Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wishing all my blog friends, and anyone else for that matter, a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve Sermon

This is a rerun from last year, but I really like it. 
Where you see (Start Music Here), imagine Mannheim Steamroller's Stille Nacht playing.

I find this time of year to be very interesting.  We seem to spend so much time and effort preparing for Christmas, but by the time Christmas gets here, all we can do is cheer that it is over.  Christmas seems like a race, doesn’t it?  We rush to the stores on the morning after Thanksgiving to get all the sales.  We rush from party to party.  We rush to visit family and then we rush home to prepare for the people who are rushing to visit us.  In all the chaos, I am glad you found your way here to worship this evening!
Really, I am not here to try to make you feel bad:  We have the talk shows and commercials to do that for us.  What I am here to do is to tell you that there can be something different than all the hustle and bustle.  There is a different world out there just waiting for us!  The problem is that in our haste, we so often miss this other world, a world that is right under our noses.  Maybe this is one of the dangers of living in a blessed society; (and even with the economic situation we find ourselves, we are REALLY blessed!) we are so surrounded by so much blessing that we often fail to notice the blessings.
So tonight, I invite you to slow down and enjoy the peace and rest that is Christmas Eve.
There is a certain peace when it is snowing.  The snow seems to absorb all the sound and all you hear is the light fall of snow on the trees.  As you stand there, listening, you feel the slight tickle of snow on your nose.  This tickle is not unpleasant, but it does remind you that it is getting a little cold out, so you begin to walk.
As you are walking, the snow becomes heavier.  It is now also getting colder, so you begin to walk a little faster.  The snow continues to fall and it is hard to tell which direction to go.  Things are not familiar.  Although you do not know where you are going, you know it is better to keep moving than to stop.  So you trust and keep on walking.
Up ahead, you see a faint light; at least you think it is a light.  You walk toward the light in the hopes that is may be a house or at least a campfire.  As you approach, the light continues to grow brighter and brighter.  The glow is warm and twinkles off the falling snow, each flake bursting into a rainbow as it flutters by.  You continue to approach the light and it becomes brighter and brighter.  Soon it is almost blinding in its brightness, but strangely, it does not hurt your eyes.  As you approach, you begin to notice that the night is not quite as cold.  – As you enter a clearing, you assume the light and the snow must be playing tricks with your eyes because in front of you stands a great choir of angels!  They gleam with a warm and glistening light.  As you approach, you hear them singing!  They are singing, “Glory to God in the Highest!  And on Earth, peace to all of good will!”
THE FEELING HERE IS WONDERFUL!  You don’t want to go anywhere!  You just want to stay here and enjoy this wonderful light.  You just want to stay here and enjoy the music and the warmth!  You just want to stay here and be at peace.  But the angels are now telling you to go!  There is something even more wonderful to be found!  All you need to do is open your eyes and stay awake, the way will be shown to you.
And with that, the angels disappear.  The light, the warmth, it is gone.  The angels disappear and you are left standing in the snow.
The snow seems to be even heavier now, and after standing in the glow of the angels, the night seems all the more dark.  You stand in the snow, not quite sure what has happened.  But you realize that you have to do something as your toes begin to grow numb.
So you start walking.  You are completely disoriented and are not sure where you are going.  But you need to keep moving, and as you move, you begin to become warmer.  And as you move, you begin to see another light ahead of you.  At first it seems rather low to the horizon; you hope that is may be a home where you will be able to find shelter for the night.  You begin walking more quickly toward the light.  As you walk, you notice the becoming brighter and brighter.  But you also notice something else; as you move toward the light, the light begins to move higher and higher in the sky.  By this time, although the snow is getting deeper, your curiosity gets the better of you and you keep trudging along.
Ahead of you, you notice a village.  It seems the light you have been following has stopped over the village.  Although this seems strange to you just about everything that has happened this night has been strange.  You look down at the village.  Other than the light in the sky over the village, nothing else seems to be out of place.  But wait!  Out of the corner of your eye, you see it.  People!  People are coming toward the village form all directions.
As you stand there, looking, you notice that the snow has stopped.  You look up and notice the clouds have departed and the sky is clear.  Now you can see the source of the light that has been leading you.  What you have been following thorough the dark and cold of the night was a star!  O, what a star!  A star so bright that it could cut through the darkest, coldest night.  A star that has led you through the woods and now stands over the small village ahead of you.
You notice the people walking toward the village.  People are coming from all directions.  They, too, are looking toward the star!  They, too, are walking through the snow, following the light of the star.  Seeing the people pass beside you reminds you that you have stopped moving when you looked down to the village.  And as you stand there looking, you notice a chill run through you.  This chill seems even deeper now that the clouds are gone.  Or is the chill deeper because you know there is a warm village ahead?  In either case, you blow into your hands to warm them, and once again start moving toward the village.
As you get nearer and nearer the village, the light from the star grows brighter and brighter.  You notice more people approaching.  You cannot make out who they are, but you see them traveling in ones and twos or in small clusters.  They all seem drawn to the star and to the light.  You wonder if they have seen the angels too.  You hope they have so they, too, could have experienced that wondrous warmth, glow, and peace.
Now the wind is picking up and you feel it ripping through your clothes.  The air is cold on your skin but the light of the star seems to warm you from within.
You wander through the streets of the village.  Everything seems closed, locked for the evening.  None of the people of the village can be seen.  Maybe they are afraid of all the people streaming into their village.  You stop and look but all the houses are closed up tight against the wind.  You begin to move again.  Your heart burns within you but it is getting harder to keep your feet from becoming numb.  You need to find a place to seek shelter against the wind and cold.  You are getting desperate.  Whenever you stop, the cold sinks into your bones.  Blowing on your hands no longer works.  You need to find shelter from the cold world surrounding you.
You look down the road and see a barn.  The light of the star seems to be shining down on this spot.  The star!  Why have you stopped following the star?  You see the people gathering around this barn.  Although there are people standing by the door, a warm light spills out onto the snow. 
(Start Music Here)
You begin to run toward the barn and the warmth that must be there!  So many people must be seeking warmth against the cold of this dark night.  All the other places are boarded against them; this is the only place that is warm and welcoming.  As you run toward the barn, you begin to see the people gathered more clearly.  They are not quite the people you expect; they are the poor.  They are the homeless.  They are the lost.  For all of these people to be gathered here, it must be a very welcoming place.
As you approach, the people gently back away and allow you to pass.  You can feel the warmth of the barn and you can smell all those good, “earthy” smells of the hay and the animals.  And after the cold of the world outside, this warm world feels safe and welcoming.  You take a deep warming breath and feel the cold and stress slip away.  The warmth and light of this special place surrounds you and a profound peace sinks into your bones.  You close your eyes and relax.  With the chill gone from your body, you realize how truly cold you were.  But now, in this place, that is all just a sad memory.
When you open your eyes, you see something quite unexpected.  You see a young family.  There is the father, and the mother, and a very tiny baby.  The baby is so small and so fragile; he can’t be very old at all.  You cautiously walk toward the family but then you hesitate.  You wonder if you are welcome.  Dare you enter into the peace and joy you see before you?  Dare you disturb this moment, disturb these people?  You stand wondering what to do when the mother beckons you forward.
It is remarkably still in the barn.
You cautiously walk up to where the mother has placed the baby.  There was no proper place for the mother to lay the baby, so she gently placed him in a manger filled with straw.
You look down and see a tiny face.  Such a small face, such a fragile face.  But in that tiny, little face, all you can feel is love and acceptance.  As you look into that tiny, wonderful face, you realize you are no longer cold.  As you look into that tiny, miraculous face, you wonder how you could have EVER been cold.  As you look at that tiny, beautiful face, you realize you need never be cold again.  All the chill in your body had left.  All you can feel is an indescribable warmth.  All you want to do is stand there and stare.  How can one so small impart so much love and warmth?
Now you remember; there are others here, yes, but there are more who are boarded up in their homes!  Everyone should feel this love!  This love, this peace, THIS WARMTH is something to be spread to the whole world!
You look to the mother and you ask, “May I go and tell others about your wonderful son?”
She looks at you and smiles.  Her smile fills you with an unexplainable warmth.  She says, “That is why you have been brought here.  You have been chosen to receive this great love not to keep it to yourself, but to spread it to others!  Go!  Run as fast as you can!  Tell the world of the miracle you have found here!”
You turn and run out of the barn.  You feel more joy than you can ever explain.  You have been chosen to receive this great love and to spread this love to others!  As you run through the night, you realize that the warmth you felt when looking at the child stays with you.  The light of the moon lights your way and the love of the Christ child burns in your heart.
This is the joy of Christmas.  It is not the rush of gifts and parties.  It is the love of a tiny child, come to earth, to give us a love we can never, ever, understand.

