Sermon for 1/15/17 John 1:29-42

Some of the blogs and authors I follow have made it a habit of choosing one word or phrase at the beginning of each year that they want to be the focus of their life. It’s not always profound, but it usually seems to be surrounded by much thought and prayer. So, I thought about doing this for myself as 2016 came to an end and I prepared for the new year. I wondered what difference it might make for my own life, spiritual and otherwise. It’s not too late for you if this is something that interests you. I prayed about it, I prayed some more, I did my best to listen to God, and what kept coming to me over and over again was a word and a phrase. The word that kept coming to me was “resistance” and the phrase was “for such a time as this.” Every week as I sit down to plan the days ahead, I write these two things in my planner. I am still praying about what God has planned for me in regards to these words and phrases. Why do this at all?

“What are you looking for?” This is what Jesus asks us and the disciples today .What are you looking for? And it’s so much more than that. The translation is “what are you looking for” but it could also be “what are you seeking?” It could also be “what do you hope to find?” Those are three very different sentences. The disciples then say that they are wondering about where Jesus is staying. And Jesus responds “come and see.” This is where the English translation does us no good in adequately relaying the message that Jesus had for the disciples and us. Because see, the disciples weren’t asking a simple question of “where are you staying.” They aren’t looking for a hotel review. The translation is where are you abiding, dwelling, or remaining. The Greek word here is “meno” which is often translated as abide. This verb, meno, is used over 40 times in John’s Gospel. You might be able to call that a theme! The disciples aren’t interested in a specific answer. It’s not like they expected Jesus to answer “I’m staying at 4022 Old Jerusalem Road.” What the disciples were hoping for, seeking, looking for was relationship. And Jesus responds “come and see.” Jesus thus invites the disciples into relationship. He invites them to abide with him.

Scripture is a living, breathing document, brothers and sisters. What this means is that it is just as relevant for us on January 15, 2017 as it was for the disciples and those who followed Jesus in his time. Instead of thinking of the Bible as an old document, think of it as readings that are still prevalent for our time (because they are). Allow me then, to ask you what Jesus asked the disciples. “What are you looking for?” Maybe this is what we all are supposed to think about for the next year. Just like my words of “resistance” and “for such a time as this” maybe I should add “what are you looking for?” What do you need? What are you seeking? What do you long for? Then it is to us to resist the temptation to answer or to fix. Have you ever noticed how quickly we want to fix people or situations? There’s something about uncertainty that makes us uncomfortable; and so we rush to fix it. For example, if someone said “I feel like what I need is time” we might be quick to jump in and give advice. “Go on vacation!” or “start prioritizing!”

What are you looking for? What do you need? How is God calling you to abide? Do you need silence in a noisy world? Do you need comfort in a time of change? Do you need to abide with others? Are you longing to be in real genuine relationship with others and not just surface relationships? Are you looking to be fed in ways that fill your mind and soul? Maybe you are looking for the opportunity to rest. Jesus is asking you, me, all of us, “what are you looking for” and so how will you answer?

It’s interesting that we are asked this question today of all days. After worship today we will gather for our annual meeting. A lot of what we will talk about today will be money. We’ll talk about the budget, our goals, our hopes, maybe even our dreams. How might our discussion change if we kept in mind the question of “what we are looking for” in a church? What would our budget look like if we said we are looking to be a church that welcomes young families? Or what might it look like if we said we are wanting to be the church that feeds hungry people? We can’t possibly be all things to all people. It’s just not possible. So, what are we looking for? What are you looking for? I want you to take a moment to think about that.

When you’re done thinking about it, hear what Jesus has to say. “Come and see.” This in an invitation with no time limit from Jesus. Come and see, he says. Come and abide with him. There is no catch. There is nothing we have to do to earn our keep. But the thing about Jesus’ invitation is that it will change your life. “Come and see” should both reassure and scare the crap out of you. Because when you answer Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” you are responding to a relational invitation; you are responding to an invitation to be loved. Come and see is about being willing to go and have your life changed by grace. If grace isn’t what you’re looking for then maybe don’t respond. But, who wouldn’t want grace in their lives. For me, it comes back around to resisting the urge to cave to what the world tells me I need and instead rely on what I want: Christ. If you are brave enough to answer the question “what do you want? What are you looking for? What are you seeking?” then be brave and bold enough to follow when Jesus calls “come and see.”

