Sunday, November 21, 2010

All that fuss...

...and I didn't even preach the sermon. I was a little nervous about my sermon below for this morning. It's more direct than I have gone before with money, and I was concerned about using myself as a "good example."

And after all that, I didn't even preach it. A pretty nasty layer of ice was laid down across the area over night. We didn't cancel, but thankfully many people didn't even bother to come. The roads were incredibly slick in many places.

That said, I had this stewardship sermon that I think delivers a pretty important word from God to our congregation. I didn't want to preach it only to the 30 or so of us who were there - - mostly folks who had some sort of responibility in the service or coffee time. Chances are anyway, that the folks who made it, probably didn't need the sermon on commitment! Talk about preaching to the choir. Literally.

Anyway, we changed it up and did a hymn sing kind of worship. Folks shared favorite Scripture, hymns, and blessings in their lives. It went well.

So, now the next dilemma. I plan to preach that sermon right below this next week, but next week is also the 1st Sunday of Advent. Do I retweak the retweak to try to fit Advent 1 a little better? Do I just preach what I've got and not worry? I'm leaning toward just preach what I've got and start my Advent series the first Sunday in December. I'll play with it a little week, but I have to say it doesn't hurt too bad to have a sermon pretty much done (either way) on a holiday week, especially when I probably have a funeral coming Tuesday or Wednesday. We had a member die on Saturday just days before her 101st birthday. God bless her!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The "S" Word

Colossians 1:11-20
1 Peter 4:8-11

The believers were a minority in their communities. To fully practice their faith they had to make difficult decisions about their priorities. The world didn’t stop because the followers of Jesus wanted to get up on Sunday, a regular workday, to celebrate the resurrection, worship God in Spirit and in truth. Some of them met in secret out of fear of physical or social harm. Not too many people were making the kind of commitment they were making with their lives and their livelihood.

Taxes were due, there were bills that needed to be covered, taxes, hungry mouths to feed, yet still there was this expectation among the people of this faith at least some of their money would be pooled together to take care of people in need. It was probably viewed as downright foolish to turn over what you rightly owned to share it with others, even send it off to some other place for some other people. They were probably mocked, criticized by their neighbors for blindly turning over what they earned to someone speaking some nonsense about new life, new birth, and grace. It was like they didn't even belong to the same world. It's hard to tell if I'm talking about the church in the 1st century or the church in the 21st century.

Earlier in his letter, Peter the apostle says it this way: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." He continues, "I urge you as aliens and exiles."

We, too, are resident aliens. We live in this geographic place and this historical time, but our spiritual citizenship is of another world. Christ is our king, not the secular culture that surrounds us, and there are plenty of people who will look at how we live and what we believe as complete foolishness. We are living in a world that in some ways isn't all the at different from the era of the early church. And the instruction that Peter gave them for living as strangers in their own land is important instruction for us, too. By actually ordering our lives around our belief in Jesus Christ and the example he set, by choosing our actions and behaviors based on our obedience to God, we will strengthen our own faith and the Christian community as we are living in a world that ranges from ambivalent to hostile toward us.

Peter helps us do that by talking about the world we live in as God's household. He calls us to be, in the Greek, oikonomos. In English it breaks down to mean house manager. Not owners, but managers. Our translations use the word "steward" in this case. Important to the understanding of our call as stewards is the understanding that while stewards have a VERY important job of management and in Jesus' parables even the job of investing and growing the property of the master, stewards are not the owners of that which they manage. They have a lot of responsibility for that what is in their care, but their job is not to care for it according to their own desires and wishes; the stewards' job is to carry out the mission and will of the true owner, their master.

As Christians we are called to be the stewards of God’s gifts of grace in the world. A gifts that manifest themselves in many different ways. Traditionally, we have talked about gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Although we talked about it with a different language, much of last winter and spring our congregation was engaged in discerning how we would be good stewards of God's gifts of time and talent, both as individuals and as a congregation. We looked at the ministries we provide as a church, the places we ask our members and friends to be involved to make sure we were using our energy and abilities the way God intends for us to use them. We spent time trying to understand the mission and will of our master through a session retreat, a congregational brainstorming session, and an extended time of deciding our places of passion and commitment. Together we learned that God has placed particular gifts and graces in our midst and calls us to be stewards of them for divine purposes.

