Viewing entries tagged

tomorrow's sermon--Acts 20:32-35

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity. Amen.
* * *
Welcome to week two of stewardship at Good Shepherd.
There are a ton of illustrations for sermons available online
for stewardship season
—object lessons that show you simply and clearly
why tithing is important and doable,
illustrations which would bring every one of you to your knees
with the blinding truth of God’s love,
illustrations which would have you opening your wallets and
handing over everything for the work of the Kingdom! A-men?
Or, at least, that’s what they’d have you think.
There are jokes about ministers and horses and desert islands,
there are prop-related illustrations
that involve things like a mason jar with a few Ping-Pong balls
and some sand which, when I saw it done,
was cheesy but effective.
There are thousands of these things available,
because we in the church have realized
how difficult it is to talk about money in an engaging way.
We’re all a bit jealous of our time and our money.
I know I have a hard time thinking Leighton and I will be able
to cover our bills and things
if we give more money to the church.
And, if you don’t have the experience of Good Shepherd
as a joy-filled place that feeds your soul
for ministry in the world,
no sermon illustration ever will make you open your wallet.
Before Leighton and I had our delightful daughter Abby,
before we were even considering having kids, we had a pretty good life.
We worked and we made art and we gardened
and we went out with friends.
We watched movies and TV, we talked politics,
and there never seemed to be enough time
for everything we wanted to do.
As we considered having a child,
we became fearful of how much time we would lose.
Children, wonderful creatures that they are,
take a lot of time to care for and play with.
Where would that time come from?
How would we continue doing all the things we had come to love
and still take care of this child?
Those of you who are parents know well how much your focus shifts
when you hold that baby in your arms
—often, we can’t even remember what we did
to fill the hours we now spend with Abby.
Some of the stuff you did before stays around,
but much of it gets put in your spiritual attic
and, while you miss it, you don’t miss it much,
because you have this amazing, overwhelmingly beautiful,
intriguing, endlessly changing
new relationship in your life.
The sacrifice of something you love
brings to town an even deeper love.
Do you get it?
This is so much bigger than the annual stewardship campaign.
This is the heart of the Gospel that Peter speaks of in today’s Acts reading,
that Jesus spent his life getting folks to see
—that this faith we profess is about a joyful relationship
which is so much better than we can imagine
when standing outside of it.
Clinging to our stuff or our time leads only
to a narrower, more pinched life,
but holding it all loosely,
offering our stuff, our time, our selves to one another in the church
expands our lives, allows us room to breathe in,
allows space for the Spirit to transform us.
Last week we talked about how we see the world
through a lens of scarcity
while God sees the world through a lens of abundance.
We talked about how this faith we profess is about celebration,
about how church should be and is a party.
Let me give you some examples:
Way back in the day,
when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem,
the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Law of God
given to Moses
and which was so wonderfully holy that it might indeed
have melted Nazi faces (Raiders of the Lost Ark, right?),
the Ark of the Covenant which was to be placed
in the brand-new Temple as a footstool for God,
when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem,
all the Jews partied and David, greatest King of Israel,
stripped down to just his shorts, and danced.
He danced so passionately, with such devotion and love,
that his wife was embarrassed. He was that happy.
And even farther back in the day,
when the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea
after fleeing slavery in Egypt,
when the Israelites had made it safely
between two enormous, terrifying walls of water,
when the Israelites truly saw the mighty, freeing power
of their God,
one of their leaders, Moses’ sister Miriam,
sang her relief and joy to have survived the crossing,
she and the women took tambourines and lyres
and danced around the camp in exultation.
Brother Paul wrote his gratitude and pleasure in God
even while still in prison.
In Hebrews 12, he all but shouts,
“Do you see what we've got? An unshakable kingdom!
And do you see how thankful we must be?
Not only thankful, but brimming with worship,
deeply reverent before God.”
And Jesus exclaimed over God’s generosity,
shouting his joy that the meek and persecuted
and peacemakers would receive abundant life!
All because they saw the depth and power and good news
of God our Maker.
And so we at Good Shepherd are asking something small of you
we are asking for a 1% increase in your current pledge out of joy
My husband Leighton and I have increased our pledge
We’re now giving a huge 6%!
That’s not very big, is it?
On the other hand, it’s only been recently
that we’ve made a regular pledge at all
a few years ago
I did a little math and was embarrassed to discover
Our pledge was less than 1% of our income
And I thought we were so close to a tithe, 10%
So I figured out 2% and sent in the card
this year, 5%, next year, 6%, and after, maybe as high as 7%
I mean this in all seriousness
Increasing a pledge to the church can seem huge,
Even by a single, small percentage point
like that time before you have a kid
and you can’t imagine how you’ll manage
But ask yourself
Why does Good Shepherd matter?
Why does this community, here and now, matter to you and to the world?
What life of celebration have you discovered here?
What makes you want to dance with joy?
Have you made friends and connections here
you couldn’t somewhere else?
Have you reached out to someone who needed it?
Have you had someone from the Stephen Ministry
or the food-making ministry show up at your door?
Or received a card in the mail?
Have you talked with someone very different than yourself?
Has this community made an impact on your life?
Why does Good Shepherd matter to you?
Last week, we heard the prophet Ecclesiastes say that
we “will scarcely brood over the days of [our] lives
because God keeps [us] occupied with the joy of [our] hearts.”
And this week, Luke writes in the book of Acts that
the Gospel is “a message that is able to build you up.”
The heart of our community is celebration.
The center of our practice is thanksgiving.
The focus of our lives is love.
later, we’re going to sing a song called “When Love Comes to Town”
—it’s about deep joy in the midst of a broken life,
it’s about God being present in the craziest places
and about love winning out every time.
When love comes to town—when God comes to town—
he won’t be looking for your excuses,
he won’t be wondering how often you’ve been praised
for helping out your fellows
or how well you’ve avoided them,
he won’t be wondering if your theology’s kosher
—mm-umm, no, sir, when love comes to town,
when God comes to town,
he’ll be looking for how we’ve used the gifts we’ve been given,
he’ll be looking for how generously we’ve treated the abused
and the abusers,
he’ll be looking for how we’ve lived out this image of God
we were created in
—mm-hum, yes, sir
love comes to town every day,
God comes to town in every moment
—so you better dance like David and sing like Miriam,
you better write like Paul and shout like Jesus.
And give yourself away like it’s going out of style!

