Tuesday, September 30, 2014

IF:Equip Day 12

IF:Equip Genesis 7

Video Commentary can be found here

If I believe this is true then:

What does it mean about God?
God was pretty serious about a fresh start! Whether or not you attribute the flood to localized flooding or worldwide flooding, there is much evidence that some type of flood occurred and many traditions have passed down similar stories. God is seen to have acted to punish and to redeem. I think the whole thing was an opportunity of redemption. God could not stand to see humanity so far distant, so far removed from God and acted in a way that would draw humanity closer. And not just humanity, but the whole of the created order.

What does it mean about me?
I need to pay attention when God speaks. I wonder if there were others God offered this same chance to, but they didn't listen and so we don't have their stories. God offers us chances of redemption, of renewal. We just need to open our eyes and hearts to their presence.

What does it mean about the world?
We have a responsibility to be caretakers for this world and we don't always do a good job of it. I think it shows the value God places on all lives, not just those with a voice to speak up. Although I have a hard time imagining this story without seeing the far side cartoon about the dinosaurs in my head!

Monday, September 29, 2014

IF: Equip Day 11

IF:Equip Genesis 6 Day 11

The video commentary can be found  here

If I believe this is true then:

What does it mean about God?
 God was worn out with humanity. The world was turning away from God at an enormously fast pace and the generations were becoming corrupt. The first step in curbing this seems to have been limiting life span, so gone are the 900 year lives and in come the 120 year life spans. That would at least slow down procreation a bit :)
Really the biggest thing I get out of this is that God had a plan. He did not just up and decide to save Noah because he was perfect, but rather because he had a since of righteousness, a faith in God. God also set about establishing a covenant with Noah. This covenant of grace, which is super important to Cumberland Presbyterian Theology and others, allows for reconciliation and relationship with God once more!

What does it mean about me?
 God continues to remember God's covenant and continues to be faithful to it. I maintain it as much as possible, but as it is initiated by God, it is not something that I control, limit, or expand as I see fit. Thanks be to God for that bit of wisdom. After all I am human and while made in God's image, I don't think there is anything I have done or will do to deserve the keeping of this covenant.

What does it mean about the world?
God has plans for the world. There is much still to do. God is active, even when we choose to ignore God. That even in the midst of our failures God offers an opportunity for redemption.

If:Equip Day 10

If:Equip Day 10 Genesis 5:1-32

Video Commentary can be found here

If I believe this is true then:

What does it mean about God?
There were 8 generations from Adam to Noah. And Lamech, Noah's dad lived 777 years. As numbers are often highly symbolic in biblical literature it causes me to wonder why there years are listed and why 777 years? I'm sure there are commentaries dealing with this, but I haven't looked any of them up today. God followed the generations of Adam and watched as they grew and delt with the consequences of the sin in the garden. I wonder if God grew more and more despondent at the way that people were living their lives or if God was just waiting for that right moment to again initiate grace and mercy that he had shown earlier?

What does it mean about me?
That in all of my years (not that I've lived THAT many) I'm sure I have let down God. But God does not sever relationship with me or abandon me, but rather keeps up with my generations. God created us, blessed us and watches us. And while the watching thing can freak people out, I find great comfort in knowing that God is present and actively paying attention to my life, even when I'm not!

What does it mean about the world?
It only took 8 generations for man to become so separated from God, essentially in denial of God's actions, that God would begin to see mankind's wickedness over their sameness/image of God-ness. Its in the next chapter that God will decide to save Noah and destroy the rest of the earth. Even though God created humanity and blessed it, it turned away from God. We still do this today and I wonder how far we are from finding ourselves in a world that knows God not.

Matthew 21:23-32 Sermon

Audio of this sermon can be listened to here
Matthew 21:23-32

            I am going to admit something to you all today. This is perhaps my least favorite parable in all of scripture. I think it’s because it was my mom’s favorite one to quote at my brother and me. Any time she would ask us to do something and we would say “Sure, not a problem Mom” and not immediately get up and start doing it, she would quote this parable to/at us. Instead of being a vehicle of grace, this parable for me has been a dump truck load of guilt.

            Isn’t it sad that the word of God, something live giving, transformative, healing and hopeful can  be twisted so that it become a weight around our necks that pulls us down rather than setting us free? I don’t think Jesus told this parable to make the Pharisees feel guilty or shamed, but rather to open their eyes to a new way of living, one that looked at the opportunities of love, rather than the obligations of law.

            Our text this morning invites us to open our eyes and really see what God is doing in the world instead of being blinded to God’s activities. Church can easily disintegrate into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s active grace is doing and so there is little energy to look toward evangelism and renewal. We may say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but too often we get caught up in rearranging the stones on the pathway and never really set foot into the bountiful harvest.

