Monday, November 29, 2010

an advent rant...and it's only week one!

This is a major chunk of my sermon from Sunday, November 28th. It is both a rant and an invitation to really think about what these next 4 weeks are about.  Are we in a mad race to Christmas complete with special sales each week or is this a season to think more deeply about Christ's return in final victory? Perhaps, in a sense, I am trying to convince myself that the Church is still culturally relevant...but some of the signs that I have seen this Autumn have me concerned.

I confess that I also come at things with my past life as a marketing and promotion type fully intact, and I continue to repent for my contribution to the disease that affects us all these days. We are easily swayed by images on TV, radio and yes even the web...we are lulled into indifference at times and called to action at other times and I know the nature of the marketing types who are out there seducing us is about power and principalities - it about making more money and filling the God shaped hole that is intrinsic with our humanity with stuff that is easily broken, temporary and totally unsatisfying.

But as a whole we do not want to take the time to be in relationship with others - in Christian community that makes us reflect on deeper meanings of life, on what God is really asking of us...that is hard work, being a Jesus follower is not all about singing Kum Ba Yah around a is all about living in ways that are counter-cultural, loving God and loving neighbor means everyone - not just those who look like you and me.

So, thats my intro - here's where the Holy Spirit led me Sunday morning...(note it is written for the ear, so lots of elipses and dashes to make me pause)


You have to excuse me, I am feeling more than a wee bit cynical this week… perhaps miffed is more like it. Yes, miffed is a good word

Why you might ask? Well, here we are the first Sunday of Advent with texts that are rich with imagery, images such as these from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5) God’s people going to the Mountain of the word – so that He may teach His ways and we may walk in His path…so that God’s people are compelled to turn their weapons of war into tools for working the land – and make the desert bloom again!  I am all for that...

Or Paul’s language – in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 13:11-14) Where God’s people are encouraged to set aside the darkness that is indeed all around us and to actually clothe ourselves with Christ – we are to be awake – open our eyes to the finishing touches of the salvation work that began when we first believed, and is ongoing as our faith grows and deepens…and we know the signs of people who are growing in faith, our worldliness is to be set aside! We are to live as God’s people – people who love one another and who care for one another – no more quarreling or jealousy, we are to set aside our sinful ways and instead live as Christ Jesus lived…that’s a powerful invitation isn’t it? To live into how God created us to be…don’t we all want to please God with our lives?

And how about the imagery in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 24:36-44). Here’s something we can sink our teeth into…the Lord Jesus returning – in a day or hour that we do not know – but he is coming – and we need to be ready – not out of fear, but out of a joyful anticipation!

Wonderful images all of them…embracing language that until recently had been set aside for the Church and God’s people – language that invites us to live holy and hope filled lives because our hope rests not in this world, not in the things of this world but in the kingdom of God – which truly is here and yet not to completion…

But this year, I have noticed that a thief has come. A thief has come and stolen something very precious. Our language…and it makes me kinda ticked off…

Let me show you what I mean…I first noticed it with this 
Since when do we believe in a cell phone company? Give me a break.

You should know I am a US Cellular client, have been since 2004…and when I went in and transferred my account over to the new plan I didn’t save a dollar…its still ridiculously high…oh, I do get points, which accrue each month, and I can use them to buy ring tones or get discounts on a new phone if I earn enough points over time. puhlease… how did a new cell phone plan give me something to believe in anyway? Oh, and look at this added bonus - they will give me forgiveness! Forgiveness AND protection - really? Frankly, I am offended…but am I offended enough to break my contract, pay $150 per line to switch to a new company? I am still figuring it out.

I had hoped this thief would stop there…then I went to the store a week ago and saw this display –

my future happiness comes out of a bottle of Coca Cola? I mean I like the fizzy burn - I was a Coke drinker for a number of years (have since switched to Diet Pepsi btw)…. But happiness? I can buy happiness for what – a dollar? The bottle is cute and all, but I don’t think it matters one bit in my long term happiness for heavens sake! Good Lord!

I knew we were in for it when I saw this on facebook Friday – a friend posted it and I wanted to frankly barf…

Give Glory – are you kidding me? Are they saying that if, IF I buy a new computer, that game that the boys have been begging for, or the new IPod touch – that I am able to GIVE GLORY ???? Are you kidding me?