Now it is time for us to look individually and as a community at the gifts of "treasure" that have been placed in our hands. This is when we all start to squirm in our seats, right? The "S" word is about to be uttered. It's that stewardship season, that stewardship sermon and someone's going to get up there and start talking about money!

At some point in our cultural development it became taboo to talk about money in polite circles. And at some point in that same development the church became, at least in theory, a "polite circle." I have heard more than one congregation boast about the fact that "you will never hear anyone talk about money in our church." As a pastor trying to live out my call in different churches I have felt pressure to be one of those who keeps the financial talk to a minimum. I confess that I have fallen to that pressure, and I think it is at a disservice to God, my call, and the people I am called to serve.

Money is never off limits as a topic of spiritual concern in Scripture. Directions for offerings for a multitude of reasons are all over the Old Testament. There are offerings for when a child is born, when a disease is healed, when crops are brought in, when seeds are planted. There are offerings to thank God for blessings that have come and curses that have stayed away. Thank offerings for prayers answered and pleas that have been heard.

And in the New Testament, Jesus probably talks about money more than any other single topic throughout the gospels. Paul and the other apostles in Acts and the various letters also talk about the blessing and responsibility of giving money to God's greater purposes. Yet at some point, probably the same point at which the lines between church and culture became blurred and the church lost its distinctiveness from the world, our understanding of God's call on our finances was lost. The church and members of it, like the culture around us, started to see money as a private matter - - maybe a matter between each of us and God, if God was involved in the equation at all. The mainstream church became quiet on the subject, and almost all sense of each of us as stewards of God's grace was virtually lost.

In a forum for pastors that I was reading recently, I learned how one expert suggests that pastors of churches should work to end this silence and lead by example. He says pastors should tell their congregations exactly what they give. Now I don't think it's just the culturally-influenced silence that will keep me from doing that today. I simply don't know what our household's dollar amount will add to the conversation, but what I do want to share, and so you know, EconMan has agreed to let me share this with you, is how we figure what we will give and why.

We are not yet biblical tithers, meaning we don't yet give a full 10% of our combined incomes to the church and other places where God is at work in the world. However, we do consciously and prayerfully discern our pledge and our giving as a percentage of our incomes, making steps to increase that percentage each year, whether or not we receive raises in our jobs. We have decided, for a time, to limit the number of organizations outside of the church in order that we can focus on increasing our stewardship in the place we feel God is calling us right now.

We do this not because it is our duty and not as a payment for services rendered. We do this because it is a spiritual discipline. It is something that brings us closer to God because it is a way to continually reestablish our dependence on God, reacknowledge God's sovereignty over our lives and all that is in them. Thinking about our pledges in terms of a percentage of the total gift we hold in trust for God makes stewardship of our money less intimidating and helps us make steps each year to grow in our giving and in our faith in significant and measurable ways.

You may have noticed on the pledge cards that have been prepared this year a chart to help you think about percentage giving. I encourage you, as a spiritual discipline, to figure out where you are on the chart as you are discerning your pledge this year. Where is God calling you to be in your pledge for he next year? Is it possible God might be challenging you to further dependence on God, calling you to give one percentage point more?

Yes, many mainline congregations have lost their voices when it comes to talking about the role of the faithful as God's stewards who manage the gifts of God for the purposes of God, the spiritual nature of seeking God's purposes with the money entrusted to us. But we can't let that continue to happen. And I don't say that because this or any congregation has a building to pay for and a budget to balance. Truly, I don't. I say it because it is a part of who we are as God's people, as a holy nation, under the rule of a compassionate and divine King. I say it because we have been created by God to be a part of God's mission and work in the world. All that there is around us and within us is part of God's creation, is owned by God. All that we are and all that we have is not ours, but is God's. Our days, our abilities, our minds, and our lives, yes, even our money - - it isn't ours at all; it is God's. We have just been given it to manage for a time, to invest and spend on God's purposes for us and for the world.

