Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's gotten into you?

Acts 2:1-21

“What’s gotten into you?” Have you ever been on either end of THAT question? It’s one of those questions that can mean SOOO many different things. There’s the frustrated “WHAT’S gotten into you?” Or the confused, “What’s GOTTEN into you?” Maybe the annoyed, “What’s gotten into YOU?” Even the compassionate, “What’s gotten INTO you?”

However it is asked or intended, it’s a question we ask when we see something we don’t expect – the sudden misbehavior of a usually quiet child, or maybe the creeping wave of depression that shadows over a close friend. It’s a question we ask when something seems to come completely out of the blue, when there’s been a sudden and alarming change, and we don’t know what to do or how to react. What has gotten into you?

I’m sure it wasn’t a new question for Jesus’ apostles who found themselves in Jerusalem. These are men and women who had given up more than a little to follow Jesus. Some had thrown down nets. Some had walked away from family and livelihoods. Some had given up cushy jobs and regular paychecks. Some had risked being ostracized, being refused religious privileges, being shunned from everyone and everything they knew and trusted, being stoned just to follow this itinerant preacher who claimed to be the Son of God. I can just hear their families. Can’t you? What in the world has gotten into you?

No, that question wasn’t a new one to Jesus’ first followers and apostles even when they heard it together on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. This time they really earned it, didn’t they? Their day started out pretty normal. They were gathered together in a house, maybe the house of a friend or family member of one of them. Having come to Jerusalem to witness to Jesus and celebrate the holy day, they had joined together in the morning to worship and give thanks to God for the gift of the Law at Mt. Sinai in the desert wilderness. Gathered in this house in the morning with the joy of the celebration and the anticipation of what they were called to do, they began their day together, likely in prayer.

Faithful pilgrims and residents all over the cosmopolitan city were doing the same thing. Friends and relatives were packed into each other’s homes or in inns around Jerusalem for the holy day observance. Waking up and getting ready for the festival celebration they probably bumped into one another in the way we do when a home is stretched beyond its usual capacity. The volume was probably excitedly a little louder and a little more celebratory as conversations and morning greetings spilled through open windows into the streets that were busier than usual with the faithful who had come to town to worship in the Temple.

The apostles, there both to worship and to wait, likely gathered to pray together first thing in the morning, to hear how they might spend the day waiting and preparing for their new gift from God that might be coming any day now! But when they gathered something happened. Suddenly from out of NOWHERE there came a sound of a violently rushing wind. No cloud outside to explain it, no storm brewing on the horizon. Just inside and just this one house, the screaming noise of wind tearing through the home, tearing through the apostles as they sat in anticipation of what was to come.
With the wind came the unbelievable vision of tongues of fire, of light and heat, divided and resting over their head upon each of them, and the bewildering gift of tongues being spoken from their mouths. As the wind blew and the flames danced over them, the apostles found themselves suddenly, inexplicably, able to speak in languages they had only heard in confusion before. The noisy sounds reverberating throughout the house poured into the streets, improbable in occurrence and impossible to contain.

What has gotten into them? That’s almost what the crowds were saying. I’m sure they stopped to overhear what they couldn’t ignore. Walking by on their way somewhere, devout Jews from every possible background who lived in the important city of Jerusalem or who had gathered for the holy day were drawn toward this house as they heard words and phrases, accents and dialects, they hadn’t heard in ages. The way a newborn baby perks up at her parents’ voices even within just minutes of being born, recognizing something she has known more than any other sound, the men and women were drawn to the sound of their native tongues tumbling out of the house full of Galilean guests. It just didn’t make sense.

What has gotten into them? Or as they said in the Scripture, are they DRUNK?

Many call Pentecost the birthday of the church. Actually, I know a lot of churches celebrate it that way, singing “Happy Birthday” in their worship, blowing out candles and cutting a cake in fellowship. The apostles first Pentecost, more than any other of the defining moments of the early church, is lifted up as the day the church came into being. You might say that the resurrection made us Christians, but it’s Pentecost that made us the church. It’s Pentecost that equipped the apostles for their mission and ministry on earth. It’s Pentecost that let this group of men and women limited by their common language speak the message of God’s love in Jesus to the world. It’s Pentecost that united the believers not only around the person of Jesus and belief in his grace, but it’s Pentecost that united them and us around our mission as the Body of Christ, the church. And it’s Pentecost that shocked everyone who witnessed it.

