Saturday, May 24, 2008
Sunday, May 18, 2008
It’s easy to say and harder to do.
You said Go and make disciples…
but we don’t always know how to be disciples ourselves.
We walk your beautiful earth, admire your creation, and try to imagine your story for the world.
You said Go and make disciples…
but what about the times when life doesn’t make sense? What about cyclones and earthquakes and sickness and death and grief and hopelessness?
You said Go and make disciples…
And so we go, trying to follow your example, live by your word, but the church is full of human beings with flaws and foibles.
And so we pray today, O God, that you would remind us that your promise is true:
You will be with us always.
Even when we doubt, even when we fear, even when we grieve, even when we make mistakes, even when we don’t know what to say.
Walk with us again this day, Lord, that we might go from this place to be your witnesses, here and to the ends of the earth. Send your Holy Spirit to sustain us and to fill us with your love and your word for all people. Help us to shine your light to the world.
We pray in your name, Jesus, and we use the prayer you taught us:
Friday, May 16, 2008
1) Favorite Destination -- someplace you've visited once or often and would gladly go again
Hmmm....a little tricky. Probably Scotland, especially Iona. I love that little island. It's pretty much my favorite place in the whole world--and I'm going back for two weeks this summer! But I also really loved Rome and would go back tomorrow if I had the $$. And Jerusalem/Bethlehem too. And Damascus--I would love to go back and explore more of Damascus. I told you it was tricky!
2) Unfavorite Destination -- someplace you wish you had never been (and why)
You know, I actually can't think of any place I wish I had not gone. Sure, things happen and make for bad memories sometimes (thinking of some Cairo experiences now) but I don't regret going any of the places I've been.
3) Fantasy Destination -- someplace to visit if cost and/or time did not matter
India India India!! Also West Africa (I'd love to visit Ghana or Cameroon for a month or so of mission work--awesome. And I'd love to go to Guinea and learn more about the djembe!). And I have a sort of fantasy of going to spend a couple of weeks helping build a Watoto children's village in Uganda. Also I'd like to eat Thai food in Thailand. :-)
4) Fictional Destination -- someplace from a book or movie or other art or media form you would love to visit, although it exists only in imagination
Rivendell, for sure. So cool! Or else the island from Swiss Family Robinson. Wouldn't it be fun to live in a tree mansion? (yes, I've been to Disneyland but they renamed that for Tarzan, I guess because Swiss Family Robinson isn't cool anymore? But that's a theme park attraction, I mean a REAL tree mansion on an island!)
5) Funny Destination -- the funniest place name you've ever visited or want to visit
Hmm, I don't know...I always think the towns on the drive between Chicago and Atlanta have the funniest names but I've never wanted to visit one--it's just happened. Then again, I'm from Yakima (which is variously called "Yak" and "Crackima" by my HS classmates...) so maybe "weird" is harder for me to imagine...
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Friday, May 09, 2008
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
While I won't say that my post a few days ago about the purpose of church comes anywhere close to her piece, I will say that I think they are part of the same broader conversation. Please go read what she has to say.
It was really interesting. It was also, at times, horribly depressing. There was a lot of really good historical info about things like the cotton-growing business, technological advances, and the industrial revolution. It wasn't exactly the fastest-paced book of my year so far, but it wasn't textbook boring either. There were real people, real places, and real disturbing info about how things work around here and the impact that has on both our market and the rest of the world.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
This is what our worship environment team has dreamed up for Pentecost. They did the installation after worship last Sunday, and it is very cool! A few strands of doves have fallen and will need replacing last-minute, but overall it's excellent! They are very gifted people.
a little closer....with the lights on it casts cool shadows on the apse!
and here it is from lying on the floor... :-)
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Wait for it…
May 4 2008, Easter 7A/Ascension
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Have any of you seen the movie the Princess Bride? It’s one of my favorite movies. There are a number of particularly memorable scenes—I might even suggest that the whole movie is made up of one memorable scene after another—but there’s one in particular that I am thinking of this morning. Wesley, the man in black, is climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin, is waiting at the top so they can have a swordfight to the death, since Inigo is part of a team abducting the princess Buttercup. Inigo looks down and sees Wesley climbing, by hand since the rope has been cut, very slowly. He calls down and says “I do not suppose you could speed things up?” And after Wesley’s response that this is not as easy as it looks and that Inigo is just going to have to wait, Inigo says, “I hate waiting.”