This is why we give. All of it comes from God. All of it belongs to God. We give because it is a part of our full commitment to Christ who is the head of the church, the beginning, the first born of all creation. By his grace, we share in the inheritance of God's blessings, and as heirs with him and stewards we honor our master and ruler by returning a portion of what is hardly ours to keep, but committing it to God's work in the world.

This isn't the kind of giving that, as they say, wins friends and influences people. This isn't the kind of giving that helps us fit in with the mainstream culture. Our culture is one that values independent decision-making more than shared discernment, personal advancement more than compassionate communities, and ownership more than just about anything else. To treat God's graces of time, talent, and treasure as anything other than ours is going to raise a few eyebrows and point us out as what Peter already knows we are - - resident aliens, in this world, but not of this world. Yet it is what we are called to do as the people of God, rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God's beloved Son.

It is what we can do to maintain love for one another and love for the world. It is how we can proclaim the mighty acts of God, sacrificing as Christ sacrificed, sharing has Christ shared, lifting others up and he has lifted us, serving as he served. It is what we are called to do, and when we do it, when we live as good stewards of the grace of God, it is not because of our own strength, it is because of the strength God supplies through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Re-preach Shuffle

So, I was supposed to have this coming Sunday off as my last continuing education week of the year. I didn't find events to go that fit my interests and schedule, so I decided to just take a week (Sunday included) off and read to get ready for a class I'm co-teaching next summer. I'm way behind in the reading for this and could really benefit from 4 days with nothing else to do.

Great plan. Poor execution.

The Stewardship team has had a slow start. While most churches have already dedicated their pledges and are moving on to Christ the King and Advent, we have just barely kicked off our poorly planned campaign. This Sunday is the one I have been asked to preach my "heavy-hitting" stewardship sermon. Well, the "heavy-hitting" is sort of my designation. I have never done a real harder-core money sermon. (Because who am I kidding? I don't really do hard core.) This one can't be about how stewardship is about everything - the earth, our time, our gifts, blah-da blah-da blah-da. This one has got to be about money. We're too good at the rest of stewardship. We're so good at it that we forget the money part, or give ourselves an excuse not to worry about it because we're so good at the other parts. So anyway, this time I'm preaching money.

All that said, I still want my week off (even if it means preaching on Sunday). Enter old stewardship sermon. This one is more generic, about gifts or talents more than money, but I think it can be tweaked. Here's the secret none of the rest of you ever told me, though. It's harder than it looks to tweak an old one! I hope I can get it MOSTLY done today, though, so I can move on to my other "have tos" tomorrow and spend Wednesday at the public library where hopefully, unlike at home, I won't just sleep on the couch, but read the books I need to read.

Pray for me!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our Job

Galatians 2:19-21
Mark 2:1-5

While serving as an intern pastor at a church in Kenya, I lived with the installed pastor, his wife, and their cousin who helped care for the home and host guests which were common in the pastor's home. Frieda was the cousin's name, and while I was there we became quite close. Even though she lived with Alfred and Mary full-time, in a sense we both shared the experience of living in someone else's home. I think we bonded over that experience.

Despite her living arrangements, Frieda wasn't very active in the church community. I appreciated that she came to worship the Sundays that I preached while serving there, and even more I appreciated the conversations we had afterward. Frieda and I could talk more openly about our experiences of the church, our questions, our hopes, and our doubts than either of us felt comfortable expressing in other circles during my internship.

One day when we were sharing our stories about growing up she asked me, "When were you saved?" Now, growing up in the sort-of South I had heard this question or variations on the theme more than once. It was always one that made my friends from the Presbyterian youth group and me sort of cock our heads to the side and shrug. We weren't sure. Well, we were pretty sure we were saved, although Presbyterians aren't known for talking about it like that so boldly. But we weren't sure when it had happened.

