Monday, June 13, 2011

Woud you like some cheese...

...with my whine?

I'm fairly certain I write this same whine every single year. Triiiiiiii-nity Suuuuuuuunday? Really? Again? Blech. I just can't stand it. I have YET to hear a sermon that tries to directly address what the Trinity is or why we should believe in it by any preacher that I like. Frankly, I just don't think that's the point of preaching. I have tried to do the same, and it has never turned out well, so I have finally learned not to mess with it. Or at least not to mess with that traditional use of Trinity Sunday. I think we'll still sing "Holy, Holy, Holy," particularly since I hardly ever pick it any other time of year, but I'm not going to try to force my sermon into a Trinity explanation. The Trinity is not something to be explained. How do you explain God?

So, I'll stick with the lectionary Scriptures - - probably Matthew's gospel; I don't think I've ever preached the Great Commission. It obviously uses the Trinitarian formula, but I don't even think that's the most important part of the pericope. I'm pretty drawn to the people who followed even though they doubted. The people who got the same commission as those who believed. The commission itself seems more important to me for preaching than the formula in which all of these actions are to take place.

Trinity sermons just don't seem to work for me, so if there's any nod to the Trinity in here for me it's that the work of the church takes place in community just as God exists in community. Within a community there are all different kinds of faith even those who doubt, but we don't leave any behind. Their participation in the work and fellowship is just as important and are part of what makes us us. No one is more valuable than another.

(Hey wait? Did something in their just sound like Trinitarian theology?)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stirring Up Trouble

Acts 2:1-21

Last week I was talking to a colleague of mine who has stepped in to be the supply preacher for a congregation that is without a regular pastor this summer. Her first sermon there was a last week, which you may know, was Ascension Sunday, the day we remember Jesus ascension into heaven after his resurrection. My friend, Susan, learned as soon as she started at this church that they had scheduled Youth Sunday for this week, June 12, which is Pentecost. The youth, of course, were not forced to follow a specific calendar, so, as she said it, the church had “cancelled Pentecost.”

I wonder at what point in the day the apostles wanted to cancel Pentecost, because I think they probably did, at least at first. As soon as they were gathered all together in one house there came from heaven the sound of a rushing wind. It blew among them violently. This was no spirit, spirit of gentleness. This was a wind storm that came up out of nowhere, and came up right in the middle of the room where they were sitting. It filled the house where they were, and, I bet, it terrified them like the people we have seen in shaky home movies that were shot in the recent tornadoes. This wind was no calm breeze stirring the grasses on a beautiful day; this was the powerful Spirit of God who was stirring up trouble!

The violent wind and the divided tongues of fire that accompanied them were signs both wonderful and terrible at the same time. They were so dramatic that they brought to mind in those who experienced them to prophecy of Joel who spoke of what it would be like when the Lord would come with blood and fire and smoky mist. This was more than a simple puff of the wind and a tiny flickering light. This was enough to be compared to a day when the sun would turn to darkness and the moon to blood. This, this…was trouble.

The Spirit of God descended on the apostles of Jesus, those who were commissioned and sent out to speak for him and minister in his name. The Spirit of God came into their very room and dramatically equipped them for a very important ministry, a very specific ministry. The Spirit of God blew violently among them, knocking the old wind out of them and filling them with a new wind, a new breath, with new words in a new language so that they could go out of that place and speak to anyone and everyone about the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ their Lord. The Spirit of God joined with them that day, so that they could open their circle to include others.

And that’s why people thought they were drunk. The Spirit of God, she can stir up trouble. The reaction from the crowd that witnessed what was going on was mixed. There were Jews from nations all over the known world who could suddenly hear these Galileans speaking in their native tongues. Some were amazed at what they heard, but others were less than impressed. “They’re DRUNK!” they accuse, sneering and mocking the apostles.

They dismissed what they heard, apparently confusing it with babble, nonsense, the slurred, indistinguishable speech of those who have indulged themselves beyond their limit. They disregarded the apostles’ words and uninhibited behavior as those of people who had no control over what they were saying or what they were doing. If they weren’t wishing they had cancelled Pentecost before, I bet they were wishing it now. Moses got the gift of laws on stone tablets on the day they gathered to remember, but the apostles got the gift of trouble.