Our life together is relational. We are nothing without one another. Our life together is relational in Christ because we are nothing without him. What makes this place different than a country club is that relationship. The relationship that we have to Christ is life giving and the relationship that we have with one another is living proof of that. My brothers and sisters, I once again ask you “what are you looking for?” and are you willing to “come and see?”

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Sermon for 5/29/16 Galatians 1:1-12

The secretary opened the door and ushered me in, “he’ll be in briefly, Ms Marple.” I stepped into an office that looked exactly like I thought it would look. It looked just like they did in the movies. After spending hours in a tiny office next to my Pastor’s office, I was finally ready to hear the results of my psychological testing. The testing was one of several steps I needed to take before entering seminary as a candidate for ministry. I looked around the office. I had no idea what my guy would be like. I had taken 4 very different tests. And now, some guy who only knew me through these tests and and an essay I had written was about to tell me about myself. He had the typical leather couch (which I was only going to sit on…I could only imagine the number of people who had laid on that thing). He had a lot of awards and accolades all framed. He also had all of his various degrees framed. I looked closer at the name of my soon to be psychologist and then looked around for the hidden cameras. Was someone playing a joke on me? Was this guy’s name really Dr Charles Darwin??

He settled into his chair, glasses on the tip of his nose, clipboard in hand. After some niceties, he said, “so, how long do you think you’ve been a people pleaser?” I was offended. Just who did this guy think he was. I am not a people pleaser. If he just got to know me a little better, I’d get him to see what a great person I am….oh no. He was right. Often as I pray about what to preach, something sticks with me during the week. Sometimes though, I try and run from God because the readings for the week are all too convicting and hit a little too close to home. That is the case with this Galatians reading.

There are some things to keep in mind with the book of Galatians. Remember that first and foremost, it is a letter. The apostle Paul is writing a letter to the people living in Galatia. The purpose of his letter is stated at the very beginning: a reminder that Jesus Christ gave himself “for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Apparently there are people who are already perverting that gospel message of freedom in Christ. Throughout the letter, Paul will remind them of this freedom in Christ. It might be easy for us to point to this letter and say “this was for a certain community at a certain time” but the frustration and anger expressed by Paul at the very beginning of this letter could easily be said to any of us.

“You know the good news of Jesus Christ,” Paul might write to us now. “You know that your sins have been forgiven. You know that you are loved beyond anything you could ever comprehend. You know that you have been freed from your sins and freed for service to one another. You know all this, right?” And we might answer emphatically “yes! Of course!” And Paul would say “then why do you believe things that do not give life? Why do you invest in things and people that will fail you? Why do you engage in racism, sexism, classism, and other ‘isms’ and call it ‘caring?’” And about right then would be when I would stop listening to Paul. What does he know anyway?

It’s not easy to live in this world. People are mean. If you don’t believe me, ask our teenagers. Bullying is no longer done just face to face. It is done online and via text. And it is cruel. So the temptation is people please is great. We have all bought into the idea of people pleasing, it doesn’t matter our age. For teens, it’s the desire to have a lot of likes on a Facebook status, or a lot of hearts on an Instagram picture. I actually read an article earlier this week that teens will pull a picture off of Instagram if it doesn’t get enough likes (the magic number seems to be around 60). For ladies of a certain age, we can easily get pulled into the “mommy wars.” These are conversations around whether or not you will have children, the number of children you should have, and then how you will raise those children. Are you going to breastfeed? Are you going to co-sleep? Are you going to use cloth diapers? Are you going to make your own organic baby food out of food you raise yourself? Are you going to homeschool? All of these questions are asked of women especially as a gauge. How do I measure up to other women and am I doing something wrong? If you’re on the receiving end of these questions, it can really make you feel inferior.

