Friday, December 29, 2006

1st Sunday of Christmas: a sermon

the first first draft of this weekend's be preached on Saturday and Sunday...comments invited!

“Need to Know”
Luke 2.41-52
Christmas 1: December 30/31 2006

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.


Once upon a time, there was a young girl. She was considered too young to start school—she had not reached that magic age by the magic deadline, and so was sent to another year of preschool, despite the fact that she had already begun to read. The next year rolled around, as years are wont to do, and the girl went to the Kindergarten class with the other girls and boys. A few delightful days full of games, stories, and play passed. Then a note went home with the girl. Her mother read the note, laughed, and said “I told you so.” The next week, there were tests…all kinds of tests. Tests with shapes, words, stories, puzzles. At the end of the tests, a very serious woman said to the mother, “I think your little girl here ought to be in second grade.” The mother laughed again, said “I told you so” again, and then said “no way.” First grade it was…and the girl was back with the kids she tried to begin school with the year before.

Jesus was only 12. He wouldn’t be a man, a student, an apprentice…an anything, really, until the next year. He had a whole year to wait until he could study with the teachers, ask questions, or do any learning outside his home or local synagogue. He certainly couldn’t work, and anything he might say would probably be automatically discounted because he was nothing but a child—and children were not worth much until they became productive—at 13.

Have you ever noticed how children often say things very matter-of-factly, as though it should be plainly obvious to all of us what is going on? Like the girl who, when asked what she was drawing a picture of, said “God.” To which the teacher responded with a mixture of patronizing and confusion, “but no one knows what God looks like.” The girl did not even look up from her drawing as she answered, “they will when I’m done!” How obvious, of course! I suspect that teacher walked away not really understanding. I suspect that my own parents and teachers walked away from that first week of school not really understanding the things I said and did, how to handle a 5 year old so precocious she got notes sent home that said “Teri tried to teach the class today…again.” And we read just now how Jesus’ parents didn’t understand…well, much of anything. This whole passage is filled with “they did not understand.”

The thing about parenting, I’m told, is that there’s no really good comprehensive “how-to” book. No “parenting for dummies” that actually covers all the bases for every child and every parent. There are always surprises, plot twists, comic relief, tragic moments. There’s always something that just wasn’t in the book. Jesus’ parents are no different, though their son was pretty different. Joseph and Mary had no big yellow book with black letters on the cover: “How to Parent the Messiah!” They learned about parenting the way everyone else does—by doing it. And Jesus, of course, learned about growing up and being a normal kid the way everyone else does—by doing it.

So here we have this suddenly precocious almost-teenager where just a few days ago we had a sweet little boy. Last week, in the manger, he wasn’t even crying, and now he’s sassing his mom. Last week there were angels singing and shepherds running, and now he’s wandering off in a crowd, staying out after curfew, not calling home, and sitting around with the grown-ups talking about religion and politics. But he’s only 12! What happened to Mary’s little momma’s boy?

I suspect this is a familiar feeling for many of you, as you’ve watched children grow up. Even I have felt it, watching my brother grow up and learn about life the hard way. I’ve felt it watching kids in my youth groups grow up. And they aren’t even my own kids! Yesterday they were crawling and today they’re driving. I admit I can’t understand how you all feel as you think about your kids becoming teenagers. And I can’t understand how Mary and Joseph felt when Jesus talked back to them in front of all those people, after they’d been sick with worry for four days.

Funnily enough, Jesus couldn’t figure out why they were so worried. And Mary and Joseph couldn’t understand why he didn’t get it. It’s a classic parent-teen conversation, with attitude. And all the people around were amazed that a mere child could understand so much of what the teachers taught. All over this story people are amazed, astonished, assuming, not knowing, and not understanding—and no one fits more of these words than Mary and Joseph, newly minted parents of an adolescent. Can’t you just picture them? They’ve been down in the city for a festival. They’re walking the 65 miles home afterwards with a throng of travelers, many of whom traveled down together as well. Family and friends, neighbors and coworkers, they all walked together. In the evening, Joseph says to Mary, “where’s that boy of yours?” Mary says, “umm, I looked after him while you took the lamb to be slaughtered. He’s your responsibility today! Why don’t you check on him?” They start with the family tents…no sign of their darling son. Then the neighbor’s tents…no sign of the kid there. Then his friends’ parents’ tents…no sign of the Son of God there either. Soon they’re saying to each other “no, he’s God’s Son, and he’s not even that cute…” as their frustration and anxiety mounts. They ask around, they even look in the camps of people they don’t know…he’s not there. So, back they go—fighting the crowd, the flow of traffic, the throng. Probably a hundred people told them they were going the wrong way as they walked back to Jerusalem, which was already a whole day away. Perhaps they were thinking that at least the crowd would have cleared out of the city by now, so he’ll be easier to spot…and what does he think he’s doing anyway?...he’s never misbehaved like this before…why did they ever agree to have kids?...soon Mary’s going through all the things she’s going to say to him when they find him…if they find him…Oh, God, what if they can’t find him?...that little scoundrel….kids these days!

Finally they go back to the Temple, which is finally starting to smell less like blood, and they start looking in the circles of teachers and students who ring the courtyard. In Middle Eastern culture, this is how religious schools work. Teachers find spots in the shade in the courtyard of a major place—in this case the Temple, in today’s Middle East, the mosque or the church—and the students gather around them. Everyone sits on the floor together while the teacher lectures and asks questions, and the students memorize, recite, and answer. It seems that Jesus has taken up residence in one of these circles…and that he is the one asking the questions. Hmm….how can this be? No one understands, least of all his parents, who finally find him sitting cross-legged on the white marble floor.

Have you ever noticed how often we use the words “understand” and “know” and other words like that? We like to know things. Well, at least I like to know things! Plus, we’re Presbyterians—education, intellect, understanding…that’s our thing. We like to know with our minds, to learn, to get our heads wrapped around things. We like to have words for everything—lots of words. That way we can be in control, right? Knowledge is power, after all.

But Jesus is one of those people we just can’t get our heads all the way around. We can’t know everything there is to know about God, we can’t understand Jesus, we can’t control or have power over God’s Spirit with our knowledge. It just doesn’t work that way! And, contrary to popular belief, we can’t ever really, fully, understand another person either. Most of us have enough on our plates just understanding ourselves, let alone someone else!

But that doesn’t stop us from trying, in either case. We have a very human desire to know things. Jesus apparently did too—otherwise he wouldn’t have stayed behind questioning the teachers in the Temple. Jesus’ parents wanted to know where he was, they wanted to know why he would do this thing, they wanted to know who he was and what all of that meant. But they couldn’t know—they couldn’t understand.

The thing is, even though they couldn’t understand, the reality is that they didn’t need to know. It wasn’t a necessity. Yes, they wanted to know all these things and probably more. I suspect most parents want to know all kinds of things. Kids too want to know all kinds of things. And there are about a zillion things I would love to know about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the church and the world and the brain and creation and pandas and people and…and…and…but I don’t need to know all those things in order to be in a relationship with God or with my neighbor. I don’t need to understand God. I don’t need to know everything, I just want to. And Jesus’ parents decided they didn’t need to know everything either. Instead, they just gathered up their son with hugs and tears and mild admonishments, and took him home. They loved him. Mary treasured these and many other things in her heart, as all mothers do. They didn’t need to know or understand, they just needed to be in a relationship with him, to treasure these things. Staying in the relationship is what mattered.

We don’t actually need to know everything, though we might want to. We don’t need to understand God—we can’t understand God! We can use all the words we want, but we can’t contain the Word. What we need is to be understood—by the only One who can understand. The only person in this story who is described as “understanding” is Jesus. Staying in the relationship with Jesus is what matters for us too, just like Jesus’ parents. They didn’t get it, but they loved one another. Even we can do that! He understands all things, including us, and including our relationship with him. And that is what makes all the difference.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

bread of life

Serving Communion is such an interesting thing.

When people arrive at the front of the line, usually they look into my eyes.
I say “the bread of life” and then they pull off the smallest possible piece of bread they can. If they accidentally get a piece that they might be able to taste, they look at me and make a surprised look and sometimes they even say “ooh! Sorry!”

They often say, “thank you.”

And then they move on to the juice or wine, and I always wonder whether they can even put their miniscule bit of bread in the cup without getting their fingers all sticky. But by then I’ve moved on to the “bread of life” line for the next person.

Last night I had one of the youth (a sophomore in high school) get to the front of the line and say to me “yeah, the bread of life. I got it!” He’d obviously heard the line about fifty times while waiting.

I also had lots of kids come up and try to take big pieces, only to be reprimanded by their parents: “just take a little piece!” which is usually followed with them looking at me and apologizing as they take their own microscopic piece of bread.

