Monday, October 31, 2011

MMC: Blizzard Edition

Hello all

As a Minnesotan I can say that I'm use to snow in October, but flurries and maybe even some sweep-able snow.  And everyone still talks about the Halloween Blizzard that happened in 1991, but that did not take out trees and powerlines.

I hope you all are safe and warm and if not there are some shelters that are opened.  
  • Weston middle school is open as a 24-hour emergency shelter.
  • The Wilton Y is open for showers and a warming center and most of Wilton Center's businesses are open for a place to stay warm or get a hot bite to eat.
  • Ridgefield community center is open as well for showers and a warming place (though I don't know if it is open over-night)
If you know of any other places that are open or you yourself have power and are willing to open your home, please let me or the Bethlehem community know by hitting reply all.

Currently the church and parsonage are without electricity and I'm working from the Westport Library (much less crowded than Wilton) and I'll let you know when we have power back at the church.  But no damage that I can currently see has happened to either building other than a few big limbs being down in the yards.  

The unpreached sermon from Sunday can be found here. I hope you enjoy it and are willing to give some answers to the questions raised because I really feel like those questions need be asked.  Hmm maybe I can just rewrite it a little to fit with the text for All Saints Sunday.

Speaking of which, Sunday is All Saints Day.  Please send me the names of anyone in your life who has recently died, been born or baptized so that we can remember all the Saints in our prayers this coming week.  (And the weather forecast calls for 60 degrees on Sunday so hopefully we won't have a repeat of this past weekend).  

Also start bringing in can or boxed good for Ingathering Sunday on November 13 and money for meals for Kids Care on November 20 when we hope to package 1000 meals during Grow 2 Gather and after worship.  

See you Sunday and in the meantime let me know if there is anything I can do for you to keep you warm and safe or spiritually feed in the wake of the snow. 

~Pastor Becca

An Unpreached Sermon

For the second time in 2 months, we are without electricity at the church and parsonage, only this time due to a October snowstorm of heavy wet snow which took out many trees that still had their leaves on them. 

Therefore yesterday worship was cancelled, many roads in the morning were impassable not due to the snow (actually that was easily plowed) but due to trees being down across roads and powerlines down as well.  And also it was REALLY cold in the church yesterday morning since without power, the heat does not work.  

Hence why this sermon did not get preached.  Which is sad cause I was really looking forward to it as well.  Yesterday was Reformation Day, when we remember when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg which sparked the Reformation and we celebrate that we are still a reforming and changing church.  So this sermon is about that, but also in response to some of the conversations that I had at bishop's convocation, many of which I should not recount here.  The gospel on Reformation day is always John 8:31-36, Jesus telling those who believe in him that the Son will set them free.  

But as has often been the case for me lately, this sermon is incomplete, mainly cause I was planning on the congregation to fill in some holes.  So here is the outline, the basics of what I was going to preach and I hope you are willing to answer some of the questions and fill in the gaps for me.  


What is your favorite Halloween tradition?  Can you image Halloween without costumes or candy or trick or treating?  But lets be honest, how many of you are expecting more than 10 trick or treaters?  20? 30?  Trick or treating is a tradition that is changing as our communities change, as less people live in neighborhood or know their neighbors, as more parents become overly worried about walking around in neighborhoods at night out in the cold more and more communities are hosting events like Treat or Treat Street at schools or shopping malls.  Halloween traditions are changing and with that we can often feel pain and sorrow over it. 

And yet tomorrow is also Reformation Day, today being Reformation Sunday, when we remember the day that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the castle church door at Wittenburg which started the reformation.  And as a result, many traditions changed.  Worships that were once held entirely in Latin were now spoken in the language of the people.  All people (well at least adults) were able to participate in communion, the Lord’s meal, by having both the bread and the wine; the wine was no longer relegated to just the priest.  And speaking of priest, pastors were now allowed to be married and not every worship leader had to be ordained. Luther and many of his fellow theologians realized that the people of the Catholic Church in Germany were slaves to sin and also slaves to tradition.  But when they looked at what God was doing in society, and listen to what God was calling them to do, God was able to free them from many of their traditions in order for them to more fully worship God.

