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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

A Reflection on Wedding Month

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This month I have the privilege of officiating two weddings. It is a joy to have a part in these special days and as I was preparing for their services I decided to reread my wedding service. Reading these words reminds me of all the people who came to support us as we entered into this covenant. Also, it reminds me (after more than 8 years of marriage) of the many people in my life who have only known me as married.

I am unable to give credit to those who wrote some of these words. I know they were picked and pulled from a variety of sources, written by us, and written by our officiant, the always amazing, Rev. Kristi Foster.

In the spirit of wedding month, I share these special words with you.

 

Prelude

Selected music

The two mothers will be escorted into the church and brought forward to each light one of the candles, representing each of their children.  

 

Entrance

Richard and his attendants will walk onto the altar with Pastor Kristi.  After the attendants are in place, the bridesmaids will process down the aisle: Elizabeth, Heather, Julie, Becky.  Then the music will change and Susannah will process down the aisle. After taking her place, Susannah will hand her bouquet to Becky and she and Richard will face each other and join hands.

 

Welcome

I greet you in the name of Christ. My friends, we have come together from many places on this day, to join together the love of Richard and Susannah in the celebration of marriage. We witness, by our joy, that the happiness these two find in one another is unique. And yet, it is no more than the happiness which all people might find. For life is a dance, and marriage is the choosing of eternal partners for that dance. We are here, above all, to worship God—creator of both the dance and the dancers. We rejoice that God brings God’s people together as one in the Spirit. Love has brought them together, and so it will keep them together.

 

Opening Prayer

O Loving God, out of this complex world you have drawn together these two persons, and are binding them in love. As we contemplate these moments of worship with them, may we approach its mystery in reverence, its goodness with rejoicing, its meaning with celebration, and its holiness with respect. We thank you for the homes in which Susannah and Richard have been cared for. We thank you for the parents who have sacrificed on their behalf, and for families and friends who have loved them. Lord, we ask your blessing on these two partners, as they affirm the choice they have made of each other as life’s mate. Give them a seriousness of purpose, that they will be delivered from empty words and casual commitments. Increase their faith and love all the days of their lives. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Declarations of Intent

Recognizing that marriage is not the end of two people and the formation of one, but the joining of two individuals who, while they become one with another, are still one from another, I call on you both now, in the presence of God, and your families and friends, to give expression to the commitment which was long ago formed between you.  

 

Susannah, will you have Richard to be your wedded husband and live together in one love?  Will you honor and comfort him, share his joy and his sorrow, always endeavoring to understand his needs and will you cherish his love forever?  If so, please say, “I will.”

 

Susannah:  I will.

 

Richard, will you have Susannah as your wife and will you promise to love her always, not through duty or obligation, but through integrity, respect, and faithful consideration?  And do you promise to live, and especially to work, with her, in order to share and spread you love throughout your lives?  If so, please say, “I will.”

 

Richard:  I will

 

Family and Friends Support Time (From Kristi)

Pledge of Support

Will the families of Susannah and Richard please stand in support of this couple?

Do each of you offer your prayerful blessing and loving support to this marriage? If so, please say, “I do.”  I do

 

Please join me in prayer. God of our mothers and of our fathers, hear our pledges encouraging and supporting this union of Richard and Susannah.  Bless us as we offer our prayerful and loving support to their marriage.  Bless them as they pledge their lives to each other.  With faith in you and in each other, may this couple always bear witness to the reality of the love to which we witness this day. May their love continue to grow, and may it be a true reflection of your love for us all. AMEN

 

Readings:

 

From the Non-Canonical Gospel of Philip:

Every plant my Father in Heaven does not plant will be rooted out. Those who are alienated will be united. They will be filled. Everyone will join in lighting the light of the Bridal Chamber. For the light shines in the marriages which are seen. The fire burns in the night, then it is extinguished. But the mysteries of this marriage are fulfilled in the day and the light. That day and its light do not set.

 

Ruth 1: 16-17

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you

or to turn back from following you!  

Where you go, I will go;

Where you lodge, I will lodge;  

your people shall be my people,

and your God my God.  

Where you die, I will die–

there will I be buried.  

May the Lord do thus and so to me,

and more as well,

if even death parts me from you!”

