Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Angels Hung Around

Texts: Isaiah 63:7-9
Matthew 2:13-23


I hope all of you had blessed and love filled Christmas day and are enjoying both leftovers and loved ones in the days that have followed.

Watching Christmas movies with my family, I’ve heard a lot of “this is what Christmas is about” from the characters on screen. Christmas is about truth, about love, about taking a chance, about family. I’ve enjoyed listening to all these statements about what the season is supposed to be, what it’s supposed to inspire in us, because I think they all are speaking to this feeling many of us have, this feeling deep down that Christmas is special and during this season all wonderful things are possible.

We long for Christmas tide to be full of nothing but joy and warmth, moments we can capture on film that we can look back upon when times are challenging and remember the glow of Christmas.

Sometimes we do get Christmases full of glow and love and nothing else. Sometimes we don’t. And even when we have the perfect Christmas, a gentle fresh snow on the ground, all our loved ones together without any of that pesky squabbling, the perfect Christmas ham or turkey or veggie platter that everyone salivates over… Even when we do have this perfect Christmas, you and I know that the feelings of warmth and love don’t last as long as the fruit cake and good tidings don’t ring in our ears all year long.

What happens? The world happens. Too much family togetherness brings up old grudges; those who have trouble feeling close to others are reminded of their isolation during the season that emphasizes kinship; violence erupts even as we worship the Prince of Peace.

The Christmases we experience which turn toward the harshness of the world follows in the unfortunate tradition set by the very first Christmas. Even the first Christmas, accompanied by proclamations from angels, did not usher in an eon of warmth and happiness. The shepherds came and went, as did the wise men, and this child whose birth was lauded by the heavenly chorus finds his life threatened.

Jesus is still a babe who is learning to sit up, eat solid foods, talk, and already the establishment is terrified of him. Herod—determined no king other than him should reign—sends out the troops under his command to eliminate any threat.

Eliminate any threat. As though a child who can’t yet speak is a threat to anything other than a good night’s sleep.

An angel of the Lord sends a message to Joseph to escape. The Holy Family bundles up and get out of Israel and headed toward Egypt. Jesus escaped but there were so many children who did not.

Just like the child Moses who escaped the wrath of Pharaoh when so many other Hebrew children did not, Jesus slips into the night with his mother and father and finds himself in Egypt, the land from which the adult Moses led his people. Just as we celebrate Moses’ journey down the river Nile in a basket, we celebrate Jesus’ escape from Herod’s wrath. How can we, though? How can we celebrate Jesus’ good fortune when so many others suffered?

This is the question we deal with every day. How do we praise God when the little children in this world are suffering? How do we rejoice that some are saved when others are lost?

We celebrate the birth of one child even as we look around and see children facing death – death from hunger, violence, need beyond anything we can comprehend. We see children of God of all ages fighting against the darkness of loneliness, self-doubt, loss of direction, anger, and so much more. Just like in the village of Bethlehem, the Herods of our world are seeking out the innocents for destruction.

This is the hard reality of Christmas, one many of us face in different ways. We want to first find the joy and warmth the season is supposed to bring and then remain in this sacredly serene feeling for the rest of the year. But it never happens that way. We want to praise God for all the good God has done and not be challenged with our praise of the Lord with the truth of evil in this world. But it never happens that way.

Instead of eternal bliss, rather than uncomplicated praise of a god who guarantees only good things to his or her followers, we have this messy and mysterious God who, when we follow, promises something else entirely.

Our Christmas story has been filled with visions and visits from angels. After the Christ-child has been born, the angels hung around, watched after him and his family. We could celebrate this part of the story – the presence of angels – but that isn’t what our text is about, that isn’t what Christmas is about, isn’t what our God is about.

God’s promises are more complicated than visions from angels or perfect happiness – and yet in some ways so much more simple. Isaiah reminds the people of his time and the ages to follow what it is to follow this God, what it is to trust in God’s promises, what and how it is we celebrate Christmas.

“he became their savior in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

It was no messenger or angel but God’s presence that saved them.

This—this is what Christmas is about, this is what we celebrate in the midst of the dark of our world.

The story of the massacre of the infants, of the innocents, isn’t just a story of a miraculous escape for Jesus and his family. Jesus escaped death here, yes, but we know what awaits him 30 or so years down the road. This story proclaims to us from the beginning what we will come to know so well throughout his life – Jesus is with us. He is subject to the pain and injustice of this world, he is victim of hatred and prejudice, and through him God is with us in all our suffering, in all things.

It is because of the God we know in the person of Jesus Christ that we can dare to say that even though the infant Jesus was not in Bethlehem when Herod’s soldiers came God was.

Jesus is God with us, Jesus is our salvation, our saving story. Through the person of Christ, God loves us, pities us, redeems us, and lifts us up into to the divine presence.

Through the person of Jesus Christ we know that though the world is not full of bliss, though the glow of Christmas fades and our troubles may seem here to stay, though something as horrific as the murder of these children is proof of the darkness, through Jesus we know our saving story.

Being a follower of Christ isn’t about escaping the clutches of evil… I wish it was. Following Christ can be about that- Jesus wants us to be free from evil, murder, but it’s more complicated.

The promise we have as a Christ follower comes in God’s presence among us – a presence we have known in the person of Jesus Christ and the life-giving and moving Spirit.

Even when our family squabbles, even when we can’t find any more Christmas cheer to light our days and nights, even when the worst we could imagine – beyond what we could imagine – happens, we can take comfort, find our cheer, find our hope in the knowledge that God is with us.

God’s presence gives us hope—hope that things can improve, may improve, will improve, slowly, too slowly to be sure. Hope in something greater than us, hope that what we know and see here and now is not all there is, is not God’s full kingdom, not yet. Hope that once we have departed from this place there is togetherness with God, our salvation, our hope, a togetherness that banishes all tears, all death, all pain.

The Christmas story is full of amazing signs and visions, the glory of God shone through the heavenly chorus singing “Glory to God in the highest!” and the story of Christ’s first days ends in brutality for so many of God’s innocents.

But above all the angels and beyond all the brutality lies the good news - “It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

Rejoice in cheer, rejoice in sorrow, rejoice that wherever you are, God is with you. Amen.

heard on Sunday morning

- coffee, coffee, I need coffee... (me)
- you talk too fast for me to understand you (a 7 year old visitor who I was greeting)
- that started to be quite the downer of a sermon, but I'm glad you got to the good stuff (a member at the 8:30 service)
- you sound kinda British (another member)
- Glory to God in the highest and ah, crap (my 10:30 liturgist practicing).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sermon Prep

I'm sitting at home staring at my father who's reading one of my favorite books - Good Omens - wishing I could do the same. Instead, I'm trying to figure out what exactly God wants to say through me this Sunday. My brow is currently on the "scrunchy" setting.

Thought I'd take a quick break and answer a question I know has been just burning on so many minds.

I often am asked "hey, Amy, how'd you come up with that" in reference to my sermons.

Well, let's see. I study the scripture, occasionally break out the Hebrew and/or Greek, enjoy the conversations held during our Monday morning Bible study class, take it with me wherever I go (not literally, though sometimes I do carry around a printed version of the text), and of course this:



Coffee is an essential component of my sermon writing process. I think the Holy Spirit is infused in the coffee beans or something. Really.

On that note, I think I need to go see if I've got any coffee left!

Peace.

Monday, December 24, 2007

And the Angel Said: "I Bring You Tidings of Great Joy..."

Texts: Isaiah 7:10-16
Luke 2:8-14


Christmas time is here – bringing with it joy for many and sorrow for some, business for shops and carols in the street. For me, Christmas time brings in my family – the whole large, loud lot of them. Parents, grandparents, and this Christmas 4 out of my 5 siblings.

My family, as you may know, is not your traditional family. I have two biological siblings and 3 sisters who are adopted – though not in the legal sense. It can get confusing, I know. My blonde sprite of an adopted sister Dawn doesn’t raise too many eyebrows but I’ve gotten quite used to the puzzled looks that come when I introduce Neli and Nyembe – who happen to be from Zambia – as my sisters. Sometimes people understand right away what I mean; sometimes it takes a bit of explaining that even though we don’t share genes, these amazing women are my sisters.

I mention my family in part to warn you that the Summers-Minette clan has indeed descended upon poor Staunton town, but also because of what being a part of this family has taught me about our scriptures. It is in great thanks to my family that I understand what it means for a child to be born into one particular family but to be born for more than just that family.

In many communities, including the one where my sisters Neli and Nyembe grew up, your family wasn’t just your mom, dad, and siblings. Everyone, unfortunately for you as Neli says, is your parent. People you aren’t related to by blood look out for you, correct you, care for you.

The community Jesus was born into was more like my sisters’ community of origin than ours. When a child was born, he or she wasn’t just born for the particular parents, but for the whole community. The whole community would have a hand in raising this child, guiding this child, loving this child.

