Sermon: “Woe Is Me?” (Luke 6:17-26) [2/17/19]

 

A few years ago a clergy friend from Rochester, New York, had a medical crisis in the Atlanta airport.  She was rushed to the hospital, where she stayed for a week until she stabilized and was able to return home.

When my friend related the experience, she commented on the deep faith of those who cared for her in the hospital, particularly the LPNs.  “Every day,” she said, “those people would tell me to ‘Have a blessed day!’  And they meant it!”

As someone who grew up in the deep south, I’ve heard ‘Have a blessed day’ all my life. The strong and tender piety that births such statements is familiar to me.  For my friend, though– a native Scot and long-time resident of the northeast–the unabashed expressions of faith were new.  In those circumstances, sick, far from home, she welcomed the blessings of those who were caring for her.

Blessing.  What does it mean to be blessed?

In today’s Gospel lesson, we encounter Luke’s version of the beatitudes.  You might have picked up on that in the reading.  You also might have found the reading to be slightly off.  Isn’t it supposed to be “Blessed are the poor in spirit?” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?”  And where in the heck did all those “woes” come from?

If you had any of those questions, you’re in good company.  The more popular version of the beatitudes comes from the Gospel of Matthew.  That’s the version today’s anthem is based on.  In Matthew–which likely drew from the source that Luke used–we see evidence of an editor….an editor who, no doubt, found the original version of the beatitudes uncomfortable.  “Blessed are the poor”….that’s an idea it’s hard to wrap your head around.  “Woe to you who are rich…”  Yeah.  That’s downright awkward if you’re rich.

Matthew spiritualizes the Beatitudes.  And that’s fine.  Nothing wrong with that.  Matthew wrote in a way that would appeal to the Jewish community he was addressing.  Matthew places Jesus on a mountain to preach—an allusion to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  The Sermon on the Mount’s 107 verses are clearly divided into five sections–a parallel to the five books of the Torah.  Written for Jews, Matthew’s writer introduces Jesus as a new Moses.  Writing to religious people, the author uses religious language–hence, the spiritualizing of the beatitudes.

Luke writes to Gentiles.  Allusions to Sinai and the Torah would have been lost on them.

And so, in Luke, Jesus comes down to a “level place” and preaches a sermon that clocks in at a mere 32 verses.  Not only is the sermon preached on a plain, but in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ sermon also is plain, as in plain-spoken.  Luke pulls no punches; he softens nothing.

Luke’s Jesus calls the poor blessed–not the poor in spirit…and the hungry–not those who hunger for righteousness…  And to make his point even plainer, Luke’s Jesus pairs the blessings with woes–woe to the rich and those who are full, those who laugh and who are well spoken of.

So, what is the blessing of poverty and hunger?  What’s the woe of wealth and good standing in society?  Because, when you think about it, we have a lot more in common with the woeful of whom Jesus speaks than the blessed.  We certainly serve the poor and hungry, but we aren’t ourselves poor or hungry.  And compared to the vast majority of the world, we have great wealth and good standing in society.

What’s so woeful about our existence?  What do the poor have that we don’t?

Another clergy friend once pastored a church in Baltimore’s inner city.  It was a rough neighborhood.  One time a young man was shot and killed on the sidewalk outside the church.  When I visited the church a decade ago, my friend said something in a sermon that has stuck with me.  She said to her poor congregants, “Things are harder for people in the suburbs than they are for us.  In the suburbs, people don’t know they need each other to survive.  Here in our neighborhood, we know we need each other.”  Several congregants around me nodded their heads and said “Mmm hmm.”

I suspect that’s the place Luke’s Jesus was coming from.  One commentator sums it up this way:  “To be blessed of God is to have nothing but God.”  The one who has little has little power to meet their own needs, especially in our currency-driven social structure.  Those of us who have means have a lot of power to determine what happens to us.  The danger–the woe–of having lots of material resources is that we can gloss over our own neediness, we can cover it up, we can hide from it.  If we ignore our neediness for too long, it’s easy to forget it’s there.  We come to think that we are all powerful, that our fate lies only in our own hands.

The friend who used to pastor in Baltimore’s inner city now pastors a fairly wealthy church in DC.  As she talks to me about it, her job now seems much more arduous.  In DC, she pastors people who are farther removed from their neediness, their need for connection to others and to God.  I pray harder for this friend now than I did when she pastored the other church.

So, is Luke’s Jesus condemning wealth, per se?  Is Luke’s Jesus praising poverty?  Maybe.  But I wonder if Luke’s Jesus is just calling things as he sees them.  The poor have easier access to God because they have little else.  The wealthy have a harder time accessing the divine because they don’t need a god in their lives.  They really can do things for themselves.

So, is there hope for us woeful people?  Is there no path to blessing for us?

Jean Vanier co-founded L’Arche, intentional communities for people with profound developmental and physical disabilities and those who care for them.  Many who come to serve at L’Arche are transformed by the experience; others are not.  Of the difference, Vanier writes:  “People may come to our communities because they want to serve the poor; they will only stay once they have discovered they themselves are the poor.”  (From Brokenness to Community, p.20)

Those who come to serve in L’Arche communities discover their poverty in relationship with the residents.  Vanier writes:  “Those who come close to people in need do so first of all in a generous desire to help them and bring them relief; they often feel like saviors and put themselves on a pedestal. But once in contact with them, once touching them, establishing a loving and trusting relationship with them, the mystery unveils itself. At the heart of the insecurity of people in distress there is a presence of Jesus.  And so they—the helpers—may discover the sacrament of the poor and enter the mystery of compassion.
“People who are poor seem to break down the barriers of powerfulness, of wealth, of ability and of pride; they pierce the armor the human heart builds to protect itself; they reveal Jesus Christ. They reveal to those who have come to ‘help’ them their own poverty and vulnerability. These people also show their ‘helpers’ their capacity for love, the forces of love in their hearts. A poor person has a mysterious power: in his weakness he is able to open hardened hearts and reveal the sources of living water within them. It is the tiny hand of the fearless child which can slip through the bars of the prison of egoism. A child is the one who can open the lock and set free. God hides God-self in the child.”  ― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

How do we woeful ones find our way to blessing?  We begin by recognizing our own poverty; we begin by recognizing our need of others.  We open our deepest selves to the poor, the hungry, the excluded.  We open our minds and hearts to receive blessings from any place, from any person, from any circumstance from which it might come.

