Preached at Fountain UMC December 2015. Continue reading Prepare!
Preached at Fountain UMC December 2015. Continue reading Prepare!
Preached at Fountain UMC December 2015. Continue reading Prepare!
We live amongst some of the most beautiful valleys in the world!
I grew up a couple of hours west of here, in Buena Vista, in the Upper Arkansas Valley. I still travel that way on occasion. There is a moment at the very end of the journey…after a few mountain passes, some long flat valley’s, a handful (or two) of tiny towns…almost at the end of the trip, you turn this corner and there it is…God’s creation…all the valley’s beauty lying before the majestic mountains. God’s artwork in full view. I feel God’s presence so clearly; it’s like I can touch the sacredness of the moment. Continue reading Rise!
Years ago as I started taking those first few baby steps into Christianity, I felt myself drawn to Judaism, to this deep, deep history. To the people that were Jesus’ people, to the rituals that shaped and formed him, to the stories that formed the culture in which he lived.
My family was friends with a Jewish family. S Continue reading You are Blessed
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Thirty-four years ago Prince Charles gave Princess Diana a beautiful engagement ring. A 12-karat sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds. Continue reading Favored – Luke 2:1-20
Audio from my first sermon at First UMC in Colorado Springs. Forgive the shaky voice…and the stumbling over words…I am pretty sure “nervous” doesn’t cover it!
The text I started with, unedited, with all my spelling, grammar, and total confusion intact. (Not the actual text I preached…but sometimes its close!)
Let us pray…oh God open us up. Open our eyes that we might see, our ears that we might hear, open our hearts that we might feel, and then oh God open our hands that we might serve.
Years ago, Leanne Hadley took an evening to teach the Stephen Ministers in this congregation about her process of working with children. If you ever spent much time with her you know that she talked a lot about symbolism. Symbols are a teaching tool…if you look around this room you will see many symbols in the stain glass windows, on the altar…but symbols can be much more than a teaching tool: the symbols that individuals create often allow others a peak into their lives, their faith, and what is important to them. That evening, Leanne told us if you want to know about a person, ask them about the symbols that they surround themselves with…ask them about the jewelry they wear and the tattoos they have…you will be amazed by the answers you get! I have to tell you…GREAT advice!
Over the years, I have been allowed a look into people’s lives that I otherwise would not have had. More than once I have asked about a tattoo and heard about the personal struggles people fight…alcoholism, drug addiction. Sometimes I will hear about battles won…a woman choose to put a purple ribbon tattoo…a symbol of domestic violence awareness…on her right wrist because it was the hand that she raised in court to be sworn in…before testifying against her abuser. Another woman, Diana, from my hometown, has two tiny feet prints on her wrist. A memorial for her twin boys born way too early, surviving for only a few moments in her arms. Another tattoo on her arm is a memorial to another one of her sons, this one carried to full term, he survived only a few weeks. The symbols that people choose to tattoo onto their body, are so often deeply meaningful, a part of their story in words and in pictures.
One evening, I asked someone about a tattoo that was on her back, apparently it screamed New Orléans, to anyone local to that area. I asked about another of her tattoos on her arm…it was an interesting symbol…almost a heart shape with designs dancing around it…and when I asked about it, she told me it was the symbol for a goddess…the goddess of all things feminine…the knowledge and wisdom of this goddess passed down to her from her grandmother.
Out of all the tattoos I have asked about, she is the only one to say it was the symbol of a god or goddess. But as I thought about her answer, it occurred to me…it was not the first symbol representing a god that I had seen. …
I can’t tell you how many cross tattoos I have seen. Cross tattoos always tell me a little about a person, where they come from, and rituals they have participated in like baptisms and communion. It tells me a bit about their beliefs, and when they say a prayer, who they say that prayer to, it tells me that Jesus is or was at some point an important part of their life.
