Sunday, January 24, 2010

Worship is for God's sake

Just a quick sermon post as I rest up after a hospital run and before watching the Vikings game this evening. I'll be at a conference all week and I don't know about internet access so I wanted to make sure I posted this today.

The readings for this week were Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a and Luke 4:14-21

All the texts have themes of worship and community which is where I went with my sermon, or at least tried to. Enjoy!

Jesus was in the synagogue teaching. Jesus went to church! This may seem like an amazing thing for some people – why would Jesus need to win brownie points with God, and why did he need to come to a place of worship in order to pray or hear God? But Jesus being in worship is not an abnormal thing, in verse 15 of our gospel: “He began to teach in their synagogues.” Synagogues – plural, and in verse 16: “he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.”

As was his custom – that is kind of a funny phrase. Every translation I have of the Bible, except one, uses the phrase “as was his custom” or “according to his custom.” So what makes something a custom? Because you have done it once before? Because you have always done it that way?

So I ask you: Why did you come to church today? Why didn’t you sleep in, go grocery shopping, get some stuff done around the house or the other laundry list of other things you could be doing right now? So seriously why did you come to worship today?

It is important to know why we worship. We worship at times because we want to thank God for what we have been given. We worship at times because we want to pray for someone who is ill or dying. …. And sometimes we worship because someone made us, or because we always come and the week just isn’t the same when we don’t go to worship on Sunday. Sometimes we go because it is our custom.

We worship and don’t worship for a variety of reasons. We find a church because it has the programs we want, or our friends go there, or we like the people. We stop going because we are frustrated with what is going on in and outside of worship, we don’t like the music, we don’t like the new pastor, we don’t agree with what others at the church or within the denomination have to say about some political/social statement. The reasons why we worship or don’t worship change throughout our lives, sometimes those reasons even change week to week.

And sometimes you may just force yourself to be here physically even if you are not here mentally, spiritually or emotionally. But I want you to think about this. Have you ever been in worship and out of the corner of your eye you see someone who obviously does not want to be there? They are standing in a bored defensive posture, checking their watch every few minutes, never opening up the hymnal, never responding in the liturgy, (which by the way means the work of the people). How does that make you feel? Does it distract you? Does it keep you from truly praising God? From singing as loudly as you may otherwise?

Or have you been in a worship service with quiet a few people but you can’t hear anybody singing? What does that do to your singing? To your voice as you praise God?

When you worship with others who are there to worship, there to praise God, there to sing and pray and commune with those around them, something magical, awe-inspiring, dare I even say spiritual happens. When you worship with people who are not checking the time or worried about everything they have to get done that day and instead are able to truly turn their hearts and minds to God whether they are full of praise or lament, joy or grief. When we all are able to give up whatever we have on our hearts and minds to God you can feel the Spirit moving. You can feel Christ here with us, you can feel God in your heart, you can feel the Holy Spirit moving your body, mind and soul and you can feel the presence of God in others who are there worshiping with you.

Because worship is not about us! Worship is about God. Worship is what happens to us, by God, when we think we are praising God with songs, prayers and scripture. Worship is what happens to us when we are given new insights about what God is calling us to do, or about where the Holy Spirit is leading us, or what a parable Jesus told two thousand years ago has to do with us today.

Worship is for God’s sake. In worship we sing hymns together as a community. In worship, we pray as a community and for the community, both individuals members and the whole body of Christ. Worship is a communal event, it builds community, it brings us together in a way nothing else in society does. We pray together, sing together, read scripture together, eat at the Lord’s Table together, and then go out into the greater community knowing that we will be supported by these people who worship with us and that we are supporting them.

Through worship, we are individuals but we make up something so much greater than anyone of us alone. Through worship, we commune with Christians of every time and every place. When we receive that body and blood of Christ we are communing, eating, sharing time, with both Christ and the others physically in this room around us, but also we are communing with people throughout the world and throughout time. Right now there are people in Haiti, people who have been devastated by two earthquakes, have had family and friends died during those quakes but who are right now, right this instance worshiping. Through Christ, the people of Haiti are here worshiping with us and we are there worshiping with them. And we are worshiping, communing with people on the other side of the world who may actually be in bed right now, people in China and Australia. And we are worshiping with people throughout time, with our parents, grandparents, and other ancestors and even the twelve disciples who were at Jesus’ Last Supper.

Through worship we become the body of Christ, we become Christ’s hand who do Christ work in the world; we become Christ’s feet walking in the way of Christ and leading others to him; we become Christ’s ears, listening to those in need and hearing the gospel; we become Christ’s eye, seeing the good in those around us; we become Christ’s lips, praising others and speaking the good news; we become Christ’s shoulders, bearing the burden of others; and through worship we become Christ’s heart, loving all people.

