Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Sermon: Unwrapping Gifts

Favorite Things: Unwrapping Gifts

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5: John 16:12-15

You know that survey you all had the chance to fill out for the past month?  The one where you were asked to tell us your favorite things -- everything from favorite hymns to favorite ice cream toppings -- well, today we begin a summer of sharing together some “favorite things” -- favorite things of the congregation and -- it’s possible -- some of my favorite things, too.  It being summer and all, some Sunday, I just may preach a favorite sermon from my past.  If I find on that fits, it could happen . . . 

You saw the survey questions.  Why, there might be ice cream this summer. There could be dancing.  Who knows?  Do you like surprises?  Is one of your favorite things unwrapping presents?  All wrapped up -- who knows what might be inside?

So, next week, you are going to come to church and open your worship bulletin and you will see three hymns -- as usual.  Each of those hymns will be special because each and every hymn you will find in the bulletin is a favorite hymn of someone in this congregation.  Maybe one of your favorite hymns will show up in the worship service next week. 

Every week, a surprise package -- a gift to unwrap -- just like Christmas or a birthday -- looking to see:  
Did you get what you wanted?  
Is it what you asked for?  
Does it fit?  
And the most important thing: Will you try it on?  When Dr. Z starts to play a worship song that was not on your personal wish list of favorite hymns -- will you sing it as if it was just what YOU asked for?

Unwrapping gifts -- sounds like fun, right?  Think of the colorful paper -- curly ribbons -- tissue paper holding treasures -- what would a birthday party be without birthday gifts?  A Christmas tree looks all the more festive ladened with presents.

What is in those wrapped presents? Only the giver knows.  Unwrapping presents is fun when it’s something from my wish list.  

Unwrapping gifts might be the most fun thing about church life -- and the most challenging.

So much of church life happens on schedule, by the book, as expected.  We come to church. We do all the right things, all the things that are good and righteous things for all God’s children to do:  We baptize our babies, we confirm our youth, we join the church. We take Communion, we serve on church committees.  So many of you come to worship faithfully, serve God willingly, give generously.  Each of these are more-or-less expected things to do -- and important things for us to do -- no surprises -- these are all “gifts of God for the people of God.”  These gifts come wrapped in regularly showing up, and suiting up, and getting on the playing field.  We would be surprised to find anything less than each other -- doing what we do -- in church life together.  

Ahh -- but just when we think we’ve unwrapped it all, the apostle Paul crashes the party.  No sugar plums and lollipop party for the apostle Paul.  Paul lets us know that there are gifts yet to open. Our God is a generous God.  Unwrapping God’s great goodness and mercy is a party that never ends.  And it’s a party like no other. 

Paul was such an Interim Pastor -- always on the move!  He got called into places -- and called back to places -- where there was uncertainty -- where there were challenges -- where there was wild anticipation of a future that hadn’t yet brought everyone together.

Paul knows that suffering happens even in lives lived in the Spirit. Paul knows that the suffering of Jesus didn’t end human suffering.  Paul especially knows the suffering that happens when we join together as God’s people -- the church.  Paul knows that, when we come together, we each show up carrying our own personal trials and tribulations.  Paul knows real life, and he is not afraid to unveil the swamps of life with all of its dangers, toils and snares. 

Paul speaks boldly about suffering -- he doesn’t deny suffering -- he doesn’t glorify suffering.  Rather, Paul puts suffering in context of the story of God’s grace:  Suffering is the box that HOPE comes in:

Suffering produces endurance -- (not passive “putting up with” but going through) -- endurance is a gift -- 
Endurance produces character -- (really knowing who you are and what you are made of) -- character is another gift -- 
and character produces -- here’s that word again -- HOPE.

Even when it looks for all the world as if there is nary a gift under that tree -- and maybe the Grinch took the tree, too -- THAT is when we rejoice more boldly, praise more loudly, sing that unfamiliar song that I didn’t choose and am not even sure I like, anyway -- and be grateful!  For whether the suffering of the present age is excruciating pain, or the frustrations of church life -- to keep on rejoicing in the midst of suffering -- that’s HOPE!  For it is HOPE itself that unwraps the gift of hope.

