Category Archives: Sermons and Liturgy

Candle Prayer (a reflective peace after a class trip to Guatemala in 2013)

East: (Red)

Like the sun and the cycles in nature, we begin our prayer looking towards the east.  We thank God for the sun that brings hope and life with it as it appears each morning.  We ask blessing for people at the beginning of new life.  For babies, new to this world, and the families who are learning alongside them as they grow.  For people who have been given a new chance at life after disease, addiction, depression, or anything else that had prohibited growth and health.  We thank you, oh Lord, for the very blood that flows throughout our veins, circulating life through us.

For the presence of God at the time of beginnings

Lord, hear our prayers.

West: (Black)

As we turn to the west, we pray for those who are at the sunset of their lives.  For people who have recently died and for the ones mourning the loss.  We pray for peace and comfort for the people in this world who are near death.  May they have the strength and the faith in you, God, to face death as another stage in life and may your comforting arms embrace them as well as the ones they are leaving behind.  If we try to reject death, we fool ourselves, and we rob ourselves of the true beauty that can be found in life.

For the presence of God at the time of endings

Lord, hear our prayers.

North: (White)

From the north comes the ruach, the breath of life, the wind that scatters the seeds across the fields, giving life.  God, we pray for your breath of life to be upon us, and your children in every nation, breathing out peace where there has been violence, exhaling justice where there is tyranny and persecution.  Sustain this world as we sigh, waiting for your kingdom.

For the presence of God as felt through the life-giving wind

Lord, hear our prayers

South: (Yellow)

From the south comes the seed.  Without seeds, without the cycles of growth, there would be chaos.  We all come from and are sustained by seeds.  Let us pray to God, giving thanks for that which sustains us, and praying for those who still seek the sustenance essential to life.  For those who are hungry for food and thirsty for water, along with those whose hunger is for justice and thirst is for recognition of rights.

For the presence of God in the seeds that will one day grow into the plants, animals, and people of this world

Lord, hear our prayers

Center: (Green, nature and material energy) (Blue, spiritual energy)

In the center, we recognize the undividable nature of the spiritual and the physical worlds.  Of the Heavens and the Earth, tied together and unified.  Even though they are represented by two candles, the blue of the spirits and the green of nature and material energy are together, connecting the heavens and the earth as Christ did.  Let us pray together for the unification of the heavens of the earth and the time of the Kingdom of God to come and make us connected fully to the spiritual and the physical of this world.

For the presence of God in the struggle to unify the spiritual and physical world we live in and in the pursuit of a unified Kingdom of God

Lord, hear our prayers

 

*This poem is found as a resource in by Dr. Paul Galbreath (Leading Into the World, 2014)

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July 24, 2016

Prayer.  Persistent Prayer.  That is the theme of this week’s texts.  These verses take the call to Pray without Ceasing (1 Thessalonians) seriously.  

I don’t know about y’all, but I have been going to God in conversation about the world more this summer than in a long time.

When I turn the news on, I am often filled with fear and sadness over domestic and international terrorism and politics, so I try to stop and pray.  

In my current school program, I sit with clients for several hours a week. To lower my anxiety and try to center myself before each session, I often turn to prayer, asking God to grant me wisdom and the ability to offer a small amount of comfort and support to each client.  

In my Louisville neighborhood, there are signs protesting a new school being built.  With everything going on in the world, I get mad that traffic flow is important enough for these people to put dozens of lawn signs up and down our street.  So, I pray for patience and understanding.

Those are the prayers I say for myself.  

They center me.  

They remind of who I am

and how I am supposed to be and act as a child of God.  

At the beginning of this chapter in Luke, we are witness to a Prayer 101 class taught by Jesus himself.  

Unlike the prayer that we normally say (found in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount), Luke’s prayer lesson is a bit more condensed.  

It is chockfull of requests that we can make for how we could be fed, judged, and forgiven.  

Jesus teaches us to engage with God and name what it is that we need.  But, of course, that cannot be the whole story.  

Our requests to God, Jesus teaches in this passage, are to be integrated with challenges.  

Our hope is in the Kingdom of God and it’s coming, but we have to give up control that we can bring that kingdom about on our own and that we can be in charge of what that kingdom looks like.  

That takes trust beyond measure and hope beyond expectation…we better add those spiritual practices to our prayer list.

Also included in the prayer Jesus taught us,

reconciliation with our neighbor.

Our forgiveness is tied in our forgiving the debts of others.  

While my car payment would love for that to be a reality, total forgiveness of debts (financial, social, or emotional) may seem like an impossible task.  

To forgive debts, to not hold grudges, to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation over vengeance or good ole fashion getting even.  

I cannot pray that my neighbors have a change in heart and support all kinds of education in our community.  

All I can really do is work to forgive them in my heart for the, to me, almost unforgivable sin of trying to deny children their best possible education.

And if we keep reading past the first few verses of Luke 11, we have to be honest with the fact that praying all day and night alone in the safety of our homes and churches doesn’t really cut it.

Luke makes it abundantly clear that how we pray for others must be a process that matches words with actions.

In Luke, the call to and lesson in prayer is followed by a parable of sorts.  It offers two images.  One where we, the reader, are put in the role of the person seeking assistance from a neighbor and the other where we are suddenly the one with the choice to make about giving and offering hospitality.