Jesus’ Palestinian-Jewish community also had a long tradition of understanding that children may be born with a purpose – they may themselves be a sign. The prophet Hosea had children whose birth and names told of the people’s unfaithfulness to God and the punishment that would come. Even before Samuel – he who is from God - was born, he had been dedicated to God and had been marked as the one who would preside as prophet under Eli.

And then there is the child Immanuel. During the Advent season we remember the child Isaiah spoke of, one who would be born as a reminder to the king of the time that God is with us. King Ahaz was faced with two powerful nations who had united to bring him and Judah down and was looking to align his and his nation’s fate with the current world power – Assyria. The child Immanuel – God-with-us – was born to remind the king that it is God and God alone who Judah needed to rely on for protection—for salvation.

It is no wonder the Gospel writers looked to this child hundreds of years later when Jesus was born. If this child Immanuel was a reminder that God is with us then Jesus is the ultimate reminder, the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy. For in Jesus, God is with us in a most profound and unprecedented way.

In Jesus too a child has been born for more than just his mother and father – much, much more. Jesus is not just a sign or a reminder, not just one dedicated to God. In Jesus the idea that a child may be born for a people, for a purpose, is realized most fully.

“I am bringing you tidings of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

When the angel speaks to the shepherds of a Savior being born for them – that a child has been born for them – these men in the field understand that this child can indeed – even though he is newborn – that he can already been known as Savior, as something greater for them. If Jeremiah can be called prophet while still in the womb, if Samson can be dedicated as a Nazirite before his birth, then surely at his birth, this child whose name the shepherds do not yet even know can be called Savior.

The world in which the angel brings tidings of great joy is a world where some, like the shepherds, can indeed look upon a child and see the Messiah. They may not yet understand what confessing Jesus as Messiah means, but this child born of Mary is indeed their Savior.

It is because of this child whose birth the angel announces that we are all bound together, regardless of our family, our age, even our location. We too, I hope, can understand how a child born into one family can be born for all of us. It is because of this one who was found wrapped in swaddling clothing that we call the person next to us brother or sister and know that we are theirs. Because of this child, we recognize each person as a child of God.

In the sacrament of baptism we welcome each child of God – whatever their age – as part of our family. We welcome each child of God and promise “to share in worship and ministry through our prayers and gifts, our study and service, and so fulfill our common calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ.” In baptism we proclaim through our ritual and our words that we are connected and that together we will strive to be faithful disciples of Christ.

Writer and poet James Agee said that “in every child who is born, the potentiality of the human race is born again.” We can say that in every child welcomed into the family of the church, the potentiality of the body of Christ is welcomed again. In every child we welcome, in every one of us, the potential for being the true and faithful church is here.

In every child we welcome and in every one of us, we may find both the comfort and the challenge that Christ, who is the head of our body, brought to his disciples.

Being a follower of Jesus is not just about rejoicing in the birth of the Savior. We don’t know what became of the child Immanuel that Isaiah spoke of, but we certainly know what happened to Jesus. Even in the birth story, the writer of Luke does not let us forget what will become of this child. The child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger foreshadows the man wrapped in linen cloth and laid in a rock-hewn tomb.

The babe whom the shepherds welcomed, who was raised by his mother and earthly father as well as his community in Nazareth, was rejected by those who once welcomed him. Jesus did not just care for the sick or the poor; Jesus challenged those who would be unjust and unrighteous. Jesus was welcomed as long as he was a sweet child, but when he became the revolutionary – a peaceful one mind – he was rejected with “isn’t this Joseph’s kid?” and run out of town.

Each child of God we welcome through the sacrament of baptism brings with him or her the full potential of being a faithful disciple. When we welcome this child, when we welcome one another, we don’t just welcome with hugs and prayers – we welcome what this child might say, what he or she might do, what he or she might move us toward. God works in and through each of us and as a child of God, each of us has the potential to continue God’s revolutionary work.

Being the church, the true church, is not a simple task and requires us to be open in ways that are quite painful. Your neighbor next to you may be the sister or brother who brings you a meal when you are ill, he or she may be the one who sits with you at Together on Wednesday, may be the person who teaches your Sunday school class or offers insights in class. This sister may also be the one who makes you uncomfortable because she suggest that we should first give to the church and then to ourselves. This brother in Christ may make you squirm when he asks why he hasn’t seen you in church lately. This child of God may make you question your values and priorities and you may be the child of God who – in love – helps to question others’.

Together as children of God we are called to grow as Christians. Together we are called love one another and confront one another. Together we are called to hear the words of comfort we long for and the words of challenge we need.

I bring you tidings of great joy for all people – to you has been born a Savior and to you has been born brothers and sisters who will help you follow that Savior. This Christmas I pray that we welcome both our Savior and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ringing the Bell!

Two Saturdays ago I participated in Covenant’s bell ringing for the Salvation Army. Between singing carols with other Covenant members (badly on my part), trying to ring some sort of melody with the bells, and greeting people as they walked by, I really got into the Advent spirit. One story in particular I’d like to share.

My fellow bell ringer had stepped aside to help two women with their questions, leaving me to my enthusiastic ringing and (because it’s me) dancing to the carols I was trying to ring out. Several cars slowed down as they drove by me, all drivers smiling and waving.

Several minutes later, after my partner had come back to ringing and we were trying to remember all the words to 12 Days of Christmas, a woman burst out of the mall doors. She came over to me and said “this is all your fault.” My brain raced; who was she? What was my fault? With a smile she put several dollars in the kettle and handed me an item. It was a heart keychain with the words “the pure of heart will see God” engraved on it. Surprised that this woman would be giving me something, I didn’t hear the rest of her words. According to my fellow bell ringer, she said “I haven’t stopped by one of these things in years but on seeing your joy, I just had to.” She left me with another smile as I wondered at her kindness.

I share this not to confirm that being joyous puts people in a giving spirit (though I certainly think it does) but to share this moment in front of the mall when Christ appeared, with almost twenty days until Christmas remaining. In my joy, this woman saw the face of Christ in me. In her generous spirit, in her sharing of herself, and in her affirmation of what I had to give (that joy she recognized), I saw the face of Christ in her.

Christ came as a baby over two thousand years ago and Christ will come again. And – as this woman reminded me – Christ comes in the here and now, in moments like I experienced while ringing bells, in moments of generosity and joy, in so many different ways and places, Christ comes. Rejoice, believers, rejoice!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

okay, not quite

Well December 1 is approaching and if you look to the little image on the right on this page, you'll see I'm no where near the 50,000 word mark for my novel. And yet, I'm not at all discouraged!

I had so much fun and plan on continuing the fun - my new goal is to finish before Christmas. I'm also going to keep up the NaNoWriMo model of not editing, though I certainly am making notes about ideas I have for that process.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

a little down time

I've been on vacation this week - what a nice treat! - and spent most of it reading or with friends or writing. Yep, writing. Not sermons, not lesson plans, but good ole fashion fiction. I've always been a writer and this month several friends of mine have signed up for National Novel Writing Month - NaNoWriMo - where we are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in a the month of Novemeber. They've gotten me to sign up to.

At first, I was fairly intimidated. 50,000 is a lot to write in 30 days and other than this vacation, I don't have a whole lot of free time on my hands. Plus while I enjoy writing, I always hit a spot where I run out of ideas or energy or something.

The great thing about this project, however, is that you aren't trying to write something brilliant. You're just trying to get to 50,000 words. So that means I don't have to spend time weighing different options in direction or going back and meticulously editing what I've written. I write and then I write somemore, no matter how good or bad I think my prose is. And I'm seeing results. Not only in my word count, but in my desire. I want to write. Today I didn't because I didn't have time (truly) and I could tell I missed it. I'd even go so far as to say that while driving home from visiting a friend, I craved writing and was frustrated I couldn't get out my pen and paper. And just think, a week or so ago it wouldn't have even crossed my mind.

Will I have a brilliant novel by the end of the month? Probably not. But I hope to have a novel of at least 50,000 words. And I know I'll have the memories and effects of this process.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Success!

This weekend 9 senior high youth joined together to fight hunger. We played games, prayed for people, did a can drive scavenger hunt for the food pantry, reflected a lot, and didn't eat a darn thing for 30 hours. We talked about the people we were trying to help - sat in a circle of light until candle after candle was blown out, representing all those who day each day from hunger.

I don't know if I can convey with words how proud I am of these amazing young people or how honored am I to work with them.

Below are a few of their reflections on the experience.

Reflections from the Famine

I’ve never been seriously hungry for a long length of time and I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like without it. Participating in this famine has helped me see how rough some children have it. Thinking about the United States and the abundance of food we have compared to those which have very little makes me think that there is a lot we can do for them. This is why I am supporting the 30 Hour Famine; it’s just a small step to helping those who go hungry everyday.