And our church is still reforming.  We are still changing, and God still loves us with such an amazing love that has changed along with the culture.  God is still speaking to us, God is still setting us free from sin and God is setting us free so that we are no longer slaves to traditions.  The Christian church has amazing traditions that we have become part of, but if those traditions were created in one culture that no longer pertains to us, we become slaves to the tradition and if we spend more time trying to understand those traditions than we spend actually worshiping God then those traditions will die and we as a community will die right along with them. 

What are some traditions that have changed in your lifetime? 

Are any of these ones that you truly miss? 

So what are some traditions that we do in this congregation that you do not understand? 

God has set us free from sin so that we do not have to worry about what is the “correct” way to worship.  Worship is not about following one correct format.  It is about opening our hearts and minds to give thanks to God for all that we have been given and all that God has done.  Worship is about lifting up to God our cares and concerns, it is not about worrying that we have the right words or that the table cloth on the altar is straight or that we know the word for what an altar table cloth is called. 

God has set us free from those things.  We are no longer slaves to those things.  We have been given the truth and the truth will set us free to worship with all of our heart, soul and mind.  The truth is God’s words of love, grace and freedom and that is what we really should worship, not tradition. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Short Week on the Cape

This year Bishop's Convocation was on Cape Cod, Hyannis to be exact.  And what a lovely area for Bishop's Convo.  Even when we were inside for the majority of the time, it was great to arrive a bit early to explore the town and spend Tuesday afternoon outside (at a bar of course) enjoying the gorgeous fall weather.

The keynote speaker was Nadia Bolz-Weber, the founding pastor of House for All Sinner and Saints, an emergent Lutheran congregation in Denver.  Nadia is a very engaging speaker and spend the majority of the time of the first time set aside for her to speak talking about herself and how she came to be an ELCA pastor with sleeves of tattoos, multiple piercings and swears about as much as I do.  She then talked some about the Millennial Generation (people my age and younger) and why they aren't coming to worship.  None of that was really all that new for me, especially as someone born on the cusp of that generation.

However she then showed slides of things that House does throughout the year that help engage people in worship. Some of these I'm most definitely stealing.  They made an icon out of Christmas ads people received in the mail.  A series of pictures from the earthquake in Haiti were used for the Stations of the Cross.  A bake sale on Reformation Day called the "Sale of Indulgences."  An Alleluia banner created every year on Transfiguration Sunday is physically buried in the ground for Lent and comes up at Easter moldy and bug eaten.  On Maundy Thrusday everyone is encouraged to bring 30 pieces of silver which are dropped into a bowl at the end of worship and donated to an organization that represents people who have been betrayed.  On All Saints Day people bring in pictures of people in their lives who are dead and use those pictures for icons for the day.  Operation Turkey Sandwish were turkey sandwiches, stuffing muffin and pumpkin bars are given to people who have to work on Thanksgiving with a note that says something like "It sucks that you have to work on Thanksgiving, but we give thanks for all you do and wish you a great Thanksgiving."

And probably my favorite of all: a stewardship t-shirt that on the front says "This shit ain't free" and on the back: "So you better tithe, Bitches!"

These are just the ideas I remember.  I love the creativeness in worship, that it doesn't have to be a straight follow the rubric.  That people can use art and media in worship to help deepen the experience.  That the bible stories are brought to life by putting them in modern terms and doing service in God's name.

Overall I had a great time at the Cape, and as always I love hanging out with my fellow pastors and rostered leaders in New England Synod and I know my sermon for tomorrow is highly influenced by this if only I get a chance to preach it because even though it is only October in Connecticut, we are breaking all sorts of records with about 4 inches of snow already fallen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MMC: Preparing for the Reformation

Good Morning all

We are starting into a fairly active stretch of worship as the Season After Pentecost winds down, so hold onto your hats

