Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reflections on Sunday

Every Tuesday our church does a worship service at Oak Leaf retirement community next door to the church. We do a full service with elders, a pianist and communion. I preach the same sermon that I did on Sunday.

My sermon Sunday was about what the cross means to us as we grow into our faith as mature Christian. I talk about how the cross represents the spiritual truth of our lives - that to die to ourselves is to find life. If we follow Jesus, we embrace suffering by becoming people who are able to love compassionately. We first have to recognize those who are suffering in our midst and we have the courage to stand with those who suffer.

After I preached today, I found myself thinking about church on Sunday. It was such a busy day that I had not really processed all that happened. At the end of the service, one of our members came forward. The invitation is to those who want to join church - but he came forward to be embraced by the church. He is a man who came to us about 4 years ago as he was going through a terrible time - his wfe left him and he lost his job at the same time. He became part of our church and found some work and found a place to live. He became "stabilized" I guess you could say, but it was surely not the way it was before.

Two years ago he had a stroke. He has not been the same since. I won't go into details, but after heart problems as well, he is now living in a rehabiilition place and may have to stay there. It is not what he wants, but it is the way it is.

Anyway, he came forward weeping Sunday and I called the healing team to come forward and place hands on him as I prayed a prayer over him and the benediction for the service.

What I recognized today is that whole moment was exactly the role of the church. We have to be willing to stand with those who suffer and who may not get any better. We (I)cannot even imagine what it is like to watch our life dramatically change from our expectation of what we thought it was going to be.

This is the hardest part of life and ministry. What I realized this morning was that at the end of the service we were acting out the sermon - and let me tell you honestly - it is all very uncomfortable. We have a healing team at our church and we want to be part of God's healing - and while there may be spiritual and relational and emotional healing - there is not always physical healing. And it is hard to see.

And so I write this for Doug who we love and pray that somehow in the midst of the life that he now has at a nursing hom that he is experiencing God's presence. And I pray that I might and that our church might have the courage to love him and stand with him (and others) in suffering.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Worship Style

One of my assignments for my wellstreams class is to go reflect on 3 experiences of praying with others in corporate worship. So far I have done two of these and they were worship experiences from the past week.

The first one was at our regional meeting of ministers. The afternoon was spent in learning about using technology in the church and then we had dinner together. We ended with worship.
In our worship time we sang - "Let it breathe on me" several times and then "Let it breathe on us." We formed groups of 3 or 4 and prayed over each other. And then we had communion. I loved it all. It was quiet, it was personal, it was very moving to me. I especially appreciated being with clergy who are understand the joys and the struggles of pastoring.

Last night about 10 of us went from Columbus to Circleville Oh (about 50 minute drive) to attend the worship service celebrating the installation of Charles Ferguson (who preaches at our church on Sunday nights) to become the pastor at Second Baptist Church in Circleville. It was a service that was led by African American Baptists. My assignment was to reflect on the prayer style and it was different from the way that we pray at our church. The congregation was standing, the pianist played underneath the praying, and people often responded outloud during the praying. I find myself doing that too - quietly - but I feel engaged in the praying. It really felt like WE were praying the prayers together to God.

There is no way that we will have this kind of praying in our church on Sunday morning - not that I want to. We sit quietly, listen to the person praying for all of us and experience it as we do.

What I keep learning is that it is all good. There are differences between what we do at our church on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. I know that there is always the temptation to call some style better than another. I feel very blessed that I get to experience different ways of praying to God with others.

I still have to do one more non Christian worship experience - now THAT will really be interesting.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sudoko and Sermons

I think there is some relationship between doing Sudoko and sermon preparation for me.
I start the day with some sort of puzzle - often Sudoko or Spider Solitaire (4 decks). I like solving puzzles and I like the process of trying different solutions out and having them come together. I also like it when I make a lucky guess and it turns out to be the right way.