I started wondering about the images I see…are they symbols for gods, for objects of worship…even if we don’t call them that? When I see a dollar sign tattooed on an arm, is it there because they like money or because they worship it? And what about other places we find symbols? The jewelry we wear? The bumper stickers on our cars? Product logos on the technology we carry in our pockets? When does brand loyalty become brand idolatry? When does an object we use turn to an object we worship?
A Southern Baptist, Dave Miller blogged about his own idolatry, he talks about America’s love for sports…the coliseums…I mean stadiums that we have built to cheer on our team…the hundreds of dollars we will pay for tickets…and the overpriced fan gear we will buy so everyone knows which side we are on…the communities we build around our team…the dedication to showing up week after week…When does the love of a sport turn into idolatry?
“I am a sports fan,” he admits, “There is a certain 27-time World Series champion team from the Bronx that I like a little bit. My Durango has one sticker on it, a 2009 Yankees championship window sticker… My office at the church has a Yankee mouse pad, a Yankee light switch cover, various Yankee paraphernalia and wall hangings, and a shelf full of books about Yankees from the past. I’m a fan.That leads me to ask a question.When does a love of sports become idolatry? After 86 years of glorious frustration for the baseball team from Boston, they came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS, then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to “reverse the curse.” I liked the curse!
I turned over to game 4 of the World Series and found the Red Sox comfortably ahead and ready to celebrate their championship. The camera was panning the crowd which was demonstrating a wild glee, the pent-up frustrations of over 8 decades of disappointment and frustration being released in that moment. And I fumed. I thought to myself, “I hate these people with the white-hot intensity of a thousand burning suns.”
We don’t live in a pagan culture, or I guess we don’t usually call it that. When we think of a pagan culture we often think of people that can say…oh that’s a goddess…but it is when we adjust our site just a little bit to understand the false gods of the American culture that we can better understand this letter that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
Thessalonica was a pagan city. There were many gods that the people of that city worshiped. And this is where Paul decided to start a Christian community.
The people of Thessalonica would probably have been more than willing to accept Jesus as yet another God among many, to hang a cross on the wall next to cupids bow and arrow…but of course to follow Jesus is to deny all the other gods. Paul was asking the people that joined this early Christian community to turn their back on everything they were used to, comfortable rituals, prayers they had spoken their entire lives, probably loosing friends…maybe even family in the process. He was telling them they had to deny the goddess passed down to them by their grandmother…
In this pagan city, Paul set up shop downtown. It wasn’t like our downtown, where owners put their best items in the window to draw people in…it was more like a farmers market. A social place, where people mingled and talked. It is in this setting, in a downtown shop, in a place where people went to socialize and meet new people that Paul talked about Jesus. While in the process of daily living and running a business, with his words and his deeds, he started sharing his faith. It was here that he started gathering people together for a new Christian community.
Eventually, Paul brought together a community that dedicated their lives to Jesus and then he moved on. He went to another city, to start another church.
Although, he wanted to return to visit, he didn’t have time for travel so he sent Timothy. We know little of Timothy’s visit, except for what we find in this letter, which Paul wrote to the community after Timothy’s return.
Church, Paul tells them…you are amazing! Other churches look to you as an example of God’s love…you are our pride and joy! You are living exactly as we taught you to live. And we are grateful to you. Because of how you live, because of your words and your deeds, people are learning about Jesus.
It is a few verses before today’s text that the tone changes. The Thessalonians had put much of their faith in the idea Jesus would return in their life time but then some in their community had died: shaking their faith, leading them to doubt and question, they started longing for the security and peace of their old gods…the rituals, and prayers they were used to.
And Paul tells them to have faith, he assures them that Jesus will come, even those that have already died will meet him when the time comes. Don’t return to your old ways, don’t get drawn back into the false promises of the culture, stay in the light…stay awake. Church, you are a community set apart to be an example of Christ’s love…don’t turn away from your faith.