Why do we have this compulsion to take the smallest piece of bread ever? I want to just break the pieces off for people so I can give them a large enough piece that they might get the “feast” idea rather than the “famine” they seem to operate out of. We are not going to run out of bread, I swear. And you know what? This is a feast, a party, a celebration—it’s okay to take a big piece. At least big enough to get it in the juice without getting your fingers in too. In fact, I think it’s GOOD, even BETTER to take a big piece. This is the bread of life, strength for the journey, food from heaven! Do you just want a little bit of life, a little bit of strength, a little bit of heavenly food? No! This is your chance to be fed with God’s own self. Take a big piece. And teach the kids to take big pieces too! I think I’m going to do a “worship workshop” for kids and teach them about communion…and I’ll tell them to take big pieces. :-)

As for “thank you”—well, I always want to say “you’re welcome” which I’m not sure is exactly right. Though perhaps it is—“you are welcome to this feast!” Or perhaps I should just say “thanks be to God.” Or perhaps I should just say nothing. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ve written about this before somewhere but I don’t know where…so I can’t remember how I’ve dealt with this before. Last night, though, I just smiled and looked to the next person.

Suggestions for communion:
Don’t change the bread for Christmas Eve. And don’t use rye bread. It’s kind of spicy, and mixes strangely with grape juice. Always use Welch’s. And that’s all.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas all!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

After spending all of Christmas Eve at church (one morning service and five evening services), I slept in like crazy this morning. Then we opened presents and now I am the proud owner of some highly cool stuff!
--The coolest multi-purpose pot EVER--the strainer is right in the pot! No more pouring of the potatoes all over the sink while draining. woohoo!
--Really awesome measuring cups that look like little pots! They are serious stainless steel, too. The one-cup one is nearly as heavy as some aluminum small skillets.
--A beautiful tea box that makes me like a restaurant!
--an "I heart Mr. Darcy" sweatshirt...

and candy, fudge, and some other stuff. woohoo!

My cats loved playing with the wrapping paper.
the dinner was excellent--I used bunches of my new stuff to make it.
the Mythbusters marathon is awesome.
my kitties are both sitting on the couch with us right sweet.

and that's all.
happy christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Friday Five

From the RevGalBlogPals...

Festive Foods Friday Five

Well friends, we've covered advent, music, and movies/TV--but we here at F5 HQ would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that quintessential holiday topic... fooooooooood.

1. Favorite cookie/candy/baked good without which, it's just not Christmas.
hmm...I have to say those rice krispie things with peanut butter in them, with lots of chocolate on top. I don't know what those are called, but my grandma makes them and they are really good. Luckily last year while I was in Egypt one of the other missionaries made them. This year I am just suffering because I don't know how to make them and my grandmother is on vacation.

2. Do you do a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, both, or neither? (Optional: with whom will you gather around the table this year?)
Am I a bad person for not even knowing our own traditions? I have no idea what usually happens. I think that we used to travel on Christmas Day and that at grandma's house (dad's side) there were snack foods and make-your-own-sandwich-on-a-croissant trays. So I suppose the dinner is usually on Christmas Eve. This year, though, it's me and my dad at my house, and the dinner will have to be on Christmas Day because we have 5, count-em, FIVE services on Christmas Eve, and someone is bringing dinner for the staff and their families. So...on Eve I'll be with church people and my Dad. On Day I'll be with my dad and my two cats.

3. Evaluate one or more of the holiday beverage trifecta: hot chocolate, wassail, egg nog.
What exactly is wassail? Isn't that something one does? As in, "here we go a'wassailing" or something? Is that really just a drinking song? Anyway, I don't actually like eggnog, so I guess I'll go with hot chocolate. Even better: Trader Joe's Natural Mint cocoa. yum.

4. Candy canes: do you like all the new-fangled flavors or are you a peppermint purist?
Candy Canes should be peppermint. And they should be red and white. Period. Also, I actually only like them to use as stirrers for hot cocoa--then you have peppermint hot cocoa!!

5. Have you ever actually had figgy pudding? And is it really so good that people will refuse to leave until they are served it?
I have had figgy pudding. I guess it's that good, but I didn't find it so exciting. I prefer something I had for the first time a few weeks ago: Old Peculier Christmas Pudding. Yum. I tried to find info about it, but no luck. sorry. All I know is that it looks like cake, is made with beer or something, and was made by an incredible woman from the church and served at a huge Christmas open house. and yum.

Edited to add: Well, I am APPALLED with myself that I forgot to include a question about the crown prince of holiday foods--the fruitcake.
Feel free to add your thoughts on this most polarizing holiday confection.

I really don't like fruitcake. The smell, the taste, the heaviness...ugh. The end.

Advent 4: "Prophets and Promises"

edited for length (it was too short!)....and for ease of speaking...and for too many references to rich people being sent away empty. LOL.

Prophets and Promises
Isaiah 9.2-7, Luke 1.46-55
Advent 4: 23/24 December 2006

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’


I don’t know about you all, but both of these readings make me want to sing. I mean, really—just listen to them! There’s the Messiah, the cantata from two weeks ago, several great hymns, some catchy songs from other places in the world…there’s so much singing going on here. I hear so much beautiful music in my head when I read or hear these poems of Scripture.

But when I start to look at the people and the context behind them…well, that’s a different story. In Isaiah’s case, we find a nation polluted by corruption, a people who have turned away from their God, impending exile, and a prophet bringing words of both judgment and hope. And in Mary’s case, we find a poor young woman, living in a land occupied by a foreign power…a young girl, really, who has just discovered that she is going to have a baby, in spite of the fact that she’s not married, in spite of the fact that her fiancĂ© had nothing to do with it, in spite of the fact that her village could stone her when they find out. Were I in either of those situations, I doubt I’d feel much like singing. And yet, sing they do—both Isaiah and Mary. In the midst of all the troubles, all the corruption, all the oppression, all the poverty, all the danger, they sing.

Have you ever known people like that? People who somehow manage to sing even in the midst of the difficulty, the tragedy, the anxiety? I know some of those people, and I am usually in awe of them. How can they do it? I often don’t understand. I don’t know if it’s that they just have such incredibly strong faith that they can sing of God’s mercy and promises even after an earthquake has left their house flattened, or if they are perhaps a bit…well, slow. I just want to say “can’t you see what’s happened? What’s happening? How can you be standing there talking about God’s great gifts and promises?”

And other times, I am that person. Sometimes I am the person who can sing of God’s grace and God’s promises in the midst of tragedy…but not all the time. I find it’s often a lot easier to look back on the situation and see God instead of trying to do that right in the thick of things. But here we have two people who are right in the middle of some pretty sticky situations, and right then and there they sing and write poetry about God’s promise. It’s pretty incredible.

There’s a word for these people, and it’s not “crazy” or “slow” or even necessarily “super faithful.” These are people who can see the world differently—but the word is not “idealistic” or “unrealistic” or “head in the clouds.” These are people who see the world the way God sees it, not the way we see it. The word for them is “prophet.”

Prophets are not people who gaze into a crystal ball or look at your palm and tell your fortune, not people who tell the future. You may have noticed, actually, that they have a disturbing way of speaking—they often speak in the past tense about things that haven’t even happened. Did you hear what Isaiah said? The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. A son has been born for us. And Mary: God has shown strength, filled the empty, fed the hungry, and sent the rich away empty. This past-tense talk can be really confusing when we start to think about how the world really is. I mean, our world seems pretty dark. The son we assume Isaiah is talking about won’t be born until (tomorrow night) tonight. There are lots and lots of hungry and homeless and empty people waiting to be filled, and lots of people who are so rich we can’t see them around the piles of money and paparazzi. Where is this world that these prophets sing?

That’s the trouble with prophets. They talk as though everyone can see what they see—but we can’t. Prophets see God’s world God’s way. It’s a seeing not done with eyes, but with an open and treasuring heart. It’s a way of seeing that makes them vulnerable to charges of idealism and charges of treason. That’s why prophets have such a rough life in the Bible—people wanting to stone them, imprison them, cut their heads off—any way to silence those people who show us what God sees.