The first of these two stories, deals with hospitality (a big theme of not only the Gospels but throughout the whole Old and New Testament).

To not be able to provide food and lodging for visiting guests has, throughout the history of our faith, been seen as something shameful.  

To not reach out to those in need, then seem most clearly in orphans, widows, and those passing through,

you were denying them the very grace and hospitality that God offered the Hebrew people when they were chosen and set apart as God’s own.  

It goes against the hospitality sought by Mary, Joseph and Jesus at the time of his birth,

and against the lessons taught to Mary and Martha which caused them to choose two different ways to welcome Jesus into their home.  

And, as Southerners, we all understand the importance of hospitality still today.  

We open our houses and cover our tables until strangers become neighbors and friends begin to feel like family.

So, you can imagine the sheer panic that must be going through the storyteller’s mind.

Here comes out of town company and there is no bread in the pantry.  

The journey takes our protagonist to a neighbor’s house.  

He knocks on the door and yells his request in to the neighbor.

Apparently he asked and asked and asked and asked.  

It is his persistence that gets him what he needs.  

It is his willingness to knock, ask, and seek that ultimately leads him to get what he needs from his neighbor.  

This persistence echoes back to the story we read this morning  from Genesis.  

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not one we usually march out in polite company, but the verses we read today are a perfect example of persistence.  

This time, instead of a request for food from a neighbor,

Abraham is requesting protection and forgiveness from an angry God.  

Abraham gets word that the entire city where his cousin lives is going to be destroyed and all the people are going to be killed.

This town has a wicked reputation and the verdict from God has come down on it.  

It is not good news.  

Abraham’s story is filled with persistence and pushing back when he feels like God is not pulling the weight of the divine covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  

He prays and keeps hope for children,

he prays and keeps hopes for the land and prestige God promised.  

His life and ministry do not come without faults and moments of failure,

but his persistence is something to be admired.

“What if there are only 50 good people? 10? 5? One good family?”  

These are the consistent knocks that Abraham goes to God with.  

Persistence.  

Some might say nagging persistence.  

Knocking, seeking, asking.  

It took Abraham knowing the generous, loving nature of God and just naming before God some of creation that was in danger.  

It wasn’t about the goodness or badness of the people,

it was about one person standing up and speaking for his sisters and brothers.  Rallying around their suffering and protesting on their behalf,

not just on the corner to passing cars and pedestrians,

but a protest,

a calling out of names,

that is intended to just one listener,

the same listener who is he, and their, creator.  

 

Abraham, in this moment, was an activist.  

He was an ally.  

And, like Jesus promises in Luke,

the door was opened and Abraham’s questions and requests were answered with grace and a second chance for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  

Abraham’s stubborn persistence, like a child negotiating for that one more cookie before dinner time, saved the lives of his cousin’s family and gave the people of that town another chance to turn their lives around and seek forgiveness from God.

Ask and it shall be given unto you.

Seek and you shall find.

Knock and the doors shall be opened unto you.

So, persistently, taking into account our needs for food, our desire for forgiveness, our hope in the Kingdom of God.  

That is the how we pray.  

The possibility of God’s grace and forgiveness and

the attempt to build a stronger relationship with God and neighbor,

that seems like a decent why.  

But, what.  

What do we pray?  What do we say?  

What words can we use?  Are words enough?

What comes first?  

What gets named?  Who gets named?  

What gets confessed?  What do we ask God to help us forgive?

Maybe it is best to think of our prayers as small works of art, imitation of the great works of grace, forgiveness, communication, and creation we are shown by God.

We name our needs.  

Food, shelter, water, community.

We thank God for the ways our needs have been met in abundance.  

For this community and others around this town and this world we call community and hold dear.  

For the homes with clean water, electricity, cable, internet, maybe even a back porch.  

For the meals our stomachs are rumbling for right now and the knowledge that we have what we need to feed our stomachs not just at lunch but throughout the coming week.  

We can take this to God in prayer.

Maybe we have sins that need to be forgiven or debts that we need offering forgiveness for.  

We can take that to God in prayer.

Maybe our prayer is lament.  

This summer has been filled with lament across our nation and world.  

Cancers, Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, and countless other illnesses changes our lives and the lives of people we know and love.  

Gun violence takes lives too early and wars across the world keep families apart and sends refugees fleeing by land and sea.  

We can take this to God.  

We can say the names of those people most affected by the violence and hate this world seems so willing to spiral into.  

I have been struck this summer by the power that comes with saying the names of people I will never meet but for whom I offer prayers of grief to God.

I have stood on street corners and marched down this streets this summer yelling petitions to God and anyone near enough to hear that the lives of my black brothers and sisters matter

and that we as a group will publicly grieve and offers shouts of prayer over  the travesty of so many deaths to gun violence.  

Our voices, and our feet, show our prayerful persistence.  

Persistent Prayer talking and walking.

Abraham spoke to God as walking to dwell amongst those he prayed for.  

Jesus’s lesson in Luke puts the seeker right alongside the giver, hand to hand passing bread, keeping safe the child and protecting her from animals that can cause her harm.  

Our ministry often puts us in the path to be with our neighbor’s in prayer and in companionship.

So, keep praying.

Please keep praying.  

As someone who has felt the presence and persistence of prayers from this congregation for many years now, I beg you to keep praying.  

Keep up your thanksgivings and your confessions, your requests for what you need, and your prayers that what you have God will use to bring about the peaceable Kingdom.  

