Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lutheran Pride Day

Just a quick note before I post this last Sunday's sermon. I have been so overwhelmed by the number of comments I have received about my last post "The Letter." I know that no one should be shocked that such things are still said from Christians' mouths/pens but it is still always amazing. Thank you all, friends and strangers, for you comments. May Christ continue to be with you all as you share God's true gospel message with all the world.

So onto the sermon. This sermon was really not based on any of the text for this last Sunday (yes I know I'm bad), though I did allude to those text: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Romans 3:19-28 and John 8: 31-36. And again my disclaimer: this was written for an oral sermon, i.e. there are probably many grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, but just deal with it.

I love being a Lutheran on Reformation Day! It is the day that we wear red (which we don’t get to break out that often) sing the Lutheran fight song (A Mighty Fortress) and celebrate the fact that we are Lutheran. Today, Reformation Day, is kind of like a Lutheran pep rally or Lutheran Pride Day. Maybe to evangelize we should start having parades…think of how many people would claim to be Lutheran on Reformation Day? I mean hundreds of thousands of people claim to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, when they clearly aren’t Irish.

But what are we celebrating today? In 1517 on All Saints Eve, All Hallow’eve (better known as Halloween), Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. These were 95 complaints that he had against the Catholic Church. The main complain that all of these 95 theses had to do with was how the church handled confession, forgiveness and absolution. The Catholic Church was selling forgiveness to anyone who gave money to help build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Now as great of a capital campaign as that was, what makes a human think that they can sell God’s forgiveness?

Well this lead to quite a bit of debate, and it started the Reformation, the re-forming, of the church. And as a result many different groups or denominations broke off from the One, True, Catholic and Apostolic Church in order to follow their own understanding of God, scripture and faith.

So does this bit of history mean that we are celebrating the Lutheran break from the Catholic Church? Well for some people that is true, but really we are celebrating, remembering and reminding ourselves of so much more.

See the real reason Luther wrote these 95 Theses is because he had a different understanding of forgiveness and salvation. For Luther, and for us Lutherans, forgiveness is not something you can buy. You cannot do whatever you want and then be able to buy your way out of sin and death by giving enough money away. First off true stewardship is more than just paying your dues, it is about realizing your money and possessions belongs to God and you are to give generously to God and to those in need. But more importantly, we cannot buy God’s forgiveness because it is not something that we can buy.

God’s forgiveness is not doled out to the highest bidder or the person who does the most good in this world. No God’s forgiveness is freely given, it is grace that is pour out upon us, each and every day, it is a gift that one cannot buy and also that one cannot return. We are saved from sin and death because of God’s grace. We are saved by God’s grace through our faith, and not our works (including our money). We are saved because God loves us, not because God loves how much we time and money we give or because God loves how much we love others. We are saved, we are given God’s grace because God loves us.

Alleluia! Amen! What an amazing message! Who would turn away from that? Who would not want to hear that it is not up to us but solely up to God? I don’t know. It is a message that is almost 500 years old and yet still people do not know it and still people turn away from it.

And at the same time Jesus came 2000 years ago and there are still people who do not believe in him, who do not acknowledge him as the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten not made, of one being with the Father through him all things were made, For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

So if people aren’t going to acknowledge that, I can understand why hearing that God’s grace, forgiveness and salvation are free gifts that require no effort on our own other than faith, can be a little difficult for people to sallow.

But that is the point of the church, that is the point for us as Christians. We are suppose to go out as Christians, as people of the reformed church, and tell other the good news, the good news that God continues to promise us that Christ died for our sins, that Christ has set us free, that Christ has made us no longer a slave to sin and death. We are called to go out and tell others about the new covenant that God has made with us, the covenant that is referred to in our reading from Jeremiah today, the covenant that was started with Christ Jesus, but has yet to be fully realized. The covenant that God has forgiven us of our sins, the covenant that we are saved by God’s grace through faith and not our works. And we are also called as Christians and as a church to tell people that we are still struggling to understand what exactly that means.

