My Hope in Our Calling (Out) – a reflection on GA222

I’m sitting on a plane, overlooking the beautiful northwest of this nation as I head to Phoenix and then on to Kansas City as I return home from the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  While my work there is finished, the work of the assembly is just getting started. As reformed people, we believe and are called to live out the belief that God’s will is discerned better together, with many voices and many perspectives, than on our own, either as individuals or as sessions and presbyteries.  Commissioners from every presbytery in the US along with advisory delegates from theological institutions, ecumenical partners, and the young adults of the PC(USA) are gathering to discern God’s will for our denomination.

I have had a wonderful experience in Portland this past week, visiting with old friends, making new ones, and getting to visit Oregon for the first time.  My friend (and fellow commissioner to the 221st General Assembly – Committee 11!!) Greg Bolt said what I and many other people feel when he shared on the assembly floor in Detroit that GA is part family reunion.  It is that in spades.

And like any family reunion, there are the positives and the negatives.  Sadly, as I sit on this plane I am overcome with the negative experiences I witnessed or heard about during my time in Portland.  Perhaps it is because of the prevalence of social media so that I could hear more stories and witness more interactions.  The PC(USA) is in what could graciously be called anxious times and anyone with experience in family systems knows that when the anxiety rises, the system begins to fight back, to resist change. People, and systems themselves begin to act out.

Twitter was erupting with tales of how young adults were being sidelined, mistreated, and devalued in the Oregon Convention Center. A post was made on the public Facebook page entitled Happy to Be A Presbyterian that he individual would be happier if YAAD’s didn’t provide a disservice to the General Assembly.  YAAD’s, who have voice but no vote. The argument around that statement is still going strong on the page itself.

Part of me believes that we’re also simply clueless.  A young woman was told she couldn’t be “oriental” because she didn’t have “slanted eyes”.  People were walking up to random tall, African American women congratulating them for being elected co-moderator. Never mind that the co-moderators wear stoles and crosses that clearly identify them as the moderators.

Yet, cluelessness on our part does not make these interactions in any way okay.  They are signs and symbols of the unexamined privilege the majority of our denomination wields, often without realizing it.  We are past the time of allowing that to slide.

I am excited about the future of our denomination, its work and its mission, and I will not allow my excitement to be dampened!!    However, I have felt called to respond and report what I have seen.   To quote The Dude – I do mind.  This aggression will not stand, man.

This is an excerpt of the email I sent to our Stated Clerk and Associate Stated Clerk earlier today.  I know they are busy with business, but I could not stay silent.

Friends –

I was proud to be able to attend the 222nd General Assembly in Portland as an observer and member of a special committee reporting to a standing committee.  I greatly enjoy the times I am able to participate in the gatherings of fellow Presbyterians as we journey together into the future God is calling us to inhabit. 

I will admit to starting the assembly with high energy and hopes for the difficult work being done.  However, once committee business started, it seemed that with each moment I became more and more heartsick.

I witnessed an interaction with the entire committee and a particular YAAD that disturbed me greatly.  During committee business on Monday afternoon, multiple times the moderator interrupted and silenced YAAD voices.  One particular YAAD was bothered and spoke to me after the meeting as we had connected on twitter earlier that day.  I encouraged her to speak to her YAAD support staff and at their urging she spoke to the moderator directly on Tuesday morning.  He told her that he did not mean to offend her, but he was tired of hearing her voice so he couldn’t imagine how the committee felt. 

This interaction disturbed the YAAD to the point she spoke to me again and after consultation with colleagues I encouraged her to share her experience with the Stated Clerk’s Office.

As this was happening, other similar events were recounted in other committee rooms in the Oregon Convention Center.  In that same committee alone, a TSAD was spoken to rudely by an overture advocate after she (and the committee) did not vote the way he wanted.  The similarity and number of such events concerned me deeply, however I cannot speak to them as I did not witness them directly. 

As a young clergy woman, I cannot stay silent in the face of such blatantly inappropriate behavior.  Whether our divide is race, age, or gender, we can do better and WE MUST do better in how we converse and engage one another.  It has to start here. 

I know that you are still buried deep in the work of the plenary of this General Assembly. You have my prayers for the work head and grateful thanks for the work that is gone before.

Blessings on you all.

I spent a large portion of Tuesday resourcing and supporting a young woman who loves the Presbyterian Church and is excited to serve it.  I was happy to do so, as so many people (clergy women in particular) have supported & resourced me.  I’ve struggled with how we change the systems that try and hold the non-majority “in their place”.  How can I best serve?