It’s the final straw… Glory is off the table – it is sacred language – it refers to God’s glory – the worshipful honor and glory that we give to Him!  What has the world come to?

And as I was chewing on all of this – and trust me – there is much angst involved here...It has come to me, this, our church is not the destination for worship, the people of our country worship at the altar of commerce – their aisles are lined with the newest, greatest thing – their object of desire is not the love of God but the love of stuff…because the only way to find fulfillment is by gathering around oneself more stuff.

Our Gospel passage talks about a thief coming in the night, well friends – we have seen the thief and it is our consumer driven culture. I am all for having the freedom to buy and sell things, but how much is enough?

And then, I had a phone call at 5:09 this morning – I was asked to go to the home of a dying member of our congregation, and as usual, I noticed no suitcases packed, no pile of stuff waiting to go with her. Instead I saw her family and friends surrounding her with stories and tears and even some laughter…and what they wanted wasn’t a delivery of the latest sales items from a department store. They wanted a prayer and assurance that our hope rests in God in whom is all the power and glory forever and ever…

We know…we know, don’t we? Deep down in our hearts as people of faith we know that consumerism is not the Christian way to celebrate the birth of Christ…is it possible for us to opt out of this insanity to turn our hearts and minds to the God of glory this Advent season?

Let’s start by taking back our language, Let's start by living into the imagery that ties us to God… we have already been given instruction in how to do this - with the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is the prayer that Jesus prayed every morning and every evening. This prayer speaks of the commandment to Love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and how we are to live into the Word of God...and the importance of teaching this to our children.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Take a look around you - even here in our sanctuary we are surrounded by a picture language that over time we have grown so accustomed to we don’t see it any more…but let’s take a moment to relearn what these symbols mean so that when we see them out in the world we are reminded of our three in one God! And then, let's recapture and share these images from todays texts and these word memories all around us with our that they have meaning, so that this - has meaning... so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the return of Christ, the true meaning of this season of Advent.

one of the 10 stained glass windows
Trinity UMC, Waverly

I then walked around the sanctuary and talked about all of our stained glass windows, the images up front in the chancel area, the cross, the candles, etc... after worship several members of the church mentioned that they had never known what these things meant. Perhaps, just perhaps, this advent season has started off on a different foot...perhaps...

In Christ, together,


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a blast from the past

When I was in high school I ditched my last semester to work at a radio made sense at the time - I had all of the credits I needed, I had gotten into a little bit of trouble about some letter to the editor in the county news paper (thanks to my neighbor)...I was not doing well in Physics (my only 2 semester class), and I wasn't ready to go to college - I needed to stay in high school so that I could be eligible to complete some state 4-H activities.

My parents said I could 'graduate early' if I had a job - and somehow, by the grace of God, the Adamsville, TN radio station (WLIC) hired me.  My on-air name was Debbie Lynn...really creative.  I was the mid-day DJ spinning top 40 was that awkward time between disco and Duran Duran - the biggest hits were from the Dire Straights Brothers in Arms album (yes, album) and I vaguely remember Supertramp and Rickie Lee Jones singing Chuck He's in Love...ugh.

In college I worked at radio stations in Union City, TN (WENK radio), another Top 40 station.  I was on the air Friday nights and I think Saturday nights case of emergencies, I would put on Stairway to Heaven and have 8-9 minutes to take care of things...Terry Hailey is still the General Manager - he would come in at the end of my shift and have me record commercials for the next week.

Senior year UTM 
While in college I worked at the campus radio stations (WUTM), and in my 3rd and 4th years was the AM and then FM station manager.  And my last year in school (I confess - year 5)  I was in charge of campus video productions and worked at WFUL radio in Fulton, KY.  My claim to fame at WFUL was my first big promotion experience as Ag Director - we made and sold an Apple Recipe collection for the fall, oh and I got to do color commentary during the International Banana Festival parade - that was interesting.

After college I moved on to work in TV stations and cable TV networks in the marketing and promotions departments.  From time to time I would do some voice over work - but it had been a while...until this week.

