Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Godzilla is back

Just the other day I was wondering if maybe I should re-blogname my son, Godzilla. He's just over 3 now, and I wasn't sure if the name still fit. He doesn't destroy AS MUCH anymore, but mostly we just haven't called him that at home in a while like we used to. I was thinking maybe I'd re-blogname him "Stink" since that is his nickname at home. Horrible, I know. It came about around the time he was starting to potty train. After he pooped in his diaper he'd come up to the nearest adult and simply say, "I stink!" He nicknamed himself, really!

However, after this morning, I think Godzilla will stay for a while. He got stuck in the open back of the chair. I don't know how he did it; I was on the couch nursing Pearl at the time. When I finally decided his cries weren't just fake whines, and she seemed to be full, I went over to see the problem, and there he was stuck with his back half through the back of the chair and his front half laying on the seat. It took some maneuvering (during which I did have mental images of me digging through the toolbox for the right screwdriver to take the chair apart), but I got him out (not before I snapped a picture, though).

This all happened AFTER he colored on his face "becauth becauth becauth (he has a little lisp) I couldn't find any paper!"

But it was BEFORE he peed through the toilet seat (he's still to short to stand up) onto the back of his clean underwear and shorts, the last pair of each.

But it was AFTER he bit his (older) sister, LadyPrincess, on the shoulder I THINK because she was clicking through the channels instead of just watching one while I was getting ready downstairs. (I hope he remembers his HATRED of that habit when he's a grown man and is tempted to do it himself.)

So, anyway, Godzilla is back.

Monday, August 30, 2010

They called them Christians

Acts 11:19-30

I wonder why the folks at Antioch decided the Christians needed a name. Was it the believers themselves who came up with it, or the other folks in town describing what they saw? And what did they see that made them need to call them something anyway?

It sort of reminds me of that old challenge - - "If you were on trial for being a Christian would they have enough evidence to convict you?"

How did these new believers live, what did they do, what did they say that warranted calling them Christians?

Turning to the Lord (v. 21) implies that they also turned away from something else. Believing is just a mental or internal activity, so they must have somehow lived different to make that belief obvious. I hope that someone can see enough in me to call me Christian; I hope that people who don't see me preach can see that I am a follower of Christ - - the one who welcomes and accepts outcasts, the one who forgives, the one who embodies mercy and divine justice, the one who enacts compassion, the giver of new and abundant life.

But could they call me Christian just with the actions I do? I don't think so. Someone who is already aware might be able to figure out that the actions I take are (hopefully) related to the Christ I worship, but without my words to back it all up it could just be good stuff I'm doing. Words without actions are empty, but actions without words are, too. I am usually timid to speak the language of my faith in my regular talk. I don't know why that is except I know that I don't want to be perceived as "one of those" pushy Christians. There's got to be a middle ground, though. There's got to be a place for my faith in my regular conversation that is authentic and not overbearing.

So, this is isn't my most eloquent writing, but oh well. Just some thoughts in my head that the Scripture stirred up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Look Around

John 4:1-15

She poked her head through the doorway and looked around. The shadows were short in the noon sunlight. No one was out in the narrow alley except for the usual pack of stray dogs digging around for a few scraps while everyone else was inside to escape the afternoon heat. The path to the well looked deserted, as it usually was at this time of day, so slowly, with empty jars and the weight of the world on her shoulder she stepped out and made her way to the ancient watering hole.

She’d been coming to the well alone for a while now. Before, the other women just glanced at her curiously. They had all heard about her and were pretty certain they knew enough to make a judgment. That’s when the whispering started. She knew it was about her since no one ever came to share the juicy tidbits in her ears. The rumors started making their way from woman to woman about her string of romances. Eventually they just stayed away from her, coming early for their own water or waiting away from the well until she was done before coming to pull their own water. She wasn’t good, wasn’t pure, just wasn’t right to be around. They kept their physical distance, almost as if they were afraid her condition would rub off on them.

It didn’t take long for her to take the hint, and instead of enduring their scrutiny she just stopped coming to the well in the morning when it made sense to come. They didn’t have to make a rule to keep her out; she could tell by the way they treated her when she was there that at best they just didn’t know what to do with her, but at worst they didn’t want her there at all. Ignored, beginning to believe the lie that she didn’t belong, she just stopped trying. Instead she waited until there was no one at the well before she left each day to draw her own water.