See the Reformation is not something that happened 500 years ago that we commemorate today. No the reformation, the re-formation of the church, of our hearts and of our faith, is something that was started long ago but yet continues today. The reforming of the church is something that faith-based people struggled with 500 years ago in the days of Martin Luther, but it something that we have struggled with more recently. 500 years ago, the re-forming issues were about forgiveness, being able to worship in the common language, clergy being able to marry, and the definition of the sacraments. In more recent decades the re-forming issues were about the ordination of women, the merging of church bodies, ecumenical relationships, and the authority of scripture. And today many of those same issues are still at the heart of how the church is re-forming. But other issues have arisen as well, including the ordination and marriage of homosexuals, as was greatly noted by our most recent church-wide assembly, and the church as a whole is dealing with issues about how to adapt, change and remain the same in the constant changing tides that happen in the secular world.

And on a local level, we too are re-forming. We have been reforming as you have seen fit to call me as your pastor; we have been reforming as we understand what it means to be Lutherans in this area of Fairfield County, Connecticut. We have been reforming by telling people that Bethlehem Lutheran Church is not dead but has much life left in it. We have been reforming as we, a small church, do many great things and yet continue to be underestimated. We have been reforming as we grow, change and adapt to new situations, to new life.

We are a reforming church and that is truly what we celebrate on this Reformation Day, not the fact that some dude nailed a piece of paper to a church door almost 500 years ago, but that by God’s grace we are a church today, that is alive, and constantly reforming.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"The Letter"

I (actually the church in general) received a letter on Thursday from a local baptist church. I have been holding off posting about it because I wanted to not write while my emotions were still raw.

First a bit of back story before we get to the letter. Bethlehem sent out invitations for my installation service to all churches in our area along with the ELCA churches in the county.

So now the letter which I have not added anything to and have only subtracted the letterhead and the pastor's name (for I'm sure he would have no problem with me posting it but I do not have his permission, nor do I truly wish to be in conversation with him in order to get it.)

Dear Sir or Madam,

Having received your invitation to the installation of Rebecca Middeke-Conlin as minister of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, permit us to respond.

Whereas the mark of a child of God is obedience to God's commandments,
And hereby we do know him, if we keep his commandments. I John 2:3

And the mark of true Christian love is likewise obedience to His commandments,
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments I John 5:2

And whereas God has commanded that women are to keep silence in churches,
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law I Corinthians 14:34

The Spirit of God affirming that it is shame for them to speak,
And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. I Corinthians 14:35

We, desiring to please Almighty God, have separated ourselves from the Lutheran churches as disobedient to the Scriptures and from Rebecca Middeke-Conlin as a shameful person, for thus saith the Lord.

Therefore we cannot accept your invitation but rather exhort you to receive what the Scriptures say and repent of this disobedience or to cease calling yourselves a Christian church.

Baptist Pastor

He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him I John 2:4

Where to begin?

First off this letter saddens me.
It saddens me that some people are so burdened by keeping laws that are impossible to keep that they are not able to see the love and grace that abounds in Christ Jesus.

It saddens me to think about how the women in this congregation must be treated, as second class citizens incapable of any actual thought all because they were born with the wrong genitalia.

It saddens me that he is so over-come by the differences between our two congregations that he cannot celebrate the good news that we share together.

But this letter also outrages me. Outrage is probably too strong of a word, but I cannot think of a better one right now.

I'm offended that he took a invitation to a celebratory event as an opportunity to spout hate, superiority and smugness.

I am insulted that he is judging my character based entirely on my gender without first meeting me so that he may know my heart, personality, temperament, disposition, or any other attributes that God has created me to be outside of what is between my pants (and yes I said pants because I don't wear skirts that often).

I also feel violated that it is letters like this that many unchurched people think of when they think of Christianity. This kind of hatred, superiority and smugness often goes hand in hand with many Christian Fundamentalist but in exchange they actually turn many more people off from hearing Christ message of love, salvation, hope and grace than they ever helps "save."

I am also frustrated that this man used a verse about loving God's children as somehow a sign that the people of Bethlehem are not God's children. 1 John 5:1, the verse right before the one he used, says: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child." So therefore even if, according to him, we are not obeying God's commandments by allowing a woman to speak in church, we are still people who believe that Jesus is the Christ and therefore are God's children, then according to 1 John 5:1 and 1 John 5:2, which he quoted, then he is to love us, the children, if he is to love God, the parent.

