Monthly Archives: August 2011

Stuck in the Mud 08 28 11

My sermon from August 28th, 2011 based on Matthew 13:1-9.  1st of 5 in “Lessons from the Farm” series.

One of the things that really excited Heather and me about moving into the house that the church owns is the opportunity to have a garden. Having a garden and being able to grow your own food is such a treat, but over the last couple of months I have begun to think that if you’re doing it right, it probably doesn’t make economic sense. Having a garden is a lot of work! By the time you prepare the soil and do the planning and buy the seeds and take the time to plant things and then water and tend to the weeds, and harvest, the time and energy that has been invested can be significant! But even still, vegetables fresh from your own garden just can’t be beat

During my welcome meal after church last month I was visiting with the Breedlove’s and Dan used the phrase Hobby Farmer to describe himself. I had never heard the phrase Hobby Farmer before and was intrigued by this so I asked him to say a bit more about what that meant. He told me that the sentiment comes from Aldo Leopold in the Sand County Almanac where he says that a hobby is something that would be cheaper and easier to have someone else do it for you, but you do it anyway. Dan explained, “We raise our own chickens and beef but in the end, not even considering the time involved, it would be cheaper to just buy the food.”

It would often be cheaper for hobby farmers to just buy their food at the store. It would be much easier and often cheaper for us to get produce from the store rather than to grow it in our gardens, but it’s just not the same when you buy it from the store as it is when you grow it yourself.

I have a couple of tomatoes that I brought to show you this morning as an illustration of this. I bought this one at the store this weekend. In order for it to make it from wherever it was grown to the store it had to be picked before it was ripe. And through the whole process of developing or growing this tomato it was treated in very protective and intentional ways. Specific seeds were picked and planted in specific ways. The plants were given a very specific regimen of water and light and the tomato was picked at the just right time to be packaged and loaded onto a truck and shipped to the grocery store where it could buy it this weekend. The entire process was industrialized and calculated to the nth degree. It showed up on the store shelf looking almost perfect, almost to good to be true, almost fake.

I picked this tomato out of the garden yesterday. On the surface it’s not as pretty as the one that I bought at the store. The coloring isn’t totally uniform, it’s kind of misshapen where it was pushed up against something else as it grew, there is a little spot here where something has been nibbling on it… But if I were to give you these tomatoes to take home and have for lunch, how many of you would prefer this one from the store? How many of you would prefer this one from the garden?

Store bought veggies look really nice, but often are nowhere near as juicy or flavorful or satisfying as the ones straight from the garden. My hope for these next five weeks as we explore some important “Lessons From The Farm for Growing the Christian Life” would be that we would begin to understand what it means to have something more than the store bought faith that we often have, that we often live. God wants us to have a faith that is as good and satisfying as homegrown veggies. And so through the five weeks of this series we’ll explore some important principles for living and growing in the Christian life.

But before we jump into today’s specific principle, I want to provide some broad background for the entire series. The scripture that was read a few minutes ago is one of those great agricultural metaphors that Jesus used in his teaching to help people understand the way that we are called to receive the gifts God gives and to cultivate and to grow those gifts. In this story the sower can be understood to be God, the seeds can be seen as the gifts and opportunities that are given to us and the various types of soil can be seen as our hearts, our souls, our lives.

In the parable Jesus begins by sharing that some seeds fall on the path, a surface that is completely hard and closed off, a surface on which there is really no hope of anything growing. These seeds are immediately eaten by the birds

Some seeds fell on rocky ground where there was a little bit of soil, but not much depth. And so the seeds sprung up quickly, especially because there isn’t a place for their roots to grow and to take hold. And so the hot sun comes and these young sprouts don’t have the roots they need to survive, they are quickly burned up. Still other seeds fell onto ground with good soil and they began to grow and to show promise. However this soil was also home to thorns and nasty weeds. As the seeds grew they were choked out by the weeds and couldn’t survive.

Finally Jesus tells of seeds that were scattered on rich and fertile soil, soil where they were able to take root and grow, soil where they weren’t threatened by weeds and thorns, and this seed that was planted on good and fertile soil grew and brought forth grain.