Cast aside, ignored, avoided, barred from the everyday tasks and common community and relationships others shared, she never expected a kind word from a stranger, especially not a religious one. Those are the ones who usually hurl judgment instead of acceptance, anger instead of compassion, who build walls and barriers instead of showing her the way to refreshing new life.

He looked around when he entered Sychar. It was hot and dry. The disciples were hungry, but Jesus had other plans for the moment. He looked around and noticed a woman weaving her way quickly and silently through the barren streets. She carried a water jug, so he made a beeline to the well, Jacob’s well, and waited for her where she was sure to come.

He didn’t go to the religious house and wonder why she didn’t walk in looking for her. He didn’t announce his presence and wait for her to come seeking what he had to offer. He looked around and he saw who was clearly left out of the local synagogue, the local community, and he made sure to go to her, to give her the living water he had to offer. He sought after her and welcomed her when no one else would.

video

The church that really wants to make a difference looks around. The church that really wants to invite new members, encourage new life, and share the love it receives from Jesus looks around for those who are left out, those who are despised or even just ignored. The church that really wants to grow deep and grow wide is willing to open its doors and its minds to people who look and act a little different and is willing to be changed by them. A church that isn’t willing to do this IS willing to die.

When I was in college the church I was a part of provided “adoptive families” to students in the campus ministry. I was paired with a lovely older couple, David and Julie Williamson. When I announced to the Williamsons that I had changed my post-graduation plans and decided to enter seminary they were excited and supportive. They also laid before me what I believe is part of my call from God. With tears in their eyes they told me of one of the deepest pains in their lives.

Their grandson Steve and his family had no church home. They had tried a few churches over time, but nothing had ever worked out. It’s not that anyone told them outright that they couldn’t come. No one made a rule to keep them out. They could just tell by the way they were treated that churches just didn’t know what to do with Steve who had various medical problems and lived with developmental delays.

They didn’t know how to include him in Sunday School. They didn’t know what to do when he reached confirmation age. They didn’t know how to welcome him comfortably into worship, and worse than not knowing, they didn’t try to learn. Ignored, beginning to believe the lie that he didn’t belong, they just stopped trying. When I told the Williamsons I was going to seminary they asked me, they charged me, to make the church better for families like Steve's.

My relationship with the Williamsons and the call they delivered to me was in my heart when I accepted the call to this church because of the relationship with the Rainbow, and it has been with me ever since. I have shared this story with some of you and maybe even in worship once before, but always without a more concrete way to move forward. A long as I have been here I have seen in this congregation special gifts for a ministry of hospitality, education, and worship with families like Steve's, families who are sadly missing from churches all across and beyond our denomination. However, the way to share these gifts has not been obvious to me. A deeper relationship with and spiritual offerings for the Rainbow community even made it to our garden of ministries last spring, but again without a clear vision for carrying these ideas forward.

It seems, though, that now be planting seeds in this garden. Late last week I was invited to be a part of a meeting that will be taking place this coming week. The meeting will include a pastor and representatives from Nearby Lutheran Church and a worship leader from another local congregation who is also the mother of a teenage girl who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four. There is interest among this group in developing an ecumenical ministry in our town that will reach families that are touched by autism and other developmental special needs.

Looking around at all of our church memberships at the same time we can see that the numbers don’t add up. We can see there are people missing, people who have a very special need for loving and supportive community, for messages of hope and grace, for rest and renewal and drinks of living water. There are people in our community, but not in our churches who need to know that God loves them and calls to them, and that the rest of us need their gifts of patience, compassion, advocacy and love in our churches. We have looked around and seen people like Rick and his family who are on the fringes, and we feel called to go to them and embrace them with the love and acceptance of Christ’s body on earth.

I ask for your prayers this week as I am part of these initial inquiries and discernment. I ask that you will prayerful look around, especially outside of our church family, and try to see who is missing. Pray that God might show us how we can meet them without judgment where they are and welcome them into our midst to share the love of Jesus, the living water. I don’t know where these conversations will take us. I pray though that they will take us right to the well where we will meet Christ in each other. Amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Right Way?

I went to the prayer meeting tonight, and it was weird. I appreciate that there are people who gather so regularly and so faithfully to pray for our church. It was humbling and inspiring to hear them not only pray for me, but be so inspired by my ministry. I always wonder if it means anything to anyone. It was also intimidated because I realized how much this really matters to some people. I almost felt inadequate and worried that I will never be able to do all they hope for me to do among them. I feel a lot of pressure to "produce." I know that's not at all what they meant to do, but it's how I received it. I shouldn't, but I did. Even beyond all that, though, I am honored. I am honored that they trust me with their church and their faith.