The reason this text is used today is surely because it is Trinity Sunday.  God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit -- all three are here in this passage, playing their part.  Paul is not so concerned with getting their roles in proper perspective.  Paul is very concerned for the actual transformation of our lives. Our relationship with God, our acceptance of Jesus as Lord, our life lived fueled by the Spirit -- that’s the gift of LIFE itself. And can’t you just see the gift being handed to you -- to you -- to open and all eyes are on you:  Loving Father God, your brother Jesus Christ, and Mother Wisdom -- they wait to see if you will love the gift as much as they loved the giving.  

Do you like unwrapping presents?  Unwrapping gifts might be the most fun thing about church life -- and the most challenging.  I rejoice that this congregation is up for the challenge!  You are embracing the challenging work of this time of pastoral transition -- and you are opening the gifts that are coming your way.  

That is HOPE that leads to HOPE.  HOPE wrapped up in gifts that are yet to be imagined.  

Even now, a gifted pastor is starting to feel a little God nudge -- still wrapped in mystery -- already being Spirit-prepared for you, even as you prepare for her or him.

A gift of God for the people of God.

And the best part:  the look on your face when you delightedly say, “Thank you. It’s just what I always wanted!”  Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Five: Healing Spaces

RevGal Deb authors today's Friday Five blog prompt. She writes: So, with the events of the violence and tragedy from the Boston Marathon fresh in our memories, I thought it would be good for us to focus on where as RevGalBlogPals, we find healing, peace and strengthening. As a chaplain, there are days where I never seem to catch my breath, and invariably, those are the days that I need it the most! So with all this in mind, share with us these healing things:

1. A piece of music -- Bobby McFerrin's "Psalm 23" (video above).  An amazing and generous church choir sang this at my ordination 20 years ago.  This version celebrates women throughout history.  

2. A place -- Nature.  Just about any nature venue. Digging in the dirt.  Beach. Mountain. River. Farm. Orchard. 

3. A favorite food (they call it "comfort food" for a reason) -- The family tradition -- enchiladas!

4. A recreational pastime (that you watch or participate in) -- Playing games with family and friends.

5. A poem, Scripture passage or other literature that speaks to comfort you -- Romans 8:38-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

BONUS: People, animals, friends, family - share a picture of one or many of these who warm your heart.

What else could it be?  Here's the most recent pic of my precious grandchild:

For the love of Daniel and for all of creation: Let there be peace on earth.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Five: Deep Breath

View of the NOLA skyline while walking at City Park
Holy Week is catching up to me and breathing down my neck.  For this pastor, there are bulletins to get ready, sermons to prep, and details upon details that are still hanging.  Even this week, this congregation is moving ahead with launching a new ministry:  Welcome, Men's Breakfast Fellowship!  This is a challenging week for me to fill the gap between the last church office maven and the next one.  The opportunities to receive God's mercy never cease!

Today, we are prompted to respond to a RevGalBlogPals Friday Five that invites us to breathe:

This week's Friday Five is simply a moment to BREATHE. Stop and tell us five ways that you "catch your breath" and then move on in the work God calls you to do.

Thank you, Deb, for this one.

Here are five ways that I take a deep breath when I need to.  And I need to.
  • Take a walk
  • Phone a loved one
  • Drink herb tea
  • Let the tears come
  • Stop and actually take some deep breaths
My own personal BONUS du jour:  I came into the office very early today.  Unprompted by anything except that I was here early and he knows how much I love coffee, the church custodian, who is a gem of a person, offered to make me a few cups.  That brand of kindness is what makes the tears flow. Thank you, Michael!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Five: Techno-Happy


Today's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five writing prompt is all about technology. RevGalBlogPal Jan is in Washington state visiting relatives in a senior living facility where she will be without her usual electronic devices.

