Sunday, April 17, 2016

the 12 disciples...part 2 Goin' Fishing

As we move through the Easter Season we are taking a closer look at the disciples of Jesus - their lives, their backstories and how they used the gift of following Jesus to bless the world. Here is the sermon manuscript from week 2; Andrew, James, Nathanael and Philip (the fishing trip.)
It would be oh so very easy to write off the disciples – after last week’s readings from the Gospel of John. They seemed so afraid – hiding out in a room somewhere – doors locked – sequestered from the world – even though they were witnesses to the greatest miracle ever known. But that is often the case when we don’t have categories to explain the inexplicable, isn’t it? We don’t want to appear overly anxious – or foolish… and so we try to figure it out – sometimes even try to talk ourselves out of what we saw…or what we thought we saw and experienced.

It’s the same way with folks like you and me – we may have mountain top experiences – but if we don’t tend to them – and invest in re-sorting our lives – changing things up….well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.

John 21:1-14

Jesus appears again to the disciples

Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”

They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”

He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.  The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

For Peter – going fishing was as natural as breathing – same with Andrew, James and John – the sons of Zebedee. Maybe they went fishing because it was something physical, something that they enjoyed and would keep them fit – maybe they went fishing because it was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee – also known as the Sea of Tiberius – where they first encountered Jesus.

We don’t know from whom they borrowed the boat – maybe James and John borrowed it from their dad – I would imagine he’d be overjoyed to welcome his sons back to the family business. Peter, formerly a net casting fisherman from the side of the lake – might have been interested in joining in – after three years of traveling together – it made sense to return to what they knew. They had no clear sense of direction – and were open to just about anything.

But - it seems their fishing abilities were a bit rusty…they worked all night long and had nothing to show for it. You know that feeling don’t you? When you pour yourself into something and it seems all for naught.

As the sun started peaking up over the horizon they were floating back toward shore when a voice called out to them:

“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

Say what? the right side of the boat? who casts nets to the right side of the boat??

And yet – they did just what the stranger said – and John tells us:

there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

And in that moment – everything changed – again…

Because we have a God who was willing to enter into our human lives – who lived and breathed and lived and loved and toiled like you and I – Jesus knows – God knows that we are prone to return to the fall back position – to return to our old ways – even after an encounter with the Holy One. Even after we have been given a new vision for how life could be lived – living in and through the power of the Holy Spirit and the giftedness that we have been given.

God isn’t asking us to forget how to cast our nets – but to consider that there may be a new way to do what we do – a way that is more free – more authentic – and that leads to a new normal.

To live in the new normal we have to be willing to live in the tension of the in between – not quite heaven – but certainly not hell either. Not quite got it all figured out – but not floundering either – not quite there yet – but that’s ok – because I’m making progress…

And the progress is marked by abundance – abundant joy – abundant relationships and sometimes – abundant catches of fish!

For James and John, Thomas and Nathanael, Peter and the other two disciples along for the fishing expedition – it was a huge catch of fish – so huge that they even took time to count – so that if anyone asked or seemed skeptical they could say with conviction – 153 fish – all keepers too – and the net held – that in and of itself was miraculous!

Of course Peter, the impetuous one – was so excited to see if it truly was Jesus that he jumped over board and swam the 100 yards to shore – and when he arrived he found a fire with fish and bread cooking – a breakfast feast. They added some of the fish that they had just caught to the fire and sat down…still trying to figure things out… and Jesus blessed the bread – and broke it – and served it to his disciples… a holy meal – communion by the shore…absolutely lovely, don’t you think? A holy meal – with their friend Jesus.

I do find this curious – the end of verse 12…

None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

and yet – and yet – they weren’t quite sure…maybe they were embarrassed because they didn’t recognize him when they were out on their boat? – the disciple whom Jesus loved is the one who had called out earlier ‘it’s the Lord’…however they say nothing.