- Courtney K



Other than the famine, I have never been hungry for a long span of time. For those who are starving, I am very sorry for. I feel as though they’re not getting a true chance to live. This weekend makes me feel like the abundance in food we have in the United States is almost a waste; especially when now the U.S. is considered obese. While those in other countries are starving, we are overeating. I think there is hope for those in extreme poverty, however. Watching 200 candles being blown out was heartbreak. I felt as if I was watching the breath of hunger take away the lives of 200 children. I didn’t want to blow out anymore candles after the thought came to my mind. However, some candles were almost “fighting” for their chance of survival; others gave out without any sign of resurrection.

- Christian D




All my life I have never been hungry for this long, not even when I was sick. But now that I am saving a child's life for almost a year, I can feel good about being hungry. I realize that the way that I feel now probably cannot even come close to the hunger those children and families must live. Amy told all of us that about 10 million children die from hunger or poverty. To hear that is just awful, and is something no one would ever want to hear. The 30 Hour Famine has been a lot of fun and I can't wait to do it again next year.

- Michael S




It's pretty upsetting to think that so many children die of hunger. While Americans take in and consume almost enough for a person for an entire week, those living in poverty take in a considerable amount of suffering. I myself have never gone without food for a long peiod of time and I can't even imagine what the other kids go through. The U.S. has an opportunity to help these people just by making a donation or contributing to any food pantry. The question is whether or not we will step up and do so. I know that I have taken in so much from this experience. Next time before you eat just think about all the poverty in the world.

- Daniel O

Friday, October 19, 2007

It Begins!

All the food is locked up, all the activities are ready to go, and in just 30 minutes, 8 of our youth will be joining me here at church as we continue to fast. So far we've been fasting for a little over 5 hours and of course, it's not so hard. But I suspect that as dinner time comes and goes we'll start to notice our lack of food a little bit more.

I've been running around this afternoon getting together the last few items we need (mainly food for tomorrow's break-fast). As I was surrounded by food I couldn't eat I thought about just how easily available food is. I could have picked up an apple or a candy bar or a roll from so many places around town. And that's the thing with hunger - food actually is readily available. It's just that folks suffering from issues of poverty can't access what is abundant. By tomorrow evening, in just a little over 24 hours, I'll be back to being able to pick up that apple when ever I want. 30 hours. Not a week or a month or a really bad year. Not a lifetime.

Counting my blessings and thinking how I can share those blessings as I wait for our youth to arrive.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hunger Around the World and at Home

This weekend our youth are doing amazing things to fight hunger. Our Senior High is going to starve hunger by participating in the 30 Hour Famine Friday and Saturday. Our Middle School is going to stamp out hunger by participating in the Crop Walk on Sunday. As our youth prepare to work towards alleviating issues of poverty and hunger, I invite you to join them in prayer and increasing awareness on these issues.

Here are some facts about hunger from Bread for the World:

Globally
More than 852 million people in the world are malnourished - 799 million of them are from the developing world. More than 153 million of them are under the age of 5.
In the last 50 years, 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation. That's three times the number of people killed in all wars fought in the entire 20th century.
Of the 6.39 billion people in today's world, 1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day.

Nationally
36.3 million people - including 13 million children - live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents approximately one in ten households in the United States.

Our youth are doing something to help stop this easily preventable problem – hunger. Along with donating to these two wonderful causes and offering prayers for our youth, as we continue our stewardship season, I’d like to invite the Covenant family to think about if and how we are called to join the battle to fight hunger.

Monday, September 24, 2007

dreams do come true!

Friday night saw the fulfillment of a dream of mine. I—along with thousands of others, including members of Covenant—had the opportunity to see and hear Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. He was at JMU to receive the Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award.

I was expecting powerful words (and they were there). I was expecting kindness and humility (and they were there). But a delightful sense of humor and good comic timing? Who knew Desmond Tutu was just darn funny?!? What a blessed surprise.

Another blessing was his message, one he has been all around this world proclaiming. “Goodness is stronger than evil, love stronger than hate.” Someone from Covenant said to me “the most profound messages are always the simplest.” How true. We know that goodness is stronger than evil—it’s what we say every time we confess Jesus Christ Lord and Savior, the one who died and was resurrected. But sometimes we need to be reminded of that, need to be renewed in our faith and hope.

Perhaps the statement that will be running around in my head for the longest is one His Grace said to all of us, but to young people in particular. To young people, to those who aren’t afraid to dare and do, to those who enact change, he said “Dream your dreams; they are God’s dreams.” What a wonderful message for all of us—young and not-so-young alike. We can get caught up in the reasons why something will never be—why there will never be peace in the Middle East, why poverty will never be eradicated, why diseases will continue to ravage the world. We can forget that indeed goodness is stronger than evil, that with God all things are possible. This isn’t just some fairy tale – this is God’s dream, God’s promise.

As the Archbishop reminded us, many people swore South Africa would go up in flames after apartheid ended—there was just too much hate, too much resentment, too much gone by for anything but violence. But it didn’t. Desmond Tutu and people like him dreamed a dream of reconciliation—they dreamed God’s dream—and saw that dream come to life.

I had one dream of mine fulfilled this Friday when I saw Desmond Tutu speak. I’m going to see if I can’t dream a little bit bigger and help that dream come true too. And maybe we can dream a little (or not so little) dream together.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sunday Night Live!!!

I'm getting kinda jittery again.

No, it's not the coffee (though I'm certain my drink of choice doesn't help).

I'm just really excited about this Sunday. During the Sunday School hour we're rolling out our new options for Christian education - always fun - and then in the evening the middle schoolers and senior high are getting together for dinner, fun, and good God-talk, something we're oh-so-creatively calling "Sunday Night Live."

I'm really excited about this evening activity for a couple reasons. First, well, let's be honest - the food. Who doesn't love a good meal they don't have to make for themselves. And my momma didn't raise no fool - I have asked folks who I know can make a mean meal. So there's food. But there's also our youth. It's no secret that I love our youth (I mean, really, I can never play poker and I know it). And now we're all going to gather together for games but also for good discussion. If you haven't had a chance to spend time with our youth you may not know what I know - they're pretty stellar thinkers and questioners. Seriously. You senior high and middlers, you really provide this getting-older-by-the-minute preacher good convo that fills her spirit. Thanks!

We've got quite a few wonderful adults who are going to be spending time with us on these Sundays. If you'd like to be one of them -- and really, everyone should -- let me know. I'd be glad to invite you to the party!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

here we go again

As I drove into work this morning (from my new house!) I noticed in the midst of the fog all these cars parked at Robert E. Lee. Ah, yes. School's back in session. Which of course means that our own fall is about to start.

We've been preparing for this fall for, well, months and months. Our Sunday School hour is going to look a little different, as is our Together on Wednesday education offerings. Our youth have all new leaders and even more fun stuff planned for them this year. The kids have an exciting and creativity filled year ahead of them. It's going to be good.

It's also going to be different. Not hugely different, but still. I hope we can all make the adjustments without too many aches and pains. Of course, every year brings a few adjustments. Think about those kids starting school today. If they've been to Lee before, it's the same building, the same classmates, but different teachers and different classes, different seniors and different freshman. Same idea - school - but different enough that I know I got first day jitters each year of high school.

Maybe that's what I'm feeling now (or maybe it's just the massive amount of coffee I've had this morning). It's exciting, a new year, with new classes, new teachers, and even new friends. But anything exciting often causes a little bit of nervousness. So with a combination of excitement and a few jittery nerves, I'm looking forward to our own start of the fall. At least I know I won't have any homework.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

a long way gone

I love to read, loved it since I was a little girl. Other kids would want to watch tv or a movie, I'd want to read. Other teenagers got in trouble staying up late at night talking to their friends on the phone; I got in trouble for reading until 3am when I had school the next day.

But at this moment in time, I'm finding it very hard to read. A few friends recommended a book to me, one they used with their youth. So several days ago I picked the book up and began to read. I've only gotten to page 50. This is very unusual for me (I read the whole last Harry Potter book in something like 7 hours). But this book... this book is making it very difficult for me to read.

The book is "a long way gone: memories of a boy soldier" by Ishmael Beah, a young man my age who grow up in Sierra Leone. When he was just 13, he was conscripted into the rebel army and forced to do horrible, horrible things. As an older teenager, he was rescued and brought to the United States where he lives and works now.

His writing is beautiful, and haunting, and very, very painful. I'm reading along and I feel physical pain in my stomach. What this young man has experienced, has had to see, had to do... it shouldn't even be humanly possible. After each chapter, and sometimes after just a passage, I have to put the book down and pray. Pray for the people in this world who remember, who survived. Pray for the people in this world who are living through such atrocities right now. Pray for the people in this world who are inflicting such violence on their sisters and brothers.

I'm have a really hard time reading. But I keep trying. I need to get through this book - can't put my head under the covers or pick up a happier novel. Even if I really, really want to.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mission Sunday

This Sunday’s service – Mission Sunday – is quickly become a favorite of mine. On the 19th we will be celebrating God’s call to service and the way we have and will continue to answer it. We will offer God our praise as we hear from those who have represented our family of faith to the Gulf Coast, Baja, and the Appalachia. We will also offer God our praise through our celebration of all the local outreach opportunities we have met.

