Sunday, June 20, 2010

An Unfinished Sermon

Today's sermon is a little short, but that is because the end is unwritten.  In the Gospel text, Luke 8:26-39, Jesus tells the man who was healed to "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."  So at the end of my sermon the congregation will be asked "How much has God done for you?"  After time to think and discuss, I will ask if people would like to share.  Based on those responses is how I will finish my sermon.  We'll see how that goes.  But for now, enjoy my unfinished sermon and ask yourself, What has God done for you?

Thank God for that last verse: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” So the man went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. If it wasn’t for that verse, our gospel lesson today would end on a very sore note. With Jesus sending the man who was healed away and not letting him follow Jesus and his ministry.

There is good and bad things about returning to one’s hometown. The man who was processed by demons will never be able to just be one of the town’s people. If he ever got excited, or angry, or overjoyed or any emotion, you know the rest of the town’s people would be thinking to themselves that it is time to get the chains and shackles back out again since the demons must have returned. The owners of the swine probably would never forgive this man for causing his livelihood to die. While healed, that man would always bear the stigmatism of who he was.

It is hard to grow out of the shadow of who you were. For those whose graduations we celebrate today, how many have you have heard “I can’t believe that you are graduating! I remember when you used to….” and then the person starts talking about you in diapers or playing as a young child or maybe something really embarrassing, like how you used to lift your dress up in order to show people your Rainbow Bright underwear or would pretend that you were a superhero and wear a cape everywhere you went.

And for the dads whom we also celebrate today, many of you probably can’t imagine what your life would be not being a dad. But when your child was first born, how many people told you that they couldn’t believe that you were a dad already? A few people have said similar things to me about Bethlehem’s newest dad, John Santorella, and then told stories about teaching him in Sunday school or how he would goof around while being an acolyte in worship.

But this man was sent back by Jesus. He was not allowed to overcome the stigmatism of who he was. He would forever be stuck with that black mark against him. But maybe that is why Jesus sent him back to his hometown.

His hometown was not Jewish territory, but yet the Jewish Messiah healed him. And by sticking around, by showing people, the same people who had chained and shackled him, that he truly had been healed, he was able to proclaim even louder what God had done for him. He was the first Christian missionary to the Gentiles. He was the first ones to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ to a non-Jewish people. And because these people had seen what he had overcome, his testimony would have been even more powerful. When he walk throughout the city, his mere presence was a testimony to God’s power. The fact that he was clothed, in his right mind, and acting as a normal member of society would have been testimony enough that he was healed. He didn’t have to declare to others what Jesus had done. But he did.

He proclaimed what Jesus had done for him, what God had done for him. He probably wanted to shout it from the roof tops and even later in life he would probably told his story to anyone who would listen to him. He probably told this story of his healing so many times that others could recite it for him.

So now I ask you. What had God done for you? Take a minute and think about it, then turn to someone near you and answer that question. If you are having trouble thinking of an answer, maybe the question is “What do you hope God will do for you?”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Four years ago today...

nothing super important happened in the world.  Look it up!  I googled, wikipedia and nytimes searched June 17, 2006 and very little came up, most of it non-news: tensioned increase in Sir Lanka, GE came out with a fancy new line of appliances.  But four years ago today Bob and I were officially married.

I say officially because in both of our minds, we already loved and were committed to one another, we just made it official via state approved documents and by standing up in a church and promising to love, honor and care for one another for the rest of our lives.

Happy Anniversary Bob!  I love you very much!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend Review

Yesterday was Georgetown Day, the town festival. Main Street is closed off and is taken over by booth from local shops, organizations and people selling stuff along with multiple bands, a chili cook-off, bingo and much more. Bethlehem has a booth every year where we sell bake sale goodies and raise money for local food pantries.

New this year was a lollipop tree hosted by the Sunday school to raise money to remodel the basement.  I was shocked how well the lollipop tree did but it was also because among the 250 suckers were 4 that were marked to win Silly Bandz.  (If you don't know what Silly Bandz are check out their Facebook page.)  Each sucker got a prize, but most were mark with temporary tattoos, stamps and squishy animals whose eyes pop out when you squeeze them.