After sermon, lights are out.  I will walk over and light the white candle on the Advent wreath and begin singing Silent Night while lighting candles in the congregation.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I am so ready to quit.

I have been trying to figure how we have come to this point.

When I first come to St. Swithins, I was excited to hear that there was someone in the congregation who made stained glass.  From the pieces I had seen, I knew that this was someone from whom I could possibly learn some techniques and with whom I could share my excitement.  But I must admit that when I showed a piece to you, Former Secretary , and your first comment was that I needed to polish my solder lines, I was a bit taken aback.

Then there came the repeated calls to hire Former Secretary back as the secretary.  Even though I had made it known that I did not hire from the congregation, I was still receiving constant pressure to hire Former Secretary back.  (I was also instructed by the Bishop that I would NOT hire from the congregation, but I did not feel that this was pertinent to the conversation as this is my general mode of operation.)  It became annoying to continually explain that Former Secretary was not going to be hired back and to constantly get pressured to do so.

Although this is conjecture, there also seems to be some connection between the difficulties with Stage Mom that was getting played out with the Secretarys.  I was not told about Stage Grandma’s surgery, but then I was getting blamed for not visiting her.  How could I visit if I did not know the surgery was going to happen?  Shortly after this, Former Secretary Husband decided that I needed to visit Fr. Alcoholic.  And later, Former Secretary Husband decided that I needed to visit people from the congregation.  And then after the “ambush,” he asked me to hire back Former Secretary.  I was confused as to why I would want to hire back Former Secretary after being ambushed in BC.

Things seemed to calm down for a while.  A new secretary was hired and went to work.  But shortly thereafter, Former Secretary Husband spent one Sunday morning going through the files.  I was not sure why, but I was not going to ask; I assumed it was something to do with Junior Warden activities.  Later, Former Secretary Husband presented me with some papers telling me that the new secretary needed a contract.  My understanding was that this was not necessary and if Former Secretary Husband would have asked at BC, this would have been cleared up.

I had also been troubled that Former Secretary Husband and Former Secretary appeared to look at Current Secretary’s office as their own space.  Granted, the office had been Former Secretary’s while she was the secretary, but the computer and files were not just open to anyone.  I know that the files are open to BC members, when Former Secretary Husband had gone through the files for what appeared to be the express intent to make hiring the new secretary difficult, I was troubled.

Then came the conversation about the stained glass in the sanctuary.  I moved the glass with specific purposes in mind.  (That purpose was to paint the window for Christmas.)  Former Secretary came to me and told me that she did not like the fact that the glass had moved.  She said that the glass was in the east window so that the sun would come through it.  I explained that the glass was not proper sized for the windows and that since the glass had moved, people seem to be more involved with it; seeing it and appreciating it.  Former Secretary said that the glass should be moved back and I thanked her for her opinion but the glass would not be moved.

It was shortly after that the “beading incident” occurred.  That it was not even considered to check with me to see if the timing was ok and that the building was open totally boggles me.  This just seems like something that would occur.  Granted, that was an assumption that I made, and I would have assumed that this was an innocent mistake except for one thing:  The sign-up sheet. 

When I returned from vacation, I found the sign-up sheet for the beading workshop on the bulleting board in such a way that it was covering the note that I put on the board saying that use of the building had to come through the secretary’s office.  The way the sign-up sheet was placed, there is no way that this could have happened “accidentally.”  The push-pins were removed from the original sign, then the sign-up was place over it, and the original push pins were put back in.  I tried to see this as an “accident,” but all I could see is it was as disrespectful and a direct attack on my leadership of this church.

Then there was the ambush by Former Secretary Husband at the BC meeting following the vacation.  Did I send out letters?  Did I call people?  As with the situation involving Stage Grandma, it seemed to be too coincidental that I would go against Former Secretary’s wishes and an ambush from Former Secretary Husband would appear.  I will admit that this is conjecture, but again, there seems to be a correlation.

I was surprised to have Board Member bring up the need for a calendar.  I was trying to figure out why Board Member would need the calendar, she did not seem to do anything that would require consulting the calendar.  Again, it felt like some trap was being set.

I was also surprised that throughout all of the “Beading Incident” one key person was remarkably quite: Former Secretary.

Then came the “Family Fun Night Incident.”  Granted, the calendar was not back out, but the calendar seems to be metaphor for something else that is going on.  There is too much drama over this to have it “just be about the calendar.”  The question about whether Church of God was going to use the building again felt like a trap.  Committee Chair was in charge of set-up and had already talked to Cong. Pres.  Current Secretary was in all week if people needed to know the building usage.  The usage calendar was on the bulletin.  But I was told (granted, this was from Board Member) that Current Secretary should have known to call the Women’s Fellowship and let them know.  (This just does not make sense to me.)  Then when I walked out, Former Secretary and Board Member were staring at the bulletin board, at the spot where the calendar was.

I said the calendar was not coming back.  Well an argument ensued.  I decided that I would rather leave the situation and regroup then to say something to Former Secretary that I would later regret.  Former Secretary accused me of “not communicating” and for turning my back on her.  I explain that I did not want to say anything that I would regret.  Instead of leaving it at that, she decided to push the situation.  And, unfortunately, I said some things that I regret; not that I would not have said them, I just would have said them in a more appropriate way.

I put on my coat to leave and Former Secretary said that maybe she should leave.  I did not stop her.  Again, if felt like I was being set up.

The Bishop came and talked about how we needed to move beyond our past and how we needed to look at what we are doing to each other.

As soon as the Bishop left, Former Secretary Husband claimed that Former Secretary was innocent in the situation and that I better never speak to her in that manner again.   And Board Member said again that Current Secretary should have called the Women’s Group and let them know because this was my “big show.”  So much for the message of the Bishop!

I quit!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Nutcracker

OK, Nick had never seen the Nutcracker before.  So we went to the movie, Nutcracker in 3D.  In my opinion, not worth seeing.  It reminded me of a bad cross of Tommy and The Wizard of Oz.   About the only thing that was Nutcracker about it was some of the music, it had a Rat King, a Nutcracker, and a growing Christmas tree.  Other than that, nah.  For introducing someone to The Nutcracker, that was not the way to do it.

It so happens that Ovation had a Nutcracker competition.  So we have been watching various versions. 

The Berlin Ballet version was difficult to follow.  Not really sticking to the story.  Although the guy who played Drosselmeyer was beautiful!  He was not the traditional old craggy Drosselmeyer, but a young and mysterious one.

The Bolshoi was wonderful!  Very traditional.  Well danced and well costumed.  None of the dancers really stood out, although the guy who played the Nutcracker was very talented.

The final Nutcracker we saw was the Bejart Nutcracker.  Usually I would not like a production like this because the music and the Pas de Deux was maintained.  Otherwise, the dance was a story of the choreographer's life.  Now, I tend to be a purest, but OMG, the guys were BEAUTIFUL and very scantily dressed.  The "Drosselmeyer" character was just a joy to look at!

Well, now Nick has seen The Nutcracker.  I probably should give up looking at ballet dancers ballet for a New Year's resolution.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent 3A Tell Him What You See

Advent 3, 2010

Tell Him What You See

Matthew 11:2-11

First off, I am going to apologize for this sermon. This is not the kind of sermon I usually like to give. I like to preach things that will be enlightening and uplifting. And I really like people to walk away from a service with two feelings: one is being challenged and the second is being supported and empowered for that challenge. But with today’s gospel reading, I am having trouble with the supported and empowered part. I think we have plenty to challenge us in today’s readings; that is not the problem. What I see as the problem is that we don’t have a lot to feel uplifted about.

Let’s first look at the story. John the Baptist is in prison. He has been out spreading the message to the people that the messiah, the anointed one, was coming. Because of his message, the authorities of the time have gotten just a little upset with him. And how little was this upset? Enough upset to get John thrown in jail and eventually enough to get him beheaded. That is not much upset at all, right?

So we have John in jail; awaiting who knows what. John sends his followers to see if Jesus really is the messiah. John wants to be reassured that what he had been giving his life to had, in fact, been the proper Rabbi, not just another person claiming messiah status.

Now, Jesus could have been nice and simply answered, “Yes, that would be me!” and sent John’s disciples back. But, of course, Jesus won’t just answer the question and be done with it. No, Jesus refers back to the passage in Isaiah that tells what to expect when the messiah comes: the blind see; the deaf hear; the poor are raised… What Jesus is saying is, “Look around, all the things that have been foretold are occurring. If all these things are happening, then you should assume that the Messiah is here.” So without actually answering the question, Jesus IS answering the question.

