Sunday, May 15, 2011
Walking this weekend I came across the outdoor labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church for the first. I’ve meant to get over there before, walk the small brick path, but hadn’t until now. I was struck by the symbol in the center of the labyrinth – a fish. At least at first glance it’s a fish. The tail on this fish is split so that if you turn your head and look at it from another angle, you see a head with horns. Depending on how you look at it, this symbol can go from one of the earliest symbols of Christianity to the image of a devil.
This little moment on my walk was a good reminder that many things depend on how you look at them. Duck or rabbit in that popular optical illusion; glass half empty, half full; half way there or half way to go. How we encounter the world – from symbols to attitudes – oft depends on how we choose to look at that world.
This truth has been on my mind quite a bit lately. If you’ve been paying attention to church chatter in the last week, month, year, years, you know that there are a variety of issues that people of faith disagree on. While the news media may cover (sometimes better than others) the issues that our national level church faces, those certainly aren’t the only things we disagree on. While I wasn’t here for this time, I have been told that the most contentious decision here at Covenant was what color the sanctuary carpet should be. I can’t speak to the truth of that story but it is a truth universally acknowledged (at least among many ministers) that the worst disagreements in churches are almost always about those little things.
Whether it’s the small things like carpet or the big things like how we interpret scripture, the differences between us, between people of faith, are hard for many of us to accept. In fact, I feel a little strange just mentioning it on a Sunday morning. We are of one body and one Spirit, just as we are called to the one hope of our calling. Shouldn’t we too be of one mind in all things? Shouldn’t the church be that place where we all come together, sing the same hymns, pray the same prayers, worship the same God... by which we mean, worship a God we all understand in similar – if not in the exact same – ways?
There’s something that says to us “we should be of one mind, united in all things.” Wishful thinking? No, but perhaps that’s one of those things that will come to pass when God’s kingdom comes to pass fully. Because God’s people have always been good at dividing ourselves. Cain and Able weren’t just brothers nor the first murderer-victim pair. They were the first to find themselves divided based on their jobs and what they valued. Harvesting versus husbandry. The farmer and the cowboy should be friends, but in the beginning of our story with God, they aren’t.
Division in this story ends in death. Perhaps our fear of differences goes as far back as that. But this fear is not necessary. Not even a little bit.
Why? Look at the church in Acts. The very first community of faith united by Christ, one that has reached out into the Jewish population in Jerusalem, and come together as believers who pray together, eat together, serve together, worship together, laugh and grieve together. Miracles and wonders are being done, all are taken care of, and day by day more people come to this flock, this family.
It might be tempting to look at this very first expansion of Jesus’ followers, the formation of the first community of faith that did not walk and talk with Jesus, and think “how perfect” and wonder who this extra-holy people must have been. But we shouldn’t romanticize the past. This first community of faith was filled not with saints but with sinners – just like you and me. And this community of faith, the body of Christ, was made up of people who from the very beginning saw things – important things like how to interpret scripture and how to live a holy life – very differently.
The Jewish people that Jesus lived among, taught and healed, were a divided people. There was the difference between those who followed Hillel (a first century B.C. rabbi who taught more moderate interpretation of the law and tradition) and those who followed Shammai (Hillel’s contemporary who taught a much stricter interpretation). There was also a division between those Jews who had conformed to the Hellenistic (aka the Greco-Roman) culture – including translating the sacred scriptures from Hebrew the Greek – and those who held tightly to their Hebrew ways and would not conform to the prevailing culture.
When Peter preached that Pentecost sermon, when the Spirit came and people from all over the Roman empire heard the Good News in their own language, it was the Jewish people gathered for a Jewish festival that became the first converts. And these first converts, the members of the first community of faith that had the Risen Christ as their Lord, brought with them their differences. That which could have divided them. As later passages in Acts tell us, this community was indeed composed of people with staunch disagreements on religious matters.
And yet, look at them. Different as they may have been, they created a beautiful, faithful family that worshiped Jesus Christ as Lord. They were the church family, the body of Christ, as we too hope to be.
The church of Acts gathered around the Good News and in doing so, found unity where others might have found division. They wouldn’t always be so faithful, so one in Spirit, but they’d come back to their oneness in Christ.
The first church serves as sort of a prototype for the church throughout history. Over and over people with all kinds of differences – some obvious, some that take a little digging and time to discover – people gather together to worship, to serve, to care for and in the name of Christ. From time to time, the family of faith resembles those first days of the church. And from time to time, we let our differences get the best of us.
