Deuteronomy 6 Sermon Team Preached with My Dad

This week I am spending a week with my family. I thought I’d share a sermon I team preached with my Dad on July 18, 2010. We were invited back to St. John UCC in Maeystown, Illinois for their 150th anniversary. This was the church my Dad served for 13 years. It is the church where I was confirmed, ordained, and officiated my sister’s wedding. My niece and nephew have been baptized there too. It is a church with much history for my family. It is still filled with people who nurtured my faith and supported me from my junior high years until adulthood.

You’ll notice that my Dad and I have very different preaching styles. Enjoy!

 

Dad-

Do an introduction and say we are glad to be here.

 

Susannah-

Then I can say where I am living now and lead into…

 

This Scripture passage from Deuteronomy is a call for all of us to love God and share stories of faith with others.  Here we are called to teach our children well.  Some of you may think this doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have children or because your children are grown and have children of their own.  This call for instilling God’s word into the next generation is aimed at each one of us.  When a child is baptized we make promises to help the parents raise the child in the way of faith.  The pastor asks the members of the congregation, “Do you who witness and celebrate this sacrament promise your love, support, and care to the one about to be baptized as she lives and grows in Christ?”  The congregation responds with, “We promise our love, support, and care.”

 

These words from Deuteronomy are urging us to teach all of our children well just like the promises we’ve made.  This passage fits well with Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Train children in the right way and when old, they will not stray.”  We are all here today because someone (or many someones) supported us on our faith journey.  It may have been your parents, a Sunday School teacher, a pastor, a kind person in the church, or a friend who invited you to church.

 

Many people who supported me on my faith journey are here today in these pews.  It is because of you and many who are no longer here that I stand before you today.  Without the congregation of St. John UCC in Maeystown, Illinois I would not be preaching today.  Some of you may have been here for my first sermon ever which was preached from this pulpit on a youth Sunday.  I do not remember what I said.  I do remember 2 things about it.  1-My sermon was very short.  2-Everyone in worship that day offered me support and blessing on my sermon.  Not only do I have the privilege of preaching to the congregation that nurtured me in my youth, I am preaching with my Dad.  As you know, he was the pastor of this church for 13 years and my pastor from birth.  More importantly, he is my Dad.  And in all these roles instrumental in my faith journey.  Other congregations and other family members have played significant roles in my faith journey.  I could spend days telling you stories of support and care and instruction I remember from my childhood and youth.  Instead, I’d like all of us to take a moment and think about who you remember reciting God’s word to you when you were a child or a youth or an adult.

 

Dad-

Anniversaries  – remind us

How long we have been doing something…

How long we have been somewhere…

How long a church or family or anything has existed….

How many people have been apart of the group…

How times have changed…

How the story has been passed on and expanded…

How much has been accomplished by the group…

Of life and death – of gladness and sorrow – successes and failure…

Of every element of life — and — I pray — How God has been apart of it…

In 1985 this church celebrated 125 years as a gathered people of God and to honor

that event, to remember the past, and to look to the future — a book was written

Grace in the Past… Faith for the Future

 

 

Susannah-

As the book of Deuteronomy begins the Israelites are remembering God’s grace in the past.  They are preparing to enter the promised land.  These are not the slaves who Moses led out of Egypt.  This is the next generation who have spent their whole lives anticipating the promised land.  Before they enter the land flowing with milk and honey, Moses gives them some last instructions to help them live well with each other.  Chapter 5, just before what I read in Deuteronomy is the 10 commandments.  Moses is reminding them that they need to know these and live these.  And then comes the chapter we heard today.  If the people remember and live the commandments, life in the promised land will be as God had promised.  Moses is reminding them that they will need faith for the future.  It is because of these faithful followers or as we say in our communion prayer-faithful men and women that we can celebrate this anniversary today.

 

As the Israelites prepare to enter this new land and as we daily prepare to go out into the world, we are reminded to love God and love our neighbors.  This is how Jesus summed up the 10 commandments that Moses is imploring the Israelites to remember and live.  Loving God and loving our neighbors allows us to remember the grace we’ve experienced in the past and we’ve heard other tell us about.  It also strengthens our faith for the future. I may not be here for our next anniversary but someone will.  What a gift.  And what a story this congregation has lived through the years and shared with many others.