That’s an important piece of the story, I think, the shock of the crowds who saw what the spirit was doing. It was nine in the morning and they thought the apostles were drunk. They could come up with no other explanation for what they saw or heard coming from the house where the apostles were gathered. They thought they were under the influence of mind and behavior altering wine – and too much of it.

I know this could be a risky question to ask in a congregation that just hosted a wine tasting event, but I’ll try it anyway - - when was the last time the crowds asked that of us? I don’t mean to glorify alcohol and I certainly am not advocating for drunkenness, but when was the last time THAT was the only excuse the world could come up with for our Spirit-filled actions? When was the last time someone asked excitedly and hopefully of First Presbyterian Church, “What has gotten into you?”

A couple of months ago a church member gave me an article copied from the Pioneer Press. It was an editorial written by a columnist for the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr. Pitts was commenting on a recent study of 54,000 Americans on the topic of religious identification. In a nutshell, the study found a sharp erosion in the number of people claiming any religious affiliation. In talking about this change over the years, Pitts speculated on the cause of this flight from organized religious traditions. Ultimately, he thinks, religion is undermining religion. Drawing on the sins of a multitude of faiths, denominations, movements, individuals, and traditions he points to those who loudly claim religious backing as they cause pain through abuse, discrimination, violence, and intolerance and name’s the world’s disgust and frustration at these witness to any faith.

I think Pitts is on to something. The expectations the world has of religious bodies, of churches, seems to have declined in recent years. Those on the fringes or on the outside, those passing by in the streets who overhear the voices, prayers, and shouts of denominational bickering, those who hear reports of clergy abusing parishioners, even children, those who see buildings toppled or wars waged invoking the name of ANY God, don’t have a whole lot of high hopes for the churches or other religious bodies of the world. They certainly don’t seem to be hearing their own language, their concerns being spoken about, spilling out of our windows into the streets of our shared communities, cities, and countries.

No one walking along the diverse and crowded streets of Jerusalem expected to hear their own language that morning. No one from Parthia or Egypt or Libya or even s far away as Mesopotamia expected to hear and understand the good news of the gospel, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, they did.

The Spirit of Pentecost calls us to defy the expectations of the world. The Spirit of Pentecost calls us to defy the expectations of the crowds walking by our community of faith with words and actions that shatter the perceptions. The Spirit of Pentecost empowers us to show generosity where there is greed, shelter where there is abuse, pace where there is violence, justice where there is vengeance, welcome where there is discrimination.

The world around us certainly doesn’t seem to expect a whole lot of good out of the church. What would it take for us to be so filled with the Holy Spirit of God that people would ask, “What has gotten into them?”

In a couple of weeks my family is going on vacation back to Nebraska. You could say it’s birthday season in our family. K turned 4 a couple of weeks ago, a birthday she shares with her 84 year old great-grandmother. W turns 2 in the middle of June a couple of days after his great-great aunt turns 90. A whole slew of birthdays in P’s family come up in July. I’m noticing something about birthdays as we have moved forward this year. Those early birthdays are celebrated with endless energy and spirit! The later birthdays are done up right, too. But the rest of them, the ones in the middle somewhere between 4 and 90, they don’t get quite as much attention. For some of those middle years, we even try to forget they are happening.

We can’t afford to do that with the church’s birthday. We can’t afford to forget the day of our birth, its circumstances, its events, its meaning. The church was born in the rush of the Spirit of God. The church was born reaching out to the world. The church was born shocking and bewildering the world with its unbelievable message of God’s renewing and saving love. The church was born with the Spirit of God dancing and entering God’s people, men and women, young and old, so that the young could see visions and the old could dream dreams; the rich and the slaves alike received the Spirit of God.

We can’t afford to push that memory away and live as if its truth is not in us. We can’t afford to let the world’s expectations reign and our message and ministry to be lost. The disciples who learned became apostles who are sent. We are now apostles, those sent into the world filled with the Spirit of God to carry on Christ’s ministry and witness to his grace– feeding the hungry out of our abundance; providing physical and spiritual shelter to those with no place to call home; freeing those held captive in slavery, unemployment and addiction – wherever we go. We can’t let our actions confirm the suspicions of the world. No, we’ve got to leave them wondering, “What has gotten into them?” And then we’ll all get to tell them the answer, “The Spirit of the Living God!”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday Five: The Big To-Do

Kathrynzj at RevGals gave us this Friday Five:
Here is your chance to get it out into the open and OWN your Big To-Do! Who knows? Maybe making the list will help you move the Big To-Do to the Big Ta-Da!