Most of us had been baptized as infants, raised in the church Sunday School, performed in the Christmas pageants, nurtured in youth group, tortured in confirmation, I mean, taught in confirmation. When in all of that were we saved? And more importantly, why hadn't anyone told us that was when it happened?!?!?

One of the characteristics of the Presbyterian flavor of Reformed theology is that we are more concerned about the glory of God and the coming of God's reign than the salvation of souls. This is why that question can be so hard for us to answer. We don't see salovation as our primary job. I understand that's a provocative, if not controversial statement. Some may even say it's downright heretical, but hear me out.

I didn't say we don't believe in the salvation of souls. I didn't say we don't care about it at all. I said we don't focus as much on it as we do on enjoying and celebrating the glory of God and the coming of God's reign, the demonstration of God's will and kingdom. The reason for this goes all the way back to my theme in the first sermon in this series -- the sovereignty of God. When it comes to salvation, it is all up to God. The work of salvation, forgiving sins and reconciling our broken relationship with the divine, is solely in the hands of the Triune God.

We cannot save ourselves, and we certainly cannot save others. It is impossible for us to do, and therefore it is not our job. It is not our job to bring about salvation in any human being's life, not even our own. That is God's job in Jesus Christ, and God's job alone. Nothing we can do or leave undone will save us. No work we perform, no mission we carry out, no task we complete, no words we say. Nothing we do on our own will save us from separation from God. Only God can and does bring us graciously back into relationship. Not even our faith saves us. Jesus saves us.

In the interest of full disclosure, this belief and understanding of how salvation occurs and what our role is in the whole thing, it has not always been good for us Presbyterians. Sometimes we have a tendency to cling to this understanding of God's sovereignty and hold it up as an excuse to keep quiet about what we believe. It has been a barrier to us when it comes time to talk about evangelism. We think that if God is doing all the saving, than there really isn't much we need or should do. God's got it under control without us; we can just live our lives, believe our beliefs, and don't need to engage with the rest of the world, believers or not. We wrongly think that we can be faithful disciples tucked away in our own corners of the world, making no attempts to show or speak of God's love, our salvation, God's desire for both justice in the world and personal relationships with each of us. But this just isn't how it works.

Our job, definitely, is not to bring about salvation in ourselves or in others. but our job, when we believe in God who saves us, when we believe that God does save us, is to live with thankful faith in the One who is faithful to us. Likewise, faith is our response to salvation; it is not what brings us salvation. Faith is not a mental exercise or an emotion of the heart. It is the way we live since we know who God our creator is and what God does in Jesus. It is our response to the Spirit which fills us with comfort and knowledge of God's grace and goodness. Faith is focusing on the glory of God, reveling in the glory of God, trusting in the glory of God, pointing to the glory of God, that others may be aware of what we know and experience. Our job is not to save souls; our job, our calling from God, is to live faithfully and share our faith with others.

Thirty-one years ago, the Rev. Stephen Jones, an American Baptist pastor, wrote a book called "Faith Shaping, Youth and the Experience of Faith." Not too many books about the practice of youth ministry last 31 years, but Jones hit on some very important aspects of how faith is shaped which then informs how we should go about sharing our faith, pointing to the glory of God and living into the coming reign of God. One thing in particular that Jones noted is that young people, and I would say ANY people, learn about faith by both nearness and directness.

Nearness, to use our Scripture readings from this morning as examples, is what happened in the gospel according to Mark. Nearness is what happened when the friend who was lying on the mat felt the four corners start to lift up around him as he was raised up off the ground. Nearness is what happened when he looked into their determined faces as they groaned and grunted under the awkward weight of their friend on the mat between them. Nearness is what happened when, seeing no other option, they dug through the roof to take their friend to Jesus, and, seeing their faith, he healed their friend. Nearness is when the life of faith is demonstrated day in and day out by the actions one takes and the habits one practices.

