Stopping By a Church

I love visiting churches. I love hearing stories from church members as they celebrate their history and their hopes for the future. Earlier this summer, my Dad and I were walking through Ketchikan, Alaska and discovered St. John’s Episcopal Church was open to visitors. We opened the door and climbed the steps to step into their sanctuary. We were greeted by a very welcoming church member who told us the history of her church.
In 1904, when the church building was completed, it was at the water’s edge. You could tie your boat up at the front door and come into worship. As the town has expanded they have created land farther into the water and now you can drive or walk to the church. I took pictures of some of the stained glass windows that date from the 1930s.
I recommend you stop in the next time you pass a church that is open for visitors. You never know what or who you might meet inside.
Loving God, Thank you for your faithful communities across the world who share your love. Thank you for open doors and open hearts. Give us the courage to stop and strike up a conversation. Open our eyes to see you in each other. Amen.

Worship Words-Psalm 105

Encouraging the participation of as many people as possible in each worship service is very important. This requires that we look at the service and see where people are excluded who cannot read, who cannot stand up for long periods of time, who cannot see the printed words, etc. I’ve rewritten Sunday’s Psalm (Psalm 105:1-11, 45b) to make it more inclusive and participatory. It could be used as a call to worship, read with the rest of the Scriptures, or a litany somewhere in your service. Before reading the Psalm, the reader will need to instruct the congregation that their role is to repeat the phrase, Praise the Lord!, whenever the reader pauses and raises a hand.
Because this reading is responsive, there is no need to print it in the bulletin or project it on the screen. This change encourages people to look around and look up while responding to the Scripture reading.

One-O give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name, make known God’s deeds among the peoples.

All-Praise the Lord!

One-Sing to the Lord, sing praises to God; tell of all God’s wonderful works.

All-Praise the Lord!

One-Glory in God’s holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

All-Praise the Lord!

One-Seek the Lord’s strength; seek God’s presence continually.

All-Praise the Lord!

One-Remember the wonderful works God has done, God’s miracles, and the judgments he uttered,

All-Praise the Lord!

One-O offspring of God’s servant Abraham, children of Jacob, the chosen ones.

All-Praise the Lord!

One-The Lord is our God; God’s judgments are in all the earth.

All-Praise the Lord!

One-God is mindful of the covenant forever, of the word was commanded, for a thousand generations,

All-Praise the Lord!

One-the covenant that God made with Abraham, the sworn promise to Isaac,

All-Praise the Lord!

One-which God confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

All-Praise the Lord!

One-saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”

All-Praise the Lord!

Psalm 105 is quoted using the New Revised Standard Version.

Worship Words-Psalm 139 as Confession

Sunday’s Psalm reading is 139:1-12, 23-24.
When I visit a hospice patient and am asked to read Scripture, I ask what they would like to hear. Many times the response is a request for me to pick something good. Psalm 139 is a reading I return to regularly. No matter where we are in our lives, we all need a reminder that God is with us right here and right now. I encourage you to read this Psalm on good days and bad days whenever you need a reminder of God’s constant presence in your life.
Call to Confession

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

Faithful God, You know each one of us. You see us. You listen to us. And yet, we still run. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? Holy One, we know the answer, and yet, we keep running. So forgive us for doubting your faithfulness. Forgive us for doubting the gifts you have bestowed upon us. Forgive us and help us to forgive ourselves and each other.  Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness

Beloved children of God, Remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of the Universe. God knows you and loves you. Live your life remembering you are forgiven and loved. Amen.

 

The words in italics are from Psalm 139 in the New Revised Standard Version.

Lessons I’ve Learned from a 6 Year Old!

Today, my niece, Ella, turns 6! To say she is excited about her birthday is a huge understatement. So, in honor of her special day, I’m sharing 6 lessons I’ve learned from this amazing 6 year old!

 

1-Take time to enjoy the sweet things in life!

 

2-Don’t take life too seriously!

 

3-Have fun! Be a kid!

 

4-Love your family even when it isn’t easy!

 

5-Take time to relax.

 

6-Try new things! (like ordering room service!)

Thoughts for a Memorial Service

Today I am speaking on behalf of my hospice team at a service for a patient who has died. My hope is that the short reflection I share will bring peace to the family and friends gathered and remind them of God’s unending love for all of us. When I was asked to pick a Scripture to read, I immediately turned to the verses that bring me comfort and hope.

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope: 
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end; 
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. 
24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’ 
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.                         -Lamentations 3:21-25

I will talk about how it was a privilege to serve as part of his hospice team as we watched him transition from living at home with his wife to living in a nursing home. I will share how I hold in my heart the stories he shared about his time in the military, raising his family, working hard to support them, and enjoying retirement surrounded by family. And I will remind those gathered that this man’s faith was important to him and helped him cope with the changes in his life. As he is laid to rest today, I hope we all remember the faithfulness of God today and everyday.

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.

Paddington Movie Reflection

I have fond memories of spending part of every summer with my grandparents. When we would stay with G and P, my sister and I would sleep in the bedroom with the red carpet on the bed that was my Dad’s. I loved this bed because the headboard was a bookshelf. And on that bookshelf was a set of Paddington Bear books. Grandma used to read to us every night. When I got bigger, I got to be the reader. I’m not sure how many times we made it through those books or if we ever finished one before it was time to go home. I remember the note around his neck, “Please look after this bear” and how Paddington would get into trouble accidentally of course.
When the Paddington movie came out a few years ago, I wanted to see it in the theaters. Sadly, I did not see the movie until this week. In the comfort of my own living room I was transported to Darkest Peru where Paddington lived. I saw as he met the Brown Family. I watched him make mess after mess. And I smiled and laughed. It is silly and fun and reminded me of evenings spent reading books at 510. If you imagined what Paddington Bear would look like on the big screen, give this movie a try. You’ll be reminded that home and family do not look the same for everyone, and that’s okay.
The movie ends with this line by Paddington Bear, “Mrs. Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right-because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home. I’ll never be like other people, but that’s alright, because I’m a bear. A bear called Paddington.”

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