Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Forging Signatures, 5 Ovens and Solar Powered Bikinis.

This last week, Thanksgiving week, I was on vacation since I had one vacation Sunday left this year, and I really can only get away for on the last Sunday of the month.  However Bob still had to work Monday through Wednesday.

Now normally when one spouse has more vacation time than the other, the one with more vacation will play happy homeowner (as is the case with my brother and sister-in-law).  However we live in a parsonage that was just remodeled last year.  And since we live a whopping 50 yards from the church (yes I will never complain about my commute) it also means that for me to really not work on vacation, I need to get out of the house too.   Luckily Bob lives part of the week not at home.

Bob normally works from the house on Mondays and then commutes to New London (the other side of the state) on Monday night/Tuesday morning and stays there until Thursday when he comes back to Georgetown and works from home again on Saturday.  When in New London he stays at the St. Francis House, an intentional living community.  So on Monday night we packed up the car with our stuff and the dogs and headed to New London for the week.

On Tuesday I went to Bob's work, the Homeless Hospitality Center, just to stop by and meet his co-workers.  However they were in the middle of sending out a mass mailing as part of a fund raising campaign.  So I decided to stay and help.  Well I ended up forging the executive director's name on about 800 letters over the course of Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon.  (BTW the vast majority of letters you receive from an organization trying to raise money that are personally signed by the head honcho, are actually signed by some intern, volunteered or other low-level person.)

When I wasn't there, I explored around New London, read, and needle-pointed (I'm trying to finish a stocking before Christmas).

Thanksgiving itself was low key for us, just a trip to the dog park, watch some movies, and hung out.  But we did also go pick up the "snack" for the overnight shelter that the Coast Guard Academy's food services provided.  The "snack" for 50 people was actually enough turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, salad, acorn squash, stuffing, green beans, bread and brownies to feed over 100 people.  The food barely fit into the back of our car (but again remarkably everything fits into a Fit).  But we had to pick up the food at 4 and the shelter doesn't open until 7.  So with the help of the 5 ovens in the various apartments of the St. Francis house, we were able to keep all the food warm.

Friday and Saturday was spent with some shopping and a trip to see Harry Potter 7.1 but by then Bob wasn't feeling the greatest.  So on Sunday morning he slept in and I went to the UCC church across the street from the St. Francis House.

And during worship I learned two things: 1) I must have drunk some of the kool-aid and 2) some sermon examples, while attention getters are also distracting.  Let me explain.

1) A seminary friend jokes with her internship supervisor that most people who have graduated from our seminary end up being fairly high church, liturgical and sticklers for these "rules" even if they did not start seminary that way.  Therefore somewhere along their seminary journey they "drunk the kool-aid" that made them this way.  I do not feel like I fall into this category.  I don't think you need anything more than a glass of wine (or other liquid) and a loaf of bread (or other food form) in order to have communion and other than chalice and paton I have to look up the words for some of the other dishes that are sometimes used.   I think it is completely okay to go off lectionary for a worship service, especially if you put in prior thought about your worship plans.  And I don't have a problem with Christmas carols during Advent, or at least I thought so.

So as people gathered for worship at this UCC congregation, people suggested their favorite Christmas carols and we sang the first verse or two.  And I was fine with this, until we sang "We Three Kings"  And that just made me cringe.  But I don't think it was so much a liturgy thing as a calendar thing.  We Three Kings is sung at Epiphany in January and while it was the first Sunday of Advent, it was also still November.

2)  The pastor preached for quite awhile, probably 25 or more minutes (aka 3 times my typical sermon length).  He started off by having us sing "All I Want for Christmas" then talking about various gifts you can give people including....wait for it....a solar powered bikini!  What!  Apparently it has solar cells in it that catch the sun's rays while you are tanning and you can hook it up to charge your ipod or cell phone.  Okay so I think he eventually went back to Jesus being the greatest gift and in Christ we find peace and hope and those are the only things we need for Christmas.  But for me, I spent then next 10 minutes thinking about this solar powered bikini - are you able to get it wet? how does it hook up to your electronics and where exactly and how big are those solar panels?

So basically I was reminded that while sermon illustrations can often help people understand what you are talking about, sometimes they lead people into thinking more about the illustration and less about the point you are trying to make.

So that was basically my week in a nutshell - forging signatures, using 5 ovens and figuring out a solar powered bikini.

Monday, November 29, 2010

MMC: Repent and Hope

Good Morning Everyone

I hope you had a wonderful and enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend/week. 

Just some quick announcements before looking at this coming Sunday's text.  