Again, God is the sower who sows seeds and offers us many incredible gifts. We are called to be mindful of living lives as rich and fertile soil. It is in the good soil of our lives that God hopes to be able to cultivate life and faith that is wonderful and life-giving and fresh.

And so as we begin our exploration today of what it might mean to live our lives as fertile soil so we can receive and grow the gifts God give us, I want us to start at the beginning of what it means to be a Christian. And as we engage that question, we need to begin with a related question, what is Christianity?

On the most basic level Christianity is a solution that exists to the problems we encounter in life. As we seek to fully understand the good news of Christianity, we must begin by acknowledging the bad news that exists. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this bad news, to the human condition in which we all find ourselves living.

The first piece of this human condition, the first problem that Christianity seeks to address, is that we are spiritually blind. We don’t see God, at least not in the sense that I see you or that you see me. When we share physical space like this there is a level of certainty that we can have that we exist and that to some degree we can even understand one another. But we can’t see God in this same sense.

The other night at bedtime I was reading Hannah some stories from one of the little children’s Bibles that she has and as I read about God telling Noah about the coming flood, Hannah interrupted me and asked bluntly, “Who is God?” I struggled to explain that one to a not yet 3 year old. When we can’t see God it is a challenge to understand and to relate to God.

The second problem that Christianity seeks to address is the problem of Despair. I was talking with a friend this week who expressed that he was really struggling with things the way they are in the world, especially in our country today. We have been dealing with financial uncertainties for more than 3 years now and the recent conversations about the possibility of defaulting as a country were incredibly troubling to this friend. He also reflected on the way in which the anxiety about finances seem to be heightening the negative demonizing political discourse in our country. Divisions and tension and arguments are plenty. Clear plans for the future that bring healing and hope are lacking. It is easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of despair in the midst of these realities.

Another problem that Christianity seeks to address is the brokenness or the sin that we experience in our lives. We experience brokenness in relationships that are strained and experience it in internal struggles as well. Our minds are often flooded with questions:

  • Why do I keep doing these things I don’t want to do?
  • Why can’t I start doing the things I need to do?
  • Why do I let someone else’s actions define me?
  • Why do I worry so much about what someone else thinks about me?
  • Am I always going to have to be defined by the mistakes that I have made?

In our own lives and in our relationships there is an incredible amount of brokenness and sin and these issues can be a real problem for us and weigh us down.

Finally, another piece of this universal human condition, this problem that Christianity seeks to solve is the finite reality of life, the fact that we will all die.. I watched through my office window on Tuesday morning as families headed to the first day of school at the elementary school. I can only imagine what that feels like for parents, to see their baby boy or baby girl one year older and entering into another milestone of life their first day of whatever particular grade they’re entering.

Milestones in life like these are bittersweet for they force us to acknowledge that time is flying by and that our finite days here on this earth are becoming fewer and fewer. The ultimate concern or problem here is that we know we will all die, that our time in this life will come to an end.

Ok, let’s lighten this up just a bit as we prepare to wrap-up. One of my mentors lives over in southern Johnson County on a few acres and he loves to play outside and with his various toys. Some years ago now he bought a tractor, a 1964 John Deere 30/20 and he’s always looking for an excuse to get out and play with it.

Several years ago now, about this time, we were having an exceptionally dry August and the little farm pond that my friend has was really low. One day he realized that the weeds were getting really tall out around the pond by where the water level had receded and so he hooked up the brush hog to his tractor so he could mow them. After the first pass that he took around the pond he said that he really wasn’t satisfied, there were still 18 inches or so of tall weeds before the water. So he decided to take one more pass to mow the rest of those weeds.

He swung the brush-hog down a little bit to get it closer to the edge of the water and felt like things were going ok until he felt his front left tire begin to slip down into the mud. He turned the wheel out to the right, away from the pond, but felt the tractor continue to move to the left. He decided then that he’d put the tractor in reverse and back out. And his back tire just began to spin in the mud. And so he decided that he would try to rock it out, you know like you do in the snow? But every time he rocked it back and forward he got just a little bit more stuck.

After about 30 minutes he decided to go get his 4-wheel drive jeep thinking that he’d be able to hook a towrope up to the tractor and just pull it out. The wheels of the jeep just spun. Finally he called a buddy who had a Durango and thought that if they hooked the Jeep and the Durango both up to the tractor that then they’d surely be able to get it unstuck. The tires on both vehicles just spun… Adam had his tractor stuck in the mud.