Jesus is in the final days of his life here on earth and he is at odds with the Pharisees, which was nothing new.  He is in Jerusalem and as he approached the temple on the first day of the week, he noticed a beautiful fig tree, but upon further examination, the tree had produced no fruit.  And so it was he said with the religious lives of the Pharisees; they looked religious, their lives looked alive, but upon closer examination, they didn’t produce any fruit.  Jesus cursed the fig tree and it died, and so it was with the Pharisees; they looked spiritually alive but they were really dead.  Their hearts were dead inside and so were their actions of compassion for the people around them. 

            On Monday morning Jesus is sitting in the temple teaching people about the grace and mercy of God, when he is confronted by the Pharisees and asked about authority. What are your credentials Jesus? Where did you go to seminary? Who was your mentor? Or perhaps more to the point, what right do you have to come into our place of worship and mess up the natural order of things?

            To the Pharisees faith was a series of rules and regulations of which they were able to keep.  To them there was not room for this new message of love and compassion that Jesus was preaching, and so instead of trying to learn, instead of opening themselves up to change, they question Jesus on authority. They want an excuse, any excuse at this point, to shut Jesus down for good.

            But Jesus, good old Jesus, refuses to play by their rules even in this simple conversation. He asks them a question about John and the baptism John offered. John had become quite the rock star legend of the day with people enamored with his wild hair, odd diet and radical ways. After his horrible death, he had become something of a folk story a tall tale. The Pharisees knew that if they bad mouthed John, the crowd would turn against them, but if they praised him then they would be guilty of hypocrisy so they give that most honest of all human answers, “We don’t know.”

            They were so worried about giving the “right” answer that they don’t really answer at all. We too can get bogged down in the idea of doing things the “right, proper” way and in so doing we often close ourselves off from the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspires us all differently, and when someone shares something about their faith, when the spirit moves outside of our box we get bogged down in the details unable to open up and enjoy the work of the spirit.  We get comfortable just moving rocks in the garden instead pulling the weeds and planting the seeds.

            Our scripture continues with Jesus saying there was a man who had two sons.  He said to the first son, “Will you go and work in the vineyard today?  The vineyard is a mess, and there is so much work to be done.  Will you do the work in the vineyard today?”  And the first son said, No of course not, let someone else do it.  So the father went to the second son and asked will you do the work in the vineyard today?  The second son said yes, got up, went outside, and decided not to work in the vineyard. 

After some thought the first son heard his father’s call and decided to go and work after all in the vineyard.

Jesus looked the Pharisees in the eyes and asked the penetrating question:  “And which of the two sons was faithful to the father’s will?”  And the answer was so obvious.

Jesus continued:  “And so the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you Pharisees, even though you look so religious and smell so religious.”

So what does this story have to do with you and me?

The vineyard, the world, is in a mess.  There are earthquakes.  There are wars.  There are divorces and families falling apart.  There are people dying because of drugs.  There are children anguishing in abuse.  There are poor families living down the street, with not enough money and emotional resources to make it.  There are people everywhere aching for someone to love them. 

What is the reaction of the church to this pain and devastation in the world around us, far and near?  Too often, we merely hold our worship services in the middle of the vineyard.  We have our Bible studies and small group studies in the middle of the wine estate and close our eyes to the need around us.  We say we are working in the garden, but all we do is move some rocks along the path.  

God, in the parable for today, in disgust for our unwillingness to do the needed work in the vineyard says, “I will go and find somebody else who will do the work in this world of mine.”

In other words, this parable is an invitation for us not to be like the Pharisees. It is a challenge to us to go into our messed up world and do the necessary work.

In Jesus’ parables, the focus is always on the last figure, on the last personality of the story.  The second set of people in Jesus’ parable, the tax collectors and prostitutes, who actually had a change of heart and went and did the work.

You see, Jesus’ problem was with the Pharisees who didn’t think that they needed a change of heart; that they were just fine the way they were; that they were appropriately religious and they knew it.  And that’s the way it has always been: in the Old Testament, the time of Christ and throughout all of church history.  God’s people have consistently been blind to our own need to have a change of heart about doing God’s work in the messed up world around us.

Jesus is inviting us to have a change of heart.  We need a change of heart, about the messed up world around us.  We need a change of heart about the painful needs of hurting people around us.  We need a change of heart about actually doing God’s work of love in a messed up world.  We all need this change of heart, a change inside.

It saddens me to read about the religious leaders in the Bible.  Their hearts were closed to the work that God was doing in the world.  I wonder if we are.  Yes the world is a hard place to live.  There are wars, and rumors of wars, we are faced with troubles on every side, there are many evil things happening in the world.  But this is God’s vineyard, and we are the workers. 