By the end of the day we were getting a little silly - 11:30 til 7 is a LONG time!  So Victor, one the members of the congregation need a picture of the pastor, in her clerics, under the Budweiser sign.  (The church's booth was located across from the Lion Club's beer tent)

And the kids went and collected about every freebie they could get.

Oh and titled this post "Weekend Review" not that I have much else to add about the weekend, it was pretty boring - Friday hung around the house and went and finally saw Iron Man 2 and Saturday I spent most of the day working getting stuff ready for worship and Georgetown Day.  But Saturday night we did eat the first bounty of our garden - a fresh spinach salad made with some of the 6 plus quarts of spinach we harvested earlier that afternoon.
I can't wait to eat more from the garden!

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I'm posting this a bit early today, since after worship there is the Georgetown Day Festival.  So below is my sermon as of 9am this morning.  Who knows what will happen by 10:20ish when I preach.  

The sermon talks more about prophets in general and in a way is a continuation of last week's sermon.  Though it does touch on this week's text: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 and Luke 7:36-8:3.


Who is a prophet? What does it mean to prophecy?

For some reason we often equate prophets with fortunetellers, with people who can predict the future. Or we are like Simon, the Pharisee in today’s gospel, who confusing a prophet with someone who knows all. But really a prophet is someone who speaks the word of God. God speaks through prophets.

Throughout scripture prophets did not predict the future but talked bout what God wanted for the people of earth at that time. God spoke through the prophets Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Elijah, Elisha Jonah, Joshua, Nathan, Esther, Deborah, John the Baptist, Paul, many of the disciples. In the Old Testament there are about 55 prophets, and many more in the New Testament. Yes many of these people foretold future events, but quiet often they were more concerned about revealing God’s love for the people of the day and for that time. God spoke through them.

Prophets often rubbed people the wrong way, they spoke out against leaders and the main stream speaking up that things were not the way they were suppose to be. They spoke up for the poor, the dejected, the orphaned, the widow, the sinner and even the dead. Nathan spoke up for Uriah who had died because of David’s deeds. Jesus spoke up for the sinful woman who was being judged and maybe even mistreated by the Pharisee.

And prophets still speak up today. In recent history, there have been some famous prophets. Martin Luther King Jr, spoke up for those who were treated unequally. Mother Teresa spoke up for the poor. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, spoke up for the disabled. There are still prophets in the world. God is still speaking through prophets.

But those famous prophets of recent years are all dead. There are also some not so famous prophets, John Nunes president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief. Sara Miles, founder of a food pantry network in San Francisco. Shane Claiborne, the founder of the Simple Way, an intentional Christian community. There are still prophets in the world TODAY. God is still speaking through prophets TODAY.

But prophets are not just speaking God’s word, they are also doing God’s work in the world. Elijah feed the widow at Zarapheth, the woman in today’s gospel was prophesying by worshiping Jesus and pointing out that he was more than a prophet. These modern day prophets I have listed are not just speaking about and writing about God’s want and desire to end systemic poverty, homelessness or discrimination. They are also doing something about it. They are working in the poor areas of the world, they are entering into intentional communities that care for, support, and uplift the poor, disabled or imprisoned.

The life of a prophet has never been a smooth road. Johan was swallowed by a large fish trying to run away from such a fate. Prophets are laughed at, mistreated and even killed for what they say and do. People do not like to change the status quo, leaders do not like to hear that they are going in the wrong direction, in a direction mispleasing to God. Tension arise when prophets arise.

This woman who weeps at Jesus’ feet causes tension because she shows love to Jesus and her overwhelming love points out even more what little love Simon showed Jesus. But yet through her love and Jesus’ words, Simon sees that he has done wrong. Nathan’s words about the hypothetical rich man anger David until he realized that he was the rich man. But it is because of Nathan’s words that David is able to repent and seek forgiveness.

That is the point of prophets. Not to predict the future but to speak God’s word, to remind us of where we are being called, to remind us of who calls us. And in the calling, in hearing that call, we are able to repent our sins, how we have taken advantage of other or how we have not shown love to God and others. Through prophets we are able to repent and be forgiven. Prophets remind us of our vocation, our calling, to do God’s work in this world. We need prophets because God speaks through prophets.