That’s pretty much my response to situations that involve waiting. I hate waiting.
I don’t think the disciples were such big fans of waiting either—we’ve seen them with Jesus going and going, doing and doing. But when Jesus goes off to pray, they get impatient. When he takes them to pray with him, they go to sleep. Waiting is hard to do. It takes more energy than it sounds like it should, and it looks unproductive—the cardinal sin of western culture.
But in this case, Jesus tells the disciples—no, he doesn’t just tell them, he orders them—to stay in Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit that has been promised to them. Before they obey, they first want to know if this is the big moment, the one they’ve been looking for, when Jesus will change their world. Instead of answering—because when does Jesus give a straight answer?—he tells them that question is none of their business. Instead he reminds them that the Holy Spirit is coming to them and, when they have received the Spirit—an event we will celebrate next week—they will be witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem, then throughout the country, then even in Samaria, and then even in the farthest reaches of the world.
I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like an awfully big job, and my response would be either: “umm, really? Us?” or “well, that’s a lot of work so we’d better get started now!” which sounds an awful lot like “I hate waiting.” But neither of those is the response Jesus is looking for or the response the disciples give. Instead, they head back to Jerusalem, where they wait and pray for the coming of the Spirit.
That’s right, for 10 days they just wait and pray, wait and pray, wait more, pray more. I wonder if they were impatient, ready to get on with it already. Or maybe they were wondering how they’d know when they had received the Holy Spirit? Would it be like Elijah’s still small voice? Or like Moses’ burning bush? Or like Job’s voice from the whirlwind? Or like the dove that descended on Jesus at his baptism? And what would it feel like? Would they be filled with power? Peace? Knowledge? Would they be lifted up into heaven like Jesus?
I hate waiting.
In the Princess Bride, after Inigo says this he decides that, rather than waiting, he will take matters into his own hands. He finds a way to bring Wesley to the top faster so they can get on with the duel already. I wonder how often we too would prefer to skip over the waiting and praying and just take matters into our own hands? It’s so tempting—there is so much work to be done, why wait? We can do all those things now, now, now!
I’m sure many of you know that there are some stereotypes about Presbyterians out there. One is that we are very good at talking. This is one of the ways we got the nickname of the "frozen chosen"--We talk about issues, we refer them to committees, we talk more, we might have a task force, and eventually we’ll bring it to a vote. The other stereotype is that we really like to fix things. We do mission and service projects, we give money, we send teams to respond to disasters. Even better if we can fix things with words—with social policy statements and stern letters. But I wonder, in the midst of all our doing and all our talking, if we have really practiced listening? Have we prayed and waited? Have we listened for God’s call and felt the Spirit? Or have we rushed past God in our determination to do good, following our own agenda and listening to our own voices rather than to God’s calling?
I am probably the least qualified person to stand here and ask that question. I am a woman of both words and action. I have passion and excitement and a strong desire to make the world a better place, more full of good news and less full of bad news. But I still wonder—what would our work look like, what would our world look like, what would our church look like, if we spent time together in prayer and listening for the Holy Spirit?
The story in Acts says that the disciples returned to Jerusalem, to their upper room, and together, as a community, they devoted themselves to prayer. This might be the first time the disciples actually do what Jesus asks of them! This is not pointless waiting, this waiting has a purpose, as most seasons of discernment do. The disciples are not waiting for someone else to do the hard work, not waiting for an out—they are waiting for the direction and the power to follow their calling. They are waiting for the gift of the Spirit, the gift of God’s own presence with them. They have a high calling to fulfill—they aren’t to run out and do their own thing, making their own plan of action. But as they follow this calling, they aren’t going to do it on their own—God is going with them…if they’ll just wait for it!
Once this period of waiting is over, once the Spirit comes and the church is born, once the gift of God’s presence and God’s calling is given to the community, then it’s time for action, time to be a witness to Christ’s love and power and grace to all the world. Not just in the neighborhood, not just in our own country, but to the ends of the earth. That actually is a part of the symbolism of the cross on your bulletin cover—it’s called a Jerusalem cross and the four smaller crosses represent the taking of the gospel out from the center (Jerusalem) to the four corners of the earth. It’s a big job, and it will require a lot of stamina—we, looking back, know the cost of sharing this news with the world. The apostles will encounter both friends and foes, both hospitality and violence, for centuries. They, and we, need all the help we can get—the prayer and the waiting and the encouragement of our community.