If we were to look around today, would we be able to tell that Jesus is the Messiah? If we were to go back and tell John what we see and hear in the world today, my guess is that it would be much different than what Jesus presents. People are starving. People are being tortured. People are indiscriminately blowing each other up. (I guess it wouldn’t be much better even if they were discriminately blowing each other up.) People are walking into schools and killing each other. We may listen to politicians, but we certainly NOT hearing good news. In many ways, hatred seems more present than ever.

This is, in part, the reason that many Jewish people give for not believing that Jesus is the messiah. If the messiah has already come into the world, then how come the world is so messed up? How could something like the Holocaust happen if the Son of God has come to redeem the world? How can oppression and exploitation exist if the Good News has come to the world? How can we claim that Christ is the Messiah when the fruits of the Messiah’s presence are nowhere to be found? And you must admit, that is a pretty hard argument to refute.

When we look at the world, it is difficult not to get depressed. The way things are now, even places of worship need to have armed guards. One group of people is telling another that they are wrong and neither side gives any credence to the point of view of the other. It is pretty depressing. If we proclaim that Christ is alive, where are the blind gaining their sight? Where are the deaf, hearing? Where are the poor having the good news brought to them?

Is the fulfillment of Isaiah being lived out in our malls? In our schools? In our jobs? Within our congregations? Are we, as a country and a world, focusing on the needs of those around us or are we just searching for ways to hide and keep ourselves safe? If John were alive today, would he believe that his life was given for a purpose or would he assume it was given for some kind of pipedream?

In all honesty, I don’t know if things were really all that much better in the time of Jesus. In Biblical times, they had their problems too. There were people who were hungry. There were people who were homeless. There were people who were begging. There were people who were warring. And in actuality, it probably is better now than it was back then. But that does not get us off the hook. We know that the world could be a better place for us all. And it is this world, this better world, that Jesus points us to.

John’s disciples could have gone back to him and said, “That Jesus guy is crazy. On the way back here, we were accosted by five blind beggars. And when we tried to tell them that the Messiah had arrived, they all pointed to their ears and said, ‘Huh?’” Even with Jesus in their midst, I am sure that the problems of society continued.

But I am also sure Jesus was not lying. Miracles were happening. The blind were receiving their sight. The deaf were able to hear. It may not have been happening to everyone, BUT IT WAS HAPPENING! And this is the important thing, just because it was not happening to all didn’t mean that it unimportant! It reminds me of a story I heard. A man was walking down a beach and noticed thousands of baby turtles scurrying to get into the water. But many, if not most, of the turtles were being eaten by the birds that saw the whole thing as nature’s “All You Can Eat” buffet. Now the man also saw a woman picking up baby turtles and she would toss each baby turtle into the water. Well, the man decided to tell the woman how silly this was. He said, “Look at all the baby turtles and so many of them are being eaten. Picking up one here and there and throwing it in the water isn’t going to make any difference. Why bother?” At this question, the woman looked at the little turtle in her hand, and then heaved it into the ocean. She turned and responded to the man, “It made a difference to that one.”

If we turn on the news, it is tough to not get overwhelmed. It is tough not to just look at the situation of the world and turn away in disgust. Really, the whole thing looks like a losing battle. But that would be like the woman saying that since she cannot save all of the turtles, she would not save any of the turtles.

I’m guessing that God may feel very similarly. There was so much happening. The sin in the world was so great. God could have just turned away from our world and have forgotten all about humanity. God could have just abandoned us and left us to our own will. But instead, God sent Jesus.

Now Jesus could have looked at the Middle East of Biblical times and decide that the problem was just too big for one man and decided to do nothing, but he didn’t. He went out. And even though he could not encounter every blind, deaf, or poor person in the world, he healed those whom he did encounter. Just because he could not physically touch all of them didn’t mean that he shouldn’t touch any of them. While Jesus was on earth, he did what he could for those who were near him. He healed those who came to him and brought the good news to those who would listen.

We, as Jesus’ followers, are also called to likewise go out into the world. Even though it may look like the problem is just too big, we are still to go out and be the light of Christ in the world. That is one of the things about the Gospel of Matthew; Jesus is always calling us, not just to faith, but also to action. It is in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus gives the great commission, telling the disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” And we too are called to go out into the world and make disciples. And in most cases, that is going to be one person at a time.

This too was the way John had gone out into the world. John went to the people and spoke of the one that was to follow. And this is also what Jesus is referencing in that somewhat confusing last section of the gospel reading. How can Jesus say that no one has arisen greater but yet say that he is the least of those in heaven? Seems kind of confusing.

What Jesus is referring to is that John is the last and the greatest of the “Old” prophets. John is the last prophet before Jesus is risen to glory. John was the greatest of prophets, but like I said last week, he does not have the whole story; John does not know about the resurrection. But it is us, the ones who come after that may be the least in the kingdom of heaven but are greater than he. We have the knowledge and promise of the risen Christ where John did not.

And it is through the risen Christ that God scooped up all of us turtles on the beach and tossed us into the ocean of forgiveness. It is through the risen Christ that we are given new sight. It is through the risen Christ that our have our ears opened to hear the good news. We have what John did not have and could not know; we have the blessing that God spread over the world.

So we are able to go out and to do more than we ever thought was possible. We are able to bring healing to a world that is in pain. Now granted, we may not be able to bring this healing to the whole entire globe, but we can bring it to our family, our places of work, to our congregation, we can even bring it to those we meet in our daily lives. When Christ was on earth, he was just in one spot. But through the power of Christ’s Spirit within us, that power can encircle the world. Just by doing our part, we help create the world that Jesus told the disciples to report to John. But as with the theme of Advent, we are not there yet. We may never get there in our lifetime. But this is the vision Jesus would have us strive for and as we look to that day when we remember Jesus’ birth, we also look to the day when reign of God will be here on earth.

That is our challenge. And I guess we have the uplifting promise of the Spirit. So this isn’t as bad as I suspected. In Advent, we have both, the promise and the expectation. But with Christ, we can live in that tension and still go out to spread God’s love to all we meet.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Voice in the Wilderness Advent 2A

I was thinking back to my days in grad school. I was remembering one afternoon when there was this man on campus. He was in his mid-thirties and dressed in jeans. He referred to himself as “Brother Jim.” Now the thing that made Brother Jim so memorable was not what he was wearing, it was what he was doing. He was standing near the Student Union on campus telling all of the people that they were “Damned to hell!” Now remember, this was the early 1990’s in the middle of Iowa, we didn’t see this kind of thing very often! Brother Jim was telling people that frats and sororities were nothing but “Hotbeds of fornication!” and he was telling people that listening to rock-and-roll music was to be “Brainwashed by the devil!” And best of all is he kept telling people that wearing shorts was a heinous sin and would cause you to burn in hell.

Needless to say, Brother Jim had quite a crowd of people surrounding him. Most of the people that surrounded him were there to heckle the guy. People were opening their Bibles and quoting scripture back to Jim in an attempt to refute his arguments. Some people were just taunting him to see if they could get a rise out of him. The Abnormal Psychology class decided to have an impromptu field trip o watch not only Brother Jim but also the people in the crowd.

Finally, the security people came and escorted Brother Jim off campus. When Brother Jim complained that he had every right to be on campus as this was a public university, the security people agreed. However, the security people also told Jim that they would not be responsible for his safety if he chose to stay on campus. With these words, Brother Jim decided to leave.

Now Brother Jim didn’t call those of us standing there a “brood of vipers,” but he could have. He wasn’t baptizing, but he was calling us to repent. He wasn’t wearing camel hair and eating locusts, but he was certainly drawing a crowd. And the people came out; some of them, myself included, came out just to get a look at this “nut.” But by the time security finally lead him away, a very large crowd had gathered.

This is probably the closest I have ever come to a situation similar to that of today’s gospel.

When I read today’s gospel, my first thought was, “Oh, John the Baptist. Prepare the way of the Lord. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” I thought that this should not a hard one. John was right, we should turn our lives around. I thought that yes, we should live our lives to the glory of God. I mean, really, this is pretty old hat, isn’t it?

As I have said before, this is one of the dangers of living in our time: The readings from the Bible just become often told stories. These stories lose the immediacy that they had when the events originally happened. For many of us, we have heard the story of John the Baptist so many times that we forget that he was a radical in the community. He had crowds surrounding him not because they wanted to hear what he had to say but because they thought he was a kook!