  • We will be participating in the toy drive for St. Lukes Life Works in Stamford.  It is one of the largest collections of toys in Fairfield county.  Thousands of gifts are distributed to more than 2,000 chiildren affected by poverty, homelessness and HIV/AIDS.  For most of these children these are the only gifts they will receive.   You may wrap your gifts, but please write on a removable tag what the gift is, so the appropriate male/female, and aged person recieves it. Donations are needed by Sunday December 5.
  • Worship Committee is meeting tomorrow, November 30 at 7:30pm, all are invited to help us plan worship for Christmas and beyond.
  • Social Concerns and Celebrations committee is meeting Monday December 6 at 7pm. All are invited to attend to plan events this winter and spring in the congregation.
  • Senior Lunch is Wednesday December 8 at noon at Lombardi’s in Georgetown
  • Calling all readers: if you are willing to read a prophecy or part of the Christmas narrative at the 5pm service on Christmas Eve, please let me know.  And thank you to those of you who have already volunteered to read at the 10pm service.
  • Sunday December 26th we will be having a carol sing with lessons.  Start perusing the hymnals now for you favorite Christmas carols and submit your favorites to Lyudmila
This week's book of faith puzzler is: Who was the first person to build an altar for God? A) Abraham B)Isaac C)Adam D)Noah. Email me with you answer to be put into this week's drawing.

Now onto the text:

For this second Sunday in Advent, we hear Isaiah's, Paul's and John the Baptist's calls for hope as we look forward to the coming of Christ and the peace he will bring. 

The first lesson is Isaiah 11:1-10.  How does these images (the wold living with the lamb, the calf and lion together, etc) hold with your vision of what peace will look like?  The stump or root of Jesse refers to King David's father and that a new ruler will come who is a descendant of David.  The ruler will also be blessed by the spirit of the Lord and seek justice.  How do you see Jesus as one blessed by the spirit and seeking justice?  How do you see the church (both universal and Bethlehem), as followers of Jesus, blessed by the spirit and seeking justice?

The second lesson is Romans 15:4-13.  Paul encourages us through God's help to live in harmony with one another.  What is one way that you, as an individual, can bring harmony to this world?  We are also called to welcome one another.  Do you see yourself as welcoming?  In your home? our community? our church?  Paul also blesses the Romans with the words: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  Do you feel filled with hope, joy and peace?  When do you most feel filled with these emotions?  When do you feel most drained of these emotions?

The gospel is Matthew 3:1-12.  John the Baptist calls for people to repent. What does repentance mean to you?  Is it just confession (to God or to the one you wronged)?  Is it a commitment to never do those wrongs again?  Is it a change in attitude or lifestyle?  Is it a form of self-forgiveness or self-condemnation? What do you need to repent?  What does it mean to you that we have been baptized with water but Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire?

I always love to hear your thoughts, answers to these questions or even more question these passages may have brought forth in your mind either through email or conversation.  And for any women who would like to discuss these text in more details, I invite you to the Finer Things in Life, at 7:30pm on Wednesday at the parsonage. 

Blessings on your week
Pastor Becca

Monday, November 22, 2010

MMC: Awaiting Jesus

Good Morning All

I hope you all have a quick week as we prepare for Thanksgiving.  And just a reminder that the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service will be at Temple B'nai Chaim at 7pm on Wednesday.

Also this week's book of faith puzzler is: Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, and we said goodbye to the gospel of Luke for two years.  But what is one time that we always read from Luke: a) Easter, b) Baptism of our Lord, c) Christmas d) Ash Wednesday.  Email with your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

Now onto the texts:

The first lesson is Isaiah 2:1-5.  Isaiah foretells of a day when there will be universal peace and swords will be turned into plows and spears into pruning hooks.  What would be a modern equivalent of turning weapons into tools?  How do you envision universal peace?

The second lesson is Romans 13:11-14.  Paul compares the advent of Christ to the coming of dawn.  How do you picture the advent of Christ?  How do you prepare for the coming of Christ both at Christmas and at the end of time?

The gospel is Matthew 24:36-44.  Jesus says that no one will know when the the Son of Man is coming.  Right now it is hard to go anywhere without seeing a countdown to Christmas (or Black Friday).  How does all the preparations for Christmas help you prepare for Jesus' birth?  How does all the preparations distract you from Jesus' birth?  

Hope you all have a delightful Thanksgiving and an anticipatory Advent. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Funerals and Baptism

Today's sermon was a first for me: I sang!  If you know me well, you know this is a huge moment.*  But when I first read today's gospel (Luke 23:33-43) I thought of the song "Jesus Remember Me", a song often sung at funerals.  Then I thought about how funerals contrast to baptism as we were having a baptism today.  So this song framed my sermon.  If you aren't familiar with this song, here is a recording. 

*Side story: about a week before I left for seminary the following conversation happened between me and my mom
mom: Bec, do you sing?
me: nope
mom: Do you chant?
me: nope
mom: do we need to get you lessons?