Because the thing is, what God sees is often not what we’d like to see. Sometimes we would prefer to stay in our darkness—it’s comfortable, we know what to expect, we know how to act and how to respond and how to think and feel. Light can be blinding and disorienting and is not comfortable. We like being filled with good things, we like our comfortable lives, and frankly we probably do not want to give them up, we don’t want to hear that all our hard work only gets us sent away empty while the hungry and poor are lifted up and filled. The way God sees the world is pretty different from the way the world actually is—in fact, it’s opposite in many ways. The world order is upside down. That’s what prophets tell us: they tell us that, according to God, things are not right but they will be made right…indeed, in God’s vision, they are already made right. There is a revolution involved here, a turning, a new thing. This Advent message is not all cheer, not all stockings and fuzzy slippers and cookies and presents, not all gentle cattle lowing, strangely clean shepherds singing, and wise men looking adoringly at a sleeping baby that never cries. This baby we will welcome mere hours from now is one who turns the world around, who brings God’s vision for creation to life, who doesn’t just tell us what God sees but IS what God sees. It’s a different kind of cheer, a different kind of good news than what the world usually thinks of as “good.” This is news that God is alive, that God cares about the world and about us, that God is here in the midst of it all with us, and that things don’t have to be this way. This is news that God works great things even in the smallest of servants, that justice is coming, the mercy of God is deeper than we ever thought it could be, that life and love really are stronger than hate and death. This is news that the light, while blinding, is so much better than stumbling around in the dark and hurting ourselves.

And yet….and yet, the world still doesn’t seem right. It still seems pretty dark. The light does not seem to shine very well. The hungry are still hungry, wars still rage, the yoke of oppression still weighs heavily on many. The promises often seem far away…they were, after all, promises made to our ancestors, to Abraham. Perhaps they are so far back in history that they don’t count, that they don’t matter, that too many people have forgotten…even that God has forgotten?

But no…Mary says…no. God does not forget. God remembers. God keeps God’s promises, every time. That’s why the prophets, prophets like Isaiah, yes, even young girl prophets like Mary, can speak of this world they see using the past tense—because it has happened and will happen. Isaiah assures us: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this! There can be no doubt—the zealous Lord makes promises and keeps promises. Too bad it’s so hard to see them in our upside down world. Too bad it’s so hard for us to speak this way, without sounding trite and clichĂ©. It’s hard to sound like Mary, like Isaiah—to be so sure, even in the midst of turmoil, war, and fear, or even in the midst of Christmas cheer, family and shopping.

But here, in the deepest moment of Advent—literally the last hours before we celebrate Christmas Eve, the darkest moment of the year, the shortest days, we do it too. We read these words and we proclaim that they are the truth—that light has shined, that a son has been given, that God has turned the world upside down, filled the hungry, showed powerful mercy, and brought rejoicing where there once was fear and grief. We sing of the promises these two unlikely prophets remind us of, and we too, for a moment, have this kind of sight, this kind of vision—God’s promise, God’s future, God’s new thing, is coming and has come and will come. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


the president just said, in the midst of his final press conference of the year, "i encourage you all to go shopping more." Oh dear. He really does think that shopping will defeat the terrorists. I mean, I know we joke about that, but he seems to actually think that.
Also, he's repetitive in an annoying way. "sustain itself, govern itself, and protect itself." over and over and over. oh my.

in other news, which is probably news to no one:

Until I moved here, Christmas lights on people's houses were things we went out looking for. In seminary we used to go driving around the neighborhoods looking for decorated houses to look at. In Egypt, of course, no decorated houses. But here, man, DANG! There are lights on almost every house. If you drive around at night, many of the houses look like gingerbread houses--with lights around the eaves on all levels (even on three story houses!), lights on everything. And there are some things I haven't really seen before. Like light-up animals. Did you know that you can buy reindeer made of Christmas lights at Home Depot? I thought these people were making these things--it's good to know that's not the case, but wow. There are a lot of these. And then there are the big inflatable things. On my way to church there is one house that has FOUR of these humongous inflatable decorations on their lawn, including a motorcycle-riding Santa and a snow-globe with snow blowing around inside. What is the deal with these things? I do not approve.

that's all. back to the sermon, the bulletins, the drama, the confirmation mentors, the senior high sunday school teacher recruiting, the reading, and the finishing up getting my house ready for people now.

Monday, December 18, 2006

confessions of a "church professional"

I know that confession is not a popular thing in our culture. I've never been one of the popular kids, so oh well.
I have some confessions to make.

Hi, my name is Teri, and I have what we like to call "boundary issues."
I have difficulty keeping time for myself. I have difficulty keeping Sabbath, in spite of the fact that I have no difficulty being Sabbath-police for my friends.
I have difficulty saying no, especially to things I really would like to do, things I feel I ought to be able to do, or to people I like (or want to like me).
I feel some guilt about trying to keep time-boundaries because I don't have a family to "attend to" and most of the other people here do. It's like I have no excuse to not work a bajillion hours a week and do everything and be what everyone wants. (This is how I think, okay?)
I am what would be called a "workaholic" in most other jobs but in this vocation is praised as "dedicated."

I know that this is dangerous. I know this leads to burnout. I know, intellectually, all the things that can happen if I am like this. I also know that I like things to be done well, I like to get things done, and that I LOVE what I am doing. And I knew about the hours when I got into it.
What I don't know is how long it will take (or what buttons will have to be pushed) for me to set those boundaries and keep them in a healthy way. Because I need to do that, and soon.

but for now, all I can do is confess. Lord, have mercy.

(ps/edit/clarification: my issue is not taking a whole day off. I do that pretty well by scheduling time with friends in the city on Fridays. My larger issue is day-to-day hours. I don't go in until 10 (I am not a morning person, so I go to the gym in the morning, then head to church) and a lot of people don't really understand that--so I tend to work later and later in an effort to justify that timing of my day. Except, of course, that leaves me with 10-12-14 hour days 5-6 days a week. But Friday, man--no work happens. I go to the Art Institute.)

random stuff

I have many things about which to blog. However, I am not feeling very well today and therefore am going to do some random dots instead of anything terribly worthwhile.

* I can't believe I didn't know about bloglines before. Suddenly I am saving all kinds of time. Dang.

* I love the Art Institute. This was one of my great "finds" of this week's visit. Raffaello Botticini's Adoration of the Magi, painted around the turn of the 15/16th century. Crazy.
That's quite a "stable." One of the cool things about this is that it's round (duh). Also cool is that painters of this period often, apparently, make the point that people have traveled a long way by putting things in their "procession"--so there's a giraffe hanging out, an African, a peacock, and all kinds of exotic stuff. And, of course, everyone (Mary included) is wearing middle class medieval european dress. funny! But cool. it's a beautiful painting.

I noticed on Friday that the Medieval Christian stuff like reliquaries and mass-ware (like communion-ware, only Catholic!) and devotional statues and stuff are in a big hall that also houses all the armor and armaments from the same time period. How funny and sadly accurate a picture of the medieval church that is. John the Baptist's finger on one side, spears and armor on the other.

* The Devil Wears Prada was a better movie than I expected.

* Wicked the Musical has a happy ending where the book does not.

* There's a strange wildlife phenomenon here. I live in a suburb (big box stores, traffic, and all), but work in a rural area (which is a grand total of four miles from my house...funny, but again, more on that in a different post). Every day I drive past cows and sometimes chickens. There are deer too, apparently. I saw one from the train yesterday morning--standing in the woods, staring at the commuter train as it flew by. It was beautiful. Last week I went to dinner at someone's house and had to drive through serious back-country-roads to get there (it's about 25 minutes from my house). I saw both deer crossing signs AND equestrian-crossing signs, which was quite funny. I didn't see any deer, though. And, of course, there are Canada Geese. Now, I thought these geese migrated south to a warmer place. There was a huge flock hanging out in one of the fields for about a week back in November. Then, one day, they were gone. This past week I drove a different way to church (past some different fields) and discovered the big flock of geese had migrated about half a mile southwest. Silly birds--there's ice covering that field! They did not manage to get somewhere warmer. In fact, they left the company of the cows, so they are probably colder (but less smelly) now.
(Monday update: the geese have moved about a half mile further south, to a little pond near a subdivision. funny geese.)

* down in the city (a whole hour away on the train), people are crowding the sidewalks with their big shopping bags from Macy's. I miss Marshall Fields. Also, do people not notice when they are blocking a whole sidewalk? Three people, hand in hand, walking slower than the average pedestrian traffic, oblivious to the fact that there's a pileup behind them...this does not make me happy. Especially when it's cold and windy outside.

* There was so much pedestrian traffic on Madison Ave near State Street on Friday afternoon that I saw a woman literally darting in and out of people trying to cross the sidewalk from a store to the road (to get a taxi). It was like watching someone cross traffic in Manhattan (or Cairo). Except she just had to dodge people walking very fast (too bad for her, she wasn't in the same stretch of sidewalk where I was stuck behind those three above).

* Andrew still has a cold--he sneezes a lot. Hopefully the amoxicillin will make him feel better soon. kitty snot is totally gross.

