Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Sermon that God wants me to preach...(that means I won't get in trouble, doesn't it?)

I really need to quit reading David Lose's columns from Working Preacher, because I get these ideas and actually do them, and one of these days I'm going to get fired.  So, my congregation has an almost $200,000 endowment fund that literally is keeping the building running for 30 people.  And it makes me a little angry...that maybe we're the rich man, walking past Lazarus each and every Sunday, just so we can worship in the same building their grandma did.  So, my intent is to challenge them a bit--they'll each get $5 of that $200,000, and maybe they'll love spending it so much, they'll want to give it all away.  If not, maybe it's time for a new call, anyway...So,here's rough outline of what I'm planning to say tomorrow.  Tomorrow might end up with a Jesus loves you...Amen kind of sermon. (ps.  Thanks for listening yesterday, you guys...I love you all.)

Another one of these tell you what I really want to say kind of sermons.

I read an article written recently by an English professor—and her concluding sentence. Greed is bad…it is really, really bad.

I think Jesus might agree—you know what Jesus talks more about than absolutely anything else—more than sex, more than heaven, more than fig trees—money. And why? Well, probably because we think about money more than…well, more than fig trees. Our entire lives seemed to be consumed with it—how to we earn it; how do we get more of it; how do we spend it; how do we keep it so one day we don’t have to work for it anymore. And, you know what? That makes Jesus really, really angry—because what does he want you to think of more than anything in else—no, not fig trees…but, he wants you to serve him? And that leads to how do you serve him? By seeing all those Lazarus’ on our doorsteps.

I saw him on Thursday; I was making a quick trip while the kids were at their piano and violin lessons—I saw him twice; first on my way into Wal-Mart, and then on my way out. And both times—all those questions went through my head—you know them. I wonder what he did to get here? I wonder what bills he decided not to pay. It says he has a family—probably just a ploy to make me feel bad. What good would my little dollar do. It’s not like giving him something would change the world—heck it wouldn’t even change his world. So, I drove on—cursed the stop light for being red, and for making me have to sit there and look at him for so long. And then grateful when it finally turned green, and I could drive on—pretend that he was no longer there and let someone else take responsibility for him.

You know that’s actually what happened to our dear Lazarus. Of course the English doesn’t tell us, but the Greek makes it clear that Lazarus was actually tossed haphazardly onto the front doorstep of that rich man. People who didn’t want to take care of him any longer, picked him up, dragged him across down and threw him upon the mercy of someone who had the resources to actually care for him. They threw him down upon the mercy, upon the compassion of someone who was supposed to…upon the mercy of someone who should care for him.

Most of the time, I think we’re the guys who throw Lazarus onto the rich guy’s doorstep. We think we don’t have enough; that our little bit won’t make a difference, so we give up, overlook our responsibilities and turn the problem over to someone with a little more authority, a little more clout, a little more money to share. But, you know what, we’re not them…we’re that rich guy. We have everything we need…we have more than we need—we’re told we don’t with all those blasted commercials, and new clothes and cars and things we could have—but we have more than enough. And instead of moaning that we don’t have enough—we’re called to look deeply into the eyes of that man standing at the Wal-Mart intersection…we’re called to not get defensive or suspect or doubtful…but we’re called to give out of the gifts that God has given us…and actually give it to him---give him the scraps off our table...because as one preacher said “not a single one of us will get into heaven, if we don’t have a reference letter from the poor.”

Here’s where I’m going to get a little too concrete for you—but you know who the rich man is among us? This congregation. As a whole, we have enough money to build a homeless shelter; as a whole we have enough money to feed thousands of children for a number of years; as a whole we could do a whole lot more than simply give someone the scraps that fall of our table. As a whole, we have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in accounts, so that we can keep these lights turned on and the fans running. I think Jesus is angry—because instead of seeing Lazarus sitting at our front gate…we’re making our own couches more comfortable and our own wine easier to swallow.