I’ve decided we need a new approach.  It is quite fitting as I write this sitting in an airplane – My new approach is If You See Something, Say Something.  

If you witness micro-aggressions in groups of people, say something.  If you witness the subtle racism, sexism, and ageism that pervades our lives – say something.  If you witness the devaluating of LGBTQX experiences – say something. Don’t just stand by and let it pass because its easier, or less scary.  Say Something.

We will never learn and never change if we cannot hold one another accountable in love and graciousness. We cannot break systemic issues that are so deeply ingrained we don’t notice them unless we call each other to a better way.  We cannot be whole until  When we see something – WE SAY SOMETHING.

It is beyond time.  I’m choosing to use what ever power, knowledge, and privilege I have to help. Gladly.

I am committed to saying something. Will you join me?

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Obey Your Master – A sermon on 1 Peter 2:18-21 and John 10:1-10

A sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church Lawrence Kansas on June 28, 2015

John 10:1-10

 ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

1 Peter 2:18-21

 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

This was not text I was originally planning to preach on for my second installment of our summer series “Disturbing Texts in the Bible”.  However, the last couple of weeks have me questioning if it’s 1965 or 2015 in America.

Black churches are burnt to the ground.  African-Americans are executed in their sacred places of worship.  Black teenagers are harassed and attached at public pools.  Ku Klux Klan flyers have been found distributed across the nation – in bags with candy included.  We are in the midst of an ugly national debate about the Confederate battle flag as it flies over government buildings across the south.

Any claim that we’re living in a post-racial society because we’ve elected a black president – twice- seems ridiculous on its face in light of these recent events.

So I turn to our text from today as we continue to wrestle with biblical passages that disturb us.

1 Peter was not written by the Apostle.  It is what we call pseudonymous, meaning someone attributed Peter’s name to the text to lend it more weight and value.  Scholars smarter than I have determined that its style, language and structure reveal it is not a text written by a 1st century fisherman turned disciple.  It masters the Greek language too well.

1 Peter is addressed to a group of believers in the Roman provinces in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey & Armenia. As such, it is directed to a community being persecuted, both socially and officially.

The “slaves” the text refers transcend our modern understanding of slavery as manual labor.  True, many of them would be engaged in such work but many others were teachers, doctors, nannies, and many other professions.  The Roman ideal was to have other people do everything for you.  If you could afford it – i.e. buy the slaves – then why do anything for yourself?

Even though they were not all slaving in deplorable conditions, they were slaves none the less.  Roman society treated them as ‘things’, not people.  They were unable to marry, and if they bore children those children would be property as well.  They had no rights under Roman law and were disposable in every meaning of the word.

So when the writer of 1 Peter talks about suffering like Jesus, the text is reminding Christians to submit to the authorities like Christ submitted.  Without struggle, trusting in God’s promised redemption.

Now, let’s fast forward to post-Constantine Christianity.  Constantine was the Roman Emperor that legitimized Christianity as a religion and helped it begin its transition to be the dominate religion of the Empire.

Suddenly Christians were the authorities, rather than persecuted by them.

As such, this text has been used to subjugate people the world over for centuries.  From slaves, to serfs, to sharecroppers, to what are considered the lower classes today.  They were all reminded that to be more Christ like, to earn their place in heaven they must suffer, and suffer in silence.

This text was preached in churches across the south to justify their support of slavery and to claim God’s blessing upon it.

To be clear I mean preachers – Presbyterian preachers – stood in pulpits and used this text to justify the forced enslavement and torture of people.

The very idea disgusts me.

And we continue to see the repercussion of such actions disrupt our common life even now.  Certain people aren’t valued as much as others, their life is not a sacred it seems.  They, whether by skin color or orientation, are less than.

Frankly sisters and brothers, it is a short step from slaves in shackles to prisoners in shackles.

From this

Sermon 3

to this.

sermon 4

A gang of criminal armed white men are allowed to sit on the curb with their cell phones without being handcuffed after participating in a shoot out in a suburban parking lot while unarmed black teens in bathing suits have guns drawn on them and are physically thrown to the ground.

18 year old Michael Brown is described as a man and a monster while 21 year old Dylann Roof is called a confused child by the press.

Friends we live in a system that has trained and taught us that brown or black bodies are dangerous, regardless of circumstance.

This is often hard for us to grasp, you and me, because most of us in this room live in a place of privilege.  We struggle with that word because we imagine it must mean something tangible, but it doesn’t really.  We’re talking about a system of conferred dominance.