I am baffled that a man who used scripture to condemn Bethlehem and could probably quote scripture quite well, does not seem to know the Bible. First off, Paul was telling the women not to talk in church because they were ruining worship for other's (kinda like when a person talks during a movie). These women had never been allowed in worship before and had no clue what was going on so therefore they were asking questions and distracting people who were trying to worship. This pastor would know this if he ever read any biblical commentary that looked at the history of the area. Paul wasn't anti-women as Christian leaders: he worked alongside and lifted up the leadership of Tabitha, Eunice, Euodias, Syntyche, Lois, Lydia, Phoebe, and Junia, as well as others. And the Bible isn't anti-women, there is Sarah, Hannah, Rebekah (who I'm named after), Elizabeth (my middle name), Mary, Deborah, Anna, Orpah, Ruth, Rachel, Martha, Miriam and the list can go on and on. How can a man who uses scripture so easily forget about all these women who God has called, lead and upheld as leaders of the faith?

But most importantly I have felt loved. Not by the author of this letter, but by my family, friends and congregation who have felt the same outrage and sadness I have felt about this letter. I have also felt loved by all of my family, friends, pastors, colleagues and fellow worshipers who have supported me in my faith journey, who encouraged me to go to seminary, regardless of my gender, and who continue to pray for me and the ministry that God has sent me to do. I hope and pray that this author feels as loved and supported as I have, even when faced with people who spout hatred, superiority and smugness at him because of something that he cannot control.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blessing of the Animals

Yesterday was Bethlehem's First Annual Blessing of the Animals. I say first annual because it was a great success and I cannot see it not being repeated.

We were hoping to have the blessing outside under the cross, but the weather was not cooperating. After being threaten with a Nor'eastern in the weather forecast from Friday, it finally started to rain some on Sunday. While it was never full Nor'eastern force, it was drizzly, to slow rain all morning.

So after worship, Ellen and I stuck around, re-arranged the furniture in the community room, set up chairs, made coffee, put out the treat bags that the confirmation kids made the day before, and got the place ready.

And just as we were really starting this process, we got a phone call asking if the blessing was still on even with the rain. YES!!! Someone is coming, someone who was not at church that morning, someone who was not familiar with the church. ALLELUIA!! Community-outreach event it is.

And then when Ellen went to go get donuts and some other last minute stuff, another phone call came. WOO-HOO!

So all told we had about 30 people and 14 dogs in the flesh plus many other animals (cats, fish, lizards, hamsters) represented by pictures, drawing and just in name. And $86 was raised for ROAR, the local animal shelter.

30 people might not seem like a huge success to most churches, but that is more people than were in church that morning, and out of the 30, over half were non-members.

And what was the service like? It was just a simple service with a few prayers, a few readings, and then individual blessings of the animals. The individual blessing was pretty much mass chaos, especially considering we were inside and all the dogs wanted to sniff and smell each other.

I am also happy to report that Daisy was a very gracious host and very well behaved to all the dogs that invaded the church that she normally has the run of.

Bless O God, this your creature _____, and all who are involved in its care and protection. Bless the food that it eats, the place where it sleeps, the love that it gives and the caretakers who it calls their family

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Do I want to be a servant?

So I'm leaving tomorrow for Bishop's convocation so I wanted to make sure that I posted this before I left. Between the weather (the start of a Nor'eastern), the text (kinda downers,) the hymns (which were are based on the text), and the sermon (also based on the text) the morning worship was kind of a downer of a service, but this afternoon we are having a blessing of the animals so hopefully it will be a fun afternoon. But I'll write more about that later after it happens. This sermon is based on Mark 10:35-45

James and John wanted something from Jesus that Jesus could not give them. They wanted to sit at Jesus’ left and right hands in his glory. They wanted to be like Jesus. They wanted the power and prestige that comes from being the leader’s right and left hand men, the second and third in command, the ones people had to go through in order to get to Jesus. They not only wanted these things, wanted to be like Jesus, they also thought that they could actually be like Jesus. That they could drink from the cup that Jesus’ drinks and be baptized with the baptism that Jesus was baptized with. They thought that they could do these things, they had no doubt that they could be like Jesus.

And in many ways we too feel like we can be like Jesus. We may not feel like we deserve to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands but we feel like we too can drink from the cup that Jesus’ drinks and be baptized into his baptism. For weren’t we baptized into his baptism at this font or one much like it? For many of us when we heard the last few verses of today’s gospel “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” we started to mentally tally all the ways that we provide service to our church, our community, our family. How we donated so much money to so many different charities, or that we volunteer here at church in various ways or volunteer with an organization or two with the community, whether it is a social, political or philanthropy organization. We want to be like Jesus. We want to be a servant.