A Few Announcements - broken down by Sunday
Sunday October 30 - Reformation Day
  • First join a group of people from the church on Saturday at 1pm for a trip to Barton Orchards in Poughquag NY.  Cost for an all inclusive ticket is $15 ages 6 and up, $10 for children between ages 3-5.  Rain date: Sunday October 30.  Let me know via email if you are planning on attending
  • At 9am come to Grow 2 Gather as we hear about Jacob and Jospeh.  We will be looking at the Christian Family tree and making Joseph's coat.
  • At 10, join a Reformation worship and wear red as well remember that we are still part of the reforming church
Sunday November 6 - All Saint Day
  • At 9am Grow 2 Gather will meet and hear about Moses and the Plagues, we will be doing some bible study and experiments about how the plagues really happened.  
  • During worship, we will be lighting candles as we remember our loved ones who have died.  
  • We also will be praying for all the new saints in the world, especially those born or baptized within the past year.  Please sign the sheet in the community room or email me with the names of people who have been recently born, baptized or decease.  
Sunday November 13 - Ingathering Sunday
  • Every year we decorate the altar in produce and bring non-perishable food items to be donated to Redding Social Services.  Last year my car was mostly full, but not all the way to the top.  This year my goal is that I'll have to make two trips or borrow a bigger car.  Help fill my car with food for Redding Social Services so that everyone in our community can eat this Thanksgiving and throughout the winter.
Sunday November 20 - Kids Care Sunday
  • At 9am Grow 2 Gather will hear about the Isrealites wandering in the wilderness and eating manna and quail.  We will then package meals for Kids Care - an international organization that packages meals for the hungry throughout the world including in our own community. Meals cost only $0.25 a serving and we will be collecting money between now and then for the meals.  Can we collect enough to make 1000 meals? 
  • At 10am our guest preacher will be Pastor Matthew Martin from Kids Care.  
Book of Faith PuzzlerThe last weeks question was: What was sacrificed by Abraham when he was sent to the mountain to sacrifice his son?  A) Isaac B) a bird, C) a ram D)a bull  In Genesis 22, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  However in verses 9-14, just as Abraham is about to take his knife to Isaac, God sends a ram to use for the sacrifice instead. But as what often happens when I'm not around, no one submitted their answer 
This week’s question:  We are already at the 19th Sunday after Pentecost.  How many “Sundays after Pentecost” are there this year: A) 20  B) 21 C) 22 D) 23 E) 24 If you know the answer, email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Yesterday's Sermon
I had a lot of fun preaching yesterday, but I always feel that way whenever I ask you all questions and you are a little cheeky. If you missed it you can read the printed version here. What does love mean to you?  And how do you love yourself?  Others?  How does God's unfailing love comfort you even when we are not able to love ourselves or others?  

Serving in Worship this week
The following people have signed up to serving in worship this Sunday
Worship Assistant: _________
Reader: Bob MC
Communion Assistant: _________
Usher: ________ & _______
Bread Baker/Bringer: __________
Communion Set up/Clean up: _________
Offering Counter: _________
Coffee Hour Host: R. Family
If you would like to sign up to serve in one of the ways that are currently available, please let me know.

Sunday's Text
The first reading for this Reformation Day is Jeremiah 31:31-34 when the prophet tell Israel that God will write the law on their hearts and they will know God. How is the law written on your heart?  How do you know God?

The second reading is Romans 3:19-28.  This passage is the basis for Paul's theology and also Lutheran theology, that we are saved by grace through faith and not works.  When Martin Luther first realized this, it was life transforming for him as he felt free from the burden of the law and able to spread God's love and grace to all the world.  How is God's grace freeing to you?  How do you feel justified (saved) by grace and not works?

The gospel is John 8:31-36.  Jesus tells his listeners that the truth will set them free yet they claimed that as Israelites they have never been slaves (apparently they have never read the Old Testament).  How are you free in Christ? How are you still bond to sin?  

I hope you all have a great week and see you Sunday!
~Pastor Becca

PS - I'll be at Bishop's Convocation on Cape Cod this weekend (I will suffer for your benefit).  I'll have my cell phone on me in case of emergency.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is Love?

Today was one of my shortest sermons and one of my longest.  The people of Bethlehem were in a very chatty mood today which when I open my sermons up for people to contribute to, can always pose a danger for amusing comments.  But those are also the moments that I LOVE which is why I know I am so blessed to be called here as the pastor of Bethlehem.  