Being stuck in the mud, seems to be a pretty fitting illustration of the human condition in which we find ourselves. We’re stuck. We can’t see God. We struggle with despair and brokenness and sin. We worry about the finite nature of this life and are constrained by the fact that ultimately we will die. We are stuck. And no matter how hard we try and no matter what we do, we can’t get ourselves unstuck.

Finally Adam decided to call another friend who had a John Deere 40/20, the big brother to his tractor the 30/20. The 40/20 is like the 30/20, except it’s bigger and it has better traction. This friend came over with his tractor, hooked up the towrope, and without much trouble at all pulled Adam out of the mud.

If being stuck in the mud is our human condition, our problem, God’s solution to the human problem is Jesus Christ. Someone who is like us, but bigger, and with better traction.

In the life of Jesus God comes to live with us so that we might see him. When we see Jesus minister to hurting and broken people we know of God’s love for hurting and broken people. When we see Jesus reaching out to those outside of the temple, those who had been told by the religious leaders who presumed to speak for God that they weren’t loveable, we know of Jesus’ desire to connect with the lost. Jesus comes as an answer to the despair of this life. As Jesus shows us God’s love for the hurting, the broken, and the lost, we can know of God’s love for us no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

And while God sends Jesus so that we might see and know God and so that we might have peace and hope and healing regarding the despair and brokenness of life, the tragic and ironic twist is that those who were the religious leaders responded to Jesus with fear and persecuted him. The cross is a reminder for us of this tragic tale. Christ who came so that we might see and know and experience God is put to death on a cross.

But God doesn’t let the cross be the last word. The cross tells a tragic story because of what humans did to Jesus, to God’s love incarnate. But the cross also tells a story of incredible hope because the story does not end with the cross. Three days later Jesus walks again among the living and through the resurrection of Jesus, God sends the message loud and clear that death will not have the final word. In Christ there is the promise that there is more beyond this life.

We often live stuck in the mud. The good news is that God has sent someone like us, but bigger, and with better traction. Jesus came so that we might know God and have hope for this life and the life that is to come.

Christianity, following Jesus, is the solution to the problems of the human condition. Of course this doesn’t mean that all of our problems will miraculously go away when we follow Jesus, but in committing ourselves to Christ we can begin to uncover and learn and live into the faith that God would call us to have.

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August 26th, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

I hope that you’re doing well on this fine Friday and that you have had a blessed week.  Tuesday morning I had the joy of standing in my office and watching out the window as kids headed to their first day of school.  It was fun to watch the students in their new outfits, the younger siblings anticipating their first day of school in a coming year and the parents trying to hold it all together.  As I watched the community pass by my office window on this important day in their lives I found myself wondering how we as a congregation might seek to be a blessing to this elementary school that sits just across the street from our building.  I would invite you to join me in thinking about and praying about that question in the coming weeks and months.  Maybe on next year’s first day of school we can somehow be a blessing to the school and the families in a way that lets them know of God’s love for them…  something to ponder, for sure.

There are just a few things that I want to cover in today’s email.

Care Quest Rummage Sale Today and Tomorrow

Looking for a good deal?  Maybe even on things you didn’t know you needed?  Come by the church today or tomorrow for the rummage sale being put on by Care Quest, our Parents’ Day Out Program.  The sale runs today from 8:00am – 2:00pm and tomorrow from 8:00am – 12 noon.  All proceeds go to Care Quest and your support will enable them to buy materials and supplies needed for this ministry throughout the course of the year.

Small Group Gatherings – All Church Retreat (Save the Date!) – Defining our Purpose for 2012 and Beyond

This fall we’re going to be working through a congregation-wide process to clearly define our purpose as a congregation heading into 2012.  The first step in this process is going to be a series of small group gatherings hosted by members of the congregation over the next couple of months.  Our goal is to have at least 10-12 gatherings with at least 10-12 people attending each.  Each gathering will follow the same format and provide you the opportunity to better get to know me as well as to share your hopes and dreams for the church.  If you’re interested in being a part of one of these gatherings there are a few options: you can sign up to host one, you can contact the church office to be put on a list of interested attendees, or you can simply accept an invitation that you might receive to attend one.