Most of us in this room – white, protestant, educated – compared to others in our nation we’re already born on second base.  Whether we like it or not.

I commend to you Peggy McIntosh’s article “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack[i]when jumping into the waters of privilege.  She describes her experience of privilege as a backpack we’re carrying around, full of unearned and often unexamined assets.  Visas, tools, maps, passports, codebooks etc.  It’s invisible primarily because we’ve been taught not to examine it, not to recognize it is there.

She lists 26 statements that have helped her ‘see’ her backpack.  I want to share 5 with you today.

  1. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  1. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  1. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  1. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  1. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

Brothers and Sisters, racism isn’t simply individual actions.  It is a whole cavalcade of structures stacked against others.  Frankly “a “white” skin in the United States opens many doors whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us.”

All of this to say that most often we are not ‘the least of these’ Jesus refers to.  We are part and parcel of the dominate culture.  We are the power brokers.  We are the Pharisees, not the disciples.

In the terms of 1 Peter, we are the Romans, not the slaves and we do everyone a disservice when we pretend otherwise.

I was surprised to find this text appears in our lectionary during the Easter season.  That means it’s possible once every three years to hear it read in worship.  Of course, we leave out the pesky first verse referring to slaves.

It is paired with the text from John 10, which I believe can give us some insight, rather than me simple throwing up my hands at the way this text has been manipulated.

In John 10, Jesus states that the sheep know the shepherds voice.  And, most importantly, he declares that he has come that the sheep might have life and have it abundantly.

So friends, if God is our shepherd, are we listening?

If God is our master, are we obeying?

Are we living abundantly, and helping others to do the same?

Dawn DeVries, professor at Union Theological Seminary reflected in a Facebook post on the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME church and President Obama’s eulogy for Senator Pinckney stating “The question we have to answer, as a nation and as Christians is, what sin have we been engaged in to which we’ve been blind?  Knowing that, how will this insight change our behavior in light of and response to God’s amazing grace and forgiveness?[ii]

How do we go forward today friends?  How do we speak for the least of these?  How do we fight systems that oppress?

We do it in ways large and small.  We work together to fight for justice through systems such as Justice Matters here in Lawrence.  We stand up when friends, colleagues, or relatives make offhand racist remarks.

Most importantly we recognize our privilege and use our privilege to create space for those who have none.

How do we do that?  We follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, who ate with outcasts, loved those who were discarded, spoke for those without voice, and laid down his life.

God grant us wisdom and grant us courage for the facing of this hour before us.

Amen.

[i] McIntosh, Peggy, White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (1989), Peace and Freedom Magazine, July-August, 1989, pp. 10-12, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Philadelphia, PA.

[ii] DeVries, Dawn, (27 June 2015), https://www.facebook.com/dawn.devries?fref=ts

Posted in Sermons | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Is it offensive to dress up as Jesus for Halloween?

Halloween is perhaps my favorite secular holiday and it can be a great time playing dress up and receiving chocolate.  Yet in doing that, as Christians, we should still be aware of fulfilling Christ’s call to love one another and to support those who have no voice.  Considering that we have no knowledge of what Jesus would have looked like, I am unsure how dressing like an artist’s depiction would be offensive.  Any costume would be pure conjecture.

That said there are costumes that should offend us as people of faith.  Costumes that reinforce gender stereotypes (‘sexy’ versions of regular costumes for women), costumes that reinforce racial stereotypes (war bonnets, ‘thug’ or ‘cholo’ costumes), and costumes that capitalize on cultural hatred (hobo or homeless costumes) should be abhorrent to people who claim to welcome all in God’s name.

Christ calls people of faith to live differently from the culture around them.  In a society where our daughters are conditioned early on that they should be cute rather than smart; in a society where boys are taught that ‘real men’ don’t show emotion; in a world where we are increasingly taught to be frightened of people who are not like us Christians are called to witness to the inclusivity and wholeness of God’s kingdom.   Every action, including our Halloween costumes, should be about building up community rather than tearing down or ridiculing.

This article was published in the online edition of the Lawrence Journal World on October 11, 2014.  

Posted in Articles, thoughts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Always Rejoicing – A sermon on Exodus 32:1-14 and Philippians 4:1-9

A sermon preached at the October meeting of the Presbytery of Northern Kansas, October 14, 2014.  

900-108451

The Israelites couldn’t wait.  From the moment they left Egypt, not even both feet out the door the people starting second guessing.  Themselves, Moses, and especially God.  They are restless, crying out for sustenance.  God provides water from a rock and manna in the wilderness – but that’s not quite good enough.  Gathered at the foot of the mountain, Moses heads up.  He can’t have been gone more than a few hours before they get restless again.