The gospel today was Matthew 22:34-36, a two part gospel when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is and when Jesus asks the Pharisees about the Messiah.  Well in good preaching fashion, I ignored the last part because well I don't quite understand it.  But also because the first half in which Jesus boils all the laws down to two commandments is so rich.  

So enjoy my short sermon written wise, and I have included some of the congregations responses to my questions in italics. 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What does it mean to love?  We love many things. I love pizza.  I love Parks and Recreation.  I love the color yellow.  I love your earrings.  We LOVE everything – food, movies and tv shows, colors, clothing, places, and even people.  We love so many things that we often forget what it means to love.  So what does it mean to love? What does love mean to you?

Now most psychologist will tell you that you have to love yourself before you are able to love others, so how do you love yourself? 

Taking care of yourself through getting enough sleep and eating well
Quit Smoking
Taking time for self
Forgive yourself
Be yourself
Believe in yourself
Enjoy time with company and alone time
Find joy

And how then do you love others? 
Care for them
Spend time with (or not)
Show gratitude
Believe in them
Be generous towards them with time, talents and gifts
Support them emotionally
Teach them
Kisses & hugs
Feel for them
Feed them
Let them hold the remote (told you we were chatty today)

We are called to love God, others and ourselves.  But yet we often don’t. 

We often don’t love ourselves.  We put ourselves down.  We don’t take time for ourselves, we overwork ourselves, never taking time to rest, relax and enjoy our lives.  We constantly compare ourselves to others and feel like we don’t measure up, that others have outdone us.

And we don’t always love others.  We yell at strangers who cut us off while driving.  We get annoyed with the people at the grocery store.  We gossip about our co-workers or fellow community members.  We spew hatred about the unnamed person who disagrees with us politically online.  We put ourselves first, thinking we are more important and our needs are more worthy than everyone else in the world.

And we don’t always love God.  We fail to worship God.  We forget to be thankful for all that have been given to us.  We often are unable to see God right in front of us.  We destroy God’s creation.  And we do not love God’s children, both others and ourselves.

But even when we fall short.  Even when we fail to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind and even when we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves, God still loves us.  God still loves us with an unconditional love that is constantly out-flowing.  It is a love that compelled God to send Jesus to die for us.  It is a love that does not fail, even when we fail.  It is a love that does all these things that we strive to do, even when we do not.  It is a love that loves us even when we do not do all these things that we strive to do.  For God loves us with all of God’s heart and all of God’s soul and all of God’s mind and God loves our neighbors as much as God loves us. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

MMC: I'm back!

Good Morning!

I'm back from my long trip to Minnesota for the preaching conference and my short trip to New York with some friends and I can't believe we are half way through October already!  I hope fall is treating you all well and you aren't ready to curse the leaves that have fallen into your yard yet.

A Few Announcements
  • Confirmation is meeting on Tuesday night at 6pm. 
  • Senior Lunch is Wednesday at Noon.  We will be meeting at the Olde BlueBird Inn, 363 Black Rock Tpke, Easton
  • Worship committee is meeting after worship  on Sunday Oct 23rd.  All are invited to discuss plans for Advent, Christmas and beyond
  • Come say Bon Voyage to Bob Middeke-Conlin at the parsonage this Friday, October 21 starting at 7pm.  
  • Corn Mazes & more is our next family fun outing on Saturday Oct 29 at 1pm (raindate Oct 30).  Tickets are $15 or less, sign up in the community room or let me know if you are planning on going. 
  • All Saints Day is coming.  Please let me know by email or by filling out the sheet in the community room, those in your lives who have died, been born or baptized within the last year. 
Book of Faith Puzzler
The last weeks question was: What happened at a wedding banquet that Jesus attended? A) a fight broke out B) Jesus walked on water C) Jesus was arrested D) Jesus turned water into wine
In John 2, Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding banquet when the party runs out of wine.  This was Jesus’ first miracle.  But no one submitted an answer last week which means more bread or candy for me.  
This week’s question:  What was sacrificed by Abraham when he was sent to the mountain to sacrifice his son?  A) Isaac B) a bird, C) a ram D)a bull  If you know the answer, let me know by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

Serving this Week
The following people have signed up to serve in worship this coming Sunday
Worship Assistant: _________
Reader: Barbara C
Communion Assistant: __________
Ushers: _________ & _________
Communion Set up & Clean up: __________
Bread baker/bringer: ___________
Coffee Hour Host: Bob & Becca MC

Text this Week
Our first lesson on Sunday is Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, which tells us not to unjustly judge, slander or hate others because we should be holy as God is holy.  How have you unjustly judged, slandered or hated others?  How does being a child of God effect you when you realize you are doing such things?  How has if felt when others have treated you in such a way, especially fellow Christians?