The gift of the Holy Spirit, the sign of God’s presence in the world that moves God’s people to action and to ministry, apparently, brings trouble. Those who are “blessed” in receiving the Holy Spirit are blessed with this holy trouble. It’s not an easy gift. It’s not a gift you get, you smile at, and you stick on your shelf to look at every once in a while. It’s a gift that is counter-cultural. It’s a gift that demands action. It’s a gift that causes you, forces you, drives you to do something that looks irrational, sloppy, and completely, unabashedly uninhibited. It makes you include others.

Before the Holy Spirit blew through the apostles on the Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection his followers and his apostles were a relatively homogenous bunch. Sure some were fisherman and at least one was a tax collector. Among the wider circle, those whose names we don’t necessarily know, there were men and women, but for the most part they were the same. They were all from Galilee. They were all Jewish. They all spoke Aramaic. They had the same or at least similar experiences and expectations. They ate their food with the same spices. They played the same games. They wore the same fashions. They valued the same things. They worshiped God the same way. Birds of a feather, they flocked together.

We can’t help it, right? It’s just the way it happens. I like this one kind of music so I naturally gravitate towards others who do, too. I enjoy these kinds of sports so I tend to find others who do, too. I speak this way, value these things, believe those, worship like this, therefore I naturally want to get together with people just like me. It’s not on purpose; it’s just the way it happens. It’s not because I think other ways are wrong; it’s just that those ways don’t appeal to me. They just don’t make me comfortable. I just don’t feel myself, at home, if we’re not doing things the way I’m used to doing them.

But from what I can tell, from the very beginning the Spirit had precious little to do with making the people of God feel comfortable. The Spirit of God led the Israelites around a DESERT. Not so comfortable. The Spirit of God went with people who were exile. Not so comfortable. The Spirit of God brought a baby to an unwed teenage mother. DEFINITELY not comfortable. The Spirit of God has a lot more to do with stretching our understanding of what it means to be the people of God, with leading the people of God into difficult situations, with expanding the circles of our community beyond those who look just like us and speak our same language than making us feel comfortable. The Spirit of God sure can stir up trouble.

For the apostles gathered in a house on Pentecost that meant they spoke new languages to include those who weren’t among their numbers. For us may mean something different. Look around. No really. Look around. Who is missing among our community? Who do we block from being a part of God’s community in this way, even unintentionally? Who can’t hear the good news because we only speak it in the language WE know? Who is left out because we set up spoken or unspoken expectations that bar them from speaking their own language? Who doesn’t even drive, bike, walk , crawl, run, or wheel up to our front doors on Sunday morning because they see our hesitancy or fear in including them? Who do we hesitate to go out and invite in because we fear that our ways will be changed if we let them in?

I see in this church an impulse toward shaking some of these hesitancies. I see the Holy Spirit little by little being allowed to blow through and among us. We may not yet be at gale force winds or anything, but our windows are opening, the breeze is coming through. Our mission with the Bridge for Youth with Disabilities is moving from the fundraising stage to the action stage. Things are getting visible. Our mission can be seen as the land has been leveled, the path has been laid, the garden boxes have been built. Soon our children will be over their working with our Bridge friends to dig in the dirt, work side-by-side and get plants in the ground, speaking the language of growth and cooperation and learning and nurture.

We are also changing the way we work together even within the church, so that we can include as many as possible in our mission and fellowship. It may be a bumpy road at times, but we are opening up opportunities for new people to serve however they are able in our outreach and our fellowship activities. We are learning a new language, a new way to express God’s grace, and new way to include all who are called as disciples and apostles in the name of Christ.

But at the same time, we still have work to do. The neighbors haven’t yet wondered what has gotten into us. People aren’t peering into our windows disbelieving what they’re seeing, hearing a message of love and welcome so dramatic that they think we’re out of minds. There are still times that we cringe when kids are playing on the grass we care for so meticulously. We wonder if the paint that got on the sidewalk will clean up. There are times we get frustrated about doing things a new way. We hesitate speak privately in our friendships and our relationships about God’s grace in Jesus, and don’t even think about doing it publically in our community. We miss opportunities to welcome those who are shunned in society and especially by the Christian community because we are scared to speak a new language and be judged by people watching us.

