Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living Without the Interwebs

I knew that I was reliant on the internet, and I would even admit to times being addicted to the internet, but I did not realize just how much the internet effected a large majority of my life until earlier this week.

On Sunday mornings, I get up and head over to the church by 8:30, (I normally try for earlier but 8:30 is about the earliest I tend to make it).  Bob meanwhile takes his time and comes over at 9am for bible study.  After worship and coffee hour, I normally have a meeting have some office work to do, or stick around and chat with people.  Bob normally sticks around for coffee hour and heads home and studies or works until I get back to the house.

This past Sunday Bob bible study was sort of canceled since we were the only two that showed up and I didn't have much time to prepare due to the pasta dinner this past Saturday.  So Bob went back to the house to study.  (It is very convenient that we live only 50 yards from the church).  When he came back for worship, a little earlier than normal he said something about the internet not working (not entirely a new thing for us) and played with the modem which in my office.

After worship and coffee hour he went home and came back a little while later again saying that the internet wasn't working.  He looked up AT&T's phone number in church's file but when he tried the church's phone there wasn't a dial tone.  So he got on his cell phone and 20 minutes later proclaimed that the autobot told him that the internet will be fixed by Tuesday!  What 3 days without the internet!

A few phone calls later to talk be able to talk a real person, we were told that there was a major malfunction and crews were working on it but it would be out till Tuesday.

Okay I can live without the internet for a few days, it is no big deal.

But Saturday I made a mint cheesecake for Luther House at Yale were I was bringing dinner to that evening.  I still needed to make the topping but the recipe is on the internet.  So I called my parents and after a failed Google search for the recipe, I was able to give my dad the web address for the recipe and make sure I had the right amount of ingredients (good thing I had made the the cheesecake a few times before).

After making the cheesecake and taking a nap, I really just wanted to take an hour or so and veg watching while watching tv before going to Luther House and then theology pub.  But we don't have cable and we do not get any reception here in the hills of Connecticut so we watch all of our tv online, mainly on Hulu.  Okay so no tv watching for me.

I decided to read instead, but I have a hard time reading in silence and often have on while I read or I listen to while typing.  Because like the tv reception we get about 3 radio stations fairly spotty in our house. And this is how little traditional radio we listen to, I had to go find a radio and plug it in.

After Theology Pub, I checked my email on my phone (YAY phone technology) and also checked my calendar for the upcoming week since it too is on the internet.  Luckily there was nothing that I forgot about.

Bob works from home on Monday, normally writing and coordinating volunteers for later in the week, via email.  I spend a good part of my Monday sending emails about upcoming events or coordinating with people, getting and reading commentaries on the upcoming Sunday's lectionary text via the internet, sending out my Monday Morning Church email, posting it on this blog, etc.

So we decided to work from the library on Monday (gratefully they do not use AT&T and therefore had internet).  But we didn't know the library hours since normally we would look that up on the internet or their phone number (again needing the internet) so we ended up showing up an half hour before they officially opened an hung out in the lobby until the rest of the building opened.

We ended up renting movies from the library for our evening entertainment, and luckily by the time we were done watching them the internet was back up so I didn't have to figure out what else to do with myself.

Ohh internet, how you have seeped into just about every aspect of our lives.  Please do not leave me again soon.

Monday, September 27, 2010

MMC: Questions on Faith

So normally I try not to do two post in one day, but our internet is out was I was not able to post my sermon yesterday.  Every Monday I send out an email to members and friends of the congregation with some announcements about upcoming events and questions on the text for the coming Sunday.  Here is today's email:

Good Morning!

First off:  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!  To everyone who baked, cooked, set up, cleaned up and attended the pasta dinner on Saturday evening.  The final totals are not yet in, but we raised over $700 for the basement remodeling fund which is a great start towards our goal. 

Next a quick note about contacts:  AT&T had a “major failure” and therefore the church’s (and parsonage’s) internet and land line phone, will be out until possibly Wednesday.  Therefore my email and the church’s phone will be spotty for the next few days.  (I’m emailing this from the library)  My cell phone however is working so if you need anything please call me there.  I can also check email from my phone but I will not be doing that too regularly.

Announcements about upcoming events:

·        Next week is our African Worship as we celebrate World Communion Sunday.  All of our music will be traditional African music or written by African composers (many of which we already know).  A special collection will be taken for Healing Hope Mission International in Malawi, an organization that serves hundreds of orphans and widows.   Frank Cangalosi will also give an update about the ministry that HHMI is doing.
·        Blessing of the Animals is coming!  Mark your calendars for October 17 at 2pm, rain or shine!  All leashed or caged pets are welcome.  A collection will be taken for ROAR.
·        Senior lunch is now on Wednesdays!  We will be meeting at Old Blue Bird Inn on Black Rock Turnpike in Easton on Wednesday October 6th at noon.  All are welcome (you don't have to be a senior to attend)

Now onto the text:

The first lesson is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.  Habakkuk is lamenting over all the injustice and violence, crying out “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save?"  And yet Habakkuk feels like among all the injustice God is silent.  Have you ever felt like your prayers go unanswered?  Starting in 2:2 God answers saying that the wicked will die and the righteous will live by their faith.  When has God answered your prayers, especially later than expected or in a different way than expected?  Did the outcome turn out to be what was best or do you wish that God would have acted differently? How has that experience effected your faith life?

The second lesson is 2 Timothy 1:1-14.  Paul writes to Timothy and give thanks for his mother and grandmother who lived lives of faith. Paul also reminds Timothy that faith is a gift from God.  Who taught you faith?  How has faith been a gift to you?