I ask this morning, are we admirers or followers?  (repeat) One son said, "No, I won't go," and he later went. Another son said, "Yes, of course I will go."  But he didn't go. Are we admirers or followers? You know this story hurts me. It gets under my skin. It challenges me. It challenges us. It would seem to be, maybe, a story that had no redemptive word—just challenge, just confrontation. Yet at the end, there is a word of grace. Jesus in explaining the story to his listeners, the religious leaders, said, "The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (Repeat) Do you hear it? Ahead of you. Not instead of you. Ahead of you. They, saying "No" initially, heard the teaching of John the Baptist and believed. Then there is the brother who is like us who say "Yes" to God all the time. "Yes, Lord. Yes, I come to church. I'm pious." But we don't always love our neighbor or feed the hungry. There is this hope for us that we will yet go to the vineyard. For the great grace of our Lord Jesus Christ continues to call all the children over and over and over again to go to the vineyard, to follow him. Will we?

I believe that God is doing something great before our very eyes.  We can become blind to what God is doing in the world around us.  Church work can easily slip into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s active grace is doing and so consequently there is no enthusiasm for evangelism and renewal!  We say we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones in the garden!  My friends grab your tools; there is work to be done.  




Thursday, September 25, 2014

IF:Equip Day 9

If:Equip Day 9 Genesis 4:1-26

Video Commentary here

If I believe this to be true then:

What does it mean about God?
Both Abel and Cain offered gifts to the Lord. Abel offered the firstborn and the fat portions, while Cain just offered some. God doesn't want just anything. God wants our first fruits, our best. And even after Cain committed the first murder, God offered protection and relationship. Our God is a knowing God and still knowing everything about us seeks relationship with us!

What does it mean about me?
I need to redouble my efforts of giving to God my best, not what's leftover. This involves not only my tithing, but my life as well. As a minister I spend a ton of my time and effort on what hopefully are Godly things, but I can find myself going through the motions, rather than making a true connection, rather than really worshipping.

What does it mean about the world?
We are jealous creatures. We want to be loved and to be loved best, by everyone, but especially God. If we really acted like our "brother's keeper" the world would be a better place, but instead we try to kill one another through the killing of reputations, the spreading of hate, the exploiting of weaknesses and the sins of gluttony. Oh, Lord- forgive our sins against our brothers and sisters. Open our eyes to their needs and help us to realize that we are connected as the human family with you as our eternal father. In Christ I pray, Amen.

IF:Equip Day 8

IF:Equip Genesis 3:14-24 Day 8

Video Commentary found here.

If I believe this to be true then:

What does it mean about God?
I find myself wondering if this is prescriptive or descriptive. If this is prescriptive, then God is designating these things to be true, in essence, cursing us with these things. If it is descriptive, then it is descriptive of what has happened as a result of sin and there for a consequence of the action, rather than a new "chosen order" for the world.
Either way you choose to look at it, doesn't Jesus, life, death and resurrection change this status? Shouldn't we be free from the bondage of these things after having experienced freedom in Christ?

What does it mean about me?
I was not created, designed to be less that others. There are circumstances of sin which make me subject to others from time to time, but truthfully any subjection I feel should be willing servitude.
God still offered relationship and covered them after they sinned. The removal from the garden was an act of mercy, so that we wouldn't always live in sin. God cares enough about me to protect me from potential sin, and to help me learn from the consequences of other sins.

What does it mean about the world?
God loves the world! God seeks relationship and does not give up on the world, no matter how we turn away from him. Praise be to God!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

IF:Equip Genesis 2:15-25 Day 6

(Don't know why this didn't publish yesterday. I'm going to have to double check my scheduling process)

If:Equip Genesis 2:15-25

Video Commentary can be found here

If I believe this to be true then:

What does it mean about God?
That God knew we (humanity) needed to live in community. It is not good to be alone. God is a relational being and part of being made in God's image is to be in community/relationship with others. God also wished for us to be helpmates, not slaves or servants, but partners with one another.

What does it mean about me?
I need to work more on seeing others as my helpmates and to embrace the idea of living in community. I struggle with depression and when this happens I tend to withdraw from others. This only makes things worse. If I can be around others, in community, not ashamed of who I am and what I bring with me, perhaps I would struggle less.

What does it mean about the world?
We need to be in relationship/community with one another. Living as dependent upon one another, rather than this sense of complete autonomy we try to cultivate.