 

Dad-

Isn’t that exactly was the story has been all about……

First — because God has created us and continually loves us

God has shared with us God’s grace – that wonderful blessing

that helps us relate to God and one another — and keep the relationship in order

as God forgives our sins, guides our path, and points us to the hope of a life eternal

Second — being each one of us and all those others who have or will share here at St John have been filled with and guided by God’s grace  – through the sharing others… we have become people of Faith and that faith will guide us into the Future so we can continue to Tell the Story — Pass on the Good News —

So not only those like Lois who was a 1st generation Christian or Eunice who was a 2nd generation Christian or Timothy who was a 3rd generation Christian — but each one of us also might be a 1st generation Christian or a 3rd generation Christian or a 33rd generation  —- it continues to happen because SOMEBODY told SOMEBODY ELSE the story — and that PERSON — BELIEVED….

And TOLD still ANOTHER PERSON….

Yes, MOSES told the people what to say and how to do it — and they Passed On—– then JESUS — in the flesh — brought the WHOLE STORY to LIFE — and PASSED IT ON…. And then it went to TIMOTHY and his family……………..and now down to US…. And then on to OTHERS…

Yes, the Hymn writer — rejoiced in it…and helps us declare it

I LOVE TO TELL THE STORY……. or

IT ONLY TAKES A SPARK TO GET A FIRE GOING…

AND SOON ALL THOSE AROUND WILL WARM UP TO ITS GLOWING…THAT’ S HOW IT IS WITH GOD’S LOVE —

ONCE YOU’VE EXPERIENCED IT … YOU SPREAD HIS LOVE TO EVERY ONE — YOU WANT TO PASS IT ON

150 years and counting of Telling the Story – Passing It On

Yes…..   that STORY of

GOD’S GRACE that was with US in the Past

GOD’S GRACE that guides US to FAITH Today………

FAITH that will be Ours for TODAY and on into the FUTURE..

Thank YOU — Dear God —

For ALL the PEOPLE who have gathered here in these 150 years

For this PLACE that has SUPPORTED and NUTURED THEM

For all YOUR GRACE that has filled this Place & its People

For the FAITH that is here that will Guide Us into a FUTURE with YOU Amen.

A Prayer for Our Offerings

When I served in churches, I would be asked to lead the prayer after the offering very often. Sunday after Sunday I tried to find a new way to say the same thing. Everything we have is a gift from God and at this point in our worship service we are returning what we think is ours to God. Some weeks I would write out the words before worship. Some weeks I would pray the Holy Spirit would be with me as I closed my eyes and prayed without notes. Some of my churches had the congregation pray the words together which meant they had to be written out and in the bulletin. In my files, I found these words I wrote which sum up what I hope I prayed every week.

 

Gracious God,

We present to you our tithes and offering knowing you have great plans for the money we give.  We, also, offer ourselves for your service knowing you have great plans for each of us.  Use what we have given and use us to share your love with this hurting and hopeful world.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer for Sunday Worship

Pastoral Prayer for Sunday Worship

In the midst of all that occupies our time and energy, we need sacred time with you, O God, to reorient ourselves. It is easy to get so caught up in what others are doing that we forget that you are our Center, our Rock, our True Home. Nudge us back towards you, Holy One, because there is much to distract us. We want to focus on you. We need to focus on you. For a few moments, let us sit in silence together while we turn ourselves to you, God, and listen for your still small voice.

Thank you, Gracious God, for never giving up on us-for forgiving us countless times and for welcoming us back because we are prone to wander. We pray that others may know your grace and your forgiveness. If there are ways we can show your love to others, open our eyes to the opportunities. Help us to see you in those we meet.

God, we are so aware of many needs in this world. We ask your spirit of wholeness and hope to rest on those on our prayer list, those we know who are in need, and your children around the world who desperately need you today.

We pray this prayer and all our prayers in the strong name of Jesus who taught us to pray saying…

Take Time for Reflection (Confirmation)

Too often, we rush from one activity to the next without allowing ourselves any time to reflect on our experiences. We need to slow down and look over what we have done and then move on to the next thing. These are questions I shared at the final session of a confirmation class to give us time to reflect on what we had done together and what we would do next.

I hope you’ll use these questions in your confirmation classes or adapt them to help yourself reflect on an ending before moving on to your next thing.

What is left?

Any last minute questions?

What do you wish we had done?

What was the best part of confirmation?

What was the worst part of confirmation?

What would you change?

What books of the Bible did you read? And what did you think of them?

Say a little something about your time with mentors?