 

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen

Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2019

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Sermon: “Called to Follow” (Luke 5:1-11) [2/10/17]

So, you’re on the shore, beside your boat, washing your nets after a disappointing night of fishing.  A large crowd has gathered on the beach and up the hill behind it.  From the crowd emerges a figure, who walks up to your boat and steps right in.  The man asks you to put out a little way from shore.

And here we have the first instance of a biblical boat jacking….not really.  The man, of course, is Jesus.  The crowds have gathered to hear him teach.  Water is a natural conductor of sound…so, basically, Jesus is conscripting Simon into being his sound guy.  (I don’t blame Jesus.  Can you imagine 1,000 people yelling at once, “We can’t hear you!”  I’m not saying I’ve ever had an experience like that or anything…)

After the lesson is finished, Luke’s story takes an unexpected turn.  When he’s done, Jesus tells Simon to put out for deeper water and drop his nets there.  Simon tells Jesus he’d been fishing all night but had caught nothing.  Even so, Simon says, we’ll give it a try.  He does…and the nets fill up so much they start tearing.  He calls his friends James and John to come help.  Overcome with the abundance of the haul, Simon urges Jesus to “go away from me, for I am a sinful man!”  Jesus doesn’t.

Instead, Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ Then, the Gospel writer tells us, “they left everything and followed him.”

We spend a lot of time in churches–and rightly so–reading and trying to understand Jesus’ teachings.  For example, next week, we’ll look at Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor,” and all that.  In this story, though we’re told Jesus teaches, we aren’t told what he teaches.  In this story, Jesus’ lesson to the crowd isn’t the point.

The point is what happens between Jesus and Simon Peter.  First, Jesus, um, invites Simon to donate his boat to the event.  Jesus invites Simon to use the things at his disposal for Jesus’ purposes.  Which is cool.  I’ve been to the northern edge of the Sea of Genessaret;  I’ve walked on the shore and climbed the gently sloping hill.  I’ve heard the great acoustics.  The science geek in me loves the hows of amplification.  Or maybe I’m just drawn to the fact that Jesus didn’t have to remember to turn on his microphone.  That Jesus was science smart is cool…but it’s not the point of the story.

The point of the story is what happens after the lesson…the part where Jesus asks Simon to head for deep water and drop his nets.  It’s after pulling in the abundant haul that the deeper point of the story is revealed–Jesus invites Simon to follow him.

Each Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ call with a particular slant.  In Mark, Jesus just walks by, says “Follow me!” and Peter, James, and John “immediately” follow him.  Not a lot of commentary.  In John, Andrew hears Jesus, he takes his brother, Simon, to hear Jesus, then they take their friends James and John…and eventually Philip and Nathaneal.  In John, following Jesus grows out of personal encounters.

In Luke’s version of Jesus calling the disciples, the tools of the fishermen’s trade become the means by which they follow Jesus.  Jesus invites the disciples to use the materials at their disposal to “fish for people.”

Image result for picture jesus simon boat

You might have noticed that I often wear a St. Brigid’s cross.  (Show cross.)  It’s a cross made of rushes or straw.  I wear it to remind myself of my love for Ireland and Celtic spirituality, but also because of the story that goes along with it.

As the story is told, there was an old pagan Chieftain who lay delirious on his deathbed in Kildare (some believe this was Brigid’s father).  His servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the saintly woman might calm his restless spirit. Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and calming him and it is here that she picked up the rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern. While she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain and it is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul. He was so enamored by her words that the old Chieftain requested to be baptized as a Christian just before his passing.  https://www.blarney.com/st-brigid_s-cross/

I wear St. Brigid’s cross to remind me to use whatever is at hand to share God’s love with others.

When I think of using the tools of one’s trade to bring healing to the world, the first person who comes to mind is Oskar Schindler.  In World War II, the German factory owner used his business to save 1200 Jews from the Holocaust.  Or journalist Ida B. Wells, who used the tools of her trade to document lynchings throughout the South, starting in the 1870s.

We’ve spoken the past couple of weeks about how each of us has been given gifts to use for the common good.  It’s been heartening to see just how many of you have stepped up to the plate and are beginning to serve the common good here at FCUCC.

How might we do the same thing in the wider community?  How might we use our gifts or the tools of our trade to share the message of love in the world?  How might we use our gifts and tools of our trade to follow Jesus?  How might we use our gifts and tools of our trade to act the world into wellbeing?

This isn’t just a preacher question.  It’s as real a question as our faith asks.  It is the fundamental question of our faith:  How will we use the means at our disposal to follow Jesus in repairing the world?

How will we use what we have to fight the insidiousness of racism?

How will we use what we have to dismantle social systems that enrich the wealthy and overburden the impoverished?

How will we use what we have to address the hopelessness that leads too many to take their own lives?

How will we use what we have to address the crisis of climate change?

How will we use what we have to transform greed and cynicism into generosity and compassion?

How will we use what we have to create lasting peace in the world?

How will we use what we have to nurture the children in our lives?

How will we use what we have to work for gender justice?

How will we use what we have to ease the burdens of illness and mental illness?

How will we use what we have to change the current rancor of civic dialogue into civil conversation?

How will we use what we have to follow Jesus?  How will we use what we have to share the message of love in the world?  How will we use what we have to act the world into wellbeing?

One more story from World War II.  In 1942, the Nazis established a concentration camp at Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia.  In an attempt to show the world they weren’t all bad, the Nazis sent many artists to Theirenstadt or Terezin.  Many families with children also were sent.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an artist, designer, and teacher, was sent to Terezin in December 1942.  Before she left, Dicker-Brandeis “conceived a mission for herself and brought what art materials she could to the camp.