All that said, I was a little disturbed by part of the meeting, or I guess part of the prayer. I got a little surprised when one person started praying for the rest of the congregation to have softened hearts. Several months ago the prayer group started offering to meet with anyone who needs prayer after the service to pray with them briefly. One or two of the members waits each week in the side room in case someone comes. Apparently they are met by someone seeking prayer only VERY rarely. The person praying tonight prayed that the congregation's hearts would be softened and people would use this offer of prayer and that people would see to be in Christian community better. There was a little more to it, but I don't remember it all word for word so I don't want to misrepresent it. All in all what I can represent is how it made me feel. It sounded like judgement to me. It sounded like the man was saying, "If they don't like the kind of prayer I like it must not be right. If they don't want the same things from their church community that I want, than it must not be right." I remember him praying that people would set aside their pride.

Why is it automatically a deficiency in the others if they aren't taking up this group's offer for prayer? The problem is any answer would prove this man's point in his mind. I was intimidated coming to them with prayer concerns when they asked me. I think for the most part they have great integrity with what they intend, but at the same time I have had some interesting experiences with some of their members and confidential or sensitive information. I didn't share when they asked me for specific prayer requests or topics. I don't know how to work with that. It was just weird. I just didn't like the undercurrent of judgement of others who lived their life of faith a different way.

I almost added my own prayers during the prayer time - - prayers of thanksgiving for the diversity of discipleship in our congregation, prayers that lifted up the many different ways people seek God and seek community among our brothers and sisters in Christ. I didn't, though. My prayer was definitely a reponse to his, which I don't think was right or authentic. I remember being taught the rules for speaking in a Quaker meeting. A speaker is not supposed to respond to another's teaching from the Spirit, but let it stand on its own, and only speak his or her own word discerned from the Spirit. I took that advice and kept my prayer to myself, praying it silently in my heart as I also prayed for the wisdom to know if it was a real, authentic prayer or just my own self-righteous and judgemental reaction.

What's in? What's out?

So the lectionary includes verses beyond those that I want to preach about (Hebrews 13:1-3, 15-16). I've been known to expand a lectionary passage, but it is rare (if ever) that I shorten one. I will admit that I'm cutting out the tough stuff, and that is making it hard for me to really do it. I'm leaving out the marriage and fornicating part not because I want to avoid having that converation in church, but because I don't want to have it now. I want to preach about the love and hospitality and sharing that is mentioned in other parts of this section and don't want folks to be distracted by the "sex" talk. Is that a cop out? I want to cut 4-8 and just use the rest of the lectionary passage. Not sure if I should yet, though.

I preached the Luke passage back in February, and I only just now noticed that we actually read then just these Hebrews verses that I'm thinking about for this week. Funny.

Anyway, I think I'll pair the Hebrews passage with the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 18:1-8 to explain the allusion. I'd like to do my storytelling of the passage from memory with that reading since it's been almost 2 years since I've done that. I loved it, and apparently the congregtation did, too. I've had some folks ask about it. It's time to try again, especially since I'm doing more of my writing mid-week (or at least I did last week and plan to tomorrow for this week). I have time to do the memorization this way.

OK, confession time. What I really want to preach is this video.



video
I'm definitely showing it as part of my sermon, but usually when I do something like this I put the video somewhere in the middle of the sermon and use it as an illustration to sort of prove my point. I don't usually start with a video, especially not one that essentially gives the "right answer" from the start. I'm not really thinking of a creative way to get started though, so maybe a different preaching style is OK sometimes. Maybe this one will be crafted in more of teaching style than a preaching style, at least for me. I really want to show the congregation how evangelism isn't something you learn out of book with a cookie-cutter, uncomfortable process, but is really about opening your eyes and looking out with the eyes and heart of Christ to see who needs a place to belong. It's about sharing from the blessings we have what other people need without judging or discouraging them. It's about readying ourselves for newcomers to come among us, which might mean seeing our space be used in a way we never thought it would be as they make "ours" "theirs," too. And, in our congregation that is hesitant to actually talk about Jesus to people outside our doors, it is even about that, talking about Jesus, when a relationship has been established and mutual trust to grow and learn together exists.

