Our Place in God’s Universe-Reflection on Psalm 8

The Psalm for this week is Psalm 8. I love this Psalm because it reminds me of how big God’s creation is and how small my part is in that creation while also reminding me that my part is important and essential. I heard this Psalm read by children and youth leading worship on a church family retreat by the water at Camp Albemarle. I have read this Psalm at the bedside of  hospice patients. I have joined in singing this Psalm with congregations big and small. I have read this Psalm by myself while enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.  [Read more…]

Thank you, God, for worms!

Thank you, God, for worms.

For years, I’ve want to have worms help me by eating things I’d otherwise throw away. At our last house, we had a compost pile. Living in town makes it more difficult to compost. Last week at Princeton Theological Seminary, I attended a seminar that inspired me to do it! So, after a little research our worm community was created. Currently our 12 worms are living on our screened in porch enjoying food and paper scraps. Hopefully, they’ll love their new home and help us be better stewards of our resources.
Creator of All, Thank you for worms who eat what we do not. Thank you for ideas that are finally implemented. Thank you for those who open our eyes to the many ways we can be better caretakers of your creation. Amen.

 

IMG_4650

Our worm community’s home.

IMG_4652

A couple of worms hiding among all their delicious food.

Joyful, Joyful

I am enjoying time away at Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry’s yearly forum. It is a week of learning and laughing with others who love youth. It is a week of worship and table fellowship. It is a week of questions and wondering. I haven’t been here in a few years and coming back makes me realize how much I’ve missed it.

My reflection is inspired by the song, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, which we sang yesterday in opening worship.

As a young child, I began taking piano lessons. I remember practicing this song over and over. And even when I learned other songs, I kept playing this song because it was familiar. As we sang Joyful, Joyful yesterday, the familiar feeling came again. And I wondered what other songs are such a part of my life that they are in my memory from childhood and youth years? And how can I help my youth learn the songs of faith that will stay with them all their lives?

Giver of immortal gladness, We thank you for all the ways you reveal yourself and your amazing love to us. Thank you for giving us the gift of music. Thank you for people of faith throughout the generations who have shared the faith with the next generation. All the good gifts that you have given us call us to rejoice in thee. Help us to rejoice, Loving God. Amen.

 

Worship Words-All That We Let In

IMG_4349

Sunday’s Sermon at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church

Scriptures-1 Corinthians 12:12-31a and Luke 4:14-21

For many of you this may be the first time you’ve heard much from me. It isn’t easy to write a sermon that is a get to know you sermon that explains my philosophy about youth ministry and mission trips, what I love about cooperative youth ministry, and ties it all in with two Scriptures from the lectionary. And still I’ve accepted the challenge and am giving it a go.

 

I believe we are all important members in the body of Christ. For my entire ministry I’ve found myself called to work with a specific portion of the body of Christ-youth. And yet, when you work with youth you don’t just work with youth. You work with the parents of youth, the grandparents of youth, younger and older siblings of youth, church members of all ages who you are working to integrate into the youth ministry while you are integrating the youth into the whole ministries of the church. Working with youth helps you to see how we all fit together to be the body of Christ. We are all needed. We all bring gifts. And yes, sometimes it is difficult when so many gifts are present at once and everyone wants to share their gift or when people don’t seem to recognize the gifts that they bring.

 

My call and gift is gift-awareness. Recognizing the God-given gifts in others and helping each person discern how to utilize that gift to God’s glory. This requires and works well with another passion of mine relationship building. Usually for me to see someone’s gifts, I must know that person. Relationship building requires time, energy, listening, and patience as we grow to know each other and see where God is moving in our lives. Lest you think I am bragging and listing a litany of my God-given gifts, I am aware that I am not the person you should call for any construction, plumbing, electrical, animal removal, cooking or a variety of other important tasks in the life of the church. This is the message of the 1 Corinthians passage today. Together all of us make up the body of Christ.