What this says to me is that God appears to us in ways that are both ordinary as well as extraordinary – and like the disciples, we have to learn how to recognize God in new ways…something we coined in our Wednesday noon bible study as the ‘new normal’

When we become a Christ follower we open ourselves up to living in a new way – a new way that forms and informs every part of our life. This new normal may seem odd at first – but when we lean into it and allow this new way of living to permeate all aspects of our lives we find that this new normal is a way of living that is more affirming, abundant – and joyful than before…

Last week we talked about Thomas – let’s spend a moment reflecting on the lives of the others who were casting their nets that morning – and how their experience of Jesus led to their new normal…I will caution that their new normal led to martyrdom – but that’s the way it was in the 1st Century church. Something that we aren’t familiar with today – but we need to remember that sacrifice is part of living as followers of Jesus.

Consider James – one of the Sons of Thunder – Zebedee’s son – was the first of the original disciples martyred. He was so passionate about telling the story of Jesus that when Herod decided it was time to stop the Church – James was the first man who had to die. His life was short – but his influence was great – he stood firm in the face of persecution and inspired his brothers to do likewise.

Nathanael – also known as Bartholomew, was introduced to Jesus by his friend Philip – the only scripture references we have about him are from the first chapter of John and then here in the 21st chapter… but from the beginning we know that Nathanael was able to make connections between Old Testament promises and Jesus – as the son of God – Jesus himself commended Nathanael on his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures – he was most likely a steady companion –

he was convinced from the beginning that Jesus was the one promised – the Messiah. Tradition and legend credit Nathanael with missionary journeys with Philip. Nathanael was open, honest and filled to the brim with an unspoiled enthusiasm for the Good News of Jesus Christ!

We don’t know who the other two disciples were – but I’m going to add Andrew and Philip to the mix, since Andrew was Peter’s brother and Philip and Nathanael were best of friends – it would make sense…

Andrew – J. Ellsworth Kalas, in his book the 13 disciples writes about Andrew: Someone has said that Andrew was both the first home missionary and the first foreign missionary – He was a home missionary in the winning of his brother, Simon (also called Peter) and a foreign missionary when he brought the Greeks to Jesus. Andrew is the patron saint of Greece – and of Scotland (as those of you who are golfers might have figured out). It is said that the governor of Patras in Greece hated Andrew because Andrew converted his wife and brother to Christ, so he condemned Andrew to death – according to tradition he was tortured and bound to an X shaped cross – what is still known as St Andrews Cross to this day – and as he died (alas over several days) he preached to all who passed by…his final prayer being “Would, Father, that I had time to teach truth to my murderers….”

And then there’s Philip – another early follower of Jesus Philip was known for his more reserved and logical nature. Read stories about Philip in scripture and he will be the one who is more by the numbers (which is probably why all of those fish were counted!). Something we don’t know about Philip is that his name was a Greek name – why his Jewish parents would give him a Greek name is unknown, but this opened doors for him to travel more widely as an evangelist – he became one of the great missionary preachers to Asia – and was martyred at Hierapolis.

Next week we will continue the story of the meal by the Sea of Tiberius – with the stories of Peter and John…two of Jesus’ closest friends.

As we look closer at the lives of the Apostles – we are reminded these were ordinary folk – just like you and me – they had doubts, they weren’t perfect – but they were faithful in trying to understand their world and how God was calling them to use their gifts to build up the Kingdom of heaven…

Not unlike what you and I are doing each and every day of the week. When we sign on to follow Christ – when we proclaim that Jesus is indeed our Lord and Savior – we are signing on to live in a new normal – a new way of being that can make some pretty significant demands upon us –but can also bless us in ways that we hardly imagined!