1) What home fix-it project is on your Big To-Do?
2) What event (fun or work) is on your Big To-Do?
3) What trip is on your Big To-Do?
4) What do you wish was on someone ELSE's (partner, family member, celebrity, etc...) Big To-Do?
5) Getting inspired? What may end this summer having moved from the Big To-Do to the Big Ta-da?

1. Home fix-it - - Hmmmm...we're sort of working this out among the family. I would love to work on inside decorating stuff - replacing the nasty carpet left by the previous owner when we moved in 18 months ago with wood of some sort, painting the 1972 wood paneling in the living room, maybe starting to move the two kids into a shared bedroom (not sure about that one, though). My husband wants to begin working on the outside landscaping of our property. That's a MUCH BIGGER ticket item, though, that will certainly involve borrowing money and messing with our mortgage. That part sounds daunting to me.

2. Event - - Synod School. I'm a Presby-geek and looking forward to a week family camp/conference at the end of July. I think this is the last year I feel like I can go without doing some "giving back." I'll volunteer to lead or teach something next time, but this year I still just want to pay to go and have no responsibilities!!! The kids and I are going and my mom is flying up from Florida to come, too. My husband doesn't get enough time off of work to come with us.

3. Trip - - We've got a couple planned. A trip back to the in-law's farm for a family birthday will be a good one, but the week after that I head to the Washington Island forum with a best friend. A week in a gorgeous B&B, music by John Bell, a good friend, beautiful surroundings. Should be awesome.

4. Someone else's list - - I SO don't want to be wrapped up in this, and I hate that I'm even commenting on it, but I can't help it. I sure hope Jon & Kate find a good marriage and family therapist this summer. Maybe they're already trying it and that just doesn't make the news (I pray there is SOMETHING not making the news), but I just think they could benefit from some good outside help. I also hope TLC gets at least HALF a heart and someone let's contracts be damned and the show is cancelled so they can work their stuff out without stupid cameras watching them.

5. Get it done - - I think I will actually do some cleaning and sorting this summer. My clothes can use a serious weeding, so that kind of organizational stuff could really happen this time throughout the house. I'd be happy if it's just my own stuff, though.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What're you smoking?

What're you smoking?

I jokingly asked this of my secretary this morning because she's in a goofy mood. It's what the "sneerers" asked the disciples on Pentecost, too, "Are you DRUNK?" They couldn't come up with a better excuse for these people to be speaking the way they were - - in languages they couldn't understand, with a message so wide it couldn't be comprehended.

When was the last time someone asked us, THE CHURCH, or us, First Presbyterian Church that kind of question? When was the last time we were doing something so outrageous it could only be started by the Spirit?

Pentecost was the birth of the church, and the church started with a bang. The church started with tongues of fire and tongues of many languages. The church started by being DIFFERENT from everything else out there. If we aren't raising eyebrows by what we're doing different are we being the church the Spirit bore into the world?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dangerous Love

John 17:6-19
Be careful what you wish for. I wonder if anyone ever shared THAT little pearl of wisdom with the disciples. Someone probably should have, right? Be careful what you wish for, ESPECIALLY when it comes to Jesus.

I imagine the prayer we heard today was an answer to their wishes. All throughout his ministry among them the disciples try to stay close to him while Jesus seems to try awfully hard to get off by himself once in a while, go to a quiet place, at night, up a hill, in boat, on another shore, just to be away from everyone and pray. He tries awful hard, but he is rarely successful.

Like the paparazzi in pursuit of the perfect picture, the coveted interview or overheard sound byte, every time Jesus tries to sneak away under the cover of darkness when he thinks they are all asleep or relaxing, bellies full from another meal of abundance, the crowds and the disciples still get up and follow him. But, finally, here in the gospel according to John, the disciples get the money shot. They record the most anticipated conversation ever. Be careful what you wish for, right?

It seems to start out alright. The opening lines, which we did not hear this morning, speak of eternal life, the gift of Jesus to give to those whom the Father gives to him. There is talk of glory and the presence of God. Then comes the assurance that the people who have been with Jesus are God’s people. In a way, Jesus vouches for them. He lets God know that the disciples whom he has been keeping have heard what he has had to say. They know the truth; they believe Jesus is who he says he is. What a WONDERFUL prayer to overhear!

