Monday, August 31, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Be Doers of the Word

James 1:17-27

Be doers of the word.

Such a simple statement. Be doers of the word. This really shouldn’t be something that needs to be preached upon. But from pulpits all over the world today, preachers will be extolling their congregations to not just be hearers of the word, but to be doers of the word.

This should be the thing that we are about. We should be about living out our faith in the world. All who claim the title of Christian should be living out their faith just because of who they are. The past week at work we have been surrounded by people dressed in green and white and living out the live of an MSU student. I jokingly commented about a Michigan State shirt, that of course Michigan was a state and that the woman was standing in the state. And this woman looked at me like I was a nut! For these people, being a Spartan was just who they were and just a natural expression of their being. To be otherwise would just be weird.

So too, for us Christians, our faith should just be so much of us that we cannot help but live out the word. Not that we need to be wearing tee shirts emblazoned with Christian slogans all the time. But we should be putting the teachings we have learned through our faith into action in our lives.

Now, lest we get confused, we need to make sure we get the order of events correct. Again, I will use the MSU people as an example. You would all find it kind of odd if I were to tell you that getting accepted to MSU was dependent upon how much MSU clothing you could wear, right? You would find it silly to think that if you totally tattooed yourself green and white that you would get the top scholarships, right? That just seems silly to say. But some still believe that the teachings we find in the book of James is the rule book on how to get salvation. Some believe that we have to DO all of this stuff before we can finally be accepted.

Well, that is not the case.

The folks that are arrayed in green and white are so proudly displaying the school colors because they have ALREADY been accepted! They are part of the group! So they display the colors as a means of spreading their excitement. In the same manner, we do not live the word in the world to earn Christ’s salvation, we have been assured of that salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and we have further been assured of that salvation in our baptism. Our salvation is a given. Christ is not going to take it back! So when we are called to go out and be doers of the word, we do it to share with the world the joy that we have found!

So, if we are to be doers of the word in the world, what would that look like? James gives us some ways. We are to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger.” That is some good advice. We are to bridle our tongues and be sure that when we speak, that we are to be careful of our words. You know, if we could all just do that, the world would be so much better. So often we are so very quick to become angry and then to speak. We are so quick to speak without listening to what the other is saying.

But whether we like it or not, when we claim the title of Christian, we are also claiming to be the voice of God in the world. When we claim the title of Christian, we are claiming to be the heart of God in the world. When we claim the title of Christian, we are claiming to be the arms of God, reaching out to send the unending love of God into the world.

When the world encounters us, what does it find? What does it find about Christianity as a whole? Is this the image that Christ would have been proud to die for? Is the worlds view of Christianity that of love or that of intolerance? When the world encounters the Episcopal Church, does it find love, care, and joy or does it find judgment and oppression? How ‘bout us as a congregation? What does the world think about us? What do visitors think about us? What does Swampland think about us? A difficult question would be, “Does Swampland even know we exist?” If not, they why not? How can we as a community built in the love of Christ be doers of the word? We don’t need to be a megachurch to be a mighty church. We have been promised God’s love and care in our actions. But we need to be more than just hearers. We have done great things, we have helped families in need, but can we be doing more? And finally, each of us; we need to ask ourselves, “What are we doing to be doers of the word?” Are we content to just sit and listen, or are we willing to be out in the world. Are we willing to be doers of the word?

I often feel bad doing sermons like this. I feel bad because I am not able to give you a clear cut, three point plan on how to be doers of the word. It would be nice if I could, but I don’t think it really is my place to tell you. You see, we each have our own unique talents and gifts. We each have our own unique way of living the word and doing the word. We each have our own special way and our own special voice.