Following these small group gatherings we will then be holding an all church retreat on the evening of November 4th and the morning of November 5th.  This retreat will provide an opportunity for us to process together the information shared at the small group gatherings and to build some consensus around our plans for the future.  All are invited to be a part of this special weekend, please mark your calendars now and stay tuned for further details to come.

Lessons from the Farm – New Sermon Series Kicks-off this Sunday 

The Bible is full of metaphors and images related to farming and agriculture and the lessons found here for growing in our spiritual life are many.  For five weeks beginning this Sunday we will be exploring these “Lessons from the Farm” in a fun and light-hearted sermon series.  Please make plans to join us for worship over these next five weeks as I trust you will enjoy these sermons.  Also know that this back to school time of transition is the perfect time for people to get involved with a faith community, maybe for the first time.  Please consider inviting a friend, a neighbor, or someone that you know in the community to join you for this sermon series.  I am excited about these messages and look forward to seeing you in worship as we make plans to intentionally grow together in our faith.

We are quickly wrapping up our first two months together as pastor and congregation and I continue to be having a blast!  Thank you for your warm spirits, your enthusiasm about serving Christ, and the energy you bring to this work of being the church.  It is a blessing to serve as your pastor!

Have a great weekend and I’ll see you Sunday.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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Life’s a Peach

Most of you have likely heard by now that Baby Clinger #2 is set to join the family sometime in early March of 2012.  If you missed h’s big announcement you should definitely check it out!

Heather has an iPhone app that is weekly providing a different produce-based point of reference regarding the size of our developing child.  Weeks ago it was an orange seed, a while back it was a plum, this week a peach.  It is becoming a fun event each week to see what the next “milestone” of development is.  It is even more fun to again be on this journey into parenthood with Heather, but this time to be sharing it with h as well.  She is excited to be a big sister and I am excited for her to have that experience!  In all, things are pretty peachy right now…

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Being Right or Maintaining Relationships 08 21 11

My sermon from August 21st, 2011 based on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. 3rd of 3 in Found! series.

I have a friend who is always right. It’s not that he really knows more than everyone around him, but when a difference of opinion arises, he’s always right. And it’s interesting, it’s not really even that he wants to be helpful and to make sure that others have accurate information; it’s simply that he’s always right. I imagine that some of you might know people like this; maybe you have someone like this in your family, that person who always has to be right, no matter what the topic of conversation, no matter much or how little they know about the topic, they just always have to be right.

Can you think of someone like that in your life? A friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a family member… How is your relationship with that person? Do you feel particularly close to them? Are they someone in whom you feel like you can confide and really trust? Do you often go to them to ask them questions because you know that their vast expanse of knowledge will be helpful in finding the answer that you seek? Or do you find yourself shying away from them, hesitating to ask them questions, hoping that a dispute doesn’t arise so that they have a chance to show off how right they are?

My experience with the person who is always right is that I don’t really want to be around them much. I don’t really want engage them in conversation or hear what they have to say. When someone always has to be right I find it to create a barrier to our relationship. Anyone else had this experience?

Today we conclude a three-week look at Luke 15 and the three different parables of Jesus found here. Two weeks ago we began this series by looking at the parable of the lost sheep. In this parable Jesus challenged the listeners, and in turn us, to think about the nature of a shepherd who seeks out 1 lost sheep to bring it back to the fold.

As we reflected on this story we saw the reality that sometimes we’re like the 1 who wanders and is lost. In these situations and times of life we know the good news of a God who seeks us and will come to us to bring us back to the fold.

We also named the reality that at times we’re a part of the 99, the flock left behind to care for one another. In this example we also played through the idea that we as the church are to be the body of Christ in the world today and that if we are to be the body of Christ we are to partner with God in the work of shepherding and helping the lost be found.

As a way of living out our understanding of this story we then had a great opportunity through the following week to be in the community with the fair parade and the fair seeking to connect people to the story of the things that God is doing in and through our community.