But, there’s always that saying - - be careful what you wish for.

I can see the disciples shooting each other nervous glances as Jesus continues. Questioning, worrying, maybe even indignant stares as his prayer makes a change in tone. After all this talk about what the disciples have done right, after all this talk about their knowledge and their belief and their place in the presence of God, now all of a sudden, Jesus starts praying for their protection.

The disciples aren’t stupid. Well, they aren’t always painted in the best light in the gospels, but they aren’t clueless about where they are and what is going on around them. This is the Thursday before Jesus’ death. Even if they can’t see the immediate future, they KNOW they are not sitting in the safest place in the world. Jesus is a wanted man. He has disturbed the peace one too many times in the eyes of the local leaders, and they are threatening to do just about ANYTHING to stop him.
But on the other hand, if Jesus really is going and going soon, what’s the big need for protection? Once he’s gone won’t the danger be gone? What’s the big threat?

His farewell message, recorded in the previous few chapters, has been intense, but it certainly doesn’t sound life-threatening. “Abide in me and I abide in you.” “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” “I have called you friends.” “I chose you.” With these words and others Jesus finishes his final lessons with his disciples before they are sent out to ministry in his name. More than anything Jesus has been talking about love, and what’s so dangerous about love?

In the last two weeks we have talked about two kinds of love that come up quite a bit in this farewell speech in John’s gospel – abiding love and active love. Abiding love, we determined, is love that is available. Love that is open and ready to give and receive whatever and whenever the object of our love needs. Abiding love is equated to hospitality in the most spiritual sense of the world. Not the hospitality of hotels and Martha Stewart, but the hospitality of welcoming monks who receive the stranger in their midst, no questions asked.

The hospitality of the disciple who is ready to answer questions of faith, ready to share what she has experienced, ready to join another on his journey, wherever that journey may take them both. The hospitality of intimacy that comes when schedules are disrupted, faults and failures are exposed, short-comings are made obvious. The hospitality of welcoming others into our midst when we don’t know how they may change the way things have always been, when we don’t know if they will love us back as much as we will love them, when we don’t know how long they will stay.

Hm! Put that way, abiding love doesn’t sound so safe after all. It threatens our comfort. It threatens the expectations we have built around ourselves and our lives. It threatens our sense of security, our sense of control, our sense of independence. Abiding love can be unsettling. It throws us off our game. It challenges our faith because it challenges our ideas of what we thought we got into this for. It means risking our hearts when we choose to follow the command that bares them to the world. It means risking our lives even if we are open to others with the unconditional love of God.

The ministry of abiding love forces us to look outside of ourselves or our community of comfort. It forces us to be open and welcoming to those who aren’t already included, to those who no one else wants to include. It forces us to look beyond our own bellybuttons to see who God has put us next to, who Jesus has brought near us to love in his name.

Protect them, O God, Jesus prays. Protect them as I have protected them, so that they do not fall away in the face of this challenge. Protect them and guard their faith so that they can love as I have loved, so they can welcome as I have welcomed, so they can abide in you and abide with others I have, with my ministry of love and welcome.

And then there is love that is more than a feeling, love that is action, what we do. We talked about this last week when Jesus gave the command to love. Feelings can’t be commanded, but actions sure can. Love is more than a feeling because it is what we do because of who we are. Love is more than a feeling because we are called to lay down our lives, we are called to carry the lives of our friends, our neighbors, our companions and co-creations on this earth.

Love is an action because it was an action for Jesus – it was feeding the hungry who had gathered. It was healing the sick who crowded around him. It was serving the tired, dirty, worried, and grieving who flocked to get close to him.. Love is an action because the forces of evil in this world cry out and demand that we confront them with our touch, our faith, our words and our actions on behalf of others.

So if we’re still questioning why Jesus’ followers needed this prayer of protection, this intercession for God’s blessing and sanctification, there are plenty of followers of Christ who can tell us. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his partners in the Civil Rights Movement can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. Whatever each of us thinks or believes about the lifestyle, those who fight to protect gays and lesbians from the horror of hate crimes can tell why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. The brave faithful who gave food, shelter, and refuge to their Jewish brothers and sisters who faced the horror of the Holocaust can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. Men and women who give voice to the voiceless, who advocate for children, for the homeless, for undocumented workers, for forgotten prisoners of this and every war, can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. Churches with the courage to pray for their enemies as often as they pray for themselves can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ strength in the face of the hatred of the world.