Be persistent in your lament when the world is struck with terror and death and persistent in your rejoicing over new life and new hope.  

And as we pray, as we work to make our small marks of peace and reconciliation in this world, stay persistent and keep faith that what we do, even in our best intentions, is but a speck of the great and wonderful work God is doing to bring peace and reconciliation to this world and all of the people in it.

Litany of Biblical Sisterhood

Written Feb 2017

We laugh with our sister Sarah, overwhelmed by God’s greatness and timing.

We quake in fear with our unnamed sister in Judges, knowing that so many women’s bodies are controlled by others while their lives are protected by none.

We pray with our sister Mary, hope and fear mingling magnificently in our songs of joy.

We carry multilayered lives like our sister in Proverbs, we move in juggle many roles in order to get the job done.

We reach out to try to shield our sisters Tamar, Bathsheba, Dinah, and all our who are raped, we seek to protect their bodies and guard their names from cruel and needless shaming.

We sing with our sister Miriam, for we know who has brought us safe thus far.

We weep with our sisters in exile, for as they mourned their lost children on the banks of Babylon, we too know mourning and the pain of displacement.

We witness with our sister Anna, we seek to see the Holy and are willing to make it our life’s calling.

We are brave like our sister Rahab, rising above our circumstances and become part of the narrative of the faithful.

We challenge the powers like our sister from Syro-Phoenicia, creatively working to get what we need, standing in opposition to those who stop us from providing.

We resist prejudice and murder our sisters Shiprah and Puah, standing up against the powerful few, saying no to laws based on the –isms of the culture.

We rise to the occasion with our sister Esther, being prepared for “such a time as this” when called to work to protect our people

We reach out and insist on being seen like our unnamed sister who bled for 12 years, advocating for the healthcare that we deserve.

We cry tears that heal and anoint like our sister who cried at the feet of Jesus, knowing that human touch can be more healing and powerful than any number of words.

We recognize the divine within the other like our sister Elizabeth, we bless our sisters and provide space for them to grow and develop in comfort and safety

We use our great wisdom like our sister Deborah, we lead from the front lines, not sending people into battles we wouldn’t go with them into.

We are gathered together by God our mother, creator, redeemer and Breath of fire in this world, in whose womb we were all formed.  Let us worship God

Sermon from April 12, 2015

Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, the doors at the house where the disciples had met were locked in fear”.  Our Gospel lesson this week begins with a gathering of scared folks, and I am adding grieving, angry, disappointed, and lost to the emotions that must have been in that locked room.  We have to remember, the disciples didn’t get an Easter Sunday yet.  They were living in an extended Good Friday.  All the hopes and dreams they had pinned on Jesus were disappearing around them. I am struck by the poignancy of this gathering.  Less than a week before, they had also been gathered in a room together.  They gathered there with their teacher, their friend, the man they thought was their Savior.  They gathered for a meal with him and he washed their feet, offered them a meal, and then said that before the dawn, they would betray him.  They would not just be witnesses to his death, but they would be characters in his demise.  So, yeah, let’s add guilt to the slew of emotions in the room.  The pain must have been palpable.  But they were together.  In their darkest moments, they sought refuge with each other.  They circled the wagons and took time to mourn and be together.  This to me is a reflection of one of the greatest gifts of the church, gathering.  It is when we offer a safe place for people to come and dwell and feel all their feelings, have all of the misgivings, and still be surrounded and grounded by their community.

The first strand of hope must have come in as Mary Magdalene rushed to their gathering place and told them the story of what she had seen.  She recounted to them her testimony.  She explained to them how the risen Christ spoke to her, called her by name, and she recognized him.  Her spirits soaring, she breathed a new breath of life into the room.  They may have even dared to hope for the first time since they had watched Jesus’s life leave his body.  But, would the testimony of one woman be enough to remind them of the role that Jesus had given them to be out in the world healing, teaching, and preaching?  Well, apparently not yet.  They stayed gathered together, they stayed locked away, they stayed in fear.

Then Jesus appears, through the wall no less and stands among them.  He offers them a blessing and proof: a blessing of peace and assurance that their authority in forgiving and retaining the sins of people is well intact and visual proof (in case appearing through a locked door wasn’t enough) that he was the one they were waiting for and the stories he had told about his death and new life were true.  They had heard from Mary what they had seen, but now their senses were full of Christ’s presence.  Their eyes saw him enter the room and then they saw the wounds that they had watched occur.  Their ears heard the blessings that Jesus offered them.  Their ears and spirits received his peace.  Theirs ears and senses of calling heard his promise that the sins they forgave would be forgiven and the sins they retained would be retained.  And, as I imagine it, their very flesh goose bumped and they felt a shiver of excitement when his breath landed upon them.  I can feel the shift in the mood of the room as I read this passage.  I can feel their Spirits lifting and their faith being reinforced.  They are in the midst of a mountaintop experience.  In those moments, faith and group connection are at an all time high, but so is the risk of excluding those who do not have the same, shared experience.  You see, while the lock they used kept them safe and connected with each other, what message did it send to the rest of the world?  In an attempt to not be alone, who have they left out?  Who is left out in the cold as the breath of Jesus is upon those gathered in that locked room?