I hate waiting—but I know how important it is. Inigo takes matters into his own hands, and things don’t go well for him. He ends up back at the beginning, waiting even longer than before, and with considerably more anguish, until he finally ends up on the right track. Peter has taken matters into his own hands more than once, and it hasn’t gone well any of those times. This time he will wait—and with the help of the Spirit he will indeed become the rock of the church. I am sure there are times when each of us has taken matters into our own hands rather than waiting for God’s direction. And I suspect there are times when we as a congregation have rushed past God with our good intentions. Perhaps now is a good time to join the disciples in a week of prayer and waiting, listening for God’s call to us as individuals and as a church, that we might use our gifts for God’s glory and for the spreading of good news, even to the ends of the earth.
May it be so. Amen.
Friday, May 02, 2008
(scroll down for the Friday Five...)
Last night we had a wonderful Taize service–our last one until fall, actually, as we plan to take a summer break–and I once again noticed something odd during the prayer time.
At our Taize service we have a time where you are invited to simply say the name of a person or place that you want to pray for. We organize the prayer into “categories”–things we are grateful for, people we want to pray for for various reasons, places in the world we pray for (especially to receive peace/healing/etc), and then a time when you can pray for anything you like. In those first three, people generally just say the name of the person/place/thing–it’s not a long beautiful prayer, just a mentioning of things on our minds.
For several months now I have noticed that people are not shy about praying in the first two categories, but when we get to the third (praying for the world), everyone is silent. I find this surprising since we are a congregation with such a mission focus–we have ministries in/with Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Colombia, and more. Plus we are a well-informed congregation, I’m sure we know what’s going on in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Afghanistan, Darfur, and the streets of Chicago and even of Crystal Lake. So why aren’t we praying for these situations and places?
It has been suggested to me that we don’t want to sound political by mentioning these things–that bringing up political “issues” can disrupt prayer for some people.
Well, I suggest that then politics has paralyzed our prayer when really it should be motivating our prayer. Whether or not there is a “side” to be taken, there are people and situations that need prayer. If we are unwilling to pray for the people of Zimbabwe or the situation in Darfur or the people experiencing food shortages here and abroad or the people who are homeless at a time when PADS shelters are closing for the summer, simply because we are afraid of becoming “political”, then I’m afraid of what Jesus might have to say.
Remember, “politics” is simply how we live together as a community, a polis (city). Partisanship is different, it’s taking sides. I might argue that Jesus does sometimes take sides–with those no one is willing to pray for, eat with, be friends with, touch, or even see. But in any case, prayer is not partisan, though it may be political (because it can be about how we live together as a global human community).
So the next time you have the opportunity, remember to pray (even out loud!) for these situations and the people in them. We aren’t going to be judging your political party based on what you pray for–instead you are helping us to remember all of God’s people, around the world, and to pray for God’s peace and justice and grace to be known throughout the world.
As we gather together, even in this virtual space, I invite us all to pray for God’s people who know violence, fear, hunger, anxiety, and grief, and for those places like Iraq, Darfur, Egypt, Afghanistan, Kenya, Israel and Palestine, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Chicago, and even Crystal Lake that need to know God’s presence, peace, and love. And to pray also for ourselves, that we might be bold in prayer and in action. Amen.
Part of the Ascension Day Scripture from Acts 1 contains this promise from Jesus;
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then he was taken from their sight into the clouds, two angels appeared and instructed the probably bewildered disciples to go back to Jerusalem, where they began to wait and to pray for the gift Jesus had promised.
Prayer is a joy to some of us, and a chore to others, waiting likewise can be filled with anticipation or anxiety....
So how do you wait and pray?
1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
Well, maybe both. I generally have a sort of running conversation with God (which might be irritating, now that I think about it--but here's hoping not!) but I also find that praying with others helps me focus and also keeps me accountable for listening, not just talking.
2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?
In the words of Inigo Montoya: "I hate waiting."
3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?
I'm not sure....I know I have waited and prayed for things and sometimes they have happened and sometimes they have not. The perfect call to a church: got it! Mom's cancer to be healed and her to live a long life: not got it. As others have said--sometimes I think I'm waiting on what I want the promise to be, not on the actual promise of God's faithfulness.