IF: Equip day 7 Genesis 3:1-13

IF:Equip Day 7

Video Commentary can be found here

If I believe this is true then:

What does it mean about God?
God offered an opportunity for faithfulness, knowing that it wouldn't pan out. I wonder why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had to exist in the first place? Why did we have to have the opportunity to sin? But without that chance I suppose there is no free will and free will is something I value. God made the serpent, and it talks. How interesting! God is surely a creative creator!  In all seriousness I also wonder why make the serpent? (This from someone who has no love for snakes of any kind)

What does it mean about me?
This scripture has been used frequently to say that sin is all a woman's fault. This scripture just doesn't bear that out. The man was "with her" she didn't hunt him down and force him to eat the fruit. Once he saw that she ate it and lived he realized it was good for food and ate as well. I have often told others that if Adam had been doing his job there wouldn't have been a snake in the garden. But really they both equally fall from God's expectations. So this passage shouldn't be used as fuel for male or female bashing.

What does it mean about the world?
Sin falls on both of them, and it is the sin of wanting to be God themselves. I think that many of us still suffer from this particular sin. The desire to be the one who judges right from wrong and specifically judges others and their right/wrong behaviors.

IF:Equip Genesis 2:4-14

(I had scheduled this post to be published along with yesterday's , but apparently had the year wrong! So a bit late, but here it is.)

IF:Equip Day 5 Genesis 2:4-14

See video commentary here

If you believe this is true:

What does this mean about God?
God formed humanity with God's own hands and the breathed the breath of life into human lungs. Ruah, the breath of God, the spirit of God, breathes life into us time after time, day after day. I love the image of God breathing into us. I was shaped as a child by a poem by James Weldon Johnson called "The Creation" and I love the description it gives.

What does this mean about you?
God has a personal relationship with me. I breathe in God, I breathe out God. This should inform everything I do and say. I'm not always faithful with this and need to do a better job of remembering the continual presence of God's very breath in my life.

What does this mean about the world?
God is active, moving  and creating. This is the story from a group who located themselves in this particular region and therefore sought to communicate how God had operated there. I think it can be translated to most of our areas in the idea of God planting providing and having humanity to steward ccreation.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Installation Service Sermon 2 Tim 4:1-5

2 Timothy 4:1-5

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

I am honored and humbled to be able to bring a word to you all today on the occasion of the Installation of your new Pastor and Associate pastor, D and E. And while neither of these men are really “new” to your congregation, both having served you and with you for a while, their new positions lead us to this time to recognize them and set aside a time of celebration for their new relationship with you.

I have had the privilege of knowing E for 16 months and D, for longer than I care to admit! Both of these men have amazing attributes and qualities. Both are dedicated servants of God, both love the Lord and want to do God’s work. And both will fall short.

That may not be what you want to hear today, but it is the truth. Neither one of these men is perfect. Neither one of them is without fault. Neither one of them is the savior of the congregation.

These men are here to help you draw near to the savior, to come to know the savior and to assist you in serving the savior, but they are not the savior.

D and E have come along side this congregation for a time as leaders, and as fellow travelers. They will help lead, guide and direct you through times of struggle and through times of peace.  They will see you through growth and decline. They will love you even when you are unlovable. DO the same for them!

Because this relationship that you have called them to is not a one sided relationship, where they serve and serve and serve you. It is a relationship where you work with and serve one another, so that the kingdom of God may be shown, built up and grown through you all!

There are many things that I want to say to you as a congregation about loving your pastors, about appreciating your pastors, about praying for your pastors. I want these relationships to grow, to prosper to be blessed. I could give you a whole list of things to do and ways care for these men, and perhaps that’s what they would want me to do.

But today, I feel called to speak to them about their relationship with you. Hopefully y’all will get something out of it as well!

2 Timothy is a letter to a new minister, to one who will continue the work that has already been begun. It lays out the struggles Paul has had and the pitfalls he wants Timothy to avoid. It reiterates God’s call in Paul and Timothy’s lives and reminds Timothy of the rolls he is to fulfill.

It is in these five verses in chapter four that I feel God speaking to D and E today. Paul says “proclaim the message” when it’s popular and when it’s not. You will do no one any good if you only proclaim the things they want to hear. God’s word is rarely easy and even less frequently what people want to hear. Speak it anyway.

Speak God’s words of peace in the time of war. Speak God’s words of love in times of great hate. Speak God’s words of forgiveness even when there is no desire to forgive. Speak God’s words of reconciliation when things are broken. Speak Gods words of healing when things fall apart.

Remember as you teach, preach and serve that you are doing so with the people, but at the call of God. This is an important distinction. God’s word and God’s ways are not always popular, are not always well received and there will be times when you will need to stand up and be counted. D and E, all I can say is do it. The people will both hear and repent, or they won’t. Either way you must be faithful to your calling as a minister of word and sacrament.

St. Francis of Assisi said “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” In your actions and words, may you share the gospel in good and bad times. Because both will come.

Do so with patience, knowing that for every step you feel the need to take it may take 10-15 “church sized shuffles” as my former pastor Sam Estes was fond of saying. People do not move quickly as a group unless they are afraid, and then they move without thinking. So have great patience with this congregation. They will follow but keep it slow so no one gets left behind.

