last statement that I'm missing that supports my reading/understanding of the "Men of Galilee" question?
Is it irresponsible and eisegetical to just end my reading of Scripture with the question and not include the statement
to comment on the question without addressing its meaning in conjunction with the statement (if I can't responsibly interpret them in my hoped direction together)?

I plan to end my reading of Scripture with v. 11, and not go on into 12-14

Hmmm...I think I'll spend more time in commentaries on this last part, but that's where I am for now!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Full Circle

I'm in the office early getting ready for worship at the nursing home. This is my first time doing this here, and actually my first time in FOREVER - - meaning since high school - - doing worship in a setting like this. We didn't participate in anything similar in my last call, so while I did occasion visits to members and communion with them, I never organized a worship service.

This nursing home actually gives you a little outline that the residents are used to. It's nice because it means I have something to start with, and I can be sure of where they will participate. They have their own little hymnbook with all the old favorites. I'm not to keen on getting up there and doing a full "sermon", so I'm trying to put together a little conversation/devotion/meditation. I don't know how well they will participate and join in to answer questions asked, but I'm hoping for the best. I'm going to be sure I have my own stories/answers to fill in if I don't get any takers.

This whole experience is like coming full circle for me, or maybe half circle. I guess full circle will be when I'm the one IN the nursing home. When I was in high school I used to go with my pastor (our associate pastor at the church) to lead nursing home worships on 5th Sundays. So, we didn't go every month, but we went several times a year. It was open to anyone who would come, but 9 times out of 10 it was just the two of us. Other times his wife and young daughters would come.

How did I not know even then that I was being called to ministry? What high schooler just gives an afternoon to go worship with nursing home residents? I was scared to death half the time. It smelled funny. The people couldn't hear. Some didn't know where they were, who we were, or what we were doing, but they came anyway. One lady always insisted on being wheeled to the front row, and wouldn't take a hymnal (I don't think she could see if well enough anyway). She said, "I don't need that. My husband was a Baptist preacher. I know all the songs." She did. At least she new the 1st verse of all those songs. We'd do 4 verses of "Amazing Grace" and she'd sing the 1st verse 4 times. "How Great Thou Art" "Great is Thy Faithfulness" "Blessed Assurance" All the old favorites. It was awesome. She made me so happy!

I think we'll sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" this morning. It was her favorite, and I know I won't be able to think of anyone else while I'm in worship. The Baptist preacher's wife. She was probably the first person to point out my call from God and I didn't have a clue. I don't even know her name. I give thanks that God does!

Monday, April 21, 2008

In the garden for the first time

I've never been much of a gardener. That's Phil's department in our household. It makes sense. He's the one who grew up farming. I certainly never knew that people grew their own vegetables on a regular basis - - like enough to eat more than one meal. I grew up so sheltered in some strange ways.

Anyway, I like flowers and having them in front of the house and all that. Nothing crazy or difficult. My mom and I used to buy a flat of pansies or impatiens or anything like that, but that's as crazy as we got. It was fun, low maintenance, good enough for me.

Well, when we got married I sort of got kicked out of the garden (I know what it's like, Eve!). Phil wanted to do his thing, and he wanted his vegetable area, and he didn't like planting and replanting the flowers "for color". He liked perenials (right? Those are the ones you leave in all the time - - hello, I was a biology major. I should know this!), and decided to go for it in the garden. Not being hugely into gardens I let him run with it.

Fine. But a problem. Poor Phil doesn't have a stylistic bone in his boday. He liked putting things into the ground, but had no design sense for where things should go and how they should be arranged. Our old house looked so random, but I didn't even know where to start to try to fix it, and it wasn't really my "territory".

Well, spring is finally beginning to spring here in the upper Midwest (Thank you Jesus!), and this is our first spring in the new house. The former owner put some tags in the ground in some areas of the yard, but not in others. There are all sorts of things coming out of the ground, but we don't know what they are. We THINK we've got some daffodils (yea!) and some tulips (big yea! My favorite) and some lilies (OK, I'll take 'em). Yesterday the weather was GORGEOUS so I went out to the different bed to start to clean them up. All the dead leaves and stuff from last year were lying there and it made the spring yard look not so springy.