And as a congregation, we each have an important part to give. We are all inspired by the Spirit to reach out. What I find sad is that so often we forget that our inspiration most often IS from God and that we can act boldly upon it! We begin to second-guess our actions and then fall into inaction. We go from being doers to being listeners. When we are generous in giving, and when we are generous in love, James tells us that we can trust that that impulse is coming from God. We can trust that we are being grown into the first fruits. Or to use more modern language, God is forming us into the best we can possibly be.
We are the beloved, accepted, redeemed children of God. That is something that will not be taken from us. The love of God surrounds us, fills us, and sustains us. And it is through this love that we go out and be doers of the word in the world. My prayer is that you feel this love of God so strongly that, like the MSU students, you cannot keep it to yourselves; you just have to let it out! And when you feel that urge, DO IT! Let the love of Christ show throughout your life!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life Shots

Well, life at BUX has been interesting. I have not been trying to get the Lead Barista fired, but he has been doing pretty well in getting there. If you are not up on his shenanigans, let me fill you in.

He is notorious for just roaming around the store instead of helping us. He is notorious for lying instead of just doing the work. He is also notorious for seeing how far he can push people, just to see if he can.

Well, he may have pushed too far. When I found out that I had been trained, read the training materials, and signed the training material (none of which happened!), I got very angry! I told my boss and his boss that I DO NOT appreciate having my name and data forged! I also purposely did this in the presence of another co-worker because the boss is notorious for having a "bad" memory when it suits her.

I get to work with him today. This should be interesting.

I am still excited about the decision of the ELCA Churchwide assembly. As you can guess, this has opened up a lot of possibilities. My biggest challenge is to not get too far ahead of life. There are some things that will need to happen. Part of the "problem" is that I had to leave the ELCA to join the ECUSA. Now I will have to see if there is a problem with returning. I also feel a sense of betrayal to the ECUSA. They took me in when I needed it and helped me in a desperate time. Now it seems like I am giving them a smack in the face for helping me. But I never felt like an Episcopalian, try as I might. I don't really want to spend the rest of my life in the Episcopal closet.

Nick and I are gearing up for our trip to Iowa. We are going to visit my family and to start people thinking of the concept of two guys getting married. My family is accepting of my gayness, they just are a little unsure about all the other stuff. Nick and I are ok with giving them time.

The change in the weather has started me thinking of Christmas. (How surprising is that!) I have the impetus to start working on Christmas glass. We are going to have a craft sale at church so I need to get some things done for there. I also need to get working on the Santa for this year. (People new to the blog may not know that I make my partner Nick a new stained glass Santa every year. Nick loves Santas.) It wasn't much of a summer, but now that fall seems to have poked its head, I am feeling a new sense of energy.

I have finally gotten some health insurance through work. It is going to be a bit of a financial hit, but it is necessary. I wish I could cover Nick with the insurance, too, but in Michigan, that is not possible.

Congregation is doing fine, although I think churches seem to be Nut Magnets. I guess that is a good thing because even nuts need somewhere to belong too. Problem is, in a small congregation, the nuts stand out more than they do in a fruitcakes. Trying to find the fruitcake around the nuts can be interesting.

Putting the cat down has not been as traumatic as I thought. I think we have been grieving her loss for many years. Every time she would get impacted, the question would again arise. Sometimes having her gone smacks me "upside of the head" when I see her favorite toy or think I hear her in the night. But both She and her sister were/are independent cats so not having her constantly around is not odd.

So, there is life in a nutshell. I guess life is what you make it! Around here, that would make life stained glass coffee!

(The photo at the top of the post is of some flowers we saw when we were at The Tridge last weekend.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Just Stick Around, It Gets Even Better!

I usually provide a link to my sermons, but this week, considering what has been happening, I think I will post the whole thing.

John 6:56-69

Well, did you feel it? Did you feel the axis of the Earth shift? Events of the past week have caused a rift in the cosmic fabric that may NEVER BE REPAIRED! People are appalled! APPALLED I SAY! And why? Why are the ducks going to be flying north this fall and south next spring? Why? Well, it seems that Michelle Obama emerged from Air Force One wearing… oh, it pains me to say it…wearing SHORTS!