Loving others when no one else will love them, loving others by reaching out to the poor, the outcast, the shunned, and the purposely ignored is not popular and not safe. It puts Jesus’ disciples on the side of the minority. It puts us at odds with the establishment. It throws us in the middle of battles that are raging in our culture and our society and asks us to love with all that we have and all that we are where others are only hating. And doing that puts Jesus’ disciples, puts us, right in the line of fire of that hatred. Right where we belong.

There are branches on our Christian family tree that take a look at this struggling and sinning and hurting and hurtful world around us and see only a reason to get out of it. They separate themselves physically or spiritually by refusing to be with people who are at all different in practice or belief. They try to remove themselves from the present world to look ahead only to the world that is to come.

I’d argue that Jesus’ prayer doesn’t anticipate this mentality. Jesus’ prayer doesn’t ask that his followers be removed from the world because of the hatred they will face. Jesus’ prayer asks that his followers, that we, will know and believe we are here for a higher purpose. We aren’t here to be a part of the hatred; it isn’t even enough to just run away from the hatred. We are here to combat the hatred with the love of God that is abiding and active. The love of God that is cleansing and refreshing. The love of God that drenches us, washes over us, and claims us as God’s own.

In her baptism this morning, V was prepared, as most, if not all of us, have been prepared, for living and loving in the world. We haven’t been taken out of the world; we haven’t been spared the hatred of the world that we will see and feel when follow Jesus’ command to love. Instead we are wrapped in the prayers of the Son of God. We are wrapped in the prayers of the people of God. By water and the Spirit we have been named and claimed as children of the God of love. We have been given the grace we could never earn so that we will know the feeling of unconditional love, so that we will have grace to share with the world.

In V’s baptism, in our baptisms, we have been set apart for service in the name of the God of love. We haven’t been given a free ticket out of this world, but we have been given the covenant and the promise of God’s presence with us in this world. Our call is to trust in that promise, trust in it enough to love as we have been loved – unconditionally, hospitably, without regard for whether or not we will return it, with the sacrifice of the Son of God, with his life-giving resurrection and eternal life. Trust in the promise and presence of God, that we might know and share his love with the world.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Party Host

I'm hosting my first virtual party! Woo hoo! My introductory post went live about 25 minutes ago at the RevGalBlogPals 11th Hour Preacher Party. I'm pretty excited to be over there. I've been popping in over there for at least 2 years, but started this blog myself a year ago so I could get more active in the community. LOVED meeting up with everyone last year at the Festival of Homiletics, and have been jealous this year that I've missed two different meet-ups in the last 5 or 6 weeks. Someday I'll do it again. Until then, maybe I'll be a regular at the party. I mean, I'm a regular at the party already, but hopefully I'll be a regular hostess if I'm any good at it. I'm looking forward to getting more familiar with each person's story. I'm not so good at the right now. Real names, blog names, similar names, stories all get sort of mixed up. I'll probably make some sort of document to help me. I want to be better about remembering what's going on with everyone. Well, see. The post is up, so maybe the Euro-crew will be posting early. I'll check in in the morning and see how it's rolling!!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

RevGals Interview, revisited

1. Where do you blog? She Rev Writes

2. What are your favorite non-revgal blog pal blogs?
Graceful Like a Chicken A friend I grew up with and have reconnected with since we now live 45 minutes apart and 1500 miles from our hometown.
The Daily Juggle The moms of the Pioneer Press newsroom blog about being moms, not newswomen. There tend to be a lot of posts about being a working mom which I also am. And one of the writers was a regular attender of my new church until she moved to Oregon in August. If you check it out, I baptized "Goldie" when she was 2 weeks old!
Beauty Tips for Ministers I'm sure I found out about this one from some RevGal. It's exactly what it's called - posts about how NOT to slip into frumpy girl-pastorhood, but also keep it professional and appropriate. A LOT of humor about it all, too. I don't always agree with PeaceBang. I'm OK with no make-up and old comfortable jeans on a day off with the family that MIGHT take me to the grocery store, but I can agree to disagree and move on. Can't wait to she comes back from sabbatical on May 30.

3. What gives you joy?
In any arena of my life, feeling like I did exactly what I was created to do.

4. What is your favorite sound?
At about 5:00 p.m. the kids playing HAPPILY.
At about 8:00 p.m., the theme song of a favorite TV show.