 

This portion of the body of Christ worshiping in these walls, TPPC, covenants with another portion worshiping only a few miles away, CCC, for youth ministry. Youth are typically defined as those who are in 6th-12th grade. During these years, youth will (often) move through middle school and high school and navigate all the challenges and joy that are associated with attending school and preparing for adulthood. Some people believe that this is a time where youth are becoming themselves. I believe that our youth are already called beloved by God and created in God’s image. While helping them to discover who they are and how they’ll use their God given talents in their lives, youth ministry is an amazing opportunity for the whole congregation to be involved in the lives of awesome individuals who help us live out our calling to be the body of Christ.

 

For me not only is relationship building one of my passions, I believe relationships are the heart of ministry. Youth ministry is the perfect place to develop relationships in ministry. It is as easy as presence, time, and listening. And in a ministry built on relationships time must be spent our relationships with God…faith development is essential. Faith development not just of the youth…but of those working with the youth, family members of youth, and the whole congregation. [Read more…]

Be the Church!

My heart breaks when I hear people say they can’t be who God created them to be and participate in the life of the church. And I believe this breaks God’s heart too.

God is the Source and Originator of Love. God loves you and wants you to be loved.

God created us to be in relationship. God wants you to be in healthy and happy relationships with others.

God created us with brains for thinking and questioning. God wants us to look critically at the Bible, at the world around us, and sometimes at each other, so we can all live in love and as Christ’s disciples.

What obstacles or barriers are we putting up that stop people from being part of the church community and experiencing God’s love?

 

O Love that will not let us go, help us to love each other as you love us. Help us to see each other as you see us. Help us to welcome each other as you welcome us. Break down the barriers that divide us. We want to make our churches places where all can feel at home, and we know this is only possible with your Spirit. In hope for a new day of acceptance and love, we offer this prayer to you. Amen.

IMG_4204

Practicing Lent

Once again we find ourselves in the season of Lent. I’ve been talking with friends about what practices they’ll take on or what they’ll give up for Lent. And this morning, my husband asked what I was doing for Lent. For many years our combined practice has been to not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. This is a challenge for us as most of our meals include meat. I knew we had already agreed on that, so that was not his question.

My practice for this Lenten season is to intentionally hold one person in prayer each day. I am keeping a small notepad by my bed so when I wake up I’ll see the name of the person who I am keeping in prayer. When I go to bed, I’ll see the name again as a final reminder that I am praying for this person.

My husband’s Lenten practice is to remember that most people are doing the best they can. He is practicing this by being more patient with other drivers. When he described what he was doing, I asked how it went yesterday. He said he didn’t even make it home from work without getting angry at someone. We both agreed that this is why it is called a Lenten practice and today is a great day to start again.

So how are you observing this season?

 

315050_10150373543654505_6833080_n

This photo was taken on a hot August day when I was stranded on the side of the road with my 1 month old niece, husband with a broken leg, parents, sister and brother-in-law. Thankfully, we had a few drinks and a bag of pretzels in the van. It took us hours and hours to get to lunch or maybe we should call it dinner by the time we ate.

This picture reminds me of the season of Lent. We start out with great intentions. Sometimes it is smooth sailing, and sometimes our plans are changed. We adapt. We learn. We rely on God as our constant companion for this journey.

As you journey through this season, I hope for you grace and peace for yourself as you practice what it means to love Jesus and follow him.

Movie Review-Inside Out

Recently my life has not included enough time reading time. This week’s review is a movie that has quickly become a favorite of my four year old niece-Inside Out!

Watching this movie with Ella is like watching the Director’s Cut. She tells you what is happening, who is on screen, and what is going to happen next. It is obvious that she has seen the movie many, many times, and she still asks to watch it every day! Her favorite character is ‘Sgust (aka Disgust).

I’m not qualified to review this movie on Ella’s behalf, so I will tell you why I like it and recommend it for all ages.

Inside Out is the story of a young girl, Riley, and the five emotions (Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust) who guide her responses to life. This movie offers a visual explanation of our emotional responses and memory making and storage. It attempts to make sense of the complexities that make us who we are. It is a movie that hits close to home as I moved when I was about Riley’s age. You’d have to ask my parents how often Joy was present in my life at that time. I do remember feeling plenty of Anger, Disgust, and Sadness at the prospect of leaving all that was familiar and some Fear about what my new home, friends, and school would be like.