The gospel is Luke 17:5-10.  Jesus tells the apostles that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed even trees will move for them.  How big is your faith?  Jesus also tells his followers to be like servants who do work as part of their duty and not in seeking a reward.  Do you behave more like a servant or a master?  Do you do good things in order to gain a reward or do you do them so because it is what God has asked you to do?

As always I love to hear your thoughts and ideas on these texts. You can answer these questions or discuss other thoughts you may have via email or ladies come to the Wednesday evening bible study at 7:30 at the parsonage.  

Have a blessed week! 

In God We Trust

It is a season of difficult text.  After last week's text and sermon on the dishonest manager, this week we have the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31.  I talk about the difficulty at the beginning of the sermon.  

One thing that is not mentioned in this written text is that I gave everyone a dollar, to prove that "In God We Trust" is written on it.  They were able to keep it as a momento, save it, put it in the collection plate, give it away, spend it.  The mood at Bethlehem was pretty lively yesterday, so I had some peanut gallery comments and I didn't quite explain the dollar as much as I would have liked, so most people put it in the collection plate.    Now onto the sermon.

Enjoy (and sorry no dollar for you)

Often when people first read this parable, they are quick to point out that it must mean that if you are rich today on earth then you will end up in hell and if you are poor on earth than you will end up in heaven. But I wonder if that is really what this parable is telling us.

If the rich are going to end up in hell, then why are we here in church right now? How many of you can say that you have more than you need? How many of you can say that you do not need to beg for crumbs to fall from someone else’s table in order to eat? How many of you have adequate enough healthcare that you do not have open sores on your body? How many of you are only ever licked by dogs when you want them to or at least by dogs that are pets and not wild animals? How many of you have more than one set of clothes? How many of you feast on a regular basis and that you are more likely to go hungry because you are dieting than because you are not able to afford food?

We are the rich and if we want to take this parable at face value, that the rich will end up in hell and the poor will end up in heaven, then why bother with faith. Why trust in God if we are just going to go to hell anyway?

But this parable is saying more than that.

Look at verses 23 and 24 again. “In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” What strikes you about those verses?

Do you notice that this rich man does not talk to Lazarus directly? Do you notice that the rich man is not asking Lazarus to help him? Instead he is asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him like a servant. Even is death, the rich man is not treating Lazarus like a fellow human. He is treating Lazarus like a slave.

Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gate, covered in sores, begging for food and meanwhile inside his home the rich man had ample food and clothing to spare. I have to wonder if the rich man ever gave Lazarus any of his extra food or clothing or if he just stepped over him as he walked in and out of his home.

Maybe the parable isn’t telling us that the poor are going straight to heaven and the rich are going to straight to hell but that wealth can insulate us from the needs of those around us. When we are wealthy it can sometimes be easier to tune out the commercials to give money to orphans in Africa. Or ignore pleas to send relief to Haiti. Or advert our eyes from the panhandler on the street or the poor man with sores who lays at our front gate.

Money often gets in the way of us seeing and relating to people as fellow children of God. How often have you come out of a store and lied to the person who asking for donations saying that you either already gave or that you don’t have cash on you. How often have you adverted your eyes from homeless person on the street?

It is my money, I earned it, why should they ask for it? If they want money they should get a job! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Work hard and you will get ahead. America is the land of opportunity, go make yourself an opportunity! God helps those who help themselves.

Those are all phrases that we have heard or said when it comes to giving to the poor. But they don’t treat the other as children of God. Those phrases treat others as commodities, as workers, but not as children, beloved children of God. Those phrases put our trust in money, that money will get you ahead, and not in God’s love, grace and will which is give abundantly to us. Money gets in the way of us seeing others for who they truly are. And money gets in the way of how we relate to many things. We often treat those with money better than those without. Congregations, including Bethlehem, often worry about finances more than they worry about doing ministry. Money is one of the biggest arguments among married couples and is often cited as a reason for a divorce, more than affairs, health difficulties, communication issues, and changes in priority due to career or children. Money changes the way we related to things and to people.

But there is another phrase, one that is often not heard of when it comes to giving to the poor. A phrase that we often do not even think about when it comes to money, yet it is printed on every coin and bill of U.S. currency. In God We Trust. Four words that if we truly think about, can change the way we relate to money and therefore the way money makes us relate to others.

Those four words can make us change how we relate to money. Those four words can make us relate to others around. “In God we trust” has become politicize in our culture, a cry for people to put God back in politics. But I’m not asking that you think of that phrase like that. Reclaim “In God we trust.” Allow it to wash over you, absorb you. Allow yourself to think about how your spending is trusting in God every time you take out your wallet, every time you swipe your credit card or get cash out of the ATM. Allow yourself to think about how you trust in God every time you acquire money, every time you deposit a paycheck, put in a time card, sell an item or apply for a job. Allow yourself to think about how your giving is trusting in God, every time you donate money to charity, every time you donate an item to the food bank, every time you touch the offering plate. Allow yourself to think about how you trust in God.

In God we trust. In God, we trust our selves, our lives, our salvation. In God, we trust our families, our friends, our very beings.
In God, we trust that we will not end up being Lazarus begging for food.
In God, we trust that we are not going straight to hell.
In God, we trust that we will use our money wisely.
In God, we trust that we will have compassion for those in need.
In God, we trust that we will be vulnerable to those around us.
In God, we trust that we will see God’s faces in those in our midst.
In God, we trust that we will be able to remember that everyone is a child of God, even the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised.
In God, we trust that we are saved by God’s grace through our faith.
In God, we trust that our hardships will be temporary.
In God, we trust that our love will be unending.
In God, we trust that our faith will be growing.
In God, we trust that our lives will be filled with God’s mercy.
In God, we trust.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An Afternoon at the Food Bank

Yesterday I went to drop off the food that was collected at Bethlehem on Sunday.  The Sunday School set a goal of 102 non-perishable food items for the food bank at Redding Social Services to be collected on Rally Day.  That goal was met and exceeded with 117 food items.