As we prepare for this upcoming Sunday, I’m going to be reflecting on what I’ve done to serve God in God’s world and what I haven’t done. I encourage you to do the same. Covenant is not lacking in our outreach efforts. We have volunteers who serve in soup kitchens, food pantries, nursing homes, and so much more. We take our giving seriously and make a strong effort to balance our local, national, and international giving. God has called and I truly believe this community has answered.

And yet that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and rest on our laurels. We have listened for God’s call and answered it as best we could. Though we have done and continue to do much, I doubt that God is done with us. God will continue to move in and through us, continue to help us grow in our service to God’s world. So we have to continue to listen and discern.

This Sunday as we join together in worship (and a potluck lunch after!) let us not only celebrate how we have answered God’s call; let us listen for where God may be calling us next.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

home is where the paint is

For the past two weeks, instead of going home to a nice cup of tea or curling up with a good book after all my work for the day is done, I have been scraping. And priming. And painting. Two weeks ago I entered the world of homeownership, with all of its excitements and its headaches.

As I tore off old wall paper (the previous tenants seemed to enjoy putting wallpaper over wallpaper and then several coats of paint on top of that), I kept thinking that I should be having more profound thoughts than “this is disgusting” and “wallpaper should be illegal.” Alas my brain was firmly in the moment, in what needed to be done now and what needed to be done right after that.

Sunday afternoon I finished my process. No more painting and no more scraping – now the moving fun begins. But before that begins I have a moment. A moment to take a deep breath and look around. I have a house with fresh coats of paint, with my personal touch on it. And I have this house because of friends. Friends who found the house for me, guided me through the process, came to fix my gutters and paint my walls. Friends who wished me well and offered me helpful suggestions and loving thoughts. Friends who I call brothers and sisters in Christ, friends who are all members of Covenant.

Here’s where the profound thought enters in. This house is like everything else in life, stressful at times and joyful at times, but made so much better by the presence of a faith community. My life is so enriched because of this faith community – not just because some of you can paint walls or bake delicious pies for the working crew – and now my home will forever serve as a reminder of that blessing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Coming Home



It's the last night here at Montreat. The kiddos are staying up late, playing card games, writing notes to our senior, enjoying one another's company... I'm all snuggled in bed, seeing as how I'm one of the drivers tomorrow.

It has been a truly blessed week. The worship has been phenomenal - many of us wept more than once during services. I'm coming away with a lot of things but one thing that's ringing in my head right now is something we heard in tonight's sermon. We are the ones we have been waiting for. It began as a Hopi saying and was most recently the title of a book by Alice Walker... what a great thought. It's not someone else who will bring the changes we long for, who will guide us to God's righteousness... it's us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the ones who are called to live for and through God. Not other people. Us.

I know our youth have really been touched this week - I've seen the Spirit moving among and within them. I am so proud and honored to have spent this week with this bunch. Our church is so blessed and I don't think we can say that enough.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Montreat Update

Hey friends!

I've managed to swing some wireless access here in the mountains and thought I'd take a moment to let you all know Covenant has arrived safe and sound at Montreat and we're already having a blast!

The theme this year is "Turning the Page," about how our life is a story, one that is connected to both God and God's people. The leadership is great -- a friend and former prof of mine is preaching and really bringing the Word.

Our house is filled with lots of laughter and games, great food, and great discussions. The Holy Spirit is definitely present among us. This is going to be a wonderful week!




Monday, July 02, 2007

an anniversary

From Amy’s Ethiopia Journal, July 2, 2006: A final thought—this was a mountain top experience (literally sometimes). I have been to Africa before, I have seen generosity and poverty before, but I have never experienced anything like Ethiopia and her people. God is doing wonderful things across the ocean. I’m honored and excited that our church gets to be a part of that.

A year ago today Jeff and Jennifer Ryman, Liz Dahmus, and I left Addis Ababa to return home to the States. We had such great hopes for our congregation’s relationship with the gracious people we met and the inspiring ministry we witnessed. I am both proud and humbled by the way this congregation has embraced the Bedele Congregation and our other brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.

When we went to Ethiopia our team truly saw ourselves as representatives of this congregation, of each of you. I am moved that when we returned, this congregation affirmed that view. I am moved by seeing so many of you moved by the stories the Ethiopian Partnership team brought back

We have truly committed ourselves to our partnership. I appreciate the way we pray for Bedele every Sunday, but also the way I know Bedele is in many of your personal prayers. I love that we committed to helping the congregation finish their building even as we added on to ours. I marvel that our Ethiopian partnership has become such a part of our church life that Ethiopian coffee is a best seller amid our Free-Trade coffee!

It has been a year and already we have embraced this relationship with such fervor. I can’t wait to see what another year brings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wa-Hoo!

Oh my aching bones.

You may think I kid, but I promise, I don't. After three nights of being "Rowdy" and, yes, living up to the character's name, my back and knees may just about give out on me. I think I'll be giving this Sunday's sermon from a hospital bed we'll just have to roll up onto the chancel! Running around, jumping about, dancing like a crazy person -- all in the name of good ole VBS fun. It has been quite fun, I must admit, even with the aching bones. These kids, somewhere around 60 or so, have been shouting and singing and dancing and then actually calming down and sharing parts of their faith with one another. Beautiful, it really is.

And I suppose if my achy breaky back is one of the prices I have to pay to be a witness to such a joyous thing, I'll just keep on anteing up.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Revelation

Confession time. Up until my last year of seminary when I finally took the intro course to New Testament (I like to do things a little out of order!) I had not read all of the Bible. Why? Because I had skipped heavily sections of Revelation. I'd read the beginning and the end, but the middle with all that apocalyptic imagery was not for me.

And then my friend Teri and I read the book together, out loud, with sound effects. That was the beginning of something for me. I've come, over the last two years, to really enjoy this book. Yes, some of the imagery is not my general cup of tea (beasts and whores of babylon and all that), but I have been able to read in and through that imagery to see God's glory shining. This book is full of beautiful confessions of faith, statements about who God is, visions of what the kingdom of God come will be like... And while I'm not inclined to like the battle imagery, it is true, for the kingdom of God to come here on earth will take a lot of sweat, tears, and perhaps even blood. We've seen it all ready - in those small moments where the kingdom breaks through. And in Revelation you have this wonderful promise that yes there will be battles (figurative or literal) and it will see like it lasts forever, but God and God's kingdom will win out. What a lovely, lovely narrative to live into.

Monday, June 04, 2007

it's here!



Last August Bev R. asked me to contribute a chapter to a book she and Peter were editting on Angels and Demons... well, months later, the book is now in my hands.

It's a fun feeling, reading what you wrote in print. It's also interesting because as I read I think "oh, I would switch that word order" or "hee, that's a funny line." Nothing like being frustrated and humored by your own work which you can't change a single word or puncuation mark too any more.

If some of you are so inclined, you can check out the book at InterVaristy Press's site. Don't think you can order it from amazon yet.

Just wanted to share a little excitement with all of you. Blessings!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Texts: Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5

Last week John compared the birth of the church with the birth of a child, talking about all the preparation, the waiting, and then when the birth comes – what a wonderful, miraculous event.

What a scary event too. My friends who have recently had their first child have all said something similar – that it’s not so much the moment the child is put into your hands that it all sinks in, but the moment they discharge you and you realize, you don’t have a call button at home that will bring a nurse running to your room if you don’t know what to do. You don’t have a team of highly trained professionals to make sure you’re doing everything right.

You do have this wonderful, miraculous, gift, this child that has been entrusted into your care by God, and you, YOU are responsible. Not the nurses, not your friends, not your parents. You. You have to make sure this child eats, sleeps, poops, gets its requisite “tummy time,” and then, when it gets older, that your child does her homework, learns good values, comes to church, plays nice with others…

You’re responsible for all of this. You who don’t have a degree in child development or who have a tough time keeping plants alive, or who still forget to pay bills on time.

I’m not a parent myself but my own heart starts thumping extra hard just thinking about all this awesome responsibility. Because you don’t have to be a parent to know how both wonderful and frightening this power can be. Most of us have been entrusted at one point in time with some sort of responsibility – maybe your parents let you stay home by yourself while they’re out of town, trusting that you’ll take care of the pets and the house AND that you won’t through a wild shindig; maybe you’ve been made leader of a team at work, in charge of a huge project that could either save or sink the company. It’s exciting but also can be terrifying. What if I mess up? What if I don’t do the right thing? What if I don’t know what to do?

We all know what it is to be responsible, or at least to be called to be responsible – to be entrusted with something important. As individuals, we each have our own responsibilities, and as a community, as the church, as the body of Christ, we’ve been given even more. When the church was born, when God gave us the gift of the Spirit, it was a wonderful, miraculous event. It was also, is still also, pretty scary. Tongues of fire, power beyond anything we’ve known, and a call as God’s people we are called to do soooo much. To preach the word, to live the word, to love God and God’s people.