It's a longer video than I usually show, so maybe a change of style is what I have to do to fit it and my preaching of it and the Scripture into the service. A little change is OK, right? That's what I'm telling everyone else!

Pastors need to dance, too!

Last week when I came back to work the final rehearsals for the Rainbow musical were underway. Rainbow is a secular organization for youth and young adults with disabilities that has been near and dear to our congregation's heart. Rainbow rented space in our building (at mission price) for their first three years of full-time programming and still come back to hold their summer camp in our space now that they purchased their own building 8 months ago.

For reasons I don't really know when they do their annual musical they play the music at FULL VOLUME. I don't ever complain about the noise they make in their "ministry," because it is a joy to me that it takes place, but this was a little out of hand. I went into the sanctuary to see if I could simply turn off the speakers throughout the building since they only need the sanctuary ones for the show.

While I was there I ran into Allie, one of the Rainbow daycampers.

Allie: I'm having fun! What do you want?
Me: Well, I was looking for a way to turn the music down a little bit because it's a little bit loud in the rest of the building. I just want to turn our speakers off, but let you guys still listen.
Allie: Oh. OK. Who are you?
Me: I'm SheRev.
Allie: Well, why are you here?
Me: I work here. I'm the pastor at the church.
Allie: Cool! Well, pastors and priests need to dance, too!

Well, yes, Allie, we do. Thanks for the reminder!

"Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with string and pipe!" (Ps. 150:4) (Check this link for a great video that YouTube wouldn't let me embad.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

How's it work?

Well, I didn't get to begin my work day with Scripture and prayer, the discipline I am committed to re-establishing now that I'm back at work. (I did get to it a bit later, though.) I started my day instead with a visit to two widows. One woman's husband died in May, just a few days before Pearl was born, after a long illness and short experience with in home hospice care. I was blessed to participate (but not take the lead) in his funeral service 2 days after coming home from the hospital. The other woman's husband died suddenly, in the driveway at a family reunion while they were out of state on vacation. He and his wife had actually moved away from here a year ago and were on their way back for a visit. She came here for his service since this was their home for decades, and even though their membership was officially transfered the week before this was really their church home. I lead that service Satuday, my first weekend back at work. The former widow was offering the latter amazing hospitality in her time of grief since she no longer has a home in our town.

During a visit I ended up in one of those conversations that they never can quite prepare you for in seminary. The woman who had just lost her husband was feeling uneasy about the request of her husband's to be cremated which she had honored. She was asking me how that worked with heaven and seeing people and all of that. My theology classes gave me one answer, but thankfully my pastoral care classes taught me that this was not the time to share it. I stuck with my more literal answer, that if God can do the miracles we claim God can do, God can certainly figure out how to raise a cremated body and work it out just right for heaven.

This has just never been something I have worried about. Seminary gave me words and ideas to help back up my own tendencies toward thinking that when we're dead we're dead. I have never really bought into this idea that our bodies are buried and our souls go floating away to some sort of invisible heaven. I can believe in a new creation, a new heaven and new earth, and eternal life praising God, but I guess I see that has happening sometime later, not immediately upon each person's death. But again, this was not the time or place to wax theologically about my understanding of the afterlife.

This was a woman who was asking a very practical question about how her husband would get his body, where was "he" now, and how will people recognize each other. I had to give her the best answer I had, "I don't know." I don't know how it all works out. I don't know how God does it all, but what I can be sure of is that God is in charge. God knows how it all works out. God will bring us, wholy and holy into the divine presence with all of the saints and then we will see God's glory.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Before the Beginning

Jeremiah 1:4-10

It’s probably no wonder that these words from Jeremiah spoke to me this week. It is good to be back here in worship with you all after being on a blessed maternity leave for the last 12 weeks. While I was away, in addition to introducing Pearl to life on earth and doing my best to simply keep her alive, I took the opportunity to worship at a number of different churches. It was a blessing in many ways, being able to worship God from the pews instead of from the pulpit, but at the same time it also left me longing to come back here to our worship, our community. It was an interesting feeling being away from the place to which I have been called, and while I was able to learn a lot of new things to bring back to us, it feels good to be home.

