Thursday Prayer

Help me see the good

and the bad,

O God,

as equal opportunities

to lean closer

into your loving embrace.

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Wednesday Festival: Stay in Touch

How do you stay in touch? How do you maintain contact with friends and loved ones, with strangers and world news, with colleagues and the wider church, with God and with yourself? Many of us in the RevGals community are bloggers, facebookers, tweeters, instagramers, and most definitely texters. But social media is only one platform for staying in touch…

artwork by my youngest

artwork by my youngest

  • Jan at Yearning for God celebrates the joy of postcards to send a quick note, especially while traveling.
  • Katyandtheword shares a fabulous graphic from the Millenial Pastor on the similar movements through liturgy and social media: gathering in community, hearing/reading the word, sharing stories with others.
  • At achurchforstarvingartists, Jan observes the importance of staying connected to the world and to individuals beyond the church, lest we develop “Church Brain.”
  • Sometimes we need the reminder to stay in touch with those we see every day, as Amy at Living Water(town) realizes while shucking corn with her daughter.
  • Katie of InsidedOut is staying in touch with God through the mosquito, of all annoying creatures.
  • Sharing photos of beautiful carvings by the monks at Mepkin Abbey, Liberation Theology Lutheran Kristin remembers to stay in touch with our immediate resources — from a fallen tree in the yard to the leftovers in the fridge.

“How are you staying in touch?” is a question not only about communication, but also of spiritual perspective and mindfulness. So how do you stay in touch? Share your observations, blogposts and appreciations in the comments below.

Categories: Wednesday Festival | 4 Comments

This is a Test, This is Only a Test

test-paper-300x265

 Read the text here:

Reading what Working Preacher has to say here:

 

The idea of testing things to see if they are true or false will ring true for all of us who use the internet. As we use any kind of media, we are constantly sorting and sifting to see what’s believable, what’s unbiased (if anything ever is…) and what is factually true. This has become such a big job that the Washington Post devotes a whole column each week to debunking stories like raising the drinking age to 25 and other things that get people agitated. (Take a look.)

In the life of faith, too, the author of First John urges us to be wary. Not everything that seems spiritual actually is. As The Message translates it, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Use your attention carefully, the writer advises us.

Not everything that competes for our attention is full of the same spirit as God. In the day of the early church, this could be false teaching, or competing claims. In our time, it may be our tablets or phones that seduce us away.

Test the things that seek space in your mind, the author tells us; not all of them are equally worthy.  

The author uses the term antichrist, which some people understand as a particular being or spirit. It may be also that structures and habits have that quality, too. Or perhaps long-held traditions.  Or maybe it’s the relentless quest for novelty.  We might consider what things, ideas or habits in our lives are anti-Christ. What moves against the spirit of Jesus, as we seek to be his followers?

Often life tests us.

Illness, grief, addiction, abuse and discrimination all test our character, and reshape our faith. Here the author suggests that we are empowered by our faith to do the testing. We apply the tests to the people, institutions and beliefs that circle around us. Because we belong to God, we have enough wisdom to assess them, and to judge for ourselves.

And, even better, we are not hapless victims of the forces in the world.

The author says that we have already conquered the things that divide us from Christ. That’s encouraging, but on any given day it may not feel true, as I struggle with distractions and temptations. It’s hard to concentrate on God, and resist the allure of sweaters on Ebay and ordering books on Amazon. But if the author of 1 John says that I have already conquered the distracting spirits of the world, I feel more encouraged already.

Inevitably, the author says, we as people of faith will have some distance from the world. We belong to God more fully than we belong to the world.   The author is working up to the next elegant section, which is next week’s text. This week’s section functions as an introduction, leading to next week’s assertion that love is the true measure. If they embody the abundant love of God, they lead us closer to faith. Our work as people of faith is to test the things that come along, measuring them against the grace of God which abides in us, and we in it.