* This is totally awesome. I mean really. Watch the whole thing--it's cool. They have so much fun, it's impossible not to smile. :-)

* how is it even possible that it's Christmas already in one week? I am not ready. I have no idea what my Advent 4 sermon is going to be about. I have no idea what the order of worship for the two family services on Christmas Eve is going to look like. I have people now saying that their kids may not be able to stay for both services, which may mean cutting the drama (entire cast is elementary kids) from the 5-o-clock service...which means I will have to do something there instead. I have no time to figure all this out. Worse, however, I have no time to be sick. My tummy needs to get its act together. And my brain needs to stop me from eating eggs at places like the Corner Bakery. I should know better. I still made it through two services, the Happy Birthday Jesus party, and a christmas eve play rehearsal. Stirred-down coke is the best remedy for an upset tummy. I had two today and really did feel better for a while. Now I can't tell if I'm hungry or sick, so i'm holding out on eating. I suspect I'm hungry.

* I just want to spend a week doing nothing but watching Buffy and taking naps. Is that so bad?

* that's all for today I think.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

thursday photo posting...

okay,'s thursday. I have photos to share with you all. Therefore, thursday photo blogging. good times.

First, last week's winterwonderland. This is "my" church--RCLPC--right after the big snowstorm. How postcard is this?

This is one of the fields I drive by every day. I mean, really....I work in a strange, strange place. More about that later.

Next up, newkitty, whose newname is Andrew. Here he is in the kitchen--his favorite place. He seriously eats like 23 hours a day.

And here he is with Ollie--both of them are eating treats (one of the only ways to get them to stand still far enough away from me to take a photo!!)

For ReverendMother and the other RGBPs...

This was in my inbox this morning, and of course made me think of RM's Friday Five last week! hehehe...

Advent Devotions: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 52:7–10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. (nrsv)


Bob Carlisle wrote the lyrics to a beautiful, powerful song that is played often on the radio at this time of year. “The Christmas Shoes” illustrates the message of the Isaiah 52:7-10 passage. It tells of a young boy, in worn-out clothes, waiting in line to purchase a pair of shoes on Christmas Eve. The shoes are for his mother, who has been sick for quite a while. “I know these shoes would make her smile,” he tells the person in line behind him. “And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”

But the young boy doesn’t have enough money in his pocket to pay for the shoes. Could anyone help him? he asks. The gentleman behind him reaches into his own pockets and makes up the difference, reflecting, “I'll never forget the look on his face when he said,
‘Mama’s gonna look so great.’”

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out.
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about

It is in taking the time to share our love and kindness with others, especially those in need, that the Christ child is born anew in our world, in our hearts, in our lives at Christmas and throughout the year. It is in sharing our love and kindness in small, practical ways like the man in the story that we point others to Christ’s eternal peace. It is in walking in his way of peace that our feet, like his, become beautiful as we share the good news message of Christmas that God loves us and comes in the person of Jesus to save us all.


Loving God of the Christ child, guide me and help me walk in the paths of righteousness, and help me to be a messenger to a world falling apart, pointing the way to love, hope, and peace eternal. Amen.

Written by Keith Harris, Associate Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

new puter!

My beautiful new computer has arrived.
It's white and has a pretty little apple on the front.
The apple lights up when I turn it on and off.
It's cool.
Also, everything works.

Tomorrow: pictures of Andrew.
Also tomorrow: a post that has a point of some kind.
For now: leaving church so I can finally eat dinner. I'm very hungry.

Monday, December 11, 2006


my archives are gone now that i've switched to the blogger beta. does anyone know how to bring them back? please?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

new kitty and other stuff

okay, new kitty has a name.
Much like the Buffy character of the same name, he's kind of a spaz and he likes to be the center of attention.

I think the post office commercial with the package and the plastic deer is hilarious. "that's okay. My place is here, with the snow people."

I really had something else I wanted to say, but I completely forgot while Blogger was busy switching me over to the Beta. grr. Perhaps I will remember later. Perhaps not.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Material Girl

Okay, so I'm not a big materialistic girl, but my family is always asking AND there are some things I need and some things I want, so I've made some lists. Feel free to peruse. If you have way more money than I know about, check out the Williams-Sonoma list first! LOL.

Williams-Sonoma registry. The "event date" is October 2006.

Amazon Wishlist.

I also need gloves and winter clothes--but I'm not about to give out my clothing size. So...I suppose I'll just say that gift cards to places where I can buy clothes (Limited, Gap, major department stores like Macy's, Victoria's Secret...) are good things.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


* new kitty arrived yesterday. silver furball, 7 months old, male, name pending. Ollie is cautious and, frankly, a little mad at me for hanging out with other cats. She also refuses to head back into my bedroom because it would mean passing the guest room, behind which closed door there is a new unnamed furball who cries at being alone, then goes to sleep.

* computer sick. very sick. runs only in safe mode--trying to start in normal-computer way = continuous rebooting from Windows loading page. new computer (bought by church) only just ordered today. computer mommy sad.

* 18 kids in confirmation class--dang!

* new kitty is super cute and lovey-dovey, but kind of a spaz too.

* Ollie has started licking the sliding glass doors...i'm hoping it's because she enjoys the cold (there's snow on the other side).

Beautiful moments of the past week:
* 9 high school kids walking a labyrinth, really participating in the stations: including touching water, putting it on their heads.
* sparkly snow on evergreen trees and also on bare branched trees lining the street down to our little white country-church, also covered in snow.
* talking until almost 2am with a new friend.
* people volunteering at a shelter that houses about 100 cats, most of whom are waiting for adoption.
* 36 people coming to my confirmation kick-off dinner. Parents playing the "make a pair" mixer (you know, name tags on their backs, they have to make pairs, ie "Nacho" and "cheese.") and actually having fun.
* me realizing that I had double booked myself for an hour on a Saturday three weeks from now....that hour being the worship service at which I am supposed to be PREACHING. ha!
* 10 small children so excited to be in the Christmas Eve play that I have to write some new parts for a few of them.
* new kitty curling up in his little bed and actually sleeping in it--something Ollie would never do.
* Ollie curling up inside my computer case and sleeping in it...again.
* Discovering that the personal-trainer-mandated 3x/week workout isn't as hard this week as last week.
* sleeping in.

Monday, December 04, 2006

you know it's cold when....

you are sitting at a stoplight and the temperature gauge on your car moves down even after your car was warmed up.

Friday, December 01, 2006


It snowed.
A lot.
There are probably 2 feet of snow on my balcony right now.
Now the sun has come out and it's all sparkly outside!
Is it weird that I want to go out and make a snow angel on my own balcony? I think that would be so fun.

Ollie is not at all sure what to do with all the stuff outside her windows. heehee!

Too bad I have to go to church in a few hours...I suspect driving will not be the most fun I've ever had. But in the meantime---

Friday Five: Advent is here!

From the RevGalBlogPals: Adventually!

Although it comes as late as it can this year, Advent is upon us.
Here are five questions about Advent for this first of December:

1) Do you observe Advent in your church?

yep. This week the church got all decorated with purple and with greenery, the wreath set up, and we are not singing a single Christmas carol until Christmas Eve (at least as far as I'm aware). We have kids acolyting to light the wreath for basically the first time ever, and a theme about new things (or something).

2) How about at home?

well...I don't spend much time at home. ;-) I have this year's PCUSA advent calendar (laid out like a newspaper, which is clever and kinda cute). I have a book I'll read at home during's called Manger and Mystery: an Advent Adventure.

3) Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn?

ooh, so many. Of course, like everyone else, I love O Come O Come Emanuel...but I also really love "Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People" when the genevan psalter tune is sung well (not too slow). And, of course, Isaiah being my fave book of the whole Bible means that Advent is pretty much the best time of year for me, reading-wise! Though normally Lent is my favorite season, I have to admit that the music in Advent is about as good as it gets.

4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.)

I suspect it's to remind you of the Pepto-Bismol you'll need to recover from the children's sermons that try to explain why the candle is pink.

5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen?

There's one at the grocery store right now that has santas all over it and counts down by opening doors shaped like presents. That's pretty bad...not funny, more sad.

Friday, November 24, 2006

RGBP Friday Five

Not only am I not shopping today, I'm still wearing pajamas at 2pm. And I'm not watching TV today either. I'm reading, memorizing my sermon (which you can read and comment on below), and playing with my cat. I'm also enjoying not having any leftovers to worry about--instead I am just eating whatever I feel like, and drinking lots of hot cocoa in spite of it being unseasonably warm for this area/time of year.

This FF comes from RM...

1. Would you ever/have you ever stood in line for something--tickets, good deals on electronics, Tickle Me Elmo?
Umm, I'm trying to remember standing in line to buy something (other than food at baseball games and the obvious: grocery store, etc). I don't really recall having done that, though I have stood in lines to get in places: concerts, baseball games, museums, rides at Six Flags.