To give you some perspective on how much is 117 food items, they filled the back section of my little Honda Fit, was about 12 reusable grocery bags full, would have filled a shopping cart and that is about 5 items per person who was in attendance at our small congregation on Sunday.

Now I love going to RSS.  Actually it is a lot of fun to go anywhere where  you come in with a large check or car full of items and just drop them off.  But I particularly enjoy RSS because I have gotten to know the staff fairly well as the workers are a group of talkers.  And I have been able to discuss ideas with them, issues that have come up and just gotten to know the community better through them.

So yesterday when I pull up to RSS, the woman who runs the food pantry was busy sorting a bunch of food that came in earlier in the week.  By law food pantries are not allowed to give away food that is expired even though it is still perfectly good.  Now most people when donating to a food pantry either go out and buy food specifically for the food pantry or they take items in their cupboards that they bought just a few weeks ago and donate those items.  However a few people take a donation as a time to clear out their cabinets of food that they never got around to eating, which leads to some interesting donations.

Among some of the items that were in the expired plied were:  6 LARGE boxes of pasta salad, baker's chocolate, frosting, an open partially used jug of laundry detergent and wait for it......smoked salmon!  Yes someone donated (expired) smoked salmon to the food pantry.  So this lead to an interesting conversation about weird things people have donated to the food pantry.  (And this might help you understand the wealth that does exist in Redding.)  The weirdest thing the food pantry coordinator has ever seen:  Oysters!

So of course now I want to donate a jar of caviar.

But what does the food pantry need and what does the food pantry not need?

  • Overall most food pantries get a lot of mac & cheese and canned vegetables so maybe skip these the next time you shop for a donation.
  • Soups, especially in winter, are appreciated, but make sure they are real soups that you eat as soup and not like cream of mushroom (seriously who eats cream of mushroom other than in a casserole/hot dish?)
  • Fruits go quickly and there never seems to be enough
  • Cleaning supplies are always in need an don't go bad so there is no chance that they will end up in the trash
  • Personal toiletries are also always needed: shampoos, soap, tampons, body wash
And two general rules:
  1. If you don't want to eat it, neither do the people who use the food pantry
  2. Make sure the item is not expired (dates are printed on most cans, jars and boxes) and not opened.  While you may feel good about giving food away, they will just end up in the trash.  
  3. Also when given the option, a monetary donation is better.  Most food pantries have "professional shoppers" and get special discounts at many grocery stores so they can often purchase twice as much food  or more than you can with the same amount of money.  
Most food pantries shelves are barren by the end of summer and remain sparse until Thanksgiving, so please take some time to help restock those shelves.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hammo Love

The other week, the confirmation kids, Bob and I went up to Hammonasset State Park in Connecticut for the New England Synod youth gathering.  

I went to Teen Encounter Christ as a youth and attended the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans in 1997 so I know how awesome youth gatherings can be.  And while on internship I brought some youth from that congregation to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod youth gathering, so I know that they can be a little worrisome for newbies.  But with much encouragement, I got our confirmation students to go and conned Bob into being the male adult.  

When we arrived on Friday, my youth were a little tentative, not getting into the band too much since all the music was new to them.  But by Saturday afternoon they were talking about next year and how they want to come back and bring friends, they were also talking about wanting to go to camp this summer too :-).  

For me the highlight of the weekend was during some congregational time.  I had planned on talking to them about planning their confirmation service, coming up on reformation day.  We talked a little bit about music on the way up in the car, but as we went through the service and what baptismal promises they were affirming, it was so heart-warming to see that they got it.  These two youth really know what it means to love God.  They can identify when faith has been important in their lives.  They can talk about Jesus like a friend.  It was a moment of "yeah this is what it is about!"  

This moment worked in so well with the overall conversation of Hammonasset.  The theme for the weekend was "Loved to Love" and our speaker talked about God love for us enables us to love others.  But the unofficial theme was "Free Hugs" as many people wore t-shirts that said such, God's love allowing them to show a sign of love to others.  I hope you all get a free hug today for we are Loved to Love.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

MMC: More Questions about Wealth

Every Monday I send out an email to the congregation with announcements about the upcoming week and initial thoughts and questions about the text.  Here is today's email. 

Good Morning People of Bethlehem!

Thank you to everyone who brought food items so that we not only met but exceeded our goal of 102 items. Redding Social Services will greatly appreciate the restocking of their shelves. And thank you to everyone who helped out with Rally Day yesterday, especially Jenna and Cheryl, and we continue to pray and give thanks for the love, nurturing, a gift of teaching that they give to the Sunday School.

This coming Saturday at 6pm is the Pasta Dinner. Tickets are $10 for adults $5 for children and will available at the door. However if you haven't bought your tickets and are planning on attending, could you please send me an email just so we can better estimate how much food we need. If you would like to help out, we will be setting up on Friday night at 7, there is also need for people to serve and clean up afterwards. See you Saturday!

And a quick reminder about some opportunities to GROW

  • Wednesday night women's bible study is at 7:30 at the parsonage. Come enjoy wine, chocolate, conversation and scripture.
  • Sunday morning bible study at 9am will start us on a conversation about the book of Romans, all are invited to join us.
  • The first official day of Sunday School class is this coming Sunday at 9am.
  • Worship Together, an interactive worship for young children and families have started! Thursdays and Saturdays at 10am
  • Theology Pub on Sunday nights at 7pm at the Lumberyard. Come discuss some questions about faith over a beer and football!