As a way to reach out to folks in the area our church council approved the purchase of radio air time on the local station, KWAY for the next 6 weeks.  I recorded two announcements and will do a new one each week till Christmas.

It was the first time in 8 years since I had done anything like that - sure I write sermons each week, but there isn't a hard and fast time limit or anything.  In radio (and TV) you only have so much time to say what needs to be said.  My poor secretary spent the day yesterday hearing me practice as I timed myself...I am sure she even overheard me muttering about going over - again...

It was fun to go into the booth and be a client - the station manager was great and showed me how technology has progressed - so much easier than back in the old days.

If you're in the area, be sure to listen to KWAY, FM 99.3 - the spots run three times a day, Monday through Friday; in the morning between 6 and 9am, in the middle of the day and in the afternoon.  It is my prayer that these 'thoughts for the day' will invite folks to slow down and prepare their hearts and minds for the season of Advent and Christmas...I know I sure do need to take my own advice and do the same.

Have a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving!      

in Christ, together

Sunday, November 21, 2010

random acts...

I just enjoyed watching the video of the "random act of culture" that was staged at Macy's in Philadelphia in late October.  650 voices belting out Handel's Hallelujah Chorus was thrilling, and it's pretty obvious from the looks on the faces of the shoppers what a treat it was for those who were there that day!

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week and then move into the Advent season - what are some ways that you can bring a bit of Joy to the World?  How are you going to express thanks and look forward with anticipation the return of Christ in final victory - that is what Advent is all about you know...

Maybe its time to do things a little differently - step out in faith and think counter culturally...go ahead, I double dog dare you...and then, would you share your experience with others?  Tell us how you saw God in the midst of your random act of kindness...  It may just inspire others to go and do likewise - and wouldn't that be an awesome way to head into the Advent season?

Praying for God's love to shine through you in the weeks ahead,

(I am thankful to Karol for sharing the link - tho we have not met I am blessed by our fb friendship!)

click this link if you want to see the video (tissues may be needed - yes, its that good)
Opera Company of Philadelphia - Hallalujah Chorus

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

the good stuff

This evening was Justin's first band concert in the new school district.  It was a packed house of proud families celebrating the achievements of their children - something that is happening all over the country about this time of year.

Interesting how in the midst of all of the evening's activities conversations popped up totally unrelated to the actual concert...I touched base with the mom of a 5th grader who is going to play special music for one of our Christmas services; spoke with the elementary school principal, who also happens to be a member of the choir; and did the across the room smile, nod and wave with other members of the church.

Once the music began we were, of course, all focused on our children...and aside from the stray note that ended the 2nd to the last song in the 6th grade set, everything went off without a hitch.  According to Justin that note caused all sorts of excitement after the concert as the french horn, clarinet and saxophone sections all blamed the other for the errant note...of course WE know who it was (Justin swears it was the boy who sat next to him...and I believe him on this one -he didn't look mortified after it happened).  Gotta love band drama - whodda thunk it began in 6th grade!

When we moved to Savannah, Tn,  halfway through my Sophomore year, I joined the band.  My favorite band activity was the Christmas parade circuit.  I have fond memories of riding in the back of the band bus my Junior seated next to my boyfriend (I played flute, he played trumpet).   I wasn't in band my Senior year.  I honestly can't remember why, tho my sister said it had something to do with the band director and shoes.  Who knows?  I was busy with 4-H State council by then and wasn't dating the trumpet player anymore.  I hate to admit it, but I wasn't much of a musician either - didn't/don't have much of an ear, but it was fun from 5th thru 11th grades, I still have my flute and in a pinch I can still play a scale.

As families milled around after the concert a parishioner came over to where I was standing.  We chatted for a bit and then she said, "I have to tell you about a moment I had tonight."  She then told me how she and three other women, all Sweet Adeline's, went to the home of Miss Opal and sang Christmas Carols.  "We sang for 30 minutes," she said.  "But when we sang White Christmas, thats when I about lost it."  Opal is under hospice care, and a faithful member of Trinity UMC.  "She kept asking us to sing another.  It was wonderful."