Practical theologian Rodger Nishioka tells the story of how on an airplane he stops to say grace over a bag of peanuts. This faith practice takes place because of nearness. It is something he learned from his fathr who relentlessly made his children say grace over every meal they shared, at home or away. It was something that embarrassed him completely in his teenage years, having to stop to say grace with his family even while sitting at McDonald's. Yet this everyday faith and its committed practice made an impression on him. It shaped it his own faith.

Nearness is what caused a young boy, about nine years old, to call his father out audibly in the worship service led by a colleague in Iowa one Sunday. The father had faithfully, as long as his son had any memory, written out a check and placed it in the offering plate every single Sunday. The son was distressed when one Sunday the father didn't do it. "But, Daddy, we give money." The father replied, "Of course, we give money, son. I gave money for the whole month last week." Sitting near to his father in worship for nine years, the son's faith was shaped by what his father did. He learned the values of his parents, his tradition. It spoke to him and was written on his very being what being faithful to God, faithful to the faith community means in his family, all just by being near his faithful father.

But alongside nearness is the importance of sharing faith directly that others may hear the issues of faith presented clearly. In order to share our faith fully, to communicate our understanding of what we have experienced in the grace of Jesus, the love of God, the movement of the Spirit, we do sometimes have to use our words , something I know is hard for us Presbyterians. This is where our understanding of our job versus God's job can get in the way. We think we don't need to say anything because it's not our job to save people. We think our words don't matter because we aren't responsible for the salvation of another persons soul.

But our words do matter. There are times when the issues of faith must be presented directly. The message of the gospel must be presented in an appealing, fair, and meaningful way, appropriate to the age an stage of the one hearing it, so that she can be aware of ways God is working in her life, so that he can make a decision about the grace he has experienced, not in order that they save themselves, but in order that they may choose for themselves how they will respond to this gift of God freely given. Upon experiencing God's salvation we must have the words with which to speak of it, that we may make a decision about how we will live going forward.

Paul's letters, although sometimes to us the language doesn't seem so clear and appealing, are examples of direct faith shaping. The debate was going on in Galatia about whether or not one needed to become Jewish first in order to be a follower of Christ, a Christian. Paul, himself a Jewish believer, preached long and hard about the sufficiency of Christ's grace for salvation, but nearness wasn't going to work for this debate. Nearness wasn't going to express this important message.

He need to communicate directly to share this aspect of his faith. He needed to say out loud what was important for him to believe and share. Nearness is important. It's important to live our faith and allow our actions speak for and communicate the love of God, but nearness isn't enough on its own. Our actions must be coupled with a careful and loving, direct sharing of our faith, too. Paul knew when he had to speak clearly about what he believed in order to shape the faith of new communities, new believers. "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

While the work of salvation is most definitely the work of God and not human beings, we are not off the hook. We do still have a job to do in the kingdom of God. We have a role to play as people of faith, God's servants who live in joy and peace with the knowledge of God's grace and our salvation. Even if it is not our job to go out and single-handedly save other souls we have a job to do to proclaim God's glory to exhibit the coming of Christ's reign, pointing to the one who alone can bring salvation to us and others.

A good friend once told me the story one day of how her two year old son climbed up on the couch next to her husband. The boy then pulled his mom down to sit next to him on the other side. Surrounded by his parents and snuggled in between them, he then looked up at his mother, pulled her head near his, and made the sign of the cross on her forehead, saying "Child of God." Then he did the same to his dad, "Child of God."

Every night since his birth his mom and dad have done this exact same thing to their boy, made the sign of the cross on his forehead and speak these very important words. Near to him they show him what they believe; with this holy action they display their faith and trust in the salvation they experience. Directly they tell him what they know is true, what they believe above everything else. Directly, they tell him what the whole world needs to see in our actions and hear in our words, "You are a child of God."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One Body

Colossians 3:12-17
1 Corinthians 12:14-27

I once worked with a pastor who couldn’t stand that little finger play up there on the screens. Join with me if you know it -- “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people.” It’s cute, right? I’m pretty sure I knew that game before I knew any Bible verses, maybe even any Bible stories. So what’s the big deal? What did this pastor have against a nice little kids’ rhyme?