As we have been gifted with the Spirit, we have also been entrusted with life. Each and every one of us, even those of us who are not parents. For God has entrusted us with precious and fragile life, given us human beings dominion over this earth. The work of God’s own hands – we are responsible for it.

The psalmist speaks of our majestic Lord, our Lord who has created the universe with all its protons and neutrons that somehow make life, with its mystery and majesty, with its brilliance and beauty we can hardly begin to appreciate or understand, this Lord has created us, us human beings, to be just a little lower than God. The Lord whose glory is above the heavens has crowned us with that glory and honor.

How wonderful, how thrilling, and how terrifying. For the Lord who has created us just a little lower than Godself has given us both this honor and this responsibility. For as those so blessed by God we are also those so charged by God – we are those who have been given dominion over the works of God’s hands – beasts of the field, birds of the sky, creatures in the sea… all of them, all of this creation. God has created this amazing world and all that reside in it, and created it and gone and given it into our care.

The psalmist looks around at this world and is so in awe of what he sees that he is moved to ask “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” We might look around at God’s magnificent world and add a few of our own questions. “What are human beings that you entrust them with your creation? What are human beings that you given them such awesome responsibility and no call button to bring the creation nurses running in if we don’t know what to do?”

God has put us in charge of this beautiful creation. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we human beings… we’re not angels. We may be a little lower than God but that “a little lower” is pretty significant. We wage war, we abuse our power, we fear those who are not like us, we push away those who disagree with us, we take our toys and go home when we’re upset – and all of us, each and every one of us, even those we fear, we don’t like, all of us have been entrusted with God’s creation.

Talk about a challenging committee to work with… I doubt if we gather a random selection of 10 people in this sanctuary we’d find an agreement on how we can best take care of the creation God has entrusted to us. What’s the likelihood that we could agree on what to do with issues like toxic waste, water pollution, recycling, animal testing, loss of green space, genetic engineering, addiction to oil, and what about this climate change stuff? Can we even agree what the issues are?

Look at what happens with a child. You can one to four parents and step-parents involved in raising the child. Plus grandparents. Plus aunts and uncles. Plus well-meaning friends, pastors, neighbors, teachers, even strangers. All of these people offering their own opinion on how best to raise this one child.

Look at what happens with this creation. You have 6 billion plus people who have a say, an opinion, some certainly with louder voices than others… 6 billion of us, all who are affected by the health of this world, all who have a stake in the condition of this creation. 6 billion of us and still. does any one of us know completely what should be done? Would we even be able to hear that voice amid the clamoring of all the others?

Who are humans that the Lord is mindful of us, that the Lord has entrusted us with the work of God’s own hands? Who are we? We are part of God’s creation. And we are the body of Christ, the church, whose birth we celebrated last Sunday. But what does that mean? Our Romans text this morning has gives us a brief, but very helpful and hopeful, glimpse of what it is to be the body of Christ, God’s children and creation.

In a sentence only Yoda could truly appreciate, Paul tells us that we know “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

We are a people, who, even when we suffer, even when we suffer the folly of our own mistakes, or other’s mistakes, even when we suffer the pain of strife and division, even when we suffer the agony of indecision and uncertainty, we have hope… hope which does not disappoint us. Hope which comes from the Lord. Why do we have this hope? Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Don’t let yourselves be deceived. God’s love isn’t just some sweet sentiment, isn’t just the bringer of the peace Paul talks about. God’s love is a powerful, transforming, persistent love. This love is power and possibility beyond our imagination. For this love is God, is at the heart of God, God who is majestic above all else.

Today on our church calendar is Trinity Sunday. If you went to churches throughout our area, you might hear a few sermons or more trying to explain the mystery that is the Trinity. Well, I’m not going to do that – as John Wesley said, Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the triune God!" Don’t know about you, but I haven’t found that worm yet. The Trinity is a beautiful mystery, a way in which we express the glory that is God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, the One Who Was, Who Is, Who Is to Come. Another such triune expression comes from Augustine, who calls the Trinity, Lover, Beloved, Love, saying that Love binds the Trinity together. What this particular metaphor is saying is that love is in God, love abounds within God, love is the essence in which our Triune God moves and works, love is binding, and it is a powerful force, stronger than any other force out there.

It is this love which gives us our hope. For within each one of us, God’s love has been poured through the Holy Spirit. God’s love. God’s powerful, self-giving, just, reconciling love – this is what we have been given. God’s love we know fully, incarnate, in the person of Jesus Christ. This love is in each and every one of our hearts and it is this love which will guide our actions, this love which will help us as we take on the responsibilities God has given us.

When it comes to taking care of our world, I can’t speak with any authority on the science of what should be done, the exact tactics, practices, what really is an environmental concern and what’s not… I leave that to those much more knowledgeable than me. What I do know is that God has given us dominion over the earth, birds and the beasts, the fishes and the flying things, over it all. We are caretakers of this world and as God has appointed us such, we must live out our role as God would have us. Live it out in love.

We can – and should – debate amongst ourselves what are the best things to do for this world, God’s world, this world put under our loving care, our just dominion. We should debate and raise questions, challenge even common assumptions. But as we are debating and questioning, we must have God’s love in our heart, this gift of the Spirit. Whatever we do, we must do through God’s love. For if this love is what binds our Triune God together, then perhaps, if we debate and question and challenge one another in this love, it will bind us together as well.

We have been made a little lower than God. God who is Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer… We, we humans cannot create as God creates, and we cannot redeem as Christ has redeemed us, but we can, thanks to the Spirit which pours God’s awesome love into our hearts, we can help with the work of the Spirit. We can help to sustain this beautiful creation so that for generations to come others will look at the work of God’s hands and be in awe. Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

haunting words

Not this Sunday (Pentecost) but the next, I'm preaching. That particular Sunday happens to be Trinity Sunday - a Sunday we set aside to praise the glory of God who is triune just a little bit more than your average Sunday.

All fine and good, EXCEPT, certain words keep ringing in my ears. "The worst sermons are always preached on Trinity Sunday" - so sayth one of my preaching profs from Columbia. Sheesh. Talk about not hoping to live up to expectations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

saving a meadow, losing my hand

It's been 3 days now since I was part of the group that "saved" the Big Meadow on Skyline Drive. Great event, by the by, hope we can do it again. But it's been 3 days and my hand is STILL cramped from all the weeding. John says that just means I need to do more weeding, get that "exercise" in or something. I think it means I need to find a massage therapist!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Contemplative Youth Ministry

I just finished (yes, it's taken me forever) Mark Yaconelli's Contemplative Youth Ministry. This book really spoke to me. Faith isn't just fun or dogma, it's an ongoing relationship. Leaders aren't program directors or instructors, they're more like spiritual directors, pointing to the presence of God. They're seekers, mentors. The program isn't what matters, the ways of prayer aren't what matter - what God is doing, that's what matters.

I highly recommend this book to all -- all those working with youth, all those who have teenagers, all those who want a fresh and spirit-filled perspective on ministry.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hurricane Katrina Relief Trip

I never knew I’d become an expert in mud. At the very least, mudding seams in drywall. Now I can add that talent to my skill set list! It’s amazing what you can learn when you take yourself out of your context—your comfort zone—extending yourself for others. 11 Covenant members and twelve Mary Baldwin students discovered just this when we traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi to join the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance camp and crew there.

While in Gulfport we lived in “pods” – which are basically slightly fancy cardboard box huts. We ate together, prayed together, and most importantly worked together. Our team was divided into three different groups – one assigned to roofing, one to inside carpentry, and one—mine—to drywalling. The Covenant members and Mary Baldwin students bonded as we built (ask Charlie Huppuch about being called “Grandpa Charlie”) and we had wonderful opportunities to get to know those who lived in these affected areas—especially our home owners.

The coastline, while much cleaner than it was a year ago, is still devastated. As we worked hard we couldn’t help but be aware how much more hard work would be needed before this community found itself back to something called “normal.” May we continue to offer prayers and presence to the Gulf Coast

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

With the Morning

Texts: Psalm 30, Acts 9:1-6


“It’s been a week.”

I’ve been hearing that expression quite a bit these last few days – sometimes with a choice adjective or two added. I’ve added a few myself when talking with friends and family.

Even more than the usual, I had thought this week was going to be a full one – but not the way it has turned out. I don’t know what your plans included but mine had me driving the 1000 plus miles to Atlanta and back, while there doing research and meeting with professors, spending time with old friends, eating out at as many warmly remembered places as possible. A full week indeed. Most of our weeks generally are – full. When you ask people Sunday to Sunday what they’ve done that week, very rarely do you ever hear “nothing, absolutely nothing.” We pack our weeks in with work, school, soccer, ballet, meetings, movies, church, chores… Sometimes there’s a birthday or a big test, a promotion or party, something to make the week more memorable. If you’re lucky, maybe some of those weeks are vacation.