But this is what Pentecost is about - - letting the Holy Spirit so dramatically cover us, so dangerously fill this room and our lives that we can’t HELP but let people, any people, ALL people, know about God’s love. Pentecost is about reaching out with the languages of the world around us - - the language of children playing on the grass, the language of food for families that are hungry, the language of volunteerism for people who want to serve, the language of accessibility for those who are differently-abled, the language of exuberance for those who interest and excitement can’t be contained. Pentecost is about speaking the message of God’s grace and inclusion in languages that may be new to us to people who may be different from us, which may just be uncomfortable for us. It may even earn us a raised eyebrow from the neighbors who watch us. Are they drunk? Are they serious? Do they really mean what they are doing?

But the Spirit of God, if the Spirit does ANYTHING, the Spirit of God stirs up trouble. The Spirit of God raises more than eyebrows. The Spirit of God raises up missionaries, evangelists, and prophets; servants, disciples, and apostles from among the people of God, even from among us to speak recklessly of God’s power, to dream without inhibitions dreams of God’s justice, to see without blinders visions of God’s welcome. The Spirit of God stirs up trouble, and by the grace of God we should find ourselves right in the middle of it.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Being nudged along

I need to go back and listen to the Sermon Brainwave podcast because now, for the life of me, I can't remember what finally struck me with my sermon direction for Sunday. I had been listening to it when I was using the weight machines at the Y, and then had an idea in the shower when I got back to the locker room. Next picture me (or don't if you prefer) running wrapped in a towel to an open bench to try to type what was in my brain before I lost it. Thank God for the iPad, right?

I think the idea came as I was thinking about my reluctance to preach about sin, to call things sin. I don't think that's categorically good or bad, but I know my preaching is at least "non-traditional" in comparison to other generations of preaching in that I don't make sin and forgiveness or redemption my focal point all the time, or really even much of the time. A personal faith isn't really my focal point much. I preach to the church more than I preach to individual Christians, but really there is plenty of church sin we could talk about, too.

From there I think I wondered, where is sin in the story of Pentecost? How does the church sin against the God of Pentecost today? Turns out, there just might be a sermon in those questions.

The sin of the church is that we think we get to decide who is in and who is out. We think that we have the responsibility of deciding who gets the invitation, but the reality, the good news, of Pentecost is that the Spirit decides, the Spirit blows wherever it will, speaking whatever language it wants, calling whoever it wants in, whoever she can.

Our job isn't to decide who gets the invitation, but to get in line with the Spirit of God who comes to every person, each in their own way, each in their own language. Our job is to get rid of the one-size-fits-all mentality of doing church and let the Spirit speak through any language necessary to draw people into God's grace and mission.

We do this well sometimes - - I need to think of some. (hee hee)

But there are also areas where we have room for improvement, for confessing our close-mindedness in the past and and moving forward WITH the Spirit of God instead of against it, doubting it's validity and dismissing it as intoxicated babbling. Based on some conversations last week, it seems we might need to hear about being welcoming of kids AS KIDS in this department. While we're beginning the search for a new director of youth and family ministries we need to do some Spirit-filled work on ourselves.

Yeah, I think there's something in here for us and the key that may have come from the Sermon Brainwave was the challenge to name places where the church is a part of the Spirit's moving. I'm also feeling a nudge to point out some places where maybe we need to free ourselves to follow a bit better.

I think it'll preach.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Are we there yet?

Acts 1:1-11

So, here in Hudson, the schools are getting out this week. I guess that means summer is just about officially here. Thankfully, the weather is cooperating so far. Summer means a lot of things to a lot of people, and to many of us, those with kids and without, it means we’re going to log some miles in our cars. The season of road trips is upon us.

In our family road trips tend to be to one of two place - - back to Nebraska to visit Phil’s family on the farm or down to Iowa for Synod School. The summer trip is usually to Synod School.