What did you think about the meeting of the church you attended?

What about your service project?

So where do we go from here? After confirmation, you have the opportunity to be a member of this congregation. We’ve talked about what you plan to do as a member. In youth group, we filled out the time and talents surveys.

What are your hopes for your church?

What do you think you’ll remember about confirmation in 10 years?

Psalm 90:2 and a Reflection

My days are spent visiting people. Some are happy to see me and want to tell me all their stories. Others say very little to me. A recent visit has stayed with me because my hospice patient was so peaceful. When I entered her room she was laying in her bed with her eyes closed and her hands folded on her chest. The expression on her face was one of peace. She wasn’t smiling and she wasn’t frowning. She looked content. 
I said hello and introduced myself. I asked if I might read some Scriptures because I knew from previous visits that this was something she enjoyed. She agreed. When I began to read, she closed her eyes and folded her hands. She assumed the posture of listening and receiving God’s Word. It was inspiring. After reading a few passages, we talked about how we do not spend enough time reading and listening to Scriptures. We talked about all that is contained in this book we love. And she asked me to read more. So I read on and then I prayed for her. 
I left that visit feeling as if her peace had rubbed off on me. I felt calmer. My outlook felt brighter. I wanted to spend more time in Scripture. So today I thank God for the wonderful woman whose peaceful spirit inspired me and urged me to spend more time reading the Bible.
 
Loving God, Thank you for the people who enter our lives to teach us, to inspire us, to guide us, and to love us. Open our eyes to the opportunities we have to teach, inspire, guide, and love each other. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our busy schedules. Slow us down, Holy One, so we may see you in the people around us. Slow us down and bring us your peace. Amen. 
 
Before the mountains were born,
    before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
    from forever in the past
    to forever in the future, you are God. -Psalm 90:2

Thank you, God, for summertime!

Thank you, God, for summertime!
Last weekend, my husband and I went kayaking. Finally the kayak we purchased in the middle of winter left our yard and floated across the water. It isn’t a long trip from our backyard to the water, and yet, it took more than six months for this to happen. As we paddled around our lake/pond (depends on who you ask), we saw turtles, a heron, so many geese, and a frog. It was peaceful and beautiful.
This is my yearly call to go outside. Get out and enjoy God’s amazing creation. Sit and read a book outside. Go for a walk. Head to the beach. Come visit me and we’ll go kayaking together. Take a drive and roll the windows down! Go explore, enjoy, and thank God for the amazing place we get to live.
Creating God, Thank you for this world you gave us to tend and cultivate. Thank you for plants and animals with whom we share this planet. Thank you for days of sunshine and thunderstorms. When the temperature warms up, coax us back outside so we can enjoy and experience the world around us. Thank you for sunscreen and big hats! Thank you for quiet time alone in creation and gatherings with others to celebrate. You have entrusted this planet to us, so remind us to enjoy it and care for it. Amen.

A Prayer for Technology And All of Us Who Use It!

I wish I could say I’ve unplugged lately because I knew it would be good for me. Sadly, no! The truth is I received a text alerting me that I was nearing my data limit. As someone who refuses to give any unnecessary money to my cell service provider, I turned off my data for the rest of my billing cycle.
Here’s what I learned-
Without my GPS, I had to pay attention. I followed directions, watched for street signs, and kept my eyes open. Also, I turned around in driveways and met a nice man on a quiet street who directed me to his neighbor’s home knowing his neighbor was my new hospice patient. Lest you think this is a HIPPA violation, the man said, “If you are looking for _____’s house, it is right there.”
I reach for my phone whenever I have an extra moment or things are quiet. Without access to social media, I listened more. I looked people in the eye. At first I was picking up my phone all the time until I realized, it was only a phone and I couldn’t access the internet. Soon the habit was unlearned.
As I reflect on my unplugged time, I plan to keep this practice up for periods of time each day. I enjoyed being more engaged with those around me, and I recognize the importance of social media in keeping me connected with those I love.
Loving God,
Help me to put down my phone and see creation and the people around me. Help me to acknowledge the ways technology helps me and hinders me. Grant me discernment so I may use my time wisely. When my plans change, open my eyes to the ways small changes in my life can become life changing spiritual practices. Amen.