5. What do you hope to hear once you enter the pearly gates?
Do I have to believe in pearly gates to answer this one??? No, no! I've got it. "The chocolate peanut butter ice cream is served right over here."

6. You have up to 15 words, what would you put on your tombstone?
I have to say, I don't really like tombstones with sayings or a whole lot of writing on them. Maybe just:
My name: 3 words
Wife, mother, daughter, sister, grandmother (???), friend
Child of God

7. Write the first sentence of your own great American novel.
Looking into the rearview mirror as she pulled out into traffic, Margaret was satisfied with her leaving, yet unsure of where she was going.

8. What color do you prefer your pen?

9. What magazines do you subscribe too?
Christian Century
National Geographic

10. What is something you want to achieve in this decade?
Disclaimer: I'm putting now at the start of the decade, so in the next 10 years, not by the end of 2010.
1. Mother of 3 - 2/3 of the way there
2. DMin student or graduate, depending on how the whole family is impacted by #1.

11. Why are you cool?
Not so cool. But I'll play along. I play the bass. No doubting the coolness factor of that!

12. What is one of your favorite memories?
Hiking in Petra, Jordan

13. Anything else you've always wanted to be asked?
If you knew now, what you didn't know then, what would you have done different?
I wish I had known about volleyball when I was growing up. I mean, we had it, but I didn't know much about it. I was hopelessly unathletic even though I played soccer (mediocre) for a number of years, and although I am tall I sat the bench on the 9th grade basketball team. I think if I had known about volleyball I may have been OK at it and maybe even have been healthier because of it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Love from nothing

It's Friday afternoon (might even qualify as evening), and I'm not where I'd like to be on my sermon for Sunday. At the same time, I don't want to work tonight because I'm just ready for a night on the couch. The kids have been in daycare today so that I can work. I haven't done a lot, but I got to point where everything is done except for my sermon. That's all I asked for. I'll start over again Monday not too far behind.

Anyway, I know this writing is going to be a struggle. It's hard to give on Sunday morning when I feel like I haven't had time to receive the Spirit. The kids have been sick for a week (taking turns at least!) and my parents were in town visiting. I've been giving a lot, and it's taking it's toll. Last week I eeeked out a more creative and SOMEWHAT less time-consuming proclamation of the word with some congregational input and conversation in worship. This week needs to be a little more "normal," because it doesn't fly to do too much of that in row!

I also have a what is a struggle for me - the need to keep this sermon closer to 7-10 minutes instead of 15-18 minutes. We've got the ordination/installation of new officers taking place this Sunday, and I didn't cut anything else out of the service. So, I need to keep it to the point, but still engaging, probably my biggest challenge in preaching. I like having more time to wander through things.

I've listed John 15:9-17, but may just read 12-17. Mostly I'm working with 12-14 anyway. Last week I talked about intimate, abiding love, love that is present and available. This week I want to talk about active, sacrificial love. Someone at RevGals this Tuesday pondered about how it is that Jesus can COMMAND us to love. We also talked about popular songs with "love" in the title. My answer to the command question came with the title "More Than a Feeling." Jesus can command us to love because love isn't just some mushy-gushy feeling of the heart. It isn't just butterflies in the stomach, getting dizzy at the sound of a voice or the sight of a face. It isn't just hearing the angels sing "Hallelujah" when you hear the words you most want to hear. Love is more than a feeling.

Jesus tells us what the greatest love is. Not only does he tell us, but he shows us. Jesus lays his life down for his friends.

Now I wonder what this friendship is all about. I think understanding who Jesus' friends are is key to understanding how this particular passage relates to all of us today. On the surface his friends are those to whom he is speaking in that moment, the disciples. Are his friends more? Next he talks about his friends being those who do what he commands. That widens the circle more than bit.

But does that mean our friends are those who follow OUR commands? I don't think so. We are Jesus' friend when we follow his command. His command is to love. When we love we lay down our lives for our friends, so maybe anyone who receives our love becomes our friend. Our command is to love first and love makes friends. The command is not to only love our friends, but those who receive our love will become our friends. Love will transcend social boundaries like slave and master, servant and employer. Love happens when we lay aside this artificial categories, when we lay aside the constructs of life we have created, and actively love those around us - - the ones we know and the ones we don't.

From here I want to take it into a justice direction - - working on behalf of others, laying down our lives/interests/priorities to take up the cause for other, is one part of the love we are commanded to love.