Pearl's only been in our house for about 12 ½ weeks, but it’s already hard to remember what it was like before she was born. It’s been almost a year since we knew she was coming, but in a sense she’s been a part of us since even before that. Before she was forming in my womb, well before she was born, we knew we would want a third child to complete our family. She was a part of us before she was here; she was being planned for before she ever existed. We didn’t know who she would look like. We didn’t know what her personality would be. We didn’t know she would have LadyPrincess's reddish newborn hair or Godzilla’s huge, huge eyes. We didn’t know she would THANKFULLY sleep through the night as hard as her mom and dad, but before she was born, before she was formed in my womb, we knew she would be in our family.

“Before I formed you in your mother’s womb…” “Before you were born…” Yahweh, our God, spoke to Jeremiah. Before he was a presence on this earth, Jeremiah was already in God’s mind and heart. God was working together a particular set of gifts for a particular kind of ministry and, I like to imagine, just waiting for the right time and place to set them down in creation put together in just the right person. God claimed Jeremiah for ministry to the nations; it was a part of his life even before his beginning.

Christians point to this particular passage and this claim in some of our deepest deliberations and debates. God’s call to Jeremiah is cited in relation to issues as varied as abortion, predestination, human sexuality, and whether or not God has “a plan (including a particular vocation) for my life.” We regularly accept that the promise and claim of this call isn’t just for Jeremiah, but that it applies to any of us in our walk with Christ. What if, though, these words aren’t just for Jeremiah, and they aren’t just for each of us, but what if they are for ALL of us? Together. The church. This church.

Now the word of the LORD came to Our Presbyterian Church saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were a thought in the mind of the new settlers I knew you existed. Before you were born I consecrated you. Before you built even the old building downtownI blessed you. I appointed you a prophet to the town, to the state, to the nations!" What does it mean for who we are and what we do that God has been here before us hoping for us to be here, too? And what is it we have been appointed to do?

Another thing I did this summer while on maternity leave is attend a large portion of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly. This is the biennial meeting of our largest Presbyterian governing body with voting delegates from all over the county, including a member of this church. During the Assembly meetings they would periodically show videos that are shared on a website developed in response to an item of business at the last GA in 2008. The website is called “Deep and Wide” since the initiative is a commitment on the part of the entire denomination to help grow Christ’s church deep and wide through evangelism, discipleship, servanthood, and diversity. These were essentially some of the same goals we discerned as a congregation last spring in our visioning process together. Over and over again we talked about wanting to “go deeper” together in faith and knowledge of God. We talked about wanting to expand our congregation’s impact wider into our community and throughout the world, as well as expand the reach of our membership. Videos shared at GA and on the Deep and Wide website show the specific efforts of churches across our country to grow in these ways. I’d like to share two of these videos with you this week and next.
video

I believe the story of this first church sounds somewhat familiar to our own story in recent years, but still has something to say to us as we move forward. I heard in the telling of their story two of the important steps they took as they discerned their way forward.

The first is one you will hear in every video on that website of churches in transformation. They prayed. The conversations that led them to new life weren’t just the conversations that happen around committee and session meeting tables. They were conversations with God. In order to find new life in their church, in order to offer life to others in their community and claim resurrection life for themselves, they had to deeper than connection to the One from whom all life comes. They had to get in touch with God who formed them in each in their mother’s wombs, the Spirit who sustained that congregation for well over a century, Christ who redeemed it’s life when the doors were about to close.

The second thing they did was pointed out by the narrator. Knowingly or unknowingly, they rediscovered their roots as a congregation. When they started in Oklahoma City in the 1800s, we were told, they were a church on the outskirts of town. They were a church ministering on the edge, where newcomers were arriving. They weren’t necessarily downtown in the hustle and bustle of city life, but instead were located where new growth was happening, helping to develop a spiritual community where a new community was being built.

Greystone Presbyterian Church found its life renewed when it got in touch with God AND God’s purpose and call to them. Before they were formed God knew they could address a particular need. Really God created them to do just that. Before Greystone was born or reborn, God blessed them with a purpose. They have found new life by doing what God has created them to do.

In the 9th grade I played in the Florida All-State Orchestra under the direction of a brilliant conductor and inspiring leader. On our last day of rehearsal, right before we began the last run through we would play of the William Tell Overture before our final concert, our conductor spoke to us about this experience. "Never again," he said, "will this moment exist. Never again will this orchestra play. Even if we had a reunion 10 years from now, some of you wouldn't come. Never again will this exact orchestra be assembled to play this piece, so play it like you were made to play it."