This is a heart-warming story and challenging story about moving, growing up, and the life-long process of discovering one’s self.

When you watch it, I hope you’ll consider-

What are my core memories?

What are my islands of personality?

What emotion guides me the most often?

Enjoy the show!

Happy Anniversary to Tea and Theology!

It is the one year anniversary of Tea and Theology. Thank you loyal readers for reading, commenting, and sharing your favorite posts. I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. I believe ministry is built on relationships. I thank you for being in relationship with me and the other readers of this blog. While it is rewarding to write, it makes it even better knowing someone is reading these words.
So thank you again for reading. I hope the words you have read over this past year have strengthened you on your faith journey.  If a blog post brings to mind someone, I encourage you to share those words with that person. I consider that a nudge from the Holy Spirit which should not be ignored. I hope you will continue to read as we look forward to many more years of Tea and Theology together.
Blessings and Peace,
Susannahphoto 2-6

Worship Words-A Sermon for the Saints

2201_50493788825_1361_n

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

Psalm 119:1-8

Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.

You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.

O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.

I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.

I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

 

Sermon-

On All Saints’ Sunday, we usually spend our time thinking about faithful people who have died. We read out loud the names of all our church members who have died this year. We remember the gifts they have shared with our church. We remember famous Christians who have died and are thankful for all they did for the church. We remember people from around the world who died in the last 12 months-ordinary people like us whose names we will never know. We remember our ancestors in the faith who boldly proclaimed the good news. All of these things are important and good to do. We should remember all of these people. Absolutely. Yet, this is only ⅓ of what we need to do today.

 

We need to remember the saints of the past.  This is part one. Part 2 of our task for today is looking around and seeing the saints with us today…ourselves, our church family, and the faithful around the world. Too often, we think the saints are the perfect people and we would never put ourselves in that category. The saints of God are everyone who tries to follow God. So, look around at all the saints here this morning.

 

And, we need to hope and pray for the saints who are not here yet-those faithful people who will keep the good news alive and strong long after we are all gone. We are charged to plant seeds-to pave the way for the future and prepare for the future saints even knowing we may never meet them. This is part three. When we focus on the past, present, and future saints, our vision is expanded and is closer to how God sees. Unfortunately, we struggle to look to the past, present, and future. More often, we get stuck in one or maybe two of these places and fail to see the rest.

 

For some of us, we fondly remember the good old days when… In the article, Developing a Missional Mindset by Don Detrick, he said this about churches. “When our memories of the past are more exciting than our vision for the future, we have begun to die.” This article was not telling us to abandon our past and look only to the future. It was urging us not to live in the past. When we spend all our time reminiscing, there is little time left to enjoy today or plan for the future.

 

For others of us, we look too much to the future-worried or wondering what will happen in 5, 10, 20 years. What is our 5 year plan? Where will we be in 10 years? These are important questions and need to be asked. When we get so excited or terrified about what is coming, we can neglect to see what is happening now or where we have been.

 

And others of us live only in the now. The present is all that matters because it is happening now. It is exciting, challenging, and always changing. We have no use for the past because it is over and no need for the future because it hasn’t happened yet!

 

Story is one way to help us to keep this three-fold focus. What is your story? From whom and where did you come? When did your ancestors first settle in this land? How did your parents meet? When and where were you baptized? This is part of your story. From your past and the past of your ancestors, you have become the you of today.

 

Speaking of the you of today-your story now includes-What do you enjoy doing today? Who are your friends and relatives who make life sweeter for you? How would you describe yourself-electrician, grandparent, student, cat lover, comedian, friend, disciple of Jesus? What do you do with your free time? How do you spend your money? What makes you laugh? These are the now parts of your story.

 

The future part of your story is still unfolding. What will you do in the coming days and years? What are you doing or have you done that will live on after you are gone? Some answers to this might be easy like children you’ve raised or books you’ve written. We do not know all the times and ways we have left impressions on people. Our future is part of our story. Our past, our present, and our future combine to become our story.