Yes, after listening to the news from the past week, you would think that she did something horrible like show up in public with her dress stuck in her pantyhose or something. But all she did was act like a normal human, on vacation, in Arizona, in the summer. But because she decided to do something a little different, a little change on what was expected, she was plastered all over the TV and internet.

The words flew across the ether, “No other First Lady ever wore shorts as she emerged from Air Force One before.” That is right, no other has. This might be a difficult new teaching for us to learn. Now, I am sure no one is planning on moving to a different country just because of this one event, but there are probably a few who are thinking of changing parties. The SHORTS INCIDENT was the last straw.

Lately, this seems to be the mentality of the world: As long as things are going our way, we will stick around. But when the tide starts to change, we go off looking for a new place. But really, we don’t want a new place; we just want to continue to live in the old place. We don’t want a new place; we want the good old days. Whenever I hear that phrase, “the good old days,” I think of a line in a song by Billy Joel. He says, “The ‘Good Old Days’ weren’t always good and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.” But so often, we, as a people want to go back to those “Good Old Days.” But the truth is, for the most part, we really DON’T want to go back. Are we really willing to go back to the days of no cars, phones, central heating, or central air-conditioning? At first glance, it may seem nice, but I don’t think we really want to go back. That is the problem with life. We are caught in this horrible bind: We don’t like change because it is scary, but staying still will become stagnant and eventually kill us. We are caught in this internal tug. We like the thought of what is new, but we are frightened. We like the comfort of what is expected but if we have too much of it we will find it boring.

Really, this is not a new situation to our times; it is similar to the situation the disciples find themselves in in today’s gospel reading. The people are anxious: they are looking for a new teaching. They are following teachers all over the place. They find a teacher they like and they begin to follow. But when that teacher says something that is controversial or goes against their personal belief, they pick up and find a new teacher. That is why the disciples are concerned. They have been getting a big following! But Jesus has been saying things that have been causing discontent among the masses. The disciples probably want Jesus to tone back the rhetoric. They probably were pulling Jesus aside saying, “Hey Jesus, you are doing well with the talking points we agreed upon, why are you going off topic! You are losing the people!”

But Jesus didn’t stick to the talking points just because they were “easier.” He continued to speak the truth, even if it made people uncomfortable, even if it made some people turn away. Jesus would not silence the truth; he spoke the truth even if it meant his own safety would come into jeopardy.

But Jesus leaves us with a bit of a problem and not much of a solution.

The problem is: How do we know what is true teaching and what is false teaching?

This is a really difficult one and a problem that has plagued faith forever. Do we accept the uncircumcised as Jews? Do we accept the Gentiles as Christians? Do we accept women as teachers and leaders in church? Do we accept women in the pulpit? Do we accept people of color? Do we accept those who are divorced? Do we accept those who are gay? Do we accept those who have had abortions? Do we accept those who are different than us?

I truly believe that both sides of these arguments are acting in good faith and are doing what they feel God is calling them to do. I think the Pharisees were not out to dupe the people, but were trying to lead the people appropriately. But there seems to come a time when the will of God seems to run !smack! into the will of God! So at that point, what are we to do?

History seems to point us in the direction of what NOT to do. In the Gospel reading, Jesus asks the disciples if they wished to go away. In so many words, “Do you believe that I can see you through this? Or do you wish to turn your back on me and follow a new teacher?” Jesus does not want us to just pick up and leave. Jesus wants us to stay with the teaching, no matter how difficult it may seem.

But, we are not just to stand in place, the crowds did not stay in the same place, they moved, they followed. We are to remain in contact with Jesus. We are to remain in prayer and community. We are to gather in groups to learn and to grow. When we turn our backs, we become isolated, we remove ourselves from the work of the Spirit within the corporate body. When we remain - when we stay connected - when we keep the lines of communication open, we grow. It is part of the tradition the Anglican Communion: that we can gather at the table, even though we may not be able to agree on theology. That even though we may not be able to know exactly what God wants of us, we can still come together as a family. This is a very good psychological thing. If you can share a meal together, you are more likely to be able to reach a compromise acceptable to both. But when people turn their backs, the work of Christ peoples’ lives become so much more difficult.