And then there is my favorite line in the entire letter…put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. Church, when your faith is shaken, when you long for the security and peace the culture and its false gods offer…choose the work of faith, the labor of love, and the steadfastness of hope.
A few years ago, there was a high school basketball game in Texas that made the news. Both teams were from Christian high schools, one a large school, and the other a tiny one: there were 20 girls total in the small school, 8 of them on the team. There was no doubt that the large school was going to win. But it was obvious within minutes of the first quarter that they could win big. At half time the score was 59-0 and the team pressed on, never letting up. Some of the parents said it looked more like a lay-up drill than a game. In a culture that says loosing is for losers, go big or go home, in a culture that says winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing… that is what this team did. The game ended with a score of 100 to nothing.
Another game, a Friday night football game was very different. Again, it was a large Christian School against a small team that had no chance of winning. The small team was a group high school boys from a detention facility. They would have no one in the stands cheering for them outside of the correctional officers, they would have no parents, no friends. In fact, the boys talked about being treated like aliens, like animals in a cage, hopeless and unredeemable. But the coach from Grapevine Faith High School had a plan. Before the game, the coach emailed the parents of the school and asked half of them to sit on the other side of the field and cheer for the other team. For the first time, Gainesville State entered the field running through a banner, hundreds of people cheering them on…they had cheerleaders, and parents on their side. And when it became obvious that they could not win…the coach of the large high school put in…not his first…or his second…but his third string players. For the first time the young inmates from the detention facility scored a touchdown. Even though they lost, they gave their coach a Gatorade shower after the game. For the first time in a long time someone was in their corner. Loving on them as if they were their own. Grapevine Faith High school choose the work of faith, the labor of love, and the steadfastness of hope…and everybody won.
A sermon is only a sermon when it is being preached, so this isn’t really a sermon…It’s the sermon that never was! I was going to preach this but a still small voice stopped me :-) Instead I preached “Just an Inch…”
Even though I never preached this one, I did “teach” it to my Sunday School class.
Acts 9:36-43: Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. (NRSV)
Let us pray…
O God open us up.
Open our eyes that we might see,
our ears that we might hear.
Open our hearts that we might feel,
and then O God,
open our hands that we might serve.
My family loves the renaissance festival. We look forward to it every year, the sites, the sounds the smells…being immersed in this world that isn’t really ours. A few years ago we were walking around just taking in the experience…the fairy’s and dragons and pirates…and something caught my eye! I grabbed my husband by the arm to make him stop walking because there was this statue. The statue was either the perfect representation of a man…or it was a man as a perfect representation of a statue…I couldn’t tell. But I WAS going to find out. So, I started examining this mystery…until he looked at me!!! I jumped…I might have screamed…I definitely laughed!! This guy fascinated me. So, I stood back for 10 – 15 minutes and just watched. People would walk by and not notice him…so he would poke them with his cane! Sometimes he would gather a crowd and they would just wait to see what he would do next. And every once in a while someone would gather up enough courage to examine him a little closer…and he would suddenly move…surprising every one of them. It was a scene for America’s Funniest Home videos!
So, a few weeks ago I was watching a TED Talk…by Amanda Palmer. In her talk , he explains how she would stand on the streets…an eight-foot bride! People would drop money in the top hat at her feet. To say thank you she would offer the generous soul a flower…most rushed by…uncomfortable with the personal contact on city streets. Some however, would pause to take the flower. Amanda Palmer describes this moment of contact…she would say with her eyes, “I see you.” And in response, she could see in their eyes, “no one ever sees me.” … Later in her speech, she shows a picture of a rock-concert. You can tell it is a huge production, bright lights, huge stage, and thousands in the audience. The contrast is clear…up close and personal, eye contact, and silent communication versus the stage of a Superstar! …. We live in a culture that loves our superstars, we are bombarded by the message “bigger is better”… We love our T.V. stars, our sports stars and it’s not just about celebrity status! Our whole world says “bigger is better”…everything points to our title as being important…our business cards say our name and our title…”CEO” – President – Owner – The clothing we wear…a police uniform, the doctors stethoscope, the black robe of the clergy….points to our status, our importance,- Even our spaces are designed to point to the important person in the room – our lecture halls, classrooms, sanctuaries – designed to point towards the most important person…the teacher…the preacher. We live in a culture that bombards us with the message “bigger is better…more important…more valuable…more influential. The superstars are the important ones.”