For men, the pressure seems to still be to have a model-like body with rock-hard chiseled abs while still being the breadwinner for your family yet also having time to do something like brew your own beer or chop your own wood for your sustainable home. And for some reason, if you (male, female, young, old, whatever) do you not fit into the box that society has created for you, life can be a living hell. Ask the thousands of people who commit suicide every year just so they can escape the bullying. And so we buy into people pleasing. If we can just be all things to all people then maybe we’ll have friends and this world will be a little less lonely. We do stupid things, say stupid things, wear stupid things, and pretend to be anything less than what God created us to be just in the hope that people will like us. What we are left with at the end of the day is a shell of ourselves that has worked tirelessly to make everyone happy; everyone except for ourselves that is.

Who are you? I’m not asking who people say you are; I’m asking who you are. Do you claim your baptismal identity? Or do you downplay your label as “Christian” because it’s not cool. Do you fear what would happen if people found out the “real you?” Life is too short to live a lie. Life is too short to spend it pleasing anyone but yourself and God. God has freed you from the sin of worshipping the idol of approval. In baptism, God already approved of us. I’m not saying that life will be easy; we all know that’s not the truth. The Gospel is that we were given Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that we may never know the pain of sin and death. The Gospel is not be who others think you should be and God will love you. God loves you just the way you are because God created you. And when God created you, it was in God’s image.

I’m a lot of things people don’t like. I’m a woman in ministry, which alone gives some people a coronary. I’m a working mom. I’m tattooed and know/use a lot of 4 letter words. I will soon be the breadwinner for our family. I’m plus sized. My list of sins grows daily. But none of that defines me. I am first and foremost a child of God. So are you. That is your core identity. Anyone who tries to tell you anything other than that is just doing Satan’s work. You were worth dying for. Let that sink in for a moment. You were worth dying for. Don’t let anyone convince you that you need more worth and never let anyone attempt to steal or belittle your worth. People will try and tell you ways to improve who God created you to be. This isn’t the gospel. This is hot air.

The Gospel, for you, brothers and sisters, is this: you are loved. You are forgiven. You are called and claimed by a God who loves you no matter the labels you put on yourselves or the labels others have tried to saddle you with. Quit wasting your time trying to please people who either want to dim your light or who will ultimately try to make you into something you’re not. This not caring what people think is going to take time. We’re going to need food for the journey. We’re going to need friends who remind us of who we really are. We’re going to need to remember who has claimed us as his own. We’re going to need to remember our baptisms. We’re going to need to remember that no matter what we hear, grace tells another story. The cross tells another story. The empty tomb tells another story.  

Sermon for 4/10/16 John 21:1-19

If you’ve heard my call story, bear with me here a minute while I share the condensed version. When I graduated from college, I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. When I married Chris, I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. When we moved to Texas, I didn’t know I was going to be a pastor. But, when I finally stopped to listen to God, I realized God was calling me into ministry. And I was terrified and relieved at the same time. I was terrified because I felt like the most un-prepared, under qualified, unlikely Pastor type person in the history of pastors. But at the same time, I was relieved because I finally figured out what God had created me for: I had a purpose. And that felt amazing. And with that purpose came an immense amount of love. Seminary was difficult. I know it’s supposed to be hard, not everyone is cut out for this. In the midst of my seminary education, I was diagnosed with a learning disorder and battled ADHD. But not once did I regret answering God’s call.

In my dark moments, I always want to hear 2 things: I am loved and I have a purpose. And really, isn’t that what we all desire to hear? It’s amazing to hear “you have worth” and “I love you.” There are some who know what their purpose is from a very young age, like my Chris. And then, there are others, like me, who take longer to figure it out. And without a purpose, we can feel lost, forgotten, abandoned, or, even worse, not even worthy of the air we breathe. And strangely, not having love has the ability to make us feel the same way. I also think that part of our call as disciples is to 1) accept that God does love us and God does have a plan for us and to 2) help others to understand the same thing (also known as evangelism).

Let us first recall that this story is being told after the resurrection. This will be the third and final time (at least in the Gospel of John) that Jesus appears to his disciples. The disciples have returned to their original vocation or job: fishing. They had fished all night and caught nothing. Then someone from the shore called to them recommending new fishing techniques. Can you imagine? The disciples are doing something that, for them, they could do in their sleep. It’s something they are good at, or at least they were. But, they had caught nothing. So a voice comes from the shore. “Try the other side of the boat!” I’d be annoyed; who is this guy?!? They did and were surprised by the abundance. Upon returning to the shore, they realize that the advice giver is the risen Lord. Then, they have breakfast on the beach because that’s what Jesus does: he feeds us.