At some point in the week - today it is Thursday - I really buckle down and start to do the pre-work of sermon preparation. Which involves copying and pasting the text onto a file and just looking at it a while. It is the beginning of solving this week's puzzle for me. I bold some words, I separate out sentences and phrases and sort of wait. Often I get a sense of the direction I want to go. This week the text is John 12: 20-36 and I am intrigued by the time mentions - "the hour has come." Jesus has a timetable for what he is doing? Knowing when God wants him to offer up his life? Is there something about our lives that we need to know what time it is? As I get older I am aware of not missing out on what is important? Lots of thoughts floating around here. And don't know what is the text and what is me and what is me distorting this. Don't know yet. It's a puzzle? a Mystery?

Then I go to text week and start reading. And if there are ideas that appeal to me - and that match whatever has been the first thinkin about what this is saying to me and us - I do some copying and pasting. Then I wait a little while. Re read.

I check out whatever I have in my library on John. And write some notes and wait awhile.

At some point I get an outline - because I do sermon notes every week, I allow the outline to come to me gradually. My preaching is really linear and I used to apologize for that - until I heard Joan Chittister speak and talk about how she thinks in outline forms. So do I - I think it is the "puzzle brain."

Anyway, this is certainly a process that can seem stressful - but more likely is an interesting dynamic that I go through every week. The outline comes, the words start to get filled in, and then illustrations pop up in my reading and my life. I finish sometimes on Friday, sometimes on Saturday njight and sometimes there is a change on Sunday morning.

In my 19th year of preaching weekly, I have learned to trust God will give me what I need through it all. What is interesting now is that I can be preaching on texts that I have preached on before and find something different in it that really excites me.
I like it best when I really have the time to let it marinate - but if it is a busyweek, God comes through.

It is a puzzle and it is certainly a HOLY mystery how God uses the different dynamics within all of us who preach every Sunday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prayer with a Psalm

In my wellstreams program I am taking a course on prayer. Every two weeks we have a different form of prayer that is assigned for our daily prayer. The first was names of God, then it was praying with ritual, then praying with silence and now it is praying with scripture.

This morning I randomly picked Psalm 20 for my morning prayer. And it was exactly what I needed. Here it is:

Psalm 20
1The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.
3May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah
4May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.
5May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.
6Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.
7Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.
9Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call.

At first I was stopped by the first verse - the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! My heart is with my sister Ellen and her family as they are living in the day of trouble. And I pray for them all the time.

But as I read through the Psalm I saw verse seven - "Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God."
And I know how easy it is to concentrate on our form of the "chariots and horses" - those things that seem tangible and that will represent getting places and having power.
The version of the Bible I was reading said - "I remember the name of the Lord our God" and that is really what prayer is - remembering that despite everything - Our God is with us to give us strength, peace and hope in the midst of the day of trouble. And it is so easy to forget that.

And so I pray for God's presence to be experienced by me and by all today. May we know that when we "call" we will be "answered". (vs. 9)


Thursday, March 19, 2009


My niece Elyssa suggested I post my sermons - so here is the latest from Sunday

John 2:13-25
13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Everybody knows about this scripture – it is in all the gospels!
People reference for – see Jesus gets angry – - you shouldn’t be selling things in the church – it means you shouldn’t bingo – We do all kinds of things with this text
It is called – the cleansing of the temple – those money changes – who were making all that noise and exploiting people who were coming in to worship God
And it is – get rid of them – but it was more than thatJesus is defining his purpose – he is calling out the purity system It is not about just cleansing – it is about a systemic change.

