Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Puppets and Children's Homilies

Last year, we instituted a monthly children's homily. It takes the place of the sermon since it is my experience that adults listen to the kids' part and don't need another sermon on top of that.

A friend of mine was telling me that he had a puppet he used for homilies - he was doing a children's chapel service every Sunday, complete with homily, a feat I never want to try. Anyway, one Sunday, he left the puppet at home. When the service started, one of the kids asked where "Jeff" (I can't remember his name) was and Andy explained how he had stayed at home that morning. "No offense, Andy, but we like it better when Jeff preaches," responded the child. !!

With that in mind, I set off to find my own puppet. I loved one in particular. It was a dessert sheep, dressed up in nomad garb and complete with sunglasses. But the first time I practiced with the puppet, I realized a terrible thing. He was male and I can't *do* male. So I took him back and gave up on the puppet idea.

Until my installation in May. The Sunday School gave me a puppet. She is a camel with very long eyelashes and gold trim on her headgear. Yesterday, we went down to the church to practice for Sunday's debut sermon. Well, her name is Mae East and she has a deep Southern gentlewoman accent. I love her! Let's hope the kids do, too.

Logs and specks

I am disheartened today. A very nice group of people got together last night to be about the work of the Lord and did a lot of complaining and character assassination. How do we ever expect the world to give Christianity credence when we just don't/can't behave like Christians?

Sometimes, I wonder if we even consider what it means to follow Jesus. Actually doing it seems to be even more hit or miss. And yet I know some people who are incredibly successful at being Christian, treating everyone as a loved member of the household of God even if that person drives them crazy. When did it become necessary for us to tell others *that* they drive us nuts and *how* they drive us nuts. Oh yes, and how to *change* so they will no longer drive us nuts.

I commisserated with God on the drive home about putting up with all of us when I am sure God regularly feels like I did last night.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Matthew 15:10-28

This morning, in the shower as usual, I began thinking about what to say next Sunday. I've pulled the two sermons from previous years and will look them over before starting in on the commentaries and online info later this morning. But here are my first thoughts.

When I was about 4, we got a new car. I remember asking my dad why and his answer was something about the car being broken. In my small child's mind, that meant the forbidden "do not touch this" cigarette lighter no longer worked. Well, it did and I burned my finger! Daddy asked me why I had touched it and of course I fed his own words right back to him, "you told me the car was broken."

When we are wee children, we need black and white rules. Don't touch the stove, don't cross the street, don't squeeze the cat - I'm noticing that we tend to stress the negative in all these rules. My sister, Helen, told her little boys (14 months apart) that they had to keep their seatbelts fastened because if they didn't and she had to stop quickly, they might fly through the windshield - from the back seat, of course - and die. It comes as no surprise, then, that the day curious Greg undid his seatbelt, literal Robert cried, "Greg's gonna die!"

Rules are good to have but at some point we begin to reason and think logically and some of the rules don't work anymore. We learn that the stove is only hot when the burner is red or the flame is on. We learn that a hot stove can be a good thing. And, hopefully, before we leave our parents' houses, we learn how to use the stove for our well being!

Once we are adults, there are very few black and white rules anymore and I think most of them can be traced back to the ten commandments. Don't kill, don't steal, honor your parents, have but one God still work. But so many of our rules begin to show signs of grey. Sometimes talking to strangers is a good thing, for instance.

I remember a friend telling me once that she was terrified of African Americans. She was almost 40 years old and had never met anyone who was not as white as she was! Then she went back to school, got a job in the nearby city and learned that her childhood fear was unfounded. Furthermore, she discovered that not all white people were good just because they were white.

The Pharisees can't let go of any of their rules. To do so would mean being unclean and maybe even jeopardize their standing as Pharisees. The disciples, who were never Pharisee material, have some hard and fast rules of their own. Jesus sets out to stand them all on their heads.