Well, we know one person.  Thomas.  Not even one of those they feared, Thomas was left out.  Thomas, the twin, has been cropped out of this group memory.  He comes back after Jesus has gone and they begin to tell him what they had seen.  As they share this group memory, Thomas is unintentionally pushed to the outer bounds of the group.  Their retelling of their first interactions with the risen Christ would not have been a dry and boring story.  What we read now, the narrative that was written after generations of story telling, is still exciting.  Jesus has no need for the boundaries presented by walls, doors and locks, the disciples receive the Holy Sprit and were commissioned into their vocations.  More than all of that though, they were reconnected, reintroduced, put in new relationship with their teacher, the one who death had grasped mere days before.  Their faith hadn’t been in vain.  Their teacher wasn’t a phony.  Their beliefs weren’t in vain.  They told Thomas, just like Mary had told them.  He was the first person they evangelized.  It did not go as they planned.  Thomas wasn’t convinced.  Thomas wanted the tactile, visual, auditory proof that they had received.  Thomas just wanted what the others had gotten.  So, Thomas named his needs.

And Jesus answers his need with grace.  When Mary is weeping in the garden, searching for the body, begging information from a stranger, Jesus offers her an answer.  For her, the answer comes in his simply saying her name.  As he calls her by name, she understands and believes.  When he comes to the room where many of his disciples are gathered, he greets them with his peace, shows them his wounds, and gifts them with the Holy Spirit.  In those words and actions, they too understand and believe.  None of them believed without seeing.  They were offered first hand interactions with the risen Christ.  And so was Thomas.  It may have been a week later (and my guess is that it was one of toughest weeks of Thomas’s life, wondering, questioning, and trying to reconcile a desire to believe his friends and the isolation that he felt from his uncertainty and from missing such an important group memory.  But then Jesus shows up.  And, in true ironic Jesus form, he shows up in the same room under the same circumstances as before.  The story repeats itself here.,  “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’”.  Thomas is greeted with the peace of Christ and then given the same opportunity to physically experience Jesus in his resurrection form.  Honestly, for the purpose of this sermon and life, I wish that the story ended right here.  I wish that the repetition of scenes continued: Thomas getting a blessing, Thomas believing, Thomas being affirmed in his call and then everyone being together, no longer to mourn, but now to celebrate.  Then, when another person comes along, the whole story is repeated again and again.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Wouldn’t it be convenient if Jesus himself in the flesh, offered us glimpses and touches, called us by name, and gave us exactly whatever it is that we need to believe? Repeatedly met our doubts with abounding grace?

Maybe the answer isn’t in the shortening of the chapter, but in the elongating of the story.  If we look to the next chapter, the last chapter in John, the disciples are offered some pretty detailed instructions for what life is going to be like after he has ascended into heaven.  He offers them instructions to care for he sheep and lambs like he did as their great shepherd.  He reminds them that their job is to serve and not to seek privilege and glory for their work.  And then, at the end of the entire gospel of John, the author leaves us with a note, “25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  If it sounds familiar, you may be matching it to the ending of out reading from today, “30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  The last two chapters of John’s Gospel, the two chapters in which we encounter the physical body of the resurrected Lord, we are reminded that the story we hear is just part of the story.  So why include this one?

If Jesus came and went in the time between his resurrection and his ascension, why were we just offered this story?  This story of questions and doubts, this story of inclusion and exclusion?  This story of a disciple, again, seeming to miss the point?  A story that repeats itself but ends up taking a different path? I think it is because this is the story that we need to hear.  We need to hear the disciples and Thomas receiving tactile proof of God.  We need to hear Thomas naming his doubts and not just blindly believing because of what the others had seen.  We need Jesus to be willing to offer Thomas the proof he needs, because we need Jesus to offer us the proof we need.  We need to believe in tactile signs of the resurrection.  Do you remember where we began this story?  In a locked room, scared.  Isolated, circling the wagons, hoping beyond all hope that this story Mary shared about the Messiah was true.  Hoping that her vision wasn’t blurry and her belief wasn’t unsupported.  We began this story in fear and mourning.  That may seem like a very familiar place to many of you.  Fear.  Grief.  A need to isolate from a world that is so dangerous.  A world that includes people being shot as they flee, a world that includes teen after teen taking their lives when the world turns their backs or raises their fists to them once they are living into their true selves, a world where children are abducted, elders are abused, and those singing hymns to the God we praise are in their next breaths spitting out messages of hate.  Fear.  Grief.  A need to circle the wagons and find refuge in each other.

Thanks be to God for spaces, like that upper room, like the homes of family and friends, and like this church where we can gather.  Where we can mourn.  Where we can question the promises Jesus proclaimed before he was killed.  And thanks be to God our story doesn’t end in that room.  The disciples knew that their job was to tell others the good news.  Mary knew her job was to tell others the good news.  The trick is going out into that scary world.  The trick is to create safe spaces without using locks.  Jesus wasn’t kept out of the moment by the locks on the door, but one of their brothers was.  Their haven, their safe space, became their hiding place.