Confession time: I LOVED it. I LOVED playing in the yard and weeding and cleaning and making room for the beautiful new things to grow. I didn't know I would like it, but I LOVED it. I got so excited about the things we can do, and the color and the life and the job of taking care of it all. I think I like it because someone already did the pre-planning. The previous owner put it all in place and gave me something to start with. The basic plan is there and now I just have to maintain it and tweak it as I'd like. Oh and I'd like. There are a couple of things I'd like to change, but I never would have known what I wanted or what I could do if something hadn't been there first.

I'm excited to get working. I'm excited to play with the earth!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Light Sunday

I didn't have to preach today. It was my first Sunday "off" in this new call. I was there in worship, but since we were dedicating the new stained glass windows we had a guest speaker "preach", the artist who designed and created the six windows. He was AWESOME!!! He is sort of a disgruntled Catholic. As a young boy he thought he'd go to seminary. After a couple of years there later in his life, he dropped out. His first marriage ended in divorce, so at that point he and the Catholic church parted ways. He didn't find another church home, but finds his spirituality nourished in his artwork. He was absolutely amazing to listen to.

Worship tied together in divine ways. I wrote liturgy based on a theme of creation and light, and crafted a prayer for the dedication in 6 parts based on the symbols in each of the 6 windows. Usually I get to pick hymns, but this week the choir director chose 2 of the 3. He actually chose them well in advance of the service, before we knew that we were going to be dedicating the windows this Sunday. It was all perfect. I wouldn't have planned it better if I had tried.

The choir sang a choir/congregation setting of "God is Here!" It's not usually a favorite of mine, but the words about all the different symbols in the sanctuary were AWESOME!!! They sang "When in Our Music God is Glorified" as an anthem, and it ROCKED, too. Again, not a favorite of mine usually, but it was perfect. The DCE led the children around the sanctuary window to window to talk about what they saw, and even that was PERFECT. They saw things in the windows no adult has ever seen, and that the artist spoke about putting in the design as part of his own spiritual journey in the project.

I can't explain how joyous and providential the whole service felt. I was praising God and loving every minute of it!

Friday, April 18, 2008

24 hour Friday Five

This is certainly a strange way to start out a Friday Five but it made me think about what I might like to do if I knew it would only last for 24 hours. There are no reality boundaries to these imaginings. So here are the five things for you to consider...

1. If you could dramatically change your physical appearance for 24 hours, what would you do?
I think I would simply (HA! If it were simply, I wouldn't be writing this answer.) drop the 15-20 pounds I really should drop. That way I could see if all the work and discipline it's going to take is really worth the effort (besides the health benefits of course).

2. If you could live in another place for 24 hours where would you go?
Hmmm...only 24 hours, that's not enough to see the "sights" of somewhere packed with different things to do, so I think I'd have to go more simple. I'm not really usually into contemplative things, but I've been remembering the book and DVD from the book club a couple of months ago. I'd like to go to one of the Carthusian orders for 24 hours if I were allowed. I might need a super-power from below to become male to do it for real. I'd like to do it "for real" for 24 hours.

3. You get to do somebody else's job for a day...
How 'bout something totally 5th grade, like be a dolphin trainer. I mean, it's only a day so I'd like to do something hands on and fun!

4. Spend the day with another person from anywhere in time and space...
With all the pope talk going on today with the visit, I think I'd like to follow one of them for 24 hours. Maybe not the current one, but I could read up on who might be the most interesting. What do those guys do all day on a "normal" day?

5. A magical power is yours. Which one would you pick?
I'll take a "Bewitched" style power to just blink and clean things up, redecorate, cook, whatever. I would clean my house, get it painted, and have a nice dinner on the table!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meet the Fam - the next level

OK. I think it's time I gave the family some blog names. I want to move this beyond just preaching prep and the Friday Five. I want to bring the family in and see if I can comment on being a mom, a wife, and a pastor, and hopefully especially include where these things all collide...uh...coincide.

First Phil - - that's my husband.  He's an economist. It's a field completely foreign to me, but basically he works for the Department of Revenue in St. Paul, MN, about a 20-30 minutes commute. Not bad. He does forecasting and policy analysis and a bunch of other stuff I'm glad someone else cares about. Loving guy, man of few words at home, but MANY with others, son of farmer, lifelong Presbyterian.