Synod School, if you haven’t heard one of my raves about it, is an intergenerational conference put on by the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, our upper Midwest region of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Each year a FANTASTIC speaker is brought in from around the country to lead morning keynote addresses, kids learn and have fun in Vacation Bible School-like classes, and adults can take classes ranging from cake decorating to website design to God in the movies to African drumming to home electrical repair to introduction to the New Testament. Truly if you can think of it, it has probably been taught Synod School, and if it hasn’t, feel free to teach it next year.
Commercial ended.

Anyway, Synod School is often our summer road trip, and I love Synod School. (Could you tell?) I start talking about our trip to Synod School as soon as June rolls in even though it doesn’t happen until the last week of July. (There’s still time to register, if you’re interested.) I get excited about my classes. We usually get a letter from the kids’ teachers. We’re in touch with our roommates for the week and deciding who is going to sleep where with whom. The excitement builds rather dramatically.

When the day of the trip finally comes, we pack up the car early in the morning so that we can change our clothes in the church restrooms and hit the road pretty soon after worship. Dinner is served at 5:00 p.m. on campus in Storm Lake, Iowa, and we like to have a little time to get settled in our room and find our friends. When worship is over and we have said our goodbyes here, eating a little bit more of the fellowship treats than usual so we don’t have to stop for lunch too soon, the kids and I (and Phil if he gets to come) load up in the car and hit road.

I love pulling onto the interstate and knowing we are on our way until, of course, that inevitable question comes. Can you ask it with me? “Are we there yet?”

“Are we there yet?” the disciples asked their risen Lord. “Are we there YET?” OK, so they really asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” but it means the same thing. They had been hanging on for a long time. They had been called and they followed. They learned and they listened. They were sent out and the taught. They healed and were rebuked. They were mocked and shunned. They had been fed and walked a lot. They had walked a whole heck of a lot, following this Jesus, the Messiah. They had lived through all sorts of preparations and it seemed the time had finally come. “NOW are you going to do it, Jesus? Now will you restore the kingdom?”

The disciples were like my kids in the car. For more than just the three years with Jesus, for all of their conscious lives really, they have been waiting for the Messiah to come and do this one thing - - restore the kingdom to Israel. They had been waiting for the Messiah who would come and set the kingdom of Israel back on top in the eyes of her people, in the eyes of the world. They had been waiting like their parents and grandparents and generations even before had been waiting for the kingdom David sang about in the Psalms, the kingdom of prosperity and power and good fortune, the political kingdom that was a sure sign of God’s favor and presence on earth

They had been with him since he called them to follow, the ones who had dropped their nets, left the tax collectors’ office, walked away from family and friends. They had endured the roller coaster of emotions as they celebrated healings, grumbled about crowds, worried about his arrest, agonized over his crucifixion, and celebrated his resurrection. They had stayed in Jerusalem waiting for the promise of their heavenly parent, thinking, “Surely it’s almost time now.” So when they had come together, of course, they asked him, “Jesus, are we there yet?”

Now, when my kids ask I want to shout, “Yes! Yes! We’re there. We have been waiting for months and months. We have made all our plans. We have washed and packed and loaded. We have worshiped and fellowshipped and changed our clothes. We have used the bathroom one last time and buckled into the carseats. Yes! We’re there. We’re on vacation!”

But apparently that’s not what they mean. So, somehow we are at the same time “there yet” and “not yet there.” We have gotten to the time when the vacation has started. We have come to the day we have all be waiting for, but it is not yet completed. It is, as we like to say in theological language, already and not yet.

That’s Jesus’ final message as he ascends into heaven. “Yes! Yes! We’re there. We have been waiting for months, for years, for centuries, for millennia. We have made all our plans. We have taught and washed and healed. We have worshiped and fellowshipped and served. We have met one last time and the Holy Spirit is one her way. Yes! We’re there. The kingdom is on its way!”

But apparently that’s not what they meant either. He said it as they were listening and watching intently. And as he spoke, he left them. He left them staring up into a cloud asking with their gaze and their frozen feet, “Are we there yet?”

It took some angels to break their gaze and thaw their feet, asking them why they were just standing around. Jesus had given them work to do. With the same certainty that he had called “Come, follow me” he had also just commanded “You will be my witnesses.” He didn’t ask, “Please can you take some more time?” He didn’t suggest “You could be, if you wanted…” And actually this time he didn’t even invite, “Come, be my witnesses.”