Enjoy the journey my friends – and know that God calls each and every one of us by name….and that we have gifts that are needed to make this world a better place for all people. How we use those gifts is the question…my challenge is to remind us not to waste what God has given us through the power of the Holy Spirit.


the 12 disciples...part 1 (Doubting Thomas)

As we move through the Easter Season we are taking a closer look at the disciples of Jesus - their lives, their backstories and how they used the gift of following Jesus to bless the world. Here is the sermon manuscript from week 1; Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas.

As an introduction to this morning’s gospel lesson – I’d like to finish the reading from Easter Sunday – as you remember, the women – Mary Magdalene and others, went out to the tomb and found the guards passed out from fright, the stone rolled away and an angel greeting them with the Good News that Jesus was risen! They even met him in the cemetery garden – and Jesus told the women to share with the others that he was risen – and would meet them in Galilee and then he sent them away.

Matthew 28:11:15

11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. And this report has spread throughout all Judea to this very day.

Things did not look good for the followers of Jesus. And so we turn to the Gospel of John for the rest of the story…

John 20:19-31

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

24 Thomas, the one called the twin, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”

28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

I don’t know about you, but I believe Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas, gets a bum rap. Over the years Thomas has been lifted up as an example that of course – seeing is believing…but truth be told, given that Thomas wasn’t with the other Christ followers locked away in a room, I might add, frightened out of their wits, Thomas undoubtedly heard the rumors flying around Jerusalem, spread by unholy alliance made between the guards and the religious officials – Jesus’ body was stolen by the remaining followers as a ruse – to make everyone THINK that Jesus was risen. A likely story…

‘I want to see it for myself,’ Thomas declared. In the muddled up mess that was the early church, Thomas wanted cold hard facts.

Thomas isn’t any different from most of us. We want to know – without a shadow of a doubt – that Jesus IS Risen – because if this is true – then this changes everything. Christ’ resurrection - not resuscitation mind you – but resurrection – is a game changer. How so? Note in verse 19:

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

and again a week later in verse 26

26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

A resuscitated Jesus does not walk through closed doors – but a resurrected Jesus does. And acknowledging how mind boggling this all is, Jesus offers the words: “Peace be with you.”

Thomas – now confronted with the reality of Jesus resurrection is brought to his knees – and proclaims…”My Lord and My God”

It was a game changer for Thomas. Seeing was believing – and because he saw – not only that day, but several more times during Jesus’ 40 days with his disciples before his ascension to heaven – after the day of Pentecost we don’t hear anything more from Thomas in the scriptures.

But historical records of other sorts do give us a sketch of what was next for Thomas the twin…

According to reliable traditions Thomas preached throughout much of Asia – and especially in the region we call India. In the 1500s when Portugese explorers arrived in India they found a church there that identified itself as the Church of Saint Thomas; and a 6th Century book tells us that a traveler in India found a church in Malabar, as well as a bishop in Galiana, south of Bombay. According to tradition, Thomas died a martyr’s death, on a mountain that now bears his name – Mount Thomas. His death came by the piercing of a lance, and so the symbol for Thomas is the lance, for his martyrdom and a carpenter’s triangle since he was supposed to be a carpenter by trade.

Thomas – known for doubting – seems to have traveled the farthest to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world!

What about each of us – how has our experience of Jesus infused our lives? How and with whom are we sharing our God moments – or are we waiting to see before we can be all in for God?

I think faith contains a lot of both/and moments…Thomas held back – he wasn’t quite sure what to believe – and yet when he was confronted with the risen Lord he went all in…

Have you had a God experience that has changed your life? If not, what evidence do you need to be all in for Christ?

I asked some of our youth this same question the other night – and one was brave enough to say what many Christians say – my faith is a private, personal thing… Thomas shows us another way – a bold way – a way that may just be more suited to our 21st century ways…

First – you must be present to win – Thomas doubted because he missed out on Jesus first visit with the larger group of disciples… I’m sure he was trying to process what all he had seen himself the earlier week – but the others were together – when we are confronted with doubts, fears and loss – being in community with one another makes a difference – you must be present to win.