Also our Book of Faith puzzler last week was: We heard two lost parables (lost sheep & lost coin), what is the third lost parable? The answer is the parable of the lost son, better known as the prodigal son. All three parables are in Luke chapter 15. This week's puzzler is: Leviticus 23:26-32 describes the Day of Atonement, what is that day call in modern Judaism? Shoot me an email with your answer to be entered into this week's drawing.

Now onto the texts for this coming Sunday.

The first lesson is Amos 6:1a, 4-7. Amos is telling the people that their wealth is not a reason to celebrate but to mourn because they have forgotten their calling as the people of Israel to share with those in need and as a result the wealthy will now be the first to go into exile. When has having wealth kept you from helping those in need? And when has having wealth made you turn away from God?

The second lesson is 1 Timothy 6:6-19. The author reminds Timothy to be content with what he has "for the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." And Timothy is encouraged to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness." When have you loved money? When has the love of money gotten in the way of you doing what is right, godly, faithful, loving, enduring, and gentle? Can a rich person still do those things? Can a poor person still be obsessed with money?

The gospel is Luke 16:19-31, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Even in death the rich man treats Lazarus like a servant, wanting Father Abraham to send Lazarus to quench the rich man's thirst. How is it hard to see some people as humans and not as the position that they serve? (Remember the first time you saw your teacher at the grocery store?) Father Abraham warns that if people do not listen to Moses and the prophets about repenting their sins, "neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." For Christians we are convinced because Jesus rose from the dead, but how is that different?

Hope these questions pique your interest. Please email me with any of your thoughts on these texts as your thoughts are very important in helping me know what is on your hearts and minds as I prepare to preach on Sunday.

Many blessings on your week
Pastor Becca

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Financial Crisis: What Can We Do Now?

This was a tough sermon to preach.  More accurately this was a tough text to study.  Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the dishonest manager, is really hard to understand especially starting at verse 9.  Plus we hear a story about a guy who was dishonest with another's wealth in order to make sure that he would be okay and he was praised for doing so.  That sounds a lot like what some financial advisors and investors were doing on Wall Street which is a big reason why we had the financial meltdown.  Plus on top of a tough text, it was Rally Day.  

I ended up basically ignoring Rally Day other than a reference at the end of the sermon as we collected food for Redding Social Services.  Our goal was 102 food items, as of the end of the education hour we had 117 items, though more may have been brought in after the "official" count.  

Now onto the sermon.  I hope it has meaning for you in light of were our country is financially today.  

So let me summerize that gospel in case you didn’t understand it, it took me 3 times reading it to sort of figure out what is going on. There is a rich man, he has his accountant. He hears that the accountant is not doing his job so he fires him. But before the accountant gives the rich man his financial records back he calls together all the people that owe the rich man money and he reduces their debts. He did this because he didn’t know what else to do now that he was going to loose his job, but he knew that if he reduced everyone else’s debts that they would now be indebted to him and would help him out once he is no longer the rich man’s accountant.

Okay that kind makes sense, I can see this happening. Someone works for company A and hears that layoffs are a coming. In order to make sure that she will still have a job, even if she is laid off, she goes and cooks the books so that company B owes less money to company A and therefore company B will want to hire her after she is laid off from company A.

Unfortunately our parable did not end with the manager being hired by another master or even welcomed into the debtors’ homes. Instead there is this twist….there is always a twist in the parables….the rich man finds out what the accountant is doing and instead of killing him on the spot or slapping him with some huge lawsuit, he praises the accountant for cooking the books! What! The man gets praised because he was dishonest?!

Okay so I understand the first part of the parable. Each and everyday we are faced with financial decisions. Do I buy Jif, Skippy, Peter Pan or the store brand peanut butter? Should we eat at the Lumberyard or the Saloon?

Some are a little tougher. What bank should I have my accounts with? Who will give me the better interest rates, or the least amounts of fees, or has the most convenient locations and hours or has the best reputation for treating their workforce fairly and reinvesting in the community?

When needing a new car, should I just pay to have the old one fixed? Should I buy new or used? What car maker? What style of car fits my lifestyle the most? How much should MPG’s factor into my decision? What payment plan can I get?

And some financial decisions are quiet a bit bigger. Do I pay my electric bill or buy groceries? If I don’t pay my mortgage this month, is this the month that the bank will finally file for forecloser? How can I pay for gas so I can actually make it to work?

Over the last few years more Americans have been faced with those tougher financial decisions. More Americans have been in the place of this manager, this accountant, not knowing what to do now that they are loosing their jobs. They have been hit with the “what now?” question. What will I do now that my master is taking the position away from me? What will I do now that I have been laid off? What will I do now that my mortgage is worth more than my house? What will I do now that the bank has started the foreclosure process? What will I do now?

The question about “what now?” is often in the singular, “what will I do now?” and sometimes it is in the plural but about your individual family “What will my family and I do now?.” We have become individual minded people and not corporate, communal, community minded people. Because overall wealth allows us to become devoid of community. We can pay for services to come to us, groceries magically appear at our door, through the internet we never have to see anyone at a bank, or store again, much less step foot in one. We can pay to have enough land that we don’t have to see our neighbor’s house or hear them, and often that means that we then don’t know our neighbors. We can pay to join private clubs so we only have to interact with those who we want to interact with. People strive for the type of wealth that allows you to pick and choose your community. But that is not really community. And what people have discovered, what America is starting to figure out through this recession, is that it is community, real community, is what we long for, not wealth.

For many people that question about “what will I do now?” has lead them to seek out the help of community. Multi-generational living arrangements are becoming more normal as grandparents have to move in with their children or grandchildren or the children and grandchildren are moving back home into their parents’ house. Support groups and networks for the unemployed are popping up across the country. Public schools are seeing increased enrollments as parents are no longer able to pay private school tuition for their children. Community gardens and farmers markets are having a resurgence as people connect with neighbors and want to support their local growers. Bartering is becoming a more popular way to pay for some services as people trade babysitting time for a haircut or some home improvement jobs for garden vegetables. More people are volunteering their time to a variety of organizations, especially as those who were laid off or took earlier retirement try to find ways to fill their new found free-time.