Wait we want to be a servant? Who truly wants to be a servant? To be a servant means to give up your own life and be at the constant demand of a master. It means to do whatever the master wants you to do, regardless of how demeaning the task is or what time it is or what else you have to get done or what else you had plan for the day. It is hard for us to understand the concept of a true servant since very few people in today’s society are servants. Americans went to war to abolish slavery, formed unions to make sure we are workers with rights and not servants to be abused. No we don’t really want to be servants, we want to be great.

We want to be the greatest and many will do anything in order to become the greatest. That is why reality competitions shows have made it so big on TV. Think about it. There are alliances that formed, lies that are told, cheating that happens all in order for someone to be America’s Next Top Whatever… The Amazing Race, Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chef, Project Runway, Survivor, Big Brother, the Bachelor, The Apprentice, all of these shows and many, many more have people lying, cheating, and stealing in order to be the top, in order to be the greatest. And even those of us who think we would never actually act that way, get sucked into these programs because on some basic human level, we all want to be the greatest. And even if we aren’t the one competing, we want the person we are routing for to be given top honors. We all want to have our names in lights, to win the cash prize, to be noted for our fame.

See we really don’t want to be servants; no one really wants to be a servant. We all want to have our own lives, to not give up ourselves, to not have to obey every whim of a master. We want to be in control of our lives. And even those saints out there who give up so much of themselves, who are always doing something for others, they still have their breaking point, the moment when they have had too much or they have a thing that they cannot go without, whether it is chocolate, sleeping in on Saturdays, coffee, a hot bath, internet, and the list goes on and when they don’t get it, they get cranky.

See even the most humble of us, the most saint-like, the most servant-like, still have their moments of being human, of wanting to be great, or at least greater than they are. We cannot truly be servants, we cannot truly drink from the cup that Jesus drinks from nor can we be baptized into the baptism that Jesus was baptized with. We are not able to do that. We are not able to give up everything in our lives, even if we give up our lives for Christ’s mission. For we are humans, we are not Christ. We are not able to die in order to save everyone else from sin and death, we are not able to forgive everyone’s sins including our own, we are not able to die and rise again for the sake of the world. We are not able to be a servant. We are not able to do these things. We are human.

But we also do not have to. We do not have to drink from the cup that Jesus drinks from, we do not have to be baptized into the baptism the Jesus was baptized with. We do not have to die in order to save everyone else from sin and death, we do not have to forgive everyone’s sins including our own, we do not have to die and rise again for the sake of the world. We do not have to be a servant. We do not have to do these things because they have already been done.

They have already been done by Christ Jesus who died on a cross for us, each and everyone one of us. Christ has already given up his life for us. Christ has already died in order to save everyone from sin and death, including us. Christ already forgives everyone’s sins, including us. Christ already died and rose again for the sake of the world. Christ already came to be our servant.

Christ has done all this so that we do not have to. Christ came to this world to be our servant, the true servant, knowing that we cannot.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


So this sermon had a lot of props and drawings which of course I'm too lazy to take pictures of and then upload into this blog, so instead you dear readers will have to use your imagination. The sermon is based on Mark 10:17-31 and later in the service we had a baptism (see previous post).

I enjoy needlepointing and sewing so I got out they biggest needle I had in my pin cushion. It is about an inch and a half long and the eye of that needle, the part that you stick the thread in is just an eighth of an inch long. And a camel? Well the average size of a camel is between 7 and 11 feet long, and 6 to 8 feet tall and they can weigh anywhere between 7 hundred to 15 hundred pounds. In other words picture this altar, with a legs and a head fitting through this 1/8 of an inch sliver in the eye of this needle. It is impossible!

Though I have to say that one of the most fascinating things to me while reading commentaries on today’s gospel was reading all the different ways people, theologians and lay alike, have tried to make sense, explain and figure out just how a camel could go through the eye of a needle.

There is this need to soften this text, to explain it in a way that so that we can manage to get to into the kingdom of God by our own perseverance, by our own might and by playing down just how rich we are.