Now, before you start a coup and try to throw me out of here…I’d like to try a little experiment—because it’s quite possible I’m wrong—and the money in those accounts should just sit there to help us survive—maybe there’s something bigger and better we’re waiting for. But in the meantime—remember how we looked at our hands and saw they were God’s hands and by doing so made us use these hands differently.

What if we actually looked at this money and saw it as God’s money? What if we actually believed what we said…and acted as ones who’s lives overflow with compassion for those who are poor-who were overwhelmed with mercy that God longs for us to have for each other. What if we lived as ones who served only one Master—who served only God, and not the money we cling to.

So, this week—you indeed have a challenge. Take this $5 and use it. Keeping in mind that this is indeed God’s money—money that two days ago was sitting in our church’s account wondering what it was to be used for. Give it away—give a quarter to 20 people; give a five to one; buy a cup of coffee for someone who is lonely. But, while you’re pondering how to use it—pay attention to what happens to your heart. Do you see this money differently, because you know it’s not really your’s? I wonder then…is any of your money really your’s? Does it make you angry that you have to give it away, or does it make you joyful? Maybe…just maybe giving it away, will change more than the one who receives. Here’s the thing. Ihave no idea what’s going to happen here. I have no idea if this is the right thing to do. But, what I do know, is that Jesus wants us to serve him, through those sitting at our gates…I do know that serving, clinging to, loving our money, is not the way to get that done. What I do know, is that I’m tired of simply talking about what I believe, I’m ready to actually live it...And I also know this—that Jesus promises that whenever we give a cup of water, a bit of friend, the coat off our back to the least of these…we give it to him. I’m ready to meet Jesus…and if it takes me to give away God’s money to see him…maybe that’s a price we should be willing to pay.

Friday, September 24, 2010

You win; I lose...

        I am forever keeping score.  I'm behind Brant by six games in our Cribbage matches.  I'm vitually tied wins to losses in Words with Friends.  I've done 36 loads of laundary to Steve's two.  He's gotten up in the morning with the kids 182 times; I've gotten up with them 182 times in the middle of the night.  My dear friend Kris has twice as many followers as me on her blog (hence, I can go longer keep track of how many people follow me).  I will only arm wrestle people I know I can win (hmmm....six year old girls), and will quit absolutely everything (grad school, weight loss, writing....)  before I actaully become the failure, I know I already am.  This thing goes waaaay past being competitive--because it would be a good thing if it just kept me striving until I got better.  But, that's not what happns.  What happens, is my entire self-worth becomes tied up in numbers and games and who gives more than I do. My entire self worth depends upon if I'm good enough, or smart enough, or doing enough.  And since more often than not...actually way more often than not...I do lose...well, maybe self-worth is over-rated.
   Right now, I'm thinking, why even write this?  Blogs are supposed to be for the good of all, right...I'm not as eloquent and uplifting as Kris, not as brilliant as Brant (sorry guys that I pick on you--you're my "I wish I were like them" right now--love you both).  I merely take up space complaining and who in God's name wants to read that.  But, I need to do this; I need all of this shit out of my head--and you're the ones who get to read it (so, adivce:  stop reading'll feel much better).
    So, weight wise--you'd think 40 pounds would make me feel fabulous.  Not so much, because Steve has lost 60, looks so much better than me, and because I'm so angry at him for that, I've started eating....for three days now I've had movie popcorn, frosted cookies, donuts, french fries and ice cream (probably 10000 calories in less than 40 hours) .  And, you know what, I don't feel better--the scale goes higher (my self-worth goes lower) and my anger at Steve for getting smaller doesn't seem to abate. 
   Two--This last six months I've been having lots of pain--if you've been around me, you see me hobbling, because my feet hurt so bad, I can hardly walk. I've now been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (which appropriately enough is a diease where your body attacks itself--a perfect one for me).  And I'm now taking a low dose of a cancer drug--which makes me feel pretty crappy.  And I so badly want to feel bad for myself (w/o feeling guilty), but I can't, because Steve's mom is really, really sick with complications from a lupus-like disease and is in the she's actually sick...and now he's gone to take care of her and I'm angry that he can't stay home and take care of me.  Honestly, what kind of person thinks these things...
   I simply want to go bed for about three days and cry...and just so you know that butterfly crap I wrote about last post is well...nonsense.  So, here's the real me--bitter, angry, tired, full of self-pity, and someone who in the next four hours has to write a sermon (that should go over really well...)...If you've actually read this far--you are indeed a saint...and maybe next time you see me, pretend you don't know my deepest, awful thoughts.  I'd tell you to pray, if I really thought it think kind thoughts for Donna (mom-in-law), tell Steve he's a great man for no leaving me yet, and simply tell me there are plenty of people with real problems in the world and  to get over it... 
  until next time (if I don't quit this whole blog-thing)
   your ridiculously unholypastormommy