last Sunday's sermon--Colossians 3:1-10

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity. Amen.
* * *
My husband likes to say he succumbs to the sin of uxoriousness.
That’s the sin of loving your wife more than God.
To which I reply, “thanks?”
Uxoriousness—use it in a sentence today…
This is of course a form of idolatry,
a way to put something else in the place of God,
to make something or someone, in effect, your God.
Lots of things can be idols—golden calves, trophies, a career, money,
…and insert a deeply-felt groan here
because you’ve just realized it’s that time of year again…
It’s time for speeches about how we need your money,
heart-felt speeches saying essentially,
“give it up you tightwads, this stuff ain’t free,
oh and here’s some scripture to make you feel guilty”
that’s right, it’s stewardship season!
So, while we’re being honest about how we feel
about stewardship sermons
let’s be honest about why we don’t give more
—it’s because we come from an attitude of scarcity.
We think we ought to trust God for everything, right?
God’s the Creator and everything,
but what kind of return does God give on a $1000 investment?
What’s the deductible on God’s insurance plan?
No, God’s all right and all, but we need to trust something else,
something tangible or measurable. Something real…
We trust other things, put other things in the place of God
because we don’t think God will be enough
we don’t think there will be enough…whatever…to go around.
Now, I’m not saying we should all stop planning for the future,
but those plans are not God.
That future is usually anything but
what we expect it to be.
It is uncertain and it fills us with fear.
So we plan and worry and save and hoard
and become greedy for what we already have
—God’s promise that it will all be okay
in the end, right? And if it’s not okay…
[it’s not the end]
Here’s an example—
there are two documents in your house,
or on whatever tech device you use,
that will tell me exactly what you care about and what you fear.
They are your credit card statement and your calendar.
One will tell me what you spend your money on
—and what you don’t spend your money on—
and the other what you spend your time on.
These two paint a picture of who you are in the real world,
where your treasure and your heart are.
You might say they’re moral documents
You might say that they show us the idols we worship.
But what does that mean, “the idols we worship”?
What does it mean to worship anything?
Worship is intense devotion of time and energy.
Worship is giving worth—ultimate worth—to something.
Worship shows what comes before anything else in our lives.
Worship involves joy, maybe a tinge of fear, and a sense of awe.
It’s not unlike the devotion we show to sports teams in this town.
Now, I’m not going to lie, my team of choice is amazing
—they go out there and hustle,
they work hard, and they bring home the victory,
so there’s a reason the Cincinnati Rollergirls
are my favorite and that I’ve got tickets
to the next three bouts
—but I don’t worship them.
I used to have very disconcerting conversations
with parents of teenagers
about how their kids couldn’t come to confirmation class
—confirmation class!
Their conscious, adult choice to follow Jesus
Where they’re confirming they’ll try to love God
with all their hearts and souls
and minds and strengths
a class which lasted only 8 weeks—
they couldn’t come because the Bengals were playing
If that isn’t an obvious choice between God and an idol,
I don’t know what is.
No one wants to be called out on idolatry—
it’s uncomfortable, we fight such negative words,
and, really, it’s not us who are the problem
In the Colossians reading today, Paul equates idolatry with being greedy,
and no one wants to be called greedy either…
so we define it away from ourselves.
Greed is something people much richer than we are
have to struggle with.
Greed is extreme, greed is ugly, greed is unnecessary.
We could never be like that.
And this is precisely why folks don’t care for stewardship season—
readings like Colossians
which basically call us out on our inherent self-interest
when the church is also trying to butter us up
to give more money.
Essentially, “You’re a big sinner and you should be ashamed
—but pay up and it’ll be okay.”
Don’t get me wrong, we do some amazing things with the money
—but don’t give because we need it,
give because you need to give your stuff and yourself away,
give because giving removes the temptation
to trust in something not God
give away because you need to know just how filled
your life really is.
Here’s the deal:
whether it’s a little or a lot, acquiring and holding on to wealth
is the lens we see the world through.
Giving away wealth in any amount
is the lens God sees the world through.
We come at things from an attitude of scarcity,
God comes from a posture of abundance.
Let me tell you a story:
several years ago, the Episcopal Diocesan Convention
—Synod Assembly to y’all—was in Columbus.
We’d spent a good portion of the convention talking about money
and what we should do with what we had
—some thought we had too much,
some thought not enough—
typical conversations at convention.
Our closing Eucharist took place in the chapel at my seminary
and the place was packed.
When it came time for the ushers to bring
the offerings of bread, wine, and money forward to the altar,
it was like a comedy of errors.
Two ushers had the three plates of bread
which looked like cartoonish stacks of pancakes
—easily a foot tall each.
There were two enormous cruets of wine.
And the money was the most ridiculous.
I don’t know if someone forgot to get the larger baskets
or if people were particularly generous,
but as the ushers came forwards, the baskets were so full,
dollar bills fell out onto the floor.
They’d stop to pick them up and more would fall out.
They got to the altar and somehow crammed everything
onto the surface
and I could see our bishop just grinning
and saying “marvelous, marvelous.”
And it was.
There was such abundance there that day,
we all could see God’s kingdom right there in front of us—
there’s enough—no, more than enough—to go around.
How wonderful, how marvelous,
how ridiculously generous of God to give us such gifts.
We are far richer than we allow ourselves to believe,
in money, yes, and in talent and in time and in love
—wouldn’t we want to share that?
Wouldn’t we want to offer it to everyone we meet?
Wouldn’t it be a relief to let go of the fear and the scarcity
and the worry and the idolatry and the greed?
Wouldn’t we want to allow the resurrection
—Jesus’ ridiculously generous offer of life—to mean something? Wouldn’t we want to participate in the building of the Kingdom
of justice and mercy and abundance here and now?
Brothers and sisters, this life we’re offered in Jesus
is a celebration of abundance
This worship service every single week is a celebration of abundance
—so let’s party!