The language of the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does not resonate with people who long for the known quantity of slavery rather than the unknown of the wilderness.  While signs were visible, Pillars of cloud and fire, they were content.  But left again in the empty space of their own thinking, they revert quickly to seeking to fill that void on their own.  To replace God’s knowledge with their knowledge, God’s power with their power.

And thus we get the first recorded instance of idol worship in our faith history.  The first, but not the last by any means.

We have a tendency to shrug off this lesson because “we know” and “we’re not like that”. But the reality is this is OUR narrative.  This pattern of development of Covenant between God and people, violation of the covenant by the people, consequences of the violation, and reestablishment of the covenant is the central story of our faith.  We see it throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the stories of the Early Church.

This pattern doesn’t happen because the people are stupid or arrogant or faithless, although those could be symptoms of the larger issue.  It is simply because we are human and fallible.  We can’t abide the voids within and will rush into to fill that empty space – whether with noise, food, programs, and possessions – whatever we can find to ease that discomfort.  And the ever faithful God does not turn from us, but waits with us while these coping mechanisms fail.

Sermon slide 2

Like the ancient Israelites, we are unable to be alone. Rather than making a golden calf, we find idols of our own.  Power, authority, capitalism. Since 1957 our money has contained the message – In God we Trust – which is a little ironic, because the god we put most of our trust in is money itself.  We say God is Good, All the Time but we function as if everything is our problem to solve.

Every day we are faced with the question, do we trust God or do we trust ourselves?

That’s a portion of what Paul is talking about when he speaks to the Philippians.  They were in the midst of conflict (as it seems is the case with most of Paul’s letters – the original conflict interim pastor) Paul is encouraging them to trust in God rather than in themselves.

Where are we jumpy, unable to wait? How often do we trust in our own power, wisdom, and strength rather than in Gods?  These are the places where we need to wait for God’s word to come down the mountain to us.

As God says to Moses, we are a stiff necked people.  Too often we are unable to lift our heads from our own path to see where God’s path is leading.  AND we are unable to bend our heads in reverence to the one who created and sustains us.

Can we wait for God’s time or like the Israelites we demand our own?

That is the primary question we face as followers of God.

 

Sermon slide 3

God is calling us to wait in those anxious places.  That is easier said than done.  How exactly do we overcome our natural inclinations?  We heed Paul’s words to Rejoice in the Lord.  Trust in God’s creative work around us, even when we cannot see or feel it.  In Paul’s language, we are not to worry but to take all things to God.

 

It’s not as simple as ‘yea God!’  Nor is it simply believing that God wants everyone to be happy on the world’s terms.  We all know it’s easy to rejoice when we’re happy, when there are celebrations, but much harder to rejoice in pain, frustration or fear.

As with so many things God calls us to, it is a countercultural move.  It is believing in the midst of life’s frustrating trivialities and crippling crises that God is near.  It is finding comfort in that.

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I say again, Rejoice.  This is no simple command, nor is it a Pollyanna approach to life.  Rejoicing in God in our troubles will not magically fix them, but often it will make them bearable.  It helps us to refocus, to trust in the promises God has made to us.

What is keeping us from waiting for God?

Sermon Slide 5

In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker J Palmer identifies five shadow beliefs that hamper and thwart effective leadership.  Palmer mentions these shadows as a way to acknowledge the assumptions that shape our actions and find ways to harness them in a positive way.  Two in particular caught my attention; the shadow of death, and the shadow of ‘functional atheism’[i].

The shadow of death is self-explanatory and recognizable in our ministries.  We live in denial that all things must come to an end, and spend too much time resuscitating programs that do not have life.  We carry an inner narrative of “not on my watch!” and refuse to see what should be happening right in front of us.

“Functional Atheism” in Palmer’s language is the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us.  Its central belief is that “if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen.”  That’s a conflicting inner belief for those who say they worship a living God.

Palmer describes it this way: “It explains why the average group can tolerate no more than fifteen seconds of silence; if we are not making noise, we believe, nothing good is happening and something must be dying.”

The experts are telling us that what is dying is the institutional church.  I’m honestly exhausted by all these conversations, blog posts, & articles.  The institutional church is dying and with good reason.  My generation and those that follow see little reason for the church in their lives.  Is it any wonder given the history of the church?  And I don’t mean the crusades or slavery but the actions of the last 50 years.  When my generation has seen the church take a public stand is has been almost uniformly anti-inclusive, reactionary, and hate filled.  It’s easy to think those voices speak for all people of faith.  And in a society that is increasingly multicultural and diverse, it’s no wonder a denotation (which I love) shaped and managed in large part by old, white men is struggling to be relevant.