And that's it for starters. Since there is no way this is a complete sermon, I trust there will be more to follow. ;-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Peter and Jesus on the water

This is my sermon from three years ago. I'll likely say something like this again but I still have some reading to do. And today is the Feast of the Transfiguration so I have that sermon to think about as well - although that story appears about twice a year besides today so I have some idea what I'll say.
Anyway, here's Jesus, Peter, the water and the boat.

Proper 14A
Matthew 14:22-33

After feeding all those people
in last week’s gospel,
after overcoming
the disciples’ skepticism,
Jesus manages to disperse the crowd
and get the disciples to row back
across the lake without him.
It’s been a very long day
but now Jesus
gets time alone to pray.
Well the disciples haven’t been away
from Jesus in a long while
so they might wonder
why he forced them to go.
But going out in the boat
is not a problem.
Remember that many of these men
have made their living on this sea.
They know the boat inside out,
know when to raise
the sails,
when to bring them down
and when it is best to row.
The disciples also know the sea
as well as we know our way to work
or school or the grocery store.
They know where it is deepest.
They know its winds and weather.
They know the trip back across
will be into the wind
and that the water is likely
to be choppy.
We have this image of hapless disciples
floundering around in a sea whipped
by gale force winds
that cause mountainous waves
to wash over the boat.
This is not a boat about to capsize.
Yes, there is a struggle
to row back to the home shore
four miles away
but the boat and the disciples
have made this kind of trip before.
It is early in the morning
when Jesus ends his prayers
and begins his own
journey back across the sea.
By now, the disciples are tired
from the exertion of rowing
as well as from the lateness of the hour.
So when they see Jesus coming,
they are, not surprisingly, frightened.
In all of Near Eastern theology –
Jewish or pagan –
no one can walk on the chaos
of the sea except God
because only God can tame
the chaos.
We are still two chapters away
from Peter’s statement,
“You are the Messiah,
the Son of the living God.”
and the disciples are still getting the big picture.
Naturally, we
think they should have figured it out by now
but we weren’t there
and I’m fairly sure
we wouldn’t have done any better.
Be certain, though,
that the disciples hear Jesus say,
“Take heart”
just like Moses told the Israelites
when they were caught between the sea
and pharaoh’s army;
“it is I”
just like God answered Moses
from the burning bush;
and “do not be afraid”
just like Isaiah told Israel
when she was in exile.
In Peter,
ha Satan finds just enough lack
of faith
to insinuate the idea of testing
what Jesus is saying and doing.
“Lord,” says Peter –
he really does know
who this is –
“if it is you,
command me to walk on water, too.”
And Jesus,
who has already
given ample demonstration of his authority
and even shared that authority with
these twelve men,
now shares his power and authority
over the chaos of the sea
with one who questions
that very authority and power.
Peter steps out of the boat
and takes several steps,
keeping his eye on the Christ.
But the wind catches his cloak,
and distracts him just enough
to replace his growing faith
with fear of the elements.
Like so many of us when we get in trouble,
Peter cries out,
“Lord, save me!”
Jesus stretches out his hand
and helps Peter back into the boat.
The message here is not
that Peter’s lack of faith caused
him to sink.
The message here is that Peter
should have heard Jesus’ words
telling the disciples
that, even though he was not physically present
in the boat, he was there anyway.
“Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”
There should have been enough faith in the boat
for Peter to have stayed put.
Peter never should have gotten out of the boat.
Theologian Eugene Boring says,
“Faith is not being able
to walk on the water –
only God can do that –
but daring to believe,
in the face of all the evidence,
that God is with us in the boat,
made real in the community of faith
as it makes its way through the storm,
battered by the waves.”
Matthew is telling the story of the disciples
but he is telling
it to a community battered
by the political and religious waves
of the time.
In this passage,
he is clearly saying to his community,
“you will find your faith within
the community.
Don’t go testing God
thinking that will bring you
what you already have.”
For centuries,
the boat has been a symbol
for the Church,
the body of Christ in the world.
It is from stories like this one
that that image grew.
So here we are in our boat.
There are storms out there
of one kind or another.
How are we going to weather them?
Not all of the disciples
were fishermen.
We know that Matthew was a tax collector.
You may think that he had nothing
to do with getting that boat
back across the sea.
But I suspect that he probably helped bail
or maybe took a turn at the oars
when one of the real sailors
needed a break.
If those twelve men had not worked together,
even a small storm
would have capsized their boat.
If half of them chose to be rowed
instead of helping row,
the same fate would have been likely.
Despite differences in skill
or intelligence
or opinion,
the disciples pulled together
to get the boat home safely.
Being in the boat requires
being a member of the crew.
We cannot sit quietly and hope the others
can get us back to shore.
We have to pitch in however we can
and keep the boat afloat.
We are one in Christ.
We have different skills
and some of us are smarter than others.
We have lots of opinions
on all sides and in the middle
of just about any issue we can think of.
But we are still one in Christ
and part of this community.
Our faith in the triune God
is expressed in what we do here together.
Our strength for facing personal storms
comes from being part of this worshiping community.
And our commitment to each other
is necessary for our spiritual growth.
Jesus is in the boat with us.
He manifests the love and grace of God here.
Our job as disciples of Christ
is to stay in the boat
and do whatever we have to do
to keep it afloat.
And that takes all of us
working together
for the glory of God.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Theh Friday Five