Whether we find ourselves bound together in love or sorrowfully divided, the fact that there are differences among us does not change. The difference, perhaps, is sometimes we let our differences divide us and sometimes we live as though Christ is the Lord of all and calls us all together. Sometimes we live as though we truly believe that God’s house is a house of prayer for all peoples… even the ones we don’t agree with.
Our differences, whether you wanted blue instead of red carpet or whether you read all the stories of the Bible literally or not, our differences matter. They are not insignificant details. They are also not, thanks to Christ, insurmountable. For in Christ all things are possible. In Christ, there ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough, ain’t no division strong enough to keep God from calling us together. To keep us from being one loving family of faith.
We can look at the differences among us and wonder “how can we ever serve God if we can’t agree on everything?” Or we can look at our differences and marvel that we can worship and service God together. We can stand in awe of the One who calls us together.
Praise and glory be to that One, this day and all days. Amen.
Monday, May 02, 2011
Dave and I met last year and hit it off immediately; I knew a man who can talk physics as well tell puns was worth spending time with! He was born in Waynesboro, the eldest of four siblings, and has lived in this area for most of his life. David works for Augusta County schools in the IT department. I’m quite blessed to have found a man who can help my with my computer – as well as cook, garden, make me laugh. As a newly engaged woman, I could certainly go on!
We plan on getting married in Richmond in a small family wedding after Christmas. During the next eight months, Dave and I will be acclimating to life as an engaged couple as Dave also gets to acclimate to life as a pastor’s partner. My Covenant family has been beyond wonderful in embracing me as both a pastor and a friend. You have already begun to make him feel welcome and I know you will continue to do so. Let’s pray he doesn’t get too overwhelmed by all the love!
Thank you for all your well-wishes and prayers.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
As we’re gathered, eating pizza and talking over deep thoughts from “why do tootsie pop wrappers have stars” to “what was before God” I ask them a question.
“Why are you here?” The answers: I have a friend, a friend’s parent, a grandparent, an uncle who has cancer. We are here because we know and love people who have faced cancer. We’re here because it’s personal.
“How about the people in Japan?” I ask. “You don’t know them. You probably don’t know anyone who’s been hurt by a tsunami. Do care about them?”
Of course we care, they say.
The answers: Because… because they’re people. They’re God’s children. We have to care. We have to help them. We have to.
Listening to the passion and the compassion from our teenagers moves me. And it convicts me. When and where we can, we have to help. That’s what they say and I’ve seen them walk the walk (literally tonight) just as well as they talk it. How we help can may not seem much – it may just be donating a few dollars and walking around in a circle to raise awareness – but we have to help.
Why do we have to help? As one of the youth said: “If I know about it and I don’t do anything, I’m failing myself as a person.” As we’d say in seminary, “that’ll preach.”
What can you do? If you’re interesting in helping with the situation in Japan, check out the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance website. If you’re interesting in raising money and awareness for cancer research, join the Covenant Relay for Life team in May. If there’s another cause you’d like to help with but don’t know where to start, talk to the Outreach team or John and me.
Not all of us can do everything but together with God’s help we can sure do a lot. Looking around at our teenagers I leaves me no doubt that we will.
Monday, March 07, 2011
Atonement, what sin is, what death is, the unknowable nature of God - yup, all of these made an appearance this morning. Because Lent - this season we're about to enter into - makes us stop and wonder about the tough stuff... at least if we take it seriously.
How can you prepare for the journey into Jerusalem, to the cross, without wondering who it is Jesus died, wondering what our sin we say he died for really is? I can't. I can't take in the costly grace without spending time reflecting on who God is and why God choose to love me, and you, and the people I can't imagine anyone loving.
This is why Lent - along with being that time of preparation - is a time where the big questions are on my mind... and causing some mass confusion. But that's one of the things I love about Lent. I love that I spend time pondering, wondering, imagining all these things about the Divine and ultimately coming to the conclusion that I don't really know anything but that God is God and I am not God. I find myself enjoying Job's whirlwind, marveling at it, even if I'm left with unanswered questions.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
If it had been left completely up to me, I would have thrown my hands up in the air and left it at “I just can’t do math; it’s too hard” – which I believe were the words I exclaimed to my father. But my father, knowing me, knowing what would inspire me to actually work hard for something for the first time, said “that’s okay, Amy. Girls just can’t do math.”
You better believe I figured out that homework and brought home As in math throughout my academic career.
Facing off with long division was the first time I had to really work for something I wanted – but it certainly wasn’t the last. Talk about a good life lesson. You can’t just luck your way into things – if they really matter, then yup, you really have to work at them. I learned that with something relatively trivial – a math grade but that lesson has proved true from grades to relationships to things the heart is passionate about. You can’t have a long lasting friendship or marriage without working at it. There are going to be ups and downs and sometimes you’re going to have to fight for the relationship even though you it may seem like you just fight.