Enjoy the sermon:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ELW 616

The first time I really sung this hymn was when I worked as a chaplain at a nursing home and we would sing this at the monthly memorial service as we remembered residents who had died. Since then I have sung this hymn at a few funerals.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

So why am I bring up this song, that is sung at funerals when we should be celebrating? It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Wyatt will be baptized today and yet we are singing a song sung at funeral.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

And why is the gospel today about Jesus on the cross? It is only 5 weeks until Christmas. We are having an advent festival after worship today. Shouldn’t we be thinking about Jesus in a manger? Saying prayers to “Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce new born infant Jesus, don’t ever know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent.” And yet here we are instead with a gospel about Jesus dying on the cross.

And Jesus is not just being put to death on the cross; he is being mocked and ridiculed. His clothes were being gambled away; he is given sour wine; the leaders, soldiers and even one of the criminals who was being crucified along side him mocked him saying that if he was the Messiah, the King of the Jews, he would be able to take himself down from the cross.

It is almost Christmas and yet we are being reminded of Good Friday. Well that is because today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, and it is a day that we remember that Christ is the King but he is not a king in ways that we expect. Christ is the King who was born in a stable and his first adorers were shepherds, mere peasants. Christ is the King who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other known sinners. Christ is the King whose throne was a cross. Christ is the King who died a gruesome death as a mere criminal. Christ is the King whose only crown was one of thorns. Christ is the King whose kingdom is not a physical realm.

And yet we ask Christ, this non-traditional king, to have mercy on us.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

Jesus is King. Christ is King. Christ is our King because he is unexpected, because he is a mere human and yet fully God. Christ is the King who was born for all of us. Christ is the King who angels proclaimed with the words “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Christ is the King who listens to us, our troubles, our hopes, our prayers, our sorrows, our joys. Christ is the King who took is place on the cross so that we do not have to die such a death. Christ is the King who died as a criminal because he took our sins upon him. Christ is the King who was given a crown of thorns because so many could not, would not accept him for who he is and were and are unwilling to see his holiness. Christ is the King whose kingdom is here but not yet, whose kingdom is in all of us, in our hearts and minds.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

And so we pray, we beg, that Jesus remembers us when he comes into his kingdom, a kingdom that is greater than any kingdom here on earth. A kingdom that is not yet here but is also already part of who we are. A kingdom that is not like anything that we can expect.

So yes here we are, on a joyful day, the week before Thanksgiving, only a few weeks before Christmas, praying to a God who died on a cross. And here we are on a day when we celebrate Wyatt being a child of God and yet singing a song most associated with funerals and Good Friday.

And that is because today as we celebrate Wyatt’s baptism we are reminded that we too are children of God, baptized into a life with Jesus. And as Wyatt will soon be baptized into Christ the King’s life, he will also be baptized into Christ the King’s death. Wyatt’s sins will be washed away, his old self will be drown in the waters of baptism. For those of us who are baptized, our old selves have been drown, our sins have been washed away.

And yet Christ the King’s reign is here but not yet. Wyatt will still sin, he will still dishonor his parents, he will lie, he will cheat, covet and probably even steal (regardless of how well Christine and John raise him) because we all still sin. We still fall short of the glory of God. We still need Christ the King to save us from sin and death. We still need Christ the King to die on the cross for us. We still need Christ the King to come to us as an unexpected king, in unexpected places, a manger, a cross, a bowl of water, bread and wine. And Christ the King has come for us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The End is Near (a delayed sermon)

I realized as I was writing a sermon for Sunday, that I forgot to post last Sunday's sermon.  So here is it, based on Luke 21:5-19 the apocalypse, the end is near!

The world is going to end! Armageddon is upon us! The signs of the apocalypse are happening now! The rapture will happen any moment now! Doom’s day is a coming! The end is near! Judgment day is here!

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, war, famine, plagues. Jesus says that there will be signs. And yet since Jesus said these words, people have sat down and try to solve them thinking they can figure out exactly when the end of the world will happen. For the last two thousand years some people have thought they knew when the world will end.

Most of us can easily recall the fear some people had only 11 years ago, that when the clock struck midnight on January 1st 2000, the world would end. Or at least all the computers would self destruct and we would be back in the Stone Age. Programmers spent years making sure that computers could handle the change of date, people stockpiled food and water, and a few even built bomb shelters.

Others think that the world will end in 2012 because that is when the Mayan calendar ends. And I once saw a van at the Wilton Library that had a sign up on it rear windshield that Jesus is coming back May, 21 2011 (which coincidentally is my mom’s birthday, so I guess I don’t have to get her a present)

And there are plenty of websites dedicated to predicting the end of the world. Rapture Watch, Doomsday Clock, and my personal favorite Rapture Ready are just a few. At RaptureReady.com they nicely have a rapture index where they keep track of the likelihood of the rapture happening based on 45 different indicators which they update weekly. Fortunately for us, the index went down by one this last week because the category “liberalism” was downgraded due to the Republican gains in the House of Representatives. So we can all rest just a little easier.