2. Do you enjoy shopping as a recreational activity?
unless it's for shoes or books.
but I don't have the money to buy the shoes or books I want all the time, so no.
My preferred recreational activities, in no particular order: sleeping, reading, watching Buffy, hanging out with my friends, blogging, going to church somewhere else, singing, going to the Art Institute, eating pizza. notice most of those are free.
When I go shopping, it's because I need something. Then I go to a store where I will pay for the fact that it is all nicely organized and I can plainly see whether they have what I want. If they have it, I pick it up, buy it, and get out. If they don't, I just do the getting out part and move on to the next place.

3. Your favorite place to browse without necessarily buying anything.
Oh, how I wish I could say Borders, but who are we kidding. I buy something every time I walk in that store. So, we'll say Williams-Sonoma. I love the things in there, but can afford nothing, so it's totally safe and kind of fun.

4. Gift cards: handy gifts for the loved one who has everything, or cold impersonal symbol of all that is wrong in our culture?
wow, no middle ground here! I personally prefer gift cards in many instances when the alternative is something I don't like/doesn't fit/isn't my style/comes from a person who remembers me when I was 10 and desperately into clarinets and my little ponies and rainbow brite. From those who live faraway (all of my family and many of my friends!), gift cards are also much more practical, since they don't require shipping fees over 39 cents. However, from those who are close to me, either emotionally or geographically, it can be a little bit of a cop-out. Unless they pick the right store for the card.
This year I'm giving a lot of Heifer gifts--I think my friends and some family members will, all together, receive the gift of having given a water buffalo to a hungry family.
I do rather pine for the days when people spent time thinking about what another person would enjoy, then chose that as the perfect gift. But the stress of choosing the perfect gift for everyone on the list (when the list is constantly expanding) is not exactly in the spirit of giving. Enter the gift card.

5. Discuss the spiritual and theological issues inherent in people coming to blows over a Playstation 3.
oh dear.
what was that about not storing up treasures on earth, about worshipping either God or mammon, about nonviolence, about love?
I'm so disturbed that people fight over toys.
as I write this, I'm watching a video about the Heifer project in Tibet. And thinking about goats vs. playstations and wondering if anyone has ever fought over the last gift of beehives or the last available llama. and also watching the holiday video:

aww, kitty!

A story from my day:

I'm reading on my couch, a blanket tossed over my legs, and I feel the blanket pulling off the couch.
I look down and see Ollie, curled up under the end of the blanket that's on the floor, and rolling up in it more.
I love my kitty.

snippets of thanksgivings past

* making a cream-based butternut squash soup with mom...
* creating a cornucopia. mom made the horn out of bread, i filled it with fruit and squash and whatnot.
* sneaking bites of noe's mom's cheese grits, all the while maintaining that I don't like grits. Half the dish just disappeared.
* smelling turkey, thinking about giving up the vegetarian thing for just one night, then watching Chicken Run and changing my mind. I ate wonderful butternut squash risotto and other sides that night--no turkey. (I've not been tempted since, and that was 7 years ago.)
* having a feast with about 35 other American/Canadian missionaries in Cairo. Turkeys, potatoes, dressing made by the Egyptian chef at the school, the rest potluck. I made green bean casserole with fresh green beans, imported Campbell's soup (at about $2 per can), and fried onions from the koshary place. yum. we ended the eating with singing from the old red Presbyterian Hymnal--the only thing we could find with that many copies in the house.
* gobbling up butterscotch "blondies" (like brownies only somehow better) and rice krispy treats with chocolate on top at grandma's house.
* making mushroom gravy for the first time at jason's grandparents' house.
* being thankful for somewhere to go, food to eat, and friends to be with.
* hanging out with people I've never met before (with two church-member exceptions), talking about the world, eating food I didn't cook, and watching other people clean up.
* going home from said dinner to memorize a sermon. (you can find it two posts down...feel free to read and comment anytime! I'm still soliciting suggestions.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006, wait, de-LURKey! :-)

okay, my vegetarian self couldn't help it. spare a turkey! And bring me some comment love! I know you're out there, I can see you on my tracker. so I want to know where you are, if you're willing to say, because the little things on there always make me curious. Yes, I like to know things...why do you ask? :-)

One of the RGBPs made Thanksgiving week the de-lurking week. If you've been lurking around, show yourself. Or at least admit it in a smokin' kind of way like Angel did on Buffy in What's My Line, part 1 (season 1). "I lurk" he says. dang. Just sayin. Admit it now. :-)

this weekend's sermon, final ed.

(to be preached without benefit of paper at all, due to the pulpit being excessively large for me.)

Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
So, are you a King or not?
2 Samuel 23.1-4
John 18.33-38
25/26 November 2006

Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:
The Spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word us upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?” Pilate said, “Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?” “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “Doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.” Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?” Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.” Pilate said, “What is truth?”


Kings are kind of a foreign thing to us Americans…we haven’t had direct kingly experience since…well, the time of the first Thanksgiving, really. And that wasn’t what you’d call a good experience—if it had been, there would have been no need to toss all our tea into Boston Harbor a few years later. No, kings are decidedly un-American. But we all know what kings are like, right? We know that kings have lots of money, a big army, several palaces, maybe some castles…mmm, castles made of big stones, with tapestries and paintings and candles and torches and rugs and very antique furniture. The great hall has long tables with benches and chairs, and a big gold-plated throne at the head of the table, up on a platform. The king, who is probably overweight, sits in the throne, covered in furs and velvet, with a golden crown encrusted with rubies and diamonds and emeralds and sapphires. The court sits around the table, looking on adoringly. There’s more food than we can imagine, even more food than any of our Thanksgiving tables—whole roasted boars, baskets of bread, huge roasted turkey legs, mounds of potatoes, piles of sweets, and lots of wine. The king’s plate is never empty, his cup is refilled after every sip, and he’s fanned, preferably with fresh palm leaves, by two or three gorgeous young women, who also occasionally pop peeled grapes into his mouth. The king sits around on his piles of money, eating off his golden dishes with his silver spoons, is bathed and dressed and groomed by attendants, goes hunting, gives orders, and generally just enjoys himself all day, every day. Sure, maybe there are wars to be fought, territory to be gained, business to be attended to, and daughters to be married off, but that’s what advisors are for.

The king also has supreme control over everything in his kingdom—from the dinner to the dancers to the jesters to the farmers. When he hears that someone is saying bad things about him, he can just say “off with his head!” and it will be done. He can demand any amount in taxes from his vassals. The farmers, the hunters, the merchants, the local village mayors, the priests—they all pay homage to the king with their words and with their money. And as soon as they don’t, or they do something the king finds displeasing, they end up in the dungeon or on the gallows. What the king says goes. His word is law. His word is the same as God’s. That’s how kings are. Everybody knows that.

Back in the day, when the Israelites wanted a king, Samuel told them what kings are like. His description was pretty similar to mine: a king will take your sons for the army and for hard labor. He’ll take your daughters to cook and bake in his palace. He’ll take the best produce from your fields and vineyards and orchards, he’ll take your grain, your best livestock, and your slaves, plus make you pay taxes, and you’ll be no better off for all of that (1). But they wanted a king anyway. So a king they got. And Samuel was right, of course. The kings took extravagantly in order to live extravagantly. Even David, the best of the kings, a king as wonderful as morning sunlight, murdered a man to take his wife. The palaces of Israel were the envy of neighboring powers, the place to go on holiday from as far away as Sheba and Assyria. Then along came the Romans, with their own brand of extravagance—with more white marble, more gold, fancy sculpture and art. By the time of Jesus, there were probably 4 palaces in Jerusalem, at least (2). Besides the Temple, which is like the ultimate palace, King Herod had a couple, the high priest had one, and the Roman governor had one for when he came to visit. The king must have appeared to have at least as much money as God. And Pilate…well, Pilate had the whole weight of the empire behind him. In fact, he would have said he had a god behind him too—the emperor, who was called the king of kings, being considered god.

I don’t know about you, but this is not exactly what I envision when I think of Jesus as King. To be honest, I’m not sure what I envision when I think of Jesus as king. All I know is that tyrant over an extravagant court of excess is not very Jesus-esque. But this is the understanding of kingship that he walks right into. People started talking about him as king…and since, in some instances, one can be made king by a coup that starts with lots of public acclamation, that’s pretty dangerous. It’s the kind of talk that gets you labeled a “pretender to the throne” or a “traitor,” and those are the kind of labels that get you tossed in a dungeon or headed to the guillotine. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t look much like a king. He’s not dressed in purple robes, carrying a scepter, wearing a crown, making decrees and doing whatever else it is kings do. So of course Pilate walks in and asks this pretender, “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus, naturally, doesn’t answer the question. Instead he asks a question: “are you just repeating gossip, or do you actually know something?” Pilate is appropriately offended—as if he would gossip with Jews!