The purity system in Judaism became a religion that creates a world with sharp social boundaries between the pure and the import,, the righteous and the sinner, the whole and the not whole, the male and the female, the rich and the poor, the Jew and the Gentile
There was exploitation in this system that is evidence in the courtyard to the temple. You could not worship without the “clean and pure sacrificial animal” so the merchants overcharged for those animals
There is self centeredness in this system – as we try to keep ourselves clean. An example of Jesus shining his light on that is the Good Samaritan as we see the religious leaders avoid the beaten traveler who would cause them – not only to be late – but to become unclean
And there is certitude here – the certainty that we know the way and that we are the holy ones and you are not.It’s a closed system – that you have to work your way into it
And so Jesus is doing more than just throwing some merchants out of the temple courtyard – he is beginning his ministry of standing up to the unjust system that was denying people their humanity and preventing people from worshipping together in God’s house

Jesus came to bring in this place of freedom and openness and peace
Where the system of purity defined people by what they did, ate, who they associated with, their acts of worship, Jesus comes and gets dirty in order to bring real cleansing – a new kind of community. God’s community
His disciples remember the words of the Psalmist as they see him:Zeal for your house will consume me. (good news – My devotion to your house, O God, burns in my like a fire) Jesus is saying – this is not the way my father’s house is supposed to be!

When Jesus comes he makes room for the outsider – Jesus eats with all kinds of people and invites them into relationship
When Jesus comes he makes room for the spirit - - heals on the Sabbath, he
When Jesus comes he brings people into the compassionate life – woman at the well, the tax collector, the disciples themselves

It is not a system – it is spirit led and with Jesus as the center of the community

Now the Christian church of 2009 can too easily see this as written about the Jews – but what does it mean to us in this time and this place.
And what I see is that it is about the shadow of the institutional church – and the shadow that is within each of us. And what happens – is that we can all fall into the trap of substituting a system for the work of God’s spirit.
Jesus challenges a religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God,
And that is the question for you and for me and for us this morning – are we aware of the systems and habits and rules and practices that prevent us from experiencing and living into the kingdom of God.
Now let me tell you – I struggle with this – all of it.
Because it is the human nature to try to create stability and systems.
So that when 2 or more meet – we want to invite more, we want to find a place to meet, we want to have a designated time, and then start to impose some order to what happens when we meet. Isn’t that how it works?
So we start building churches, furnishing churches, putting together worship service, and deciding what it means to be a member of this community. And the next thing you know – we may be excluding people, getting so organized that there is no room for spontaneity,;Putting our rituals together in such a way that we lose sight of the reverence over the routine
And we get concerned about mistakes in the bulletin, and how full the communion cups are and whether I knew any of the songs, and who was talking during worship and you know…..you know
Now let me tell you – I struggle with this – all of it

It is so easy to major in the minors when it comes to worship –And maybe it is because the Major – the encounter with the Holy One is so Major. So mysterious and so outside our control
And yet we who are here have had moments, haven’t we? Holy moments when the spirit has been experienced, when we felt the nudge, or heard the voice
Or knew – Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place
No wonder we cling to the songs that we remember for our childhood, and want to do worship in a way – that in the past brought us meaning.. It worked once – surely it will work again.

This passage has something for us today – a word of warning that says that institutional religion can so easily lose its way,
That our need for control can close us to God’s real work in the world.
That ritual can become routine, that custom can breed complacency and that good religious people can work against what God wants the church to be.

Jesus saw that and became angry.
He became angry because devotion to God’s house was burning within him
He was ignited by God – as we talk about here
And in his zeal he acted strongly and stood up to the system that had gone astray.

He knew what was possible and he longed to draw all people back to the heart of God – and to a community shaped by compassion and not purity
My father’s house is the center piece of the compassionate life
This call to compassion runs throughout John's Gospel like a stream of living water--
Compassion for the Samaritan woman at the well. She was considered impure by bloodline and behavior.
Compassion for the woman accused of adultery threatened with stoning. She was surely considered impure and the written laws said so.
Compassion for sheep who are not yet part of God's fold. Who are those people in our communities?
Then Jesus says to his friends: "I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another."
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples--not by maintaining the boundaries, not by naming some pure and others impure, not by protecting the church from getting dirty, but by this love you have for one another.

I want to end by asking you to reflect on four questions –
1. what are you doing here? Not why are you here? But how open are you to God’s life giving spirit? What is your expectation of meeting the one who loves you?