There are a lot of parallels between this story and one that happens right before Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter is our main character in question. Before the crucifixion remember, Peter huddled around a fire and denied Jesus three times even though he said he’d never deny Jesus. Now it’s after the crucifixion, Peter has seen Jesus two, now three times. Nothing has been said about Peter’s denial. As they are huddled over a fire once more, Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves him. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Peter felt hurt. I’m sure the hurt comes from a few places: hurt that Jesus has to ask him three times. And hurt from realizing what Jesus is doing and Peter’s own shame from denying Jesus. In some ways, I can understand why Peter would be hurt. If someone asked me if I loved them three times in a row, I would wonder what I’m doing or not doing to make myself clear.

But, in Christ’s words and actions, a lot happens. I think we first get a reminder of not only the disciples total and complete reliance on God, but ours as well. The disciples, who remember were seasoned fishermen, hadn’t caught anything ALL NIGHT. It was only when they took direction from Christ that they were successful, hauling in 153 fish. They gather again and are reminded of who Jesus is by what Jesus does: he feeds them. And then we get this questioning of Peter three times. In this, Christ is reminding Peter that he is loved (despite his earlier denial and rejection of Jesus) and that Peter has a job to do, and it’s not fishing. Jesus said to Peter, “do you love me more than these? … Do you love me?”… and one final time “Do you love me?” And with each answer, Peter gets a purpose.

“Feed my lambs, tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” is now Peter’s purpose. In many ways, it’s ours too. I love that we get this scripture on a day when we are blessing the seeds and soil that will literally feed other people. We are feeding God’s sheep just as was directed to Peter. I have said before that God created us to be in community with one another. We need one another to encourage us, challenge us, lift us up, and support us. If we take our call to make disciples of all nations seriously (as we should) then we should also embrace the call to feed and tend to God’s sheep.

It’s not easy work; it’s thankless work, really. And sadly, many times, we get in our own way. We’ve often heard that we should “take care of our own” first. Guess what, we’re all God’s own. As you know, we can’t earn our salvation. God will not be judging us on how many people we helped. But, we will be judged on whether or not we did help. It’s easy to turn a blind eye and say “that’s not our problem.” But the problems of the world, no matter if they’re down the street or around the world, are our problems. Despite the temptation to do so, we cannot fall into the desire to “qualify” everyone that needs help. Are they legal? Are the registered? Are they American? Are they white? Are they Christian? Are they one of us? Do they speak English? The only question we should ask is “are they created by God?” And if the answer is yes, our call is to take care of them. And the answer is always yes.

We all belong to God and God has given us a job: take care of one another. Everyone longs to be loved and everyone longs for a purpose. We can give people that when we share the love of Christ and encourage all people to be who God has created them to be. Loving people, especially those who no one else wants to love involves risk. Hating people and denying people involves a greater risk including our salvation.

We also do this, of course, when we participate in Food’s Resource Bank. We are helping people to remember that they are loved and they do have a purpose. Belonging to God’s family is the most important identifier we have. We don’t have a say in who belongs and who doesn’t. Because the truth is, none of us belong. It’s by God’s grace alone that we are kept in God’s grip. Next time the opportunity arises claim God’s love and purpose for your life by sharing God’s love and purpose for someone else’s life, instead of giving God excuses, try asking God “how soon can I get started?”

Sermon for 1/24/16 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

As a point of reference, today’s sermon is based off of the 1 Corinthians reading we heard right before the Gospel. If you love someone, it doesn’t matter the relationship (it can be a spouse, a child, your best friend, whatever)…at some point in time you either think or say “I wish you could just see yourself through my eyes.” This is usually said at a time when our loved one may be going through a period of self doubt or maybe they just need a bit of encouragement. Often, the people outside of us are best at lifting up our gifts, our talents, and our beauty. There are so many things in society that work against us. It is said that we are exposed (in one way or another) to over 2000 advertisements a day. A day! Those advertisements tell us that we’re not rich enough, we’re not thin enough, we’re not skinny enough, we’re not good parents or partners, our house isn’t clean enough, and that apparently, we need more vacations.