Weeks of work, weeks of school, weeks of vacation… This is the normal – full—pattern of our lives. And then there are weeks like this one. A week that completely disrupts our pattern, disorients us. A week that both speeds by and drags out, a week where you find yourself at a loss for words, where the question “how’s it going” or “how are you doing” cannot be answered with the customary and oft expected “fine.”

How do you begin to explain a week like this? How do you even begin to process someone falling ill at the end of the week and dying on Sunday? Someone so young, someone so full of life? As this community joined the LeBontes in grieving the loss of Vicki, daughter, friend, colleague, teacher, we have been forced to face these challenging questions.

And that was just the beginning of the week.

I still can’t wrap my mind around how and why someone could be so lost, so aching inside, so absorbed by darkness that mass murder would be… an option? Is that even a way to describe what was going on in that young man’s mind? How do you describe the thoughts that led to such action – led to one child of God, one human being made in God’s image, to distort that image so senselessly, to darken any light inside and “randomly” harm other children of God? Questions like these, questions we will probably never be able to answer, these are all we’re left with..

And then…

Even when you know it’s coming, have a general timetable when it will happen, death always catches you by surprise. Many of us said goodbye to a dear friend this Wednesday; ached with and for Mary Beth’s family, wondered why her, wondered why now.

It’s weeks like these that make you wonder, make you rail, make you thankful for the small blessings, the moments of miracles… make you angry, make you ache. That make you think about your loss, about the pain and suffering close to you, and then, perhaps, think about all those suffering throughout this world – this week alone we mourn the 183 souls lost to 4 bombs in Iraq on Wednesday, the 50 lost to election-related violence in Nigeria, the at least 190 killed in Somalia, the nameless who passed each day this week without anyone to tell their story… So much pain, so much suffering, such a week.

It’s weeks like these that psalmist could have easily been writing about.

Our psalmist tells of when he was as those who had gone down to the Pit – was in, well, hell. Life had been good, there had been prosperity, there had been favor. The psalmist had looked out from his mountain, from his penthouse apartment, and said “my life is good. And it’s just going to keep on being good! Ain’t nothing going to change my world.”

And then, the psalmist had a week of his own. What exactly happened, we don’t know. What we do know is that this once happy, confident, too confident perhaps, person is no longer up on some mountaintop of prosperity and fortune – he is in the Pit. He is in Sheol—the place of the dead. This person once full of life had a time of his own that has brought him down to death.

Though once his world had been filled with light, though he had never doubted his security, joy has turned to sorrow. Not only that, but he has felt as though God had hid God’s face from him – that God isn’t just hard to reach but has gone in hiding. How many of us have been there? Have wondered where our help and hope could be? Life in Christ is not a promise for unending joy, not a promise for uninterrupted bliss and good fortune. It’s not unwavering faith and unbending confidence in God’s presence and providence. No, anyone who tells you that is selling something – and it’s not the gospel.

Those who have experienced the pain of loss who have known agony, suffering, those who have found themselves wondering where is God from time to time, maybe more times than not, can understand what the psalmist means when he says God’s face is hidden from him. Understand what it feels like when you long for God yet cannot find or feel the divine presence. Understand what it feels like to be brought down so low, feel so lost, so alone, that you just can’t take it anymore.

In this extreme agony, frustration, even anger, the psalmist doesn’t throw his hands up and reject God, doesn’t turn away from struggle that is life, doesn’t take his pain out on those around him – he cries out to God for help.

His cry isn’t a soft plea, a quiet prayer – it’s a scream, a roar, a rage! “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”

This is the plea of a desperate man, a despairing man. It is also the plea of a man who knows the truth, who knows what it is God can do – will do. He cries out to God for help because he knows, even when he wonders where God is, that though times of weeping have come, do come, will come, it will pass. God’s favor is what lasts forever. Yes, there is weeping, but God turns weeping to joy. Yes, there is mourning, but God will set our feet to dancing. Yes there is death, but even in Sheol – the place of the dead – God is there, lifting up.

When we fall to the Pit, when our nights our filled with weeping, God does not let us stay there. God lifts us up. God transforms what was terrible something we may call good. Our story from Acts is just one reminder of what God does in our life, in our world. Saul, Saul was not a good man. He persecuted, zealously, even to the point of murder, something which this week seems terribly, terribly awful. He was doing what he thought he had to do. And as he was on his way to commit more horrendous acts – a bright light stopped him, blinded him, changed him. A light he knew as the Lord, even before he knew to call the Lord Jesus Christ. And from that moment, that moment of light, a new life dawned, a new Saul was born. What once was a persecutor became the persecuted; what once was death-bringing promoted new life; what once was Saul became Paul.

God has a way of it… Has a way of transforming what was terrible to something new, different, and yes, even good. Of bringing hope where there was once none. Of helping us move from weeping to joy. Saul knows it. The psalmist knows it. Even in – no especially in – times such as this past week, we should know it.

If there is anything we followers of Christ, whose Resurrection we celebrate each and every Sunday, should know – know even if we don’t understand it – is the power of God, the promise of God. We don’t have to understand how or even when, but we may know, believe, that even in the midst of all this agony, God is at work. God is weeping, God is consoling, God is raging against the senseless loss of life. God is in the bright blue sky that makes you catch your breath in wonder. God is in the memory of a lost loved one that bubbles up, causing you to laugh and cry at the same time. God is in the arms of those who surround you, in your arms that surround the ones you love. God is.

The psalmist called out to the Lord and as the morning came—perhaps hours later, perhaps days, perhaps months, perhaps more—as the morning came, the Lord drew him up, healed him, restored him to life. No matter what changes he faced—loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of prosperity, even loss of life—nothing changed the truth that God is there, with him, with us. Nothing can change that. Nothing.

Though there are shadows that haunt our earthly days, the Lord is shining, bringing us the light of life. God is, not even death on a cross could change that. This is our truth. This is what we know. That even in death there is life. This is the Resurrection. This is our Easter Reality. That even when the mark of death mars the face of our days, we may find healing and wholeness, we may find Life in our Lord. Life that in Christ is life eternal. God is, therefore we are. The darkness and death we know here is not the end, is not the ultimate. God is greater than any darkness, any death. Weeping may linger in the night, but in God, joy comes with the morning. In God, life is the ultimate. In God, there is no end. May our souls praise the Lord and not be silent. For the power and promise of life, may we give thanks to the Lord, forever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

sadness

"We just really knew him as the question mark kid."

This quote describing the relationship between Monday's gunman and his peers has troubled me in particular.

I was driving from Staunton to Atlanta when this was happening--drove by the Blacksburg exit with police cars whizzing by, not realizing what was going on--and have only today gotten to really inform myself on what happened yesterday at VT.

I ache. I think that's probably the best way to describe what I'm feeling at the moment. Ache for those who were killed, those injured physically, those injured emotionally, their families, the community, God. I ache that our Creator would watch as one of those made in the divine image would so distort that image. I ache that this young man somehow was known best as the "question mark kid," that he wouldn't or didn't know how to let people in, that people didn't know or wouldn't try to "get in."

I ache. I ache to be Christ's servant to the best of my ability, to minister to all those I meet so that should a question mark kid come across my path, I will been open to the Spirit so that God could use me to offer love. I'm in Atlanta in part to work on our own youth ministry, to strengthen what our community offers our kids. And I think, did this question mark kid have people like our kids do? Wonderful, warm, caring adults and families that will not let them slip through the cracks, not let them go unknown? Do we, with our warm and caring families, do even we have a kid who is a question mark, one we do not know, don't know how to know?

I ache and I pray. It's all I know to do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

yet another quiz

Yet another quiz, this one picked up from my mom's friend Ryan's blog.

Which Church Father Are You? I quite like it!







You’re St. Justin Martyr!


You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.


Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!




Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Youth Sunday

Batten down the hatches! This Sunday our Senior High Youth are taking over! All that energy, all that joy for the Lord—will we ever be the same? Covenant has been blessed with a group of young people and young-at-heart leaders who truly enjoy one another, this congregation, and the God that calls us all together. Our youth have talked a lot this year about wonder—about seeing this wonderful world God as created with open eyes and hearts, with a simple love and joy that sometimes gets lost the older we get. This Sunday, the youth are going to help lead us back to that love, that joy, that sense of wonder.

When I look around God’s creation, I find myself in awe and wonder at the most random things. Sometimes I’m moved by the way a person helps out another; sometimes I’m brought to tears just watching my cats take care of one another (yes, my cats). Every time I’m brought to that place where all the world’s problems and harsh realities sift away for just one moment, one moment where the goodness of God’s world is so evident, I am thankful. As we look forward to a wonderful Sunday filled with wonder and worship, I encourage you to think about the moments you find yourself filled with that reverent awe, that unabashed joy, that sense of wonder.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

what am I? apparently...

I've done a lot of "what religion/theology are you" internet quizzes over the years (what can I say, ADD much), and found this one posted by Katherine at any day a beautiful change particularly interesting.