There is a story of a man who took a new church and for his first sermon preached a well-received message on forgiveness. Everyone was enchanted. The next week he again preached a very good sermon on forgiveness, the same he had given the previous week. The church members smiled and nodded at one another simply assuming he had left the old manuscript on the pulpit and had decided to deliver it again rather than admit the embarrassment. The third Sunday he again stood and delivered the message of forgiveness. After the service one of the elders came up to the pastor and said “Pastor, that was a great sermon on forgiveness, I really liked it, but isn’t it the same sermon you gave last week and the week before?” The pastor replied, “Yes it was.” The Elder said “Well, as good as it was, I think we’d like to hear something different next week.” To which the pastor replied “Once you all get this forgiveness thing right I’d be glad to move on.”

There are things we need to have repeated for emphasis and things we need to repeat for real learning to take place. Don’t be afraid of the basics, everyone could use a refresher now and again.

In verse 5 Paul calls Timothy to the part of ministry that I like the least. Suffering. I really wish he’d left that part out. But being so intimately involved in the lives of others, supporting them in good and bad times, there will inevitably be some suffering. Endure it. Do not toss in the towel when things get tough, when you disagree with things, when the bank account is low. Endure.

Share that the reason you can endure is because you know that God’s mercies are new every morning. Share the good news at all times in all things, even when you have to struggle to do it, because that’s the work of an evangelist, to bring the good news. Sometimes that means something as simple as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Give the joy you have been given, the hope you have received and the grace that you treasure to others daily.

Part of your ministry will be coming alongside others. There is a term in woodworking called sistering. This means to take a new strong piece of wood and bring it alongside a warped or cracked piece to strengthen it. These boards together bear the weight of the load and sure up the foundation of whatever structure is needing support. While it seems odd to tell you both to be good sisters, the idea is the same, help support one another and those in your congregation so that the foundation is strengthened by your service here.

And I know it will be. I know that the gifts you, D, and you, E, possess will help to build up this congregation. I know that God will use you both in amazing ways. I have no doubt that your ministry will be effective and blessed. Because I know you will give it your all. I know that you will place yourselves and this congregation in God’s hands every day. That you will turn time and time again to God for direction, guidance, reassurance, and hope, and that you will find those things in abundance.

God is good, all the time my friends and all the time God is good. I thank God for calling you both here and for establishing this relationship between you and this congregation.

September 21st Sermon

Exodus 16:2-15

            I want to share with you today one of my most precious possessions. I would not give anything for it, and it brings me such joy and happiness to look at it. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it perfection? Perhaps I appreciate it as only a mother can, because when I see this I see one of the best works of art, the loving spirit of the child who drew it and the hope of what it represents.

            Do you see it? Maybe I should turn it this way, or this way? No this way. No? You still find yourself asking “What is it?” It, my friends, is a picture of my family, the first time my then 4 year old daughter Sara ever drew her family, all five of us together. It is love and it feeds me when I need to remember that I am loved.

Have you ever been to those desert places? Those moments when you are running on empty and nothing seems to be working out? Perhaps it’s in your work life, you feel stuck in a routine that doesn’t feed you creatively, or with coworkers who seem to drain the life and energy right out of you. Perhaps it’s in your personal relationships, where your significant other seems to be distant at best, or perhaps you are still looking to find someone to share your life with, or mourning the loss of the one you gave so much of yourself to that you feel not quite whole, empty, now that they are gone?

            That empty feeling, that desert wilderness feeling, that is where the people of God find themselves this week in our lesson from Exodus. They have been brought through so much. They have been rescued from slavery; they have witnessed God’s miraculous drying of the red sea and the destruction of their foes by God in order to keep them safe. And now they find themselves in the desert wondering “What happens now?”

            God has delivered them, has promised them a land flowing with milk and honey and on this promise alone they have packed themselves up and wondered into the wilderness to find, well wilderness.

            Where is the prosperity? They ask. Where are the good things God promised? We’ve come a long way, but how much further is it?

            This attitude shouldn’t really shock us. After all there is a reason the saying “better the devil you know then the devil you don’t” came into being. The Israelites are not really prepared for the journey. They don’t want to wait they are impatient for things to change for the better right now.

I can relate to that feeling. Staring something new and wanting so much for it to work out, that if it even seems to waver a bit, I am broken hearted. I think that’s one of the reasons I have tried so many different hobbies, from painting to scrapbooking, to knitting to crochet. If I’m not successful at it fairly quickly I get discouraged and give it up.

It’s in this discouraged state of mind that things from the past get painted as way better than they actually were. As they begin to grumble about the present and reminisce about the past they begin to change perspective. All of the sudden they are remembering things that are not true, romanticizing what happened before.