The people who subscribe to this idea that the end is near look at things like record breaking snowfalls in the mid-Atlantic, the earthquake in Haiti, the volcano in Iceland that practically halted air travel in Europe, flooding in Pakistan, the volcano and tsunami in Indonesia and now cholera outbreaks in Haiti, all of which have happened this year alone, and think that they are signs that the world is going to end and the world is going to end soon.

And there is no reasoning with some people who have this idea in their mind. You can’t explain that natural disasters have always happened; we just didn’t have 24 hour cable news that beats stories to death in order to fill their air time.

And if you think that the world is going to end at any moment, then what is the point of living? What is the point of going to work? Of creating a home? Of making friends and other relationship? Of raising kids? Of planting a garden? What is the point of doing all these things if we are not going to be around to reap the benefits of our labors?

Well first off I don’t think Jesus is telling us here when the world is going to end, or even that it is going to end anytime soon. Instead Jesus is encouraging his follower to keep following his teachings and example even after he is gone. He is encouraging them to stay strong in their beliefs so that they are not lead astray by false prophets and false believers. And then Jesus says some remarkable that often gets overlooked because it is said in the midst of all this apocalyptic talk.

Jesus tells people that in the midst of trial, in the midst of some of the worst moments of their lives, that God is still there and you are still able to tell others about Jesus.

For the last few months at the beginning of worship I have asked you were you have seen God at in your lives. Many of the times our answers have been in some of the positive parts of our lives – through the beauty of nature, through family and friends. And it is wonderful that we see God in positive moments of our lives. But the moments that are the most powerful, the moments that strongly testify to others about God’s power is when you can see God in the midst of trial.

God is at funerals as family and friends gather to mourn their lost and support one another.

God is there in the midst and aftermath of natural disasters, in people who have never been to Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia, donating money, food, and clothing to be sent to people they have never met and will never meet so that those people who have lost everything may not also lose their spirit.

God is there in crowded airports as planes are grounded due to volcanoes, hurricanes or snow storms and a makeshift community forms and people who would normally never talk to each other watch each others luggage so the other can go to the bathroom or get food, share internet connection so they can look up alternate travel arrangements or cell phones so they can call loved ones.

God is in the quietness of a city halting snowstorm as neighbors who have lived next to each other for years get to actually meet each other in block wide snowball fight. God is in neighbors helping each other dig out of their homes and clear their cars from mounds of snow.

Christ is in the midst of our joys and our sorrows. Christ is with us when we are so willing to follow him and helping us from being led astray by false preachers. Christ will give us the words to say when we feel like we are not able to say anything, or at least not anything meaningful. Christ is with us in peaceful times and in times of war. Christ is with us on beautiful days when there is not a cloud in the sky and in the midst of the storms. Christ is with us when we are healthy and when our bodies are ailing. Christ is with us forever.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ingathering Results

This past Sunday was our "ingathering" Sunday, when Bethlehem collects food and money for local food banks. Money is collected at various coffee hours throughout the year and with that money produce is bought to decorate the altar (which is also donated to the food bank).  When the offering is brought forward so too is all the non-perishable food items that people bring in.

In previous years, a few people will collect food at one of the local grocery stores, however due to schedule issues that didn't happen.  But even without the additional collection, the people of Bethlehem came through with a LOT of food.  In fact this is what my car looked like as it was loaded up to go to Redding Social Services

Next year, I might need a bigger car!

Monday, November 15, 2010

MMC: Christ is the King

Good Morning!

This coming week & weekend is a busy weekend at Bethlehem so I wanted to remind you of some announcements.
  • If you are interested in going on the intergenerational mission trip to western Virginia this July, an informational meeting will be this Tuesday at 7:30 at St. Michael's New Canaan.  If you need a ride or want to car pool, please give me a call/email. 
  • Saturday is the neighborhood dessert party at the parsonage starting at 6:30pm.  Bring your tastebuds, friends, family, neighbors, and possibly your favorite dessert to the parsonage as we gather for fun and fellowship with the congregation and our neighbors.
  • On Sunday during worship we will be celebrating the baptism of Wyatt Santorella.  After worship will be an intergenerational advent festival; make an advent calendar for your home and crismoms for your home or to be hung on Bethlehem's tree.
Some people have talked to me about the possibility of having an additional worship service on Christmas Eve that is later in the evening (probably at 10pm).  If you would attend the later service on Christmas Eve, will you please let me know.  At this point, we are trying to see what the interest level is to determine if it is feasible.

