The End is Near – a sermon on Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

The end is near!  I imagine most of us, either in person or on TV or in the print media, have 3288589043_8d2bf6a99aseen someone like the person who probably drives this van.  He or she is usually around at events or occasions that draw a big crowd.  They don’t even have to be religious events, although I’ve seen people like this warning us “apostate” Presbyterians at our General Assemblies in the past.  But I’ve also seen and imagine you have, too, these poster waving, self-identified prophets declaring “The end is near!” at football games and festivals.  It may even be just what they call “Tuesday” in popular tourist spots like Times Square or the Washington DC Mall of monuments in the busy summer season.  These prophets (I use the term loosely, very loosely) may turn up anywhere there are a lot of people around because they are trying to announce what they think is a very urgent message – “The end is near!!!” Judgement is coming!  You better get your stuff in order, because this is your last chance. Continue reading

What are you waiting for? – A sermon on for Advent 1

Jeremiah 33:14-16

As I sometimes do when I’m preparing for Sunday, early last week I went back to read a sermon I wrote on this same text several years ago.  I always do so with fear and trepidation because I never know what I will find – a memory of a difficult time or a special celebration in the life of the church, a sermon I don’t think I can top this time, or a trainwreck I’m embarrassed I ever delivered.

By the time I read my 6 year old sermon on Tuesday afternoon last week 22654306929_5a32b321catwo men in their twenties had been arrested for shooting five people involved in the protests around the recent police killing of an African American man in north Minneapolis.  Two more were later arrested, all four were suspected white supremacists.  It was just hours before the dashboard cam video of the horrific killing of teenager Laquan McDonald in Chicago was released worldwide. Add these recent events to the recent terrifying tide of violence and centuries old systemic racism against African Americans in this country and in this week of giving thanks instead I was asking, along with throngs of others online and around the country, “How long, O Lord?” Continue reading

Deep breaths and a glass of red wine

I planned the first weekend of sabbatical for months. Months. I knew exactly how I wanted to spend those first 24-48 hours and nothing was going to force me to deviate from the plan.  I had a wedding to perform the Saturday before I didn’t have to go to work on Sunday, but as soon as the wedding party was gone from the church I was going to set my sabbatical message on my email, shut the lights out, and consider myself “off.” Dinner and games with friends that night, brunch the next morning complete with fancy crêpes (and maybe a mimosa).  It was all lined up well in advance, and the plan was carried out without a hitch.IMG_0646

It never occurred to me, however, to plan the last night of sabbatical. So here I sit taking deep breaths and drinking a glass of wine. Continue reading

A New Goal – Part 2

In 2014 marriage equality came both in the denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the state in which I 3721621517_ba1de61c59_olive, Wisconsin.  While my congregation had slowly but surely been talking about marriage and sexuality in one way or another for the previous 12-18 months, this convergence of opinions made the conversation even more important to our context.  Now that same sex marriage was legal in Wisconsin, would our congregation be willing to host such weddings on our property? Continue reading

A New Goal – Part 1

IMG_8905The session of the church I get to serve, First Presbyterian Church in Hudson, Wisconsin, met for a special meeting on Saturday morning, April 11, and something wonderful happened.  About half way through a Spirit-filled 2 hour meeting the session voted unanimously that “At First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI requests for Session consideration of marriage will not be denied based upon sexual orientation.”

It wasn’t wonderful because we are the first church to take such a position.  It wasn’t wonderful because we are the only church to have a unanimous vote. It was wonderful because we somehow got to this place in April that back in August none of us ever would have imagined.  The whole session, even those who personally don’t believe that same sex marriage is part of God’s intention for creation, ultimately agree that same sex weddings could happen on our church property.  We would not categorically prevent same sex couples from requesting a wedding, and most likely, looking at the make up of at least our current session, if a wedding was requested we would vote to allow it.

What made the unanimity of this vote such a surprise and blessing is that our congregation is not an “activist” congregation.  This was in no way a slam dunk.  We don’t have predictable opinions on the hot topics of the day.  We definitely don’t advocate for any political or theological stances as a whole congregation. This is in part because we are true to our Upper Midwestern style of addressing differences.  Which is to say, we don’t go looking for them; we definitely don’t highlight them.  You might even say we consider avoidance a spiritual gift.  It is also because the congregation I serve is a theologically diverse congregation with a theologically diverse session.

Of course, every congregation is in some sense theologically diverse, but for some that spectrum of diversity ranges from the moderate to an extreme, or maybe somewhat left of center to somewhat right.  In our congregation of approximately 220 members the theological spectrum ranges from people who believe in dispensationalist views of the end times (think of the Left Behind series of books and movies) to people who are able to openly express questions about the veracity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. One of the ways we have stayed together, for better or for worse, is by not spending too much time on issues that might divide us.

But avoidance for any reason was not going to work on marriage equality.  Shifts in church and culture were bringing the discussion of marriage equality closer to home. Even two years before marriage equality came to Wisconsin or the PC(USA) I began to look for resources that would help me lead this larger discussion.  I was completely underwhelmed. None of the resources I found  fit our reality.  While I assumed we couldn’t possibly be the only church out there that wasn’t completely “pro” or “con,” in many ways it felt like we were alone as we moved through a season of discernment about same-sex marriage and our worship and ministry.

Most resources had a clear bias.  They all seemed to argue for a particular outcome, either to help convince someone to change his or her mind or bolster an opinion already held.  This didn’t seem helpful for a couple of reasons.  First, I have rarely found it effective to try to teach someone into a new opinion with books, studies, or lectures. Second, I had became more and more certain as we had been having conversations about marriage and sexuality in our church for at least a year that our goal didn’t need to be getting everyone to agree; our goal needed to be to determine how we would live and behave as the church when we all don’t agree.  My goal shifted from trying to get as close to unanimity as possibly to trying to nurture a culture in our church where participants are encouraged to faithfully interpret Scripture according to their understanding of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and live according to their faith-filled interpretation even when that interpretation differs from the interpretation of the person sitting next to them in the pew.

This shift was crucial for what ended up being a unanimous vote that will allow all marriage requests to be considered without discrimination, while also honoring the responsibility of individual session members to vote according to their discernment of the Spirit and will of God.

How I planned and carried out studies and discussions that moved us toward this vote will be shared in my next post. 

Finding Joy – a sermon for Easter on Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew 28:1-10

Please don’t mock me if this is true, but I may be the last person in the United States still watching the ABC TV show Grey’s Anatomy.  Is there any chance I am not alone in this?  It’s OK if you don’t want to admit it. Many, many people believe the show has, as they say, jumped the shark, long ago lost any resemblance to a quality program, but it is one of my guilty pleasures.

In a recent episode* Dr. Meredith Grey, the show’s title character who began almost ten years ago as a surgical intern, was experiencing a streak of good luck.  She hadn’t lost a patient or had an unsuccessful outcome in surgery in about three or four months.  It seemed like impossibly good luck, and it did not go unnoticed among her peers and subordinates.  In fact, she developed a literal following among the surgical interns.  The student surgeons would flood her observation galleries as she practiced her craft.  Everyone wanted in on one of Dr. Grey’s surgeries or wanted Dr. Grey working on the case for their patients.  Defying the odds she seemed to almost miraculously be able to defy death.

When talking to a colleague about Dr. Grey’s new intern-disciples, fellow-surgeon Dr. Miranda Bailey tried to explain, “Don’tbailey you remember what it was like to be a resident and have all this death around you being new, terrifying? Why do you think they care so much about this stupid streak?  Death is scary. They just want to believe that there’s somebody out there who can defy it.”

Continue reading