And then Jesus does it. He stops being a pretender and he takes his rightful place as king…but not in the way we, or Pilate, can recognize. He doesn’t draw himself up, puff out his chest, force Pilate to his knees, and come out with some grand display of power and might. He says, “I have a kingdom, but it’s not all this fluff you have around you, it’s not fur and velvet and gold and roasted boar. That’s not the kind of king I am. I’m not a king like Herod, not a governor like you, not an emperor like Caesar.”
And Pilate, all confused and a little exasperated, says, “so…..are you a king or not?????”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Is Jesus a king or not? He certainly doesn’t look like one. He doesn’t act like one. He doesn’t sound like one. And, given the bathing customs of the day, he probably doesn’t smell like one either. Well…if it doesn’t look, act, sound, or smell like a king…is it a king? Pilate certainly doesn’t know the answer. Decades of church tradition say that we do know the answer, and it is unequivocally “yes.” Jesus is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Ruler of all, Sovereign of the Universe, and all the other imperial titles we can possibly think of. But he’s not the world’s kind of king.

So…is he a king, or not?

Jesus is...well, he’s different. He did not worry, like Pilate, about associating with the wrong people. He did not order anyone around. He did not condemn anyone to death—even the bandit crucified next to him received a blessing. He did not look expectantly at the disciples, waiting for them to fill his wine glass at the Last Supper. He did not take money, demand honor, or raise an army.

He did have undesirable friends. He did talk to and learn from women. He did touch lepers. He did wash his disciples’ feet. He did prepare and serve them a dinner on an important festival. He did say, “love one another as I have loved you.” And he did talk about what it means to be great, what it means to have power. Jesus told his disciples, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” (3)

Jesus talks and walks a different kind of kingship, a different kind of power. His is not a controlling, coercive, tyrannical power, not a power based on fear. His is a power by empowering, a power that comes through serving, a power based on love. King Jesus, unlike any other king in history, doesn’t say “hey, pay attention to me, do what I say, look at me!!” Instead, King Jesus says, “it’s not about me, it’s about my world.” He came to serve, not to be served peeled grapes and never ending golden goblets of wine. He came to show us how to love and live and serve not a king, but a people and a world. How many kings do you remember like that?

This is a different kind of king, not the world’s kind of king. This is a king who demands not tribute, not taxes, not homage, but service to others. This is a king who says not “give me all your livelihood” but “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly,” a king who is as life-giving as rain on a grassy land. This is a king who says “you are my body, you are a royal nation, you are heirs with me”—a king who makes us a part of the royal family. And this royal family is here to testify to this truth: that whoever would be great must be servant of all, that love and service are greater than fear and violence, that our power comes from empowering and loving and serving others in the name of Christ, not from palaces and wealth and coercive control.

Martin Luther King Junior once preached about Jesus and greatness and service, and in that sermon he said:

“Every now and then somebody says, "He's King of Kings." And again I can hear somebody saying, "He's Lord of Lords." Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, "In Christ there is no East nor West." And then they go on and talk about, "In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world." He didn't have anything. He just went around serving and doing good.

"And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.

"And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” (4)

Thanks be to God.


(1) 1 Samuel 8.11-18
(2) for a photo and “tour” of the scale model of 1st century Jerusalem, click here
(3) Mark 10.42-44a
(4) “the Drum Major Instinct,” preached at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta on February 4, 1968.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

that time of year

it's that time of year already--
the trees are barren and dead-looking, the sky is grey, and the village near mine (the one i pass through on my way to the gym) has put up the christmas decorations on the light poles. santas, candles, trees, and who knows what else, all made of tinsel and neon, adorning every single lightpost on major streets of the village. crazy. Also, a house near the church has all their Christmas lights up already. dang.
but seriously, the trees. elsewhere people still have beautiful colors on their trees. elsewhere people still have bright sunny warm days. but not here. Here every leaf has dropped and we just have sticks, sticking off trunks, jaggedly cutting into the grey with brown. these are the colors of winter in the upper midwest. these are the colors we'll see from now until at least March, probably April, and possibly even until May.
After days like this, driving through town and seeing brown and grey, i almost WANT snow. at least snow is sparkly and white and reflects light and can be made into snowpeople.
almost. (not quite.)

it's also possible that this feeling of nature's november ugliness is related to the extreme amount of paint fumes i've inhaled in the last two days. I painted my kitchen, but it's too cold outside to have a door or window open so I've just been sucking them in. good times. At least the kitchen is done. Tape comes off tomorrow and then my house will be mostly ready. Luckily my house has burnt/brick orange, sage green, teal, blue, and purple paint so I can offset the grey and brown outdoors.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


The to-do list is still unreasonably long, but my kitchen is mostly painted. it needs a second coat, of course, but the first is done. yay! Also, I've successfully been certified at the indoor-rock-climbing place in preparation for this weekend. woohoo!

now for the hanging of pictures in various rooms...

i've also watched 7 episodes of Buffy while painting and eating. I love buffy. but the whole willow/oz thing in season four makes me so sad.

my kitty just stretched out her paw to was sweet.

i have nothing really to say today.

i like skinny cow mint ice cream sandwiches.

that's all.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

One-Woman Variety Show

That's a little what being a pastor is like....and I'm not even a solo pastor.

This week I have already:
~met with all the youth group leaders to plan the winter/spring/summer
~met with the worship planning team to talk about December 31st
~been to a Presbytery meeting where the Secretary General of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa preached and spoke, and where I learned that the Presbyterian church in Kenya has grown so rapidly that there are now 4 million people in churches and only 500 trained pastors--that's one pastor for every 8,000 people!
~talked to my new insurance company
~planned the texts I will preach on until Lent
~talked with the Children's Choir director about the Christmas Eve family services and the play/choir "event"
~bought about 15 new books
~picked up my diploma in its beee-yuu-tee-ful new frame, and my papyri too (also framed beautifully)
~got confirmation on the Senior High Mission Trip for next summer in New Orleans
~planned the confirmation class curriculum outline
~read "The Heart of Christianity" by Marcus Borg--the book the adult SS class is working on
~talked with the fellowship team about the "Drop-n-Shop" event in December, planning everything from games to crafts to snacks to movies
~planned worship with the NewWay team for next week
~had good talks with both Jason and my therapist (not at the same time)
~took pictures of my Arabic bracelet from Egypt for someone who wants a similar one
~wondered why the Pilot V5 pen doesn't come in packs of all blue the way the V7 does
~chose/ordered cork strips for mounting Sunday School artwork on the wall outside the sanctuary (may end up mounting them too, we'll see!)
~sang a new song for the choir director
~played smiley games with a one-year-old
~played with my "moo-cow" (a stuffed cow that says "moooooo, I'm a cow!" when you squeeze it) for a 7 year old
~petted my cat a LOT
~read half of "Ella Minnow Pea" which is turning out to be a cool book so far

Right now I am listening to the choir practicing above my head in the sanctuary.

This week I still need to:
~finish the confirmation plan
~get belay-certified at the indoor rock-climbing place before Sunday's youth group event there
~get started on next weekend's sermon, since Thanksgiving falls inconveniently on my writing day
~learn how this church makes bulletins
~plan a lock-in
~finalize the number of tickets we need for the senior highs to go see Wicked (cool!)
~Read "the Secret Message of Jesus"
~get started on a child protection policy
~get the covenants for both confirmation and the mission trip ready
~find advent wreaths and calendars for the sunday school classrooms
~call some people in the hospital
~come up with a children's sermon and some prayers of the people

Except for the rock-climbing thing, all of that will supposedly get done on Thursday. ha.

I'm going home now. :-)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"a change"

it seems that the voters have spoken. I'm excited by the change in our representation. I'm realistic enough to recognize that things don't change overnight and also that politicians are politicians, regardless of party. And I'm cynical enough to think that soon-to-be-speaker Pelosi should not have said in her speech last night "we will run the most ethical congress in history" because she only sets herself and the entire party up for embarrassing hypocrisy, as we've seen in other public figures in recent days. It seems to me that it would be better to simply acknowledge the sketchiness of politicians, to say we'll try to be different, but not to out-and-out claim that everything's going to be better, cleaner, more honest, more ethical, more moral, or whatever. I mean, really--that's just falling into the same trap of the hyper-moral-religious-right, it seems. Anyway...

I think this country needs a change--possibly a lot of changes. But you know what? Change is painful. It isn't easy. It takes time. And voters can be impatient and fickle. So I'm excited by the possibilities offered by yesterday's election, and I'm hopeful that true change is coming, and I'm hopeful that people in this country will be willing to do the hard work, the psychological and economic and cultural work, that change might require. And I hope we won't blame the newly-ruling-party when the change is hard and painful and more than we want to deal with. Instead I hope we'll look to a future with hope and willingness to work for that future. I hope we'll give these winds of change a chance that extends beyone 2008.