And Peter, the main character of today’s text, he is definitely a superstar! I know he didn’t start off so hot. I mean…he tried walking on water but ended up wet. He slept when Jesus needed him, and then went on to deny Jesus..three times. Peter had a slow start…But Jesus did say “on this rock I will build my church!” And Peter did live up to his superstar status! The text we read this year for Easter morning was from the Gospel of John. The story races along, Mary runs and gets Peter and the other disciple. They race back to the tomb…and the story slows down dramatically…the writer gives us details…Peter standing alone in the tomb, one folded cloth and one just lying there. … Peter is the one that stands in front of the crowd on Pentecost and says, “We are not drunk!” and ends the day with 3,000 converts! In the story before today’s text he healed a man that had been paralyzed for eight years…the story after this Peter has a vision of unclean animals lowered on a sheet that God says are clean…and gentiles are welcomed into the church…and in this text, Peter kneels in prayer and breathe is restored to Tabitha’s lifeless body. Peter is a superstar…this text is about Peter, this text is about his power and influence on the early church…
We are so trained to see the superstars that sometimes we miss the supporting characters. We know very little about the women in this story. We know her name…her name is Tabitha. Dorcas in Greek. Gazelle in English. She is a disciple. She became ill and died. ……. We know she had widows grieving at her bedside, we know she made clothes…. we know she was full of good works and good deeds….that’s about it! Tabitha’s whole life is relegated to these seven short verses in the book of Acts. As I read this text, I wanted to know what we were missing? What was her life-like! This text tells us that widows were grieving over her lifeless body but we don’t know WHY the widows were grieving at her bedside. We know a little about what it was like to live as a widow during this time…A women’s value was in her role as a wife or mother. Which means widows had no value. The widows counted on the generosity of people for food and clothes, their very life was in the hands of the generosity of others. And these were the women grieving at Tabitha’s bedside.What kind of life did she live that the widows were the ones grieving her loss? Maybe she was an affluent member of society, with the time and resources to help the lowest members of her society. Or maybe Tabitha wasn’t reaching down to help a widow, maybe she was a member of their community. One of them, gathering together in community, pooling resources so to improve one another lives. Or was it neither of these? We don’t know. What we know about Tabitha is that she lived in such a way that the love of Christ showed in her. Her power and influence, dedication and love….shows. Even though her live story is told in just a couple of sentences. Because this is a story about Peter and the early church, it is easy to miss the importance of Tabitha and the ones that lived like her. Because we know so much about Peter, because he is a superstar, because there is so much written about the influence he had on this early community, it is easy to miss the power and influence of Tabitha. The church would have not survived past those first few years without Peter, but it needed the Tabithas too. To survive, and grow, and thrive, the church needed the dedicated disciples. It needed the superstars but the superstars are not more important than the Tabithas.
We live in a culture that tells us “bigger is better.” The higher your title, the more important you are, the more influence you have, and the church? The church has fallen for it. We like our big names, Billy Graham, Rob Bell, and the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church, Adam Hamilton! The church seems to agree with the culture, “bigger is better.” The leaders are the ones with the power and influence; we expect them to bring life back to the church. We see the crowds and the lighted stage and are blinded to the Tabithas in our midst. In a recent conversation, the question was asked “who do you know that lives a Christ-like life?” And the response was fairly predictable…most people talked about pastors or other leaders of the church. But one man, a pastor, talked about a women in his congregation Over 14 years ago this women walked into the church and sat in the last row, looking like she could make a break for it at any moment. She lived a troubled life; life had beaten her down as tragedy after tragedy knocked her down again and again. But she didn’t make a break for it….she stayed. Today she doesn’t look like she is ready to make a break for it, in fact when asked to tell the story of a person living a Christ-like life, her pastor told her story. She lives a Christ-like life…her dedication and love are powerful and influential. She is often the first person at the church and the last to leave. She gives of her time, talents, and finances. She lives her life in such a way that a leader of the church told her story telling us that she serves her church with all of her strength. Sometimes the message the “bigger is better” blinds us to the Tabitha’s in our midst.