Jan at Rev Gals gave us this prompt for the Friday Five:
Ever since I found out I could be the hostess for the third Friday Five of each month, I have not been able to get the thought of friends out of my mind. Being an only child (all growed up) who moved around a lot in my lifetime, friends have always been very important to me. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "The way to have a friend is to be a friend."

So today let's write about the different kinds of friends we have, like childhood friends, lost friends, tennis friends, work friends, and the list goes on. List 5 different types of friends you have had in your life and what they were/are like.

As a bonus, put a link to a new (to you) blogging friend and introduce us!

My friends:
Growing up friends - Life before college. Ugh. It was a struggling time for me, and while I had a few close friends at different points of life between years 7-18, overall I don't look back on those years a friend-filled. I was awkward and felt completley un-known by almost anyone. I wanted to be someone different because I didn't see how who I was fit in anywhere. Again, there were key people at key times that made life not only bearable, but joyful, but I don't have those kinds of memories you read about with big groups of friends claiming "this is the time of our lives." Does anyone or is that all just in the movies and books? The friends I did have -
1. A high school boyfriend for several years who was just perfect for then; a relationship I will never regret
2. An on-again/off-again best friend (?) the entire time I was growing up; even when we were off-again I knew I could call in the middle of the night if need be
3. A friend a few years younger, but on the same page spiritually; in different ways we probably ended up mentoring each other at the same time

College Friends - These are IT for me. The girls I met on my freshman hall that stuck together for 4 years and beyond. These friends knew me as I wanted and needed to be known. They still do. With a clean slate I started college just being me without all the baggage that growing up together brings. When I discerned in my senior year that I was going to seminary, these were the folks in my life (family and friends included) I had no fear telling. I have always hated that I am the one who lives the farthest from the group now that we are grown. I think we all needed each other, but I don't think they will ever understand how much I needed them. They had those friendships of movies and books in high school.

Seminary Friends - Those years are strange ones! I think I was pretty insecure in seminary. Everyone seemed more "spiritual." I used to be able to rely on book smarts, but in seminary a segment of my peers seemed to look down on that. When I starte I was one of the youngest in the school, which I loved, but by the time I graduated there were all sorts of 20-somethings, a group I just didn't fit in with, but felt lumped together with. The ones I still call friends always saw me as a pastor even when I didn't. I didn't feel like I needed to hide my non-spiritual spirituality from them. We learned were able to get behind the seminary-masks that we all wore and just be friends, not future-pastors.

Playgroup Friends - The ladies and babies (now preschoolers) my daughter and I met when she was a few weeks old. We found each other at a breastfeeding support group. They were the first people I met in the town of my first call that weren't related to the church or my ministry, and it took me 3 years to do that. I wasn't anyone's pastor and it was a glorious group to be a part of. I've moved away now, but we all still keep in touch through various electronic means, and we gather when I visit. DEFINITELY the first place I go with mom and family questions and struggles. Without a doubt. There are a great number of women of faith and depth in this group, so I can be a mom living with faith instead of a pastor among them, and that is a great thing to be.

Neighborhood Friends - So far there is really just one of these families, but it is one of God's greatest gifts to me in our new town. We moved here a year ago to a house across the street from a family with 4 kids, the youngest two the same ages as our two. I have HUGE amounts of joy and satisfaction when I send my kids across the street to play or theirs come to our backyard. We get together for impromptu picnics and marshmallow toasting. We have keys to each other's houses and share cat-care duties when we go on vacations. Without notice we can leave a kid or two with the other family if we need to make a quick run to the grocery store. These are the adult friendships of dreams. The other mom and I have made plans to meet with lawn chairs in the street (we live at a dead-end) at 9:30 p.m. every Friday night this summer with a bottle (or two) of wine). This is good stuff!!!

Bonus - Graceful Like a Chicken" - a blog about Well, this isn't someone new to me. In fact, she fits as one of the "Growing Up Friends." In fact, again, she's one of the friends mentioned! Anyway, what's new to me about her is this blog I've been following for a while now, over a year, I guess, and the way we are moving from "Growing Up Friends" to being something closer to "Neighborhood Friends." We don't actually live in the same neighborhood, but by some twist of fate we two former Florida girls have ended about 45 minutes apart in the "tundra." It's fun to share an adult friendship now that we both have kids. We talk a lot of faith and theology; she grew up in a family rich in Methodism and full of pastors. I think she has some pastoral tendencies and leanings herself. We're starting to talk about that, too! Here's what she says about the blog:
"...because what the world needs now is yet another blog ...because my fourth baby doesn't take up the time between 3 a.m. and 3:36 a.m....and it MUST BE FILLED! ...because I want to try out my new superhero persona: THE ENABLER-seeking to help people of all kinds procrastinate their lives away ...because this has very little to do with chickens and everything to do with grace!"