“Mrs. Dicker-Brandeis saw that the children of Terezin needed a form of artistic expression as a way to moderate the chaos of their lives. Drawing on her art school experience and available supplies—her hoarded materials, office forms, scrap paper, cardboard, wrapping paper—she provided excellent training in art fundamentals, studies of everyday objects, imaginative drawing, and complex still lifes, all the while freeing her students to reveal their feelings through their art.”  (viii)

“They drew their concealed inner worlds, their tortured emotions, which Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was then able to enter and try to heal.  She helped restore a balance to the trembling consciousness of terrified children.”  (xx, Chaim Potok)

“One of her students recalled, “I remember Mrs. Brandeis as a tender, highly intelligent woman, who managed—for some hours every week—to create a fairy world for us in Terezin…a world that made us forget all the surrounding hardships that we were not spared despite our young ages.”  (I Never Saw another Butterfly:  Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, Expanded Second Edition, viii-ix.)

Hoarded materials, office forms, scrap paper, cardboard, wrapping paper…using what she had, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis brought healing to traumatized children’s lives.  Using what she had, Friedl acted the world into wellbeing.

What do you have at hand?  How will you use what you have to heal the world?  How will you use what you have to follow Jesus?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2019

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Sermon: “Standing on the Side of Love” (I Cor. 13) [2/3/19]

Last week, in his first letter to the Corinthians, we encountered Paul’s Mr. Potato Head theology.  There, he writes:  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…The body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many…If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”  The “still more excellent way” Paul described is found in calling forth each person’s gifts “for the common good.”

You can probably guess why Paul wrote about everyone using their gifts for the common good.  Because the Corinthians WEREN’T using their gifts for the common good, right?  They were fussing and fighting; they were ranking spiritual gifts, saying some were more important than others…which, of course, meant some people in the community were more important than others.  Though the spiritual excitement that had brought the people together was real, after living in community for a while, the Corinthians had gotten off track.  Fissures formed.  Diversity divided.  The common good got lost in contentious competition.

Paul loved the Corinthians; he had, after all, started the church there.  He was their teacher.  He was their pastor.  Paul wanted the church at Corinth to thrive…and he wanted the community to thrive because he believed that it’s in and through the community of believers that God’s hopes for the world are realized.  But if the community was splintered and, functionally, no community at all, how were they going to help transform the world?  The church at Corinth needed a reminder of what they were there for….which is why Paul wrote this letter.

Paul’s use of the “body of Christ” metaphor…it’s not the most artistic bit of writing in the world, but it does make the point.  As the body has a diversity of parts, each with its own function, so does the body of Christ have a diversity of parts or gifts, each with its own function.  The body–physical or spiritual–doesn’t work unless all the parts are working together.

I imagine Paul writing all that, perhaps congratulating himself on devising such a brilliant metaphor.  Then, I imagine him pausing.  And thinking.  And slipping into a prayer for those knuckleheads, I mean, beloved children in faith, at Corinth.  The metaphor was a good one; Paul had to admit that to himself.  But something was missing.

Then I imagine the light bulb clicking on.  Ah!  The brilliant metaphor of the body…it explained the what of diversity, the logistics of it…but it didn’t explain the why—or the ho–of it.  Why celebrate the diversity of gifts within the community?  How to celebrate that diversity?  Love.  All of it was love.  The goal of a fully-functioning body?  Love.  The means of getting all the parts of the body working together?  Love.  The whole point of the God-thing?  Love.  The means of transforming the world into the world God hoped it to be?  Love.  Love, love, love, love.  The Corinthians had gotten so caught up in the flashiness of their spiritual gifts, they’d forgotten the source of those gifts, the point of those gifts, the reason for any of it–love.

So, as a follow-up that brilliant metaphor he’d devised, Paul either wrote or quoted the love poem…I Corinthians 13.  What he’d said about the body and spiritual gifts was important, vital to the healthy functioning of the church.  But even more important than all that was love.  Love trumps spiritual gifts every time.

Florence Foster Jenkins was a woman of means…whose husband gave her syphilis on their wedding night.  The disease caused nerve damage, effectively ending a potential career as a concert pianist.  Her second husband, St. Clair Bayfield, was devoted to his wife…but because of his wife’s disease, sought relationships outside the marriage.

In the early and mid-20th century, life expectancy after a diagnosis of syphilis (or the number of years before one’s mental faculties were lost) was 20 years.  Florence Foster Jenkins lived 50 years past her diagnosis.

What contributed to Florence’s longevity?  Her love of music.  Florence used her significant wealth to underwrite the classical music scene in New York City.  Renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini was among her frequent guests.

Though no longer able to perform on piano, Florence did still enjoy performing.  She sang.  Horribly.  No two ways about it, from an artistic standpoint, listening to Florence Foster Jenkins sing was excruciating.  But for Florence, singing was a source of great joy.

Florence’s husband, St. Clair, knew of his wife’s love of singing, and despite her lack of skill, planned recitals for her whenever she felt the desire to perform.

St. Clair went to great lengths to spare Florence’s feelings around these recitals.  Venues were carefully selected.  Attendees had to come to Florence’s apartment to get tickets, so that St. Clair could vet them.  The tickets were reserved, of course, only for “music lovers,” aka, people who wouldn’t laugh at Florence’s singing.  Music critics for the papers also were screened meticulously.  And sometimes paid for their reviews.

At performances, concert goers would listen quietly then burst into applause at the end of the evening.  Reviews in all the papers the next morning glowed in adulation.

St. Clair and accompanist Cosme McMoon, had the process of performances down to a science…until Florence went out on her own and reserved Carnegie Hall.  Despite all his efforts to cancel the performance, there was nothing St. Clair could do.  The show had to go on…this time without the benefit of St. Clair’s careful control.

Thinking the performance to be a comedy routine, many in the audience laughed.  Loudly.  A critic for the New York Post wrote a scathing review of Florence’s performance.  After the Carnegie performance, all pretenses dropped.  The truth was laid bare.  Florence knew then that people were laughing at her.  She died a month later.