Probably the most difficult part of this teaching is how do we discern what is a correct teaching and what it a false teaching. Not all difficult teachings are right nor are all easy teachings false. And using our feelings on the matter is not necessarily accurate, either. Many were feeling like the words that Jesus was speaking were wrong. But these words, as uncomfortable as they were, were the new message that was being sent to the people. The uncomfortable message was the message that Jesus wanted the people to hear and to follow.

We have dealt with difficult teachings in the past. At one point, women were not allowed to preach. At one time, those who were divorced were not allowed into the pulpit. At each of these times, there was much discord and people declaring the demise of the church. But you know what? We are still here!

There will always be changes. Even something we hold as dear as the church will have changes. Even our interpretations of the Bible may change. But we are not to turn our back on the community. We are not to turn our backs on those who disagree with us. Christ calls us to keep our faith in him and to not turn our back. Christ calls us to hold fast to our faith, even though we may not understand what is happening. But as long as we remain faithful, and as long as we keep working to understand, as long as we remain engaged, we can trust that Christ will be there.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thoughts on the ELCA vote

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed resolutions today committing itself to finding ways to allow churches to "recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable" committed same-gender relationships and also to allow those in committed same-gender relationships to serve as rostered church leaders.

I want to cheer, but I also feel sorry for those to whom this decision brings feelings of pain and abandonment. Believe me, I understand those feelings. I felt them when I signed papers removing myself from the roster because I chose to be true to my life, my partner, and my congregation rather than to lie.

I could have lied. I could have stayed in the church. But what kind of witness was that? It was in being true to the person that I was created to be that I found happiness and life. Not just biological life, but life as a person. I have never regretted my choices, I have only regretted others' reactions to those choices.

Now comes the choice: Do I stay or do I go. Actually, I have already made my choice. I want to return to the ELCA. I feel like I am being ungrateful for wanting to bail, but I have never felt like the Episcopal Church was my home. I appreciate that the ECUSA helped me when I felt abandoned, but I am afraid that I would become resentful by staying.

I pray that the people who are threatening to bail will not. I pray that they may see that God could be moving in a way they are not seeing. Just because we cannot see the hand of God does not mean it is not there. I wish they would stay and add their voice - not stridently screaming - but a voice of challenge.

This opens a whole new chapter. I don't know what is going to happen, only God knows. But a new beginning is underway.

The Vote Passed

It has passed. The ELCA will allow gay pastors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vote Aftermath

You may or may not have felt the earth shake yesterday at around 6:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time. It was at this time that the ELCA voted to accept the Statement on Human Sexuality.

Now, there are cheers and jeers. People are cheering because it passed and people are planning on transferring to other denominations.

The statement needed a vote of 676 to be able to pass by a 2/3 margin. This was not a simple majority here, it needed a supermajority. After the voting buttons had been pushed, the numbers appeared and the number of "Yes" votes was 676! Exactly!

As you can guess, the immediate effect was that the con side wanted to claim that there were problems with the voting equipment.

Why is it that, even after placing stumbling blocks in the way, when the motion passes, it is still seen as a conspiracy? Why can't people believe that maybe the Spirit is at work in the world?

If the motion failed and people left, the liberals would have been considered bad sports at best, and trying to play God as worst. But when the right leaning folks leave, they will consider themselves to be "faithful?"

Why can't we see hate for what it is? Why can't we see that maybe God is trying to teach us that what we are doing is hateful? I don't think the people ARE hateful, but they may be acting in a hateful way.