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No complainin' here!

Imagine that!  Today has been a fabulous day.  Are you ready to hear some positive words come out of my fingers!  I woke up early...which on a Sunday morning is a feat in itself.  And guess what?  I have officially lost 40 pounds!  40 pounds!  That's 4 bags of flour, or 8 bags of sugar, or 160 sticks of butter...or in non-food's an Elijah!  For some reason i'm weird THE END (Isaac took over for a minute); So, for some reason it feels real I look in the mirror and can actually tell that it's working.  It is indeed a wonderful feeling!

But, the day doesn't end there!  Then, I got to go to church and we actually have children in sunday school!  And they were so excited to get to acolyte!  And then after that, I preached a pretty dang good sermon that connected with me and with others, as well (see previous post); I know God really deserves the credit, but I'm taking it today!  And we sang some really great hymns (played by great musicians!)...and then...

I got to get a fry from Burger King (yeah free days!) and take a wonderful nap, and then I made an apple pie (again, yeah free day!). 

It's just been one fabulous day, and I had to share!  So, next time I'm moaning and complaining, remind me to look for butterflies or stray kittens...because Jesus is here.  I love being tagged!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

You've been tagged...

Our faith life is a lot like a game of tag. Sometimes we hear something coming up behind us, and just as the words “I finally got you” are uttered from God’s lips, we yell “oh no you don’t” and we dodge God’s touch and get away. Because we are not simply not ready for the chase to be over. So, we wildly run in the other direction, or we quietly turn the corner, or we slip into the shadows, hoping that at least for a moment, we can stay free; at least for a moment we can pretend that God will never find us and our lives will never have to change.

Other times you’ll run and run and finally you simply give in, and let yourself be tagged. Writer Anne Lamott says Jesus is a lot like a stray cat. He just keeps following you around, nipping at your heels, looking longingly at you through your windows, trying desperately to come into your home; and finally, after shooing him away, and trying to pawn him off on friends, in utter frustration you fling open the door—“fine, you’ve got me. Come on in.” And the cat Jesus settles himself on your lap and the game is over.

And then, there are those times when you feel like you’re the only one playing. When you find yourself in this huge field of shrubs and thorns and really tall grass, and you look around, and you wonder—am I still in the game? Has everyone gone home and forgotten to tell me? Is God still ‘it?’ And you even start to shout out loud—“hey, come and find me…where’d you go. I’m right here.”

I have to be honest with you…I spend a lot of time in that field, surrounded by prickly grass, wondering if the game has ended without me. One of the great things about being a pastor is I get to talk a lot about God; one of the bad things about being a pastor is I have to think a lot about God. And the more I think, the more I struggle, and I turn God into this really knowable reality. I may preach about God being present and active and about how God works in the world. But, when I think about when was the last time God tagged me—it feels like I’m playing hide-n-seek, and God’s forgotten that I’m still hiding.