Second – seeing IS believing – when you have a God experience – name it a claim it for what it is – God is present in the ordinary and the extra-ordinary – I firmly believe this is true – but I also know that I am often so busy that I don’t take time to tune in to God. We could all use some remedial work in this area – open our eyes Lord – I want to see Jesus…

And Finally – tell someone about it – the Good News is just that – its good – and its news – its meant to be shared…one of the things I appreciate most about Facebook is the opportunity to see pictures posted by people. To post a picture is to say – I saw something in this – and I want to share it with others because I hope that it has meaning for you too…

Thomas did just this traveling far and wide in places you wouldn’t expect – to share the Good News that God did indeed send the Messiah – we know him as Jesus – and in and through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension we may know God and be in relationship with God that is life affirming, loving and that compels us to love the world with open arms. To seek peace, justice and extend mercy to others – but especially the least, the lost, the widow and the orphan.

As we prepare to be fortified by the sacrament of Holy Communion – let us also laugh at death – with great joy – as we join Thomas and others in proclaiming that Jesus is our Lord and our God! Alleluia – Christ is RISEN!

in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor?

I worked 8 night shifts in the Clothing Distribution tent
at 'Better Days for Moria' 
Since my return from Greece life has been a bit of a whirlwind...two snow days, a new grandbaby, preaching and funerals and other 'normal' responsibilities...oh, and Lent...yeah...we have started Lent!

Truth be told I can't leave Lesvos and the plight of the refugees behind, because their story could just as easily be my story, but by the grace of God have I been spared war, drought and homelessness.

To follow is the article I wrote for our local newspaper upon my return. To see more pictures, visit our mission team Facebook page: Lesvos UM Mission Team.

Please, keep this situation in your prayers...and I challenge us all to work to restore the humanity of those who are the least and the lost, here at home as well as halfway around the world.


There’s a story about a man who was beaten and robbed and left for dead along the side of the road. You may have heard about him…but then again, maybe not. He wasn’t famous or anything and people get hurt all the time. Our world is a scary place some times.

This one guy drove by, saw the fight but he was afraid of the goons who were beating the other guy up. And so he said a prayer for him and kept going. Another car drove by right after the goons left and saw the guy staggering around but he had a strict policy of not picking up hitchhikers, so he said a prayer and since he had places to go and people to see he kept on going.

But the guy wasn’t ok. Somehow he propped himself up against a tree and faded in and out of consciousness. There was a third car on the road that day. Like the others he had places to go but seeing the guy there on the side of the road he had pity on him. He pulled over and did the best he did to patch him up. He laid him down in the back seat of his car and drove him to the nearest exit, got him a hotel room, some food and paid for his nights lodging.

He told the hotel owner about the guy he brought in. He assured the hotel owner that he was fed, resting and regaining his strength, and if the guy needed another night of rest to go ahead and let him stay – he’d pay for the room. Before he left he made sure he was well stocked with bandages, food and clean dry clothes. And then he went on his way, it was late and he had miles to go before he could rest for the night.

Welcome to Europe
little ones
Right now our world is experiencing the greatest humanitarian crisis in nearly 100 years with the displacement of millions of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other far away places in the Middle East. It’s the perfect storm of drought, war and the affects of terrorism. While the politicians tip toe around the issues (as they have to, don’t get me wrong), people are forced to choose between staying in modern day internment camps or paying smugglers thousands of dollars a piece for space on a tiny dingy and a shot of freedom. No one puts an infant or their beloved spouse in a smugglers boat unless the risk of the sea in less than the harsh realities of living in a slum in Turkey or languishing in a refugee camp.

The government of Greece, a country with their own economic troubles, was not prepared for the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees, their infrastructure is crumbling and they are overwhelmed by the needs of these people, many of whom are just passing through on their way to Germany or Austria.