Tonight I was reminded, yet again, how cool it is to be a pastor.  I get to hear about all of the good stuff in people's lives...I get to celebrate along with others the moments when God's love breaks in...that's how it is with God; precious moments, small victories, loving one another through the good times and the bad times.  God can do big and splashy but the small moments sure are sweet.

God's love is amazing, without end and all around us!  We just have to open our eyes to see the Kingdom of God bursting through. I hope that I get to share the good stuff in this community for years to come.

To God be the Glory!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let there be Peace on Earth...

Elizabeth and Mark in Iraq, (2004/2005)
My sister and brother are both Lt Colonel's in the Army.  I am very proud of them and supportive of all that they do.  They have both made sacrifices that are unfathomable; physically, psychologically, in their family lives.  They are very talented, focused and they are very good at their jobs.  As I said, I am very proud of them and appreciate all that they have done on my behalf.

Before them our family military service record is pretty sketchy.  A couple of Uncle's during the Vietnam era (none saw combat), a hint of a relative or two on the Lazarus (mom's) side.  There is a story of when Dad's number came up at the draft board during the Korean conflict - and how they decided they needed farmers more than soldiers - so he was deferred.  Dad always said if he had been drafted he would have gone in as a conscientious objector...which I think irks my sister a bit.

I know that when Liz or Mark are deployed my dad has made peace with their decision to be in the military - but he still prays without ceasing and is unsettled while they are out of the country - as we all are when a loved one is in harms way.

When I worked at Turner broadcasting in the early 90's I was the producer of the franchise "Operation TNT".  Veterans and their families submitted hundreds and hundreds of personal stories, photographs and other memorabilia to us which I then used to produce vignettes that aired during our various war movies.  I considered it an honor to be the holder of these stories, and as a result of reading them I have a great appreciation for Veterans and their loved ones and I love hearing and re-telling their stories.

So it seems fitting that I preached my first sermon on the day before Veteran's Day, November 10, 2002.  I was newly minted from the Iowa Lay Speakers Academy, a nearby pastor needed someone to fill her pulpit and knowing that my church (Eldora UMC) had 14 lay speakers to choose from she called my pastor for someone to fill the pulpit in Gladbrook for two Sundays in November.  As my pastor read the names of her Certified Lay Speakers she chose me (for some odd reason) to preach.

I was nervous and excited - and determined to prepare a good sermon.  I can't find a copy of the sermon anywhere, but I do remember calling Liz to ask her for some thoughts about being a veteran.  She said that she wanted me, and all of us, to remember that soldiers wanted one thing - peace.   It may seem counterintuitive to many of us, but she pushed again saying; "what we want and work hard for and train for is ultimately peace -peace for our country, safety for our loved ones, and for the world to be a better place."

Which leads me to my point.  I hate war. I hate what war and going to war does and has done to our young people.  I hate how victims of war seem to be the poor, the weak and the most vulnerable.  I hate that war is a part of our government's policy.  I understand the concept of defending our country from aggression, but the toll that it takes on the human spirit is devastating.

Because I hate the effects of war I have intentionally taken additional training on PTSD, on walking alongside Veterans and military families and I seem to gravitate to those who have served our country.  I genuinely love veterans!  From years of hearing their stories I have no doubt that Veterans experiences in the military, whether at times of peace or war, were the most formative and perhaps even the most invigorating experiences in their lives - because they lived into radical community, team work and service beyond themselves.  That is what military training does.

Radical community, team work and service beyond ourselves is what I too am passionate about - it is my vision for how the church should and can be - if we live into our call to be authentic followers of Christ.  I am not sure that we could get folks to enter into the kind of training the military does, but I get glimmers of this sort of passion through shared mission/service experiences and it warms my heart.

The song, Let There Be Peace on Earth, is challenging me today...

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me let this be the moment now.
Withe very step I take let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment and live each moment
with peace eternally...
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

What if we were to walk in harmony with those who thought (looked, acted even believed) differently from us?  What if we were to take a solemn vow to live in the moment - loving God and loving others as Christ modeled for us - wouldn't we then have a world built on peace, rather than ruled by the threat of violence?