 

Sermon

 

The Lord’s Prayer

Susannah and Richard, please kneel together for our prayer.  Richard and Susannah invite all those present now to join in the prayer common to our faith, using those words which are most comfortable to you.

Our Father, which art in heaven. . .

 

Charges

Kristi to couple while they are kneeling:

I charge you Richard and Susannah, with the responsibility to keep alive: to grow, to change, to maintain the capacity for wonder, for spontaneity, for humor. To remain pliable, warm and sensitive. I charge you to give fully, to show your real feelings, and to save time for each other, no matter what demands are made upon your day. I charge you to see the meaning of life through the changing prism of your love. To nurture each other to fullness and wholeness, and in learning to love each other more deeply, learn to love the creation in which the mystery of your love has happened. And, above all, I charge you to keep God in your marriage. Not as an uninvited houseguest, but as an indwelling part of your relationship.

 

I invite the parents of Susannah and Richard to come forward for the charge.

 

Parents to couple:

Susannah and Richard: nothing is easier than saying words, and nothing harder than living them day by day. What you promise today must be renewed and rededicated tomorrow. At the end of this ceremony, legally you will be husband and wife. But you must still decide, each day that stretches out before you, that you want to be married. Getting married is really quite easy. Staying married is a life-long task. Real love is something beyond the warmth and glow and the excitement and romance of being deeply in love. It is caring as much about the welfare and happiness of your marriage partner, as about your own. But real love is not total absorption in each other. It is looking outward in the same direction together. Love makes burdens lighter, because you divide them. It makes joys more intense, because you share them. It makes you stronger, so you can reach out and became involved in life, in ways you dared not risk alone.

 

Vows

Richard and Susannah:  I invite you to stand now and repeat your vows to one another in the presence of those who are assembled to witness your covenant.

 

Richard, turn to Susannah, take her hands and repeat after me:  

I, Richard,

take you Susannah,

to be my wife.

And I promise

I will be faithful to you,

and at all times loving.

Whether in joy or sorrow.

I will share with you

and believe in you.

I will cherish you forever.

I give you my hand

and my love.

 

Susannah, repeat after me:

Richard,

I take you

to be my husband.

And these things

I promise you:

I will be faithful to you

and honest with you.

I will respect, trust,

help and care for you.

I will share my life with you.

I will forgive you,

as we have been forgiven.

And with you

I will try to better understand ourselves,

the world, and God.

Through the best and worst

of what is to come,

as long as we live.

 

Exchange of Rings  Get rings from best man, groom, etc.

These rings, when placed on the other’s finger becomes a symbol of your pledge to one another, and to all of us here, that you are going to encircle each other with your love, your care, and your protection. You pledge that whatever happens you can depend on each other. We do not expect you to know all that this means now. But we do expect that you are pledging your will, so that whatever turns there are in the road ahead, we may depend on your being there, one for the other, supporting each other with your very lives.

 

Richard, place this ring on Susannah’s finger and repeat after me:

Susannah,

I give you this ring,

as a symbol of my vow,

and with all that I am,

and all that I have,

I honor you.

 

Susannah, place this ring on Richard’s finger and repeat after me:

Richard,

I give you this ring,

as a symbol of my vow,

and with all that I am,

and all that I have,

I honor you.

 

Lighting of the Unity Candle

At this time, I invite Susannah and Richard to join together in lighting the unity candle. They asked their mothers to light each of their individual candles. These lights, which represent the faith, wisdom, and love they have received from their parents, are distinct, each burning alone.  As Richard and Susannah light the center candle together, they join their two lives to make one life together.

 

Richard and Susannah, As this one light burns undivided, so shall your love be one. From now on, your thoughts shall be for one another, not just for yourselves.  Your joys and your sorrows are no longer yours alone, but are shared. Keep the radiance of this candle in your hearts always, as a symbol of your commitment to the unity of your life together. I invite you to take this candle with you at the conclusion of this service and light it often, as a reminder of this day and the promises you have made to each other.

 

May the blessing of light,

Be with you always,

Light without and light within.

And may the sun shine

Upon you and warm your heart

Until it glows

Like a great fire

So that others may feel

The warmth of your love

For one another.