1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel?
You mean other than cursing or wishing I'd gotten off that road sooner? ;-)
On a trip home with my brother-in-law and sister, we took a county road that quickly became unpaved. At one point, we passed some very new houses and a sheriff was standing in one yard. He waved. Then we came to a place where the road took a sharp 180 degree turn and went "straight" uphill. Finally, we got back on the highway and I realized that the banjos were all in my head.

2) Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? (And do you keep an extra key somewhere, just in case?)
I hadn't been in the new rectory for more than a few days when I locked myself out around 6 a.m. while walking the dogs. I panicked, walked up and down the road several times wondering if I could get to a nearby parishioner's house and would they have a key before remembering that the front door sat loosely in the door frame and there was a piece of flexible plastic in the trash can. Yay!

3) Have you ever cleared a hurdle? (And if you haven't flown over a material hurdle, feel free to take this one metaphorically.)
I ran hurdles in 9th grade but just in gym class. On the first day of 10th grade, I saw a hurdle and ran to jump it. It took two years for someone to diagnose what happened that day - torn cartilage (girls didn't have those kind of injuries in those days, dontcha know?)

4) What's your approach to a mental block?
Well, I try to avoid them! Depending on what kind it is, I either let it go or pray for help fast.

5) Suggest a caption for the picture above; there will be a prize for the funniest answer!
Can't I go anywhere without you guys??

Sunday's sermon

Since I'm pretty sure there's only one parishioner who reads this blog, I'll go ahead and post what I plan to preach on Sunday. The gospel is MTs version of the feeding of the 5,000. Thanks to some suggestions from the revgalblogpals for helping me hear the Spirit in this story once again.

Once upon a time, there were twelve men who became disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. They weren’t all alike but they all heard Jesus’ call to “follow me” deep in their hearts and couldn’t refuse him.

Over time, they came to love him. Without realizing it, they came to see part of their role as disciples to be that of caretakers. Jesus didn’t seem to pay much attention to his own needs so these men decided they would handle that for him.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus has just finished a teaching mission, telling many parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. At the end of that time, he receives the news that John the Baptist has been beheaded at the whim of Herod’s stepdaughter Salome. This is sad on many levels. The people have once again killed a prophet. The one who understood Jesus better than even his disciples is gone. We forget sometimes that John was Jesus’ cousin so it is a family loss as well. And, finally, it makes what Jesus is doing just that much more dangerous.

Jesus is tired, bone weary with no reserves left. More than anything, he needs time alone to pray and to sleep. So he gets into a boat with his disciples around him to protect and care for him and they go to the other side of the lake. I hope he got a nap in the boat because his departure was noticed by someone. And that someone promptly told other someones and a whole bunch of people swarmed around the lake to spend time with Jesus, to ask him questions and to find healing for themselves and their friends.