Now my daughter - - Karoline will be three in one month, but it's like 3 going on 16. Not just because I'm the proud mama, I can say that she's really bright. She has had lots of language from very early on. She was an early talker, and very soon it was more than just repeating. She was putting together sentences and stories before she was 18 months old. It can be good and bad. Sometimes I expect her to be able to understand more than she does because she express herself so well. It can be hard to remember she is still not quite 3. Despite my best efforts, the equally strong efforts of my mother and sister have won and the Karoline is VERY into Disney princesses. Ugh. I can't fight it anymore so I just play along.

Now the son - - William, but we like to call him Godzilla.  I'm sure he'll be in therapy for this at some point. Karoline and I gave him the name a couple of months ago when he really got good at crawling. Like Godzilla he can come upon her trainset or any other game or toy she's into and destroy it with the swipe of a paw and stuffing it into his mouth. William is 10 months old tomorrow. He is not as verbal as his sister was at this age, but still "normal". It can be weird for me, though, since I had this super-verbal little girl and now her brother just grunts around. I'm not a mom who gets bent out of shape about milestones and development and all that. He's a good boy and a LOVELY baby.

Both of our kids were great babies actually which is why it will be next to impossible to say no to a third. I've always wanted 3 and Phil has agreed, so one day we'll work on that, but for now we're a happy family of 4.

Oh - - and the cat. Sophie's her name, and the story is too good to share. The cat was brought to me as a surprise gift by my sister when I moved into my first apartment after seven years of dorm life in college and seminary. When I moved to my first call my sister decided I needed a pet so she adopted this cat from the Humane Society in Florida for me, brought her on the plane my second week in my new place, the weekend of my ordination, and so I now had a pet. I was at a loss for a name for her. The only person I had really met yet, a young adult from the congregation (who became my husband 13 months later, THERE'S a story!), told me that on his family farm they always named the bulls after pastors. Well, I was the pastor, so that didn't work. Another friend told me that her family used to name pets after bosses at work so that if they had a bad day they could come home and yell at the pet to get their frustrations out. Well, my cat was a girl, so my colleague's name, Ray, didn't quite fit. Also, I was still feeling idealistic about being an associate pastor, so I didn't think of Ray as my "boss". Sort of as a joke someone, maybe me, maybe someone else, said that my boss wasn't Ray, my boss was God. So, female cat, God is my boss - - what do I name the cat? Sophie!!!! And Sophie she is!

All that done, now I need to go finish cleaning the stain on the carpet where Sophie just puked. Ahhh...reality sets in!

He Never Failed Me Yet

The choir sang this piece this morning, and it was awesome! We haven't yet started to coordinate our choir anthems with my preaching theme because I haven't yet gotten on the stick enough to plan out my preaching that far in advance. Ugh. Anyway, I'm glad it didn't fit my sermon because it fit the feeling of the congregation even better, and we never could have planned for that.

A dear and central member of the congregation was back in worship today for the first time since I have been here because she was diagnosed with leukemia a week before I started. It's been a long road back to worship and wholeness, and one many of us actually didn't think she'd make at some points in the journey. She was so bad at one point we were beginning to make plans to contact the Catholic church across the to ask them to host her funeral since we never could have fit half the people who would have come in our sanctuary that seats 200. A counselor in schools and the community, a member of my PNC, and the facilitator of the peace process that guided this congregation to health after a period of great divisiveness, this woman is awesome, beloved, and a blessing to everyone who meets her. It isn't an understatement.

Having her in worship after the long road she's been traveling and we've been traveling in prayer for her was AWESOME. He never failed any of us. Praise be to God!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Five - - It's been a while

I've had a hard time making the Friday Five lately (my in-laws have been in town on two consecutive weekends), but this morning it's working out. The baby's napping; the toddler's watching a new TV show. I'm on the computer!!!

1. How many times have you moved? When was the last time?
Total? In my whole life??? Hmmm...That would be 13, but that includes to an apartment in a new town while we waited for the house to be ready and all those kinds of moves. Now for moves REAL moves:
between towns (or continents once): 7
major moves between houses in the same town (from single apartment to married house, for example): 2
as an adult (including move to college): 5 - to college, parents' home (my home base) move from FL to GA while in college, to seminary, to first call, to second call

2. What do you love and hate about moving?
I love the excitement of going to a new place and starting over and finding new things to do and all of that. I HATE packing, unpacking, cleaning, organizing, sorting, setting up...all the details and POOP of moving.