In worship, through worship, God comes to us and we become part of a community, part of the body of Christ. And that is why we worship.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gift of Life

On Tuesday I did something that I haven't done in at least 5 years - I gave blood. I made an appointment at the local donation center and got tapped.

Between the pre-questions, the blood draw and the sitting in the canteen for a few minutes afterward eating hard pretzels and drinking cranberry juice it took less than an hour.

So check out the Red Cross's website and make an appointment to give the gift of life.

And as an added bonus during January if you give a pint of blood you get a coupon for a free pound of Dunkin Doughnuts coffee (granted I don't drink coffee but I'm sure Bob will enjoy it).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Go Vikes!

Being from Minnesota I am a Vikings fan. I'm in no way obsessive. I realize that because I don't live in the area (and especially since we do not have a TV) that I'm not going to be able to watch every game. But I try to watch as much as I can online and we have gone to one of the local bars a few times this season in order to watch the Vikes on Monday Night Football.

I have had my ups and downs with the team but I remain loyal. I originally started to really cheer for them in 98 when they went 15 and 1 in the regular season and Gary Anderson did not miss a single field goal attempt the entire season...well that was until the NFC Championship game when the Vikings lost by less than the one field goal Anderson missed.

Since then I went to college in Wisconsin which only increased my Vikings love as I actively participated in the rivalry between the Vikes and the Packers. We would segregate into fan-loyal viewing parties during Viking/Packers game and you could tell what room was cheer for what team by where the cheers came from during various parts of the game.

I then spent 4 long years in Philly dealing with Eagle fans as the Vikings were to put it nicely "re-builiding the team." BTW when the Eagles made it to the Superbowl in 2005 every local news broadcast for the two weeks prior to the Superbowl started with some reporter in Tampa (I believe) discussing the game and what the weather report was in Tampa.

But now the Vikes have made it back to the playoffs with a first round bye and I proudly sat at the bar, with my clerical on (I think I broke some pastoral stereotypes yesterday), routing for my team. And not only did they win yesterday, they CREAMED the Cowboys.

And next Sunday at 6:40 I will again be at the bar, wearing my purple, cheering for the underdogs and the Vikings play again the Saints for the NFC Championship. And hopefully they will not loose by just a field goal.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ahh Damn

I think I jinxed worship today. My sermon, based on the Gospel lesson John 2:1-11, deals with the fact that we are human and occasionally screw up including in worship. Well apparently that gave us the excuse we needed. The organ quite during the last refrain of the hymn of the day, there was a big spill of communion wine on the altar, I messed up some words during the Eucharistic prayer. But yet we just laughed and kept on going! Anyway enjoy the sermon; I did, especially cause I got to say "Damn" during it.

The other text for today were: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

On Monday I was on the phone with my accountant. And over the course of our conversation we were joking about the IRS and taxes and the other general banter about money and government. At one point, he says the word “Damn.” He then immediately apologizes and corrects himself with the word “darn.” Because of course I, as a pastor, would have been offended by such a swear word and because he, as swearing in a conversation with a pastor, is going directly to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Secretly I love these moments because most of the time these people who barely know me do not realize that not only have I heard just about every swear word there is but I also have said most of them too.

We as a society have put religion up on this pedestal and have put pastors and other religious leaders up there as well. Granted after Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti this last week, I’m not sure how much we deserve this pedestal.

Most of us have had a person treat us slightly differently after they find out that we are regular church-attendees. Not sure if we are oddities or have been brainwash or will be offended by the slightest infraction of the 10 Commandments or other “laws” that we have created and we might even try to save them. In many ways, we are told as a society, to put faith and therefore Jesus into this untouchable, holier than thou, realm where we must be on our best behavior, wear our finest clothes and pretend that we have no problems in our lives.

But faith really isn’t like that. Most people have felt closest to God and in most at need to rely on their faith when they are having the most problems. When the rest of their world has fallen apart. When all they want to do is shout and scream at the world and at God and sometimes can hardly get out of bed in the morning, much less put on their best clothes. As Norman Rockwell-esque as that is, as much as we might want to fit into that mold, many people realize that they do not and therefore avoid churches for fear that they do not measure up.

We have all seen the pictures are of the smiling homogeneous family all sitting quietly listening to the sermon or singing together out of the hymnal, but we all know that in reality we are daydreaming about what happened last night or mentally creating the grocery shopping list for the afternoon and the kids are complaining about when they can leave, coloring pictures or playing games. And sometimes the adults are even doing that too. It is perfectly normal, perfectly human to have these moments of reality.