You can’t just have a healthy, functioning child - you have to spend days and nights taking care of your child, making sure he or she knows they’re loved, provided for safe. You even have to be the bad guy on occasion or know just how to push your kid’s buttons to get her to apply herself at math.
Family, friends, marriages, careers, kids – all of these require hard work and they are worth it.
And then there’s the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God—where God’s will is done, where peace reigns, where love is the law and all obey, where the greatest commandment and the one like it are followed—this is what we, the church, the body of Christ, are called to work for.
If anyone told couples who are getting married “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven…” I have to wonder how many couples might rethink making the commitment. It might feel from time to time like there are earthquakes, famines, plagues, but there usually aren’t.
And that’s not even the hardest part.
The hardest part, I believe, in being a part of the kingdom of God, in working for it, toward it, is the part about persecution. Betrayal. As Jesus is in his final days and sees his own betrayal on the horizon, he warns us that in following him, the ones we love – even our parents, our friends, our nearest and dearest. That’s got to be the hardest part.
Working for the kingdom - it's harder than anything else. We participate in moments where we see God at work here and now, we’re looking for that day when God’s will is done here on earth as it is in heaven. But before God's reign is total, before we know an image like the one of new Jerusalem from Isaiah, we aren't promised easy street. We're told of famines and plagues and earthquakes and wars and utter destruction. We're told of friends and family and loved ones turning us in. We’re told of death.
No wonder at certain times in our history people have looked around and said "the end is near" as friends turned against friend, brother against brother.
It’s all rather depressing. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather start humming the classic Joy to the World a bit early than sing to myself “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, but the earth didn't receive her king. Before he comes in glory, there will plagues and earthquakes, and some famine and some death, and you will be persecuted for your faith.”
While I love knowing the Jesus loves me as much as the next person, the hard truth of our faith is that Jesus may love us but the world does not. Not if we’re truly pursuing the kingdom, not if we’re challenging the status quo when it sustains injustice and oppression on micro and macro levels, not if we’re standing up for what’s right and not what’s popular.
While we have in our news tragic stories of Iraqi Christians being targeted because of their faith, you don’t have to go across the world to know that when you follow Christ, suffering will ensue. Maybe not physical death, but suffering, yes. Ask anyone of our youth – how popular does it make you when you have the guts to tell your friends to stop gossiping or to stop teasing another kid?
Jesus does not hide that truth from us. If you were hoping being a follower of Christ meant prosperity and abundance and success as the world defines it – sorry, you’re out of luck.
Because what we are promised is something else. We may be persecuted, we may suffer, we may go through incredibly hard times – but in those moments, God will be with us and we will have a chance to witness to God’s glory in word and in deed. We’ll have a chance to take those moments that are meant to crush us and use them to spread the good news.
We are also told that some of us will die – we might die too young or too forgotten or too poor because of our faith but we will not perish. We will die, yes, but even death – that great tool of intimidation – cannot silence us. We will not perish, not be utterly destroyed. Because in the end of his time in Jerusalem, Jesus died, and showed us that wasn't the end after all.
We may die but we will not perish and so we are encouraged to work for the kingdom, fight for the kingdom, take up pens and petitions for the kingdom, to sacrifice for the kingdom.
As I was thinking about this text, thinking about how, well, again how depressing this can come across, I asked one of the young adults I know through my coffee shop time what he thought. This young man looks around our world, sees the injustices and does want to find a way to take part in the birthing of the kingdom even here, even now. I wanted to know what gives him hope, what inspired him and encouraged him as he worked for God.
He looked at me a little funny – usually we chat about the latest band or something – and then took a moment before his thoughtful reply. When he answered he spoke to me about endurance – how in enduring and making through the hard times we can come to know God even better and come to our better selves. Words that echoed nicely Jesus’ own. He also spoke of those who had gone before, the disciples, the apostles, those who had known just how hard working for God’s kingdom can be but they did it anyway. Those who saw what happened to Jesus and knew that death would come but that it wasn’t the end. It wasn’t easy, but they persevered. They endured. And their stories inspired him to be a part of that greater story.
In his response, I hear the good news. Yes, the kingdom of God is a wonderful vision and no it’s not here yet. Yes working for the kingdom is hard work, it can mean not just a little inconvenience but genuine suffering. But it’s worth it. Being part of what God is doing, bringing in the kingdom, is worth it. Even if we suffer. Even if we, like the disciples, won’t get to see the new heavens and new earth before we die.