Our question about “What will I do now?” is starting to become a corporate, communal, community-based question “what will we do now?” “What can we do to help those whose positions and homes are being taken away from them?” “What can we do to make sure a financial meltdown like this never happens again?” “What will we do now to rebuild our financial infrastructure, to rebuild our communities?”

But now what about the second part of this parable. What about the rich man praising the manager for his dishonest ways? What does that mean for us? Well thus far I have been fairly Pollyanna about the countries financial recovery but let’s be a little real. We are in this situation because people were acting shrewdly. People were busy looking out for their own immediate financial gain and not the long term benefits for themselves, their companies, the country and the world. Because people like Bernie Madoff, and corporations like Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, JP Morgan, Bank of America and many others were shrewd to their own generation instead of thinking about the future and the next generation we are now in this situation. And up until two years ago many of the top executives of those companies were praised and commended for what they were doing, even by the people who knew that it was all smoke and mirrors. And as we as a country, as a world, as a community of people recovering from the financial fallout that has happened, people will continue to act shrewdly. Some people will continue to think only for themselves and not the community. Some people will not learn from these past two years and try to do the same thing again.

But there is hope. I hope that many of us have learned from this financial turmoil and what looks like a long road to recovery. That in the many financial decisions that we make everyday, we ask ourselves questions like “does this company reinvest in the community or do the profits just go to the few executives at the top?” “Is my bank willing to help those in need, even if it means less profits for them?” “Do I shop at stores that treat their employees fairly and pay them a living wage?” And I still need to ask myself these questions: Bob and I have bank accounts with Bank of America and we have a Chase credit card, two companies who names have come up over and over again in the wake of the financial crisis. But by asking these questions we can make the “What will I do now?” question into “What will we do now?”

And there is hope that God is changing us. Unlike money which is finite, God’s love is infinite. God’s love knows no ending. God has entrusted us with the greatest of riches, the gift of eternal life. God has moved many people to seek out community and for communities to envelop, love and care for those who are in the most need. We as a community of faith have been called to care for the people of this greater community. This past Wednesday, I took a basket full of soap, shampoos, and other toiletries up to the Americares Clinic in Danbury. When I arrived there were out of such items and they said that even with such an amount, most of those items would be gone by this weekend. And today we have been called to gather food for our local food bank at Redding Social Services. This collection is hope. This collection is God’s work in this world. This collection is a call for community. God has given us hope. God is calling us to do God’s work in this world. God is calling us to community. God is asking “what will we do now?” We face many financial decision each and everyday, about our earning, spending, saving and giving but there is only so much that we can do. However God’s giving knows no ending. And through God’s love we can give to others as we ask “what can we do now?”

Monday, September 13, 2010

MMC: Kicking Off the Year and Asking about Wealth

Good morning all!

It is a very busy week here at Bethlehem, in fact it is the start of a few busy weeks at Bethlehem.  

Rally Day is this Sunday!  This is the start or kick off of the church's "program" year.  After a quiet summer with no Sunday schools, no bible studies few other activities, we are kicking off things with a bang!  Starting at 9am there will be a continental breakfast provided by the Sunday School teachers.  The goal has also been set to collect AT LEAST 102 food items for Redding Social Services, some items came in this last Sunday which is a good start but we are still far from 102 items.  There will also be canvass bags available to decorate that will be given to the community members who use the food bank at Redding Social Services and a parable trivia contest.  Worship will be a festive experience using our "new" old setting of Now the Feast and Celebration.  The Sunday school teachers and students will be installed during worship.  And after worship we will take the all church photo by the cross.  

Wednesday is the first The Finer Things in Life Bible Study!  Calling all women!  If you enjoy some of the finer things in life, then you are invited each Wednesday to the parsonage for chocolate, wine, scripture and possibly a fire.  This coming Sunday we will be looking at the gospel for Sunday and future Sunday topics will also be discussed.  

Worship Together is starting!  If you have young children in your life, come enjoy a children focus worship service for kids and their parents or other caregivers.  We will get down on the floor and sing, play instruments, hear and participate in Bible stories and worship God together.  Worship Together is on Thursday and Saturday mornings at 10am.  

Theology Pub?  If you are young adult (or at least consider yourself one) join myself and Bob at the Lumberyard Pub on Sundays at 7pm.  Take a break in your football watching to talk about some questions you have about faith while drinking some of the best beers in Georgetown.  Then stick around for some Sunday Night Football. 

The Pasta Dinner is coming!  Mark your calendar, buy your tickets!  On Saturday September 25th from 6 to 8pm, the congregational council is hosting a pasta dinner to help raise money to renovate the church basement.  Tickets are only $10 for adults and $5 for kids and are available at the door or you can buy them in advance at church on Sunday.  The Kapela band will be playing for our dinner entertainment. 

I think that is all the announcements so now on to the texts!

The Old Testament reading for Sunday is Amos 8:4-7.  How do you "trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land"?  Do you ever complain that offering gets in the way of what you could otherwise spend your money on?  If so have you adjusted your giving or have you continued to give even through complaints?  Why?

The second lesson is 1 Timothy 2:1-7.  What is the differences between supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings?  The epistles states that God "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth", what does that mean to you, especially in light of recent Christian/Muslim relations throughout the US?  

The gospel is Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the unjust steward.  When have you benefited because someone else was unjust?  Have you ever lied to one in order to benefit someone else?  The last verse is fairly famous: "No slave can serve two masters; for a salve will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth."  Have you ever tried to serve two things?  When has your love for money gotten in the way of serving God?  And when has your love for God gotten in the way of obtaining more money?  