You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox

75%

Emergent/Postmodern

68%

Roman Catholic

64%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

61%

Classical Liberal

54%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

43%

Reformed Evangelical

36%

Modern Liberal

36%

Fundamentalist

4%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Monday, April 02, 2007

christians in palestine

My friend Teri posted this on her blog and I thought I'd bring it over here. Given John's sermon yesterday, this seems particularly poignant.

"Ahead of Easter" - report from Palestinian Christian NGOs

"We are about to welcome the Easter season after forty days of fasting. To us, Easter is a reminder of the suffering, crucifixion, and most importantly, the resurrection of Jesus. In our Land, traditional celebrations have been taking place for centuries, such as the processions of local communities, scouts, participating in Palm Sunday, and Saturday of the Holy Fire celebrations from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

"Processions and traditional celebrations are governed by the Status Quo over the course of many years. Such celebrations have been taking placed uninterrupted. However, in the last few years the Occupation authorities are impeding the celebrations, especially the Saturday of the Holy Fire celebrations of the Orthodox Church. The Occupation authorities are preventing worshipers from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or celebrating in the yard on the roof top of the Church, and are preventing the traditional joyful celebration march and the procession of the banners.

"Easter celebrations are hostage to the whims of the Occupation authorities, as part of policies that are racist and that aim to push Christians to immigrate. The Occupation authorities are imposing strict restrictions on the movement of Christians during Easter week, and are preventing Christians from reaching the churches, and are adopting a policy that prevents Palestinian Christians from other parts of the West Bank from reaching Jerusalem to celebrate Easter. Also, barriers are put near the gates of the old city of Jerusalem, especially in the area leading to the Christian quarter, Herod’s Gate, and the roads leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in order to deny worshipers their right to pray freely. A new phenomena now, is the huge presence of Israeli police inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with their weapons, which violates the sanctity of the Church and religious traditions.

"Therefore, we, members of the Christian community in Jerusalem, are calling upon our fellow Christians around the world, and the Heads of Churches as well, to put an end to Israeli violations of our right to worship freely in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, so that Christians will be able to enter the Church to pray."


Source: Palestinian Christian NGOs, 20 March. 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hee

I was going through pictures on the 'puter to pick some for print... came across this which just cracked me up. My sister Beth and my friend Lisa hamming it up at Williamsburg.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ah, tea...

I heard from some friends the other day about this new place downtown, the Tea Bazaar. Today my ministry assistant and I went to drink some tea while we worked on an upcoming worship service. Oh, how wonderful it was! It's located on the first floor of the Stonewall Jackson Building, right across from Trinity. The inside is open and airy, with such a simple and relaxing ambiance. Along with various teas, they also offer simple international foods, the specials changing from day to day. We ordered two pots of Masala Chai and sat down at a "traditional" table - a raised area where we had to take off our shoes, sat on cushions on top of a bamboo mat, with a glass table that sat on top of what looked like an upside down stew pot. It was perfect! We both had more than enough tea (next time, we're sharing a pot) and enjoyed the atmosphere as we worked. It's one of those places that just makes you take a deep breath and smile, contented.

Here's to Staunton and its ever evolving downtown!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Come and Fill

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

For everything there is a season. Of all the church liturgical seasons, Lent is my favorite. No jingle bells, no presents, no hidden eggs filled candy, no commercialism. Just good, old fashion reflecting, repenting, and reconciling. It’s nice to have this time set aside for such important part of our life with Christ. While we’re supposed to be forsaking our wicked ways and returning to the Lord all year round, talk about this in our life together, live this way as individuals and as a community – it doesn’t always happen that way. And that’s understandable – God is so big, so vast, that it can be a challenge to keep on the forefront of our minds and hearts ALL we’re supposed to be doing in our relationship with God. So we have these liturgical seasons which help us remember various parts of our faith and relationship with God. We have Advent when we celebrate Christ’s coming, past, present, and future; we have Pentecost where we celebrate the gift of the Spirit and all that means for our life together. We have Lent, where we focus on righting our relationship with God and with God’s people.

Not that we’re don’t forsake the wicked and return to God during the rest of the year. At least, we’re supposed to. The sad truth of it is, during the rest of the year we don’t get as much repenting in as we probably should. Yes, every Sunday we pray a prayer of confession – a Presbyterian standard – in recognition that we do need to repent. For many of us, we see that time as a wonderful opportunity for serious reflection. For others of us, maybe not. While the prayer has meaning for me now, I know when I was a teenager sitting in the pews, during that time I’d mostly look ahead in the bulletin, seeing what hymns we’d be singing, glad when the confession was short. While it’s important that we pray for forgiveness in our live together, this time of repentance and reconciliation can unfortunately feel rote.

Aside from this corporate prayer of confession, we have other moments we come to God in prayer. Some of us have time we set aside for prayer with God – those first waking moments of the morning, the last sleepy beats of the evening. Maybe when driving to work or while cooking dinner. For others of us, those moments that inspire us to confession, when we want to draw extra close to God are more impromptu – that extra bumpy plane ride, perhaps; the big project coming up; waiting for test results.

Lent has traditionally been about this reconciliation, coming to God, coming clean, in order that we might be prepared (as we ever can be) for the glory of the Resurrection. While some of us may be able to prepare without the reminder, without time set apart, others of us find time set aside, time made sacred, helpful… needed.

Part of the Lenten season is practices which cue us in, so that we can’t forget what it is we are supposed to be doing. Practices which remind us who it is we should turn to, who it is truly fills us with the best food. While we Presbyterians aren’t known for our observances of Lent – I’ve heard “um, oh yeah, it’s Lent isn’t it” from several wonderful Presbyterian lips – observing Lent is a part of our heritage. Perhaps one of the best known of these practices, disciplines as they are called (and they do take discipline), is giving things up for Lent.

How many of you have ever given something up? How many of you have ever tried and not been as successful as you’d like? Discipline. During Lent, Christians traditionally fast from things – be those things goods, pleasures, vices.

Like Jesus in the desert, we may fast from material objects (such as bread), or if we’re really ambitious, perhaps we’ll fast from power or maybe proving our authority over others – all things Jesus resisted in his 40 days and nights.

Why do we fast from things? Some think fasting has to do with suffering – I can’t have chocolate, I suffer… oh, hey, Jesus suffered for me. I should be thankful and repenting or something. Or maybe fasting is about endurance, proving you love God and want right relationship by holding out. That’s not exactly it either.

Listen to the beautiful words of Isaiah; echoing the calls of street sellers of the day, the prophets says: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

This is what we are called to – rich food, good food – not fasting to suffer or endure. The fasting going on, the giving up, it’s about something richer than that. Christ fasted after he heard his call in a powerful way, in the waters of baptism. From this moment on, fasting became connected with baptism, with this welcome into the community of faith, with this beginning of the journey.

Saul, soon to be Paul, finds himself following Jesus’ footsteps after his conversion on the road to Damascus. For three days he was without sight and neither ate nor drank. The believer Ananias arrives and lays hands on Saul, restoring his sight. Only then is he baptized, and only then does he take food. After this time of fasting – from food and from sight – Saul was ready to begin his journey with and for Christ.

The benefit of fasting before such a big event in a follower’s life was appreciated by the early church. The Didache, an early Christian text recommended a two-day fast prior to baptism. Fasting before baptism shifted into fasting to prepare for another momentous event in the Christians. Beginning in the 2nd century, believers observed a two-day fast prior to Easter (what would later be called Good Friday and Holy Saturday). Somewhere around the 4th century, the Lenten fast evolved, moved from the two days and just those to be baptized, to 40 days and to the whole church. Fasting also became a common practice around other times of the year, and almost universally Christians gave up food or drink before receiving communion.

This fasting, this giving something up, is about preparation. Preparation for ministry, for the journey of faith, for the cross and empty tomb. Preparation for Christ – for the freedom and the call found within him, for the bounty, the feast he sets before us, for the one cup, one bread. We prepare for this feast when we practice the discipline of fasting, from food or other things. And we need to prepare. We need to prepare because we get so easily distracted from the meal set before us.

You’re out at the grocery store, maybe picking up a gallon of milk on your way home, and you know that waiting for you at home is a wonderful meal, tasty AND nutritious. Standing in the check out line, gallon of milk in hand, you glance over to your right and see all the candy options the grocery store has so conveniently laid out before you. Your stomach growls, your eyes light up, and before you know it, you’ve added some Reese’s Cups to your order. Sure, you’ve got a good dinner waiting for you at home – but this is here, and now, and before you know it, you’ve ruined your dinner just like your mother always warned you about.

This is what Paul was speaking to in his letter to the Corinthians – well, not the Reese’s or your mother part. Paul understands that all over God’s world and God’s time, God’s people were feeding on Christ’s word, grace, mercy, and love. He writes of when the Israelites were given manna and water from a rock (who he identifies as Christ) in the desert. This real food the Israelites were provided by God was enough to sustain them. Though this food was from God, though they were feasting on gifts from heaven, the people complained, they longed for other food. They looked at something that wasn’t what would truly fill them up, wasn’t what their inner most parts longed for, and craved. As Paul identifies, this food isn’t just about physical nourishment – this real food is also spiritual food.