So, when it comes time to share our time or our talent, we often all sing the same refrain “I don’t have anything I can do that’s special.” Or “I’m really not that special….perhaps you should ask so and so, they’re really good at whatever you’re asking me to do.” It is in those moments that I want to say “but if you saw you the way I see you, you might think differently.” Often I think that we fall into two camps or ways of thinking. Either we think 1) I don’t have any gifts or talents to share or 2) what I do isn’t a talent or gift. It’s just what I do. But, we have many members gathered here today. And just as we have many members, we have many gifts and talents.

Listen to the first 2 verses again: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Much like Acre is going to be baptized today, we were all baptized at some point in time (or will be). And we were baptized into one body: the body of Christ. So often we use our differences to divide rather than to make us stronger. Or we use our differences to chastise, to single out, and to shame. But, at the root of who we are, we are actually the same in many ways. Because God created all of us in God’s image. So, in one way or another, we all reflect God. And when we reflect God, we do it in many glorious and beautiful ways.

But again, it’s easy to either downplay our own skills and gifts or to be jealous of the gifts possessed by those around us. My sister and brother are both amazing human beings. I am so proud to be their sister. But, they both have gifts that I don’t. My sister is a runner. She completed a race a month last year and when she gets stressed out, you can usually find her on a long run. My brother is a master negotiator. I think this is why he’s in the car business. I always envied my sister’s love of running (because I obviously don’t have that) and my brother’s ability to get two sides to agree on anything (because I fall too easily into being a people pleaser). At the same time, I am sure I possess a gift or talent that they wish they had. My dearest friend Kristin is great with kids. My college roommate, Sarah, has a fantastic eye for detail and has strong administration skills. My friend Kristi has a love for animals and has opened her home to many foster dogs and cats. My seminary classmate, Ted, is really good at computers and what makes them run. These are all just things I lack.

As you reflect on your own skills, what pops into your mind first? I know it can be weird, because we try to be humble, especially in church. But if I were to ask you “what are you good at?” how would you answer? And would you be quick to then discount yourself? As I talk to many of you about volunteering or serving the church in some capacity, or as I thank you for volunteering or serving the church in the ways that you do, the same sentiment I hear over and over and over again is “it’s just what I do.” So as of today, I am demanding a stop to that. I don’t demand things very often, so you know I’m serious. All of you possess individual skills and gifts that make you unique and that make us as the body of Christ so special. If I have thanked you for something you have done it’s because I don’t have those skills and I am so grateful to know someone who does!

See, when we discount ourselves or when we think we have nothing to contribute, that’s just evil working its way into our lives. When God created you, God made you special. I love watching Veggie Tales with Ellen. Each episode ends with the line “God made you special and he loves you very much.” That’s some fantastic gospel right there! We have a lot of people, noise, things in our life that tell us we’re not good enough. We have forces in our lives that tell us thanks to age, gender, ability, even monetary status in life that we have nothing to contribute. There are churches in this country, even churches in this county that I wouldn’t be welcomed to preach at because I’m female. Something, by the way, I am choosing to do nothing about. I hear people say “I can’t do that, I’m way too old now”. Or, on the flip side, “so and so can’t do that, they’re just 6.” Brothers and sisters, when God commanded us to go and make disciples, there wasn’t a list of “must haves” for those disciples.

As you can see around the sanctuary, I have posted words all around. I sat down with the directory and thought of each and every one of you by name. And then, I made a list of some of the skills, talents, and gifts, that we, as the body of Christ, possess. So, as you look around, maybe you recognize yourself. Or, maybe you are like me and you are grateful to know someone who has a gift that you don’t. I wanted to put it in writing because I think it is so amazing the number of gifts that we have as the body. We’re not all the same, thanks be to God.