 

The Pronouncements

In the presence of these witnesses you have spoken the words and performed the rites that unite your lives. Richard and Susannah, you are now husband and wife in the sight of God, your family and friends, and your community.

 

You may now seal your covenant with a kiss.

 

Benediction

Lord, hear us for a quiet moment as each of us contemplates what we are celebrating right now. Keep Richard and Susannah faithful to each other and to you. Fill them with such love and joy that they may build a home where no one is a stranger. And guide them by your word, to serve you all the days of their lives. Go in peace, as two, yet one. May your unity last through the trials and triumphs that lie ahead. So that at the end, you may feel just as you do now: very happy to be in love and to be married. Go, then, in peace. Amen.

Worship Words-A Prayer for Beginnings, Endings, and All the Times in Between

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One year ago, I was saying good-bye to the people with whom I had prayed, laughed, cried, grieved, grown, learned, eaten, worshiped, meetinged, retreated, camped, sang, holidayed, and worked for seven years. Seven years is a long time in ministry. New babies were born who were in elementary school by the time I left. Young children had entered the youth program. Those who started the youth program with me had moved onto college. Relationships changed as some people met and fell in love. Some people married and some people divorced. Some people who loved the church died and we grieved together and we remember them. Wonderful new people joined the church in those seven years. And some people left too. So much happened in those seven years.

Today, I’m preparing for a beginning. Starting on October 1, I will be the Director of Cooperative Youth Ministry at Christ Congregational Church (UCC) and Takoma Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). I’m looking forward to this new opportunity and the many possibilities ahead. I’m excited to focus my energy on youth! I’m ready to plan mission trips, Sunday night gatherings, retreats, and so much more.

Whenever I think of endings and beginning this quote from Hope Floats also comes to mind. “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too…”

I know that most of life is the ordinary or in between time, and yet today I’m thinking about how both endings and beginnings are an important part of our journey too.

Let us pray-

God of beginnings, endings, and all the times in between, I wonder what you were thinking as you created all that we know. Beginning are scary and exciting because a big blank space of possibility is before us. In moments of beginning, remind us we are your beloved and even if we fail you love us still.

Faithful God, Endings are hard. It hurts to say good-bye to those we love. We grieve endings. Let us grieve, Loving God, for some endings are forever and others were necessary. In moments of ending, remind us we are your beloved and even as our hearts break you love us still.

Eternal God, Much of our lives are the times in between-going to school or work or having nowhere to go, wondering what to eat for our next meal, paying bills, doing homework…In the midst of the ordinary, open our eyes to the extraordinary gift of life. Let us hear laughter and stories. Let us see smiles and tears. Let us smell bread breaking and flowers blooming. Let us taste foods that delight us. Let us feel love from you and all those we love. In the times between, remind us we are your beloved and everyday has the possibility of beginnings, endings, and ordinary times. Amen.

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Worship Words-Help, Thanks, Wow and Prayer Post-Its!

Help, Thanks, Wow and Prayer Post-Its!

Recently, I was asked to provide a worship time for a great group of youth. The following is what we did. This worship worked well with the youth and could also be adapted to use in your home. At home, you can modify the worship piece as needed and hang smaller pieces of paper (if desired) on which you can hang your post-its. Enjoy and let me know how you used these worship words.

 

Supplies Needed-

3 pieces of posterboard.

In big letters, write Help (on one), Thanks (on one) and Wow (on the last one).

Post-its

Markers

Painters Tape or some other safe way to attach the posterboards to the wall.

 

Before the worship time begins, hang your posters in three different places around the room. Near each station, provide plenty of post-its and markers and a space to write.

 

Call to Worship/Opening

From many places, we come together

to learn,

to laugh,

to experience community.

This is a safe space where we can ask questions, share our stories, listen to each other, and grow our faith. A new group is forming this weekend. We have said good-bye to some friends and welcomed new ones. While we will share experiences and grow closer this year, we will always have room for more youth and caring adults to join.

 

Opening Prayer

As a new year kicks off, we prayerfully ask God’s blessing on our time together this weekend and the year ahead.

God, we know you are already in this space. Open our eyes to see you in each other and in ourselves. We thank you for everyone who is here tonight. Thank you for the gifts they bring and the memories we will create together. We thank you for this safe space to gather and be who you created us to be. Amen.