4. Do you prefer stillness or action?
Action, of course. But I'm working on stillness! This is the general direction of my sermon for this week, actually: that many of us so prefer action to stillness, doing to praying, that we might be in danger of rushing past God and doing our own thing rather than pursuing God's vision. It's important to wait for the Spirit, to discern our calling, before just doing what we want to do. But on the other hand, when we have received the calling, we have to stop staring and the sky and get out there and do something already!
5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to recieve?
hmm.....this is kind of hard. Spiritual gifts....probably wisdom. Other gifts...enough money to pay my taxes. ;-)
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Church is a thing with many different purposes. As a Presbyterian, I affirm that there are six main purposes, beginning with proclaiming the good news and ending with exhibiting the kingdom of heaven to the world. In between are things like "the promotion of social righteousness" and "the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the people of God" and "the maintenance of divine worship" and "the preservation of the truth."
I would be willing to bet that most Presbyterians don't know about the Six Great Ends of the Church, and that even if they did they would say "but what does that mean, anyway?"
Well, I'll tell you what it means to me: that we are a community, a true community, that does both hard and easy things, that is challenging as well as comforting, that nurtures and shelters and also tells the truth. Sometimes that is hard--to stay together through thick and thin. Most importantly, we proclaim the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ and we make every attempt to form our church community to reflect God's kingdom as we see it in Scripture. A lot of the time, that means that we say and do offensive things, things that obstruct natural selection, things that obstruct blind patriotism (show me a prophet, Old or New Testament, who was a patriot by today's pop culture standards, and then I might be willing to talk nicely about civil religion), and things that make it hard to be a community. But we stick it out. The body isn't the body if we're missing a part. The eye cannot say to the hand "I have no need of you." When one part suffers, we all suffer. The parts we don't like to talk about in polite company are clothed with greater honor. etc etc etc. No wonder our "family values" are in such disarray--we are so used to consuming that the instant someone displeases us, we run off to find someone who agrees with us and will feed us what we want to hear, one soundbite at a time. (this would be interesting research--divorce rates and divorcing-my-congregation-or-pastor rates.)
This is why it's so offensive to me that this whole business with Jeremiah Wright is such a big deal. Not because, as a pastor, I shudder to think that my congregation members might one day be held accountable for my words and actions (though that is disturbing). Not even because of the basic misconception that pastors and congregation members are friends (that happens so rarely--generally, the member thinks they are friends with the pastor, but in reality the pastor is "on" with that 'friend' and also has a strange pseudo-power, making the relationship never a real friendship...though of course there are exceptions, and they are almost always so because the pastor has decided to make it that way)--I actually saw a comment in a news article that said "he was your best friend???" Well, no. Wright is right about this--he was a member of the church. That's different than being really friends.
But none of this is what makes me so furious. What makes me furious is the idea that if one disagrees with another member of the body, one should just get up and leave. That is NOT what church is about. Church is not about the pastor, not about the sermon. It's about being a community that shows God's love and justice to the world, that acts like the kingdom. And you know what? You can disagree deeply with someone and still work together for justice. You can learn and grow spiritually with people whose political stances are different than yours. Church is not a place where you go to be told everything you already know, to have your own ideas reinforced. Church is for growing, walking together a hard journey, being challenged. It's for praying and praising and being filled up, and it's for serving and loving and changing the world. If it's not about changing the world to look more like the kingdom of God ("your kingdom come...") then it's just about making ourselves feel good and righteous. We have enough of that in our culture.
As I'm constantly telling my confirmation class and youth groups: life is about choices. Will you choose to preach the gospel with your life, to exhibit the kingdom of God? Or will you choose to sit back and find yourself preaching and exhibiting....something else? I'm a little afraid of the choices of our country and the people who would be its leaders. When the fact that a man has been faithful to the body of Christ, through thick and thin, is a liability to his leadership, I'm afraid for our country. When where you go to church is a bigger deal than your foreign policy ideas, I'm afraid. When church is a front (yes, a FRONT, a facade) or a foil (a distraction from) for racism and elitism and all those other isms that we pretend don't exist, I'm reminded of earlier times in our religious history, none of which went well, and I'm afraid. All of God's messengers showed up and started their spiel with "do not be afraid." Well, we could use that message right about now.