 

The sermon might consider:

  • The author warns false prophets – who are the deceivers of our era?
  • In your community of faith, what separates you all from following the life and example of Jesus? What takes on the work of the anti-Christ in your community? Sunday sports? An emphasis on success over relationships? Material goals that trump spiritual ones? Being too busy? Every community has its own particular separations from God – what are they where you worship?
  • We know that, as people of faith, we are called to prayer, service and fellowship. What about this calling to be testers of the spirits, beliefs and influences around us? Where does that fit into our life of faith?
  • How do we live with this tension about being connected to the world, enjoying its graces, and yet belonging more strongly to God than to the world? Are there things you do or don’t do to craft a separation from the world around us?

Share your thoughts below in the comments section. We’re eager to hear your ideas!

 

Categories: Narrative Lectionary

Tuesday Prayer

Inspired by Martha Spong’s benediction this past Sunday at Old North Church in Marblehead, MA.

Dear God,
Help me to love the people I think are weeds a lot more.
Help me to not worship the people I think are wheat.
Just help me to love them, too.

Forgive me and help me to stop thinking that I even can tell the difference between wheat-y and weed-y people.

And thank you. Thank you for embracing all of me, full of wheat and more weeds than I care to think about.

Amen.

Categories: RevGalBlogPals | 1 Comment

RCL Leanings: The Small is Great…or two weddings…or a gift of wisdom… Edition

Welcome to the third week of July!  This coming week is Proper 12A, the 7th Sunday After Pentecost for 2014.  The readings for the week can be found here.

 

SO why don’t we get free labour in exchange for marrying off our daughters anymore?  With 4 daughters I think I could benefit greatly from such an arrangement.  Mind you, having just watched Fiddler on the Roof a couple weeks ago I can only read this story of Laban and Jacob;s “bargaining”  with Perchik’s Marxist interpretation running through my mind.   ANd what do Leah and Rachel think of the whole deal?

Or then there is Solomon asking not for riches or strength but for wisdom (mind your he ends up accumulating wisdom and power anyway as the story goes on).

Moving on to the passage from Romans, we find the pinnacle of Chapter 8.  Indeed verses 38-39 are part of my personal “canon within the canon” of favourite Scriptures.

And then there is Matthew.  I actually preached on this passage back in February when the Presbytery was meeting and worshiped with our congregation.   Because I think the church needs to hear about how the Kingdom transforms (pollutes? contaminates?) the context.  In the sermon I suggested the Kingdom of God was like a rotten potato.  What we often miss is that leaven in the context was a contaminant, it was essentially rotting dough — though now we call it sourdough.

AS I relax on vacation I will be thinking of all of you working hard on your worship planning.  SO enjoy!

Categories: Revised Common Lectionary, Tuesday Lectionary Leanings | 5 Comments

Monday Prayer

Lord,
Today we have many things on our “to-do” list.
Tasks for ourselves
Tasks for others
Tasks for our churches
Tasks for our neighbors.
As we separate the Light from the Darkness,
Remind us that not everything is urgent,
Or even necessary.
Give us wisdom
and discernment
and your Spirit’s power
to move into the next moment of Grace.
Amen.

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midsummer new members!

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we’re squarely in midsummer now. It’s gorgeous and the perfect time to meet new friends!

 

Kirsten is an Episcopalian spending a year serving in Bosnia.

Rosalind is an Episcopalian as well, born in England and raised in south Wales, and now shares a home near Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, three teenaged children, three cats, a goldfish and, most recently, Rose the rat.

Elizabeth’s Year of Being Kind and A Matter of Prayer give glimpses into the life of a UCC chaplain who is a daughter and sister, a wife and mother, has four healthy, curious and strong-minded children in their teens and twenties, and a loving husband who works as a senior editor at a trade publication in Chicago.

Teri O has Something to Say . She is a PCUSA pastor currently serving as chaplain at Monmouth College. She and her husband have two energetic young children and one skittish German Shepherd named Percy.

Janet of Dancing With The Wordis a Lutheran pastor in Northern Illinois. While she enjoys her work as a pastor, you are as likely to find her walking her neighborhood, reading a good book or trying out a new bread recipe. She learned the art of story-telling at the dinner table growing up and continues to take joy in discovering connections between the Holy and the ordinary world.