As I watched the movie of Florence’s life, I wondered why in the world all these people, including her husband, would conspire, essentially, to lie to her.  Why would they allow her to make such a spectacle of herself in so public a way?  Were the lies to Florence–and true music lovers everywhere–not cruel?  Why on earth did they do such a thing?

The motives of some, of course, were self-serving—and predictable—they lied to Florence because they didn’t want to lose her patronage.

In the final scenes of a movie about Florence, as she is dying, St. Clair by her side, it all clicks.  He engaged in all the subterfuge, he tried to protect Florence from the truth about her lack of vocal skill, he did it all for one reason–because he loved her.  Her love of music is what kept her alive.  Out of his deep love for her, he would not deprive her of that.

In an odd way, the story of Florence Foster Jenkins beautifully illustrates Paul’s point about spiritual gifts and love.  God gives each of us gifts to use for the common good…each of us is skilled at a different set of gifts than others…there is great joy in using our gifts for the common good…  But in the end, the only thing that matters, even more than excellence of the gift, is the depth of the love with which it is given.  We honor God when we honor love.  Period.

That’s a good thing to remember when we’re following Jesus–inside this community or outside it.  Each of us has good gifts, exceptional gifts to contribute to the common good…but if we don’t offer our gifts in love, if we don’t honor the gifts of others as gifts of love (no matter how skillful those gifts are), then we’ve missed God’s point.  Love trumps gifts.  Every time.  When love and gifts go together?  That’s what transforms the world.

As we close today, I’ll read our text one more time.  Before I do, I invite you to think of a particular issue or context.  Perhaps it’s something going on at home or work right now.  Maybe it’s a new diagnosis or a sudden grief.  Maybe it’s an issue of injustice in the world that keeps you angry or worried.  Maybe it’s something going on here at the church right now.  Take a minute and call to mind one particular situation.  (Pause)

Now, as you hold this situation in your mind and heart, listen as I read 1 Corinthians 13 once more.  What does this ancient poem about love say to your current situation?

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Related image

 

Song                           Love, Love                                                                                       Traditional

The song will be sung in a round. The choir will begin. When Kim indicates, the pulpit side of the congregation will sing. When Ty indicates, the organ side of the congregation will sing.

Love, love, love, love.  //  The gospel in a word is love!

Love our neighbor, love each other.  //  Love, love, love.

 

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2019

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Sermon: “A Still More Excellent Way” (I Cor. 12:1-31a) [1/27/19]

Next Friday is my first anniversary as your pastor.  What a year we’ve had!  As we continue getting to know each other, I want to share with you some more of my MO as a pastor.       A big part of the reason I accepted the call to be your pastor is your strong commitment to social justice.  Jesus didn’t get killed because he was a good teacher or preacher.  Jesus got killed because he challenged structures of privilege.  Jesus got killed because he spoke truth to power.  Jesus got killed because he championed the poor.

I accepted the call to be your pastor because you understand Dom Camara Helder’s statement:  “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint.  When I asked why they are poor, they called me a communist.”  I am here because a faith ensconced within the walls of the church is no faith at all.  We must speak power to truth.  We must name and stand against corruption and evil when we see it.  We need to serve the poor, and we must ask why they are poor.  That is our calling as followers of Jesus.  I am here because I am called to live that faith in the world…and to lead a congregation that does the same.

Here’s the thing I want to share with you today.  I also am called to help us work at deepening our community.  The true gift of the church to the world, the means we have of acting the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name is the work we do as a community.  If we’re all out marching, or challenging the government, or serving the poor…if we’re doing all that but neglect the health of our community, we won’t have the spiritual resources we need to sustain the important work we’re doing out in the world.  This is the place where we breathe in God’s love.  This is the place we connect with our deepest selves and with God, where we gain access to all that will sustain everything we do outside this place.  Outside this place, we seek to save the world.  Inside this place, we remember what we’re saving it for.  

Paul understood this connection between how we live God’s love inside the church and how we live it in the world.  Exhibit A—his first letter to the Corinthians.

The church at Corinth was a happening place.  Full of energy.  Full of diversity.  Full of egos.  The more powerful people in the community began prioritizing spiritual gifts; they deemed some gifts more important than others.  Deep divisions and chaos ensued.  Paul knew that if the community didn’t work some things out, their purpose for being—sharing God’s love with others—wasn’t going to happen.

Paul’s answer to the discord?  Mr. Potato Head theology.  If the community is to fulfill its mission of living God’s love in the world, it’s going to need every person using his or her unique gifts–“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” right?  “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be; if the body were a mouth, where would smelling be?”  See?  Mr. Potato Head.

Image result for mr potato head jesus

One thing I do find perplexing is where Paul goes at the end of today’s passage.  Listen:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

Does that not sound like a hierarchy of spiritual gifts?  Then he says, “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  The greater gifts?  I thought all gifts were created equally!  What gives?  This is a guess, but I wonder if the “greater gifts” are those that help the community work together for the common good.  If so, then maybe in this coming together of our diverse gifts is where we’ll find the “still more excellent way.”

Have you ever thought about giving up on church?  I thought about it a lot my first year of grad school.

Just a couple months after fleeing the Baptist battles at my seminary, one sunny fall day I found myself standing under the chapel on the Emory University campus.  Deeply wounded by my experiences of church to that point, I had become dangerously disillusioned.

As I stood there, I thought:  “You don’t have to do this.  You don’t have to stay in church.  You don’t even have to remain Christian.  You can leave.  Do something else entirely.  Why stay?”  I stood there thinking for a long while.

Then, as he is wont to do, Jesus came to mind.  I thought about all the things Jesus said, all he did.  I thought about how he spent time hanging out with the hurting people of the world, the outcasts, the oppressed, the abused.  And I thought of how he helped those people to see and experience the deep, abiding, non-judgmental love of God.

And in that moment, I decided that if a community tries to follow Jesus–they don’t even have to succeed…If a community just tries to follow Jesus—the world will be transformed.  That day under the chapel, I committed myself to leading a community that would try—just try—to follow Jesus.