We have enough forces in this world telling us that we’re not good enough, that we’re not enough, that we’ll never be enough. And that noise only goes away one way: it needs to be drowned in the waters of baptism. When we are splashed with those waters, the old sinful self dies, we are risen to new life in Christ. We are washed clean and welcomed into a body of believers where we’re not all the same and all gifts are welcomed and appreciated. You have something to give, brothers and sisters, all of you. All of you are important parts of the body of Christ. I think that’s part of what makes death so difficult. When we lose parts of our body, we mourn that person and the gifts that he or she had and brought to our family. We are all, first and foremost, created in the image of God: beautifully and wonderfully made. God doesn’t love you despite our differences, God loves us because of our differences. How boring would this world be if we were all the same. Remember “this little light of mine?” Let it shine!

Sermon for 9/13/15 Mark 8:27-38

My name, Jealaine, comes from a combination of two names: Jean and Elaine, the middle names belonging to each of my grandmothers Martha and Barbara. I am the daughter of Vinnie and Keddy. The big sister to twins Jon and Jayna (born in that order). Granddaughter to Lyle and Martha and Barb and Phil. I am the wife of Chris, the mom of Ellen, and the human that feeds Bailey. I am the daughter-in-law to Phil and the late Barb. I am the sister-in-law to Brian and Erin and proud aunt to Brady, Hadley, Dylan, and Greyson, also in that order. I am an alto, an avid reader, a best friend to Kristin (for more than 30 years), a current events junkie, a rookie theologian and the world’s slowest knitter. I was called and claimed by God in the baptismal waters of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Maryville, Missouri. I was confirmed at St. James Catholic Church in Liberty, Missouri. I’m a pretty good cook, I keep a lived-in home (i.e., it’s not clean), and I once got a speeding ticket coming home from meeting a boy in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and tried to lie to my parents about it. Who do you say you are? Who do people say you are?

Sometimes I claim who people say I am (“you’re a pastor”) and other times I push back a little bit (“you’re sassy.” Whoa whoa whoa!) So who do people say you are. Jesus asks his disciples this question. “Who do people say I am?” It’s a strange question, don’t you think? Is Jesus having an identity crisis? Of all people, Jesus certainly knows who he is. There’s never been any question as to who Jesus is. But, perhaps it was the people around him who were confused. He had several names he went by, after all. People called him a teacher, a prophet, a teacher, John the Baptist, Elijah. So no wonder people were confused.

Thru high school and college, my nickname was JV. It  was not at all original. Those were my initials before I got married. When people call me “JV” I know approximately what time of my life I may know them from. One of my college friends who regularly called me JV, didn’t know my real name and once asked me if I knew “Jealaine.” It was an interesting situation and we both got a good laugh. But Jesus isn’t asking this to make people laugh. He isn’t asking this to trick people. He isn’t asking because he lost his nametag. Jesus asks this question at a literal crossroad in his ministry. There are 16 chapters in Mark, and this is asked in chapter 8, right in the middle. This is kind of make or break time for those disciples. After this, Jesus foretells of his death and resurrection for the first time. This is the conversation that marks a turn in Jesus’ ministry as he starts to prepare for his journey into Jerusalem and ultimately, to the cross. And so, it is in this crucial moment when the disciples could turn back and go back to fishing or continue following Jesus that he chooses to ask “Who do people say I am?”

And it’s Peter who answers the question “who do you say I am?” Peter, who would later go on to deny Jesus three times by the cock crows, Peter is the one who answers. “You are the Messiah.” Probably having no idea what that exactly means, Peter probably expected to go on his merry little way. Peter, instead was greeted with a lecture. Peter and the others start to hear what it means that their friend Jesus is the Messiah. This had to be a shock to the disciples as this was the first time they had heard this. Jesus tells him about his death, that he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and rise again 3 days later. And Peter, who really loved his friend Jesus said (paraphrasing) “now, come on Jesus. That’s not really going to happen. Stop talking like that.” And instead of comforting Peter, Jesus tells him “get behind me Satan!” And then we start to hear what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

       It seems that this reading is interpreted many different ways. Some people read it and think that we have to walk around in sack cloths and ashes, flogging ourselves. Others read it, observe their current situation (which may be less than ideal) and think “well, this is just my cross to bear.” Abuse victims hear this a lot. But really, I think that Jesus is inviting us in to examine our own lives and what gets in the way of our relationship with Christ. We hear that phrase “deny themselves” and we immediately think that we have to sell everything and just pray that God will provide. But instead, Christ is (in a roundabout way) asking us who our God really is.