It’s not just the young generations either.  Older generations are turning from the church too.

So what do we do?  We hear the word of our demise and we jump in a try to fix things.  We scramble to easy that anxiety.  We spend lots of time, money, and energy yearning for the rose-colored perfection of the past; be it 1980, 1950 or 1920.   We use precious resources looking backward and steadfastly avoiding looking to see where God might be leading us.  Like the Israelites, the known quantity of the past is much preferable to the unknown of the future.

The truth is we will never have enough money, enough members, and enough security to fill our anxiety. We can run ourselves into the ground attempting to save the church.  Nothing we can do will be enough.  But, when we focus on what we are meant to do, what God calls us to do; our peace and strength come from that.

Sermon Slide 4

 

Ministry in the Presbytery of Northern Kansas will not look the same in 5 years, much less in 10.  It seems clear there will be fewer and fewer called and installed positions and more bi-vocational ministries and CRE positions.  While as an AP this trend is concerning to me, it does not mean God is at work less in what is happening.  Faithful women and men working to serve God and one another? Rejoice in the Lord!

PNKS has a long history of supporting the ministry of women.  It was among the first to ordain women and continues to celebrate their unique gifts and skills in a variety of way.  Again I say Rejoice!

PNKS is heavily involved in mission work within its bounds and around the United States.  It continues to invest time, money, and leadership to these service projects.  PDA, Living Waters for the World, Youth Mission Work.  Rejoice in the Lord always!

 

Not many presbyteries have taken the bold step of cultivating and recognizing the leadership of their youth and young adults.  We are one of a handful of Presbyteries that have been moderated by a young clergy woman.  With young clergy and church people in leadership positions and involved in all levels of presbytery life we are changing the church and cultivating a future. Again I say, Rejoice!

I do not know if the PCUSA is dying and frankly I don’t really care, because I do know that God is still at work in Northern Kansas.

When we focus on God, our model of success changes.  We value life changing relationships over butts in pews.  And rejoicing in God, we keep moving forward even when things seem bleak because we trust that the God we worship is a God who in all things works for good.  Even when we cannot see it.

We take our fears, our anxiety, and concerns to God knowing that God can carry what we cannot.  That God can heal what we cannot.  God can create what we cannot.

Our peace comes from letting go of the responsibility and burden of saving things.  We cannot save the church or the world.  God can and does.

As GK Chesterton said, “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave[ii].”

Confronting our idols and rejoicing in God is no easy task.  It is disturbingly against our nature and is a choice we must make each moment each day. If we’re taking Paul’s advice we can wait a little longer in that wiggly unknown.  We can rejoice and celebrate and let go.  Being able to recognize when we’re relying on something other than God may give us a moment to pause, and a moment is all the Holy Spirit needs to do her work.  When we trust in the peace of God that passes all understanding, things beyond our imagination are possible.

May it be so.  This day and all days.

 

[i]  Parker J Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 2000) 88.

[ii] GK Chesterton, The Collected Works of GK Chesterton. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 382.

Posted in Sermons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Youth Faith Formation Plan

I have spent 12 years in youth ministry in some form or fashion and I am consistently amazed by the emotional and spiritual maturity of the youth I’ve worked with.  

I’ve also been  saddened by the lack of depth of their knowledge about the bible, faith, the Presbyterian Church, and belief in general.  

After talking to colleagues and reading advice from many experts, I’ve cobbled together a four year faith formation plan.  The idea came from a question I kept asking myself “What do I want the youth I serve to know when they leave for college?  What can I do to prepare them for the soul searching & faith journeys in their lives?”

I must admit that this guide relies heavily on Rebecca Kirkpatrick’s blog Bread Not Stones & the Work of Mark DeVries and Youth Ministry Architects for inspiration and guidance.  

The guide is designed to compliment the Sunday School curriculum and our confirmation program.  In that sense it is not a complete picture, but part of a larger curriculum plan.  