When Jesus got out of the boat, he was almost instantly surrounded by all these people. This is not a passive crowd nor is it an aggressive mob. No, it is likely that these people called out to Jesus, reached out hands for a touch, turned up their faces hoping to catch his eye. There was likely some jockeying for position, of course, because wherever two or three are gather together, someone always wants to be first.

And this tired Jesus, this man who is exhausted to the point of being physically drained, sees the people and his heart goes out to them. He steps from the boat and wades into the crowd, touching all those hands, catching all those eyes and answering their calls. The disciples know his exhausted state but they realize that something is happening here and Jesus looks refreshed and energized. What had been scarce is now abundant.

I think that when Jesus taught such large crowds, the disciples’ job must have been to make sure everyone could hear him. Now, Jesus didn’t have a single stump speech that the disciples could memorize and say with him but they knew his stories by now and they could probably read his body language well. Their ears were attuned to his voice just as a parent can hear their own child calling them when lots of other children are calling out, too. And so these few disciples were able to help this one man spread the good news of the Kingdom to thousands at a time.

But it is getting on toward evening and the disciples decide that Jesus really does need a break now. It wasn’t that long of a nap, after all, and he still needs to rest and have some time alone. So they suggest to Jesus that it is time for the crowd to be sent home. It is time for supper.
You know what happened next. Jesus told them they could feed everyone and they figured he’d really gone round the bend this time. “Are you kidding, Jesus? We’ve only got a few fish and some loaves of bread. It’s barely enough for the thirteen of us let alone these thousands of people here.”

And Jesus takes what they have, blesses it and sends them into the crowd to distribute it. When they have done so, everyone has had their fill and there is more than enough left over to feed many more. What had been scarce is now abundant.

It doesn’t really matter how the abundance came to be, whether everyone there took something out of the baskets while adding what they had brought with them or whether the loaves and fish really stretched that far. It is generally understood that most everyone would have had a little something in a pocket or pouch, just not enough to share. You’ve been in that position, haven’t you? When you’re out with friends and everyone suddenly gets hungry? You’ve brought a granola bar in case you get hungry but not nearly enough to feed everyone. So you don’t tell anyone you’ve got it and hope you can find a minute alone to eat it without the others seeing you.

No, how it happened is not nearly as important as that it happened. It doesn’t even matter if it happened grudgingly or wonderingly. All that matters is that it happened.

I remember a potluck supper one time. In that parish, we really did just bring a dish. It was never enough to feed your family. It was meant to go with everyone else’s offerings and together they would make a meal. One time, though, several people had come right from work and brought nothing. We had about six or seven dishes for about 60 people. One was a casserole with meat in it, most were veggies, one was a salad and I think there was a dessert. We all looked at the meager fare and figured this was the time we would go home hungry.
The blessing was said and we served our plates. I wouldn’t say that any plate was really full but I have to tell you that we were all satisfied and no one went away hungry that night. What we were sure was scarcity was really abundance.

How often do we look at what we have only in terms of what we do not have? How often do we lament that there isn’t enough, that there needs to be more? If you think this is veering into stewardship, you are right. But I want you to hear this from two points of view.

As individuals making a decision to give, we often worry there won’t be enough left over for us. Remember the baskets of food that were gathered and give generously of what you have.

As a church concerned about meeting expenses and having enough to fund programs and outreach, remember the loaves and fish and how many people were fed by them.

All of us, regardless of where we stand, need to live abundant lives in Jesus Christ. And that means giving up the viewpoint of scarcity. That way of thinking shrinks our hearts until we have nothing left to give. Knowing that we make our gifts available willingly and with thankful hearts will energize us and renew our strength. As individuals and as a church.

Once upon a time, there was a single man who gave everything he had, even his life, that we might live and live abundantly. Don’t you think it’s time we did so?