Being part of the kingdom is hard. But it’s worth it and it’s worthy of our efforts, our energy, our endurance. God is doing a new thing, here and now, and we are called to participate in it. So let’s keep our eyes, our ears, our hearts open to what God is doing and may we never tell ourselves “it’s just too hard.” Amen.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Today’s adventure was – to be frank – rather dull. We got up and out of the Twin Cities church around 7am and got on the road… and stayed on the road until about 10pm. Of course, that includes a switch from CST to EST – something we didn’t remember until we hit Indiana. We did get to see quite a bit of the Iowan countryside and small towns. America really does have quite a few beautiful small towns – Staunton (of course) being one of them.
During the trip my car listened to a rather depressing book on cd while the other van sang silly songs and had a contest that, well, let’s just say the beans at Taco Bell probably helped. I think even with the depressing book I had the better driving deal.
We did get some good prep work done for Mission Sunday, though. There’s a lot to share and we have some idea now of how we might go about sharing it.
We have arrived safe and sound in Indianapolis and are staying at Second Presbyterian Church here.
Tomorrow means home and while I’ve had a marvelous time, it will be nice to sleep on something other than an air mattress.
Sorry for no update last night. For those of you who have not experience a YouthWorks trip before (and I’m assuming that’s most) Thursday evening’s worship ends with a very powerful and very emotionally draining piece of worship. Sleep had to take the priority for this woman.
Thursday was an all around grace-filled day.
We had our last day of work at our ministry sites.
We played and talked with kids
and finished painting a house!
In the evening we took a field trip to
went for a walk and heard a very interesting legend about the place we were visiting.
And, being us, we had a rocking good time in the van as we traveled there and back.
Of course, we also took time to take in the beautiful landscape around us.
When we got back we were treated to a dramatic performance by a few of our very own church members; it was so funny that several other church folks said they didn’t just almost pee their pants. I can’t tell you what exactly happened, but I will post this picture of Shelby rehearsing and let your imagination take over from there.
The evening closed with that worship where the Holy Spirit was present so powerfully. It was wonderful and sacred and will stay with me for years to come. Our youth are truly beloved children of God.
The next day (Friday!) we woke up early, packed the vans, helped clean up the building, and said good-bye to the friends we had made.
The staff we worked with were beyond phenomenal and a true blessings to all of us. Thank you Eric, Gina, David, and Calvin.
Today’s road trip was pretty tame. We made a special stop in Alexandria, MN for me. I would go to a lake about 20 or so minutes from there every summer for the Minette family reunion. It was quite special for me to be able to stop in this old familiar town and share a bit of my childhood with our kids. And that had to mean we met Big Ole.
When we got to the Twin Cities, it was a quick drop off of our stuff at the church we are staying at and on to the Mall of America.
Very serious theological reflection happened here, as you can see.
Tomorrow is an early day as we drive to Indiana which means I’m off to bed!
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Maybe it was the weather – the high was around 77 with bright blue skies. Maybe it was that we all got to experience new works sites. Maybe it was that our work groups have really gelled and we’ve made friends out of strangers.
Maybe. But the more likely reason for this being such a good day – I think – is that it was Erin P’s birthday.
The birthday girl came back from devotionals to find her room… er, her space in the room decorated.
But even though it was her birthday – it was straight to work for this girl – and the rest of us.
Several of our guys who had been working at houses the past couple days now got to try their hands at Kids Club.
They helped with games
and the scripture lesson and reading time.
The other group that switched from painting to Kids Club… well, I can’t talk about them. It’s just too painful. Some how Daniel, Emma S, and Lucy lucked out and headed to a lake for the day with kids. Yup, swimming, playing games on the beach, and even a little sunbathing. Isn’t mission so challenging?
The middler girls spent their day blitz painting a house – and doing an amazing job. If you ever need any help with some painting at home, I can recommend a few now qualified painters.
And enthusiastic ones too.
Not everyone did a lot of painting – as there were kids to play with!
In the evening – after glorious showers where poor Emma H had to scrub out some paint in her hair thanks to a certain adult leader (not me!) dripping some on her while up high on a ladder – we had dinner at the local park.
This dinner is the community dinner – where friends we’ve worked with and served come and enjoying hamburgers and hotdogs (or veggie burgers) and fellowship with the YouthWorks crew. By now all of us had worked with Kids Club so we had some friends to see again.
But, as great fun as all that was, it really was the birthday girl’s celebrations that topped everything off.
There were presents,
and lots and lots of laughter.
What a blessing!