Year 1

  • Bible Basics, Genesis & Exodus, Gospels
  • Liturgical Year
  • Faith
  • Hospitality

Year 2

  • 10 commandments, Parables & Sayings of Jesus
  • Worship, Life of the church
  • Presbyterian history & polity
  • Doubt
  • Acceptance

Year 3

  • Characters in the Old Testament, Miracles & Passion of Jesus
  • Sacraments
  • inquiry
  • Triune God
  • Inclusivity

Year 4

  • Early Church
  • Spiritual disciplines
  • Discernment
  • Sin & Forgiveness
  • World Religions

You can begin to see themes running through this faith formation plan.  Focus will be heavily on the bible, the life of the church, theology, elements of the life of faith, and the central values of the youth program. 

Of course, once the formation plan has been set the hard work begins – making these categories ‘bite size’ for youth group while honoring the complexity and struggle within each topic (and finish within the school year!)

On Sunday our youth group will tackle Bible Basics. I have created a lesson plan from diverse resources such as TalkSheets, re:Form, Presbyterian Connections, and Group.

 We hope throughout this process the youth learn:

  1. The Bible had many authors, yet was inspired by God. 
  2. There are many different translations of the Bible.
  3. The difference between fact & truth as it relates to our scriptures.
  4. The organization of the Bible.

This will hopefully lay the groundwork for our future discussions about the Bible.  

What are your thoughts?  

What do youth need to struggle with as they form a faith of their own? 

What have I left out? 

Discussion in the comments!

Posted in Ministry | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Holy Ground – A sermon on Exodus 3:1-15

A sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church Lawrence Kansas on September 7, 2014.


Sermon 1

The Moses I always pictured is the Charlton Heston Moses, the one who leads his people out of Egypt, who parts the Red Sea, gives commands. But the Moses we hear and see in today’s scripture reading is different, not the heroic, bigger-than-life character.

Moses is a fugitive. He leaves Egypt, flees to Midian. He becomes a shepherd, a new profession to go with a new identity. There’s nothing glamorous about the job, and it’s not the cleanest work in the world. He’s dirty, sweaty, smells of sheep, and arrives at this place on the barren north forty where he has taken the flock to graze.

Picture it. There’s nothing holy about that place. No shrine, no temple. So Moses, this unlikely candidate who is certainly not a saint, stumbles his way into this unlikely place that’s surely not one of the world’s major highways, and suddenly this burning bush flames up. It fires his curiosity. Not enough that a bush burns mysteriously, but then the darned thing has to go and call his name, saying, “Moses. Moses.” Two times to get his attention.

Next comes an invitation to make contact, physical contact. “Moses, take off your shoes.” Too often, I think, we interpret this to mean, “Take off your shoes so you don’t defile God.” I consider this an invitation to make contact.  God wants to come and be with us, to make contact, not to avoid it.

God says, “Take off your shoes, Moses. I know you’ve got dirt between your toes. Everybody does. I know you’ve got it under your toenails that are probably too long and curling over. I know that as sure as I know about every single hair on your head. I’m God. And I know, Moses, that you’re a murderer and a fugitive. I know all about you. I’m God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. I created you. Now sit down, take off your shoes.

sermon 2

After sitting a while, Moses is asked by God “Do something for me? Now listen, my people in Egypt are suffering from heat, overwork, exhaustion, dehydration, loss of liberty — and I feel for them. Go and help them, will you, Moses? Tell them I sent you. I’ll be with you. You won’t see me, and that’s the tough part, Moses. You won’t see me any more than you see me now, but I’ll be with you. I promise.”

Moses, nervous, thinks, “I knew I shouldn’t have taken my shoes off.  What was I to think? After all, God knew my name and called me. I had to answer. It’d be impolite not to.”

So Moses answers God something like this. “Well, golly, God, I’ll look like a fool — saying you sent me, especially if you’re not visible. They’ll say, ‘We don’t see him.’ What do I do?”

God answers, “You can try a few magic tricks, Moses. Probably won’t convince them. In the end you can only say, ‘God sent me,’ and they’ll either believe it or they won’t. Just go and tell the people I care. Maybe they’ll follow if you lead.”

Moses keeps hemming and hawing like when a friend asks you to do something personally uncomfortable to you — you know, after you say, “If there’s anything I can do, anything at all” — and they take you up on it?

Moses thinks, “God, why this, of all things? Why did you ask me to go back into Egypt where I’m a fugitive? There’s a price on my head. It’s a long trip. It’s hot.”  That’s what Moses thinks, but how does he answer? He says, “Well, God, I’d really like to help you. I really would, old buddy.” Then he jumps onto a legitimate disability he has, rather than lie. “I can’t speak very well, God. Honest. I stutter and I stammer. I mean I ssstutter and I stam-stam-stam-stammer. See?”