A Prayer for The Distracted

A Prayer for The Distracted
On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, I sat down with my computer planning to be productive. Not too long later, I was enjoying this video. When I done singing along with the video, I attempted to get back to my original plan. In the midst of working on my project, I did the dishes and laundry as almost anything seemed more enjoyable than what I needed to do.
How do you handle distractions? How can we remain attentive to what we need to be doing? How can we pay attention to what distracts us? Where might the Holy Spirit be working in distractions and calling us to that which is more important? How do we discern what is an interruption that can be ignored and an interruption which requires our immediate attention?
God of All Our Days,
We are busy people with much to do. Disrupt our busyness, so we see you working in our lives. Surprise us! Awaken us to new possibilities. And when we are need to focus, calm the noises and worries before they overtake us. Help us to be present with those who need us when they need us. Guide us, Holy One, for there is much to be done and much we can leave undone. With you, we know the difference. Amen.

Remember! – A Sermon

Luke 24:13-35

“Remember!”

Originally preached at St. Giles Presbyterian Church on August 1, 2010.

 

No matter what our age, it can be difficult to remember everything that needs to be remembered.  What are some things you must remember?  Phone numbers, birthday and anniversaries, enough information to pass a test, the items on the grocery or to do list, what day it is, where we parked the car, what time our next appointment is.  How do you remember all these things?  To do lists, post-its, calendars, reminder emails, notes, tying a string around your finger, writing on your hand, telling someone else to remind you.  Even with all these helps, how are we supposed to remember everything?  And as if we didn’t have enough to remember, in today’s Scripture Jesus is asking us to remember one more thing.  The one thing Jesus asks us to remember is Jesus.  That is why we gather at this table regularly-to remember Jesus.  

 

We need to remember Jesus not because we forget him.  It’s more like we put other things and people in front of him.  It isn’t intentional that this or that comes before Jesus. Soon, this or that have piled up and more and more things have taken precedence and Jesus, well, he was first, right up front, and now…well he is here somewhere under the clutter.  Coming to worship when we have communion, when we come to Christ’s table is a time to remember to push all that other stuff out of the way and move Jesus back up to the front of our minds and hearts.  

 

And scriptures are like that too.  You may know this scripture well.  It is a favorite passage for many people including me…sometimes it gets pulled out once a year to be read at Eastertime.  If we only hear it once a year, how can we remember? Do you remember all the things on your to do list from the beginning of the summer? Probably not.   And just like our to do lists, we need to remember so we can act on what we know to be true.  

 

Our story from Luke’s gospel takes place on Easter evening. It has been a difficult week for those who loved Jesus.  A week ago, there was a triumphant entry in Jerusalem.  During the week, there was a last meal together and then came Friday.   The disciples and followers of Jesus believed he was the One to change things, the one to make things right.  And then he dies.  And they are lost. Their king, their leader, their hero is gone. Now this morning people are seeing and saying things thought to be impossible.  The tomb is empty and no one knows exactly what is happening.  Things aren’t making sense.  

 

Now we meet two people who loved Jesus who are on a journey to Emmaus.  They have a 7 mile journey to talk about all that has been going on.  On their journey they are joined by a man they do not know.  This stranger comes and joins their journey.  The narrator tells us-the readers and the listeners-that this is Jesus and yet these 2 who loved, followed, and trusted him do not know who he is.  We are told “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  This statement leads us to ask who or what kept their eyes from recognizing Jesus?  Without this sentence, we might think they didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t expect to see him walking on the road.  He died.  They know this.  There are stories about an empty tomb.  Who would imagine Jesus would walk to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection?  But it doesn’t say they didn’t recognize Jesus.  It says they were kept from recognizing him.  Maybe they were not ready to see him yet.  To fully understand, they needed to hear him explain and watch him break the bread.  Only then would they be prepared to see who this stranger was.  Instead of seeing this as these two men being manipulated, look at their inability to see as God’s compassion.  God gave them time to prepare for this experience that leaves their hearts burning within their bodies.  

 

So we have three men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on a Sunday evening.  And this stranger, who we know is Jesus, says to the other two, “What are these words that you have been pitching back and forth to each other?”’   This question stops them.  They stop walking and look sad.  The Message says, “They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.”  And they had lost their best friend and their hope only three days ago.  

 

Cleopas speaks to this stranger and his question is funny to those of us who know he is talking to Jesus.  Cleopas asks, “Are you sojourning alone in Jerusalem and have not learned all that has happened recently?”  Cleopas asks this question to the only one who knows everything that has happened.  Jesus knows because he experienced it!