Our second lesson is 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.  Paul uses the imagery of a mother nurse caring for her children to describe how he came to care for the people he writes to.  Paul argues that he was entrusted by God to care for them by sharing the gospel of Jesus.  When has someone cared for you so that you may benefit and not them?  When have you cared for others in a like way?  

The gospel for Sunday is Matthew 22:34-46.  Jesus is tested by a lawyer asking "what is the greatest commandment?"  After Jesus answer that there are two, to love God and to love your neighbors, Jesus then asks the lawyer and his colleagues what they think of the Messiah.  How do you think the two questions connect?  How have you both broken and kept the two greatest commandments?  And what do you think of the Messiah?

Hope you all have a great week and hopefully we will see many of you on Friday night
~Pastor Becca

Monday, October 10, 2011

MMC: Columbus Day

Good morning and happy Columbus Day!

For those of you who have today off, I hope you are enjoying the long weekend, for those working, I hope you enjoyed your normal length weekend. 

I am still in Minnesota as yesterday I was able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my parents congregation, the place I was confirmed at.  If you do have a pastoral emergency you can call my cell phone or you can call Pastor Geoff at St. Michael’s Church, New Canaan

A Few Quick Announcements
  • Council Sunday Sun Oct 16, after worship
  • Grow 2 Gather Sun Oct 16 & 30, 9am
  • Senior Lunch Wed Oct 19, noon at the Bluebird Inn in Easton
  • Worship Committee Sun Oct 23, after worship
  • Everyone is invited to the parsonage on Friday October 21st at 7pm for a bon voyage for Bob MC before he heads to Paris for his PhD program
  • Everyone is invited to Mark H & Heloisa R's wedding on Friday November 11th at 11am.  Please let them know if you are planning on attending by signing up at the church or emailing Mark
  • Mark your calendar for our family fun day outing to Barton Orchards for a corn maze and haunted house on October 29 at 1pm.  Tickets are $15 for everything, rain date is Sunday Oct 30. 
Book of Faith Puzzler
Last week's puzzler was: Who planted the first vineyard?  A) Adam B) Noah C) Abraham D) King David
In Genesis 9, Noah plants the first vineyard after he disembarked from the ark.  Congratulations to Ryan H for winning this week's puzzler.
This week’s question:  What happened at a wedding banquet that Jesus attended? A) a fight broke out B) Jesus walked on water C) Jesus was arrested D) Jesus turned water into wine  Email me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's puzzler. 

Serving this week
As of last week the following people have signed up to serve in worship for this coming Sunday
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader: Cheryl M
Communion Assistant: Jenna H
Usher: ______ & ______
Communion set up & clean up: _________
Bread baker/bringer:_______
Counter: Lillian J
Coffee Hour host: Heloisa R & Mark H
If you would like to sign up (or already have) for one of positions not currently covered, please let me know

This Sunday's Text
The first lesson is Isaiah 45:1-7, Two themes that run through this text is that God calls us by name and there is no other gods.  How does God call you by name?  How does God know who you truly are and allows you to be who you truly are?  Is there anything that you worship before God?  Does that allow you to truly be yourself?

The second lesson is 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.  Paul is writing to new Christians who live in a community where their faith is in the minority, yet Paul tells them they have been chosen by God to share the good news of Jesus with their community.  And this is evident by how the Holy Spirit is working through them.   As worshiping Christians in Connecticut, in many ways we can be considered the minority.  How do you feel chosen by God to share the good news of Jesus to our community?  How is the Holy Spirit working through you to share God's love with others?

The gospel is Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus being asked about taxes and his famous line "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's."  What things do you have belong to God?  What things do you have belong to the government?  How do we confuse these things?  What do you think Jesus meant by this saying?  