As always I invite your responses these questions and thoughts on the text.  Your thoughts help me develop my sermon so that I can preach about what is really on your hearts and minds.  

And one last thing:  This week's Book of Faith Puzzler I think confused a few people how it was worded in the weekly announcements so I'll elaborate a little.  Yesterday we heard two parables about lost things: the lost sheep and the lost coin.  There was a third parable that Jesus told about something that was lost, what was it?  If you know the answer, shoot me an email.  A winner will be drawn of all the correct answers and will be announce during worship to receive a prize.  

Have a blessed week!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It Doesn't Make Any Sense!

My sermon is based on two of the parables about things that are lost:  the lost sheep and the lost coin, found in Luke 15:1-10.  In the live version I also inver-wove a few experiences from the New England Synod Youth Gathering at Hammonasset which I left early from in order to make it to worship, but I'm not just tired and not willing to go back through my sermon and make those edits for you, but let's just say Hammo was awesome and I'll write more about it later in the week.

But I do not want to leave you feeling completely inferior to those in the sanctuary this morning.  There is a special treat for you!

Today was one of those Sundays that I really wish that I had the ability to play some video during my sermon.  But via the power of the internet, you all get to have links to the moments that I reference at the beginning of my sermon.  And great moments they are.  Aren't you just dying with anticipation to find out what they are?

Well without further ado, the sermon.  Enjoy!

Have you ever answered a question before you actually thought about what the question was? Or about what your answer should be?

There are some famous examples of this:  (VIDEO)
Miss South Carolina, Lauren Upton, in the Miss Teen USA 2007 competition was made famous by her wonderfully thought out answer to the question: “Recent polls have shown that a fifth of Americans can’t locate the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?”
Her answer was and I quote:
“I personally believe, that U.S. Americans,
are unable to do so,
because uh,
some, people out there, in our nation don’t have maps.
and uh…
I believe that our education like such as in South Africa,
and the Iraq,
everywhere like such as…
and, I believe they should uh,
our education over here,
in the U.S. should help the U.S.
or should help South Africa,
and should help the Iraq and Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future,
for us.”

Another more recent example would be Arizona Governor Jan Brewer having a deer in headlights, brain freeze moment during a debate last week with the other gubernatorial candidates. (VIDEO)

And there are some not so famous examples of answering a question before thinking about what the person was actually asking. How many of you ended up volunteering for something that you never intended to volunteer for because someone caught you off guard when they asked you? And which of us, in a job interview, have not given an insanely stupid response to a question because we were too eager to please and didn’t want to ask the interviewer to explain their question.

And afterwards what did you do? Beat yourself up a little? Go over that question and answer over and over again in your head? Think about how things should have gone. Maybe grumble about how you are now stuck doing something that you really don’t want to do.

I kind of wonder if there was anyone in the crowd with Jesus the day he told two parables that are part of our gospel today, who answered Jesus’ questions before first thinking about the questions. See normally when Jesus asks a question in his parables the answer is almost a “no duh.” In last week’s gospel we heard Jesus ask “which among you when building a tower does not first sit down and estimate whether he has enough to complete it?” Well no duh, everyone does that. We estimate how much the house will be to build or remodel, we estimate if we make enough to make that monthly car payment or mortgage payment (or at least we should and a lot of people who are in financial trouble now are wishing that they did). And last week Jesus also asked “which king when waging war against another king does not first sit down to determine if he with 10,000 will be able to oppose the one who is coming with 20,000?” Again no duh! You would hope the leaders of a country would sit down and determine if the war is winnable, or if it would just be a waste of lives and resources.

So most of the time when Jesus asks a question, you want to go: yeah! Of course! me to! You want to immediately agree with him and say of course I do that, doesn’t everyone? Shouldn’t everyone do that?

But today’s gospel you have to listen to Jesus’ questions. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Ohh me! I’ll do that! Of course Jesus!

Ummmmmm…… Wait you have a large flock of sheep, and one gets lost, well first off kudos to you for noticing that one is lost. But you are going to leave the 99 that are in your care safe and sound to go after the one lost one? And by leaving the 99, you are going to leave them alone in the wilderness where they can be attacked by wolves, fall into chasms and well lets face it, they are sheep, drown in a puddle. So by going off to possibly find the one, for there is no guarantee that you will find the one, much less that the one will be safe, you are putting the 99 in harms way.

And the other question: “What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” Well of course I would. I mean who wouldn’t. I have searched the house for my keys, a water bottle, an earring; a coin is no different.

But the second part of Jesus’ parable is not a normal response. “When she found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying “Rejoice with me for I have found the coin that I had lost.”” Now I have celebrated with many people for quite a few reasons: birthday, weddings, anniversaries, national holidays, new babies, graduations, ordinations, confirmations, but never have I hosted or been to a party because someone found a coin. I mean I guess if I won the lottery I would have a party to celebrate, but not because I lost a coin and found it. Especially when the food for the celebration would cost me more than the coin is worth.

See no one would actually do these things, they don’t make sense. We want to agree with Jesus but when we think about these situations, they just don’t make any sense. Why would someone leave 99 sheep to go after one? Why would someone throw a party because they found a lost coin and spend more than the coin is worth?