And that's the end of my political thoughts of the day. Here's praying for my country...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Since coming back from Egypt, I have been feeling very strange about speaking English sometimes. It's frustrating when you've gotten used to speaking another language and then, all of a sudden, no one around you knows it but instead expects you to just speak your own language all the time. I know that sounds bizarre, but sometimes there are things that would just be so much easier in Arabic.

Also, in English (at least in America), we have this habit of using the future tense with great abandon. In Egypt, anytime you use the future tense you tack on "insha'allah," which means "God willing." It used to annoy me because it's an easy way to get out of doing things--you say "well, I'll be there...God willing" and when you forget, it was not God's will that you show up for the meeting. But here it seems that we use the future tense with a serious sense of entitlement. We just assume that we'll still be here to attend something next week or next summer. We agree to do things without really recognizing that it's only by God's grace that we'll have an earthly future. It feels weird to say "oh, yes, I'll be there next Tuesday" without adding "insha'allah." Or to say "next summer we WILL go on a mission trip" as though God has nothing to do with our getting to next summer.

Perhaps this all sounds very morbid. But that's not what I mean...I just mean that I think we need more awareness of the fact that we aren't really in control of the world, circumstances, our "fate" (you might say). We don't know the future, we don't know God's plans (besides to give us a future with hope), we don't know how things will go five minutes from now--much less five months from now.

I don't mean to say that we shouldn't plan ahead, that we shouldn't make commitments, that we shouldn't think about the future. I do mean to say that God has a funny way of getting in the midst of our plans and hopes and ideas. I do mean to say that God has plans and hopes and ideas. And I do mean to say that our plans/hopes/ideas are not always the same as God's plans/hopes/ideas. So I just think we should be less flippant with our future tense. Because we don't know. God does know, or at least suspects.

So there...insha'allah is a word that's coming back to my vocabulary, even if no one else understands me. And I plan to find someone I can talk to in Arabic, a tutor who can teach me more Arabic, so I can continue to learn. Insha'allah.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

one year ago today...

One year ago today I was in Egypt. I taught four story-time classes at RCG in the morning. I spent the afternoon eating and learning with graduate students at ETSC. I had dinner with them and had a Bible Study and prayer group as well. We prayed for many things that night--for Medhat's church, who'd just gotten permission for a new building and was slated to begin demolition on the old one the next day; for international students and their transitions in Egypt; for Tukei's spiritual life; for Esther's visa; for my mom.

I got home around 10pm. there were messages from my dad asking me to call home...but I didn't have a calling card so I couldn't. Instead I went online and saw my brother on AOL Instant Messenger. He always has an away message up but he's also almost always there. So I messaged him saying I was home and asking him to tell the parents to go ahead and call now.

The away message said, in essence, "My mom died this morning. She always tried hard to do the best for her family, even when she was suffering. Pray that she is safe and happy in heaven."

That's how I found out.

For the record, that sucks.

I ran out of the room shrieking "I have to call home right now!!!", ran up the stairs to Carole's flat on the 3rd floor. She answered the door and I said, shaking, "she's gone." That's just about when Jason caught up with me. I had hugs. We prayed. And Carole let me into the Louisville flat (for the important visitors!) to use the phone--our only international line out. My dad and I talked for a few minutes. What I remember him saying is "she was really proud of you." there was crying on both ends of our very-long-distance line. then we discussed logistics--when I would come, what needed to be done, etc. We hung up and I made a packing list, got online with the people in Louisville, got plane tickets, and made arrangements for someone to cover my classes. I was remarkably calm until everything was ready and I really needed to go to sleep, which is when I said to Jason, "no happy day will ever be completely happy again--my ordination, my wedding, even my birthday because the last time I ever talked to my mom was on my birthday." (ten days ago)

Well, it's true that it's not totally happy, but it's not totally sad either. One year later I can still safely say it REALLY SUCKS to not have your mom. It's crappy to do all these things--get a job, buy a house, get ordained, have a birthday, etc--without my mom. but I've gotten through it somehow. I know it's because she taught me well how to be a good woman. I also know it's because I'm surrounded by people who love me, though none of them love me like my mom, and I can practice being what she wanted me to be.

Dear mom: I miss you. Nothing is ever going to make that better. But thanks for doing a good job with me. Thanks for giving me the tools to make it, and to be what you dreamed--even if it's not quite what you thought it would look like ten years ago! Thanks for being a good mom. Also, I used your KitchenAid to make mashed potatoes today and it was totally awesome. Thanks for that too. I love you. and, frankly, I hope this next year is easier than the last one.
Love, Teri.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reverend Teri

It's all official...I've had hands laid on and prayers said, communion celebrated (by me) and I'm a real-life pastor now.

it's cool.

the service was excellent. Everyone did a great job, there were loads of great people there, and all my friends were crying like i was getting married or something.

there was a reception with cake.

then there was a dinner hosted by highly excellent friends, and it was good.

there were presents. (who knew you got presents, man? that's cool.)

and now I'm ordained and official and I have a title and I'm all holy and stuff (waaaaiiiittt.....heheh!).


Thursday, October 26, 2006


Well, I've only been here almost-three-weeks but I can safely say that I love my job. I can also safely say that I really enjoy the people I work with, and that children's sermons stress me out.

Also, have you ever tried to be a pastor without any of your books or your clothes or your coats or lots of your other stuff? Imagine this scene. You have lots of really wonderful socks, in all different colors and designs. You're getting ready to go to Egypt, where you'll wear sandals almost all year, so you pack six pairs of socks and off you go. You come back from Egypt and take a job in a cold place where you really need to wear socks and shoes every day, and realize that 3 of your pairs of socks only go with black pants. But you really prefer to wear brown pants and brown shoes. This leads to excessive amounts of laundry doing. On top of that, you don't have the things you need to effectively run your own kitchen, or your office, or to relax/have fun in your house, nor do you have winter coats or winter clothes of any kind. And it's been one year since your mom died and your brother isn't handling it very well and, truth-be-told, you might not be handling it so well either. Plus this is a totally huge transition from a nomadic to a settled existence, from student to missionary to pastor, and your ordination is a few days away and all your family and friends are coming from out of town for it. And your stuff is somewhere that's else and you don't know where or when it might arrive. Now imagine that someone says to you, "It's all going to be fine." And your first reaction is: "liar." When your mom dies, it's not all going to be fine. And when you don't have your stuff, it's not really fine. And when there are a zillion things going on and everything is in disarray because of those previously mentioned two things, it's not fine. It's anxiety-producing. And I want to be angry with people who say "it's all going to be fine" because I don't really like for people to lie to me. But I can't because I don't get to be angry. So...I'm feeling a little anxious and overwhelmed right now. And a lot of the time I just want to cry because I'm being ordained this weekend and my mom won't be there.

But on the bright side, I love my house and I love my job and I'm excited to see my friends and I'm incredibly excited to be ordained and to celebrate communion for the first time. The first ordination I went to was for Steve R, a friend at Fourth, and he celebrated communion at his ordination. It was so awesome to watch and be a part of, and that is the moment I felt a literal visceral pull to stand behind that table. Like a string from my stomach to the table. It was awesome. And that was several years ago now. And the moment has come and I'm excited.

Dear mom: I wish you could be here. I love you.

Monday, October 23, 2006


I am being ordained this coming Sunday and you are all invited.

Where: Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (126 E. Chestnut Street, across from the Hancock Tower)
When: 6.30pm on October 29th, 2006
Reception: afterwards, at the church.

I am so excited, I can't even tell you.


birthday fun

So I spent my birthday in the mountains of New Hampshire, cooking. It was beautiful. Jennifer and I had a great room with a view of the Presidential Mountain Range at Snowvillage Inn, which is home to the White Mountain Cooking School. You may have seen them on the Food Network for their "Chocolate Cooking Weekends." I went to Vegetarian Cooking Weekend--perfect for me on my birthday! It was loads of fun. I made Tomato-Basil French Bread Soup in Acorn Squash Bowls the first day, and I watched my classmates make black bean burgers and mediterranean quiche. The second day I made Vegan Raspberry Mocha cake---incredible. So tasty. I also helped to make the portobella-and-pine-nut strudels, and the whole wheat pizza crusts that we topped with grilled veggies and either pesto or hummus sauce (no boring tomato sauce in this kitchen!). It was so wonderful. The class ate the things we cooked each day for lunch, and we had a great time. I loved it. I would totally go back there in a heartbeat.