This is as good a time as any to tell you that I have seen the Sound of Music more times in my life than I can keep track of.  As a child, it was my sick movie.  That meant, whenever I was sick, my parents would set me up on the couch in the living room with tissues, soup, hot tea and pop The Sound of Music into the VHS player.  If any of you remember the VHS version of the Sound of Music, you will remember that it took a cassette change in the middle of the movie.  The time it took to rewind the first tape before beginning the second was how I in my childhood defined infinite.  I must also confess that I did a lot of fast forwarding through the “boring parts”.  By that I mean mostly the nun singing and the kissing.  I have, however, stopped that habit and thankfully so.  At one moment in the movie, right before the Mother Abbess is about the sing her song about climbing mountains (which childhood Beth never understood as a metaphor and just assumed she was promoting the beautiful landscapes of Austria), she says, with her wisest expression and tone of voice, “Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”  She recognizes that Maria has sought shelter in the safe space of her church when the world has become scary and she no longer understands her place in it.  She is given a time of refuge in the church, and then she is sent back out.  She is sent back out to live her life, not as she had planned it, but as God had intended it.

The disciples were gathered together after everything went wrong.  They came together for safety.  Then, they were comforted and sent back out.  When their first attempt at evangelism didn’t work, they were brought back for a repeat of blessing and sending.  Each week when we gather here in this space, we are offered a safe space, and thanks be to God for that safety, may it be for all people who come through these doors.  Then we are sent back into our lives.  But, like Maria, like Mary, like the disciples gathered in that room on the night of that first day of Christ’s resurrection, like Thomas a week later, we are not sent out in the same state we gathered.  We are sent out with the Peace of Christ, we are sent out with the Holy Spirit, and we are sent out with a reminder, a push, a calling to live out in the scary world with the comfort of God who made us, who loves us enough to die and rise from the dead, and who calls us by name and shows us physical signs of the power of resurrection and the grace of divine presence.  Remember, these miraculous things were going on all the time, the ones we read in this chapter are just the few that were written down so that we may believe.

Sermon on Luke 20:45-21:4 (October, 2013)

The drive from my parent’s house to my freshman year college dorm room takes one hour and twenty-five minutes.  My older brother told me to clock the trip so we could make wagers about how much of the same advice my parents could bestow upon me, that we heard when we were driving as a family to take him to college five years earlier (for the record, his drive to college was seven hours so the advice came in spurts and didn’t seem as frantic).

In my hour and a half in the car, my parents took turns covering all the basics; Study. Make friends (and the importance of choosing carefully because we are judged by the friends we keep). Keep a clean room.  Do not eat ice cream and call it dinner. And so it went for the whole trip.  The hurried advice they gave and the frantic nature by which their guidance was portrayed seem to be echoed in the text today from Luke.

At the point in Luke where we find today’s text, Jesus has already done most of the teaching, healing and preaching that he does as part of his life on Earth.  Jesus and his followers have had a long journey from Galilee and now finally made it to the temple Jerusalem.   Luke uses the temple to mark the bookends of Jesus’ public life.

In Chapter two of Luke’s prologue, we are witnesses to a young Jesus remaining in the temple after his family had left Jerusalem on their way home after Passover.  Now, in the terms of Luke’s story, we find ourselves in the last chapter of teaching before Holy Week and the passion narrative begins.

This section of Jesus’ last temple lesson contains a combination of two smaller character studies into one complete notion.

The first character we see is a hyperbolic image of a temple scribe.  Jesus critiques the scribes for their desire for public recognition, the exploitation of widows, and having a pretense of piety while praying.

The image given of the scribe in the temple is less than flattering. They are seen walking around in long, ornate robes, passing special greetings to each other so their superior learning and authority is recognized, and enjoying the best seats in the synagogues and at dinners.

The honor they receive and the respect they demand is not based upon their actions and their faithfulness to the community and the church, but it is often from deals made and actions taken at the expense of the others, especially the poor and the marginalized.

In the character of the widow on the other hand, Jesus sets up a model for citizenship in the church and the world.

This widow is the third to be mentioned in this chapter of Luke.  We have already read about the circumstances of a woman who ended up being married and widowed by a whole family of brothers and then the people around her began debating about whose she will be at the end of time.  We also heard already in our reading today that much of the wealth and power of scribes is built on the backs of widows.

Going into this story, when we hear the word “widow” we are all prepped and ready to go, “Awww, bless her heart.”  We have good odds in betting this story is going to be a real downer and that we will once again be shamed for not caring enough for this poor, vulnerable woman.

But that is not what Jesus does.

He points to this powerless woman as a prototype for the ideal Christian.  She humbly gives more than what is comfortable, more than what is easy.  She gives all that she has.

The money she gives symbolizes the fact that she is giving to a point that she has to live in constant trust of God.  She goes beyond thinking of her own comforts and how she is perceived and takes care of the community of the church.

So in these two character sketches we see two distinctive ways of being the people of the church.  The goal of showing these two seemingly opposite characters is not to give the disciples (or let’s be honest us) the descriptions we need to point out the characters in our churches.  It is here to give us a mirror into our own faith.

We all, at some point, have been the ones showing up to see and be seen.

We balk when guests are in our pews, we go through the motions of a prayer of confession or a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer with our mind anywhere but the words we are saying, we spout out the knowledge we gain from reading and watching the news without taking the time to consider the lives that are affected by the violence that seems so distant to us.

At the same time, we all have moments of true humility and giving, like the widow.

We take the weekly flowers, Easter lilies and Christmas poinsettias to members who can no longer make it to our services, we serve each other communion as we pass the trays down the aisle inviting our neighbors to partake of the bread of life and cup of salvation, we reach out a hand of friendship to those around us, friends and visitors as we pass the peace to each other, and we pray and go into the world in service to make our world more like the Kingdom of God about which Jesus told us so many beautiful yet challenging stories.