Introduction-

Tonight we are going to pray together. I’ll explain more about how our prayer time will work in a few minutes. First, I invite us all to listen to these Scriptures that talk about how and when to pray or are prayers themselves. Let us hear God’s word.

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Worship Words-Sermon, Jesus Welcomes Children and So Do We!

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Mark 9:33-37

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

I love stories where the disciples’ humanity shines through. These twelve faithful followers of Jesus were walking along not listening to Jesus, not debriefing something Jesus had said, not coming up with great questions to ask Jesus. Instead of any of these things, they spent their time arguing. What do the disciples of Jesus argue about you might wonder? They argued about which one of them was the greatest. The good news for us today is that, despite actions like this, Jesus never gave up on the disciples and Jesus never gives up on us. We mess up just like the first 12 and there is forgiveness and another chance.

The Scripture tells us Jesus sat down. …Here’s how I see it. Jesus sits down. Palm to forehead, maybe he shakes his head for a few moments. He sighs a big sigh and then spends a few minutes doing some deep breathing. He doesn’t immediately go to the next lesson. Nope. Sometimes, we all need a minute to think about what we have done and what we should have been doing. When he is ready and hopefully when the disciples are ready to listen, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Now, I picture the disciples shaking their heads, sighing, and trying to figure what this means and why things are so backwards. They wanted to be first, best, greatest, and Jesus is telling them to be last and a servant. While they are still trying to understand his words, Jesus does something even stranger. He welcomes a child into their midst. He offers a big extravagant welcome to a child. Jesus keeps surprising the disciples even when they should know to expect the unexpected from Jesus. Jesus welcomes tax collectors, prostitutes, people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses, women, and now children. One could almost assume that Jesus is telling his disciples then and his disciples today that we are to welcome everyone.

Picture these scenes playing out in the sanctuary…

A mother brought her children to church regularly. One Sunday, this mother asked to speak with the pastor. She was crying as she told the pastor how someone had asked if her family could sit elsewhere because her children were distracting and making it hard to worship God.

A child is so excited that it is time for church. He runs as fast as he can to get to the sanctuary. An usher stops him to remind him not to run in God’s house.

6 children would arrive at church each week, all related, all delivered to church by an extended family member They joyfully sang and participate in worship. People began to talk about them because they needed to brush their hair, wear season appropriate clothing, and bathe more often. One woman didn’t join in the judgment or gossip. Instead, she started inviting all the kids at church for special hair time before worship. She brushed and styled anyone’s hair who wanted. She didn’t single out the ones who others thought needed help. She welcomed all and loved the children. What if the other two stories I told you had an ending like this one?

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Worship Words-Finding Balance

 

In 2006, I traveled with clergy from the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico for an education mission trip. For ten days, we learned from people and organizations working and living in this part of the world. While tidying my house as part of the KonMari method, I found notes I took on this trip.

 

Thursday 25 July 2006 Bible Study with Doris

Jeremiah 2: 14-19 and Isaiah 65: 20-25

How can one find balance? Balance doesn’t have to be a daily thing. You can’t have balance everyday. The goal is to have balance in God’s time. At time you need to be prophetic (like Jeremiah) and at other times you need to comfort (like Isaiah). What is God telling you to do now? The balance comes overall not daily.

 

These words from 9 years ago were new to me when I read them recently. I found affirmation and inspiration in the idea that to achieve balance does not mean we need to be all things in every moment. In God’s time and overall in our lives, we can strive for balance. At times, we will need to comfort those in need. At times, we will need to stand up and speak out for each other. At times, we will need to rest and renew ourselves. What a welcome message for our over-scheduled culture. God is not calling you to do everything now. God is calling you seek a balance overall about how you are living in the world.

 

Creating God, You didn’t create the whole world in one day. Why do we think we need to do everything in one day? Be with us as we seek to find balance in the way we live as your disciples. Give us a spirit of justice and compassion. Challenge us and soothe our hurts. Open our eyes to the beauty of your creation and the ways we are ruining it. Balance us, O God, for this journey is long. Amen.

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Racial Justice…Same as It Ever Was?