3. Do you do it yourself or hire movers?
My move to my first call was with movers provided by the church. It was nice, but I did most of the packing which, in my opinion, is the sucky part. It was good that they did all the moving in to the new place, though, because it was just my mom and I there on that end. I drove my car myself, and my mom flew up a few days after I left to help me get settled. The move a couple of months ago was pretty amazing. The new congregation gave me a moving allowance, but I was clueless about the costs so I didn't realize that it wasn't going to cover the cost of movers. I was a bit frustrated and didn't know what to do. My husband wasn't going to be able to move with me at that time because of his job so I was imagining myself sharing the cab of a huge U-Haul with an infant and toddler in carseats. Not IDEAL! I was overwhelmed by the solution of the congregation. They sent two parishioners down to help drive the U-Hauls. They arranged for about 20 people from the church to clean our new house the day before move in day, unload all the trucks, provide food for a week, and unpack the kitchen. Other folks stopped by a time or two a week until my husband moved a month later to help watch the kids while I finished unpacking or to help me get all the china unpacked and put away. AWESOME!!! The moving allowance ended up paying for the two U-Hauls, mileage for driving my car, boxes for packing most of the house ourselves, and professional packers to come in on the last day and do everything that was left (china, kitchen stuff mostly). Members of my last church (also VERY good friends sad we were leaving because my assoc. pastor position was eliminated) helped us load the trucks the night before the move. It was an awesome show of support and great send off!!!

4. Advice for surviving and thriving during a move?
It will all be over eventually. As soon as you know you're going to move start packing, and that way, hopefully, you'll have time to sort and toss while you're packing. It makes no sense to move something you never unpacked in this move (unless you just CAN'T get rid of that antique or heirloom, but try hard to not have those that you don't use or display). Do everything you can to only move stuff you actually need and use. Also, I totally loved having packers come in and do the breakable stuff, and the last day's worth of packing. I knew there at the end that I didn't need to stress too much because someone was coming to get the leftovers quicker than I could. Also, have an "open first" box for each room that gets packed on the truck last. Put sheets, towels, pillows, essentials in those so if you unpack nothing else on the other end that first day you can at least take a shower and sleep comfortably. Try to load the boxes on the truck, as best you can, with the boxes organized by the room they are going to. Also, if you can put the boxes that go in the room at the front of the house on the truck first and work in reverse order, so you're taking stuff to the farthest point of the house first and working your way toward the door you're using for loading. That helps keep the crap from piling up in the walkways as your moving in.

5. Are you in the middle of any inner moves, if not outer ones?
Oh yeah - - the move from associate pastor to solo/head of staff. I'm trying to figure out how to really be a leader and motivator and discerner in the Spirit. It's not easy, and I'm not sure how it's going, but we've moving!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Camping with Jesus

I just can't resist it. The theme is too good. This week the folks from our presbytery camp are coming to promote their summer ministries, but the director does not want to preach. I will admit I'm a little frustrated by that, but I'll get over it. I'm going to do a major "go to camp" sermon because I don't think that's what preaching is about (and that's not what I wanted him to do either), but I can't resist tying in Jesus at table with Cleopas and the other guy with a campfire cookout. They were on the road; maybe they cooked out. They will in my version!!!

Anyway, I haven't thought too much about where this one might be going yet, but what's on my mind today about the whole thing is how this is the first time I am preaching a new sermon from a Scripture I have preached before. Does that makes sense? Since I used to be an associate pastor it was rare that I preached on the same liturgical Sunday in successive years, or especially 3 years later. On some of the "high holy days" that I always got, I would choose a different lectionary selection. I don't have two different sermons on any one Scripture anywhere. This is will be my second Luke 24 sermon and it will be completely different. That's so cool!

It's cool because it demonstrates the living Word in the Spirit. I've said it a million times in different settings, but this way it's actually "coming true". The Scriptures can speak a new word to different people in a different time. So cool