Verse 24, which reads “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” was often tweaked in some translations to read “How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”

And some theologians decided that for this man, his wealth was his “weak spot,” so that Jesus would not actually ask us to part with our possession and instead if Jesus was here today he would find our weak spots, the things we crave, the things we cannot live without, and only ask us to give up those things and not our possessions.

And others decided that Jesus’ statement to ask the man to sell his possessions was really just a test to see if he would be willing to do it and that Jesus did not want the man to really sell off his stuff.

But probably my favorite ways that people have tried to soften this text, have tried to explain how we can get into heaven is by explaining how and camel can get through the eye of a needle.

The most popular explanation actually has the least amount of truth behind it. Some have decided that there must have been a gate in Jerusalem or another nearby town that was called the “Needle’s Eye.” This gate was low and narrow which made it easy for protection but difficult for merchants, traders, and travelers to enter. In order for a camel to get through this gate the camel must be unloaded and stoop down in order to squeeze through and the packages that the camel carried must be then carried through by hand. Therefore a camel could get through the “Needle’s Eye” or the eye of that needle, but with much difficultly. This idea is so dominant that a picture of it even made it onto the front cover of your Celebrate. However no such gate ever existed. Jesus was not referring to a gate, he was referring to an actual needle.

The other popular way of explaining how a camel could go through the eye of a needle is that it must be a typo. That the Greek word for camel, kamelon, is a homophone with kamilon, which means rope. Like in English, “plane” and “plain” sound a like but when someone talks about seeing buffalo on the plain, most picture wide open spaces and not big furry animals jumping through a Boeing 747. Therefore Jesus was not talking about a half ton animal but a rope that with enough patience, and fraying and a large enough needle could be threaded through the eye of a needle. However, there is evidence that the world kamilon with an “I”, rope, was not used until a hundred years after Jesus and it was developed as a way to explain this passage.

And what is our explanation today? I’m sure somewhere down the road from the “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” there is the “World’s Largest Needle” and with some genetic modification one could create a miniature camel that could walk through the eye of that needle without any difficulties.

But why are we trying to explain the impossible? Are we trying to explain how a camel can walk through the eye of a needle or how the rich or any person for that matter can get into heaven by their own works? Are we trying to explain these things, these impossible feats because we feel that if we can explain them than we must be in charge? We, as humans, often feel like we can do anything. We feel like we are the ones in charge of our lives and that as long as we work hard and never give up that we can dream impossible dreams, that we can do anything. But we can’t. We cannot make a camel walk through the eye of a needle, we can’t do everything that we want, nor can we make it into heaven by ourselves. For with mortals it is impossible…..

But with God all things are possible. It is God’s grace that makes the impossible possible. It is God’s grace that is poured out upon us each and everyday that makes the impossible possible. It is God’s grace that turns ordinary water, that came from the tap a few minutes ago, into a life-giving, sin-washing, praise-inducing, water that will be pour upon Kailey as she is baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit becomes a child of God. It is that same grace from God that was and is pour out upon all of us, each and every one of us, at our own baptisms and it is poured out upon us each day because we are children of God. And it is God’s grace that turns ordinary bread and wine into food that feeds and nourishes not just our bodies, but also our souls.

This is God’s grace which makes the impossible possible. For it is God who is able to make a camel, a one thousand pound, 6 plus feet tall animal, walk through the eye of a needle, a small tiny eighth of an inch opening. And it is God’s grace that will allow us to enter into the kingdom of God, for it is nothing that we do that makes us, allows us, to enter into heaven. Think of God’s grace as an apostrophe. God is able to make the “impossible” into “i’mpossible” I’m possible. I’m possible. I’m possible because of God’s grace. God really does make the impossible possible!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My First Baptism

Yesterday's sermon will be coming shortly but first and more importantly I have to tell you about my first baptism.

Yesterday I had the honor and privileged to baptism Kailey Alexis in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Kailey is the daughter of two of our distant members, her dad, John, is currently a Med Tech in the Marines and is stationed in California and her mom, Sharon, is a stay at home mom and full time student out there as well. They were married at Bethlehem almost 5 years ago and Kailey's grandma, aunts and uncle are active members of the congregation and her great-grandma was an active member of the community before moving a few years ago. Therefore Kailey is the third generation to be baptized at Bethlehem. She also wore a baptismal gown that was worn by her her dad, her aunts and uncle, and her dad's cousins. It has been used for every family baptism since the early 80's. And each person's name is embroidered into the skirt along with the year they were baptized.