“Has God taken us out of the land of plenty so that we can starve in the desert?” They ask “We were at the fleshpots of Egypt, decadent, rich more than enough, and now we have nothing! We would have been better off as slaves; at least there we had food!”

Richness? More than enough? Man, the Hebrews had idealized slavery hadn’t they? They didn’t know what to do with themselves, how to care for themselves as free people and so they found themselves wanting to return to the slavery they knew.

This happens far more often than we care to admit in our world. People, men and women, return time and again to physically and emotionally abusive relationships because they cannot envision a way for things to be different. Because they have bought into seeing themselves as slaves, rather than beloved children of God. It happens in our job situations, where we fear so much the loss of provision that we will stay at the most harmful of positions in order to have a paycheck. It happens in our religious lives as well. We romanticize the past, because we fear the future.

It’s in this climate that God smiles down on the Israelites and offers them bread from heaven. Sustenance from above, flakes of stuff that fell to the ground with the morning dew. And when the Israelites saw it they said “Thanks be to God, we have been saved!”

Oh, wait, that’s not what they said. They said “What is it?” Manna, manna from heaven really means “What is it?”

It was unlike anything they had ever seen before. When they looked at it, they did much like many of us do when a child brings us there prized drawings “It’s lovely, it makes my heart smile, but what is it?”

Mahatma Gandhi once said “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” This was true for the Israelites in the desert. They were so hungry, so much in need of hope and reassurance of God’s presence that they could no longer see God with them. They did not feel the love that had been shown before, in all of the miraculous things that they had been brought through. All they could see was their emptiness; all they could hear was the rumbling of their bellies. So God appeared to them as the one thing they needed, as bread.

They grumbled, they complained and God fed them! Did you hear that? They voiced their genuine fear, their honest complaints before God and God provided. Not only did God provide this mysterious “what is it food” but also quail to eat in the evening. God provided enough for each day for each person, for 40 years!!!!!!!

What a mighty God we serve. What an amazing Lord we have. God listens to our grumbles, listens to our fears our concerns and responds with enough. Time and time again. With enough to keep us healthy, with enough to keep us whole, with enough to stay the course, until we reach the Promised Land.

God appears to us as what we need, whether that is bread, water, an arm to lean on, a hand to hold, a job, a church, whatever we need! And God is still providing our daily bread, sustaining us as we make this journey into the place God has called us to be.

Does that mean things will always be easy? No. Does it mean that we will always know which direction we are headed? No, after all the Israelites followed God as cloud by day and fire by night and still wandered for 40 years. Does it mean that we will never be alone? Yes. We may not always see or feel the manifestation of God, but we are not abandoned. Day in day out God hears the people cry out and day in day out God provides, even in the smallest of things, like manna from heaven.

“What is it?” It is God’s grace, sufficient for all, sufficient for you, sufficient for me. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

IF: Equip Genesis 2:1-3

Day Four
IF: Equip Genesis 2:1-3

Read Genesis 2:1-3 found here and/or watch video commentary here

IF you believe this is true then:

What does it mean about God?
God took time to rest, that's a big thing. God felt the need to be still, to exist without "work" being the focus. Sabbath became a part of the way people worship God because if God needed rest, who where humans beings to claim they didn't need it?

What does it mean about you?
I am in the midst of planning a Sabbath Retreat for ministers in my presbytery based on these verses. For me there is the reminder that the time to rest is "holy" time, sacred time. Ministry is hard and too often we do not take the time to care for ourselves, to rest, to renew. I have a sabbatical in my contract for my 5th year, but that is far from common in the Cumberland Presbyterian church. I want to be aware of my own health and spiritual health so that I don't go crazy before that Sabbatical time comes round.

What does it mean about the world?
We live in a fast passed crazy busy society here in the USA. We tend to put off rest because to rest is seen as lazy. We need the time away from work, away from being "productive" a time to simply be, and to realize that we are enough in and of ourselves. There is a natural rhythm to life and it involves times of business and times of rest. Even fields need to rest after growing crops! If the dirt needs to take a breather, surely the rest of us do as well!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mid week stressers

Presbytery meets this weekend.
At my church.
Immediately following that I have a wedding to perform.
At my church.
The next day I have worship service,
(at my church)
and then an installation service at which I am preaching.
(at a church 2 1/2 hours away)
Between now and then I have to lead a young adult Bible study
at my church
An adult Bible study Thursday morning
at my church
Write two sermons and several bible studies
and get my hair cut and colored.
(Oh and feed and care for my husband and three kids)

When I am overwhelmed help me to lean on you. Teach me that its okay and even healthy to say no sometimes. But meanwhile let me live through this craziness I'm calling ministry.