The people of biblical times were a people in search of meaning. They were looking for a person to come and save them from their problems. They were looking for a warrior king to come in and save them from the harsh government. As such, one group of people would follow just about anyone with a new teaching while the rest of the people would stand around and heckle the teacher. I guess when you don’t have TV; just about anything will count as entertainment! Well, most of the people in the crowd surrounding John were of the same mind as those surrounding Brother Jim on campus; most just wanted to see the show. Similar to the people in the crowd on campus wanting to tell the “nut” he was wrong, the Pharisees and Sadducees went out to listen to the “kook in the desert” and to tell him how his preaching was wrong.

The question I have, though, is; why do so many people want to tell these “kooks” they are wrong? If these people really are not in touch with reality, why do we pay any attention to them? If these people are not in touch with reality, why do they make us so angry with their words?

I think we listen to these people and get angry with these people because they speak a truth to us. Within their ranting and ravings, there is a word of truth that convicts us. When John yells at us from the desert, we know that despite all of the hype, somewhere in his words, he is speaking a truth we need to hear. But I’ll tell you, I may need to hear the words but I don’t want to hear them! When the man was ranting on campus, some of what he said I believe was wrong. I don’t think wearing shorts is a sin, but I do think there were things that he was saying that we did need to hear. I think Brother Jim was calling us to look at our life anew just as John was calling the people of the Biblical time to reexamine their lives.

Now, believe it or not, these people, calling to us from the wilderness, are trying to make our lives better. They are trying to show us a way of living that will bring us peace and joy not strife and contention. They are trying to show us a new way of living that they believe is pleasing to God. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, does it? But if it is not a bad thing, then why do we resist?

I think we resist because in the words of these people shouting in the wilderness, we are not hearing the word of God! We resist the words of John and of Brother Jim because these are not the words of God. It may sound odd to say, but the words these men speak are not the words of a Savior! These men in the wilderness come close to speaking the words of a Savior, but they miss the mark.

As I said, both John and Brother Jim are trying to show us a way to live our lives that is better and more fulfilling that the way we had been living; the problem is that this way of life is more difficult. Actually it is even more than that, what John and Brother Jim are asking is downright impossible! I think we resist the message because we are left in a corner: We cannot always live the upright, upstanding life; but if we don’t live an upstanding life, then we will burn in Hell! So we resist the message because it convicts us without giving us a way to redeem ourselves.

This is the way of the world. The world tells us that it is all up to us. The world tells us that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. The world tells us that we are totally responsible for our lives. This is the way of the law. The law tells us what we do wrong. The law points out what we need to fix in our lives. This is not bad, but this is not what we are waiting for in advent. We are not waiting for someone to yell at us and tell us that we are vipers.

What we are waiting for in Advent is the one to come who will change us and will change the world. We are waiting for the one who promises us a future of hope and discovery, not just one of judgment and punishment. We are waiting for the Savior.

Jesus is the one we are waiting for. He is the one who gives us love, power, and forgiveness. Jesus gives us more than just the option of “turn or burn.” Jesus gives us a reason to listen to John and to Brother Jim and gives us a reason to heed their words.

You see, the words of the Baptist are a call to wake up and experience life anew. We are to listen and respond. But our salvation does not depend on response. Our salvation does not depend on us. If it depended on us, we could never make it. But it doesn’t, it all depends on the great gift given to us in Christ. Christ didn’t die so that we could “earn” our salvation, Christ died so that we could receive the gift of salvation, a freely given gift. Christ died so that we could have a full life. Christ died so that even if we don’t change and get it all right, we still have love and forgiveness.

This is the freedom of the gospel. John and Brother Jim tell us that it is all up to us. John and Brother Jim tell us that we need to change or we are damned. John and Brother Jim tell us that we need to repent or we are lost. But Jesus tells us that we are saved. Jesus tells us that we are loved and forgiven. Jesus tells us that we are free to live a life of service because we have been given the ultimate Christmas gift. This is the gospel and this is the gift of Christmas. As we look to the birth of Christ, let us also remember the great gift that we have been given.

Welcoming in Christ (Unfinished Sermon)

Often, when I have interviewed with churches, I will ask them to describe themselves without using the words “Welcoming,” “Friendly,” or “Outgoing.” One of the reasons I do this is because I think these are words what we really do not know the meaning of. We may think we know what they mean, but when I look at various congregations, it seems that that understanding was not present.

In our reading from Romans, Paul tells us that we are to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you. That we are to welcome each other for the glory of God.

So, if we are to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed each of us, what does that mean?

Well, that is a question that I cannot answer for you. That is a question that I can only answer for myself. I can tell stories about being rejected by congregations and denominations that I had devoted my life to. I can tell stories about family and friends that chose to let me know that I created too much difficulty to bother with. I can tell you stories about judgment leveled against me because I did not conform to someone’s preconceived notion of what it meant to be Christian.

Now, some of you may be drawing conclusions as to what I am talking about. And in some cases, you would be right, but in other cases you would be very wrong. I have lost friends because I believed that God could and would save anyone. I lost friends because I believed that God’s love was greater than anything we could do here on Earth. Something as simple as believing that Christ’s gift on the cross was meant for everyone has caused me to lose friends.

In the situations of my life where people have turned me away, I am sure if you asked these people, they would all claim to be friendly and welcoming. No one wants to think of themselves as cold and judgmental. And in the stories I could tell, I am sure all the people thought they were doing the right thing. But in each of these situations, what I felt was not welcoming at all; what I felt pushed me farther away from the love of God. I don’t think that what I felt from these people who claimed to be Christians was what Jesus had intended.

How did Christ welcome people? Did he pass judgment on them? Did he speak of them with contempt and fear? Did he make comments about people just within earshot? No. When Christ welcomed people, he welcomed them with love and with compassion. He invited the sinners and the outcasts to eat with him. He extended forgiveness to the adulterer. He embraced the downtrodden and he healed the ones who were excluded from society. He became the servant to those whom society called outcasts and died for us all, even as we continue to flaunt our gift. This is the welcome Christ gave to us and the welcome we are to give to others.

I want you to take a moment. Think of a time when you were not welcomed. Think of a time that you were shunned, hurt, or cast out. What did they do that made you feel left out and alone? What happened that let you know that you did not belong?

Now think of a time when you were welcomed. Think of a time when you felt lost and someone brought you in and made you feel at home. What changed? What helped you to feel that all was ok? What was said that let you know that you were indeed welcomed.

To be welcomed as Christ would welcome us is to have

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

More Sleepless Nights.

This whole thing with the Former Secretary (FS) is getting crazy!  I keep tying to find ways to not get snagged into all the systems stuff, but find it difficult. I know that people are rebelling because I am holding boundaries where there were previously none.  This is not going over well with the FS so she is getting people to do her bidding.

I just feel entirely too thin-skinned to be doing this.  I know I just need to stand up to the whole thing and call it out, but I am too wimpy for that.  I just want to go away and do something involving no other people except Nick.  I just want to be left alone.  I am tired.  I am jumping at shadows.  I am amazed at how mean "Good People" can be.

Then I have to ask how am I contributing to the system?  How am I being reactive?  How is my reactivity contributing to the general anxiety of the system?  Am I doing more harm than good there?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thoughts Flying Through My Brain

Hopefully, writing them down will help them to allow me to go to sleep.

First off,   Happy 5th Anniversary to Nick!  I love you and don't know why you put up with me and my neurotic ways!

Two:  Anyone want a cat?  We inherited a cat.  This cat is younger than the one that we previously had and is terrorizing the older cat.  The older cat is bigger, but wimpier than the new cat, so the new cat just reads the older one the riot act.  We had a urine "oops" previously, and today we found a mound of turds on the bed.  (The new one had the old one trapped in the litter box a week or so ago.  I am afraid the older on is scared to use the box.)

Three:  The congregation keeps being bipolar.  Things are going great in many aspects.  We made it through the scheduling conflict with little ramifications, but what I had predicted has come to pass:  The husband of the former secretary (the one who is on the council) has decided to become passive aggressive.  He started to ask if I had made any phone calls to former congregants and kept quoting from "the contract" about a mutual ministry review.  He was informed that a mutual ministry review was not a job evaluation of Fr. Ben.  I also, not so subtly informed him that he may want to be careful of quoting the contract.

As it stands, I am only contracted to work Wed, Wed Night, Thurs, and Sunday.  As anyone in the church knows, I do not work those hours. I am also working Tuesday, Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons.  I am also taking a defacto pay cut in that I am getting milage and other expenses cut.  If people want to get picky about the contract, they will end up on the short end of the stick.