I met with John, Sharon and Kailey earlier in the week and we went through the baptismal service and discussed the importance of bringing up your child in faith both in the church and at home. I was a lovely conversation and really makes me sad that they live so far from Bethlehem, but I won't guilt trip them since I know they get enough of that from their families.

Anyway to the baptism. After the hymn of the day, Kailey, John, Sharon, Jeremy and Kristin (Kailey's Godparents), Mark (the assistant minister) and myself gathered around the font. It was a good attendance Sunday, even for Columbus Day weekend, mainly cause I think everyone Kailey is related to was at church. I was fairly nervous about accidentally calling Kailey the wrong name that I ended up calling Sharon "Shannon" which I felt horrible about. The entire congregation was invited to gather around the font at starting during the Thanksgiving at the Font.

And of course with baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmations or anything else of the like, something has to go slightly off, or someone misses a cue or something else happens that is amusing. The funny thing here was that during the Thanksgiving at the Font while I'm saying a prayer and Mark is pouring water into the font, Kristin starts holding Kailey head over the font like she was expecting the water to be poured on top of her head. Just jumping the gun a little.

But after the thanksgiving when I did baptize Kailey it was a wonderful feeling. I really don't know how to describe it. It was almost as if I was aware that I was talking and that everyone was gathered around but I was only focused on the water and Kailey and felt like I could see the Spirit wash over her in that water. It wasn't magical, it was Grace-Filled! I am so lucky to have been apart of it and it is one of those moments that pastor's live for.

And if that wasn't special enough, it was also my own baptismal anniversary.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


One of the joys of being a solo employee is that I get to work my own schedule. There is no clock to punch in and out of, I don't have to worry about being late to work or having to find comp time in case I need to leave early for a doctors appointment. However one of the major downsides is motivational support.

This week I have been mainly working doing "office work" at the house instead of the office. The main reason for this is that the church is uninsulated. And while the weather has cooled off enough that the windows are closed, it is not cold enough yet to really turn on the heat. The house (which is insulated) has remained a comfortable temperature, but the church building has been freezing since it also doesn't get much morning. Okay I'm rambling, the point being, I've been working from home.

And for the most part I love it! I normally have to walk back and forth between the two buildings a few times a day, to get something, drop something off, etc. However the downside is that I end up sitting in the same chair to work on my sermon that I watch TV in. Oh so tempting. Soon you are checking your email, checking up on the news, reading a few blogs, etc and then an hour goes by without any work getting done. Another hour sucked into the void that can be the internet.

So I decided that I need to actually create a schedule for me in order to keep me on track. I broke up Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with general things that i need to accomplish each week. Monday I need to print off commentaries, call at least 2 people, and get any thank you, birthday and anniversary cards written. Wednesday I need to prepare for both bible studies, have one visit or community thing, and Thursday I need to write my sermon, have a visit or community event and get any odds and ends done for the weekend. I also decided that I need to start each day out with a walk/workout, some personal Bible study and some time, but only 45 mins, to check my email, facebook, blogs, etc. Ohh and I didn't do anything for Tuesday because Bob and I leave the house VERY early on Tuesdays so he and go to the train station and I hang out at a coffee shop reading commentaries before going to the local clergy gathering.

Since making this list yesterday, I have felt much more focused and on task, knowing that I can take a 15 minute break later in the day to check more email but also not feeling attached to the internet. I also have been leaving my chair a bit more to work at the table or in a different area, which also keeps me more focus. Here's hoping and praying that my motivation continues.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Divorce and Adultery! Oh MY!

A sermon based mainly on Mark 10:2-16 with a reference or two to Genesis 2:18-24 and Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

What a set of lessons to have! Divorce and adultery in the gospel text, biblical literalism, sexism, heterosexism and a need to be married in order to be a complete person in the Genesis text and in the reading from Hebrews we have a very theologically heavy statement about the Christology of Jesus. No wonder why many preachers today are ignoring these lessons and focusing on something entirely different to preach about. These texts have been used to hurt and condemn many people throughout history, including today. Therefore many preachers who are sensitive to these issues and not wanting to cause any scrimmages are focusing solely on the one ray of sunshine, the one obvious bit of gospel truth in these texts: Jesus calling the little children, the rejected, the lowliest of society, into his arms and blessing them.