So what are we doing as members of the Christian community in the pursuit of seeing and helping empower the image of Christ in ourselves and others?  Jesus saw and celebrated the genuine faith of the widow.  She gave not from her abundance and just enough that she could remain comfortably provided for, but from the very thing that she depended on.

The closer the time came for my parents to leave me, their youngest child, at college, the more important their advice became.

They reminded me that to make true friends, I should be myself and that when school gets hard, sometimes you have to put the books down and go to bed, things may look less confusing in the morning.  These weren’t new ideas.  This was the same advice that they had been giving me my whole life.

So was the message of Jesus to his followers as they sat in the temple people watching.  These weren’t new lessons to the disciples.  They had heard a multitude of sermons on care for the marginalized and how (in the words of my mother) actions speak louder than words.

They had heard the story of the Samaritan who helped the dying man when the educated and the powerful had walked by on the other side of the road.

They had listened as Jesus told them that as soon as the rich fool saved enough to live comfortably forever, his life was taken from him.

This wasn’t a new lesson.  It was more of a swan song.

One last attempt to convey the same lessons for the nth time.

He was reminding them, through hyperbolic character studies, who they were supposed to be and how they were to live in the world and in community with each other.

As we look at our lives and how we act in the world, how can we be genuine in our faith and focused on what we give and how we live over how we are perceived and how people treat us?

Jesus’ lesson is as simple and as complicated as the mite the widow gave.

Your everything may look like nothing if you hold it in comparison to the gifts of others, but that is not what Jesus said.

He praised the woman’s gift and set her as a model of Christian service.

May we go and give, not comparing our gifts to the gifts of others, but dedicating our lives to serving others and living as a part of a community that in the words of my grandmother remembers who (and I would add whose) we are and acts accordingly.

Sermon from Feb. 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Isaiah spoke these words to a people in exile.

With the memory David and Solomon’s reign in their minds, and in their songs, the nation of Israel had fallen.  The Babylonians sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed its temple, the very dwelling place of God.

For a second time in their collective history, God’s chosen people were on the move with no way to go back and no idea what was coming in their future.

At the beginning of this chapter, Isaiah offers some words of comfort to his people.  These are words we often read in preparation for Christ’s birth as we also pursue assurance in our knowledge of God’s power and promise keeping.

The text comforts Jerusalem and reminds the people that her suffering will not last forever, that she will be made great again.  He promises that there will be a voice crying out a hymn of preparation for God to be revealed again to the people.

 

In today’s reading, the awesome power of God is proclaimed to all who hear.  God is still the source of strength for this people, for these wanderers, these exiles, these refugees, these strangers in a foreign land.  Their comfort and their strength reside in the power of God.  This God, to whom they pray, is high above the earth, so exalted beyond this world that Isaiah assumes that to God, the people must look like grasshoppers.

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Isaiah isn’t one to just stand there and comfort his people without offering a little conviction in his sermon.

He illustrates the powerlessness of the world leaders in comparison to God; he names them to be like the grass, easily blown away by the wind.  He also chastises the people for their belief that somehow their actions and what they deserve has gone unnoticed by God.  As though God has forgotten God’s promises to the people.

I can almost see Isaiah, shaking his head, tsking at the people as he hears them complain; wondering which story of their ancestors he should try reminding them of this time.  Should he remind them of God’s promise to Abraham or would a more recent story of  King David be the ticket?

“Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”

Isaiah knows they have heard.  He has told them.  He has been one in a long line of judges, kings, and prophets who have reminded the people of God’s commitment to them and God’s enduring and almighty love for them.  They have heard about God’s promise, but they still don’t seem to get it.

How can he make them understand?

This week, the church celebrated a candlemas service to mark the Feast Day of the Presentation of the Lord.  It is the service celebrates the day, 40 days after his birth, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.

We read the words of Simeon, an older man who dwelt in the temple, who, when he saw Jesus, sang a song we continue to sing today in our evening prayer services,

“Now, let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled.

My own eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people;

A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon hears, Simeon understands, Simeon praises God and names aloud the awesome power of God and God’s ability to keep promises.

And then, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James and John travel together to Simon and Andrew’s house.  When they get there, Jesus raises Simon’s mother-in-law from near death to Martha Stewart hostess mode in front of their eyes.  Later that evening, Jesus healed many who had gathered outside.  Jesus had to silence the demons because, they heard and they understood.

That night, when Jesus is taking some time alone, his disciples come looking for him and instead of responding to the miracles they had seen, they tell Jesus that people are looking for him.

He leads their journey to the next town, but I cannot help but wonder if he wasn’t muttering Isaiah in his head, Have you not known?  Have you not heard? or, maybe even, “How do you not know?  Can you not see?  Can you not hear?”

If they were hearing, why do they seem to continue to not “get it”?

Why is it that the demons are the ones ready to testify to the identity of Jesus?

Just like Isaiah, Jesus has done wonderful showing and telling, but around him the crowd does not know who he is, his own followers do not know who he is, only the demons know.  If the healings don’t seem to help them know about the love and promises of God, what will?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

I wonder how we would answer Isaiah’s questions today.  I wonder if those would even be the right questions to ask as we gather here.