Hope you all have a great week!
~Pastor Becca

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Progression Implicatory Dialog

I've been spending this week in Minnesota at the Celebration of Biblical Preaching hosted by Luther Seminary.  The Celebration is now over, but I'm still around for a lectionary overview of the Gospel of Mark for this coming church year calendar.  Personally I have found continuing education conference much more rewarding in the long term if I can spend time shortly afterwards processing what was discussed.  So you all get to read my processing.

But A LOT has been covered in the 3 days I have spent at Luther thus far, so this will hopefully be done over a few of these blog posts in the next next few days.  And I also won't cover everything, probably just my favorite one or two sessions from each day.

So I thought I would start with Doug Pagitt's session from Monday afternoon.  Doug is the founding pastor of an emergent congregation in Minneapolis and has written many books including a series all entitled "_____ in the Inventive Age"   He was also our preaching on Tuesday's morning's worship.

The main premise I took from Doug's presentation was that we are in a new cultural age and need to adapt our preaching to better work with the markers of this current age.  He started his presentation by giving us a new term, Progressional Implicatory Dialog, and that should be our aim in preaching.  That our preaching needs to be progressional - relevant to today's society, it needs to be implicatory - applicable to the hearers daily life, and it needs to be a dialog - not just top down but something all participate in creating.

This new way of preaching has developed because we are in a 4th cultural age in our country.  1st was the agricultural age - where the church was the center of the town and the pastor wore the symbol of the shepherd - the stole.  2nd was the industrial age where the pastor represented the brand, (either the specific church or the denomination) and the goal was to produce the same thing over and over again in the form of worship and "godly families".  The 3rd age is the information age where knowledge is the center of focus and the pastor was the one who knew the important stuff and it was their job to tell all the people who came to listen.  Doug used the architecture of churches to demonstrate the shift in congregations during each of these ages, from country churches, to churches built to look like factories, to the huge education wing addition.
Agricultural age church
Industrial age church
Education Wing
I think this can also be seen through the names of congregations.  Most congregations founded in the agricultural age have biblical names - either names of cities or people from the bible: Bethlehem, St. John's.  Industrial age churches are often named after biblical imagery or theological terms: Good Shepherd, Atonement, Emmanuel.  Though a little counter-intuitively the church of the information age dropped these theological terms for the congregation names that have more lofty names: Peace, Faith, Lord of Life. 

We are now in the beginning of the inventive age.  An age where we value thinking, values, aesthetics and tools.  It is no longer what you know but how you know it and creativity is rewarded.  Many of these churches are in non-traditional worship spaces, meeting in coffee shops, bars, or in converted churches with couches and ping pong tables instead of traditional pews.  These church names tend to be double entendres or very relaxed sounding names- Sanctuary, Solomon's Porch, House of Mercy.

The inventive age can be categorized by valuing -

  • relational authority - relationships have authority not degrees
  • participation - we are all invited to be part of the creative process
  • dialog - everything is a discussion 
  • abundance - there is enough in the world, distribution is the problem 
  • open source belief - people's beliefs shift over time
  • beauty matters - aesthetic are just as valuable as function
  • integration is essential - how does everything fit together from one area of life to another
  • ownership - people are competent and want to be an owner in the system
Thus by keeping the Inventive age in mind and these things that are valued, especially the ownership, participation and relational authority, by changing our sermons to have more areas of participation so that it is a communal event that connects the rest of life better to scripture, we will be able to preach better to our society.

There was a lot of backlash to Doug's presentation and his interactive bible study type sermon, especially from the older generation.  I heard many people say "if I did that in my congregation....", "my congregation would freak if I did that" or "I could never do that." and it was quite frustrating for me to hear that.  I was talking to one other attendee and we decided that these comments come from two sources fear and underestimation.  

Many pastors have underestimated what there parishioners can actually do.  In fact they probably think their members are flat out stupid and therefore aren't able to interpret the bible for themselves and we, as those with the degrees, must do that for them (this is very un-inventive age thinking).  