I feel as if people in the congregation see me as the enemy.  Beware false gods, but be even more aware of false devils!  The congregation has functioned with such loose (or maybe even non-existent) boundries that any boundries feel restrictive.  I know I have to just stand firm and wait it out.

Oh, bright comment of the day:  Now that all of the brush is gone [and you can now see the church from the road!] we are more likely to be robbed.  (IDK, I think better visibility from the road should make us LESS likely to be robbed.  But what do I know?)

Happy Advent to all!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

WAKE UP! Advent 1A

Advent 1 Year A   November 28, 2010     Matthew 24:36-44  
The Rev. Benton Quest

Happy New Year!

Some may think I am about a month early, but today we celebrate the beginning of a new church year. With a new church year comes a new sense of life and vitality that change often brings. And with this change we once again stretch and look at our life anew.

So often in our lives we can get lulled into a kind of walking sleep. We get up in the morning, we go about our daily lives, and we go to bed at night. That day is gone, never to be lived again. And then, again the next morning, we get up, we go about our daily lives, and we go to bed at night. Before we know it, weeks have passed and we really have nothing to show for it, no memories to reflect back upon. We have been living life, but we can’t remember anything about it. We have been going through life in a kind of sleep.

Well, that kind of thing could happen with the church year, too. We come in, we say the familiar prayers, we hear the familiar stories, we see the familiar people… And granted, there is a certain comfort in all of this; but there is also the potential that we can get to the point where our worship life becomes another type of walking sleep. We have been doing it; we just can’t remember anything about it. It is for this reason that we have the various seasons in the church year. We have the different seasons to wake us up and help us to see our worship and the whole world anew. So you see, we changed the color of the paraments on the altar, we added the Advent wreath, and we have changed the prayers we use during the service. All of this to help us to remember that time has passed and to keep us from being lulled into sleep.

So, I guess I could have said, “Wake up!” instead of “Happy New Year.” I could have, but you all would have probably thought I was being rude. However, with the start of this new church year, we do get a wake-up call. As we begin the season of Advent, I won’t be the one telling you to wake up, in the gospel, we hear Jesus himself telling his followers, which includes all of us here, to keep awake.

In the gospel reading, Jesus is telling us the importance of keeping awake. When we hear this, we must realize that this is more than just being coherent, keeping awake is maintaining an awareness of those people and things that surround us.

Jesus first starts by telling his disciples that no one knows the day or hour of the Lord’s coming. NO ONE. Not even the son – Jesus himself – knows this. Only the Father knows. I find it interesting that even though Jesus tells us that no one knows the date, so many people spend so much time trying to figure the day and time out. What is especially interesting are the people who will state, “Well, we may not be able to know the day and hour, but at least we can figure out the month and year!” Why people are so interested in knowing the exact time eludes me. My only guess is if we know, we don’t have to be awake. We can sleep until that moment and then wake up when the time arrives. Kind of like the bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming back, look busy!” But Jesus doesn’t want us to sleep; he wants us to be awake and alert. He wants us ready for action.

Jesus again reinforces that no one would know the day or hour by citing an example from the time of Noah. Jesus tells the disciples that as the great flood approached, the people had no idea their own demise was near. As Jesus says, “they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” So, again, what Jesus is saying is that planning for the coming of the Lord is a waste of time.

Since we are not actively planning for the Lord’s coming, that doesn’t mean we get to kick back and do nothing. Just because we do not know the day or hour that does not mean that we can just slide through. Just because we can’t know the details, doesn’t mean that we should be spending our lives in a state of walking sleep, Jesus wants more of his disciples. It is here that he brings in a few other examples.

In his examples, Jesus talks about people out doing things, people going about their daily lives. These people are not waiting in a cave in anticipation of the Lord’s return; they are out in the field and are grinding meal. He does not talk about people just sitting around waiting for something to happen. These people are active.

It is while these activities are occurring that some are taken, and some are left behind. Now, we might want to ask how the choice was made as to those who were taken? Unfortunately, we are not given the details, but Jesus does give us another example right after, which we can assume is meant to help us understand.

Right after the disappearing people, Jesus tells about the thief in the night and the homeowner who was asleep. Since the homeowner was asleep, the thief was able to steal the owner’s property. But if the owner had been awake, the thief would not have succeeded. So by giving us this example, we can assume that in the previous examples, the ones who were taken were the ones who were awake and those who were left were those who had fallen asleep under the spell of the world. And finally make sure everyone gets it, Jesus reiterates that we need to be awake, alert, and ready because the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour.

What Jesus is telling us, then, is that we are to live our lives being alert and ready. We are not to let the routines of the world lull us into sleep. We are to wait for the return of the Lord but we are not to just sit there and let the world pass us by. We are to live in the tension that the advent of Christ’s return brings.

One of my seminary professors had a great way of explaining this tension: He would say, “Could Jesus return today? Yes.” Then he would say, “Am I counting on it? No.” It is true, Jesus could return at any time. We can look for signs, we can try to figure out dates, but we are told that no one knows the hour of the Lord’s return. So the message Jesus has for us is that we should live in the expectation of his return but also realize that we have been given a life to live, here and now. We need to live our lives but we also need to live with the awareness that Christ could return, and so therefore, we can’t just go through our lives, asleep! We need to get busy!

I think there are many things that stop us from being busy for Christ. We have jobs, families, and commitments. We get caught up in the trials of life. These trials can be thought of as a darkness in our lives, a darkness where, if we are not careful, we can get lost. What is sad is that when we get lost, we forget that we have been given a light to lead us. We have the example of God incarnate, God with Us. We don’t need to fumble around in the dark when we have the light of Christ to lead us.

This awareness of Christ’s presence in our lives gives us a new way of living life and a new way approaching the tasks in our lives. Christ is the presence that opens our eyes to the true potential of life.

Granted, we do not know when Jesus will return, but there is something else we cannot know, we cannot know when we will make our own personal return to Christ. We usually do not like to think about that too much, but we will each have our own “thief in the night” moment. And try as we might, we do not know the day or hour of our death. When this time comes, will we have our house in order? Will we be ready to move on to the heavenly kingdom?

Part of Jesus’ call to “keep awake” is for us to be aware of our relationships, not only with God but also with those around us. As we approach the day we celebrate Christ’s birth, we are to remember the great sacrifice that was made for us in that act of God becoming human. As we look to Jesus’ birth, we can also be thankful for his saving death and resurrection. And we needn’t be afraid of the thief in the night, because we know that we have great love of God to lead us into the night and to keep us safe.

So, Happy New Year! Happy Advent! And Good Morning! As we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth, I ask you each to make a New Year’s resolution: Resolve to approach each day as a gift and each person as a treasure. Resolve to see the light of Christ in everyone you meet and to see Christ’s light in yourself also! Resolve to dream the dream God has for us! Dream of a world where Christ love fills our community. If we are not dreaming, then we are just sleeping. Christ calls us out of our sleep! And finally, resolve to leave behind the dark and live in the wondrous light that has been given to us through that small child in a manger and the miraculous man he became.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Growing old is manditory, growing up is optional...

Some people (some?) are just children walking around in adult suits.

First off, things in the congregation are going MUCH better.  I don't know if that is the effect of celexa or if things are changing; either way, life in the congregation has been pretty good.


I have been having some run-ins with the former secretary.  She decided to tell me that she did not like where I moved the stained glass in the sactuary.  That is fine,she does not have to like it, that still does not mean I am going to move it.  (I also need to say that she may have beenin church 6 Sundays since I have been here.  She is never in church so why should this bother her?)  She was NOT pleased to hear that. 

Well, on Sunday, I get an e-mail informing me of a "Beading Workshop" taking place at the church in a few weeks.  This was the first time I ever heard of this.  I asked the congregational Pres if he knew nything about it.  No, he did not.  I asked if he approved the use of the building?  Again, no.  The event was written on the calendar and that was assumed to be ok.  (Wanna guess who had decided to hold this little workshop?  Yep!  The Former Secretary!)

Then when I said that it was not an approved event, I got the "well, we'll just cancel then.  We thought we were doing something good."  (Overtones of "I'll take my ball and go home.)  I explained that I was pleased by the event, I just didn't like the route of obtaining use of the building.  To which I heard, "I didn't think we needed permission to use our building." 

Did I mention when all the planning for this event was going on, I and the President were sitting at various tables in the same hall as the people planning the thing?  And all they had to do was ask either one of us if there was a conflict?