Last week we talked about the woman searching for her lost coin and explored the possibility that she so desperately sought it because of what it meant to her on an emotional or sentimental level, not because of it’s monetary value. As an extension of this idea we talked about our call to extend God’s love to others and to help them find God in and through our church because of the value that lost people have to God, not monetarily, but emotionally or sentimentally.

Today’s story is also about something that has been lost being found, but it contains a much greater level of detail and complexity than the first two. And so while on one level it still tells us the remarkable story of God’s love who seeks the lost and rejoices when they are found, I want us also this morning to look at this story through the lens of our human need to be right and the way in which that can harm our relationships.

There is a young boy, the youngest of two sons, who grows up working with his dad and his older brother on the family farm. At some point in late adolescence or early adulthood (that time in our lives when we tend to do our clearest most rational thinking…) this young man decides that he wants to receive his inheritance now. According to the societal laws of the time, this young man would have been entitled to one third of his father’s property when his father died – the older brother would receive the other two-thirds.

But this young man didn’t want to wait. He wanted his inheritance now. Sure, 1/3 of what his dad had now, could end up being significantly less than 1/3 of what his father had years later after the father and his two sons continued to farm and to grow the worth of the operation. But the son didn’t want to wait for the possibility of a greater inheritance later. He wanted his now.

To request that his dad give him his inheritance now, before his dad was dead, was an unusual request to be sure, but it was a request that would have been well within his legal rights. When this son asked for his share of his inheritance he was within his rights, he could do that, there was no real reason not to. The son was right.

But the youngest son’s actions, though they were right, for all practical purposes ended his relationship with his father. To take his inheritance and to leave his home country clearly made the statement that this young man’s father was dead to him, that his family was dead to him. He was right, and still those relationships were deeply harmed.

The youngest son takes his inheritance and leaves town and the story that unfolds from there is all too familiar. I can imagine that the earliest days and weeks of the youngest sons time in this new place were exciting and wonderful as they were filled with new experiences. I’m guessing that this youngest son spared no expense in providing himself with every pleasure he could want. I’m guessing that he was incredibly generous, buying food and drinks for those around him, his newest friends and those people he was trying to impress.

There is nothing in the text to indicate how long this lasted, how many months or years he was able to live this high life on the inheritance that he had received. What we do know is that it didn’t last forever. His money ran out at the same time that a great famine hit the land. Suddenly this youngest son is a stranger in a strange land with no money or resources and no family to support him.

For a season the young man goes to work in the fields of a man in the foreign land where he is living. He is barely making enough to survive, isn’t getting the food that he needs, and finds himself considering eating some of the pods that he is feeding to the pigs in the field. Somewhere in the midst of this hunger and his despair he comes to himself. The young man has an aha moment and decides that he’ll return to his homeland and see if his father might hire him as a hired hand. It would be still be hard work, but he knows that the men who work for his father have enough to eat.

As the young man makes his return journey home, he rehearses the speech that he’s going to make to his father, a speech that has four distinctive parts.

The speech begins with an address, “Father.” This detail is significant, as the young man’s previous actions had treated his father as if he were already dead. This address, calling this man “Father” makes the statement that the young man regrets his previous action and wishes now to reestablish relationship over and above being right.

The second element of the son’s speech is a confession, “I have sinned.” He acknowledges the wrong that he has done.

Thirdly the son expresses contrition, “I am no longer worthy.”

And finally the son makes a petition, “treat me like one of your hired hands.” The son does not suppose to return to the relationship of father and son, he acknowledges that he has done wrong, wrong that he assumes to be beyond repair.

When the youngest son returns home the dad has rights, just as the young son had rights in asking for his inheritance in the first place. The dad could have said, what are you doing here? I have already given you what is yours, you have treated me as if I were dead to you, there is nothing here for you, no family, no possibility, you need to move on… Dad has a right to be furious, to keep the son cut off. He had the right, he could have chosen to be right, just as the son had been right earlier in the story, but he didn’t.

The dad sees his lost son approaching on the horizon and Luke explains his reactions like this, [the]father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”

And as the father embraces and kisses the long lost son the son begins to recite the speech that he had worked on perfecting, but only gets through the first three sections, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But before the son can get to the petition, before he can make his request, the father interrupts his speech and calls for servants to bring the best robe, to bring a ring for the son’s finger and sandals for his feet. He orders that the fatted calf be killed and prepared for a celebration.