I really want to be a “thank you note” person. I TRY to be a thank you note person! Don’t get me wrong. I am good at writing thank you notes! I enjoy intentionally thinking about what I am grateful for and writing it down. I know the power of God at work in stepping back from life and taking time to be grateful. My problem is not that I am not thankful…because I am…my problem is that I always seem to be missing something, I don’t have a pen handy, or I’ve run out of stationary, or most often I run out of stamps. I have a stack of thank you notes sitting on my desk, some months old! Just waiting for a stamp…I try to be a thank you note person even though I often fail; I DO believe we have a lot to be thankful for.We have the best pastors, the best leaders. the best mentors…we can come and pay almost nothing for a delicious home cooked meal on Wednesday nights…we can go to class where some of the best teachers come to teach us about who we are….and the building. Wow…this building. If I remember right we had over 7,000 different activities last year! Worship, Sunday Schools, Plays, AA Meetings, IHN nights…Taking care of this building takes a lot of work…and we have an amazing team that keeps this building running. Our facilities team works hard to make sure that the building is ready for us and when we come, they welcome us in ways that we can see, with a smile and an offer of help…and in ways that we can’t see. A lot of work goes into keeping this building running, and welcoming. I have to admit. In the last six years I have sent a thank-you note to almost every one of our pastors…I have sent one…just one…to someone on the facilities staff.
We live in a culture, that says bigger is better. And when we stand in the crowd focused on the bright lights and stage of the superstar we are blinded to the Christ-like lives lived by the people in our midst.
Listen again to these words from the Book of Acts:
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. (NRSV)
The word of God, for the people of God…thanks be to God. Amen
Second sermon down!! Here is the video for my second sermon. Thank you chapel service for welcoming me back! Again, it was a wonderful experience! Also, thank you to all that supported me in any way and those of you that sent me with your prayers. I appreciate it!
My husband is the practical one in our relationship.
Everything has a place and a purpose. I know what time he will wake up in the morning, what time he will get home from work and what he will do when he gets there. He likes things to be predictable…safe. He has a “concrete” personality type. You know…rock solid! I rely on his predictability! Because I am the unpredictable one…the creative, artsy, constantly “blazing new trails” one. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed at the same time two nights in a row…Nine at night? Not a problem! One in the morning? Why not? My workspace is always a little on the messy side and I am always thinking of some new way to decorate the house. When Alan finally caved and agreed to something other than white walls…you know what I did right? We have had blue walls, green walls, textured walls, dark gray walls….and I am seriously considering a pink wall…or maybe I should go with purple? I am the kind of person that if you give me an inch I will take a mile!
And I know it’s not just me. When I was a little kid I would play in the dirt by our shed in the back yard. I would dig little lines in the dirt and turn the water on just a little to create miniature rivers. Eventually I would have a whole river system weaving between the wild onions. I remember it being hours…days of fun. So, of course I thought my kids should have the same opportunity! I bought them cute little gardening kits, they had little shovels and buckets. You know what happened right? Within a couple of days they replaced the small plastic shovels with the real thing from the shed and they replaced the rivers with a lake…the hole was about 8 feet around and a few feet deep. I guess they liked the idea of a lake better than the idea of a river! I gave them inch..they took a mile! That was years ago, now they are teenagers with a whole new set of inches to turn into miles! (Don’t worry, we signed up for the unlimited texting plan!)