Jesus just stated it as the truth. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be empowered, you will tell my story with your words and with your lives starting right here where you are in Jerusalem, when you move out into Judea, even when you go to the place of your enemies in Samaria, and as far as you can imagine throughout the world. You will be my witnesses.

It’s the “not yet” part of his answer. Jesus has come. The kingdom has been ushered in, but it’s not yet here. We can see; it’s not yet here, not because Israel isn’t at peace. Not because a political kingdom has borders that are threatened, although don’t be fooled that is exactly what is behind some Evangelical support for their political agenda in the Middle East. We can see that the kingdom of God is not yet here because there is still pain and sadness, war and rumors of war. There is still homelessness and hurting. There is still addiction and arguing. There is still hatred and bigotry, prejudice and hunger.

We’re not there yet. And we’re not going to get there any faster with our feet stuck in the sand and our eyes tilted up there wondering, “When is he going to get around to fixing all of this?” He told us not to worry about when because we have more important things to do. We have work to do. We must get to work being his witnesses, get to work unveiling his kingdom, get to work bringing the places of “not yet” in line with the vision of his kingdom that is already here.

Are we there yet? Yes, we are. We are here, and we have felt and known the love of God. We have seen what Jesus can do in our lives and in the world. We trust in his promise of forgiveness and wholeness and new life.

Are we there yet? Well, not quite, but as his witnesses we can help bring his kingdom one step closer. We must engage our minds, move our feet, open our mouths, and work with our hands and get to work witnessing. We must get to work feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the captives; remembering the forgotten, encouraging the disheartened, comforting those who mourn; praying for those who mourn, teaching the young, listening to the old. We must be Christ’s witnesses…We ARE Christ’s witnesses here and to the ends of the earth.

Why are we standing around looking up toward heaven? We’ve got somewhere to go!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Five: Summer Reruns

Songbird gave us this Friday Five over at Revgals:
It's that time of year when the only new things on television are music/dance competitions (the 21st century answer to variety shows?). Yes, it's the season of reruns.

This week the clock turned back to last fall and the Glee kids went back to school and still got "slushied," and Michael hired his nephew on The Office, which was not something even he would be likely to repeat.

In honor of this annual Time Warp, please share five things worth a repeat. These could be books, movies, CDs, recipes, vacations, or even TV shows.

1. Well, I'm playing as I am watching a NEW episode of Friday Night Lights, so although it's not a rerun I have to start with it. I rediscovered the show last summer when I was home on maternity leave. Watched the entire first four seasons when I was up nights nursing my Pearl. It does a spring/summer season for new shows apparently. Thrilled. I won't miss it and would watch it over and over.

2. Not so proud, but honest - - Angry Birds. Apparently it's worth the repeat for me because I play it too. damn. much.

3. Tina Fey's book, Bossypants. Thanks for the recommendation, Jules! Haven't finished it yet, but that partly because I keep rereading the stuff I've already read.

4. My good friend's blog Graceful Like a Chicken. We grew up together way down in FL and now live 45 miles from each other on different ends of the Twin Cities. She's not a RevGal, but could definitely be a Pal, and I'm fairly certain her pastor is grooming her for some sort of more formalized lay ministry. I'm not Methodist. I don't know the right words for that in her church. She'd be awesome and her blog is worth 500 reads.

5. And last, I'd give anything to feel again what I felt when I crossed the finish line at my first 5K race again. It was only 2 weeks ago and I'm doing my second tomorrow. I don't feel as ready for this one as I felt for that one because I didn't get out as much since that last one, but I think I'll finish. The feeling of doing it and running the whole thing last time was just awesome. I NEVER would have imagined I could do it, but I did. And I'm going to do it again. I might even do a 10K at the end of the summer. No. freaking. way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Getting the stick out of the mud

I'll admit it. I've been a stick stuck firmly in the mud of close-mindedness.