    Who is your God? My “gods” are things I normally label as good: Chris, Ellen, Bailey, my family and friends. I also have “gods” that are material things or just selfish things: my phone, my tv viewing, my tendency to put myself before others. When I ask people “who do you say I am,” would they respond with “a Christian” just from observing me? There’s a saying that in order for God to increase, I must decrease. In many many ways, I am my own god. Me, and my own sin gets in the way of a full relationship with God. I do a lot of things. Denying myself isn’t often one of them. So I have a challenge for you today, are you ready?

    We have 4 or so more months until the end of the year. I asked church council this same question. What can you do in the next 4 months to increase your faith? What is God calling you to give up? Is God calling you to give up time maybe to volunteer or read a devotional in the morning? Maybe you’ve felt a tug to increase your weekly giving and now is the time. Maybe you haven’t been baptized and you’re embarrassed because of your age. Or perhaps you are just going to sit down with our church directory and pray for each and every member listed by name. We are in a crucial time together. As I get closer to closing out my second year with you, I am excited by so many things that are happening here. But the truth is, none of it matters if Christ is not the center of everything we do together. I have moved this cross back into the church because I want a visual reminder of what should be the center of my life. Notice there’s no room on this for an iPhone or TV. Because the cross is all I need. My soul has a Christ shaped hole that can only be filled by him. The harder I try to fill it with other stuff, the further I get from Christ.

   Who do people say you are? Who do people say Christ is? When people see you do they see Christ? How are you going to spend these next 4 months? Start at the cross, keep that at the center and you can’t mess up.

A Year In

Today I celebrate my one year installation anniversary serving as pastor of Elvira Zion Lutheran Church. I remember the celebration fondly because it was the final step in something I had waited for so long. I’ve learned a lot in my first year as an ordained leader. I’m no where near done learning, I hope to never be done learning. But, for now, here are some of my thoughts on what I’ve learned while “taking stalk.”

1.  I really am called to do this. That may sound strange, but I waited for so long to receive a call that I started to wonder if God really wanted me to be a Pastor. As I have walked with this amazing group of people this last year, my call has been affirmed over and over and over again. I’m so grateful.

2. I had/have no idea what I don’t know. You know that saying “I don’t know what I don’t know”? Yep….that was me for a good portion of my first year. It is often assumed that a pastor, not just me, knows what has happened in a congregation in the past or how “we’ve always done things.” I didn’t. I often learned on the fly, which was fine (since that is most like my learning style). But, I am still learning a lot of what I don’t know.

3. I know nothing about building maintenance. Thank God I am surrounded by very capable men and women who do. But, I had a lot of conversations this year about sewers, boilers, how to capture rodents, floors, painting, etc… None of these things are in my wheelhouse. But, I am still grateful that I was part of the conversation. I’m still learning and so far, haven’t had to plunge a toilet while wearing my alb. Finding the dead squirrel, however, that’s a different story.

4. Taking an accounting class while in seminary would have done me worlds of good. Thank God I have a treasurer and financial secretary who are very patient with me and are more than happy to explain figures and spending and accounts to me. Thank God they also both want to be as transparent with numbers, budget, and spending as I do.

5. Funerals never get easy. Funerals are part of what I do. In fact, it is probably one of the moments where I get to encounter the “Holy” the most. That said, it doesn’t get easier with time. Walking with a family in grief (sometimes in great grief) is hard. When you see people that you love hurting, it’s difficult. Speaking of…

6. I had no idea how capable of love I would become. I consider myself a pretty loving person. I am affectionate and I’m not shy about it. However, in a year, I have grown to love these people more than I ever thought was possible. That’s not to say that they’re not lovable; it’s more of a reflection on my ability to love. They make me laugh, they challenge me, they accept me, they love our daughter, they know how to have fun, and most importantly, they know what it means to be Christ to me and to one another.

7. Thank God for my secretary. Seriously. This woman saves my sanity quite often. She is reliable and efficient. Most importantly, she has become a trusted colleague. Speaking of…

8. Thank God for my colleagues. I have amazing colleagues both near and far. My text study group that meets weekly has been a safe place for me, has helped me to grow, and has been a place of a lot of laughter.