But faith doesn’t always make sense. It is in the surprise, the abnormality, the absurdity, the foolishness, the extravagantness, the silliness, the irrationality that we find God.
It doesn’t make any sense that God would send Jesus Christ, God’s only son, to die on the cross for us mere mortals.
It doesn’t make any sense that God would choose a group of people, the Israelites, who keep going against God’s wishes, as God’s chosen people.
It doesn’t make any sense that God’s grace is constantly being poured out upon us.
It doesn’t make any sense that through the waters of baptism we have been claimed as God’s sons and daughters.
It doesn’t make any sense that our sins have been forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross.
It doesn’t make any sense that through a simple meal of bread and wine we are able to participate in a meal with Christians of all times and places.
It doesn’t make any sense that the Holy Spirit is working in us.
It doesn’t make any sense that God is more abundant in the shadow of the cross, in death and despair than in glory and victory.
It doesn’t make any sense.

But isn’t it comforting to know that when the world doesn’t make sense God is with us.
That when the answers do not match the questions, God is with us.
That when we stumble over what to say, God is with us.
That when we make stupid decisions, God is with.
That we don’t have the answers, God is with.
Isn’t it comforting to know that when the world doesn’t make any sense God is with us for the world does not always make sense.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Holy Crap! What Happened to my Calendar?

I've been sick this past week, nothing major, just a head cold.  But it pretty much knocked me out for a good portion of Monday through Thursday.  I thought this was a bad week to get sick, already having Monday off, I had one less day to do work, plus later today I leave for Hammonasset, the synod youth gathering.  (BTW, super excited about going to Hammo since I've been hearing about it since I started seminary in 2004).

But then I went to look at my calendar to figure out a date to go up to New London to see Bob's new place of employment.  And all I can say is: "Holy Crap! What happened to my calendar?!"  This summer I had a very open calendar with worship on Sunday mornings, followed by the occasional meeting and text study group on Tuesday mornings, and I go to Stitch and Bitch on Thursday nights.  Wednesday evening bible study was canceled for most of the summer.  So for the most part my calendar was free, in all honesty it was a little boring and I had to strive to come up with things to do.

But now!  Geesh!  Next week kicks of our Wednesday evening bible study (which I'm actually super excited about as it is a women's bible study that I'm calling "The Finer Things in Life" as we indulge in chocolate, wine and scripture).  On Thursday and Saturday are the first Worship Together events (again really excited, but a little afraid that people won't show up).  Next Sunday is Rally Day and the start of Theology Pub on Sunday nights (again excited but afraid people won't show up).  The following Saturday is the Pasta dinner, and then Sunday starts the Sunday morning bible study.

Whew!  I think I'm free a few days around Thanksgiving.

I'm excited for these ministries and I know many congregation members are excited as well.  Let's just hope that I feel better next week, can get my butt in gear about advertising many of them (good thing for social media that I can advertise from my computer) and that they start off well.

So maybe it was a good week to get sick, to remind myself to slow down and hopefully things will grow at the pace that God wants them to.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

MMC: A Little Late

Hello all

Due to Labor Day and then a cold that I've had all week I just realized that I didn't send out a Monday Morning Church email this week and I wanted to make sure some updates went out.

  • Rally Day is NEXT SUNDAY, September 19th. And the goal has been set, to collect 102 food items for Redding Social Services as we kick off Bethlehem's 102nd year of ministry! Come starting at 8:45 for breakfast, fellowship, crafts, a parable telling contest. At 10am we will have a festival worship service which will be followed by our annual all church picture under the cross.
  • Next Sunday is also the Worship Committee Meeting. If you are interested in planning worship services for the fall and winter, or would like to give your feedback about summer worship, please feel free to join us after worship.
  • Tickets for the pasta dinner on September 25th are now on sale. They are $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Please see Frank to buy your tickets.
  • The Finer Things in Life, a women's Wednesday evening Bible Study begins next Wednesday at 7:30pm at the parsonage. All women are invited in indulge chocolate, wine and scripture.

And since I didn't get this out earlier, I'll give you till noon tomorrow to put in your guess for this last Sunday's Book of Faith puzzzler: What trade did the apostle Paul work in?

Due to the aforementioned cold (though I'm mostly over it now, just the occasional sneeze), I haven't been able to spend much time studying the scripture for this week's sermon, which is very unlike me since normally by 1:40pm on Thursday my sermon is either written on in the process of being written. I'm am however focusing on the gospel Luke 15:1-10, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Jesus asks "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" And "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?" Do these question seem like common sense questions to you? What other things are Jesus asking us to do that does not seem like common sense? Are you the one sinner who repents or one of the ninety-nine righteous persons?

Please pray for safe travels this weekend for all the teenagers and their advisors throughout the synod who are gathering at Hammonasset this weekend for a youth gathering and all the women who gather in West Hartford for the New England Women of the ELCA Convention.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Costs are Just Too Great

Some exciting things are happening at Bethlehem, the Holy Spirit is really moving there.

This last week was newsletter week, when one of the members spends a good portion of the week in the office putting together the monthly newsletter.  It is exciting to see so much being planned for this fall, especially after a fairly quiet summer.  I have had a few people remark that Bethlehem has never had this much going on before.

I have also had some wonderful conversations and emails about children's ministry and confirmation this last week which I'll post a full post about later this week.  But in a nutshell, I've gone from having no incoming confirmation students to 4!  Pretty impressive for a small church!  And there is some interest in a new ministry we are starting in a few weeks.

Then I sent out an email to the congregation this week asking for their vocation/occupation so they can be included in a prayer for those who labor on this Labor Day weekend.  And I had a wonderful response from one congregation member who is currently unemployed but has found wonderful purpose and joy in delivering meals to some of our homebound members.

Plus for the past month or so, most weeks at the end of announcements before we begin worship with confession and forgiveness I have asked people where they have seen God this past week, how has the Spirit been moving in their lives.  The first week when I asked where people have seen Jesus this last week, after a few moments of silence, my wonderful husband loudly said "in a potato chip" (yep that is Bob's sense of humor).  But today the stories that people told, and the number of people who talked and hands that continued to be raised were remarkable.  The Spirit is moving at Bethlehem and I'm so excited to be a part of it!