A few weeks ago (I think) on Twitter there was a long discussion about children in worship, offering other options for kids, what to do with pastors' kids without a non-leading parent present, etc, etc, etc. I chimed in early with my usual stance of "kids should be welcome in worship," but really without meaning parents are wrong for wanting something different. I didn't stay in the conversation long because I saw the limitations of 140 characters and didn't have the time to blog a longer answer. If I had had the time I still probably would have come down on the "side" of including kids in worship. I tend to say that the worship service should change to engage kids instead of kids leaving because the worship doesn't work for them. I think in the ideal world I still hope for that.

However (and this is a big however for me), in that conversation I started to hear the voice of parents in a new way. That may sound weird in some ways because I am a parent. But I'm also the pastor and have a husband who is not a pastor (different from many of the moms who were in the conversation) and is in worship every week (often times more than me because he'll even go on some of my vacation or continuing education Sundays off). I am not responsible for my kids when I am leading worship on Sunday. He's the parent on duty and (for the most part) the kids and he work things out themselves. He usually keeps 2 of 3 kids with him in worship on any given Sunday, when he's not the nursery volunteer that is. It is his "struggle," not mine.

I started to realize in that last go round of the discussion that I had about as much experience and credibility in the discussion as the older ladies whose opinion on the subject I discount because when they start talking about taking kids out of worship it sounds a whole lot like, "Those kids are too noisy, Can't they go somewhere else?" When I hear them suggesting other options (and in the past it was always folks far outside child-rearing years who made these suggestions) it sounds like they are kicking kids out, cutting them out of the circle, excluding them from the kingdom of God. Well, when I heard what I sounded like I started to hear that maybe I'm doing the same to parents without realizing it.

When the Twitter conversation was going on and when I took myself out of it (pretty early, I think) I ended my participation with that sure-fire seminary answer - - Context, context, context. There's no way to make a sweeping statement about the issue because each context is so unique. And thus began my sermon to the woman in the mirror.

Fast forward to yesterday (because I didn't think on any of this anymore until then). I got an e-mail from a mom expressing heartfelt and sincere stress over trying to keep her kids from being distractions in worship. It was so subtly different this time, though. She wasn't expressing stress over disturbing others (Yea! Because I think we have a pretty tolerant congregation and that's usually my stock answer). She was expressing stress over not being able to worship herself. Ah ha! Now that was something different. It was something I hadn't heard in my context before. It struck me.

The other thing that struck me was that she didn't just write to express her frustration, but had an idea to address it and volunteered to run with it. It was a good ministry "proposal" with a smart time limit on it as a testing phase. Not a ground-breaking idea, but a children's church option for the second half of the service with singing and lessons. But she was willing to help create it and get it going. She wasn't trying to turn it into an every week thing from now until forever. She wasn't asking me to do it. She was asking to be empowered to try to do ministry herself.

Hell to the yes. Next came my email to the Worship & Arts committee in which I had to eat some crow in front of a couple of ladies from another generation, if you know what I mean. I shared with them the hope and the idea. I added my own hopes (it took everything that I had to let go of them as "requirements" - - mostly kidding) to the proposal, things the mom agreed with tonight, too - -
1. Kids will be present for the whole service on communion Sundays.
2. The time will be used for something more "productive" than nursery/play time, but not duplicating Sunday School. It will let the kids participate in the elements of worship they are missing in a way that is more engaging or age appropriate for them. I want it to lead them back into the worship service when they are too old to come anymore. In addition to fun kid-friendly worship pieces they can also learn some of the traditional stuff, like the doxology, Lord's Prayer, etc. I don't want them to come back to the worship service in 2nd or 3rd grade and have missed out on these things we do regularly as a community.
3. The volunteers when/if we go beyond the summer will be recruited from the congregation BEYOND parents. This is not a ministry to parents if the parents have to take turns carrying it out. (This might be where I firmly place my next stick.)

Anyway, I'm pretty fired up that this mom is pretty fired up. In her most recent e-mail this evening she even said this is something she feels called to do right now. Love it. Love. it. LOVE it.

So, here I am, admitting that I have changed my stance. I guess I could also say I am living into my most recent cry of "It depends on the context." Right now, in my context this seems to be the direction the Spirit is leading. I'll be taking my stick and going home for now. Hopefully I don't find any mud anywhere on the way home.