This week's Book of Faith Puzzler is: In Genesis 4, Cain murders Abel because he is angry.  Why is Cain angry? A) Adam liked Abel more.  B) God liked Abel’s offering more than Cain’s offering. C) Abel was going to be given the inheritance.  D) Eve gave Cain the harder chores. E) Cain wanted to be the only child on earth.  If you know the answer (or think you do), send me an email by noon on Wednesday to be enter into this week's drawing.

Now onto the texts:

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year when we celebrate Christ as the King.  The text have us both looking back to Easter and remembering Christ as a non-traditional king and also have us looking forward to Advent and Christmas as they announce Christ is coming.  They also have us looking forward to the future kingdom of God where Jesus reigns.

The first reading is Jeremiah 23:1-6.  Many of us have never run into a flock of sheep and scattered them, but most of us have walked through a flock of pigeons or other birds to have them fly off or scamper away.  Some of us do this reluctantly, not wanting to disturb the birds, or after watching a few too many Hitchock films, don't want the birds to attack us.  Other delight in scattering the birds, watching them fly off, or hoping you have scared them off from returning to your garden.  Which are you?  The Lord warns that we are the ones to scatter the sheep, have you scattered the sheep reluctantly and by accident or with delight? And does our intent matter?  The last paragraph for tells a righteous king.  How is Jesus the righteous king?

The second reading is Colossians 1:11-20.  This passage refers to Christ as the image of God, the firstborn of creation, before all things, the head of the church, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead and that in him all things are created, the church becomes the church, and the fullness of God is located.  Do you see Christ as these things and in these things?  How do you imagine Christ and how do you see Christ in creation?

The gospel is Luke 23:33-43.  This passage brings us back to Good Friday with Jesus on the cross, tortured, mocked, and his clothing being gambled over.  While he hung on the cross a sign posted above him announced him as the King of the Jews while people mock him with the same words.  How is Jesus not kingly in this gospel?  And how is Jesus an unexpected king in this passage?

If you have any thoughts on these texts please email/call/come to the women's bible study on Wednesday night at 7:30.  

And let me know if you are interested in the later worship service on Christmas Eve

Have a great week!
Pastor Becca

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What I Don't Wear to Work

A pastor friend of mine, just posted this blog post about what he wears to work and why.  I started to write a comment and realized it was going to be really long so here is my response to What I Wear to Work.

On the typical day other than Sunday, you will find me in jeans (or a skirt in the summer), a blouse, sweater or polo and even occasionally a t-shirt.  I only wear clerical shirts on Sunday or for other worship services.  I'm defiantly the minority on the east coast, especially in New England where black clerical shirts reign supreme.  Oh which reminds me, when I do were clerical shirts, they are hardly ever black unless I have a bright colored sweater over them.

So why do I not wear clerics?  Partly it is my "spiritual heritage."  I grew up in the St. Louis area where my pastors wore black clerics every Sunday (though I don't remember what they wore during the week).  My family then moved to Minnesota when I was 14 and I hardly saw clerical shirts on a Lutheran pastor (the one exception being my campus pastor who wore them just about daily).

Once I went to seminary in Philadelphia I was shocked how often people wore clerics.  There was one particular classmate who I swore slept in them cause he wore them anytime he was doing anything in a class that might be collar worthy (i.e. saying the prayer at the beginning of class).  I also started playing "Spot the Collar" which is a delightful game when you count the number of people who are wearing clerical shirts even though they are not doing anything that would require "pastoral authority" that day.  The seminary record came the day that past and present presiding bishops of the ELCA came for a lecture series - it was like pastors thought that if the presiding bishop saw them in a clerical shirt they might be asked to be on the national church staff or they might get called to a nicer church.

Around this point I came home to Minnesota and had to ask my home pastors if they even owned clerical shirts because I could not remember seeing them wear any.  The male pastor said he owned two, one long sleeve, one short sleeve, both black and he wears them at Christmas, Easter and funerals.  The female pastor said she normally wears them on Christmas and Easter but that pastor Easter the clerics didn't go with her outfit.  (I love this as it is so hard to find a skirt that looks nice with clerics that is not black.)

I then went on internship and started wearing clerics on Sunday as was the custom of my internship supervisor.  On my second Sunday of internship, I arrive at the church 20 minutes before adult forum begins, almost 2 hours before worship begins.  I'm wearing a blue clerical shirt, but I don't have a tab in yet.  One older member of the congregation wheels by my office door then backs up his wheelchair, looks at me and says "I have to say you look much better when you wear your uniform, then you don't look like one of the other little girls running around here."  It was a WTF moment!