But I believe there is more gospel in these texts. That there is more good news for us to take away from today’s lessons. Yes Jesus did invite the little children to come to him, took them in his arms and blessed them (and by the way, these were not the pristine, cute beautiful children we often see in those charcoal drawings with a blonde hair, blue eyed Jesus. No these children were the sick, the ill, the ones extremely malnourished, with runny noses, dirt and other gross stuff on their faces, goop coming out of their eyes, and probably crying due to the pain.) So yes Jesus took these children into his arms and blessed them but what about their divorced parents, or their adulterous parents, the ones who became their parents outside of wedlock or their aunts and uncles who choose not to get married, the ones who did not feel the need for that type of relationship in order to be whole in their lives? What about them? Did Jesus bless them?

And what about today? We pray for those who are ill, children and adults alike. We celebrate and publicly pray for those people who choose to get married, but yet prayers for those who are going through divorce and adultery are often silent individual prayers. And the few public prayers that are said often have more to do with asking God to keep the relationship whole instead of praying for the individuals and family involved in the relationship and asking that whatever is best for all those involved may be done. And when do we pray for, give thanks and celebrate single people in or society, people who have not gotten married or remained unmarried after a divorce or death of a spouse?

My thought, my belief, is that Jesus did indeed bless these people. Jesus did not dismiss those people who the rest of society looked down upon because they did not conform to some perfect little box that in reality very few people were able to fit into. No Jesus blessed everyone. He blessed the blind, the lame, the crippled, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the hemorrhaging woman, the Samaritan woman at the well who had had five husbands, the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned to death (you without sin cast the first stone). These people were rejected, wounded, broken in both spirit and relationship but yet Jesus blessed them.

And we too are rejected, wounded and broken. We have been given each other, people in our lives to live with in community and in relationships. Friends, spouses, co-workers, church members, and pastors. We are meant to live in community with fellow humans. We are not meant to live alone to become that crazy cat lady with 30 cats and no human contact. Animals were not enough for man, he needed other people, someone to converse with, someone who was both a helper and a partner.

We are meant to live with other people. For some that means having a spouse, for others it means living with roommates, and others it is to live as an immediate or extended family, and even others it means to have their own living space but to have a group of friends who are their support network that they are in contact with almost daily. We, all humans, are social beings, meant to have others to care for and support us as well as.

However we are also rejected, wounded and broken. Relationships do not always work out. Friendships die out, sometimes slowly and naturally over the course of year as people move away or gain new interest and the phone calls, emails, letters, and talks happen less and less frequently. Sometimes friendships die violently, as fights develop over love interest, lifelong goals or priorities tear friends apart. And other relationships too become broken. Parents-child relationships or sibling relationships become estranged and relatives feel alienated from one another. And divorce happens. People who at one point were madly in love start living different lives and feel they can no longer connect and live with one another. They have grown apart and their relationship and they, themselves, becomes wounded and broken.

When this happens, we can be like the Pharisees, who are so focused on the law of the world, on their broken sinful natures, that they are unable to see the grace and love that is given to them in these relationships. We can be afraid to love, afraid to grow close to one another, afraid to live in relationships, in community with one another as we ought, as we have been commanded by God to do.

Or we can be like Jesus, who blessed the rejected, the wounded and the broken. Who realizes that while there are laws in this world because we are sinful creatures, also realized that there is also love and grace. We are blessed to be in relationships, to be in community with on another, to love and support one another, to give thanks for one another, (hence why we are giving thanks to these wonderful pastors here today). We are blessed to have these relationships as much as they hurt at time as much they make us feel wounded and broken at times. Because we also live in relationships, plural. Not just one relationship, with one person, but many relationships with friends, family, neighbors, fellow worshipers, community members and possibly spouses.

We are blessed to have this network of support to help us when we feel broken, when we feel wounded, when we feel rejected. We have this network to remind us that we are loved, we are blessed and we are children of God. That Jesus has blessed us even if we are a dirty sick child, that Jesus has blesses us even if we are adulterous individuals, that Jesus has blessed us regardless of our marital status and that Jesus has blessed us even when we feel wounded, broken and rejected. For Christ has blessed us, each and every one of us, by giving us community to live in, by washing us in the waters of baptism, by feeding us at the Lord’s table and Christ has blessed us by dying for us. And that is truly the good news in the midst of all this law.