Abandoned Water Jars is written by a Baptist pastor in Kansas. She is passionate about encouraging women, especially young women, in their identity as daughters of God and as called to ministry. She and her husband have two grown children and five grandchildren.

Proclamation is the sermon blog of Canoeist Pastor, a Lutheran pastor/knitter/Star Wars fan  in the upper midwest.

Ruth is an ELCA pastor in Texas, a mom, a writer, a baker of ridiculously good scones, and a participant in a Norwegian reality show!

Beth Richardson  is a United Methodist deacon, and editor of Alive Now magazine. She enjoys photography, writing, and sharing life with a very wise Scottish Terrier named Jack.

Amber Belldene used to hide Nancy Drew novels in the church bulletin. Now she is an Episcopal priest who writes romance novels! She and her husband and their two children live in San Francisco.

 

Please take some of those lazy summer afternoons to stop by and say hello, soak up stories, and offer a warm (or cooling!) RGBP welcome to these great new friends!

Categories: Meet n' Greet | 2 Comments

Sunday Prayer: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our burdens.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your grace.

You, O God, are wholly magnificent. We praise your beauty with every sighting of a hummingbird, with every sigh over the sunset, with every smile at a flower, with every warm embrace of a person — of all people — made wonderfully in your image.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our judgments.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your peace.

You, O God, are holy and mighty. Before your strength the mountains kneel and the oceans prostrate. In the shadow of your wrath the nations lay down their weapons and the powerful cry out for mercy. By your power, creation gives birth to new life.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our vanity.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your splendor.

You, O God, are watchful and broken-hearted. We join our tears to yours over bloodshed and bombing. We sit vigil with you at borders and at bedsides where life is fragile. We hold hands with you to support sisters & brothers in need of food, shelter, safety, hope.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our self-absorption.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your broken body.

You, O God, are brilliant and faithful. We trust that you are about the business of planting new seeds and refreshing arid hearts. We believe (carefully) that you are burning away all that separates us from you. We know that you are plowing the depths of fodder for a rich harvest.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our fears.
One ladder rung at a time, we reach toward your vision.

You, O God, are good and abundant. Already you have dealt kindly with us, connecting us one to another and calling us yours. Grant us the blessing of courage to draw near to you by drawing near to each other. Grow within us the peace and humility to love fully.

One stone at a time, O LORD, we lay down our burdens.
One ladder rung at at time, we reach toward your grace with a grateful “Amen.”

Categories: RevGalPrayerPals, Sunday Prayer | 2 Comments

11th Hour Preacher Party: Consider the Weeds

That’s my title. That’s all I have written. I confess that in the sure and certain hope that you, too, have miles to go before a sermon comes out of the printer. Let’s write (and party!) together.

Revised Common Lectionary folks are fluffing up their rocky pillows with Jacob, considering the weeds and the wheat and the interpretation thereof with Jesus, and pondering flesh and spirit with good ol’ Paul. More reflections and discussions can be found here.

photo by Monica Smith, 2014

Some farmers and ranchers consider these weeds and mow them off. Other people take pictures of them. Red phlox and bluebonnets. Photo by Monica Smith, 2014

Narrative Lectionary preachers are walking in the light and the dark with 1 John. Some good reflection on that from  Tuesday can be found at this post.

What about the rest of you? Sermon series? Children’s time? Sunday off? This supply preacher is having a busy summer, which means my colleagues are taking care of themselves and using those vacation days. It’s been a heavy news week–how is that affecting your preaching?

Lectionary-approved procrastination activities include: weeding the flowerbeds and/or garden, planting “good seeds,” finding your flashlight for walking in the darkness, scouting out pillow-shaped rocks, remembering who borrowed your ladder…any others? I trust you have your own favorites!

Let’s share some snacks and some ideas. Welcome!