Holy Moments

My friend David, who blogs over at, asked for some of our "holy moments," times when we just KNEW God was present. I've had a my share of these, maybe more than my share. I'm just thankful for them when they appear.

As a mom: A night probably almost a year ago now when the kids and I were just laughing it up and giggling and playing piled on a bed. It even ended happily - no tears from anyone. My husband snapped a close-up picture of our faces, and it is one of my favorites.

As a pastor: Praying with and over a member of my current congregation, a member of the PNC, in fact, just 2 weeks after I started, as she lay in ICU after serious complications from chemotherapy that started a few days before I did at the church. She died within 4 1/2 months of my start at this church. Her trust in God and in me in helping to call me to that church was made very real when she became my first pastoral care focus.

As a wife: Nothing too crazy here, but a day spent together at an amusement park. I know it doesn't sound particularly "holy," but it was. For Christmas my parents gave us tickets and a day away while they got to play with the grandkids. Away from the kids for a whole day we got to just be husband and wife, laughing together, walking together, talking together. There were no rules about avoiding talk about kids, as I have heard some couples do, but instead we were able to chat about kids without them interrupting, make plans, dream dreams, and hey - - ride some really great roller coasters! I don't think we had held hands that much in ages.

As a friend: Crying on the phone with a friend, a pediatric emergency room physician, while she struggles and lives with MS.

A few months ago I posted on the difference between joy and happiness. For me joy is when I know that I'm doing exactly what God wants me to be doing in that exact moment. I think that definition fits for me for "holy moments," too.

Thanks for posting again, David! You know I love it!

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Ann Boyer Lepere
The artist gave me permission via email to post this picture and use it in our worship service.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Looking at Love

Ugh - - I am so behind in posts. I have some sermons to go up. There was a Friday Five I meant to do. Play catch up or just keep going? For now it's keep going since some of that stuff is on another computer in another place.

I'm looking at my sermons for the next 3 weeks in a clump (nod to Sojourners online from 2006 for helping me connect some dots). I don't know why I pick series that are hard for me. Why can't I pick a series that feels like it comes naturally? I guess I sort of did that last fall with the Exodus material, but my others have been HARD, at least for me.

Actually, I don't think the Easter lectionary this year makes it easy. I guess I could have gone with the Acts texts to get some narrative things going, but I didn't. I'm going with the Johannine texts, both gospel and epistle, and these more didactic pieces are hard for me. I pulled my first real all-nighter (meaning completely NO sleep) this last Saturday night because I just couldn't make the sermon come together without a good plot line to follow in the text. Yikes.

I could try to avoid that problem again since I haven't published the existence of this Love Series, but I guess I see this is something I should try to tackle head-on, instead of avoiding it. I can't preach only the narrative stuff for my whole life as a pastor. The rest of it is Scripture, too!

So, anyway, these next 3 weeks I'm going to jump on to the various John passages for the most part. I might pull in the Acts as supporting material if it works, but mostly I'm going with the love stuff.

This week it's 1 John 4:7-21 and the abiding love. Our church book group read a book recently called Radical Love.

It really talks a lot about being present with people as the basis of hospitality and, therefore, loving others. I'll have to go back in through it some and see, but I'm sure there's some "abiding" language in it, and if not there should be.

So this week, with this book as a HUGE guide, I'm going to talk about what it means to love others by abiding with them. I sort of feel like I've preached this before, but I'm not sure. I hope it wasn't in this congregation! I've only been here 16 months so it feels too early to pull out sermons for second try.

Next week will be ethical love - - acts of justice as acts of love.

The final week will pull it all together with Jesus' prayer for his disciples. Before he heads to the cross he prays that God will guard them and protect them in their ministry. He doesn't pray for them to avoid it, but acknowledges that what they are being asked to do is dangerous love. Of anyone he knows this, so he prays that they will have the protecting hand of God with them in the world where they live and love.

So, that's my quick plan for this week and the coming weeks. More to develop on this week, more to read.