To that, God replies, “I know that, Moses. After all, I am the one who made your mouth. Take your brother Aaron along. He’ll follow you. He’d love to try public speaking. He’s a ham and enjoys getting up in front of crowds. Take a gamble, Moses. I’ll be with both of you.”

Moses says to the bush, “C’mon, God, give me a break.” And, flaming up slightly, the burning bush answers, “Moses, I’ve just about had it with you. I’ve answered your objections. Now I’m asking you – Will you go and help my people, carry the message to them that I still care about them? I love them, Moses.” At that Moses walks away, mumbling but he goes where God calls.  He goes off into history, off into our Bible, and off into movies, providing work for Charlton Heston.

sermon 4

This is our imagery of call – this and the mirrored calls of the prophets.  God speaking out, calling specifically by name.  I long for this type of voice, speaking in a burning bush – or on those billboards you see driving down the road.  “Take a left turn Mary, I’ve got a little detour for you” – God.  It seems that life as a Christian would be so much simpler if it happened that way.  Not easier, but simpler.

We are called as Christians, not necessarily from burning bushes and fiery theophanies, but in more common and ordinary ways. We are called, chosen, and summoned through word and sacrament, through both mundane and extraordinary experiences, and also through the body of believers.

God is calling us all; calling us in the midst of our foibles and inadequacies to things great and small. The problem is we rarely recognize that we are standing on holy ground.  It’s not a special place, it’s usually quite ordinary. Holiness doesn’t depend on the condition of the place or the condition of the person. Holiness, to be hallowed, depends on the presence of God.

Seeing that burning bush is harder.  I admit that I struggle with this – seeing the divine in the ordinary.  It is so easy to get bogged down in the mundane, in the tyranny of the busy and the ordinary that we never look up.  Never notice the holiness all around us.

sermon 5

But just as Paul remind us; we should step out of the darkness and into the light.  Waking up to the presence of God around us.  We are, in common parlance, called to ‘stay woke’ to God’s presence, aware of what’s going on in our lives and our community.  When we are able to do that, it changes the way we live.

Jill Briscoe wrote a book with a telling title, Here I Am, Send Aaron. Far too often like Moses we say,  “Send my pastor, send my elder, even send my spouse, but don’t send me.”

sermon 6When we feel fearful, unimaginative, inadequate, small, or fractured, we need to listen and to look around us again.  Moses the fugitive, Moses the scared, Moses the inadequate became Moses the liberator as God’s call and support comes clear.

It often when we feel the least equipped that we’re standing on holy ground. God is with us.  And that is enough.

Posted in Sermons | Tagged | Leave a comment

Table Crumbs – A sermon on Matthew 15:10-28

A sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church Lawrence Kansas on August 17, 2014. 

Sermon 1It’s been a rough week, even for Jesus.  Today when we stumble upon Jesus he’s tired.  He’s fed the 5,000 and walked on the water, and just wants some rest.  A long way from home. And acting unlike himself. This depiction in Matthew is one of the more disturbing portrayals of Jesus in the entire bible.

This conversation with the Canaanite woman becomes even more disturbing when it is viewed in light of the verses that precede it. Jesus’ response to the ritualistic purity laws of the Pharisees is to declare that it is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them, but rather what comes out.  To make a long story short, what goes in eventually just comes back out.  Yet the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and there are the things that we should worry about.  A quite moving speech until Jesus turns around and gives us a prime example of how what comes out of the mouth makes us unclean.

The question arises – who is this woman and what has she done to deserve such harsh treatment?  For starters, she was a non-Israelite, so that odds that Jesus and the disciples would have interacted with her on ordinary terms are slim.  Secondly, she is a woman and she is not staying in her place.  She was obviously making a scene, chasing Jesus down and annoying the disciples.  At first Jesus tries to ignore her. Anyone who has tried to ignore an obnoxious child knows how well that worked.  So finally he turns and tries to shut her up saying, “I am not sent to help you.  Dogs don’t deserve a place at the table.”  Surprisingly this doesn’t deter her, doesn’t quiet her down.  She says, “Fine. If I am a dog, then treat me like one.  Even dogs deserve crumbs!’

sermon 2

What is there say about this whole interchange?  It is so unsettling that many people over the years have tried to make excuses for it.  That it sounds so harsh because the author of Matthew was Jewish and not concerned with Jesus’ actions toward non-Jews.  Maybe Jesus was just tired and snappy.  He was a long way from home, and all of us get that way sometimes.  Perhaps Jesus was just testing the woman’s faith, knowing in advance how she would respond.  Maybe Jesus acted this way to teach the disciples and the Pharisees a lesson.