The Israelites craved other food, craved evil, craved that which was not from God, that which was not God. When the Israelites sat down and ate, they were eating the food of idols. When the Israelites craved meat, the food of Egypt, the food of slavery, food of death, they were rejecting the food of the wilderness, the food of freedom, of life, of God. They were craving more than God, other than God.

Paul lists example after example of when the people turned to that which was other than God, longed for idols. So Paul warns us to learn a lesson from the Israelites, a lesson God has laid out for us: flee from worship of idols.

That’s what Lenten practices are about: fleeing from worship of idols, fleeing from that food which does not satisfy, fleeing and coming to the one who fills us with more than we could imagine. We fast to remind us where and what our best food is, how we are nourished.

Even though we may know a wonderful meal is waiting for us – this word, grace, mercy, love, we struggle to resist the meat of idols – they look as good as those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. So we fast from that which is worldly, our worldly weakness so we may feast with Christ, on our heavenly strength.

We fast in order that we may feast. In this season of Lent, that’s what we are called to do. Our preparation for the GOOD NEWS is not fasting – it’s feasting! Feasting on the glory of Christ, eating at the table he has prepared. We are called to focus on our Lord, to incline our ear, to come and listen, and to do whatever we need to do to answer this call, to come buy milk and wine without money or price.

You don’t have to fast to feast. Some of us may find fasting from something – sugar, gossip, tv – whatever it may be – helps us to cleanse ourselves of all that which is not God, to repent and reconcile with our Savior. For others, giving something up – that may not be the preparation you need, especially if you find yourself saying “I’m giving up broccoli for Lent,” or my favorite, “I’m giving up giving up things.” Some many options – you don’t have to give something up, you can take something on. You can take on rising in the morning a few minutes early to offer prayer – there’s this wonderful prayer where as you wake up, you thank God for each part of you, your head, heart, limbs, your breath. You might try to read more of the Bible, perhaps follow the daily lectionary (how many of you knew we had a daily lectionary) which you can find on the PCUSA website. You might try allowing yourself to stop and look at the mountains as you drive from one place to another, instead of hurrying to your destination. Stop, look, and let your eyes feast on God’s glory made manifest, your heart filling with all richness.

What are you doing to prepare yourself for Lent? Good Friday? Easter? How are you prepared to live as an Easter people, a resurrection people? How are you feasting on God? We have this season, a season of reflection, repentance, reconciliation – don’t let it go by uncelebrated, don’t let yourself go hungry. Come, come to the waters, come, come to the table. Come and fill yourself with God’s glory, God’s love. Come and feast.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Seriously?

Not to go all Grey's Anatomy, but all I can say is "seriously." I've the last few months, I've had an interest in the emerging church movement (alternative worship in the uk and other places). Gearing worship for a post-modern world, these movements include more art, movement, multi-media, non-Biblical texts than our more traditional worship does. Some of the theory and theology is exciting to me (though some I can't subscribe to). One of the things I've enjoyed - and plan on using with our youth - is short animations and videos that are great coversation starters for various theological topics.

So this morning I went to a website that had been recommended as having lots of good resources like this. You have to subscribe to download stuff but searching is free. I get to the page and its featured video is called "Battleground" - about Jesus' temptations and our own. Okay, not my favorite metaphor in the world, but I kept on my mission to search for a video that would go with this particular point of theology - the Trinity. So, I search using the intrasearch engine, and come up with... nothing. Maybe I didn't do it right. Search again, a different way. Nothing. In the hundreds of videos/animations this company offers, not one of them deals with the Trinity, which according to a theology prof of mine, is what makes Christianity unique, what makes us us. Seriously? No resources on the Trinity? Just reminded me the problem I have with a lot of the post-modern material. While certainly not all resources, churches, etc, ignore the fundamentals of theological doctrine, many do. I'd love for the mainline denominations to show a little more foresight in these growing areas so I can find a cool animation on the Trinity no problem.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Patience

Today I flew back from Chicago to Virginia. And I say "today" because it took me all day. Got up at 6 something this morning, headed off to the airport a little before 7:30am, and then got promptly stuck in Chi-town traffic. My friend Teri who was driving me, wonderful woman, was not having a happy morning. We moved a couple miles over twenty minutes and I was beginning to rearrange my luggage so I could carry everything on board, check nothing. That didn't stress me out (well, when I realized I'd have to leave my hair stuff behind if I carried my bags on, I did get a bit annoyed). But, lo and behold, we made it in time for me to check my bag and make my merry way through security.

Only to find myself waiting... apparently, my flight was delayed 2 hrs and 45 minutes. Not that they announced that delay, or changed the departure status of the flight from "on-time" to "yeah, right." No, no, heaven forbid you let your passengers know what's going on; heaven forbid people looking at the clock that reads "9:30," knowing they should be taking off by now but hadn't heard anything, let alone boarded, would have a clue about what's going on. Also, heaven forbid you tell people WHY there's a delay - "is it a weather problem in Philly?" "uh, it's a problem here." What the gate agent doesn't say is that it's an airline computer problem, one that apparently has left lots of people stranded over the weekend.

I managed to get a new connecting flight out of Philly to Richmond, and went to eat lunch - for by this time, it was close to lunch time. Mid bit of tuna, I hear "all rows, all passengers, for Philidelphia." Ack! I jumped up, looked at the time (I should have had an hour and 15 mins to spare), quickly grabbed my stuff and got on the plane. Only to find someone sitting in my seat. Only to find I was on the wrong flight to Philly. Apparently, an earlier flight that had been displaced was heading out (with tons of empty seats). Why they didn't offer this flight to us later flight people, I don't know. But since I was already on (since I had already discovered this secret other flight!) they let me fly out on it. This flight was excitingly delayed when the computer problems that messed up boarding made trouble for the pilots - they couldn't seem to get the weight balance info from the computer. Joy!

Made it to Philly no problem (well, except for the wind shears that made me want to lose what little of the tuna sandwhich I had scarfed down). Got on the plane to Richmond - it looked like I'd make it by 5:30pm, too late for meetings at church but maybe I could make it home before it got dark. We got on the plane and sat... and sat... and sat... The pilot came on the speaker and said something to the effect of "Sorry folks for the delay, but the aft cargo door is open. I don't know why, don't know who's working on it, but we're trying to get it taken care of." Oh, such a vote of confidence. After 20 or so minutes, they managed to close the door and then of course 40 minutes later, we were off.

Landed in Richmond, YAY!, too late to drive back in the daylight - and with the dramamine I didn't want to drive in the dark - but I could get my bag, get my ride, get some more work done, and crash. One flaw in that plan - the airline had lost my bag. So here I sit, in my friend's pjs, with a newly bought toothbrush, hoping they find that piece of luggage - I have cute shoes in there!

And the amazing thing to me about this whole day - I actually stayed patient. Didn't get fiesty or ornery with a single one of the people who told me "delay. delay. lost luggage." Didn't stress out, panic something was going especially wrong. Nope, I was pretty calm and cool throughout the day. And this, my friends, I chalk up to that great vacation, that wonderful sabbath, the needed rest. Life's problems didn't bother me (and trust me, I'm not a good flyer, it scares me and anything out of the ordinary usually increases that anxiety). Nope, I was collected and mostly unphased. Yay! Lets see how long this lasts (aka, lets see how long it takes the airline to bring back my shoes, I mean, luggage).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

In An Instant - A Review

While on my lovely vacation (which ends tomorrow) I picked up and read the Lee and Bob Woodruff book In An Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing. I must say, it is one of the most heart-stirring and lifting books I've read in a very long time. The Woodruff family has a remarkable story about just what the title says, love and healing. Reading through the tragic injury of Bob (who was the new World News Tonight co-anchor for those who don't know), how his wife coped with the help of family and friends, how they made it through, are still making it through, reading that story mixed together with the story of Lee and Bob's marriage - really reminded me what this for better or for worse love is all about.

If you have a couple extra dollars and hours, I highly recommend.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

what a vacation can do

I've been on vaca for a few days now, having a wonderful time. Doing nothing more rigorous than cooking for my friend Teri's African music class or reading a book at Barnes and Noble. This is what vacation is about - resting, enjoying the simple pleasures that you never seem to have time for in your busy life. As great as this time is, I feel like there should be more - more of this in my day to day life. Why is it true, good rest and renewal is so hard to find in the day to day? Why do I feel I have to get away to get some good Sabbath? I try to incorporate Sabbath into my daily life/routine. Can't say I'm entirely successful. Need to work on that, or not work as the case may be! The blog entry below this one was about a successful attempt at Sabbath - and it was so wondrous to me. I need to remember that - remember that checking work and life concerns at the door for a little bit is a good thing, not a selfish thing. Remember that Sabbath is something God calls me to, not time I'm hording from God. Just because I'm not "doing" doesn't mean I'm not being a good servant.