Sometimes I don’t know what to do or say in response to a situation. I listen to the news and pray for the people around the world whose stories draw media attention. I read stories and comments posted by my facebook friends and colleagues. The story that caught my attention this week was the arrest and death of Sandra Bland. I did not know her. I do not know all the facts of this story. What I do know is that too many people are dying needlessly and senselessly in this country. Last week my facebook feed featured stories of black churches burning and black clergywomen receiving death threats. And this morning I heard this song, Same as It Ever Was by Michael Franti and Spearhead. I felt like I could not remain silent about the black lives matter movement any longer. I firmly believe that we are all created in the image of God and we are all God’s beloved children. Saying black lives matter at this time in history does not diminish God’s love for all of us, instead it is a reminder that because we are called to care for each other we must speak out on behalf of those whose voices are being silenced.

I have so many questions. I want answers. I want to fix things. I want everyone in this country to have opportunities, to feel safe, to be loved, and to have enough.

I’m writing this to figure out what to say while recognizing there are no right words and knowing what needs to be said right now is that something needs to be done! So what am I doing? I’m writing this post in the hope it will encourage conversation and raise awareness. I’m participating in a new book group to study the history and current status of racism and using what I learn to change myself and to influence change in others. I’m learning from others and seeking out great resources like Showing Up for Racial Justice. And I’m wondering what you are doing? How can we partner to change things?

And, I’ll continue to pray. Join me in praying for our country.

Worship Words-10 Commandments Sermon

Scriptures-Exodus 20:1-17 and Mark 10:17-27

As we ponder the ten commandments today, what do you think about them? What do they mean for you as a person of faith? Are they one more list of things to add to your already full to do list or are they life giving models for how God dreams we can live? Possibly they fall somewhere in between for you or maybe you rarely think about the 10 commandments.

Thomas Long said this in an article on the commandments, “In popular religious consciousness, the 10 commandments have somehow become burdens, weights, and heavy obligations. For many the commandments are encumbrances placed on personal behavior. Most people cannot name all ten, but they are persuaded that at the center of each one is a finger-wagging “thou shalt not.”¹ For others, the commandments are heavy yokes to be publically placed on the necks of rebellious society.”

Viewing the 10 commandments in this way as a burden or restraints around our necks, rules that must be followed or else, holds us back from living our lives in the way God intended. God gave us the gift of life, so not living our lives the best way possible is in fact, a sin. We sin when we live in fear of failure because we are not using the gifts God has graciously given us. If we spend all our time thinking about what we aren’t supposed to do, there is no time left to do anything. God wants us to live our lives, to see the beauty in creation, to build strong relationships, to help others live. We were created to do good and that is what the 10 commandments help us to do.

Let me briefly sketch the story that surrounds the commandments. As the book of Exodus begins, there arises in Egypt a king who didn’t know Joseph. Remember, Joseph had found favor with the Pharaoh when through Joseph God interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. The Egyptians were saved from starving in years of drought and for this Joseph became the Pharaoh’s right hand man. When the book of Exodus starts, Joseph has been dead long enough that those in power no longer remember him or his technocolor dreamcoat. This leaves the Hebrew people vulnerable.

This new king noticed that the Israelite people outnumbered the Egyptians. With their great numbers will they soon become more  powerful than the King and his people? He decides to exercise his power in a decisive way. And so the Hebrew people were forced to work for the Egyptians. The work became more and more difficult until the Hebrew people were slaves in the land of Egypt.

God calls Moses to lead the people to freedom. God says to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

And God does just that. This is why today’s scripture began with these words, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” God begins this life-affirming set of instructions with a reminder to the people of where they have been, where they are now and how they got here. Even though they haven’t yet arrived in the Promised Land, they are no longer slaves and their new land, the land God promised, is coming soon.

The story is as simple as this. God sees our suffering. First, God frees us to new life and then God offers a new way to live. A life rooted in freedom with ways to live that will allow us to stay free. God gave us these commandments as a way to live in God’s promise of life for everyone. In my previous church, the chidren learned our faith stories by using Young Children in Worship by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman.  This book calls the 10 commandments, The Ten Best Ways to Live. What if we stopped calling them the 10 commandments? Instead, we could call these life-giving, relationship-strengthening, community-building verses The Ten Best Ways to Live.