The European Union is having its own trouble trying to find a way to absorb all of these people. There are concerns about their religion, the majority are Muslim and we are scared of those we know little about. The members of the EU are concerned about their numbers; these are big families, so who will pay for their care, housing and food? Will there be work for all of these people? And they are concerned that there will be radicalized terrorists in their midst, ISIS is a scary bunch and we don’t want to invite terror into our living rooms! All of these concerns are understandable and yet we are talking about people – men and women, children of all ages, just like you and me.

This is the face of the refugee crisis – something very bad is happening to millions of people and as people of faith I believe we have a responsibility to honor their humanity and to speak up about the crisis. I believe we have an opportunity to respond with kindness and compassion and show the world another way. One of these steps is by taking a risk and opening our doors here in America. An open door for 10,000 refugees is nothing compared to the huge numbers of refugees. We are better than this, what if each community pulled together and offered to take in a refugee family? I believe that we have a wonderful opportunity here to learn, to teach our children about other cultures and to enrich our communities with this sort of course of action.

'Better Days for Moria'
a humanitarian response to the refugee crisis
While I was in Greece I worked alongside dedicated Europeans, Syrians and Pakistanis as well as other Americans who are volunteering on the frontline of the refugee crisis. We didn’t have time to get to know the names or the stories of the refugees who passed through our camp, but we did have time to offer clean and dry clothes, a warm cup of tea, some food and encouragement for the next stage in the journey. Lesvos, Greece was their entry point into Europe but they still have a long and arduous journey ahead of them.

The truth is the people I met were like me and you. While we have a bit of a language barrier, we spoke the language of our shared humanity – and in them I saw my own ancestors who were refugees fleeing the religious wars of Europe, seeking a better life for their children and grandchildren.

How much longer are we going to turn a blind eye to the plight of the refugee? Or closer to home, the plight of the homeless? The Medicaid recipient who has lost her services in the past month? The veteran who is struggling with PTSD?

Jesus told the story I paraphrased above in response to the question ‘who is my neighbor,’ we call this the story of the good Samaritan because the man who stopped to help wasn’t even from around there – he was a reviled enemy – a Samaritan of all people and yet he exhibited compassion toward the least and the lost. Jesus asked the religious folk to whom he told the story:

“Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

These people are waiting for dry clothes at 'Better Days'
I went to Greece because my heart is breaking for the refugee crisis. I had been following the news, I have been praying for them and I felt compelled to go, to serve as best I could, and to come back and tell others about what I witnessed.

Yes, we need to pray, we need to become more aware of what is happening in our communities and in our world, we need to act with mercy and we need to speak to those who represent us at the state and federal level and demand justice for those who are forced from their homes due to war and terrorism.

There are risks associated with every act of compassion, but what this experience continues to teach me is that I have become complacent and risk adverse and this isn’t who I want to be nor is this what I want for my children and grandchildren.

My challenge for each of us in this season of Lent is to prayerfully consider and discern where your heart is breaking – for where your heart is heavy may be the place that God is calling you to go, serve and come back and tell us about so that together we may become a kinder and more compassionate society.

Who is our neighbor? My neighborhood has expanded this past month and I give thanks for the support that I have received from back home, and especially the people of Trinity United Methodist Church who gave so much so that I could re-present them on the frontlines of the refugee crisis.

If you want to learn more send me an email and let’s get together over a cup of tea and talk.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Leaning boldly into the New Year

Dear friends - near and far away...

First of all - welcome to a New Year! My only New Year's resolution this year was to live more boldly for the Gospel of Jesus. Who knew I'd have an opportunity to do just that so soon!

Monday morning a clergy colleague from Texas extended me an invitation to join a mission team to travel to Lesvos, Greece, to aid in refugee relief efforts. I am honored, blessed and humbled by the opportunity to serve and to witness to God's love in action on the front lines of the refugee crisis. The Trinity UMC Church Council gave me their blessing and encouragement to represent our community in these efforts Monday evening and so I began making arrangements to join with the 5 other United Methodists from North Texas to volunteer in Greece for ten days in late January.