 

Categories: RevGalBlogPals | 69 Comments

The Pastoral Is Political: The Pulpit Neutrality Fallacy

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The church member stomped into the church offices on a Wednesday, Bible in hand, anger steaming off of him. It was a few weeks after the United Church of Christ General Synod 25 passed a resolution (July 4, 2005) supporting marriage equality for all, including marriages for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

“Do you have a Bible, Pastor?” He engaged me with that insult in the presence of church volunteers. In a well-meaning, soon-to-be-regretted attempt to be pastoral, I sat with him, our Bibles open. He directed us to Revelation 2:20, comparing me to “that woman Jezebel” who led her people toward wickedness.

His complaint?  We were too neutral. In truth, he wanted us to take his side, and he was angry that we didn’t even take a stand he could oppose.  Although the congregation had gathered to share information and to discuss the marriage equality resolution, the church leadership had declined to take a congregational vote to either affirm or condemn marriage equality.  He was disgusted that I would not lead the church to consider leaving the UCC over this.  He said I was going to Hell.  Because I was too neutral, in his opinion.

A few months later:  A church member takes me to lunch. “There is no place for politics in the church,” he proclaimed, in a tone that was helpfully instructive tinged with authority.  “People don’t like it, and we can’t afford to lose people.”  According to him, people of a particular political party are feeling left behind, they will leave, and our church will decline. Because we are not staying neutral, in his opinion.

When the “politics is a recipe for disaster” plate is served up — often with a side of “stop preaching that” — I tend to season it with a silent sprinkle of “I don’t care what you think,” add an almost-fully-concealed dash of “Grow up, for God’s sake,” and, if the person is open to a conversation, we might touch on some of the following:

  • No one is neutral or a blank slate.  We are each a mixed bag of experiences, wounds, passions, judgments, truth and falsehoods, and what just happened in the car or at the grocery store.  We don’t check that at the door.
  • Everyone is political, that is, we are each and all touched by issues and realities that are usually labeled “political”: climate change, fossil fuel dependence, the Keystone Pipeline, fracking, food injustice, violence in the Middle East, congressional budget priorities, Supreme Court decisions, gun violence in the U.S., gun violence in this community, etc. Politics are us.  “Political” means “of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.” That’s you and me and us together.
  • Religious groups have the right to speak out on social and political issues. Individual pastors and churches can determine their responsibility to speak out and their response to current events and political/social issues.
  • Churches can take on the responsibility to speak out on, and be involved in, social and political issues.  The ministry of Jesus and his disciples, continued in the early church, can easily be cited as reason enough. Pastors have the responsibility to lead and support the theological, liturgical and organizational work that is unique to the political activity of churches.
  • Currently, churches may not legally engage in partisan political activity or endorsements.  The IRS doesn’t always enforce that restriction, and those limits are regularly being tested.
  • A pastor can also be a partisan political being who may campaign for and vote for a particular candidate.  Pastors keep that partisan activity separate from our pastor role and identity, wherever we go.
  • We respect the accepted values of our congregation. All churches have values (stated or unstated) and approaches to church life, scripture interpretation, worship ways, etc.  All of that is informed by, and sometimes changed by, what’s going on in the world. In other words, politics matter.

I do care what a parishioner wants to share with me as pastor. The reason “I don’t care what you think” about my preaching is that I have come to understand that church members usually have no idea what we do to get to the preaching moment.  Each one has an opinion about what is “good preaching.” Their yardstick for measuring church world is their other-life world and their own lack of neutrality.  They cannot be trusted to assess what preaching did or didn’t do.  We preachers can’t even assess that!  Making an exception for a pastor’s truly inappropriate language or unwise illustration in the pulpit, any other critique of sermon “political correctness” is not going shed light, no matter how heart-felt and well-intentioned. And it’s not always.

Very much to be treasured are those moments when someone comes to me convinced that preaching words have spoken to her or him a Word of life or hope or holy challenge. Way too often, the wonderful words or idea that they quote to me could not factually be found in my manuscript. The Holy Spirit has interpreted liberally.

And, here is a child of God who is excited to take some big steps or some small ones, who couldn’t help but share that Good News.

There’s nothing neutral about that.  In my opinion.

Categories: The Pastoral is Political | 18 Comments

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