Before I came to seminary, I was plugging along to become a teacher, specifically a teacher for young children, pre-k through 3rd grade.  In our classes, we wrote lesson plans and planned units of study on the alphabet, the water cycle, fractions, and reading from Hop on Pop to Charlotte’s Web.

With that in mind, I have a few ideas of how Isaiah’s inquiries could be slightly altered to better speak to the modern reader.  For instance, what change would occur in Isaiah’s lesson if he asked his questions in a different order?  What if he asked them about what they have heard, what their lives sounded like, before asking about their comprehension and knowledge?

So, what have you heard? This week, while you were living your life, what did you hear that is still in your mind this morning?  Did you hear any sacred words of hope in your week?  Or words of despair?  Were you angered?  Convicted?  Comforted? Liberated?  Are there certain voices that come to mind?  Maybe of family, friends, co-workers, classmates, your local TV news anchor?

Take a moment in silence to think through some of the things you have heard this week.

 

 

 

If what you heard sounded at all like what I have heard this week, it was a jumble and a mix of all of those.

In our weeks, the sheer volume of what we hear is overwhelming. If you find yourself at this moment tired after reflecting on a week worth of words, you are not alone.

In chapel this week on campus, we read a litany that had been prepared many years ago by PSCE professor, Dr. Isabel Rogers. Her words spoke to me with so much power that I had to stop reading to laugh to myself about how God chooses to communicate with us sometimes.  That was a sacred sound.

On Thursday, I sat at lunch with classmates, faculty, and staff to discuss stories about violence around the world and the ways that our fear of the unknown has made us bad neighbors to those not sharing our cultural or faith background.  That conversation brought me despair.

Now that we have thought about what we have heard, what do we think we know, or don’t know as Isaiah might ask?

How do we make the leap from hearing to knowing?  What do we know about God and God’s promises?  What gives us the faith to mount up like eagles, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint?  Do we have the knowledge of God as something so great and powerful that from where God reigns in power we look, as Isaiah notes, like grasshoppers but intentional and detail oriented enough to name each star and set them on their paths?

Last week at church, I was struck as I heard the Lord’s Prayer in this very place, during this very service.  If I tried to make a list of all the times I have heard the Lord’s Prayer, we would be sitting here all day.  But last week I had a moment of knowing these words in a new way.  From my location in the children’s worship area, I heard the Prayer as I had never heard it before. As the range of youth and adult voices behind me mixed with the young ones sitting close by, the collection of pitches and cadence created a messy but beautiful prayer experience that offered me a new perspective.  That was a sacred sound and in that sound, I was able to gain a brand new, albeit small insight about the family of God, and new knowledge about God and God’s wonderful, created people.

So, how do you know?

What do you know, or continue to not know, about this world that God created and our place in it?

Are we in exile, traversing the terrain between our past and where (or who) God is calling us to be?

Are we in the presence, like Simon, Peter, James, and John, of miraculous work being done around us, experiencing sacred hope alongside despair?

Are we both?

I think we are both.

I think we are in a precarious balance of being overwhelmed by the perpetual crossroads of the past and the future.

We are living in a present full of sacred and despairing moments.

This is our reality, and these are our moments.

In these moments God dwells with us,

and in these moments rest our call, a call to hear, to know, and to go.

May we go.

May we hear,

may we seek to know so that we may take the knowledge and go out into the world all over again.

Sermon from 4/3/16

John 20:18-31, Psalm 150

Christ has Risen!  

He has risen indeed!  

The good news of the Gospel has been revealed to us in our world yet again!  

Last week, we raised our voices in praise and we got back the Hallelujahs we buried away for our journey through Lent and into the dark woods.  

We are back in a joyous time!  We are back in the light of new life!  We are again set free by the miraculous death and resurrection of Christ!  

But that was a week ago.  That was seven days ago.

In my world, that was 6 clients, 4 papers, 100 pages of reading, multiple goodbyes with family members I wish I saw more, and one bumpy airplane ride ago.

For you maybe that was 10 meetings, 5 conference calls, one flat tire, and 2 sick kids ago.

Maybe it was 3 appointments with a specialist ago or 6 hours on the phone trying to get insurance/taxes/childcare sorted out, or even a day or more in the hospital ago.  

 

Two weeks ago we sang Hosanna!

Last week we lifted our voices proclaiming that Indeed, he HAS risen.  

What is our word today?  What is our phrase of the week?  

If we turn to the disciples for guidance, our word today may be fear.

They were locked away in an upper room.

They were gathered together to stay safe and to feel supported.  

They hadn’t had their Hallelujah day yet.  

 

Then, Mary Magdalene came in and told them in no uncertain terms that she had seen the Lord.  

But, I mean, why should they believe her?  They know what the world is like around them.  

They know that their radical message of the Messiah is a dangerous one, and the only witness they have is this one woman and her story.  

 

Maybe they did believe her.  

Maybe they were jumping with joy, hugging and high fiving each other in that moment of jubilation.  

 

But then night fell and the next day we find them back in their safe space.  We discover these commissioned leaders hiding from the world.  

 

Thanks be to God that the story doesn’t end there.  

Jesus appears.  

The risen Lord, Emmanuel shows up right there in the space with them.

The locks on the door do not begin to keep him out and neither do the locks of doubt keeping the disciples away from their neighbors and those to whom they were called as teachers of the good news.  

 

Jesus appears and greets them with what becomes the code greeting of Christians, “Peace be with you”.  