The island of Lesvos is currently the primary landing spot for the majority of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq via Turkey. There is an ongoing need for volunteers to help with all sorts of practical hands-on responsibilities on the island, including: helping people get out of the boats, distribute aid, clothes and food, unpack boxes of donations and sort goods, drive donated goods to other places on the island, clean up beaches and roads, clean up around the camp and bus areas, pick up refugees who arrive on remote beaches, prepare food for refugees, prepare food for other volunteers, take care of children. There is also a great need for basic pastoral care: listening, comforting, and sitting with distraught people.

What I need: I have received enough funds to pay for my plane tickets! But I am still in need of funds for ground transportation, two nights of hotels, food and other necessities. In addition our entire team will need to be bathed in prayer for our time of travel, for the work that we will be called to do, for the people we will be in contact with, and for the physical, emotional and spiritual demands that will be placed on us.

We have learned from a young woman from Texas, who spent 2 weeks in December on Lesvos, that there are some specific material goods that are desperately needed. Here is the wish list, if you are able to donate any of these items I have been assured that nothing will go to waste.

Lightweight Wheel Chair
2-3 large (really big) suitcases that you don't want back to transport the donated items I am taking from Iowa.
Men's jackets (small and medium sizes)
Travel size Vaseline
Handwarmers (like Hothands)
Emergency/mylar blankets
New winter (thick/heavy) socks - Dickie's work boot socks are great
Pain and fever relievers like Tylenol or Ibuprofen
Men's sturdy walking shoes - European sizes 38-43 (Men'sAmerican sizes 6 to 9 1/2)

Thank you in advance for your prayers and for your generous contributions! I know that together we CAN make a difference. I am humbled to be given the opportunity to make this trip and I plan to bring back with me stories of hope and God's light in the midst of one of the most difficult situations in our world today.

Whether donated through my GoFundMe campaign ( or via mail, all funds and material goods need to be recieved by January 16, 2016. If you would like to receive tax credit for the donation please send a check to:

Trinity United Methodist Church
c/o Pastor Deborah - refugees
1400 W Bremer Avenue,
Waverly, Iowa, 50677

Any donations received in excess of my personal expenses and filling two-three suitcase of material goods will be donated via Trinity United Methodist Church to the UMCOR refugee efforts. Thank you so very much for your generous support!

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
(Matthew 25:37b-40)

in Christ, together,

Pastor Deborah

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Zecha-who? Singing the songs of Advent, Sunday December 6, 2015

To follow is this morning's sermon manuscript - with a big shout out to the folks at Kessler Park UMC in Dallas, Texas who remind us how to pray, respond and prepare to be light to the world...

Our journey through advent has been a journey of songs…we’ve heard the yearning song of Hannah, the last song of King David, the triumphant song of Mary – and today we have the song of Zechariah…

Zecha who – you may ask? Well Zechariah was a priest – just like his father was a priest – he and his wife were faithful, they were obedient, they practiced their faith not only in the temple but also at home in the community. They were model citizens who had it all – except one thing – a child.

Our friends from UNI are going to set up the rest of the story – with a skit that is quite appropriate – a skit about what happened when Zechariah encountered an angel of all things while he was at work in the temple.

Read more about that story here

So Zechariah is mute for 10 months – and he and Elizabeth finally have a son – and as they are about to name him – John - Zechariah finds his voice…

 John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
 “Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.

He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.

He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live.

You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)

Like Mary, David and Hannah - Zechariah’s prayer is full of hope, anticipation and gratitude to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His faith, their faith, is part and parcel with who they are…it goes deep into the marrow of their bones and it is lived out in what they do – as parents, as leaders, as prophets, as proclaimers of God’s hopes and dreams for the world.