After much processing and further incidences with that same gentlemen (though he wasn't too gentle) I realized that my clothes really did not matter to him or to anyone else in the congregation.  What mattered was what was in my heart and what was in the other's heart.  If I care about someone's spiritual health and they know that I care about them, they will respect me both as a person and a pastor regardless what I'm wearing.

And what is the one place I wear my clerics the most outside of the church building? The bar!  We have a theology pub on Sunday evenings and sometimes my day is too busy to change beforehand, or since we don't have a working television I'll head down there in order to catch a Vikings game (okay not so much this season).  I have had some wonderful conversation with strangers at the bar, both while wearing and not wearing "the uniform", about faith, God, and religion.  I have found the shirt doesn't matter, again what is in your heart does.  When I respect the other's beliefs, the conversation for the most part is civil, engaging and insightful.

But I do wear the "uniform" to worship because I see it as a sign of the office of word and sacrament to which I have been called.  So when I preach the word or preside at the sacraments I wear my collar to remind myself more than others (since most of them can't see it under my alb) that this is my vocational calling and worship is the most important thing that I do every week.

I still wrestle with this issue, should I wear clerics more often.  Should I wear them to homebound visits?  Well most of the homebound members don't care what I'm wear but that I'm there to visit with them.  What about council meetings or other church meetings?  But clerical shirts have often been used as a sign of pastoral authority and to bullying people into do what the pastor wants, I am no more important than the other members of the congregational council, in fact I'm less important because many of them will still be worshiping here after I have moved on.  Should I even wear them to worship?  Still wrestling.

I've been called to preach God's word and deliver the sacraments but I am also who I am and that is part of my calling.  I'm a grown-up tomboy who used to always play with bugs and mud instead of dolls.  I'm a "domesticated feminist," as Bob calls me, who loves to bake, cook and needlepoint but yet I do it because I enjoy doing those things not because it is the "woman's role."  I'm someone who is more comfortable in jeans than in a skirt and therefore only wear them when it is hot out or for appropriate occasions.  I'm someone with horrible feet and therefore can't wear heels for more than a few hours at a time and never two days in a row.  I'm someone who loves bright colors and dislikes winter not because of the snow and cold weather but because the beautiful colors of spring, summer and fall are not with us and everyone tends to wear black.  I'm someone who has never gotten use to carrying a purse, as much as I have tried.  I am called to preach and serve but to also be myself, and I cannot be myself if I'm not wearing what I am comfortable in or if I'm wearing clothes that don't allow me to be me.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

MMC: The End Times

Happy Monday Everyone!

I hope that you are tied down to something on this windy blustery day so you do fly off in the wind.  

November is a busy month so I wanted to make sure I get to all the announcements: 
  • Senior Lunch is this Wednesday at noon.  We will be meeting that the Bissell House in Ridgefield
  • Ingathering is this coming Sunday.  Please bring any non-perishable food item or a monetary donation for Redding Social Services and Connecticut Food Bank. 
  • Congregational Council is meeting after worship on Sunday, all are invited to attend. 
  • If you are interested in attending or finding out more about the mission trip to Western Virginia in July, there is an informational meeting on Tuesday November 16th at 7:30pm at St. Michael's New Canaan.  
  • The Neighborhood Dessert Party is Saturday November 20th starting at 6:30pm at the parsonage.  Bring your tastebuds, friends, family, neighbors, and possibly your favorite dessert to the parsonage as we gather for fun and fellowship with the congregation and our neighbors
  • Our first annual Advent Festival is after worship on Sunday November 21st.  Activities include making a advent calendar using Bethlehem's nativity set, making Chrismons (ornaments) for Bethlehem's tree or to bring home.
  • Thorough the month of November, beautiful handmade quilts are for sale.  The quilts were made by Susan Kapec and are on displayed in the community room.  A portion of all sales will go to Healing Hope Missions, International in Malawi.  
This week's Book of Faith Puzzler is: In Genesis 4, Cain murders Abel because he is angry.  Why is Cain angry? Think you know the answer? If you know the answer (or think you do), email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Now onto the text; this is the second to the last Sunday of the church year, the end is coming, therefore todays' 

The first lesson is Malachi 4:1-2a.  Malachi's prophesy is that the evil will burn but healing shall come to those who revere the Lord.  Are you inspired to revere the Lord in order to be healed? Or do you revere the Lord in order to keep from burning?  Are you someone who is motivated by punishments or rewards?  How do you feel about this idea of God being a god of punishments and rewards?

The second lesson is 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13.  The author is encouraging the Thessalonians to do what is right and to not hang out with people who tempt them into doing things that are not according to the teachings of the church, especially those who are now lapsed members of the congregation.  How do your friends effect your attitudes towards religion, politics, civil discourse, and even your general ideas of what is good and bad?  Are you more tempted to not attend worship when you know that your friends are sleeping in, running errands, doing housework or other things on Sunday mornings?