And we too are prophets. We are prophets when we serve those in need. We are prophets when we speak up for those whose voice is often lost. We are prophets when we cause others to repentance and seek forgiveness. We are prophets when God speaks through us. We are prophets when we speak God’s words and do God’s work in this world. And God is speaking through us today. How is God speaking through you? How are you a prophet?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Long Boring Meeting

This past week (Thurs - Sat) I attended the New England Synod Assembly.  For synod assemblies it was pretty boring, or as a colleague called it - bland.  There were only 4 resolutions one on Palestine, youth/young adult participation at synod assembly, energy audits in our churches and giving the bishop permission to speak against Arizona immigration laws and similar legislation that is coming to legislation in New England.  Each of these resolutions passed by over 90% of the vote and for most of them either people did not speak against them or only brought up concerns about them. No sex! Nothing about evolution!  No concerns over who we are all going to hell as a church because we now allow pastor who are gay to be in relationships! 

But the resolution time is either hotly debated or boring depending on the year, but what about the keynote?  Well she was lofty, that would be a good word.  She spoke softly not in volume but in tone with lots of pauses.  The main topic was on the Trinity which makes my head hurt and is a hard topic to grasp onto in order to bring back concrete ideas to implement in an individual congregation.  At one point I looked back on the assembly hall (I was sitting near the front) and the majority of people looked like their eyes were glazed over or they were about to fall asleep. 

But there was some highlights.  A friend of mine and fellow blogger was ordained.  Churches in Rhode Island were uplifted for the great work they have done with Good News Garage.  And of course, because we are Lutheran, there was beer.  I had a wonderful time catching up with friends and meeting new people around a beer in the evening or over a meal. 

And while fellowship is the part of synod assembly that I most enjoy, I do hope that next year will be a little less bland. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Word of the Lord Spread

We have entered the Time after Pentecost or Ordinary Time.  It is the LONG green season in the church lasting from two weeks after Pentecost (mid May to mid June) and ending in late November.  Many pastors dislike this season because it last forever and things are the same for so long.  Right now I'm loving getting to this Ordinary Time.  For Bethlehem it has meant using a new liturgical setting for the summer and another for the fall, doing the psalm in a different way, and it means going back to stories!  After the season of Easter when we had so many gospel lessons that were parts of Jesus' theological discourse to his disciples shortly before he was killed, I'm excited to have gospels and other lessons that have a plot.

I'll let you know if I change my tune by November ;-)

One of the main reasons why I'm excited to have stories is because they are easier to learn and remember for biblical storytelling.  Yesterday gospel, while short at only 7 verses, took me about a third of the time memorize and I was more confident remembering it, even with so much less prep time, than I have been since "doubting" Thomas on April 11th.

Also for me stories are easier to preach on, often they are more applicable to our lives, even when such as yesterday's gospel (Luke 7:11-17) the stories are about something that doesn't happen too often in our lives. For yesterday's sermon  I even talked about the Old Testament lesson, 1 Kings 17:17-24, and the New Testament reading, Galatians 1:11-24, as well as the gospel.

The following is my written sermon.  I ended up doing a last minute, for me, rewrite on Saturday evening.  So I realize there are some flow issues and maybe even a sentence or two that make no sense in the written document (I did a lot of copy and pasting from the original sermon) but verbally they were edited and let's face it, I'm too lazy to change the written sermon now. 

What is the heart of this gospel lesson?

To me the heart, the meat, the point of today’s gospel is not that Jesus raised a young nameless man from the dead but that the crowd began to glorify God and the word about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

Yes Jesus raised a man from the dead, and that is amazing, but his resurrection on gets a small blimp on the screen of this lesson. A crowd was there. Jesus had compassion for the mother, we aren’t told anything about the man other than he was an only son. Jesus tells him to get up and then the crowd is seized with fear and begin to glorify God by saying things like “A great prophet has been risen among us” and “God has looked favorably on his people”. And then reports about Jesus, the word of the Lord, spread.