Well, it was the church part. This colleague was pretty particular about the way the word “church” is used. “The church is NOT a building,” he would say. It’s not our sanctuary or our Sunday School rooms, our offices or our Fellowship Hall. The church is not bricks and mortar.

The problem with that finger play for my colleague is that for him it’s all backwards. “Here is the sanctuary,” he might say. “Here is the steeple.” (That part doesn’t change.) “Open the door and see...the church!” OK, so it doesn’t rhyme. It loses a lot as a kids’ game without the rhyme, but the theology is so much better.

The church, my colleague was getting at, is the people. The church isn’t a place; it’s a community. It’s the people of God created, redeemed, and blessed for ministry. It’s the gathering of believers called together, but also sent out to be active in God’s work in the world. The church, Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians is a living, breathing, active, creative, responsive, body, Christ’s body, to be sure.

I think this is a vital part of our faith. As Christians we claim to be more than just followers of a Jesus, more than just worshipers of God, more than just recipients of the Spirit. We understand ourselves to be collectively, the representation of Christ himself on earth. The church, the holy community, at its very best, is called to the best expression of Christ’s body on earth. This is what we claim to be - - together - - when we’re living and working the way God calls us to.

There are a couple of key points to that idea. One is that it only works when we do it TOGETHER. No one person among the faithful can be the body of Christ alone. No one person expresses Christ-likeness well enough alone to claim that role for himself or herself. It’s why we Presbyterians LOVE our committees. When God’s people work together, we claim, the Spirit of unity makes us the body of Christ. We aren’t the body of Christ on our own; we are individually members of it, but we are not it. Like Paul said, an eye is not the body alone, and an eye cannot function alone. The eye needs the ear and the mouth and the nose and the hands and the feet and the torso and everything other part of the body to make it work to its fullest potential. Each part does not a body make, but together we can be the body of Christ, the church.

The second point is that little caveat “at its best.” The church, we all know, is made up of human beings. We run the same risk as ever other human institution to fall into the way of sin. I remember an old bumper sticker I saw ages ago that said it best, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I’m not saying that others aren’t forgiven, too; that’s another sermon for another day, but I love the admission and realization in that statement that following Christ does not mean we are perfect people. And imperfect people make an imperfect church.

We make mistakes large and small. As denominations and faith traditions within the larger body of Christ we have covered up abuse out of fear of scandals. We have persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ and people of other faiths or no faith at all. We have ignored the poor, the hungry, the naked, the less-educated, the mentally ill. We have bullied people based on theology, race, and sexual orientation.

Within this congregation and in others we have failed to honor one another as we should. We have reacted rashly out of anger and hurt. We have talked behind each other’s backs or left hard feelings unresolved altogether. We have put our own desires first and disregarded the likes of others. We have been slow to forgive and seek reconciliation with one another. We are an imperfect gathering of imperfect people, and it is difficult, no, impossible for us to be “at our best” by our own efforts.

On our own, even in the church we resort to the ways of the world. We are a broken body. We forget that we are called to a different kind of community than the kind we experience away from the body of Christ. We forget that we aren’t a corporation or a business or a city council or any other earthly institution. We forget that we are the body of Christ, God’s chosen ones, who by a heavenly voice are called to live with one another a different way.

We are called to drape ourselves with compassion, the act of suffering along with those who suffer, humility, where we honor others more than we honor ourselves, patience, where we wait for one another without grumbling. Most of all, I believe, we are called to be a loving, forgiving people, recognizing the imperfections we see so clearly in others are also very present in our own lives. We are called to offer grace when we are hurt, not revenge, not vindication. When we are wronged and we have a complaint against any other, our response should not be a distancing through negative speech and giving up on relationships.