((( I totally missed this section while preaching…oops!)))
There is something about being human that drives us to take a mile when someone offers us an inch. I hear that people used to own one T.V. per house. And the house was the right size for the family, maybe even a bit too small. When given an inch we take a mile…Have you ever said “hello” to the person next to you in the grocery line only to leave the store a few minutes later with their life story? Or books? If you are a book lover…you don’t have one or two books! You have more books than you could read in a lifetime…maybe even two lifetimes. Do you remember the Lay’s potato chip slogan “betcha can’t each just one!” it was right you know! Not about the chips…it was right about us!
We seem to be creatures wired to push limits. To fight for a mile when given an inch! We are wired to push boundaries. It’s something that comes with being human.
((Here is where I picked it up again!)))
Generally, I don’t like dressing God up in human traits
But with this text I just can’t help it! Can you imagine it? You hear a knock on the door, go open the door a tiny bit just to see who’s there…that’s it! That’s all it takes…the next thing you know God is joining you for dinner. He is eating with you, and you with him. Give God an inch and God takes a mile!
This God that chooses to be one of us…always pushing boundaries, testing limits and taking a mile for every inch offered.
Jesus could have turned the water that was already there into wine, that would have been a miracle…but he doesn’t…instead he has the servants fill up jug after jug, gallon, after gallon, after gallon…then he turns that water into wine! Jesus could have fed a few people and sent the rest to town to find their own food…but he doesn’t …instead he feeds thousand with a couple of fish and a few loafs of bread! He could have kept prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners at arms distance…but he doesn’t…instead he singles them out and does things like call out “get down from that tree we are going to eat together.” When I talk about serving people I am talking about clearing their plate, carrying their luggage, or holding open a door…but this God….this God washes feet. He doesn’t just tell us to turn the other cheek, he shows us how by forgiving while hanging on a cross…even that is not the end, Jesus brings promise and hope to the world with resurrection, Easter.
Following this God that is willing to wash feet, break bread with sinners and hang on a cross…it’s not comfortable or predictable…it looks a lot more like pushing boundaries, testing limits and taking a mile for every inch offered. Following this God…it’s a often a journey into the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncomfortable.
Five years ago, I had a dream.
It was a simple dream, I heard someone knocking, I heard someone call my name; all I had to do was open the door an inch…and of course that is what I did. My kids were in elementary school, me and a couple of the other moms were hanging out on the playground after school, watching our kids play. One of the moms said something about church…and I told her, I think I need to go to church. I did not have enough courage to go alone, so that Sunday I drove to her house so we could ride together. I remember feeling out of place but welcomed. I remember the smiling faces and the snacks. I remember the pew I sat in, and bits and pieces of Kent’s sermon, I remember the first time I saw the pipes framing the cross.…but what I remember the most is the music. The drums, and guitars, and singing…Something inside me started stirring, even if I did not yet have words for it. After service we left and I returned a couple of weeks later, and a week after that…and the week after that…the week after that. And now? I am more than half way through seminary! If all goes well, in a little over a year, I will graduate with a Master of Divinity degree and just a few weeks after that I will be a pastor in a church. ME! Six years ago, I was a couple of years away from earning my Bachelors degree with no plans of going back to school, I had been a stay at home mom for years…my life was comfortable, predictable, I was content…Now I am teaching classes and adult Sunday School, joining in skits and living sculptures with our youth group, going on mission trips, and preaching!! Me? Preaching?? Four years ago, I laughed at the suggestion.
Today, everything is different…better…deeper.
I can see; I am alive. My every breath is changed, and it all began with an inch. A door opened. The possibility of a new tomorrow. All it took was an inch. An inch to see that God was more than I could ever imagine. That my life could be beyond imagination. That I could be more than I ever imagined. Give God an inch? God just might take a mile…Thanks be to God. Amen.