IF: Equip Genesis day 3

IF:Equip Genesis 1:24-31

Read Genesis 1:24-31. Video commentary found here

If this is true then:

What does this say about God?
Wow! There is so much in these verses. This section of the creation narrative speaks of God creating beast livestock and humanity. The whole first chapter of Genesis has this feeling of a grandparent sitting down with a grandchild who has just asked "how did we get here Papa?" This is the story passed down from generation to generation and here, in the sixth day we hear of the animals and of humanity. The part that stands out to me the most is "so God created man in his own image. in the image of god he created them. Male and female he created them." Not just males, but females are created in the image of God. God sees a reflection of God's self in every female and male! What exactly is that image? I think it has to do with out creative capabilities and our relational capabilities. Humanity has amazing creative potential and uses it constantly. Unfortunately we don't always create things that are "good"

What does this say about you?
That I too am made in God's image. That may not sound like much, but for someone who grew up in a world that continues to put the female form to shame, victimizing women over and over again, it means so much to hear that something of God can be found in me as well. As a mother of two little girls this message is important for me to share with them. As a mother of a little boy, this message is especially important  so that he might grow up to see that God loves all of humanity and does not favor one over the other.

What does this say about the world?
The world is God's and the fullness there of. Every aspect has a tie, a link to God and so in all that we see, do, hear in everything the spirit of God dwells. This leads to s whole new way to see the world, as a representation of the Father, we have stewardship over it, not to use and use and use but to guard and care for, to protect and love.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

IF: Equip Genesis Day 2

Day 2 IF:Equip Genesis 1:11-23

Click on the photo for a link to the scripture and IF:Equip's page.
For the video click here
IF you believe this is true:

What does it say about God?
God created a world that could withstand and renew. God created the plants to come forth from the ground to produce so that the cycle could begin again. It's the same with the animals, birds, fish- all made to continue the creative act. God allows creation to participate in creating newness! And hopefully in producing goodness.

What does it say about you?
There are things I can do to help God's creative works. Not just the stewardship of the earth, although that's important, but ways that I can be a productive creative force in this life and in the lives of others. My children are only one way that I contribute. It is wonderful to know that God uses words to create and to bless and that I can too!

What does it say about the world?
God's not done with the world yet. We were set in motion to renew and be renewed and God is continually doing just that through all sorts of avenues. Even when things are dark and hard and sorrowful, God's creative redemptive power is active, breaking into the darkness, setting a light to rule by day and by night so that there is always a source of "light" in our midst. The light of Christ shines in all the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it!

Monday, September 15, 2014

If: Equip Genesis 1:1-10

I did IF:EQUIP throughout lent, but was not as faithful to write things down as I wish I had been.

I'm going to try to get back on to doing this regularly on the blog. No promises, but starting at the very beginning seemed like a "very good place to start"

IF: EQUIP Genesis

Read Genesis 1:1-10
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
(Video commentary here )
If this is true:
What does it mean about God?
To me this shares that God puts great value in words. Words have the ability to build up, to create, or to destroy. There is something so beautiful about God calling creation "good" not okay or decent, but good. The earth is good as it is created, the light is good as it is created. God's intention for the world is good.
What does it mean about you?
Does that mean God's intention for me is good too? I think yes. My hope is that I too can bring words and actions of "goodness" through the mercy of Jesus. As one who struggles daily to use words to build up the kingdom of God, through Bible study through sermons through daily conversation, I strive to reflect God's goodness. Many many times I fall short, but hopefully I can give a glimpse into the peaceable kingdom.
What does it mean about the world?
If God was present "in the beginning" perhaps God is present in every beginning. Every time we take on a new venture, every time we begin a new ministry, every time we have a do-over, God is there speaking words of blessing and encouragement. With God's blessing may we live into that "good" word.

September 14, 2014 Sermon on Romans 14

Romans 14

            I’ve always thought of myself as non-judgmental. I’m good at letting people believe what they believe. I have no problems with tattoos or piercings or crazy hair colors. I honestly do not care if you root for Auburn or Alabama. That’s just how I roll.

            So imagine my shock when on the ride home from church last Sunday Z (my 9 year old daughter) asks, in all seriousness “Momma, what’s wrong with Baptists?” My first response was nothing honey, where did you get an idea like that? But before those words could get out of my mouth I heard my internal monologue start listing all of the things that I disagree with the Baptist church on and all those little snide comments I’ve made in jest or in pain came flooding back to me. And I realized then and there that I needed to hear from the 14th chapter of Romans this week, so I guess the rest of you are going to be dragged along with me!

            Paul was not one to shy away from an argument, any argument. In fact the scripture is replete with the words of Paul laying out quite plainly where he stood on various thoughts, theologies and practices of the day. He makes no bones about seeing himself as the “first of the Apostles” even though he did not know the flesh and blood Jesus. His knowledge came from the resurrected Christ and therefore, in his mind, was more pure. So it’s really interesting here to see his words calling for believers to coexist, even with those who may not follow their exact practices of faith.