Jan's questions invite us to explore our use of, and desire for, technological devices:

1.  What types of technologies, like cell phones, computers, TVs, etc., do you routinely use? How frequently?
  • Cell phone -- not-the-newest iPhone (with me and in use every day)
  • Computer -- MacBook (almost every day, both at the office and at home)
  • eReader -- KindleTouch (use for reading books, a few games, and preaching sermons)
  • TV -- I don't have one, but watch at times one or two days a week
I am on the computer most often, doing things related to church and ministry -- emails, worship prep, sermon prep, newsletter prep, more emails.

2.  Social media: 
  • Facebook (daily) 
  • Pinterest (daily)
  • Twitter (occasionally) 
  • Linked-In (I'm on there but rarely in there)
  • Social media games (now, only Words With Friends)
  3.  Do you separate online activities between home and work? Or is it all the same everywhere?

There is a lot of online activity involved in getting things done for church, so that's is what I am most often using technology for at work. There are occasional breaks for Facebook and Pinterest.  Facebook does (really!) help me keep up with people in church who are posting there.  We also use our church Facebook page to communicate church things.  I use the internet to keep up with the latest that is going on in New Orleans and in the world.  Most of that happens at work.

At home, there is more "Words With Friends" but there is also a lot of sermon prep and other church-related writing, as well as some other writing that I want to do.  Yeah, work and home are often a lot alike, except for the ready availability of coffee and quilts.

My favorite thing to do at home is to use Skype to keep in touch with my geographically-scattered loved ones.

4. Do you have a smart phone or iPhone?

Yes, I have an iPhone that I have come to depend on.  Let me count the ways: check the email, check the weather, use Mapquest to get where I'm going, find a restaurant or coffee shop, and to google things that I don't know.

5. What do you wish you had -- or do not have -- in relation to these devices?

What I don't have is an iPad or iPad mini (or is it mini iPad?).  I don't know if I want one or how badly I need one or what I would realize I was missing now if I got one.  There is probably something like that in my techno-future.

Bonus: What is the difference between your attitude towards these means of technology and a generation older or younger than you?

In my experience, attitudes toward technology have not been strictly generationally defined.  Younger people are definitely more comfortable with technology and have been invaluable in helping me to stay current and comfortable in the techno-world.  I know 80+ year olds who use email to stay in touch with their friends, and they play Words With Friends (with me!) on their Kindle Fires or iPads.  I also know younger people who are still skeptical about the use of technology and online access in church life.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lenten Photo Challenge: Catching Up

Each day's photos for this week's Lenten Photo Challenge actually were taken each day.  They were posted less often, occasionally on Facebook or Twitter.  I'm near-disciplined.  So, here they are:


Feb. 17: 

As in . . . Do not settle.


Feb. 18: 

God loves the world. 
Seems to me that's the real point. 
God loves. That much.  
And more.


Feb. 19: 

From the CHICAGO song: 
"Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?"
I wonder . . . 


Feb. 20: 

As in: The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
[1 Timothy 6:10]


Feb. 21: 

"Love" is everywhere.


Feb. 22: 

The setting for a spirit-filled experience on this day.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lenten Photos Day 4: Injustice

Every day, I drive by this "Home Depot" on my way to the church office.

Every day, in the parking lot, I see as many as 40 men waiting there. I've been told that they are waiting there for someone to come by and give them some work for the day.  Today was Saturday.  I took this picture when I stopped at next-door Rouse's for a few groceries.  I counted 11 men there at noon.  On a Saturday.

The Home Depot store itself has a huge "Help Wanted" sign posted on its building exterior.

In 2007, Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli received a severance package of $212 million.  Worth it? He "earned" himself a spot on CNBC's list of the  "Worst American CEO's of All Time."

Home Depot's current CEO Frank Blake makes 700 times minimum wage ($10.8 million).

I've also heard that someone in a hoodie has every reason to expect the worst.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lenten Photos Day 3: See

Some things I see from my office windows