Until last week—last week some of you came to listen to Joe Kissick, the author of the Fourth Fisherman—and although he said a lot of wonderful things, what stood out to me, was in this crazy journey of searching for three Mexican fisherman, he started to doubt if he was doing the right thing, and he longed for God to send him a sign, to tell him if he was going the right way. Along the way, a plane ticket came open on a previously booked flight he really needed to be on; along the way, he was driving through the jungle and suddenly his little car was completely surrounded by hundreds of butterflies, beckoning him to move forward. Along the way he was tagged by God; God found him time and time again and ushered him into what turned into a vital new ministry. I left that evening longing for God to tag me; longing to feel something…anything…for God to find me, tag me, and curl contentedly up in my lap.

This story is long…but the next week, I suppose this last week has been kind of difficult—I won’t go into details (imagine that), but again I found myself doubting my call, questioning my worth, wondering if indeed the game was over or changed on me midstream. And the following happen, I kid you not; I was walking down my drive way, looking down at the ground, ready to cry, and I see the shadows of three butterflies—seriously, three butterflies—and I look up and they are circling around my head. And in that instant I was tagged. In that instant God found me; and I was no longer wandering and waist deep in that awful grass, wondering where God had gone, but in that instant I knew Jesus had indeed been following me around like a stray kitten longing to be welcomed, I simply had my curtains drawn, my head under the pillow and had been closing my eyes to the butterflies that surrounded me.

And you know what I had to do to get to see those butterflies. Absolutely nothing. There was nothing that I did. There was no confessing my sins; there was no huge prayer that I prayed; there was no major bible study I went to, or book that I read. There was simply me…walking in a field run-over with scratchy grass and when I looked up I was tagged. I was lost and Jesus found me.

Just like that sheep that was found wandering in the field; he didn’t do anything but get lost. That coin missing under the sofa—yep…didn’t do anything but jump out of the woman’s purse. It was the compassionate shepherd…the faithful woman that did the searching; it was the seekers—the “it-ones” who stopped everything they were doing, to play the most elaborate game of tag and who wouldn’t stop until every last one had been tapped on the shoulder. And then what happened? They all rejoiced—not just a “goodness gracious, I finally found what I was looking for” but an all-out, throw-down party, where there is dancing and singing and laughing and stories and joy—pure unadulterated joy. Because when you’ve spent so much time wandering around in an empty field…when you’ve been laying for days with the dust bunnies under the sofa…when you’ve been wondering if everyone has gone home…once you see those butterflies, once Jesus taps you on the shoulder, there is nothing you would rather do than jump into God’s arms and join the party.

So, what do you have to do this week? Absolutely nothing. Be lost…wander in the field, look down at the ground, lie under the sofa; because Jesus is “it” and there is nothing Jesus likes better than a good game of tag—and the next best thing?  To throw one heck of a party.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lots of Law...oh well...

Sermon from August 29, 2010

Isaac was just minutes old; the nurse was weighing him; I was exhausted, but ecstatic to be a brand new mom, when I noticed that another nurse was coming near me with a scary looking needle, for a shot for something. “What that’s for,” I gasped. “Why do I need a shot?” “It’s not for you,” she said. “It’s for the baby.” “Oh good,” I said relieved. Seriously, that’s what I said…Good! Obviously not the kind of mother that would jump in front of a moving car to save her child. My first opportunity to be a fierce maternal protector and I failed. Not a great way to begin motherhood.

And now it’s been nine years and I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a mom; what I’m supposed to do; how I’m supposed to act. Sometimes it comes naturally…I love those moments, but more often than not, it’s the most difficult thing in the world—that I have to keep practicing at, that I have to keep failing at; that I have to keep trying, because those little moments—those moments when I get a hug bigger than I could imagine, when I watch them sleeping and imagine their dreams, when I see them be kind to another…that makes this living into being a mommy thing worth it.