A year into my tenure, I can say with confidence:  You are exactly the kind of community I dreamed of that day under the chapel.

That doesn’t mean we get it right all the time.  Living in community is hard.  At some point, someone’s going to make you mad.  At some point, someone’s going to disappoint you.  At some point, you’re going to be afraid you’ve done something irreparable and unforgiveable.

When she welcomed new members into the Church for All Sinners and Saints, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminded them that at some point, the community would let them down, that she “would say or do something stupid and disappoint them.  Then she encouraged them to decide before that happened if they would stick around after it happened.  If they left, she told them, they’d miss the way God’s grace comes in and fills in the cracks left behind by our brokenness.  And that’s too beautiful to miss.”  In another place, Bolz-Weber says:  “Church is messed up.  I know that.  People, including me, have been hurt by it.  But … “Church isn’t perfect.  It’s practice.”

THAT is what I’ve witnessed here over the last year.  We aren’t always successful in following Jesus, sometimes we disagree, sometimes we even hurt each other…but even in the midst of all the messiness of being a Christian community, because we continue to try to follow Jesus as best we can, the world is being transformed.  Because we are working together, because we are honoring—and calling out—each other’s spiritual gifts and using them for the common good, we are beginning—just beginning—to get a glimpse of God’s kin-dom here on earth, a kin-dom we are helping to create.

It’s appropriate today to focus on strengthening our FCUCC community.  It’s Annual Meeting day!  After worship, we’ll gather downstairs to vote on the budget, among other things.

When you read my annual report, you’ll learn that a key part of my role as pastor is overseeing the church’s ministries.  Based on how often I lose my glasses and forget to turn on the microphone, it might surprise you to learn that I like to organize things.  I’m not as good with minute details, but I do like to get processes and groups organized…in a big-picture kind of way.

Now that I’ve been here a year, ideas are emerging about the most effective way to organize our congregation’s ministries.  In your bulletins, you’ll find a list of the 8 suggested Ministry Areas.  Within each area is a list of related ministries.  None of these ministries is set in stone.  Some have been going for a long time; others will serve their purpose for a season then disband.  All of that’s part of the normal process of being church.  Consider this sheet a worksheet.  If you have ideas for other ministries that would fall in any of the Ministry Areas, write them down.  Likewise, let us know if there’s a Ministry Area we’re missing.  I invite you to write your suggestions on the sheets of paper posted on the west wall of Friendship Hall.

Here’s the exciting thing…there are many ways in which we’re already living as the body of Christ as Paul imagines it.  We’re already living Mr. Potato Head theology here.  I convened a gathering of folks for our security team this past Wednesday.  After two minutes, I realized out was out of my element….which was fine.  Because the other people in the room were in their element.  Wow!  I just sat back and watched the magic happen.

Another example.  The last couple of weeks, the Lent planning team has been dreaming up all kinds of experiences that will help us make strong connections between our Lenten liturgy and social justice.  I’ve never been this excited about Lent.  Stay tuned.

Some established groups here at FCUCC are experiencing a revival—like Deacons and Faith Formation—while new groups are emerging—like the Health Advisory and Racial Justice teams, as well as the WISE team, whose purpose is to offer support for people struggling with mental health and for those who love them.

Here’s one of my favorite stories.  A couple of weeks ago, I posted some help wanted ads—the Desperation Edition.  The first item on the list was hospitality.  Someone came to me this week and let me know that she and someone else—independently—had the idea of taking that on.  “Somehow” they found each other…which, of course, means Spirit drew them together.

That’s how ministries work in a church.  We open ourselves to the needs of the body, we ask how our unique gifts might meet those needs, then we serve…for the common good.

How might your unique gifts serve the common good?  How might we better use our collective gifts to build up the body of Christ in this place?  How might we find the still more excellent way…then live it in the world?  I can’t wait to see what this second year will hold.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2019  (with parts from 2015)

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Sermon: “The World House: Creating Beloved Community” (I Cor. 12:4-11) [1/20/19]

During a sabbatical in 2014, I drove from a monastery in Indiana to a music camp in New Hampshire.  After crossing Ohio, I took a right at Erie, Pennsylvania, then began the long trek across the state of New York.

            Late in the afternoon, fighting pre-supper drowsies, I passed a sign that woke me up:  Seneca Falls, Women’s Rights National Historical Park.  Hello!  I thought.  That sounds like a place I’d like to visit.  But not now.  Music camp awaits!  I drove another hour and a half to Utica and checked in to a Days Inn.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Seneca Falls.  One-time home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton?  Site of the first Woman’s Rights Convention?  How could I not visit?  The next morning, I drove back to Seneca Falls.  My visit did not disappoint.

First, I toured the museum, which tells the story of the convention in 1848.  It all started on July 9, 1848.  That’s the day Jane Hunt invited Elizabeth Cady Stanton to her house for tea.  A Quaker, Hunt also invited three other Quakers—Mary Ann M’Clintock,  Lucretia Mott, and Mott’s sister, Martha Wright.  What started as a tea party, ended up as a planning session for our country’s first Woman’s Rights Convention.

On July 18, 1848, hundreds of people descended on Seneca Falls for the convention.  On July 19th, 300 people signed the Declaration of Sentiments, a strong statement for women’s rights modeled on the Declaration of Independence.  July 20th, 200 of the original 300 quietly removed their names from the document.  They were supportive, but feared the fall-out if their signatures were discovered.

As I left my last stop in Seneca Falls that day–Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house–a park ranger invited me to return the following week, July 18th and 19th.  Each year, on the anniversary of the first Woman’s Rights Convention, the park celebrates Convention Days.  “You’d really like it,” she said.  I told her I wished I could, but music camp awaited.

That night—back in Utica—I called Allen.  “Seneca Falls is the place I’ve needed to visit all my life!” I told him.  I was overcome with respect for those strong women (and men) who–170 years ago–got the struggle for women’s equality.  Those people were articulate, passionate, and fully committed to justice for women.  I was inspired.