The gospel is Luke 21:5-19.  Jesus tells what the end times will be like with wars, earthquakes, famine, plagues, betrayal and hatred.  Are we in the end times?  If not, when do you think the end times will come?  What will the end times be like?  Are you even focused on the end times? Or do you not worry about such things?  If so, why?

Hope you have a wonderful week!
Pastor Becca

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Unfinished Sermon

I have a busy day ahead of me, so instead of posting this sermon after worship, I'm posting it before.  But my sermon is unfinished.  I have the first 3/4 written here, maybe even the first 9/10.  But it is missing the final paragraph and I just haven't figured out how to wrap things up.  But I'm going to leave it to the Holy Spirit and know that in the moment I'll be able to tie this sermon on Luke's Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-31) with the fact that today is All Saints Day and with what the people need to hear.  

Well enjoy what is here of the sermon and I hope the Holy Spirit guides you to finish it with what you need to hear/read.

People love the beatitudes! This piece of text that we have today. But maybe the reason why it is loved so much has nothing to do with what it says, especially this version from Luke, than the poetry and niceties that it envisions.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you

Isn’t that just beautiful?

But the meaning, oh lets not go there. (But I am)

If given the choice between poor and rich I would have to put myself in the rich category. Yes I don’t drive the nicest car. I’m not able to take weekend getaways to Europe nor do I own a vacation home. And I don’t wear designer clothes that are all from this season. But I have a home. I have clothes, more than I need really. I am able to take time off and I have a job in which to take time off from. And I have a car. Therefore in the broader scheme of things I’m rich.

And between hungry and full, I am full. The only time I have gone a whole day without anything to eat has been when I have been sick. I never wonder where my next meal is coming from unless I’m trying to decide which restaurant I should go to for dinner.

And between weeping and laughing, I laugh much more than I weep. Granted I have wept. I have had moments of sorrow, of pain, of despair, of mourning. But overall I tend to have more things to laugh about that to weep about.

And I hope people speak well of me and not hate me, I have friends. Though I’m sure there are a few people who try to avoid me as much as possible.

What about you? Would you say that you are poor or rich? Hungry or full? Weeping or laughing? Do people speak well of you or do they hate you?

I guess we better all take cover because woe is coming upon us.

So does that mean that if we just a little poorer, God would care for us more? Or if we ate less often Jesus would save of from sin more than he already does? Or if we weep more often the Holy Spirit will become a greater presence in our lives? Or if people hate us then it means that God love us more? NO! NO! NO! and NO!

That is not the meaning of the beatitudes. That is not what Jesus is trying to tell us. Because Jesus is not describing us, Jesus is describing God. Jesus is telling us that even in poverty, God is there. Even in the midst of hunger, God feed us. Even in moments of sorrow and weeping, God is comforting us. Even in the middle of being hated, God loves us.

And the second half of today’s gospel which starts: “love your enemies, do good to those you hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Those are things that we cannot do without God, the God who is with us even in the horrible moments of life. We are not able to love our enemies unless we realize that God first loves us. We are not able to do good to those who hate us unless we know all the great things God has done for us. We are not able to bless those who curse us unless we have first accepted the fact that Jesus is the one who blesses us. We are not able to pray for those who abuse us until we realize that in prayer we are asking God to help our abusers, not us.

Jesus is with us. Jesus allows us to love, do good, bless, pray, turn the other cheek, give away the shirt off our own back, give to everyone who begs from us. Jesus is who helps us do to others as you would have them do to you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Affirmation Day

I realize that lately my blog has been quiet other than sermons and Monday Morning Church and while I could go back and post about some of my October adventures - Bishop's convocation, Blessing of the Animals, etc.  I won't cause well I'm just not that type of person.  But I can't let a week go by without writing about this past Sunday.

This last week we celebrated Reformation Day (the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Chapel which is seen as the "official" starting day of the Protestant Reformation) and Confirmation of two of Bethlehem's young people.

Confirmation historically has been a period of time when teenagers study biblical stories, worship practices, and theology and at the end of a set period of time (normally between 1 and 3 years) affirm their baptism and take on for themselves the promises that their parents and sponsors made for them at their baptism.

For Bethlehem's two youth - Ryan and Tori.  They attended classes on Sunday mornings for about a year before I arrived as the pastor and this past school year we meet twice a month on Saturdays.  Our topics of conversation were everything from creation to afterlife, what are things called that are in the church to sex.

While the past two years have been wonderful, I wanted to share some of the things that we did during our worship service to make the day a little more special.

The confirmands came forward with their parents and their mentors (adult members of the congregation who the confirmation students picked last year that they have spent some time with and gotten to know).  After they affirmed their baptism, we had the entire congregation come forward so that we were all laying on hands while they were each individually blessed.