Oy vey.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanks for the Troubles, Jesus. Pentecost 25 Proper 28C

Proper 28C                Luke 21:5-19                    Nov. 14, 2010             The Rev. Benton Quest

I was watching a show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network a while ago. I don’t know if you are familiar with TBN but it is the channel that has all the preachers on it. Now I need to tell you, I normally don’t make it a habit of watching TBN, but when I watched, they were having their fundraising week. Well, the preaching was quite unbelievable. These folks were preaching in a manner that I don’t think I will ever accomplish! Maybe you don’t want me to accomplish this style!! Well, I am not going to talk about the preaching style. What I wish to discuss is the content of the preaching.

I will admit that I didn’t hear the entire sermon, but what I did hear I found upsetting. It seems that this preacher was talking about how all the people in a certain congregation had gone from destitution to affluence. How suddenly the parking lot was beginning to fill with Cadillacs and Lincolns. How people have gone from having little money to having money to spare. The preacher was talking about how by just believing in Jesus, the people became wealthy.

Now this sounds like a good message. I bet if we went out and guaranteed that by coming to St. Swithin's, people would become rich, we would have people knocking down our doors! We would all like to hear that by simply going to church we could all make whole lot of money. Well, most of us would probably like to hear that message. Yet, for how good a message that would be to hear, there is a problem with that message. There is an underlying message to what the preacher was saying. What the preacher was saying is that we should believe in Jesus for the things that we can receive. What he was saying is that being a Christian is like having a winning lottery ticket. If we believe enough in Jesus then we will have big cars, big houses, abundant health, and lots and lots of cash.

So very often this is the message we hear when people talk about Christianity. The message we get is if we only follow Jesus our life will be so much better. If we only follow Jesus our life will be so much easier. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We don’t follow Christ and our life is a mess because of sin. We follow Christ, He forgives our sins, and our lives are much better because we are making Christ happy and he wants to give us stuff. Sounds good to me!

In seminary we had a name for this type of belief. The belief that because we believe then everything will be wonderful is known as a Theology of Glory. A Theology of Glory is pretty enticing. We believe in Christ and Christ gives us exactly what we want. And know what? A Theology of Glory works! It works until your wife gets cancer or your husband is in an accident or large buildings collapse killing thousands of people or jet engines self-destruct. When the “bad” things in life happen, then the Theology of Glory leaves us standing in the smoke and dust asking, “What happened?”

But Jesus doesn’t teach a theology of Glory. He teaches what Martin Luther called a Theology of the Cross. A Theology of the Cross has to do with learning from our mistakes and holding to our convictions. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus talks about being arrested and persecuted. Those who follow Jesus are going to be arrested and persecuted. Through their association with Jesus, the disciples lives are going to be come difficult and complicated. They probably will be taken to jail, not to the new car show room.

When I read these scriptures, I am confused as to how to respond. I don’t want to be arrested! I don’t want to have to go to the jail and visit with you when you get arrested! I don’t want to end up in jail myself! Just think about the evangelism campaign we could have! “Join St. Swithin's! A welcoming place where you can get your very own serial number! Free mug shot with every membership!” We won’t be able to keep the people out!

Why does Jesus do that? Why does Jesus promise all of these horrible things for his followers? It really is not a good way to get follower and believers. I think you will agree with me that we would much rather hear about how following Jesus would bring us a life of leisure. We don’t want to hear that through following Jesus our life is going to be more difficult. But Jesus doesn’t let us off. He tells us that we need to be prepared to be rejected by the world. We need to be ready to have the world not just passively ignore us but to actively persecute us.

Humm… I don’t like hearing this at all. And I would like to talk around these words. I would like to tell you that Jesus was just messing with our minds; that we really don’t have to go through all this suffering. But to tell you that would be to do Jesus a disservice.

Now one thing I want to make perfectly clear; Christ wants us to have the best life possible. Christ wants us to live a full and fulfilling life. We need to always remember this. Jesus is not telling us to follow him so that we will have trouble and pain. Jesus is telling us to follow him so that we can have the best life possible.

The way of following Christ is to pursue the things that are truly important in life. To follow Chris is to be fully involved in life. To follow Christ is to experience what is the most important in life.

What are the most important things in life? Is it most important to have things or to have friends? Is it more important to have the praise of everyone or to have the satisfaction of knowing that you did what was right? Is it more important to have the admiration of the masses or to have the love of God? It is nice to have things, praise, and the admiration of the masses, but it is more important to have the love of God. Like a good parent, Christ wants what is best for us. And just as with children, often what the parent knows is best may not always appear to the child to be the best. Also, what is the best may not be what is the easiest! If what was the best were also the easiest, then the new health plan would involve eating cookies and watching TV! Unfortunately, maintaining our health is a little harder. But in putting in the work, we get the benefits.

Our faith life is the same way. When we follow Jesus, we have to put in the work. This work helps us to live fulfilling lives. This work helps us to live a life that is rich and vibrant. A life in Christ is not dull and boring, no! It is full of energy, abundant energy! Life in Christ is not about judgment. It is about freedom!

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t want us to have an abundant life. If we have our fulfillment in God, then we don’t need to buy our fulfillment in the Martha Stewart collection. If we find our fulfillment in Christ, then we don’t need to worry about how others view us. If we have our fulfillment in Christ, we can move about life, experiencing what is best.

But it is this lack of worry about the world that will cause the world to rebel and causes the problems Jesus teaches about. There is a lot of pressure for us to define ourselves by the ways of the world. A lot of people have a lot resting on my desire for a new car or a new shirt or a new Wii. Advertising’s sole aim is to make me feel that my life is not worth living if I don’t own their product. Advertising’s sole aim is to make me (and you!) feel like we are less than the special creations created by God.

I have something to tell you! We are more than new Cadillacs! God gives us more than the purely material! We are the baptized children of God, heirs to the eternal reign! We are the redeemed! We have the promise of Immanuel, of God with us! God here and now! Soon we will come to the table and be fed and strengthened by Christ’s own body and blood. What greater gift can we receive?

It would be nice to have a Cadillac, or a Lincoln, or a 1976 tan Fiat Spider convertible with caramel leather interior. But to measure God’s goodness by purely tangible possessions is to limit our understanding of God. No, God comes to us in so many different ways. God comes to us in the laughter of children, in the coarse texture of a cat’s tongue, the sparkle in a loved ones eyes, the smell of freshly baked cookies, the feel of sheets fresh off the line, the feel of clothes still warm from the dryer, the sound of gentle rain on the roof, the smell of a fire on a cold evening, or the gentle brush of a finger on a cheek. Jesus is present in all of these. When we limit our concept of blessing to those things we can own, we limit God.

So as we approach this Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for the things in our lives, but let’s also be sure to give thanks for the multitude of small blessings in our lives and pray that God increases our awareness of these blessings. God promises us more than we can ever understand. It may not be what the world promises, but it will be so much better!

Friday, November 12, 2010


My church is right across the street from a high school.

I thought it would be great to offer my help to the school concerning a Gay/Stright Alliance or anything like that.  Let's face it, I am gay, I am a clergy person, (and a quite liberal clergy person at that!) and I have some backing in psychology.  Personally, this seems like a no-brainer! 

So I called the counseling department, twice, and left messages.  I heard nothing in return.

I called the principal's office and was given the name and phone of the GSA advisor.  I have heard nothing in return.

How hard is it to return a phone call?

Monday, November 08, 2010


I stole this from Lemuel, go show him some love!

20 years ago (08. Nov 1990)

1.) How old were you? 26
2.) Where did you go to school?  I was out in the working world with a BA in Psychology and Psychobiology
3.) Where did you work? I worked for a private Sheltered Workshop/Residential Center
4.) Where did you live? I lived in a little, tiny house (you could sit on the "throne" and lean your forehead on the wall in front of you!) in Grand Detour, IL.
5.) Where did you hang out? Anchovies
6.) Did you wear glasses? Nope!
7.) Who was your best friend? Anna
8.) How many tattoos did you have? None.

9.) How many piercings did you have? None.

10.) What car did you drive? A green Chevy Citation, not sure of the year.
11.) Had you been to a real party? Not really sure of this question, but I don't think so.
12.) Had your heart broken? Yes

13.) Single/Taken/Married/Divorced: Single

10 years ago (08. Nov 2000)

1.) How old were you? 36
2.) Where did you go to school? By this point I had finished my MA in Psychology and also had an M.Div.
3.) Where did you work? My first church in the middle of nowhere northern Michigan.
4.) Where did you live? circa 1970's Mobile Home
5.) Where did you hang out? Traverse City, MI
6.) Did you wear glasses? No.

7.) Who was your best friend? Still Anna
8.) How many tattoos did you have? One.