When the music camp in New Hampshire fizzled—they might be in a better mood up there if they ate some grits once in a while—I drove back to Seneca Falls for Convention Days.  It rocked!  That year, the focus was equal rights for Muslim women.  After processing through town, we all signed a Declaration of Equality for Muslim Women.  It was a moving experience.

Energized by the visits to Seneca Falls, I began reading up on the Woman’s Rights Convention and the women’s suffrage movement.  In my reading I discovered much of which I was proud.  I also discovered a lot that disturbed me, particularly regarding racism.

Frederick Douglass participated in the Convention and signed the Declaration of Sentiments.  His presence and support were significant.  It was, after all, 1848.  Slavery still was practiced widely in the southern states.  How could people–including abolitionists–devote time and energy to fighting for women’s rights when 2 million people still were enslaved in the South?  The tension between abolitionists and suffragists was intense.

Then I read about the Women’s March of 1913.  Coinciding with the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, Suffragists marched in support of women’s right to vote.  Seeing pictures of all those women in long white dresses made me happy and proud.  Then I read the footnote:  leaders of the march asked African American women to march at the back of the parade.  When journalist Ida B. Wells was sent to the back of the line, she wept in disbelief.

Throughout history, black women largely have fallen through the cracks of justice efforts.  In 1848, the debate was whether to move first to get the vote for black men or to get the vote for white women.  Getting the vote for black women?  Not so much a part of the conversation.

Another case.  In 1976, several “black women sued General Motors for discrimination, arguing that the company segregated its workforce by race and gender:  blacks did one set of jobs; whites did another.  According to the plaintiffs’ experiences, women were welcome to apply for some jobs, while only men were suitable for others.  This was of course a problem in and of itself, but for black women the consequences were compounded…because the black jobs were men’s jobs, and the women’s jobs were only for whites.

“Thus, while a black applicant might get hired to work on the factory floor if he were male; if she were a black female she wouldn’t be considered.  Similarly, a woman might be hired as a secretary if she were white, but wouldn’t be considered if she were black. Neither the black jobs nor the women’s jobs were appropriate for black women, since they were neither male nor white.”

Guess what happened?  The case was dismissed.  Why?  Because the court believed “black women should not be permitted to combine their race and gender claims.   Because they could not prove that what happened to them was just like what happened to white women or black men, the discrimination that happened to these black women fell through the cracks.”

It was in studying this case that a young law professor named Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality.”  In describing intersectionality, she says, “Many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice.”  Certainly, it’s important to focus our justice efforts.  Participating in a women’s march would be very different from participating in a march for, say, middle-aged, middle class, straight white Southern women preachers.  So, focus is important.

The danger comes from assuming that speaking from one identity addresses the experiences of every person…for instance, white women designing a women’s movement out of their experiences as white women and assuming their experiences are normative for all women.

The gift of MLK weekend and the Women’s March coming at the same time, is the invitation to think about intersectionality, to think about how working for justice in one area connects with working for justice in other areas.  It also invites us to analyze our personal justice commitments for bias and/or privilege.  To ferret out our blind spots.

The women’s march here in Asheville has sparked some controversy.  Some folks are protesting national Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory’s speech at UNCA today.  She and at least one other organizer have been accused of anti-Semitism.  Carolina Jews for Justice issued a statement saying they strongly support free speech and that Mallory should receive a hearing.  Others find her statements in interviews troubling enough they don’t believe she should have a hearing.  Two of our members emailed this week dismayed that our church is supporting the march.  Others agonized over whether to attend worship or participate in the march, because both are so important to them.

An acquaintance of mine, a Jewish man who joined SNCC–the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—in helping register voters in Forest City, Arkansas, in the early 60s, tells the story of a boycott being planned by SNCC.  When asked which stores in town should be boycotted, one of the African American organizers said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.  They’re all Jew stores.  Let’s boycott them all.”  The statement was a blow to the gut of my friend.

I don’t mean to guilt trip anyone.  I’m just inviting us to look at everything happening around us this weekend and see what God might be saying through it all.  Two things might help our considerations—a word from Paul and an idea from Martin Luther King, Jr.

The word from Paul doesn’t need elaboration.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, in the section that celebrates diversity within the body of Christ, Paul says, “To each has been given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  The common good.  Remember that concept?  Working for the common good begins by acknowledging–and celebrating–our diversity…. which means that Paul was preaching intersectionality before it was even a word. J  My liberation is bound up with your liberation, right?  Until all of us are free, none of us is free.

The year before he died, Martin King wrote an essay called “The World House.”  In it, he writes of a famous novelist who died.  “Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, including this one:  ‘A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.’  This is the great new problem of humankind,” King writes.  “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”

My mom moves in with us this week.  Allen and I have been preparing the house as best we can for her arrival.  We’ve set up her room in ways we think will be welcoming.  Of course, there are some things we can’t anticipate.  Most issues of co-habiting won’t emerge until we’re actually living together under one tiny roof.  There will be negotiations.  There will be adjustments.  There will, no doubt, be family meetings.  I suspect there will be disagreements.

Because of our commitment to and love for one another, though, we’ll do the work.  We’ll do the work because we’re family, because the three of us want nothing more than for everyone in the family to be happy and well and whole.

What if the human family did this same kind of work in our world house?  What if, out of love for all our family’s members, we gave ourselves fully to the work of negotiating and adjusting and talking through our disagreements?  What if we sat down together at the kitchen table and listened to each other, told each other our stories, and worked together to find a way forward?  Might we learn to live with each other in peace?  Might we learn better how to act each other into wellbeing?  Might our building and moving into our world house be the way to establish and work for the common good?

What say we give it a try?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2019

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Sermon: “Precious” (Luke 3:21-22; Is. 43:1-4) [1/13/19]

When I made the switch from the Baptists to the UCC, there was only one theological issue I had to work through–infant baptism.  How many Baptists do we have in the room?  Disciples?  Both Baptists and Disciples practice believer’s baptism.  That means you’re only baptized after you consciously decide to follow the way of Jesus.  In the conservative Baptist churches I grew up in, infant baptism was anathema.  How can a baby decide to follow Jesus?