Our response should be to seek one another out that we may find peace and offer forgiveness as we are forgiven by the Lord. Our response in the body of Christ should be different than the response that might come from within a secular gathering. Our calling is to demonstrate the way of Jesus to the world, and the way we treat each other is an important part of doing just that.

But just as we are broken, so was Jesus broken. And just as he is resurrected, we are resurrected. By his grace, we are redeemed and raised to new life. By his overcoming of death, we can overcome the pockets of life-killing imperfection in our life as the body of Christ. Through his forgiveness we can find the strength and courage and grace to forgive one another.

When Jesus calls us together, he calls us to new life, and he unites us with the gift of sacraments, the gift of the holy community, the gift of his Spirit, that together we can be the best expression of his body on earth. Together our hands can be his hands that heal the sick, give food to the hungry, and comfort those who sorrow. Our mouths can be his mouth, praying for the lonely, speaking to the shunned, advocating for the forgotten. Our feet can be his feet, taking the long way to include the excluded, stepping into public places to make his presence known, walking along side those who are seeking the presence of God in their lives. Together we can be his one body.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Five: It is well with my soul

Thanks, kathrynzj, for giving us this Friday Five:

There are many perks in my life for which I give thanks and then there are some that make everything right in the world during the moment I am enjoying them. I'm wondering what a few of those things - five to be specific - are for you.

Here I go:
1. The yummy chicken breast my husband grilled just for me to put on my lunch salad today.
2. The comfy black slippers that keep my feet warm and comfortable at church. They are small and simple enough that I can walk around in them even when folks are here at the church, but not worry that people are wondering, "Why is she wearing her slippers at work?" They can't even tell! (Please, SheRev, do remember to change OUT of them for the funeral in an hour.)
3. A team of good and helpful folks from the funeral home. I have not always lived in a place where I could say that about the funeral home staff.
4. Pandora. I forget to use it as often as I could, but I do love it when I remember it (like right now).
5. Fenugreek - - It's a nursing mom thing. (At least for this nursing mom.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Out of context

So, I have a funeral coming up at the end of the week. A dear, dear saint of our church died this morning. He was a man that I was warned might die within my first few months of being here. Almost 3 years later it has finally happened. He rallied back for a little while and was actually giving a cancer-free bill of health in February. Hospice began in early September, I believe, and he joined the saints in the light today, All Saints Day 2010.

I went to be with his widow and some of their grown children within an hour of his last breath. She had called me earlier this morning with the news that death would probably come by the end of the week. It told her I would be by this afternoon. The organist and I made plans to go together after a lunch date she had planned. The call came less than 2 hours later that he had died, in the presence of his wife, his son, and a hospice chaplain, while listening to a record of his wife singing hymns recorded easily 40 years ago. It was a beautiful scene and the "It's all about you" gremlins in my head keep trying to make me feel guilty and a little bit jealous about not being there, but I'm fighting them with every ounce of pastoral confidence that I have.

And now the dilemma - - Mrs. J shared with me when I got there the plans she and Mr. J had been working on in the last few days for his funeral service. She told me the Scripture they wanted included - - "The conversation between Jesus and Thomas about not knowing the way to go and the way, truth, and life, stuff and 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" I jotted it all down dutifully. Now that I'm back at the church and processing what I experienced and what she said I am stuck with a bit of a problem.

"Well done good and faithful servant"? Great sound bite, but not so great in context, or at least not so great for a funeral in context. It doesn't start that bad, but to read the whole parable ending with the weeping and gnashing of teeth, that's just more than I want to get into at a funeral. At the same time it would make me feel really uncomfortable to read just what happens to the first two servants and totally chop the parable to ignore the unpleasantness with the third.

So, what to do? I have pretty much already decided to base my message on the John 14 stuff. I have one sermon already that works with the first few verses, but I already have ideas and a general outline for a new one based directly on the Thomas part. The sermon fairy Spirit just left that one for me on the tips of my fingers a little bit ago. I'm still not sure, though, what to do about even reading the Matthew 25 part.

Any suggestions? Pretty please?