That is what really happens here. In this church, in this sanctuary, we are truly human together. In order to worship together, in order to care for one another as a community, we must put away our false pretenses, we must admit that we are broken and cannot become whole by ourselves. That is why we begin most worship services with the order of confession and forgiveness: to remind us that we are human and that God is the one who forgives us. God is the one who heals us. God is the one who makes us whole.

For us to gather and ask for prayers for ourselves, family and friends, prayers of both celebration and concerns, we are reminding ourselves that we are human, that we are all human, that no one is better than any other. That we all celebrate our births, that we all mourn deaths, that we all struggle with sickness. That we struggle to understand natural disaster far from us and illnesses that have hit closer to home.

And one of the things that drew me to Bethlehem, that makes me smile just about every week at some point in the worship service, is that we do not take ourselves too seriously. At some point we “screw up.” The wrong hymn is announced, the wrong pronunciation is given for a name during a reading or prayer, we mess up at communion one way or another. And I have yet to hear a complaint about how worship was ruined for someone because we “screwed up.” The offering was taken the wrong way, the silences were too long or too short between prayer petitions, we had communion here at the font instead of the communion rail. And God forbid it the altar cross is off centered. And trust me there are churches who complain about such things.

So what does this have to do with our text today? With Jesus turning water into wine? Well here at the beginning of the Gospel of John, the gospel that focuses the most on Jesus’ the divine, the gospel that begins not with human things like Jesus’ birth but with the inspiring yet divinely focused text of “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Here, just a chapter after those cosmic, vast words about Jesus being God and with God, we hear about Jesus being at a very earthly, very human wedding. Jesus was not separate from earthly things. He was not too holy for a wedding. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other blatant sinners. People were not always on their best behavior around him. They did not always wear their Sunday’s Best clothing and instead of hiding their problems, they came to him with them; problems of physical ills, disputes between neighbors and even being out of wine at a wedding.

And Jesus solved many of those problems. He healed broken people. He taught peace and justice and he even turned water into wine. Jesus had a joy for living. He comforted those who mourned but also celebrated with those who rejoiced and partied. And boy he must have liked a good party. 120 to 180 gallons of wine! That is some party. Jesus had a joy of living. He was not offended when people were people, when they came to him as they are, when they swore, smoke, drank, wore ratty clothes, and stopped paying attention during a sermon. Jesus was tangible to these people, he was not put on a pedestal to be revered but never touched.

And Jesus still is tangible to us. Jesus is given to us in the waters of baptism, in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table. Jesus is not to be put up on a high shelf never to be taken down. He is not the best china only to be taken out at holidays. Jesus and our faith are to be used everyday. Our faith-lives are not to be wrapped in bubble wrap, and stored carefully in the attic only to be take out for special occasions or in case of emergency. Our faith lives are suppose to be used and the more they are used, the more they are exercised, the more we realize that our faith is an active part of our everyday life, and the stronger our faith becomes. The more we can be our real selves with our faith and our faith community, the more we realize that God still loves us, even when we “screw up” whether it is in worship or at work or in our personal lives, the more stronger our faith will be. And the stronger our faith is, the more we can respond to those in need. Whether it is to a close friend struggling with life or an entire country devastated by an earthquake.

Jesus and our faith gives us a joy of life, a life of sorrow and happiness. A life that is lived in and by grace, a life that is lived fully, abundantly and vibrantly. A life that may not be picturesque but that is still loved, blessed and graced by God. A God who has joy for living.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Increased Joy

A good friend of mine who is a pastor in Upstate New York, posted in his blog earlier this week some of the things that bring joy to his life especially during these long winter months of short days and cabin fever. Here are just some of the things that brings me joy:

*joking around with Bob
*playing with Daisy - that dog has so much energy
*going for a hike
*baking or cooking
*working out (sometimes I hate it while I'm doing it but it always puts me in a better mood when I'm done)
*talking on the phone with a good friend (unfortunately too many of them live to far away to see on a regular basis)

So what brings you joy? What is something that you can turn to when you need a emotional pick me up? Who is someone that you can call when you are near tears but by the time you hang up your sides ache from laughing too hard?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Resolutions and expectations

This sermon is primarily focused on the gospel lesson from yesterday Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, though I did read verses 18-20 when I read the Gospel. The other lessons from Sunday are: Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, and Acts 8:14-17. It was also Baptism of Our Lord Sunday and three of us (Bob, Victor and myself) affirmed our baptism and became members of Bethlehem, but more about that later. For now here is yesterday's sermon:

It is only January 10th so I think it is still safe to ask this question: How many of you made a New Year’s resolution? Out of those of you who made one, how many of you think your resolution is a valid expectation, something that you think you can reasonable do for or within the next year? How many of you honestly think your resolution is set too high? Too low?