Throughout Luke’s gospel we are told that reports about Jesus spread. Spread like gossip, like wildfire, quickly throughout the land. And crowds form. Already Jesus has a crowd that follows him to Nain, and then there is the crowd of mourners from the town. And the crowd, both those following Jesus and the town’s people, are amazed at what Jesus has done and begin to glorify God.

And the word of the Lord spreads throughout the surrounding country.

Throughout scripture, it is the words of ordinary people that spread the word of the Lord. The widow at Zarephath, whose son Elijah brings back from the dead, proclaims to Elijah “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” Do you think she kept her son dying and being brought back to life a secret? No I’m sure she spread the word of the Lord. The word of the Lord that was in Elijah’s mouth is now in her mouth as she tell her friends and neighbors about the great things that were done in the name of the Lord.

And the word of the Lord spreads throughout the surrounding country.

Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians that the gospel he proclaims is not of human origin. He goes on to tell of his amazing conversion story and how Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem were upset with him for not being an authorized speaker of the word of the Lord. Yet he continues to tell the word of the Lord.

And the word of the Lord spreads throughout the surrounding country.

We have heard the word of the Lord because of the widow told others. We have heard the word of the Lord because of the crowd told others. We have heard the word of the Lord because Paul told others.

Who spread the word of the Lord to you?

Both our actions and our words spread the gospel, the word of the Lord throughout the surrounding country. Our words and actions, whether we are God incarnate, a prophet or just us regular folk, proclaim the gospel to others. The gospel, the word of the lord, is a living word! It is living in the words we speak and in the actions that we do. When we have compassion for others and care for those in need we are proclaiming God’s love. When we cloth the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned, we are showing others that the Word of the Lord is truth. And that the word of the Lord is alive.

I recently read in Take this Bread, a wonderful description of how the word of the Lord is alive. Sara Miller describes the word of the Lord something like this: The word of the lord is not just the words printed on the page of a bible. The word of the lord is what is heard by the people of God when the Bible is read. The word of the Lord, the gospel message, is not living because it is magical but because over and over down the centuries, believers have wrestle with texts, adapted them, edited them, interpreted them, swallowed them whole and spat them out. The stories in the Bible are records of human attempts to understand God, attempts that were hopelessly incomplete. But through words and acts we keep trying.

Our Gospel is alive. The word of the Lord is alive. And it continues to be alive with each retelling, with each time we glorify God. The word of the Lord is alive every time we tell others about Christ and every time we proclaim the good news. We probably are not able to name each person who has shared the word of the Lord with us, our Sunday School teachers, pastors, a person of faith who first taught us part of scripture, or even random strangers on the street but they did share the word of the Lord with us. And they were able to do so because they first wrestle with those texts after someone taught them, and that person was taught by someone else and so forth on up the line back to those who were there, who saw Christ

For we have heard the word of the Lord because of the widow told others. We have heard the word of the Lord because of the crowd told others. We have heard the word of the Lord because Paul told others. We have heard the word of the Lord because others have told us. And others hear the word of the Lord because we tell them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Birthday Weekend

This last weekend was my birthday.  Bob and I spent most of the long weekend celebrating (though I did work on my actual birthday on Sunday). 

Friday, I ended up working a bit since last week I was gone a lot.  That afternoon we ran some errands and then had dinner and a Dr. Who marathon with some friends.

Saturday we went to Gillette Castle with the dogs. On the way there we drove through Chester which was having a town-wide tag sale.  So we stopped and walked around and had lunch.  After a few other stops at various small stores we made it to the castle. 

I could not get over the view. 

Other than a few mishaps at the beginning of the trip, the dogs did very well in the car. 

Sunday was worship, lunch with one of the church family's and then sitting outside reading and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Monday we went to the Memorial Day parade in Wilton which is the quintessential small town parade. I think just about every kid in town marched with one group or another.  We also took down one of the bushes next to the house. 

Sorry this is only the before shot.  The tall bush is gone using the pruner and saw that Bob got me for my birthday.  Yes I am that weird that I wanted tools for my birthday.  Now only 25 more bushes to go (but those will wait till fall). 

Monday afternoon/evening we went to a friend's house for a graduation/memorial day celebration.

Overall it was a wonderful relaxing weekend.  Now onto my next adventure: synod assembly.