9.) How many piercings did you have? None.

10.) What car did you drive? A red 1999 Plymouth Duster.  I loved that car!
11.) Had you been to a real party? No.

12.) Had your heart broken? Yes, although I wasn't ready to admit it and he had no idea he did it!

13.) Single/Taken/Married/Divorced: Still single

5 years ago (08. Nov 2005)

1.) How old were you? 41
2.) Where did you go to school? Kind of all over the place.  Nothing like a formal degree, just tons of seminars.

3.) Where did you work? Bethlehem Lutheran Church
4.) Where did you live? In my house!  I loved that house!  It had gargoyles!  It had hardwood floors!  It was beautiful!
5.) Where did you hang out? I didn't really have a "hang out" place. 
6.) Did you wear glasses? Yes, just to read when I remembered them.

7.) Who were your best friends? Anna, still
8.) Who was your crush? Jim
9.) How many tattoos did you have? Two.

10.) How many piercings did you have? None.

11) What car did you drive? 2002 Chevy S-10 Pick-up. (I was so butch!)

12.) Had you had your heart broken? Not anything new.

13.) Single/Taken/Married/Divorced/Bitter: Single but moving toward Takn
14.) Any kids? Just two furballs who had been with me since 2000

Present (08. Nov 2010)

1.) How old are you? 46
2.) Where do you go to school? School of life.

3.) Where do you work? A small church in the 'burbs of Detroit.
4.) Where do you live? In an apartment complex with a view of the neighbors' buildings.
5.) Where do you hang out? Some area parks, a few sports bars, a few gay bars.
6.) Do you wear glasses? Still for reading when I remember where put them.

7.) Who are your best friends? Jim, Anna, Dennis

8.) Who is your crush? Crush, I am a fool for a nice body.  Love in my life?  Jim, of course!
9.) Do you talk to your old friends? Actually, more so now, due to Facebook.
10.) How many tattoo’s do have? None. Three.

11.) How many piercings do you have? One, though most people will never know this!
12.) What kind of car do you have? 2007 Ford Focus
13.) Has your heart been broken? No, and don't see one in the future, either.
14.) Single/Taken/Married/Divorced/Bitter? Cannot be married in this state.
15.) Any kids? Two furballs:  One that I have had since 2000 and one that we recently inherited. ("She goes to your house or heaven.)

Well, that was kind of fun!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Gifts and Promises Pentecost 24 Proper 27C

The folks we meet today in the gospel reading are interesting. We don’t see them a whole lot, matter of fact, this is one of the few places they are mentioned in the gospel of Luke. These guys were known as the Sadducees. They were a branch of the holymen of Biblical times. The odd thing about the Sadducees is that they only adhered to the first five books of what we would call the Old Testament. Now in these five books, there is no mention of resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, that is what made them sad, you see?

But even though they did not believe in the resurrection, they did have a deep and abiding faith. They believed that they were to keep the laws of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and that they would live on throughout the thoughts and memories of those who came after them. So there was a “form” of living on after death, but not the bodily resurrection that we currently associate with Christianity.

But I have a question for you to think about: Why were the Sadducees so devout? They devoted their life to God, but they were not promised anything in return. In their theology, when they died, that was the end of it all. So if they were not promised eternal paradise, why be devout? If you believed that there was no heaven, would you be a believer or would you just go out and live for the moment?

So often we get caught up in the whole Santa model of God; you know, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!” We MUST be good, because if we aren’t, then we will not get our presents, I mean, eternal life. We may not want to come out and say it, but many of us have this kind of understanding of God lurking at some level.

And it is this God as Santa theology, or maybe we could call it “God-Will-Squash-You-If-You-Don’t-Behave” theology, that runs throughout the story of Job. There is the understanding among Job’s friends that God is just waiting to smash Job under God’s thumb the moment Job does something wrong. And the reason Job is suffering is because Job must have done something wrong.

Just a reminder, Job was a righteous man who was suddenly afflicted with all kinds of hardships from having his family die to having sores appear all over his body. In the story, we are told that Job did nothing to earn these afflictions; we are told that they were given to him by Satan to see if he would curse God. And also in the story, we are told that Job has three “friends” who come to try to convince Job that he needs to repent from his sins so that he might get back into God’s good graces and get all these bad things taken from him.

I often wonder how I would do in a situation like that. Would I just give up on God and decide to just do whatever? Would I curse God and decide it was not worth it? I would hope not. I would hope that I would remain faithful even in the face of tragedy. And I hope that I would remain faithful even if eternal life was not a promise. I would hope that the gift of life and the beauty of the earth and people that surround me would be enough to move me to worship.

You see, somewhere we have acquired the idea that there is some kind of contract between equals that exists between us and God. We do good things, and God gives us good things. We worship God and God lifts us up into Heaven. God needs us, and in return, God makes our lives easier.

But it is this kind of thought that takes away our awe and respect for God. As cold as this may sound, God doesn’t need us. God would still be God even if we totally ignored God. This is the harsh reality, (at least for our human egos!) God doesn’t “benefit” from being in a relationship with us! God is no farther ahead with us nor is God any farther behind without us. Again, that is harsh, but that is the truth: God is God and we aren’t.

But when we come to the realization that God doesn’t owe us anything, we begin to realize just how great God is! It is only then that we realize how extravagant God is! God doesn’t have to give us anything, and still, God gives us a beautiful world, magnificent opportunities, and incredible people. God gives us challenges, pleasures, and experiences. God places these things into our lives, not because God owes us anything, God places these things into our lives because God loves us! Pure and simple, God Loves Us!

And for all the wonders that God has given us in our lives, even if we were to worship God constantly, we could never repay what God has given. Just giving our worship to God for the wonders that we have experienced in this day to this point could consume our lives. And even with that, God continues to bless us. Even if we never say “Thanks,” God continues to bless us. Even without the promise of eternal life, we would be eternally indebted to God.

This is what Job understood. This is what the Sadducees understood. This is what Job’s friends didn’t understand; and this is what we so often forget.

But in Christ coming to Earth, it doesn’t end here! In the person of Christ, we HAVE the promise of resurrection! We have what the Sadducees could only dream of! Not only do we have the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of possibilities in our lives here and now, but we also have the gift and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection! This is the great gift God has given us. Not only do we have the promise of eternal life to look forward to, but we have the wonder of life in the here and now to enjoy and to revel in.

Yes, we should be like the Job and know we are redeemed even when our things appear to be falling apart. And yes, we should be like the Sadducees and be able to devoutly worship, even without the promise of eternal life. We should be able to do this, but if we can’t we still have a God who loves us. We still have a God who gives us life and beauty. We still have a God who promises us more than we could ever deserve! What a wonderful, marvelous gift. And so much more than we could ever expect from Santa Claus.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

God Loves Us All (Unfinished Sermon)

I am so happy this week! We have an easy one!! YEAH! A nice easy to understand gospel reading. Not even a lot of interpretation to be done. Pharisees are bad and tax collectors are good! Just be nice and humble and everything will be a-ok! I like scriptures like this. I don’t have to think too much about them and neither do you! We can just sit back and pat ourselves on the back and be oh so proud of how humble we are. We aren’t like that nasty, self-serving Pharisee. We are not all kinds of self-righteous. We can thank God that we are not like other people.

Yes, we could feel that, but you know, if we listened to ourselves, we really aren’t that much different than the Pharisee. The Pharisee is praising himself on how righteous he is and how he keeps all the laws. The Pharisee is praising himself on how he is just so much better than the tax collector. The Pharisee is just lifting himself up, telling the whole world how wonderful he is.

But we can get into a similar situation by thinking we are just so much better than everyone else because we are just so humble. I have heard it once described as “conspicuous non-consumption.” We look at ourselves as being so much better by what we don’t have. Or I have heard people in churches get into “I was a worse sinner than you” competitions. If we look at this parable as just a platitude to be humble, we can get into all kinds of weird behavior. These must be something more here than just a simple exhortation to not think too highly of oneself.

Humm…Maybe this is not as simple as it would appear to be!

If we think about it, everything the Pharisee was saying was most likely true. I am sure he did fast twice a week. I am sure he did tithe. I am sure the Pharisee was of upstanding character; he was a righteous man. The Pharisee was not lying when he said all of these things. So the problem Jesus had with the Pharisee was not his truthfulness, it was something else.

The tax collector was also being truthful. We are not going to whitewash him and make him into something he was not. The tax collector was, truly, a sinner. So, again, the difference cannot be made on their truthfulness. They both were being truthful.