2. what are we doing here? How are we reaching out to the lonely and the broken, the hungry and the sinful. Are we inviting? Are we welcoming? Are we accepting?

3, What is God doing here? Loving you? Strengthing you? Joining us together? Forming bonds between us’ tearing down walls that divide us? Softening your heart? My heart? What is God doing here?

Finally – what happens when we leave here?
Have we heard the compassionate word spoken to us?
Do we know that no matter how we came in this morning – whatever condition – we have been loved and forgiven?
We come to be in the presence of the one who stood up to systems that were exploitive, self centered and wrong and he paid a price for that
Can we follow him? Can we do the same
Will we continue to bring his compassionate kingdom into this world

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I am sitting in my sister Ellen's office writing this. She is sleeping in the next room.

I am visiting because I told her I wanted to watch TV with her and that is what we are doing. And I like it.

She is pretty weak - and spends most of her time in her bed or in a chair beside the bed. Sarah, her oldest daughter has arranged her schedule so that she is able to be here with her Mom in the morning when Tom is working.

Tom then comes home and is able to take care of the dogs, house, bills, errands and Ellen.
Between him and Sarah they are able to take care of her.

As I am here I just marvel at what you do - we do - everyone does - as a family during times like this. We figure out what needs to be done and we do it. We care for people who we love and try to make the best of a really difficult situation.

Ellen is a very strong person - and if I didn't know it before, I know it now. She knows that she wants to live as long as she can and she is willing to be in a lot of pain if necessary. She wants to be here for her children and her husband. An illness like this brings us back to the basics of what is really important and what you can count on.
And hopefully we will find that it will be family.

So, please keep Ellen in your prayers and her family which is of course, my family.
I feel blessed to be here today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer

Last night I stayed up and watched Comedy Central to see the smack down of Jon Stewart nailing Jim Cramer. It was really impressive.

A couple of years ago I listened to a book on tape - The Fortune Tellers: Inside Wall Street's Game of Money, Media and Manipulation by Howard Kurtz (Paperback - Jun 5, 2001). It was basically about these shows - like Mad Money, etc. - which tried to use the "Sportscenter" model about finance and the stock market. And so we now have this daily - even hourly - report on the stock market like it is a basketball game.

As these programs became watched there were people who became celebrities - and Jim Cramer is one of them. They present themselves as experts and recommend what to buy and sell. The only thing is that there is nobody out there really holding them acountable at all. Nobody is even putting together a win/loss record of the "experts." They are like "fortune tellers" much more than the financial experts. And they are dealing with influencing how people spend their savings. It is not a game.

Jon Stewart was masterful is calling Jim Cramer to accountability - because they (he and others) have certainly not helped in this financial mess that we are in. Their session together was not all that funny - but it was important to watch Cramer be faced with someone speaking the truth to him.

In the church, we are called to speak truth to power. But that is also what artists do - and Jon Stewart is a comedic artist.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My soul is touched

I haven't written for a while and thought I would mention three experiences that have really been helpful.

We got to see Joan Baez in concert on Monday night (tickets from the generous Dawn and Jason!) Oh my! It was so wonderful for me. She started by saying that we were going to cover many decades and she did and we did. As she sang, she took me back through my own life as I remembered where I was and who I was when I heard some of the songs. She looked wonderful and Chuck had brought binoculars and her eyes are just so deep and full of soul.

I was especially touched by her singing diamonds and rust about an old affair (with Bob Dylan)and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" a ca pella. Sung by a woman in her 60's it just resonated with meaning for me as I think about aging and life and yes, death. We also all sang "Imagine" as part of the encore which again was wonderful. There were times I sat in the darkness and felt the tears just going down my face. She touched my soul.

Yesterday at Wellstreams - where I am taking courses for Spiritual Direction - my prayer partner Debbie met me early so she could pray for me. She knows that I am going to see Ellen next week and she is just a wonderful gift to me. I so rarely am (or allow myself to be?) prayed over without praying for the other person. And it was just what I needed. We spent the evening learning about prayer with scripture and at the end of our time together I felt lighter than when I came in.