            Paul begins with a discussion of the strong in faith and the weak in faith. The strong in faith eating meat and the weak being vegetarians. Really Paul? Being vegetarian means your faith is weak? Honestly most people I know who are strict vegetarians do so with an amazing amount of strength of character and faith. So why would Paul, in a discussion about not judging use the words weak and strong?

            The easy answer is that he was suffering from the plank syndrome himself. You know “Before you point out the splinter in your neighbor’s eye you need to get the 2 by 4 out of yours!” He obviously believed himself to be among the strong. He has written time and time again that all foods are clean, that even eating meat sacrificed to other Gods is not entirely evil in and of itself. 

            But in truth I think Paul just knew his audience. He was speaking to a group of Christians in Rome who were significantly gentile not Jewish.  He’s speaking to a people who had not grown up in the kosher lifestyle, who had always been able to enjoy any food they wished and who apparently did not understand that someone would want to abstain from anything, let alone a good steak!

            He also calls them strong to point out that in this situation they are the ones in power, the ones who can and apparently are using their influence to exclude rather than include others. Paul tells them that these issues of diet are not big enough to cause real dissention or separation. Let them go, don’t worry about them, they are not essential.

            Then in verse 5 he speaks about people who keep one day more sacred than another and others who treat each day alike. Is he talking about special feast days or celebrations? Possibly. Is he speaking about keeping the Sabbath day? More likely. But either one steps way too much on my toes. Paul has gone from good advice to plain ol meddling. Because now he hits me, and most of us, where our heart is. Now he’s talking about worship.

Don’t let the different ways you worship divide you. What? There are so many different churches precisely because we don’t all worship the same way! Those who like quiet and prayerful meetings go to church a, those who want loud music and flashing lights attend church b, those who like things decently and in order attend a Presbyterian church. That’s just the way it is Paul. And while we on the surface say “That’s okay for them, I just prefer things another way.” Our actions and words often point out the real judgment that lies on our hearts, on my heart, that leads children to ask “just what’s wrong with those other Christians anyway Momma?” We cover it with language like "they are not Spirit-filled", "they don't have the full gospel", "they are not Word-centered", "they are liturgical", "they are catholic", "they are high church", "they are low church", "dear me, they use candles there!" We so easily judge the spiritual qualifications of others simply because they are different to us. Their style of worship, churchmanship..... is used to condemn them. Paul clearly denounces such behavior and reminds each one of us that we should be concerned for our own standing before God, for each of us will have to answer for ourselves. 

            There is a story about Ruth Graham, wife of the famous evangelist, illustrates how differences can threaten our unity. Mrs. Graham, dressed and made up as would seem fitting for any American woman in the 1970s, attended a luncheon with wives of conservative pastors in Germany. These German Christians had more conservative ideas regarding how women should look. They did not believe that married Christian women should wear makeup or clothing that made them look too much like the world. As a result, a German pastor's wife, sitting across from Ruth Graham, became very upset. She thought it was shameful that the wife of this famous evangelist looked so worldly. Why, Ruth Graham was even wearing mascara! The German pastor's wife became so angry that she started crying right into her beer. Meanwhile Ruth Graham couldn't understand why the woman was crying, although it bothered her that a self-respecting pastor's wife was drinking beer at a meeting to prepare for an evangelistic crusade where Christians come together as the unified body of Christ.

            Verses 6-10 say:

6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  

If what they do, and what we do, come out of a desire to live to the Lord, then that’s what matters!

            We need not spend time on the things that can serve to separate us. We need not waste our time effort to try to make everyone believe and behave exactly like us. No, we need to look at the commonality, the love and faith in Jesus and trust that God can work it out from there.

            Paul continues in this chapter saying don’t put up stumbling blocks before one another, artificial road bumps that distract and detract from the message of Christ. These don’t serve God’s purpose at all; they only serve to lift ourselves up. Verse 17-18 say “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”

            We are all called to live out our faith, both privately and publicly. But how do we do that when our private convictions don’t match up? How do we do that when one feels that a Christian would never drink alcohol and anther lives by the adage, have a little wine for your stomach? How do we do that when one quotes Paul saying “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” And another quotes Paul saying “I permit no woman to preach or have authority over a man?”

            As the saying goes “Don’t major in the minors,” We waste valuable time and resources on things that don’t do anything to build up the body of Christ. Be aware of one another, so as not to cause distraction from Christ by your actions, but try also to not be offended by the actions of others who are serving God with their hearts as well. Judge not, lest you too be judged. Hard words, but true words nonetheless.

            Perhaps the best instructions on this can be found in another of Paul’s letters, this one to the Colossians, ch 3 v 12-17

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[f] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[g] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[h] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.