Maybe it was repentance! Was the tax collector repentant and the Pharisee not? We know that the Pharisee doesn’t seem to think there is any need for repentance; why should he? According to his standards and his laws, he hasn’t done anything worthy of repentance. But if we look, the tax collector does not repent either! We are not told that the tax collector says, “I’m sorry” or “I will try to do better.” The tax collector shows no sign of repentance. So repentance cannot be the thing that separates the two men praying in the temple.

Well, you probably have it figured out by now; the difference is that Pharisee does not see any need for God in his life. The Pharisee sees his place in life as his own doing. He has the good things in life because he has been righteous and has followed the law. Now the tax collector, he has no illusions; he doesn’t even approach the temple, he just throws himself down and begs for forgiveness. The tax collector just begs for mercy. The tax collector makes no pretense of being righteous. He doesn’t even promise to be righteous in the future. All he does is realizes his place in life and realizes that he needs God’s mercy.

The Pharisee doesn’t realize that his need for mercy. The Pharisee cannot even look at the tax collector and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The Pharisee does not see that his life could be any other way than the way HE made it. According to the Pharisee, everything he has he deserves; he earned it. According to the Pharisee, he has no need to be thankful because he is just getting paid back for his righteousness.

But the tax collector sees his need for mercy. The tax collector does not make any assumption about his state of being. The tax collector is desperate for mercy. The tax collector realizes that any blessings that he has in his life are all a gift from God. Where the tax collector shows true dependence on God, the Pharisee just appears smug.

The Pharisee divides people up into two groups, those who are righteous, like himself, and the immoral people like the tax collector. Although the Pharisee says “Thanks,” it is more a perfunctory sort of “thanks.” He really doesn’t see that his life and all he has is a gift. He just sees it as part of his own righteousness. He sees all he has as being due to him; not a gift at all. He sees himself and others as righteous and deserving, and the others as immoral and therefore undeserving of what they have.

But the truth is that neither man is deserving of the gifts they have been blessed with. And justification is not from our recognition of the gifts, but our recognition of our need for God’s mercy! God does not see the divisions that the Pharisee is making. God does not see us as primarily righteous or immoral. God sees us as God’s children and wants us to look to God for our daily needs. It is in our recognition of our need for God’s mercy that we find our true humanity. It is in our recognition that all of us need God’s mercy that removes the divisions that separate us and move us into our own little worlds.

In the adult class on Wednesday night, we are reading the book, The Great Divorce. In this book, by C. S. Lewis, Hell is populated by people who are totally separated from each other. They can create what they want just by thinking it. There is no reason to need anyone else. And it is this belief in self-sufficiency that keeps the people in the book out of Heaven. It is not supposed righteousness or immorality of the person that keeps them out of Heaven, it boils down to the person’s realization that they NEED God. Those that realize they need God are justified; those who feel self righteous are allowed to return to their own little Hells.

Can we ever move beyond our need for self-righteousness? Can we ever see ourselves as gifted from God while totally dependent upon God? Can we ever move beyond our need to separate ourselves into “Us” and “Them” groups? Into “Me” and “Them” groups? “God loves me” and “God doesn’t love you” groups? Truthfully, I don’t think we ever can. I think it is part of being human to divide people up into “Us” and “Them.”

But God is asking us to just rely on God.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Its A Trust Thing Pentecost 21

Proper 24C

I was thinking about the concept of trust. What do you trust? If you think about it, we go through our life trusting a lot of things. We trust that the architects did a good job in designing this building. We trust that the materials used to make the ceiling will hold up and not come crashing down upon us. We trust that our car breaks will work and we trust that the other guy’s brakes will also work. We trust a lot of things will happen to keep us safe.

To go through live we HAVE to trust in a lot of things. But what about people? Can we get through life without trusting people? And if we do trust people, who are the people that we trust? Now this is no little question! We may say we trust our spouse. We may say we trust our coworkers. We may say we trust our children or our parents. We may say we trust our fellow congregants. We may say this, but do we really trust these people? We may be willing to trust people with little thing, but are we willing to trust others with the things we consider to be important? Are we willing to trust, or do we want to do it ourselves to make sure it is done the way WE want it to be done.

I think we are willing to trust up to a point, but when things get really serious, we want to do things ourselves. We want to make sure that it gets done the way we want it done. Small things, we are ok with letting others do, but the big things we want to control; we don’t want to be at the mercy of the faults and foibles of others. Although we may say we trust people, I find we usually want to make sure that things are done our way. This is the way of our world. We live in the world of the Lone Ranger. But God did not put us in the world to go it alone; God put us here to be part of community. God put us here to be among believers. God put us here to trust in God.

Do we really trust God?

In our first reading this morning, we have the story of Jacob. We may remember some things about Jacob: He was the second born of twins. He traded a bowl of stew to receive the birthright from his older brother Esau. And finally, he tricked his dying father, Isaac, into giving the blessing to him,, the younger brother, instead of giving it to Esau, the one to whom it rightly belonged.

Jacob didn’t trust that God would be with him. He wanted to make sure he got the blessing, he wanted to make sure he got the birthright. He would scheme and trick to make sure he got the best.

As you could guess, all of this trickery caused problems in Jacob’s life. Matter of fact, Jacob’s name was a constant reminder of his treachery. You see, the name Jacob means “The Supplanter;” he supplanted his brother’s birthright and he supplanted his brother’s blessing. And as we begin the Genesis reading for today, Jacob is returning home after fleeing twenty years earlier after securing Esau’s birthright.

In the reading, Jacob has prayed that God would give him deliverance from Esau after Jacob heard that Esau was going to meet him along with 400 men. I find it interesting that it is only when faced with an almost impossible problem does Jacob finally reach out to God. When Jacob has no way of tricking his way out of something, then he goes to God. In response to Jacob’s prayer, God sends an angel.

Why doesn’t God just make things better for Jacob? Why all of thise wrestling? Jacob had to struggle with God. Jacob had to hold God to God’s word. Jacob had to rely on God instead of relying on his own trickery. And when Jacob relied on God, when Jacob struggled with God, well, first off, his name was changed. It was changed from Jacob, “The Supplanter,” to Israel, which means “One Who Strives With God.” And then Israel receives a blessing. We are not told exactly what the blessing was, but we know that Israel’s meeting with Esau ends in reconciliation and we also know that Israel will become the father of nations. So Israel is blessed, not through trickery or deception, but through holding God to God’s promise.

In our gospel reading, we learn more of what it means to trust in God.

It would be easy to just write this parable off as a call to nag God. We could see the widow as someone who just keeps nagging until those around become so tired that they give in. But that would be to forget about the judge.

The judges of Biblical times were to defend widows. Widows had no power in the community so it was the mandate of the judges to see that they were cared for. But this judge did not care. He had no fear of what would happen to him so he couldn’t have cared less if he defended the widow or not. It was only when the widow had annoyed the judge enough that the judge finally gives the widow justice.

However, God is not some unjust judge. God cares deeply about the widow and the orphan. God cares deeply about the poor and the homeless. God cares deeply about you and about me. And because God cares, we do not need to badger God.


We are to remain faithful. We are to put our trust into God. We need to remember that Jesus tells us that this parable shows us that we are to pray and not give up. When God seems slow in responding, we are to remember that it is not that God is unjust or God is slow. When God seems to be far away, we are to wait faithfully and prayerfully. We can wrestle with God, but in the end, we need to maintain our persistence in faith.

Often people will twist the parable of the widow and the unjust judge to point the finger when prayers do not seem to be answered. People will say that the man dies of the heart attack because he did not pray enough. Or they might say that the woman has not found a job because she is not faithful enough. But that is not what the parable is saying. The parable is giving us insight into a loving God, not a petty god.

Jacob had something to learn as he wrestled with the angel. He had to learn that what he could grasp for himself through trickery and deceit were so much less than God had planned for him. He had to learn that in relying solely on God was the way to be truly blessed. And it was through the struggle that the blessing came.

We may not know what we have to learn. We may not know what blessings may come. But we are invited to struggle with our feelings of being abandoned. We are invited to wrestle with God and hold God accountable to God’s promise of love and forgiveness. We are to struggle but we are also to remain faithful. This struggle is not easy. My own personal experience tells me that there will be times when God seems distant and faithfulness is difficult. But even when God seems far we are to still remain faithful. We are to remain prayerful. We are to trust.

God wants to give us blessing. God wants us to rely on him. God wants us to remain faithful even when times are difficult. It is not easy to continue when the world looks like it is against us, but we need to remember that the widow, in the face of injustice, continued to plead her case and ask for justice. When times are difficult, we need to remain faithful and it is when we struggle through the difficulties that God shows us the blessings.