Jennifer and I also walked all around Harvard, stealing knowledge from extra-smart- people-with-lots-of -money--just by being there! mwah-hah-hah!! It was fun. (Allison: I remembered rather late at night that you GO to Harvard, and of course lacked a phone number...sorry dude.) This morning I headed to the airport and flew back to O'Hare, to discover that chicago is 36 degrees today. It's chilly. I'm at church now, but am soon going home to love on my cat who's been alone for four days. Thankfully Richard and the girls checked in on her, but I'm feeling badly about leaving her alone and will go home soon. Plus I'm hungry, plus there are evening meetings tonight, plus I can read at I'm off there soon.

My stuff has been loaded on a truck and is making its way here as we speak. Apparently my books had to be repacked because plastic bins plus cold plus heavy books equals bad brittle boxes breaking. So...that's sad for me because it means reorganizing when they get here, but I will probably live.

I'm being ordained on Sunday and I just think that's so cool.

That's all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Miracle of miracles, even!
I am mostly settled, even without my stuff.

Only my kitchen remains to be painted, due to the incredible efforts of my aunt Susan. wow.

I didn't just survive but thrived (throve?) this weekend in my first weekend "on"--I even did Saturday all by myself. Well, not was the worship team and me, but no Richard (as we had agreed), and it was fab. I am currently saying that my "inner televangelist" came out a little. It was great.

While I was at church on Saturday evening, Susan was painting. She took down a vanity in the guest bathroom, and a few minutes later a 30"x36" mirror came crashing down off the wall. It shattered into a bazillion pieces--some huge and some miniscule. Amazingly, not one piece hit her, she had not a scratch...though she was standing right there. Miracle indeed.

It's my birthday this weekend. I'm going to New Hampshire. Jennifer's coming too. I'm really excited.

That's all for today. :-)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Asking the wrong question

Asking the Wrong Question
Mark 10.17-27
RCLPC 14/15 October 2006

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

I would willingly bet all the money I have, and some I don’t even have, that this is not the most popular story in suburbia. In fact, the first time I ever heard this story was at a Presbyterian church in Yakima, my home town, which was known for its wealthy members. The first thing the pastor said was “don’t worry, you don’t have to give away all your stuff or your money.” That’s all I remember about his sermon—he definitely made an impression on my literalist teenage mind, and it was not a good impression.
And now here I am, standing in front of a congregation in a fairly affluent town near a famous city, and I’m tempted to say the same thing—partly because it’s my first week here and I want you all to love me, and partly because I am not sure that Jesus’ advice to this man is literally the same advice we need. I think Jesus’ point is what we need, but sometimes we get caught up in the exact words. And sometimes words can obscure the point. So, I’m not going to say “you don’t have to give away all your stuff and your money.” Instead I’m going to say, “it’s possible that this is about money for you or for me, and it’s also possible that this is not about money—it might be about something else for you or for me.” In the case of this man, though, it’s about money.

I’ve noticed that people with a lot of stuff or a lot of money often think in economic terms. They think about investments and inheritances. I’ve never been in a position before to think about those things, so I’m not really sure what it’s like. And also, frankly, it has always seemed a little odd to me to think about “my inheritance”—as though I’m just waiting for someone to die and leave me something cool. My mom died a year ago and I have inherited some cool stuff, but I would rather have my mom than her Professional-grade KitchenAid. So I don’t really understand why someone would ask a question that begins with the words “what must I do to inherit?” The answer seems, in our understanding of “inheritance,” that you must live longer than the person who has what you want. I think that fits the definition of morbid pretty nicely!

But this man’s question isn’t really about what he needs to do to get something when someone else dies. It’s about what he needs to do to get something when he dies. That’s what you might call a different take on the matter of “inheritance.”

Now, in the Jewish understanding of life and eternity, “eternal life” is something to be earned, to be worked toward. Not everyone gets it—only those who have followed the commandments, done good deeds, studied the Torah, and lived good lives get the front-row seat in the Kingdom of God —which is something that one only enters after leaving this life.

In other words, you must “do” something now in order to get something later. There might be material blessings on earth, but the main reward comes later—hopefully much later.

So this man comes to Jesus, asking a fairly run-of-the-mill question about what good deeds he needs to do to inherit this eternal life. And Jesus gives him a run-of-the-mill answer. It’s a safe answer in a Jewish worldview—to get eternal life you have to follow the commandments. That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

You may have noticed that Jesus only lists the easy commandments—the ones like don’t murder and don’t steal. Jesus kindly leaves out the difficult “no-other-gods” commandments. So the man has probably answered honestly that he has kept all these commandments! But he doesn’t accept this obvious answer to his obvious question. He doesn’t just take Jesus’ words at face value and leave happy—he pushes a little bit. By telling everyone about his perfection after he asked an obvious question, he implies that something is still not right…something is missing. It’s not enough. There must be something else he can do, right?

And Jesus looked at him—maybe the man even had the feeling that Jesus was looking into him—Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus looks at this man and sees a seeker, someone who wants to be in relationship with God. So he gets to the heart of the matter: he tells the man that there’s just one thing standing in his way to a close relationship with the Lord—his stuff. In the same way that I have boxes blocking my dining room, he has boxes stacked up in the road to abundant life.

Notice I said “abundant” life, not “eternal” life. The man asks a question about what he needs to do to inherit eternal life—something in the future, something out there, something that isn’t here, something he can earn.

But that’s not what Jesus said he was about. Jesus came to bring abundant life here and now, not just later. And, luckily for us, Jesus did the work—he lived and taught, he died and rose. There’s no work for us to do to have this abundant life—it’s ours through the grace of God. Jesus brought eternity, he brought the Kingdom of God, to here so that we might live abundantly. Not that we might live prosperously, as this man obviously did, but abundantly. It’s clear from this story that one can own nothing, carry no money, and yet live abundantly.
Jesus simply says “come, follow me.” Just as he sent the disciples out to preach with no extra clothes and no food or money, he tells the man to come—no money, no toys, no fancy clothes—and to follow. But the boxes are blocking his way.

I suspect this is not what the man was expecting from Jesus! He was shocked, and rightfully so. Jesus asked him to change everything—not just his lifestyle, but his worldview. The man has been living in a society that values prosperity as a sign of God’s approval, a society that insists on right action and living according to the letter of the law of Moses. And here’s Jesus saying “nope, sorry, that’s not really it.” He started out playing by the rules, but now he’s gone and changed everything up, just like Jesus always does. And the man doesn’t want to get it.

He is like the frog in one of my favorite stories by Anthony DeMello, which goes like this.
The Master, a spiritual teacher, was always gracious to the scholars who came to visit, but he refused to talk about theology with them.
When his disciples asked him about this, he answered them,
“how can one talk of the ocean to a frog in a well? Or about the divine to those restricted by their concepts?”
This man’s ideas about life, eternal life, blessing, and wealth are keeping him from following Jesus, they are keeping him in the well when there’s an ocean to discover.

I think that what Jesus has done here is to sum up the first commandments, the ones he left out of his list, by talking about this man’s possessions. He has said that the man has an idol. He sees his wealth as signs of God’s blessing, but it’s really taking the place of a relationship with God.

Idolatry is a tough word to swallow. We don’t want to hear it any more than this man did—or at least, I don’t! Right now I am living with all kinds of new things—a new house, a new car, a new refrigerator, a new bed—and also waiting for all my favorite things—my books, my clothes, my winter coats—to come from Atlanta.
It turns out I actually have quite a lot of stuff. And it’s possible that those things are distracting me from following Jesus. It’s also possible that my own self-image, my friends, my relationships, my anxiety about whether you’ll like me or not, or a hundred other things are keeping me from following Jesus. At any given moment there is probably something that is an idol in my life. And the hard part of following Jesus is figuring out what those things are and returning God to the top of the priority list.

This man may not have been able to do it—we don’t know. All we know is that he was shocked and he was grieving, and he went away. He started out asking the wrong question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” when he should have been asking “what idol keeps me from following Jesus?”

It’s a hard question to ask. Not my favorite thing to do with my free time, that’s for sure! But it’s important. Jesus never said it would be easy—he said it would be as hard as getting a camel through the eye of a needle.

The good news, though, is this:
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible.”

For mortals it is impossible to be perfect.
For mortals, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven by good deeds. For mortals, it is impossible to get it right.
But not for God.
For God, all things are possible.
It is possible for God to forgive us when we are not perfect,
to correct us when we ask the wrong question,
to bring us close to God
in the church,
in the sacraments,
in Scripture,
through the Holy Spirit,
and in one another.
And through God it is possible for us to identify our idols, to reorder our priorities, and to live abundantly.

I’m not going to tell you to sell your stuff and give away your money. I’m not going to tell you NOT to sell your stuff and give us your money. I am going to invite you to examine what idol might be blocking your road to the abundant life Jesus brought for us.

Jesus is calling, “Come, follow me.”