Each of these excuses makes us feel better about the text, but I am not sure that is the point.  In truth, we will never know for sure the reason for Jesus’ behavior.  Our most faithful option it seems is to live in that ambiguity.  The Gospel isn’t always nice and comfortable. That’s the whole point.

Yet I think that there are a number of things that we can take away from this passage.  One of the subtexts of today’s narrative is that of internalized prejudice.  The Canaanite woman, for a variety of reasons, was considered inferior and unworthy, treated like an outkast by Jewish society.  It wasn’t simply her skin color or ethnicity.  It was a combination of these things as well as her gender and cultural differences.  In America the world prejudice tends to conjure up issues of color, but it’s much more than that – rich/poor, red/blue, north/south/ male/female, gay/straight.  We see it when grown men and women throw things and block buses carrying unaccompanied children on our border.  We saw it all week in the militarized streets of Ferguson, Mo, where private property is looted and destroyed and unarmed civilians are shot with rubber bullets.  We see it in the response to the Ebola outbreak in western Africa, in Gaza, in Iraq, Ukraine, and many, many other places.

Sermon 3

The reality of our existence is that “the roots of human prejudice run very deep.”[i] If even Jesus struggled with it, then none of us is immune.  The ability to fear and hate the “other” is in us all, as is the tendency to blame them as the “root cause” of all our problems.  It is quite easy to lose our compassion and empathy and treat people we don’t know and don’t want to know as inferiors, as sub-human.

But what this text tells us is that if we are going to overcome our prejudice we MUST struggle with it.  The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is mean to awaken and inspire us for such a struggle.  We know and confess that Jesus was sent into the world to transform it, to break the power of prejudice.  Normally we are very clear about Jesus’ divinity and tend to fudge a little with the humanity part. This text shows us that Jesus was wrong, was hateful even, and had to be taught a new way.  Just as Jesus had to stop and examine himself, so we are called to examine our hearts and see the blindness, intolerance, and cruelty that others sometimes see in us.

Sermon 4

The Canaanite woman was the catalyst that started a new recognition for Jesus and the disciples. We have to step outside our gated communities, outside our isolated groups and be vulnerable. ”We have to risk real interaction with people we may be the least ready to meet.”[ii]  We have to risk being embarrassed; making fools of ourselves, saying the wrong things, finding out that we believed the wrong things.  Wally Fletcher sums it up perfectly:  “I do not know when the next time will come that I offend someone or break someone’s trust because of unconscious prejudice.  I only know that I will.”[iii]

None of us is perfect.  As fallible humans we will inevitably do, say, or think wrong things, hurtful things.  Pretending that we won’t or focusing on our feelings of guilt gets us nowhere.  The amazing thing about this story, the thing which sets Jesus apart is that he is able to put aside his presupposition and see the woman, the ‘other’. We are also called to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, try to make amends.  It matters that we want to learn, want to change, and want to be the people that God created us to be.

Sermon 5

What are the things that are making us blind? Who are the people we are treating like dogs?  Who do we feel are ‘animals’, ‘criminals’, people who deserve the position they’re in?  Or who are the people that we don’t even see anymore?  Those who our senses don’t register? Those people our eyes glide over without recognition.

As painful as it can be, these are questions we need to be asking ourselves.  And once we know, once we see, then we work to make a change, to be the difference.  Like Jesus we value life, whether male or female, white or black, Muslim or Christian.  We correct others when we hear and see hurtful things and we stand with our sisters and brothers that are excluded, hated, and attacked.  We watch the news and teach our children why these things are wrong and how we can be better.  We petition our elected officials to deal with the food insecurity in this nation and we push up our sleeves to stock shelves at the food bank.  We remind ourselves – daily – that we cannot judge someone.  Period.  Not on how they look, or the food they buy, or the area in which they live.  We lend our voices to those calling for peace, justice, and equality and we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  We welcome others to join us on the journey, recognizing the spark of divine in all God’s children.

sermon 6

It is that recognition and grace that moves Jesus to exclaim, “You are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you.”[1]  It is the abundant grace that we ourselves have received.  Because when we look closely at ourselves we know that we are no more worthy of table crumbs than the people we exclude.  But through the love and grace of God we have been counted as children, seated at the table.  And it is there that we are given the strength to welcome all of God’s children to find their place at the table. Amen.  

[1] Matthew 15:20.

[i] Fletcher, Wally.  Lectionary Homiletics. August 2005.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

Posted in Sermons | Leave a comment