 

He is a familiar face.  

He offers them the familiar password and yet this experience is anything but familiar.  

 

This is extraordinary!  

This is miraculous!  

This is cause for celebration!  

Christ has risen!  

He has risen indeed!  

 

But that was a week ago.  

Since they saw Jesus, their stories of this miracle, this good news, had gone no where.  

They tried to tell Thomas, one of their friends who had accompanied them on every step of this journey with Jesus, and he would have none of it.  

 

His doubt must have been discouraging.  

I wonder how many times they tried to tell him the story.  

I wonder if each time their own certainty and excitement waned just a little and the story began feeling less amazing.  

I wonder if they were all filled with doubt by the time that week was over and we catch up with them again, in the same room, with those same locked doors.

Their fear still keeping them apart from the world, the world that doesn’t seem as safe anymore without the constant presence of their teacher and Lord.  

 

But again, thanks be to God, they are not left alone in their fear in that upper room.  

They are greeted once again by Jesus.  

He comes through the locked door, offers the same greeting of peace and then turns to speak directly to Thomas.

This great teacher offers his tactile learner the evidence needed to believe and it works.  Thomas, like Mary a week before, greets Jesus by name and proclaims his belief.  

 

Jesus then, in the presence of his closest friends, offers a blessing over those who will come to believe without the one-on-one encounter with his risen body that the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas were privy too.  

 

This reads to me like yet another blessing over their ministry of evangelism.  

Maybe a little hint hint wink wink that it is their job to get out there and spread the good news as they were commissioned to do by Jesus when they had gathered those many nights ago to share a meal and share a prayer before they would turn around and betray him.   

This should do it, right?  

This third encounter should be what it takes to get the disciples out into the world to speak the good news and witness to the new life in resurrection, right?

You know this story.  

They go back to fishing.  

They go back to life out on the waters, fishing, without much success for, well, fish.  

Or maybe you know the story a tiny bit further when we find them again in an upper room locked away in fear waiting, about to receive the Holy Spirit and be gifted with the words to preach to the multilingual multitudes gathered.  

 

Locked away in fear.  

Christ has risen!  

Locked away in fear.  

He has risen indeed!

Locked away in fear.

 

I am sensing a pattern.  But it doesn’t start here.  

If we think about the great celebrations and the miracles of our faith, they are so often followed by and preceded by fear.  

The Hebrew people escaped Egypt and were brought, by God’s hand, into freedom and so they celebrated.  

Miriam led them in song and their celebration rang throughout their community!  

A miracle!  

Freedom from slavery!  

Escape from their tormentors!  

But then time went by and their journey towards the Promised Land made them weary.  

40 years in the desert was the hard work that followed their celebrations.  

 

Later in the history of our scriptures we meet a woman chosen to be queen, Esther.  

Esther is chosen to be wife to King and yet her life of luxury and power comes with a challenging task.  

Her celebration of this new station in life is followed by her call to risk her life to save her people.  

Our Psalm today was full of praises: “Alleluia! We praise you, Lord, in your sanctuary; we praise you in your mighty skies!  We praise you for your powerful deeds; we praise your for your overwhelming glory…Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Alleluia!”  

This is the last Psalm in the Psalter.

This is the final prayer offered in the book of Psalms and it is a Hallal, a Psalm of praise.  But this final section of the Psalter follows many songs of personal and community lament.  The book of Psalms itself follows, in our Bibles, the story of Job.  One person who could offer a powerful testimony for how difficult a journey life can be, even after an affirmation of faith.  

The last word is good news!  

That last line is Alleluia, but no one should pretend that this Alleluia doesn’t come in a context of a difficult world.

Getting back to the Gospel of John itself, can you remember back to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry?  

This gospel begins with the celebration of Jesus’ baptism, and a miracle at a wedding.  

The journey of Jesus’ work, persecution, death, and resurrection begins with two celebrations and are followed by an arduous journey.

The good news that we celebrate this week, the good news of the miracle of the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ it is that, it is good news.  

Honestly, it is the best news that we as Christians have to offer the world.  

It is the good news of liberation, so we sing like Miriam “Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously!” (Exodus 15).

It is the good news of God who is with us in miraculous ways as our journeys begin with all the twists, turns, term papers, tax forms, and other tribulations, so we sing from the Psalms, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Alleluia!” (Psalm 50).  

It is the good news of a man, God with us, Emmanuel, who came to Earth to dwell among us, who Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples saw after his miraculous resurrection and called out in faith, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), “We have seen the Lord.” (John 20:24), and “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Just like the disciples gathered in that upper room, we are called to do hard work, at times wearisome work because this news is so good.  

But even with good news, it takes hard work to break into the cycle of 24hr bad news with a glimpse of hope.

It takes grabbing our alleluias and carrying them out of the safe space of this sanctuary.  

It takes reaching out to neighbors, offering communion to those who may not feel like they could join us around this table that we has been prepared today.  

So how will we reach out?  

How will the password of peace spoken in that upper room become the shout that follows our Alleluias?  

First, we must be fed by the joy, by the miracle of the resurrection, the liberation, and the fellowship provided to us by our creator and the bread of life, Jesus, our Savior and then we must take our bread, our stories, our hope, and our Alleluias, out into the world so that others may hear, and in hearing, believe the good news, and by believing, have life abundant.  

Amen.