The father had rights, but he chooses to restore relationship and to emphasize the importance of the relationship over being right. His son has returned. It is a joyous time!

The youngest son, in making his decision to leave home, exercises his rights and destroys a relationship.

The father, in welcoming his son home, restores and maintains the relationship instead of insisting on being right.

The older son, the faithful son, the son who had stayed home for all of those years is coming in from the field when he learns about what is going on, that his brother had returned and his dad was celebrating the return. Luke tells us that this oldest son, refuses to go into the celebration and so his father comes out to plead with him. Hear what the oldest son has to say to his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”

Is the elder son most interested in being right or in restoring and maintaining relationships? Clearly he is most interested in being right. His language doesn’t even acknowledge the relationships that exist. His address to his father was not, “Father” it was “listen” and he referred to his brother as “this son of yours.” Even after being with his father for all of those years, the oldest son defaults to that need to be right even at the cost of relationships…

The actions of the father in this story are remarkable in their uniqueness. They are exactly the opposite of how we as humans seem to be wired to act. Jesus uses the father in this story to portray the love of God that is more interested in restoring and maintaining relationships than in being right.

Two weeks ago as we began this series I shared the context of what was happening as Jesus taught these three parables. We have read those couple of verses in worship the last two weeks, but I want you to remember the context in which Jesus taught all three of these parables…“Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”

Jesus was doing things that the scribes and the Pharisees didn’t believe were right. He was interacting with people who they didn’t believe were right. The scribes and the Pharisees, who believed that they represented God’s interests in the community, were more concerned about being right than about maintaining relationships. And so Jesus with these parables, especially today’s parable, is challenging the assumptions of those who are most concerned with being right. Jesus calls us to put down some of our need to be right for the sake of tending to relationships.

Countless times through our days and weeks, we have to decide whether we’re going to be right or whether we’re going to maintain and maybe even work to restore relationships. People hurt us and disappoint us. We have hopes for how our parents or our children will treat us. We have expectations about how our co-workers or neighbors will behave. We know that people won’t always act how we believe they should, that people won’t always do what we believe to be the right thing. And when people hurt us or disappoint us, when we believe that other people are wrong, we can insist on being right or we can work to preserve relationships.

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August 19th, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

It is hard for me to believe that school starts up again next week.  Many in our congregation are making preparations for the new school year as teachers, coaches, students and parents of students.  As stressful as these transitions are, they are also incredible opportunities to experience the blessings of our God who is a God of new beginnings.  I invite you to join me today in praying God’s blessings for everyone who is experiencing one of these new beginnings with this new school year.

Welcoming Ministry an Emphasis for the New School Year

As I shared last week, an emphasis is being placed on having greeters present to open doors and provide a warm “good morning” prior to both of our Sunday morning services each week.  Donna Higbee is coordinating this effort and we are inviting everyone to consider participating.  If you’re interested in helping out or if you have questions about specific responsibilities, please be in touch with Donna.  This is a great opportunity to serve God through the church!

Share Communion with Shut-Ins

Each month we celebrate communion as a representation of our oneness in Christ as a congregation and as a part of Christ’s universal church.  A team of people is being developed to take communion to our shut-ins each month as a tangible reminder of their connection with the body even when they are not able to be physically present in worship.  If you would be willing to take communion to one or two of our shut-ins once a month, please be in touch with me.

All Church Homework Assignment

Last week I shared a homework assignment with Ad. Council and asked them to find three people in the community to ask three questions between now and our next meeting on 9/18.  I am inviting all of you who are a part of the congregation to take part in this exercise as well.   In the next month would you please ask three people the following questions and make note of their answers:

  1. Do you go to church?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. What are the greatest needs of our community? (Tonganoxie and rural Leavenworth county surrounding the town)

Please bring responses you get to these questions and stories of the conversations you share to the Administrative Council Meeting on 9/18 at 11:30am.