Today again, I tried doing "Spirituality 101" for the after school program at my church. We talked about integrity and about how being honest helps our souls to be whole. And I had the kids (4 smart aleck girls and a boy) answer questions in their own lives about times they were dishonest. We had a good discussion although one girl said she didn't think she had a conscience since she lied all the time and didn't care. Hmmmm. Didn't quite know what to say. I talked about how our souls are ultimately hurt by our lies and we have to find the strength to tell the truth. Then I played a song called "You can relax now." And again thought - is this doing anything?
It was afterwards, that the boy came ito my office and said "When you played that song, it was like my soul was crying." And we sat and he talked about his school and family life with me.

And so, my soul is touched - by music and prayer and this peculiar life in the church.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


These are from an article in The Christian Century - "God is not Beyond" by Christian Wiman

"Faith is forged not by the mind alone but by the mind's risky messy encounter with the world at large. Faith is not something you have; it is something you do."

"Silence is the language of faith. Action - be it church or charity, politics or poetry - is the translation."

"Do not pray to be at peace in your belief. Pray that your anxieties be given peaceful outlets, that you may be the means to a peace which you yourself do not feel."

"Faith is not a new life in this sense; it is the old life newly seen."

"To feel God - to find God - does not usually require that we renounce all worldly possessions and enter a monastery, or give our lives over to some cause of social justice, or create some sort of sacred art, or begin spontaneously speaking in tongues.
All too often the task to which we are called is simply to show a kindness to the irritating person in the cubicle next to us, say, or touch the face of a spouse from whom we ourselves have been long absent, letting grace wake love from our intense, self-enclosed sleep."

Christian Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Day Off

Today is my day off
And yesterday was a doozy - so I needed a day to do not much.
Yesterday - teaching Sunday school, church, pastor's class, a funeral (!), gospel praise service, and bingo! It was very, very, busy.
And in the middle of the day, I lost my keys in the church and had to walk to the funeral home (up the street) - which is telling about how it was a too much to do day.

So, I had today.
Which started really well - an hour by myself in the living room, in silence, with my journal, and a book on prayer. Very nice, Very nice.

But the girls - Reagan and Addie were both sick so they stayed home and so did Marnie to take care of them. The kids were actually really good - because they did not do much except watch TV and rest. After all, they are sick.

I spent an hour writing my bills for the month and then Marnie offered to teach me how to do my bills on line and we did. I keep learning new things - it is keeping me young.

Then Chuck and I went to go out to lunch and to buy new phones. My contract ran out with ATand T (originially Cingular) a year ago, but I hate this process so I have put it off. But today we knew it was good to be out of the house for a while. So.....to verizon where I had already scoped out that this was the best deal.

It was a good deal - we got new - walk out of the store new - phones and we are now on a plan where I get more text messaging (last month I had 300 minutes of texting - I am increasing on that!) But the processs took an hour and a half. And at the end the woman who waited on us could not put our phone numbers in the phones.

So, that was the first problem to solve. I went home and did it - put my numbers in my phone and Chuck's in his. Which seemed OK until Marnie called and I realized that I had switched them and had to start over. Chuck has family, friends, and distant acquaintances in his phone - the names are usually misspelled - and often he has strange nicknames for people.

Then we also have to figure out what to do about the rings. Right now we have the same rings and don't know how to change them and it is imperative that Chuck's phone has a loud ring so that a stranger nearby will say to him - "your phone is ringing" since he often can't hear it. We hope Marnie can help us.

We got home and soon were babysitting while Marnie went to a parent teacher conference and then to work for a little while. The good news is that the girls went to sleep promptly - which is really good.

So, it is the end of the day. I watched TV tonight and played a couple of games of "East of the Web" (won one and Marnie - playing downstairs - won one) And now - after "Saving Grace - I will go to bed. This is a really good show, by the way. God is one of the characters in it!

A kind of a different day off - but I still feel rested and blessed by it all.