So, I spent some time thinking and praying about the practice of infant baptism.  When I read the liturgy in the Book of Worship, especially the part about the church claiming the child and promising to help the parents raise the child in the Christian faith until the child could choose—or not choose—the path for themselves, I thought, This is a no brainer.  The greater emphasis on the community in infant baptism really appealed to me.

That’s true, in part, because it took me a while to get the hang of believer’s baptism.  My first baptism happened in a Methodist church when I was 12 or so.  Sprinkled with a carnation.  My second baptism–this time by immersion–happened when I was in high school after our church’s pastor took me down the “Roman Road.”  My third baptism happened when I was teaching school…again, by immersion.

Why all these baptisms?  That, too, is a no brainer:  I was afraid of going to hell.  As Allen calls it—baptism as fire insurance.  A question I often heard in my conservative Baptist churches was:  “Do you know that you know that you know if you were to die tonight, you’d go to heaven?”  I’m not a black-and-white thinker.  I never knew that I knew that I knew.  I got baptized all those times to cover all my bases.

So, when I learned about infant baptism–especially its greater emphasis on the community’s role in baptism– I took great comfort in it.

When the Search Committee took me on a tour of the church back in October 2017 and I saw the baptistery…I’m not saying I started shaking or hyperventilating or anything, not much, anyway.  But it did give me pause.  A baptistery in a UCC church?  That’s when I learned the building originally was built by the Disciples.  Because they practice believer’s baptism by immersion, all Disciples churches have baptisteries.  In the UCC, we don’t have anything against baptism by immersion—at all; it’s just that infant baptism is more common.

I am happy to report that we now are using our baptistery regularly.  With all the work they’re doing on the building–power-washing external walls that remain porous and susceptible to seepage, the humidity in this room is elevated.  The contractor recommended getting a dehumidifier.  The dehumidifier needs to be in a place where it can drain the water it soaks up.  What better place for a humidifier than a baptistery?  🙂

Do you know that for several centuries, new Christians were baptized in the nude?  They underwent a year of instruction—think, Confirmation–then those wishing to join the church (usually on Easter Sunday) would be baptized.  Naked as the day they were born…Which was the point, right?  Baptism represents new birth.

Beyond the symbolism of being re-born in the same state in which we’re born, coming to baptism with nothing on reminds us that, as one writer says, “our worthiness isn’t based on our decorations.  It has nothing to do with the way we look or don’t look, what we can or can’t do, our successes or failures, even our talents or inabilities.  We are reminded that we are known and loved in our diverse quirks and eccentricities.”  We are known and loved for ourselves.  Period.

When Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism, God speaks:  “You are my child, my beloved.  With you I am well-pleased.”  We hear similar language in today’s text from Isaiah:  “I have called you by name.  You are mine.  And I love you.”  Just as we are, God loves us.  Just as we are.  God.  Loves.  Us.  If each of us could believe that, deep down to our cores…if each of us could allow ourselves to receive the gift of God’s profound love for us, it’s my firm belief that the world would change.

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Back in the mid-1990s when I was a graduate student at Emory University, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class Archbishop Desmond Tutu also was visiting.  During the class, the Archbishop told us about something that had happened the previous day.

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He’d been speaking to a large group for a while when he noticed that nearly every student had their head down, intent on capturing down every word he spoke.  At that point, the Archbishop said, “Stop!  Put down your pens!”  all eyes were on him.  “Don’t you know that God loves you?”  The archbishop knew what the students had forgotten—that each of them was deeply loved by God…that Desmond was no more important than anyone else in the room…that the only thing that mattered was that each person in the room was God’s beloved child.

I had a similar experience the first night we gathered for the clergywomen program I’m involved with called Women Touched by Grace.  As we were leaving a meet-and-greet gathering and Sr. Luke was giving us our final instructions for the next day, she said this:  “We just want you to know how precious you are.”  We all stood there, stunned.  Precious?  Us?  Most of us are still trying to take in all that love over a decade later.

Preaching in this church is about the most fun I’ve ever had.  There is so much you all get about the Gospel, about living it in the real world.  I’ve never been part of a community that so wants to change the world, to create the kindom of God anyway we can.

A big part of the reason I accepted this call is that strong commitment to justice work.  Because of that commitment, sermons often focus on justice issues.  This week, we could take our pick of issues, couldn’t we?  The injustice to hundreds of thousands of federal workers because of an unnecessary, capricious government shut-down; the daily injustices associated with trying to live in this country as a person of color; families being traumatized at our southern border; the ongoing struggle for equal rights for women; the climate change crisis; the injustice and cruel absurdity of ongoing wars that never should have been started in the first place.  There is no shortage of justice issues that can and should be addressed from this pulpit.

In addition to addressing directly specific justice issues, though, another calling of this pulpit is to remind us of the resources our faith gives us for engaging in the work of justice.  Perhaps the most empowering resource we have for the work of justice is the one we celebrate today:  our baptisms.  Jesus’ vital work of acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name only began after his baptism.  Before he began teaching and speaking truth to power and over-turning tables in the Temple, Jesus needed to know of God’s love for him.  Even Jesus needed to hear:  “You are my child, my beloved.  With you I am well-pleased.”  Our baptisms remind us that if our justice work doesn’t begin with love, we are, as Paul will write later, a clanging cymbal.  We’re all noise and little substance.  We’re also at a much higher risk of burn-out.

So, today, as the dire and multiple needs for justice loom at the front door, I invite us all to rest in this moment, to remember our baptisms, to receive the profound gift of God’s love for us.  I invite us all to remember just how precious we are.

Precious, precious, you are precious in God’s eyes,

You are precious in God’s heart.

Precious, precious, you are precious in God’s eyes,

You are precious in God’s heart.