Look at how we can't even talk about public policy in our own communities without dissolving into name calling and rhetoric - friends - this is NOT what God had in mind for his good creation, and not the kind of Church that Christ handed over to Peter, James and John.

Show me where Jesus said that his followers had to all think alike to be loved by God?  No, Christ came to free us to be unique and creative people with one focus:  to love God and to love one another!  We need to get a grip here and think about what is truly important -how can we say we love our sister or brother if they don't have clean water, shelter, food, or their basic physical needs cared for?

tomb of the unknown soldier
Arlington National Cemetary
Don't we owe it to our Veterans to go beyond waving a flag for the day or posting comments on Facebook to truly honor them and their sacrifice by doing everything WE can to make things more peaceful back at home and around the world?  Let's not let their efforts be in vain.

I'm just saying -

Let there be peace on earth -
and let it begin with me,

Monday, November 8, 2010

being and doing

a dear friends daughter died suddenly this summer...
a saint of the church has decided that she is done with dialysis...
a 54 year old woman is under hospice care with colon cancer...
another saint of the church died this past week after a long and exhausting battle (she was only 64)...

These were just some of the thoughts and stories that ran through my mind as I led worship yesterday.  It was All Saints Sunday.  While my message was all about doing - living into the examples of the saints and doing more to build up the kingdom of God and caring for those in need with our talents (Luke's take on the Beatitudes was the text), I also was reminded of the importance of being.

This was really driven home as I walked to the back of the church during the final hymn (a rousing rendition of When the Saints) and was nudged by the Holy Spirit to stop and hug a member of the church who was in tears.  Her son had died a number of years ago, and I think that the memories of him and his battle with cancer were on her mind.  Honestly, I am not sure - because it wasn't a moment for words - there really wasn't anything I could say, and so I just hugged her for a moment and then continued on to the back of the church.

There is great tension in being and doing (at least for me).  I am a do-er.  I like to keep busy.  Ok, I admit it - I am easily distracted.  But sometimes we just have to be.   I just have to be...

Be present...
Be still...
Just be.

any advice on how to learn this being thing would be appreciated...I am definitely a work in progress.

peace, love in Christ

(btw the root of my name is Hebrew and means funny and odd is that?!)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Brand New Day

Over the past few months I have been re-acquainting myself with some of my favorite music.  Last night, in the Waverly Hy-Vee of all places, I heard the opening rifts of Sting's "Brand New Day" and I had to smile.  Here is the first verse of the song (the music video is ummm - well its may check it out on YouTube if you aren't familiar with the song)

How many of you people out there
Been hurt in some kind of love affair
And how many times do you swear that you'll never love again?

How many lonely, sleepless nights 
How many lies, how many fights 
And why would you want to put yourself through all that again?

"Love is pain," I hear you say 
Love has a cruel and bitter way 
Of paying you back for all the faith you ever had in your brain

How could it be that what you need the most 
Can leave you feeling just like a ghost?
You never want to feel so sad and lost again
     Sting - Brand New Day (1999)

In a sense this song really resonates with me - because Monday, November 1st, officially became a brand new day for me.  On Monday my divorce became official as the judge signed the final papers.  I have been reticent to post anything about the divorce, mainly because in my mind it really isn't something to celebrate.  I am deeply saddened by the events that led Steve and I to make this decision - it was not entered into lightly, but I do believe that it was the right decision for all involved.

In the midst of all of the changes of the past year; separation, changes in job, a move, a child graduating from high school, sending the two girls to college, helping the boys get acclimated to living in a new community, the challenges of being a solo pastor... need I say more?   And yet - despite all of these things - I am so grateful for God's very real presence in the midst of this journey and for the love and affirmations that I have received from family and friends alike.

I will have plenty of challenges ahead, but I anticipate many, many great joys as I re-discover who I am as an individual, and more important as a beloved child of God.  That really is the whole point after all.  

This weekend is the boys first official visitation weekend with their dad.  I wasn't sure how I would feel about being home alone...but last night as "Brand New Day" played in the grocery store I noticed that my step became lighter.  I watched a movie, went to bed early, and this morning I am getting a jump start on some projects...including finally writing this blog post about the big changes in our lives.  

We are going to be ok.  It is well with my soul!