Below is my sermon from this morning, which is focused on the gospel, Luke 14:25-33.  At one point I say that following Jesus is about passionate spirituality.  These moments shared earlier are passionate spirituality which is growing each day!


You must hate your family in order to be one of Jesus’ disciples! You must carry the cross in order to be one of Jesus’ disciples! You must give up all of your possessions in order to be one of Jesus’ disciples! Those are some awfully big demands.

I mean let’s be honest, there have been times that I have been angry at my parents, siblings and even spouse, but to hate them? I think even in the worst times, even when I have told them that I hate them that I haven’t really hated a single member of my family. Granted the word “hate” here does not means “hate” as we normally use the term, it means to put in lower regard than to Jesus. But even then I still have times where it is hard to hate my family members.

And what does it mean to carry the cross? I mean I wear one around my neck, does that count? As an acolyte and worship assistant I have carried many a cross up and down sanctuary aisle, does that count? Am I supposed to unearth that huge cross outside and carry it? Well I’m not sure if I have the physical strength for that. Or does it mean being willing to die on the cross like Jesus died on the cross? Ummm as strong as my faith is, that is VERY painful way to die. Can I choose a different method of my demise? Maybe one a little more instantaneous or hops me up on so many drugs first that I don’t feel the pain?

And let’s not get started on giving up all of our possessions. Am I suppose to live off the land? And well get gets pretty cold in Connecticut during the winter, where am I suppose to live? And what am I suppose to wear? And what am I suppose to eat? And what about my computer and car and ipod and….what about the dogs?

So maybe I can’t be Jesus’ disciple. Maybe I am not worthy to follow Jesus. The costs are just too great.

But I get the feeling that I’m not the only one who is not able to be Jesus’ disciple, who is not worthy. Are any of you able to say that you can hate your family, carry the cross and give up all of our possessions?

And I bet you that there was no one in the crowd listening to Jesus that could do those things either.

For no matter what we do we will always fall short. There will always be someone that we do not hate. The cross will always be too large to carry regardless of how strong we are physically or spiritually. And there will always be a possession that we will hold on to. The costs are just too great. The price is just too much. The requirements are more than we are able to bear. Being Jesus’ disciple is impossible.

Or is it?

God is the one who makes the impossible possible. God is the one who has paid the cost. God is the one who has borne the requirements to follow Jesus. Jesus carried the cross. Jesus paid for our sins through his death on the cross.

Being a disciple of Jesus is not about making sure that we live up to these requirements. Being a disciple of Jesus is not about sitting down first and making sure that we have what it takes to follow through with our initial plan. Being a disciple of Jesus is not about planning a strategy to make sure that it is a worth-wild endeavor.

Being a disciple, a follower, of Jesus is about passionate spirituality. Being a follower of Jesus is about following Jesus loyally even when we realize that we are not worthy to do so. Being a follower of Jesus is about realizing that we will never be able to pay the cost of discipleship, but understanding that God has already paid those cost for us. Being a follower of Jesus is about falling in love with God, with Jesus Christ, over and over again.

And when we fall in love with Jesus, when we acknowledge the love that we have for him, but more importantly the amazing overwhelming love that he has for us, then we will try to pay for those cost. When we are in love with Jesus, we try to love Jesus above all others, including our family, our father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters. When we are in love with Jesus, we try to carry the cross, even if it is a weight that we alone cannot bear. When we are in love with Jesus, we try to give up all of our possessions, giving them back to God, realizing that they are God’s first. When we are in love with Jesus, we also realize that we will never be able to completely do those things regardless of how hard we try. And even though we fall short, Jesus still loves us, and that is just one more reason to love him.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Love for the Neighborhood

The street we live on is about a mile long and pretty self contained, as in there is only one road that leads to other road, and that road is at one end.  Starting at the south end of the street, the road curves around a man-made lake and spits out at a train station.  The street is our neighborhood.  

The church and our home is located near the south end, with one house, two preschools, a post office, vet and a factory south of us.  In the other direction is a 3/4 of a mile of homes and one synagogue before coming to the train station; this is are normal path for walking the dogs.  In fact last school year, most days Daisy (the chocolate lab) and I would walk Bob to the train station where he would pick up his train to school, and then Daisy and I would walk back home.  Since I would drop Bob off shortly before one of the buses came through the neighborhood, I especially got to know some of the kids and moms as they waited at the bus stops.  Over the course of the last year, I have gotten to know many of the neighbors, some by name, even more by face.  

As I have walked to and from the train station or the post office, I have watched the synagogue's new addition come to a completion.  I have seen one house get a much needed new roof, and now I'm currently keeping update on a massive renovation project going on at another.  I have seen new landscaping projects, people move out and new neighbors move in.  I have met many people, their kids and their dogs.  

But this summer has been fairly quiet.  Due to Bob's and mine more relaxed schedule, we haven't taken the dogs on as many walks.  And due to the heat this summer, one of the hottest on record, when we have gone out to walk the dogs, we often have seen fewer people outside.  

Well this morning was the second day of the school year and the dogs and I went on a walk as the middle school kids were waiting for the bus. It was amazing how much I missed this simple neighborhood walk in the morning.  How I missed seeing people waiting outside.  It was great asking some of the kids that I know how their first day went, and quiet a few people I saw remarked at how big Koko has gotten since many of them have not seen her since June.  

I'm glad that the school year has started again, that the weather will soon be cooling off some (it was in the 90's yesterday), and I look forward to my morning walks through the neighborhood, though it might be a little harder to be motivate to go since I'm no longer dropping Bob off to catch his train.  And I'm especially grateful to live in a neighborhood with some wonderful neighbors.