 

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2019

 

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Sermon: “What Gift Shall I…Receive?” (Mt. 2:1-12); [1/6/19]

I’d like to start this morning by passing around the offering plates.  Be not afraid!  We aren’t taking up two offerings this morning.  And we’re not moving the collection of gifts to a different place in the service.  (Out of curiosity, which of those things would cause greater distress?  Let’s do some research!  Let’s start by taking up two offerings.  Ready, set, GO! 🙂

So, why pass the offering plates at the start of the sermon if it’s not to change the order of the service or to add another collection?  Today, with this first go ‘round of the offering plates, we aren’t going to give; we’re going to receive.  Don’t get excited!  We aren’t receiving money.  We’ll be receiving something else.

Today, we celebrate Epiphany, the time when we retell the story of the magi bringing gifts to the toddler Jesus.  Most nativity sets include the magi at the manger.  While it’s nice to have all that ethnic, religious, and economic diversity represented at Jesus’ birth, in Matthew’s narrative, the magi come later.  Note that they enter “a house” to see Jesus, not a stable.

(Back in Georgia, we lived near a church with a large front yard.  Every year when they put up their life-size wooden cut-out nativity set, the magi were set up on the edge of the property, a long distance from the manger.  Every few days or so during Advent and Christmas, the magi would move just a little closer to the manger.  Were we in Woodstock, Georgia, this morning, outside that church, we’d see a manger scene with all the cast of characters, including the magi.  It does my little liturgically correct heart good!)

The Epiphany story is familiar.  Wise people from the East see a star.  Somehow, the star’s appearance reveals that a ‘child has been born king of the Jews.’  The magi journey westward until they come to Jerusalem.  While there, they ask Herod–the de facto king of the Jews–where the baby born king of the Jews is.

Herod’s scared…and because Herod’s scared, the people are scared.  He calls together his wise people and asks what the prophecies say about the location of such a birth.  The wise people say, “Bethlehem.”  Herod sends the magi to Bethlehem with instructions to report back to him after they’ve made their visit.

When the magi depart Jerusalem, the star they’d been following still twinkles brightly…it continues leading them on…until it stops over the place where the child is.  Matthew tells us that when the magi “saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.”

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The part of this story we remember best happens now.  “Opening their treasure chests, they offer the child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  Ah, yes.  The magi’s gifts…. inspiration for our own generous giving, right?

Well, yes.  But…

Have you ever thought about why the magi did what they did?  Why did they give?  Why did they travel so far and so long with such precious gifts for a child of another nationality, a child they didn’t know?  In our eagerness to focus on the gifts given by the magi, it’s easy to gloss over the gift received by the magi–the star…a sign of hope, a sign of promise, a sign of their connection to something bigger than their own small worlds, a sign that, as the Dalai Lama says, “we are all same human being.”  A sign that we’re all connected.

The magi gave–they gave joyfully–because they had received the gift given to them.

How do you feel about giving?  It’s a dicey question to ask at budget time.  But I’m your pastor.  It’s my job to ask dicey questions….so, how do you feel about giving?  If giving is a joy for you, terrific!  You have permission to check out of the sermon momentarily and bask in the joy.

If giving isn’t such a joy for you….if giving makes you feel resentful (then guilty for feeling resentful), might it be because what your spirit most needs right now is to receive?  (The happy people just checked back in.  🙂

We give a lot.  This congregation gives a lot…money, time, talent.  Service in the wider community.  Contributions in the work of justice.  You all have had to give a lot the past several years through all the transitions that have happened here at FCUCC.  As we say our goodbyes to Kevin today, we’re aware that the transitioning continues.  This community has asked for many of your gifts and you have given them–faithfully, extravagantly.  And because you have, this community is strong and much more vibrant than it would have been without your many gifts.  As your pastor, I am deeply grateful for the gifts of every person in this congregation.

That said, it’s important to acknowledge “giver’s fatigue.”  Sometimes, if we give and give and give without taking time to receive, our giving becomes perfunctory, routine, even grudging.  When the epistle writer said that “God loves a cheerful giver,” they meant it.  God loves cheerful givers…because God understands that joyful giving acts us into wellbeing.  Grudging giving?  Grudging giving makes us grumpy.

Much will be asked of us in the coming year, especially here at FCUCC.  In addition to our regular ongoing financial commitments, we’re also making some badly needed capital improvements.  Though a third of the needed funds already have been promised–Yay!–we’ll need the other two thirds to complete the work, including refurbishing these beautiful stained glass windows.

We won’t be asked to give only money, though.  As we live our way through our transitions, we’ll be asked to offer service as well.  In coming weeks, you’ll hear more about our newly organized ministry teams and opportunities for service.  Stay tuned for that.

This is an active congregation.  We have lots of folks who still work.  We also have lots of folks who are retired.  I read an interview once with a woman who recently had retired from teaching.  She said that when she was working, people at church constantly asked her to do things.  Because of her heavy work schedule, she wasn’t able to say yes to much.  She looked forward to the day when she could retire and do more work for the church.  Then she retired.  The minute she retired, the requests for service from her church dried up.

We won’t make the same mistake here that that retired teacher’s church made!  All of us will be asked to continue serving and to serve anew in this coming year.

Before we discern what our gifts to the church this year will be, I invite us to take a moment to receive.  Cue the offering plates.

I’ve recently learned about this newish Epiphany Sunday tradition.  You might have experienced it before.  The offering plates contain stars.  Each star has a word printed on it.  (Thanks to Terry Kaesar for the print work!)  You’re invited to close your eyes and pull out one star.  Let the star choose you.  Here’s the invitation.  The invitation is to let that word guide you the coming year.  Put it on the refrigerator, in your Bible…make it your Facebook profile picture….The invitation is to keep the word in front of you this year and let it guide you.

It’s just an invitation.  Feel free to recycle it or use it as a bookmark.  But if you can, receive the gift of this star.  Let it nurture you.  Let it surprise you.  Let it lead you to God-with-us in more profound and practical ways.  Before the onslaught of requests for giving–and yes, they will come–give yourself the gift of simply receiving.

So, settle in, say “hello” to this moment, breathe in God’s love, breathe out God’s love…and prepare to receive this gift to you.  (Silence)

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2019

 

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