gospel pie

Last year, the movie Waitress came out to positive critical review but almost no one saw it. Which is too bad because it's excellent. Jenna Hunterson is a waitress in a small town, married to an absolute lout. She rarely smiles. Her life is not what she wanted it to be. But she makes the most glorious pies—Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Bad Baby Pie, Lonely Chicago Pie, and Naughty Pumpkin Pie, just to name a few. People who eat her pies can't help but love them. She pours her heart and life into the crusts with the fillings. Jenna gets pregnant, meets a wonderful stranger, meets a crochety old man, and the rest I'll let you discover when you rent it. It's the pies I want to talk about.

You might say I'm nesting right now. With a little more than a month to go in my pregnancy, I'm cleaning and cooking like crazy. I've made pot roasts and meat loafs and quiches—things we rarely have at home. And I've made pies. My plan is to bake my way through the Pie and Pastry Bible, stopping only when I run out of butter or time. Today's pie is traditional Granny Smith Apple, though I may add some cranberries.

Pies are a conundrum. They're hugely tasty and comforting to the eater—the flaky, tender crust; the rich filling, sometimes fruit, sometimes savory; the warmth that comes from a fresh-baked pie that fills more than your belly. Yet pies are a challenge. I once preached about Lemon Meringue Pie a while back—the meringue is a monumental challenge if you make it by hand. But meringue is only an accessory, if you will, a garnish. If you want to make a truly marvelous pie, you've got to start with the crust. Four ingredients, usually—flour, salt, butter, and water—in the right proportion, at the right temperatures, combined in the right order. And it's not something you can rush—no-bake or store-bought crusts just aren't satisfying. You can't take too long, either. If you overwork the dough, you'll get a tough, unappetizing crust. It's a delicate balance. A good pie crust is flavorful, flaky, tender, and lightly browned. And it is a labor of love, sacrifice, and vulnerability.

Do you already see where I’m going with this? It's the time of year when we talk about financial contributions to the church—stewardship—and is traditionally the subject of much groaning. But think of your pledge as an ingredient in that pie crust. Making that transcendental pie requires sacrifice—of time, of money, of energy—yet it's a joyful sacrifice. Seeing the ingredients come together properly, adjusting as needed, looking forward with hope to the end product are all joyful things. That same pie requires vulnerability—at some point, we offer it to others, waiting to hear their comments. Will they like it? Will they come back for more? Will they pick up on the nuances of the crust and fillings?

We Christians put ourselves out there in the hopes that our lives may be seen as testaments to the Gospel. We give of ourselves, not because we ought to but because we want to. We share our stories with one another and with our friends and neighbors, not because we are commanded to but because we can't help but tell people the Good News we've experienced. And, brothers and sisters, nothing spreads the gospel like giving away a fresh-baked, homemade pie.