TheFirst Presbyterian Church has been here for over 150 years. The faces in the congregation have changed year to year, and will continue to change as some saints pass into God's glory and new saints are born into our family or join us along the journey. But before we were formed in the womb God knew us. Before we were born into this time God consecrated us. We have been assembled in this way for God’s purpose. We have been appointed as a garden of welcome, to shelter, heal, nurture, and grow together toward God. No other church can fulfill the call God has given to us. Let's minister like we were made to minister.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Letter to the Funeral Widow

Dear Funeral Widow,

I am deeply sorry for your loss (really I am, I loved him, too). However, it is really hard to plan an "upbeat" service at your request with the 6 songs you choose. PLEEEEEEAAAAAAASE will you trust me to pick some that provide this message of hope and joy you seem to be seeking? I promise I won't go all "contemporary" on you. Just wondering.

--Your Compassionate Pastor

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sermon writing changes

Just a little update for anyone who may wonder. I said I was going to try to turn Wednesdays into my sermon-writing days. This is my first Wednesday back, and it's been a crazy week. It's my first week back at work, my first Sunday back in the pulpt, my dear daughter LadyPrincess is at work with me all week, and I have a funeral on Saturday. That said, my sermon is at least 2/3 of the way done, if not more. YIPEE!!!! Holy cow! I'm doing it! I know it's just one week, but if I prove to myself I can do it even just this once it will make it that much easier to do it again. Praise God!

Hey. It's 4:50 p.m.. I'm heading to pick up my kiddos and enjoy the night at home (or maybe not since it's house cleaning time to get ready for the houseguest-who-is-allergic-to-everything.)

Sing Praises

Psalm 147 reminds me "How good it is to sing praises to our God" so today I pray through the words of one of my favorite hymns. The second verse in this version, often the 3rd verse in others, in probably my favorite.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Persecuted and Scattered

I'm reading Acts 8:1-13 this morning, about the early Christians being persecuted. I can't imagine. I can't imagine what it must be like to live in a place where people are not just disdainful toward your religion, but hunting you down because of it. I just don't even get that mentality that brings one person or group to have that kind of fear and hatred toward another - - whether it's about faith, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or whatever other defining characteristic has been used throughout history to wrongly justify persecution. I don't get it.

But at the same time, I'm sure I do get it in some way that I'm not willing to recognize. There's the Calvinist in me - - I'm sure I sin in this way somehow. It may not be to the degree of stoning and destruction, thank God, but I'm sure in some way I am biased against people who are different from me. My honest confession is that this is the case for me with people who are less educated than I am. I think it also bleeds over into a socio-economic bias, too. I don't go looking for these folks and try to punish them, but in a way I sort of overlook them. Forgive me, God. Forgive my own form of discrimination and persecution.

Give me eyes like Jesus', a heart like his, that watch for those who are overlooked and focus intently on their lives and needs. Amen.

This reading also reminded me of a video whose title I have seen a lot lately, but that I had not yet viewed. Now I watched it and here it is:

(Video has been removed)

I can't personally back up any of these stories or claims, but I can pray the prayers and hope beyond all hope that they will not be needed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Before We Were Born

(I always start out strong when I'm coming back to blogging. One of these times it is bound to stick.)

Sunday will be my first time preaching since leaving to give birth to Pearl and spend some amazing time at home with her. "Before I formed you in your mother's womb..." "Before you were born..." I guess I can't ignore these words in the lectionary. They hit kind of close to home. She's only be here about 12 1/2 weeks, but it is already hard to remember what it was like before she was born. It's been almost a year since we knew she was coming, but in a sense she's been a part of us since before that. Before she was formed in my womb, well before she was born, we knew we would want a third child. She was a part of us before she was here; she was being planned for before she ever existed. We didn't know who she would look like. We didn't know what her personality would be. We didn't know she would have LadyPrincess's reddish newborn hair or Godzilla's huge huge eyes. We didn't know she would THANKFULLY sleep as hard as her mom and dad, but before she was born, before she was formed in my womb, we knew she would be in our family.

What happens if Yahweh's words to Jeremiah don't just apply to him? We accept that to be true in many different ways. As Henry Langknecht points out "This aspect of the passage has been cited in Christian deliberations about such varied issues as abortion, predestination, and whether or not God has "a plan (including a particular vocation) for my life." We accept that this call isn't just Jeremiah's, but applies to any of us in our walk with Christ. But what happens if these words aren't just for Jeremiah and aren't just for each of us, but if they are for all of us? Together. The church. This church.