Oh, and BTW,

Michelle Obama was on VACATION! She can wear shorts. People are just jealous that she looks better in shorts than they do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Are Community

The Sunday sermon is here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It Seems To Be Pouring

I keep wondering how to make some lemonade out of this whole thing. There must be some way to frame this so that it makes sense.

While I am typing this, one kitty is sitting near me, the other is off somewhere. It is the other that is part of my angst. The other has fecal impaction and has had this problem for four years. The problem is that right now, I cannot afford to take her to the vet to have it treated. Also, this has been going on for over four years and one has to wonder how long to let it go. She requires medication twice a day and this almost always involves a "game" of hide-and-seek. It also makes it difficult to go anywhere because we need to be around to give her the "butt drugs." So I have decided that nine years has been a good long life for my kitty.

Banks are just too much fun to deal with. They remind me of a bully. They look for the first sign of weakness and then exploit it to its fullest potential. Case in point: Because an unexpected payment hit my account before a check cleared, my account went south. The first I heard about this was almost 6 days after it occurred when I got the letter. (I know, I should more closely monitor my account.) The letter said that to cover $77 in NSF, would cost nearly $300! I would have been better off going to a "Predatory Lender!" Since this time, the amount has topped $650.

This, in part, was precipitated by the practice of the church treasurer. She will not give me a check, she must mail it. And she arranges it so that the check will arrive (assuming the US Mail works the way it should) on either the 1st or the 16th of the month. If that date should fall on a weekend, well, "it sucks to be you!" (I will have to say, she did not use those words, but that was the perceived intent.) If the day should fall on Friday, I would not get the check until after work so the money would not become available in my account until almost 5 days after payday. Her comment was that in a business, when it is payday, it is payday. I told her that this is not a business, it is a church. What I can tell is she feels she is doing us a favor and how dare we ask her to do any more. I don't see how giving me the check early would be a problem. She said that I would be cashing the checks early and that is not the way business works. She also said that when you have to write six checks you write them all on the same date. (I am the only check that is needed at the chruch)

When it suites the treasurer, checks can be written earlier. In April, I received both checks for the month on the first of the month because she would be too busy with taxes around April 16th to write the check. I guess when it suites her, I can be very trustworthy.

One of the great problems of this arrangement is that the treasurer has been in church maybe twice in the year I have been here. And her mother is one of the most anxious people I know. Her mother told me to clean my office and would walk into my office and start looking for things. Her mother, working on information I am assuming came from the treasurer, has approached an organist and told me that I better talk to this organist "sooner as opposed to later." Get the treasurer pissed, and it gets played out through the mother. And mom has been part of the congregation since the "glory days." I thought vestry members were supposed to be a living part of the congregation.

The payment that hit my account was a school loan payment. My loans have been in forbearance for two years while I am under employed. Staying in the current situation does not help this situation. But trying to find a job in Michigan is nigh on to impossible.

/rant off
Time to go to my exceedingly *full sarcasm* fulfilling job of making coffee.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Guess This Must Be A Bit Of A Pity Party

I really enjoy Facebook. It is really quite cool. I have been able to get back in touch with many friends. But the other side of the whole thing is being daily confronted with my former classmates from seminary.

I look at them and hear about their lives in their churches. I hear about their vacations and their new houses. And quite frankly, I get really pissed.

I have had another set back with a situation involving a church check that did not clear in time because the treasurer has a freaky control thing and feels the need to HAVE to mail my check to me. When the 1st or the 16th fall on Saturday, that means that it might take up to four days to get the check to clear. Well, you guessed it. I knew this was going to happen, and it did.

But if I did not have to leave the ELCA, I would probably still be in a congregation that could pay me enough so I could be paying my bills instead of putting them in forbearance. I could be doing church things instead of doing coffee things. I could pay to take the cat to the vet instead of trying to get her to crap on her own. (Don't ask.)

I enjoy keeping in touch with my friends, but I also hate it. It is like having salt continually rubbed into my wounds.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Holy Uncertainty

Sermon for Sunday can be found here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009