 

Jesus acts as though he does not know the answer when he says, “What things?”  Their answer not only describes the one they are walking with, it is also their faith statement.  ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’

 

By this point, it seems Jesus can’t believe they are still in the dark.  How can they be so foolish and slow to understand?  The preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the next scene this way, “Starting with Moses and working his way through the prophets, the stranger opens the scriptures to them and they hang on his words.  He is a gifted preacher, but it is more than that.  They are wounded, and what he is telling them is good, good news.  Maybe they aren’t losers after all.  Maybe the rumors are true.  Maybe there is reason to resurrect their crucified hope” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, A Cowley Publications Book, 1995, p. 24).

 

Even though he is still a stranger to them, the men extend hospitality-a meal and a place to stay-to this man.  He accepts.  And this is the moment that will change their lives.  As they sit down to eat, the guest becomes the host.  “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”  The same gestures and words make them and us remember the feeding of the multitude and the Last Supper.  They know those words and they know who this is.  They recognize Jesus!   The story does not end there!  Even though it is late, they have to share this good news.  They have seen Jesus.  They must tell.  They must share this good news!

 

Who are Cleopas and his friend?  This is the only time we meet these regular folks.  God uses them to tell this miraculous story?  Couldn’t God use us too?  In order for God to use Cleopas and his friend, first their eyes had to be opened so they could see Jesus was with them.  We need to have our eyes opened so we can see Jesus.  Where will we see Jesus?

 

This meal at the communion table is a meal of remembrance.  When we come to this table, we are reminded to look for Jesus.  Look for Jesus in the person who serves you communion.  Look for Jesus in the person next to you in line to receive communion.  This meal and this story call us to remember that we can’t just look for Jesus inside these walls.  We must be looking for Jesus in the people we meet everywhere.  Our mission team is going to West Virgina this week.  They are going not only to sweat and fix things.  They go to see Jesus in the people they meet, to build relationships, and to see Jesus in each other.  

 

It isn’t easy.  These faithful followers of Jesus didn’t recognize him only days after his death.  How can we see Jesus in others today 2000 years later?  When we see people serving one another, breaking bread together, breaking down barriers that separate us, when we see those in need we must look for Jesus and we will find him in the people he loves.  

 

What does it mean for us to see Jesus in others? If I see Jesus in you, will I treat you differently?  Will you suddenly sit up straighter and behave better as if the teacher or pastor has entered the room?  If we look for Jesus in others, will it remind us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor-all of our neighbors-as ourselves?  Looking for Jesus in others might lead us to eat a meal with a tax collector, a prostitute, an outcast, or a sinner.  We come to this table because we are invited and because we need to come and be refreshed and renewed so we can look for Jesus in those we love and those we wish we could love.  

 

And just as we need to see Jesus in others, we need others to see Jesus in us.  Sometimes we are the wounded, the needy, the physically or spiritually hungry.  We need others to recognize that Jesus lives in us too.  We, too, need to be remembered.

 

As hearers of the word and those who we remember the word, we can be “slow of heart to believe” or “know the joy of those whose hearts burn within them.”  Which way do we choose to remember?

 

Let us pray-”Lord Jesus, stay with us, for the Sabbath has now begun and we have many miles to journey before we rest; be our companion on the way, kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread.  Grant this for the sake of your love.  Amen.”

 

Look for Jesus This Holy Week

Look for Jesus This Holy Week
This week can be difficult for people of faith. We know what is coming next Sunday, and we look with joy to Easter. And yet, we can get so busy looking ahead to what comes next that we aren’t present in what is happening now. The stories of this week are familiar to those who have spent their whole lives in the church and less familiar to those who haven’t.
This week I encourage you to look for Jesus. Look for him in celebrations and parades and times of joy. Look for him eating with his friends and laughing. Look for him among those whose friends have abandoned them. Look for him among the dying. Look for him among the lonely. And finally, look for him among the living, in surprising places, and in familiar places. If you keep your eyes open this week, you just might see Jesus in many, many people.
Loving God, We are looking for Jesus this week. Guide our steps, so we may see him in the people we meet, in the people we ignore and overlook, and hopefully in ourselves. Change our paths and routines, Holy One, so we follow where Jesus leads. Be with us this week as it is so hard to understand and comprehend the events of this holy week. Open our eyes to see the beauty and tragedy of this time. In the name of Jesus who first walked this journey, we pray. Amen.