Unlike the others, Zechariah takes it a step further – He offers a prophesy – a look forward…in his prophesy he is claiming on behalf of his 8 day old son – the promise and the hope of the people of Israel…the messiah is near – and his son, John, is going to be a part of his rise to power…but not through military might – but through the forgiveness of sins!

You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.

You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.  
(Luke 1: 76-77)

A challenging prophesy – a life to grow in to – like many parents as they look into the eyes of their first born – they project the hopes and dreams of tomorrow on their precious children…

I’m guilty of it – and you are too…

So what moves John from being Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son to being the forerunner of the messiah?

I believe it’s the same thing as what moves us from being people of prayer to people of action.

This past week people of prayer have been under fire…and frankly, the headlines make me sad – and concerned. We are, in my opinion, at a tipping point as a country – and as people who claim the name Christian. We are teetering at the brink of being irrelevant if we don’t put our words, our prayers, our faith into action

As Wesleyan’s – as United Methodists - we know what it means to hold piety (prayer) and action in tension – or atleast we should…we can talk the talk – but are we able to walk the walk?

Each of us, by virtue of our baptism, have been commissioned – ordained even – to

renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin….

To accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves….

As together we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior,
put our whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as our Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races.  
(United Methodist Book of Worship - Baptism liturgy)

By the power of the Holy Spirit – poured out on each and every one of us – we have been commissioned to be light bearers – to take God’s love, mercy and grace into dark places…to speak up for the least and the lost…to care for those who are in need…and to extend this to all people of all ages, nations and races.

How are we doing?

I am not here today to tell you want to stand up for – but I am here today to encourage you to take a stand for whatever God has placed on your heart…whether its literacy, homelessness, mental health, the environment, feeding folk, what ever it may be – take a stand friends – do something – let your life sing

Because without action – without 30 some years of Zechariah and Elizabeth and extend family leading John toward the prophesy – then Zechariah’s words would have been an empty dream…

But instead – through faithful living and teaching and a willing student – John grew strong in his faith – he became bold in his speech – he was ready when the time was right to prepare the way for the Lord…his cousin…his childhood friend, Jesus.

What are we doing this season of advent to prepare the way for the return of the King – in the midst of the distractions of this Christmas season?

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to the folks at Kessler Park United Methodist Church. Their church supports refugees in the Dallas Fort Worth area – their pastor, Wes Magruder, received word of a refugee family who was finishing up their immigration vetting process – they had been examined and reviewed by all sorts of agencies – for the past two years...and they were all ready to come to America – then, the bombing in Paris happened and the Texas Governor said – no way – no Syrian refugees – period…not even the ones who had been screened, approved, vetted and who now had their tickets bought and were ready to move to their new home.

That didn’t stop the folks at Kessler Park UMC – in anticipation of this family – a mom, dad and their child - they began to get everything ready – they found a one bedroom apartment, held a furniture drive for the family – scrubbed everything from top to bottom and went grocery shopping for them – they responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and they were ready – ready to say yes – even when the rest of the world was afraid… hopefully later this week they should be stepping into the welcoming arms of a community that has been praying and preparing for them.
Into the darkness of the world, into our hopes and dreams comes Jesus – the light of the world – and the light is more than able to chase away darkness…the gospel of John says it better than I can…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
(John 1:1-8)

The true light is in this place…the true light is out in the world – the true light is Jesus Christ who invites us – you and me – ordinary folk from NorthEast Iowa…

Be the light

Be hope

Be the difference


Listen for the Holy Spirit

Get inspired

Do something with this life – this light – that you have been given!

In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit…Amen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Advent reflections from Waverly, Iowa

To follow is my latest column from our local Waverly newspaper.  My one shot to share something this Advent season...enjoy!


some of our treasures -
rearranged by grandson Z
Many of us have our Christmas trees up, favorite mementos of Christmas’ past are scattered around our home. We might even have Christmas music and the scent of cookies wafting from the kitchen.