Or pastors are afraid.  They are afraid that if they start letting their congregation members interpret scripture, they as pastors won't be needed any more.  Or they are afraid because preaching in a dialog/participatory way takes them out of their comfort zone.  It has nothing to do with the congregation's reaction but their own.  

Yes it is scary to start preaching in a participatory style.  I've been doing it for awhile, though not every sermon, though I do ask "where have you seen God?" at the beginning of each worship service.  There are times you can hear crickets or I have to reask the question and coax an answer out of people.  But after a few times, my congregation has gotten the hang of it.  And I can tell they listen more and the sermon gets them thinking more when they are a part of creating the preaching experience.  

So I encourage you to start being a little more participatory in your preaching because we are in a new age and just as our church buildings and names have changed, so too should our sermons.

Monday, October 3, 2011

MMC: 1st week of October in Minnesota

Good Morning from beautiful Minnesota where the forecasted high for today is 16 degrees higher than Georgetown.  Sorry to make you jealous but I wanted to let you know that it doesn't always snow in Minnesota.

A Few Announcements
  • I am in Minnesota this week for a continuing education conference at Luther Seminary.  I will have my cell phone on me and access to email throughout the week but in case of pastoral emergency please contact Pastor Rip H at. Rip is an ELCA pastor and member of Bethlehem who is currently serving as the interim rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Weston. 
  • Mark your calendars:
    Council Sunday Sun Oct 16, after worship
    Grow 2 Gather Sun Oct 16 & 30, 9am
    Senior Lunch Wed Oct 19, noon at the Bluebird Inn in Easton

Book of Faith Puzzler
The last weeks question was: How many visitors told Abraham that Sarah would have a son within a year?
In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah have 3 visitors who tell Abraham that Sarah will have a child within a year.  Since both Sarah and Abraham were both quite old, Sarah laughed when she heard this news. Hence why they named their son Isaac which means laughter.  Congratulations to Cheryl M for winning this week's puzzler. 

This week’s question:  Who planted the first vineyard?  A) Adam B)Noah C)Abraham D)King David  Think you know the answer? Willing to Google it?  Email me the answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

 Yesterday's Sermon
 If you missed if you can read it here.  How have you experienced God's crazy love?  How have you experienced pain when others reject God's crazy love for us?  

Serving this Sunday
The following people have signed up to serve in worship this coming Sunday
Worship Assistant: Mark H (Well I believe it is Mark, Ellen and Mark keep switching the schedule around on me)
Reader: Paul D
Communion Assistant: Cheryl M
Ushers: _____ & ______
Bread baker/Bringer: ______
Communion set-up: ________
Counter: Lillian J
Coffee Hour Host: Lillian J
If you would like to serve in one of the ways that is currently open, please let me know.

This Sunday's text
The first reading is Isaiah 25:1-9, a hymn of praise which is often read at funerals as it celebrates God being able to "swallow up death forever."  When has God wiped the tears from your face?  How have you experienced God's victory of salvation.  

The second reading is Philippians 4:1-9 which includes the famous verse "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" (which is what my red stole's design is based upon).  Paul wrote this when he was imprisoned for his faith and yet he was able to still celebrate his faith.   What do you rejoice about?  How do you rejoice in the Lord?  

The gospel reading is Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding banquet.  This parable is a frustrating for many preachers because one of the people invited last minute is thrown out for now being dressed appropriately and those who were first invited were deemed unworthy because they rejected the invitation.   How are we unworthy when we reject Jesus?  How have people received the invitation but still feel or act as if they are unworthy? How are we called to extend the invitation to others?

Hope you all have a great week!  Meanwhile just saw the forecast for Minneapolis this week - high 70's all week.  (okay I'll stop making you envious now)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Crazy Love from a Crazy God

Today is World Communion Sunday.  It is a Sunday on the church calendar to remind us that we are part of a whole community of believes of all time and places who worship and commune with God together.  As part of Bethlehem's celebration, all of our music today was written by Hispanic composers.  

The gospel for today was Matthew 21:33-46, the parable of the wicked tenants which follows last weeks reading of Jesus' authority being questioned.  I know various parts of the sermon struck a cord with a few members of the congregation as they realized just how crazy the landowner was or how they have been affected by people they know who reject God. 