After the laying on of hands, everyone returned to their seats and Ryan and Tori faced the congregation and their mentors faced them and signed them with the cross with this saying:

Receive the + cross on your forehead, a sign of God’s endless love and mercy for you. Learn to know and to follow Christ.
Receive the + cross on your ears, that you may hear the gospel of Christ, the word of life.
Receive the + cross on your eyes, that you may see the light of Christ, illumination for your way.
Receive the + cross on your lips, that you may sing the praise of Christ, the joy of the church.
Receive the + cross on your heart, that God may dwell there by faith.
Receive the + cross on your shoulders, that you may bear the gentle yoke of Christ.
Receive the + cross on your hands, that God’s mercy may be known in your work.
Receive the + cross on your feet, that you may walk in the way of Christ. 
(From the Renewing Worship materials of the ELCA)

We then presented them each with a bible that their mentors, parents and myself highlighted with some of our favorite bible verses and individual notes written in the front covers.  

After this we then presented the new class of confirmation students and formally welcomed them into the confirmation experience (though they have already have had a few meetings).

It was such a wonderful worship experience.  And in one of those touches that happens at small churches and make things just a little more meaningful, both Ryan and Tori were baptized at Bethlehem and both of their moms were baptized here as well.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

MMC: Saints and Sinners

Good Morning Bethlehem!

I hope that you are recovering from all the Reformation/Confirmation/Halloween activities yesterday and I am especially praying for all teachers and parents today that are dealing with tired cranky kids that are hopped up on sugar, especially anyone who has to try and limit the candy consumption today.

Just a few quick reminders
  • This Sunday is All Saints Day, please email me or Ellen Grunsell any names that you would like to include on the prayer list for that day, especially any saints who have gone on to heaven before us this past year, or anyone who has joined the community of living saints that have been born or baptized this past year (and please let us know which category each name falls into)
  • The following Sunday, November 14, is Ingathering Sunday, when we have a special collection of canned and boxed goods for Redding Social Services, and the altar is decorated in produce which is also brought to RSS.  You can start bringing in your items at any time.  If you would like an idea of what items are most needed and what items do not get picked as often, you can check out a blog post that I wrote after my last trip to drop off items at the food bank.
  • The neighborhood dessert party is coming!  Mark your calendars for Saturday November 20th starting at 6:30, then bring your tastebuds, friends, family, neighbors, and possibly your favorite dessert to the parsonage as we gather for fun and fellowship with the congregation and our neighbors.
  • An Intergenerational Mission Trip to Western Virginia is being planned for this July with participates for multiple Lutheran churches in Fairfield County.  Please talk to me if you are interested, these trips are unforgettable and often life changing. An informational meeting will be November 16 at St. Michael’s, New Canaan.
Now onto this coming week's text:

The first lesson is Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18.  Daniel has a dream of four winds of heaven stirring up the sea and four great beasts who com out of the sea.  The dream is interpreted that the four beast represent four kings who will arise, but God will receive and possess the kingdom (heaven) forever.  Why do you think this text is used on All Saints Sunday? How does this text relate to a day when we mourn and yet celebrate people who have died who are now with God in heaven?

The second lesson is Ephesians 1:11-23.  Paul gives thanks for the the Ephesians faith and prays that they might continue to understand God in their lives.  What people in your life do you give thanks for their faith, because their example was an influence in your faith?  Who do you pray for that God will give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Christ?  In other words, who has influenced your faith, and who do you hope God will guide you to so that you can be influential in their faith lives?

The gospel lesson is Luke 6:20-31.  In the NRSV, these verses have two section titles.  First is blessings and woe (or the Beatitudes).  How are you one of the blessed - poor, hungry, weep now, and people hate you?  How are you one of those who are given woe to - rich, full, laughing, people speak well of you?  Do you think you should be blessed or warned?  The second section is entitled "Love for enemies" is probably one of my favorite bible passages where by knowing the cultural context of Jesus' day, the meaning of the passage takes on a entirely different meaning.  How hard is it to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you?  In doing those things how does your attitude towards them change?  If your enemy finds out that you are praying for them, how does their attitude towards you change?  Do you always do to others as you would have them do to you?  As far as the cultural context and how it relates to this passage, it is too long to explain in an email, but briefly these verses are not about letting someone abuse you by taking advantage of you but about publicly showing the childishness of the other's behavior by forcing them to shame themselves in order to abuse you.  

Did I wet your bible study appetite?  If so all women are invited to the women's bible study at the parsonage at 7:30pm on Wednesday to further discuss these passages and everyone is invited to 9am Sunday Morning bible study (that bible study is on Romans but I will be more than willing to get off topic about these passages if you are that curious).  

Hope you all have a great week!