 

What about God’s story? This is the story our ancestors were commanded to pass on in our reading from Deuteronomy. They were commanded to observe the commandments and keep God’s story alive. The 10 Best Ways to Live are not something we memorize and then forget. They are how we live. We live them by loving God all the days of our lives. By writing God’s story on our hearts, so it is with us always. Tell them to the next generation-those who will follows us in the faith. We tell the stories of God when we are here at church and when we are not here (which is the majority of the time!)

 

God invites the Israelites to a new way a living, so “It may go well with them and their days may be long.” God doesn’t say life will be easy or exciting-instead God offers community and relationship. All Saints’ Sunday reminds us we do not journey alone. God is with us. Also, we are not the first saints on this journey. We are surrounded by such a great multitude of faithful people who have journeyed before us.

 

We need these saints of the past to remind us that while much of our life feels ordinary, God is still with us. It is in the dish washing and lawn mowing times of life that we can share and remember these stories of God. In the carpool lanes and grocery store aisles, we can pray for those around us that they may know the grace of God. God’s presence in the regular lives of faithful is summed up in the great All Saints’ Day hymn-I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.

 

I sing a song of the saints of God,

Patient and brave and true

Who toiled and fought and lived and died

for the Lord they loved and knew.

And one was a doctor and one was a queen

and one was a shepherdess on the green

They were all of them saints of God

and I mean, God help me to be one too.

They lived not only in ages past

There are hundreds of thousands still

They world is bright with the joyous saints

Who love to do Jesus’ will

You can meet them in school or in lanes or at seas

In church or in trains or in shops or at tea

For the saints of God are just folk like me

And I mean to be one too.

 

I remember singing this song with a great group of women-all of them old enough to be my grandmother at the women’s fellowship meetings when I was a child. We sang together-many songs including this one and when our worship and program time was over, we ate delicious desserts together. Each of these women knew my name and my story. They were interested in me and in telling me the faith stories that meant so much to them. When I sing this song, I remember those women and am grateful for their faith that they passed along to me.

 

If your story and God’s story seem separate or far apart, today is a great day to begin to weave them together. As you focus on your past, present, and future, God longs to be a part of it. And the saints gathered here want to know you better and join their stories with yours. When we link our stories together as Christians, we add in not only our stories, but the stories with all who have faithfully gone before us and those who will follow after us. Where else do you have the opportunity to form relationships with so many different and interesting people?
So, please tell the stories of our faith, and live our faith as we continue in the amazing tradition started by God, followed by our ancestors in the faith that will be carried on by generations of faithful in the future.Thanks be to God for all the saints. Amen.

 

A version of this sermon was originally preached at St. Giles Presbyterian Church on November 4, 2012.

1929921_11758603825_1874_n

 

 

 

Two saints in Edinburgh, Scotland in October, 2005.

Worship Words-Surrounded by Saints

To celebrate All Saints’ Day 2012, my congregation created memory pages. Each page had space for a picture, the name of the saint, one’s relationship to the saint, and a special memory. We hung purple ribbon on the walls of the sanctuary and affixed the memory pages to the ribbon. For a month, we were surrounded by pictures and memories of saints we had known and loved.

 

558790_10151441791124505_1377842023_n

 

 

Here is the introduction to the hanging of the memory pages and the prayer we prayed together.

All Saints’ Day has always been one of my favorite church holidays. In recent years, it has become especially more important to me as more and more people I love have moved from saints on earth to saints triumphant. It is no longer an abstract holiday celebrating my ancestors in the faith. It is a day when I remember those who walked with me on my faith journey who are no longer walking with me on earth. Today is a day we remember those we love. Now, you are invited to go to one of the ribbons and hang up your memory page. When you are done, please return to your seat and we’ll pray together.
God of the ages, You know each of us and you know all who have ever lived and you love us all. Today, we give you thanks for those we love. For our family and friends still with us and the ones with You. For all your children remembered on the walls of our sanctuary, we say thank you. Thank you, God, for bringing them into our lives and us into their lives. Thank you for the laughter and good memories. Thank you for the friendship and love. Thank you for the time we shared together. Thank you, Gracious God, for giving us so many people who taught us about you, who loved us, who fed us your Word and delicious foods too. You know we love them and miss them. We remember and we say thank you, God. Amen.