We as a society often joke about New Year’s resolutions. “This is the year I’m going to win the lottery.” “This is the year that I’m going to finally get married” – never mind the fact that you are not actually dating anyone on New Years day. “This is the year I’m going to loose 80 pounds” – granted you are only a hundred and twenty pounds.

We start off strong but by February or March when our expectations are not met, our will power and resolve to change starts to fade.

Sometimes our resolutions and our expectations are set too high.

The people John were baptizing were “filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” These people were expecting something great out of John but did not receive it. In fact only five verses after we hear about the people’s expectations of John – in those verses that were skipped over by lectionary – we hear of John’s imprisonment.

These people were expecting a messiah. They were expecting a messiah that would free them from the rule of Rome, one that would free them from occupation by outside forces and make Israel a sovereign state again. They were expecting a political and military leader. Not only was John not the messiah but the messiah that did come was not what they expected

They had expectations about themselves but even more so they had expectations about God.

And don’t we have these same expectations? Yes we have our resolutions about ourselves, maybe even a life plan - where we expect to be in 5, 10, 20 years. But that doesn’t always mean that we are going to reach those expectations.

But we also have expectations about God. Seven months ago, when I was called as your pastor, there was probably a few people that thought, expected, that now that Bethlehem had a pastor, the pews would be filled every week, we would be taking in new members all the time and no longer have any money problems. Well I hate to break it to you, but those high expectations have not been reached.

And others of us have the expectation that because we are Christian, because we worship and pray and give money to the church and other charities that bad stuff will not happen to us. And I think we can all agree that that too in an unrealistic expectation.

So where is the gospel in all of this? Where is the good news? Should we just go through life without any expectations so therefore we are not disappointed? Should we no longer resolve to change ourselves, to work on ourselves so that we can be a better person, physically, mentally and socially?

But maybe it is not about the resolving to change that is the problem but the expectations that are. When our expectations are too low – you go to a party think you are going to have a miserable time, you think this church is doomed to close – then our expectations are bound to come true. And when our expectations are too high – loosing half your body weight in a year, or our worship attendance will double within a year – then we are bound to seem defeated by our expectations when we don’t reach them.

But realistically, our membership will grow by three today as Bob, Victor and I officially become members of Bethlehem, our worship attendance was up by about 4 people per service between August and December of this year compared to the same time last year. It may not seem like a lot but those small changes, those small expectations of a few more people in each worship service and a few more members a year are do-able.

Some of those people who John baptized probably felt defeated when John said that he was not the messiah and ever more so when he was imprisoned and eventually killed. And others who were expecting a political and military leader laughed at Jesus who lead others by teaching and healing and not by carrying a sword.

But Jesus was the messiah that the people were waiting for, even if not the one expected. John had baptized them with water but through his teaching, Jesus baptized them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

And regardless of what our expectations are for ourselves, Jesus is our messiah. Regardless if we have grand expectations of God or low expectations, Jesus is the messiah, Jesus is the one who baptized us. For we are children of God, we are daughters and sons of God’s promise, heir of the kingdom of God. And God has expectations of us: to worship God, love others and proclaim the good news to all people. And regardless if we keep God’s expectations of us and regardless of what our expectations are of ourselves and of God, we have still been baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. We have still been claimed as God’s sons and daughters with whom he is well pleased. We have been given that grace, that never ending love in baptism. And we receive physical reminders of that grace in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. And regardless of our expectations, resolutions, goals, thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams, follow-through and success rate God still loves us. And that is really the only expectation that we need.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What a Pastor Does on Her Sunday Off

Originally Bob and I were going to go back to MN & WI after our East Coast Road Trip for the wedding. I had already arranged for Pastor Ned to do pulpit fill yesterday when we thought a little more about what the road trip followed by a trip home with Bob starting the semester right after we returned and while working on his thesis and PhD applications and realized that it was too much. So we didn't go to MN & WI, so the later half of our vacation was a staycation.

One of the drawbacks of a staycation when you live 50 yards away from the church is what to do on Sunday morning. So we got up and hopped on the 8:30 train into New York and spent the day in the bitter cold exploring Lower Manhattan which we had not yet spent much time in.