9. It is really hard (I mean, really) to be a full time pastor, a full time mom, and a full time wife. I rarely seem to get all of these roles balanced. I am still learning what it means to have all of these vocations at the same time. I remind myself to be gentle with myself if one of these roles suffers because of the other (but try to not make a habit out of it).

10. Self-care is crucial…and I usually suck at it. I am horrible about putting myself first. I hope to make this more of a goal for my second year. Many aspects of my health suffered off and on this past year because I neglected my self-care.

11. I really do love rural ministry. When I first entered seminary, I thought that I wanted to serve an urban, inner-city ministry with an outreach to the homeless, HIV, LGBT, etc… population. And perhaps, someday, a long time from now, that will be the kind of ministry I am called to. But for now, there is something lovely about where I am. I can’t say I’ve grown accustomed to the “smell of money” but really, does anyone ever grow accustomed to that??

12. I am busier than I ever thought I’d be. At first, it would be easy to think “it’s a small church, there won’t be enough to keep me busy.” That’s not true. That’s pretty far from the truth, actually. In fact, i think I’ve spent the entire year feeling behind on things I need to do.

13. The Holy Spirit is amazing. Every time I get to preside at the table or do a baptism, I get the chills. Being trusted to be Christ’s hands and feet in these instances is really humbling and something I am honored to do. Every time.

14. What I do is really fun. For some people, it may not seem that way. But seriously, I love what I do. I can’t believe I get paid to do this (for the record, I appreciate the fact that I get paid to do this–it helps me pay student loans). Is every moment fun? Nope. But, every moment is filled with God and that’s pretty powerful.

15. God is always here making all things new. God doesn’t need me–but it’s nice to know they’ll keep me around for a little while longer.

I think that’s it for now. I’m sure this list could go on and on and on. I am looking forward to year 2 and learning even more about the people I serve, the God we all serve together, and myself.

I dream of (a) Genie (packer)

Back in the day, before I was born, there was a television show called “I Dream of Jeannie.”  The television show starred Barbara Eden (with long flowing locks and a tiny genie costume) and Larry Hagman (aka JR Ewing from Dallas).  So, I’ll save you the details of the program concept (hey, you’ve got Wikipedia if you’re really interested).  But, it should go without saying that whenever JR from Dallas wanted something, Jeannie would blink or nod her head and it appeared or happened.

As I stare at the boxes in my apartment, I cannot tell you the number of times I have wished for the ability to nod or blink (like Jeannie the Genie) and make all of my stuff pack itself.  I’ve also realized that the stages of packing are similar to the stages of grief.

There is denial.  “I don’t have that much stuff.  It won’t take us long to pack up this entire apartment.  We only have 10 years of stuff plus a new baby to pack up….it’ll be fine!”

Then there is anger.  “Seriously?!?  Where did all of this stuff come from?  Why do we need 3 colanders?  How much Pyrex does one person need??  Why can’t this stuff pack itself??”

Then there is bargaining.  “We really don’t need this” whatever it is.  “Okay okay okay, I’ll let you keep your letter jacket from high school if I can keep every love letter you ever sent me.”  Or I’ll bargain with people “If you watch my cute 5 month old while I pack, I’ll make you dinner!”

Depression.  “Why do we have this much stuff??  Why am I surrounded by all this stuff??  What does it all mean?”  In all seriousness, I think the depression state will hit me later.  I’ve been so busy at work and trying to plan for this move and ordination and instillation that I haven’t really gotten a chance to think about the fact that I will be leaving a job and a place that I love.  Yet at the same time, I’ve been called to be pastor to the most amazing people in a fantastic place.

Finally, acceptance.  “Yes, we really do have this much stuff.  Yes, we really need help packing.  Yes, we really are moving.”

The thing is, we are so blessed to be moving into a parsonage.  In the (almost) ten years that husband and I have been married, we’ve never lived in a house.  Now, we get to move into a beautifully renovated farmhouse.  It is the perfect place for us and our baby. We move in less than a week.  Things are crazy at our house.  But, we try and remain grounded and remind ourselves how blessed we truly are.

Now…where did I put that packing tape?!?  Genie!!!!