So, whether you’re a mom or not, you know what I’m talking about. Just because you all of a sudden graduate, doesn’t mean that you know what it means to work 9-5…taking orders from other people. Just because you receive your AARP card in the mail doesn’t mean you instantly know all the places you’re entitled to a discount…Just because you’ve had to move out of the home you’ve lived in for decades, doesn’t mean you still don’t long for your old bed and your pots and pans. And just because you walk through those front doors…just because you’ve felt the gracious waters of baptism wash over your head, doesn’t mean you automatically know how to be a follower of Jesus.

A little tangent here—most of you know that I’ve been doing this lifestyle change thing to get healthy. And although it’s working, a little faster for my husband, but still…although it’s working, I get some really strange reactions because of the non-conventional rules. “What do you mean a calorie’s a calorie”—“you honestly don’t think you can lose weight by eating a candy bar a day,” they say…well, actually you can. And they to get really angry and defensive when they learn the guidelines, because it’s nothing like they’ve ever followed before…when the rules for losing weight don’t conform to the “normal” way, they assume I’ve lost it…and do their best to try to talk me into a more established program.

We’ve also started following Dave Ramsey, a financial turnaround guy…I think we’re turning into guru worshippers…He lays out these quite simple rules, tells you it’s not complicated…but, it’s very, very difficult, and one way you’ll know if you’re on your way to financial freedom is if everyone thinks you’ve gone completely insane.

So? How do you know if you are faithfully living into your role as a follower of Jesus? If everyone thinks you’re absolutely crazy. Honestly, that’s one of the best tests. Because the Bible, these stories, this passage in particular, is not just a guide or a rulebook. Jesus is not simply telling these people where they should sit at a dinner party—Emily Post could and would tell you the same thing.

But following Jesus, almost always means that you’re throwing conventional wisdom out the window, that you’ve finally discovered “the way things have always been” is not usually the ways of God. Because we, those of us living into this follower of Jesus life, often get so tired of the difficult parts, and so we revert back to the complicated. And we create all these rules about who’s in and who’s out; we say you can’t build there, you have to build here; we make laws about who is worthy and who is dirty…and what once was difficult, yet simple, we’ve now made complicated, yet livable.

And believe me, we aren’t the first ones to have made up this system of hierarchy…Jesus was attacking that very thing…a quick note about history. In Jesus day where you sat was of the utmost importance…the most important guests sat right next to the host, and the lowliest spot was the farthest away. The closer you sat, the more honorable you were; the farther away, the more shameful. So, your job was through money and time and power, move your way up the table. You would invite someone to your house for dinner, so they would in turn invite you. This was something they had done (and we continue to do in some form) for centuries.

But remember, Jesus wasn’t really into that whole hierarchy thing. Because in God’s world, the most important people were the ones at the end of the table; actually the most important people were the ones who weren’t even invited…were the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…those whose honor had already been lost. And Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak up and tell everyone…he didn’t care that people would think him crazy; he didn’t care the he knocked over the table and sent their places of honor flying; all he cared about, was the people that no one else cared for…and in the long run, it got him killed.

So, how do you know if you’re living into this follower of Jesus thing? One, people have labeled you a little crazy because of all the new people you’re talking to, and the boundaries you’re crossing, and the way you no longer seem to care what others think and what those constraining rules are. And two, you know you’re doing a pretty good job, if you’re starting to make some people a little angry. Because being a follower of Jesus means looking at the world a little differently; it means seeing things through the eyes of Jesus, not through the eyes of power and honor.

It means living as one who opens your very soul to the world, because in doing so, you might be entertaining angels…in speaking to the one that no one sees, you very well, might be speaking to Jesus. So, this week live into your identity as a follower of Jesus. Embrace those moments when you encounter the living God, when you see the face of Christ, when you hold the hand of the angel in your midst. Embrace those moments and see Jesus. And close your ears to the words from the outside—to the ones calling you crazy, to the ones wondering what the heck you’re doing talking to her—because you know that you’re a Jesus follower…and if you make a few people uncomfortable along the way, smile just a little—because I imagine, Jesus is grinning from ear to ear.