Now the word of the LORD came to First Presbyterian Church in Cute Midwestern Town saying, "Before I formed you in the the womb I knew you. Before you were a thought in the mind of the new settlers I knew you existed. Before you were born I consecrated you. Before you built the old building downtown I blessed you. I appointed you a prophet to the town, to the state, to the nations!" What does it mean for who we are and what we do that God has been here before us hoping for us to be here, too? And what is it we have been appointed to do?

That is an important task for this church and any church, to discover and, if needed, recover our purpose and our calling. Jeremiah had a particular calling as a prophet to Judah and Jerusalem. We, too, have a particular calling from God.

In the 9th grade I played in the Hot State All-State Orchestra under the direction of a brilliant conductor and inspiring leader. On our last day of rehearsal, right before we began the last run through we would play of the William Tell Overture before our final concert, Maestro spoke to us about this experience. "Never again," he said, "will this moment exist. Never again will this orchestra play. Even if we had a reunion 10 years from now, some of you wouldn't come. You might have a conflict in your calendar, or something tragic may keep you from coming. Never again will this exact orchestra be assembled to play this piece, so play it like you were made to play it."

This church has been here for over 150 years. The faces in the congregation have changed year to year, and will continue to change as some saints pass into God's glory and new saints are born into our family or join us along their journeys. But before we were formed in the womb God knew us. Before we were born into this time God consecrated us. God has appointed us as a garden of refuge and welcome and healing on this earth. Let's minister like we were made to minister.

Praise the Lord

"Praise God, you servants of the LORD, you who minister in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God." (Ps. 135:1b, 2)

OK! No better first reading for an attempt at renewing my spiritual disciplines than a direct command to praise God! I get the message! I get the message! I love this psalms just listing of the things for which God can be praised, the telling of the stories not in any great detail, but in a way that highlights the consistency, constancy (Is that word?), the sheer overwhelming number of God's blessings in our lives and in our history.

Praise God, you minister! OK, here I go:
1. God has blessed me with 3 beautiful and healthy children. I love my kiddos, and my Pearl is on my heart today as she starts daycare.
2. My husband is a gift of stability and wisdom and love in my life.
3. The beauty and symbols of butterflies made me smile on the way into the building.
4. The noise coming from down the hall where secular ministry is taking place with people with disabilities is joyful.
5. God raised up this congregation out of it's former despair.
6. Jesus walks with me in my ministry.
7. The Spirit breathed life into me while I was away.

Praise God! Praise God whose name endures forever.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Five: Dog Days of Summer Edition

SingingOwl gave us some summer questions. I haven't played in ages, but thought this was a good way to ease back into the swing of blogging, etc.

1. What is the weather like where you live?
Stormy and humid. It's been nasty hot and sticky all week. Not fun, in my opinion.

2. Share one thing you love about this time of year.
Hmmmm...I'm really not a heat person. It's the reason I live in Wisconsin and not in Florida where I grew up. However, I can play along. I love not having to do the whole bundling thing, especially with children, every time I want to leave the house. I like the beautiful nights when we can sit outside for dinner. I LOVE it when my husband smokes ribs, and I pig out eating them.

3. Share one thing you do NOT love about this time of year.
Heat with humidity, even though it's a lot less here than it was growing up I still just don't like it.

4. How will you spend the remaining days leading up to Autumn?
Well, I've been away from work all summer, but the last few weeks will see be getting back to the church, getting the littler kids established in their daycare routines, and starting the biggest one off in kindergarten. Next week is a run around week since I'm back at work and my older one is doing the daycamp shuffle to keep her occupied. The next week my mom is in town to help out with her. Whew. We've also got a lot of houseguests in the next month. I think I'll spend a lot of my days cleaning!

5. Share a good summer memory.
For some reason the ones I've been thinking about a lot this summer are my summers spent in Europe as a child. That sounds way more pretentious than I mean it, too. My parents were divorced, and my dad lived in Germany for a portion of my childhood. Summer was the time of our longer trip to visit him. I have a few good memories of that time, and honestly, a few not so good memories, but that's a blog for another day if ever. I'm thinking right now of the little towns and villages he would find for us to visit, the cool tiny hotels and gasthauses and the beautiful mountain views.