These tenants really do not know how the world works.  They seize, beat, kill and stone the first set of slaves and they think they can get away with it!  And then they do the same to the second set, seizing, beating, killing and stoning them as well.  And then they get it in their heads that if they kill the son of the landowner that they will somehow be able to claim the vineyard, the son’s inheritance, as their own.  They don’t realize that the punishment for murder is death, that eventually the police and armies will come after you and murder you as well, they aren’t going to let you live out your days in peace in the vineyard because they all fear you. 

And this landowner is really just as crazy.  After people have seized, beaten, killed and stone one group of powerless slaves, you do not send to them another equally as powerless group.  And then you certainly don’t send them your son and expect the outcome to be any different.  No real landowner would do such a thing.  After the first set of slaves were killed, a normal landowner would send an army to kill off these tenants or at least send them away and then lease out the property to other, more trustworthy tenants.  But then again this is not an ordinary landowner, for this is not a real story, this is one of Jesus’ parables. 

And in many parables, we often try to explain them allegorically – that every person or thing in the parable represents something else in real life.  Now that doesn’t always help with the explanation but often it at least helps us at first glance.  So thinking that allegorically, who would you say is the landowner?  The slaves? The son? The tenants?  And what is the vineyard? 

So if God is the landowner, the slaves were the prophets, Jesus is the son, and the Israelites are the tenants and this all takes place in heaven, the kingdom of God, that would mean that God is so crazy, so desperate to have a relationship with God’s people, that God has sent prophet after prophet to tell them about God.  And yet prophet after prophet was rejected, and often killed for their teachings.  And so God, realizing that God’s people will not listen to prophets, decides to up the ante, and sends Jesus, the son of God.  And yet Jesus is also rejected and killed. 

Well no wonder why the chief priest and elders were getting a little hot under the collar at Jesus when they realized that he was talking about them.  They are God’s chosen people, they are to inherit the kingdom of heaven.  However this is when thinking of this parable as an allegory breaks down. 

Because people have thought this way for centuries, Christians have used this text as an excuse to kill the Jewish people, because they think God has now rejected them and chosen Christians, followers of Jesus to inherit the kingdom instead.  And on this World Communion Sunday we are also reminded that this way of thinking has not just caused arguments about who will inherit the kingdom of heaven between Christians and Jews, but different sects of Christianity and different races and different cultures, and often those arguments have ended in war, in death.

 But this parable is not just a straight allegory tale.  Through using Jesus’ words, Matthew, our gospel writer today, is trying convince all people, Jew and gentile to turn to Jesus. Matthew is deeply pained that his own people, the Jews, are rejecting Jesus.  So he tries grace: “the stone that the builders rejects has become the cornerstone.” And when that doesn’t work, Matthew tries threats: “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produce the fruits of the kingdom”. 

And isn’t the same for us.  Many of you have spoken to me about the pain that you have when your family, siblings, children, grandchildren, reject the church and do not come to worship or are sometimes not baptized.  And some of you have tried to convince your family to go to worship with grace or with threats of eternal suffering, or with begging or even with the “will you just do it for me” argument, hoping that if you can just get them in the building the pastor’s words, or music, or scripture will seep into their minds in some way. 

Last week when I asked what questions you have for Jesus, someone asked something along the lines of why Jesus doesn’t just do something so great that no body could possibly doubt.  We are all in pain when other’s doubt.  We are pained for them that they are not able to have faith.  We are in pain for the body of Christ, the whole church, because the church is not yet whole when there are people missing.  And we are in pain for ourselves, because when others doubt, it make us doubt our faith as well. 

And yet God has done something amazing, God has done something great in order to keep us from doubting.  God sent prophets to help teach us, and when that didn’t work, God sent Jesus, the only son of God to die on a cross for us so that we might inherit the kingdom, the vineyard.  Because quite frankly the world doesn’t work that way, but God is just so crazy, so in love with us as a people, that God gave up his only son Jesus to die for us so that we can enter into the kingdom of God, the vineyard.  And it is because that gift is so great that Matthew, our gospel writer, and fellow Christians, and ourselves experience such pain when people do not see the crazy love God has sent to us over and over and over again.