Would they sound easier, if they were worded in this way, “Because the Lord is your God, you are free not to need any other gods. You are free to rest on the seventh day; free to love your elders and keep them safe now as they protected you when you were young; free from the tyranny of lifeless idols and empty words; free from murder, stealing and covetousness as ways to establish yourself in the land.”¹

By the time God gives the 10 Best Ways to Live to Moses, God has been in relationship with humans long enough to know a lot about the way we operate. That is why these guidelines, instructions, commandments were not handed to the people as soon as they left Egypt. God knew the people had been forced to do things, told what to do for so long that they might just rebel if they were told what to do again even if God was offering something better. So after the people escaped there was a time of celebration – dancing and singing. As the people began their journey, God provides water and manna from heaven.

God was with them as they met up with people who lived in the land they were traveling through and as people had disputes with each other that Moses mediated. And finally, God knows the people are ready for some instructions, some guidance for their lives. And so God give them a better way to live, freedom. Not a to-do list or a list of laws or requirements to be a good person. God gives these best ways to live to those God loves, the people with whom God is in a relationship.

And our gospel reaffirms that these are the 10 Best Ways to Live. Jesus encourages a man who questions him to live the commandments. I’ve always struggled a bit with this man’s response, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Wow. We know the 10 Best Ways to Live are life enriching and we know they aren’t easy. I’m not sure anyone here today would say sure I’ve been faithfully following all 10 for years. And yet, even with this man’s faithfulness, Jesus says there is more to do and the man is unable to do that one last thing. Do not be discouraged when we cannot do one more thing for God or for each other because this week’s gospel passage ends with these words of hope “for God all things are possible.”

The 10 Best Ways to Live and Jesus’ call to follow him are offers of relationship. We are those with whom God wishes to be in relationship. How is your relationship with God? What, if anything, is holding us back from strengthening this relationship? It could be any number of things in these days of busyness and hurrying. So many things filled our lives that God gets pushed to the side. And sometimes the relationship is strained because of events in our lives-we wonder why this happened and where is God? Or your relationship with God may be great right now which still doesn’t mean you can stop thinking about it. Are you neglecting your relationship with God? If so, what can you do about it?

Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World is filled with ordinary practices you can do with thoughtfulness while looking for God in our midst. In the introduction she says, “If you are tired of arguing about religion, tired of reading about spirituality, tired of talk-talk-talking about things that matter without doing a single thing that matters yourself, then the pages that follow are dedicated to you…My hope is that reading will help you recognize some altars in this world—ordinary-looking places where humans being have met and continue to meet up with….God.” (xvii)

Her fifth chapter or practice is about getting lost. She talks about how we get into routines and fail to pay attention. We drive to work and can’t remember the route we took or anything we saw along the way. We go about our daily lives without ever paying any attention. We get from point A to point B as fast as possible because we have much to do. In the midst of this chapter she talks about all the people who got lost in the Bible and how while they were lost they found God. Our ancestors in the faith who received the 10 Best Ways to Live, “needed forty years in the wilderness to learn the holy art of being lost…(because) by the time they arrived in the land of milk and honey, they knew how to say thank you and mean it” (74-75).

I hope you have a great getting lost story…where your best laid plans flew out the window as the route you planned to take was no longer available or the place you planned to stop was not open. When we have to move from our carefully constructed plans to plan b, c, or d, we are changed…hopefully for the better.

Where do we need to get lost to be more attentive to our relationship with God? Toward the end of the chapter, Barbara says, “If you are not able to set priorities any other way, then getting lost may be the kick in the pants you have been waiting for” (85). I hope today you feel the Holy Spirit moving in your life inviting you into a stronger relationship with our God.

Are these commandments rules from long ago that should be etched in stone, in our courthouses, for symbolic reasons perhaps more than practical ones, or are they etched deeply into our hearts, where we long for the wholeness and newness that God offers us? Are they holding you back or giving you new life in God? If they are holding you back, may you find some time today or this week to get lost and see God in your ordinary, everyday life. Amen.

This sermon was originally preached on October 14, 2012 at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. It has been edited for this blog post.

¹Thomas G. Long, “Dancing the Decalogue.” Christian Century 123, no. 5 (March 7, 2006), 17.