Bonus: What food says SUMMER to you?
Although it's never been much of a favorite for me, watermelon definitely says summer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Changing it up

My poor neglected blog. Occasionally throughout this maternity leave I've thought about blogging something, but really, any additional processing (additional to the handwritten journal I keep) just seemed like work. I let myself let go of this for a little while, but now it's coming back. Over at the RevGals Ask the Matriarchs today there was a question about sermon writing processes. My answer started to be a total self-indulgent long-winded thing, so I think it's best to just post it here and link to it over there.

Currently, I have general themes and sort of series worked out a few months in advance. I don't necessarily announce "series," but I know, as others have said, which texts I'm going to follow for a little while and what larger message I discern God is trying to give the congregation for that time in our life together. I do some reading and thinking and praying on Monday, just a little. Tuesday more of that, definitely listen to Sermon Brainwave and check out Working Preacher. I have set my own deadline for the bulletin info as Wednesday noon. For me that means I want to have a pretty darn good idea of the "focus & function" by that time so that I can pick my hymns and write the liturgy to match. I don't really do much else formally until I write. It just bounces around in my head, jotting notes here and there if something really jumps out at me. Friday is a complete day off. I used to tell myself that I'd work on it Friday evening after the kids went to bed, but I hated not having a real day off. Now I don't touch anything on Friday at all. Saturday is my writing day, but as someone else said I refuse to sacrifice my family on the altar of the perfect sermon (except, I guess I do with my mood, just not with our time on Saturdays). This means I do all my writing after the kids are in bed. I get started at around 9:00 p.m. and make sure I have at least a pretty decent outline by the time I go to bed 12-1 am-ish. I then wake up at about 4:00 a.m. and pound out the real words until everyone is up and moving and needing my help around 7:00 a.m. or 7:30. We're out the door by 8:30 and worship starts at 9:30. There's no minute like the last!

I figured I'd have to find a new rhythm with a nursling on hand this fall, but I've actually been blessed with a little one who is already sleeping through the night. It doesn't seem AS crucial to change it up because of that, but my grumpiness is not helpful, so I've got to do something. I go back to work in about 10 days, back in the pulpit on Aug. 22, with a funeral already booked for the Saturday right before that. I think I'm going to try to change my process right from the start. I think I need to do it right away or I'll always put it off. Also, I've sort of got a built in excuse for not the best sermons as I come back to work, so if it's hard for me to get in a rhythm I want to use the congregation's forgiveness while I've got it.

I think what I'll do is still do my reading and everything on Monday and Tuesday, but take as much of Wednesday as possible out of the office, and probably also away from home, to do as much writing as I possibly can. Even if I don't have it complete by the end of the day, if I have my outline done it will make Saturdays better. I'd like to get it really close on Wednesdays, though, so I'm not spending so much time on weekends working on it. Maybe not any weekend time.

I'm hoping to go back to work more disciplined than I have been. That's another piece of this whole reorganization. I end up giving a lot of my "off" hours to the church because I don't stay focused during my "on" hours. The time I spend writing my sermon at home is work time on top of the full work hours I give during the week. They get more from me than maybe they should sometimes, and I'm the only one who is going to stop that from happening. I want to stay on task better in the office, get a good discipline of doing at least SOME of my writing mid-week, and see if I can do a better job living into my calling as a wife and mother, too.

So, back to the baby. Pearl, as I'm calling her here, was born just 5 days after my last post, May 20. She started out the size of her older sister, about 8 1/2 pounds, but has stayed on the peanut side of baby sizes. She's a little one, but healthy and happy. She LOVES interacting with people even more than I remember my other two loving it. My husband calls her "Short Order" because she came into this world literally 4 minutes after I got into my L & D room. Would you believe we were a little slow getting to the hospital because I did a load of laundry after waking up in active labor? I didn't have any clean maternity clothes except work clothes and I thought it would be weird walking into the hospital at 2:00 a.m. in labor in my work clothes. So I did laundry. Awesome.

OK. Off I go. Maybe my new sermon process will mean a more active blog - - more than just sermon posting I mean. I have a story to blog around here somewhere. I wrote it down on the back of an envelope when it happened in the car. I just don't remember exactly what it was. LadyPrincess (now 5) has had a lot of death questions lately, so I think it was along those lines - death, heaven, the whole bit.

That picture at the top is from the blog of a pastor in the Church of Ireland. He's doing the 365 photo challenge in 2010. Ahhhh...maybe in 2011. Here's the link to the whole blog. The picture above is from January 8.