All of this to build up to the celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth! This is indeed a most wonderful time of the year. But bright lights and yummy cookies can’t mask the realities that some of our neighbors are facing.

News from Paris, Chicago or right here in Iowa reminds us that life is fragile and difficult for many people. Some of us may have someone special missing from the table this year, while others of us are struggling to figure out how to make ends meet let alone give our loved ones a special Christmas.

And don’t get me started about the Iowans who are reeling with the decisions they will have to make due to changes in funding for care of their vulnerable family members! So much is yet unknown - I am horrified by the way we are treating the least of these in our state.

In the midst of it all we are reminded that a baby was born. To a young family far from home, to a young woman named Mary who said yes to God’s call and claim on her life.

Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible puts it like this:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

(John 1:14 The Message)

Into the messiness of Bethlehem and into the messiness of Iowa and into the messiness of our own lives, Jesus comes…flesh and blood he has moved into the neighborhood. Not as a hateful or mean deity, but truly and completely the generous loving one-of-us, one-with-us, Son of God

Because of this Good News, we can face the unknowns with confidence, knowing that God is one of us, God is among us, God is within us…God is…and we, like Mary, can answer God’s call and claim on our lives to live as people of compassion for the least and the lost, the vulnerable and the struggling.

It’s not about presents under the tree it truly is about the journey – one day at a time, one conversation at a time with those who live in our neighborhood, who shop at our community groceries and who attend our schools, churches and various community events.

As we lean toward Christmas, during this season we in the church call Advent, let’s meet one another right where we are and build a new network of friends for this messy and glorious journey called life. While at times risky, I promise that you will be blessed by reaching out to folks in new ways and in new places.

Theology Pub - Monday nights @ The Fainting Goat!
Do go to church this Advent season – hang around for coffee and fellowship afterwards most Christians are good people just trying to figure it out. If that doesn’t work out come join us Monday nights at 6:30 at The Fainting Goat for Theology Pub – a safe place for conversation, community and fellowship.

I really hope that you and I will have an opportunity to strike up a conversation some time so that we can start building a bridge of friendship that transcends the material demands of Christmas and begins to build a more compassionate and caring world, the kind of world that grown up Jesus modeled and taught about long ago.

May you and yours be blessed in this season of Advent – this season of holy waiting and anticipation!

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of his righteousness,

And wonders of his love,

And wonders of his love,

And wonders, wonders, of his love.

(Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Elinor Jo Davis ~ November 10, 2015

I wrote this note to share with my daughter and son in law - Hannah and Nelson Davis, after the birth and loss of their daughter earlier this week.  With their permission I share it now, along with my deepest sympathy and prayers for all who have lost children of their own.


Dear Ellie Jo,

Today was your birthday. This morning your earthly mommy and daddy woke up to hope and dreams for the life they would live with you.  They love you so very much.  Mommy has been dreaming and planning for you for a very long time. She is such a wonderful woman and I know you would have been loved and nurtured in a happy and loving home. 

But for some reason you made your arrival too soon. And as much as we wanted you to wait till March it just didn't happen.  It is a mystery that we struggle to understand.  

Your daddy told me about how perfect you are. How beautiful you are and how brave your mommy is right now. He is trying very hard to be brave too. We are all trying to be brave and hopeful. But we are all sad because we just didn't have enough time to share all of the love we have for you with you. 

Today we weep. And tomorrow too. Some day we will be able to hold your little sister or brother in our arms.  And when we do we will be sure to tell them about our sweet Ellie Jo who came too soon and who now is in heaven with your great grandma Ellie (your name sake ) and Alan and Angie and your Great Grandma and Grandpa Wise and all those we love who now rest in peace with our Heavenly Father - who lives with you - in a place where there are no more tears. Where death doesn't have the final word and where one day we will join you.

I love you Elinor Jo Davis. 

Grammie Deborah