The city was pretty quiet in the morning. In fact if you ever hear the phrase "the city that never sleeps" in reference to New York again, let me tell you that on the Sunday morning after New Years Eve the city is quiet asleep. It wasn't until early afternoon that we ran into anything that ever remotely looked like a crowd.

And after at least half a dozen different trips to New York, I FINALLY saw Lady Liberty.

Yes it was that cold out. We thought about going to Liberty and Elise Islands but between the cold and the extremely choppy water we decided that it could wait for another day. And instead we spent a good portion of the day sipping chai and hot chocolate at places like Chelsea Market.

And we even got a little church in. We briefly visited Trinity Wall Street were we listened to the last few minutes of the sermon, affirmed our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed and prayed with and for the whole people of the church.

It was an wonderful day though I think it wasn't until this morning that I felt truly thawed out. And I'm sure my legs will hurt for a few more days due to all the walking. But now it is time to get back into the swing of things.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year and a Year in Review

It is that time of year when everyone starts looking back at the previous year and looks forward to the year ahead. 2009 was quiet a year for me. Here are just a few month by month highlights, including my call process:

January: Officially hired by the Knights of Columbus (no longer a temp); did some supply preaching; got our pet lizard Zig
February: Went to Disney World to celebrate with my brother and one of my best friend as they got married; first preached at Bethlehem as a supply preacher; was told I was not assigned to a region in the first call assignment process and was heart broken, followed by a few weeks of miscommunication and pretty much every emotion possible; had a great weekend in Philly with some good friends.
March: Received a phone call about the possibility of interviewing for a call with Bethlehem.
April: Preached at Bethlehem a 2nd time; had some pre-call process conversations with various people.
May: Officially started the call process with Bethlehem; attend synod assembly; attended the confirmation service of my confirmation students from my senior year of seminary; got our pet lizard Krotida.
June: Was officially called as pastor of Bethlehem; celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary; quit Knights of Columbus; started my call!
July: Started visiting members of Bethlehem, presided at my first imposition of ashes, started packing
August: Preached and co-presided at my first wedding; moved out of our apartment in New Haven; went to Minnesota & Wisconsin for vacation; welcomed my first biological nephew into the world.
September: was ordained! Moved into our new home. (yes for those of you following we were nomads for a month)
October: Presided at my first baptism; attended bishop's convocation
November: Went to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; had a wonderful visit from a fellow seminary student and his family.
December: Enjoyed my first Christmas as a pastor and at Bethlehem; learned to play the bells; traveled to Virgina for the wedding of two good friends.

But today is not just the beginning of a new year but also a new decade. (Sorry I'm not a purist about there not being a year Zero (then again we didn't switch to the current dating system until a few centuries after the year Zero would have occurred.) A lot has changed for me in the last 10 years and I have many great memories from these year, here are a few highlights.

2000: Spent a semester in Australia; voted for the first time.
2001: Worked at Luther Park Bible Camp for a summer; started to think about becoming a pastor and not a math teacher as was my original major; met Bob.
2002: Switch my major to just math (quickest way out of college); worked for a second summer at LPBC; went to Europe for the European AIDS ride with my family; Bob was sent to Kosovo with the Army Reserves for 9 months starting in September 2002, my grandpa (mom's dad) died shortly before Thanksgiving.
2003: Graduated from college; spent the summer with my grandma in St. Louis; started working as a temp with Supervalu; started looking at seminaries.
2004: Visited LTSP and decided that is where I was suppose to go to seminary; Bob and I got engaged; started at LTSP; was the Maid of Honor in one of my best friend's wedding; started needlepointing again to make Christmas stockings as a gift for said wedding.
2005: Spent the summer doing a chaplaincy at a nursing home; Kayla, my non-official goddaughter was born.
2006: Bob graduated from UofM; got married to Bob, the man I love more each day; started my internship at St. John's
2007: Partied with Bob's family to celebrate his little brother's wedding; stayed on at St. John's post internship as a youth director; welcomed my godson Christian into the world and the body of Christ; my grandma and grandpa on my dad's side died within a few months of each other.
2008: Graduated from seminary; moved to New Haven; my sister got married; my last grandma (mom's mom) died at the age of 91; Bob started his master's program.
2009: See above

I don't know where the next year or the next 10 years will lead me but I'm happy and grateful for where the last year and decade has taken me. I'm also not really a resolution person so I won't post any, but I hope and pray that for everyone that 2010 will be a year with more joys than sorrows, more fun than boredom, more love than hate, more hope than fear and more faith than uncertainty. Happy New Year's everyone!