This Week – Found!  Next Week – Lessons From the Farm

Sunday in worship we conclude our three week exploration of Luke 15 and Jesus’ teachings about lost things being found.  This week we’ll look at the familiar story of the prodigal son and explore what Jesus has to teach us through this wonderful story.  Next week we kick-off a fun series for back-to-school titled, “Lessons from the Farm” through which we’ll be exploring the parallels that exist between our spiritual lives and agriculture.  Please plan to join us for worship as we conclude one series and begin our next.  Please also be thinking of someone who might be looking for a renewed connection to God during this time of transition and invite them to join us as well.

I hope your week winds down nicely, that you have a wonderful weekend, and to see you in worship on Sunday.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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Farm Aid 2011 Reflections

Last Saturday Heather and my parents and I went to Farm Aid 2011.  It was my first trip to Live Strong Sporting Park, which I imagine (hope) is a better venue for a soccer game than a concert.  It is a beautiful stadium, but the difference between a capacity of roughly 18,500 (for soccer games) and 25,000 (for concerts) is significant and there was serious congestion in aisles and walkways.

Overall it was a great day, I always love hearing live music and got a chance to see one of my favorites, Dave Matthews.  I also really enjoyed seeing Jason Mraz for the first time.  In addition to the music I enjoyed the chance to see the displays set up around the importance of local agriculture, sustainable practices, and more.  However, to be honest, when I went to the grocery store Sunday night to do our shopping for the week I still bought the cheapest chicken, chicken that I am confident was factory farmed…

It got me thinking to an experience I had several years ago shopping at a local health food store in Northwest Indiana.  At it’s core the question I am again wrestling with is this, which is the higher priority, fiscal stewardship or global/environmental responsibility?

I am even more convinced now than I was when I first wrestled with this issue that many of the products we consume, especially in terms of food, are priced far below what a realistic cost would be because of injustices done to people and to our planet as these products are produced and transported to our stores.  I’m not sure what will change as a result of this renewed awareness, but I am aware of a wrestling within my conscience.

How have you wrestled with these and other related issues?  Any helpful tips or recommendations?

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08 14 11 Rejoicing With

My sermon from August 14th, 2011 based on Luke 15:1-3, 8-10.  2nd of 3 in “Found!” series.

We don’t really know why she wanted to find the coin, but it is clear that she wanted to find it. That she wanted to find it badly. You see, as a Palestinian peasant her living quarters would have been cramped and dark. In one of the walls there would have been one circular window that was roughly 18 inches in diameter. From this window the house would receive all of it’s natural light. The floor would have been a dirt floor covered with dried reeds and rushes. Looking for a coin on a floor like this would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.

When she realized that her coin was missing the woman lit a lamp to provide a bit of extra light and then she began to search. As she swept the floor I can imagine her straining her eyes hoping to see the coin and straining her ears hoping to hear a tinkling sound as the coin moved across the floor. I can imagine the sense of worry building within her as she let doubt creep in regarding whether or not she would even find the coin that she wanted so desperately to find.

While we can’t be certain why she wanted so desperately to find it, there are a couple of different theories that I want to share this morning because I believe they both help this woman’s story connect with our story as a community of faith today.

One theory is that the coin was desperately needed by the woman and her family to survive. William Barclay, in his commentary on Luke, explains that the coin in question was a silver drachma. It looks like a relatively small, presumably insignificant coin, but it would have held the value of roughly a day’s wage. Think about what you make in a day and now imagine something the size of a dime that holds that much value. I imagine if most of you were to lose something like that you would invest considerable time and energy into find it!

This theory is definitely plausible, especially given the fact that many in first century Palestine lived on the edge of severe poverty. If finding this coin mean that this woman’s family would be able to eat I’m sure she would search high and low for it. But remember the opening statement that Jesus makes in this parable, ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them…” The woman is this story had 10 coins. Losing one would have been rough, but would not have kept her family from eating, especially not immediately…

The second theory for why this woman wanted so desperately to find this coin has more to do with the sentimental than the physical value of the coin. You see in first century Palestine the mark of a married woman was a headdress made of 10 silver coins linked together by a silver chain. Young women would scrape and save, sometimes for years, to amass the coins to make this headdress. Once a woman had this headdress it could not be taken from her, even to cover debt. It was hers.

In many ways this headdress was like a wedding band and if you have ever lost or misplaced a wedding band or an important piece of family jewelry you can maybe imagine what she was feeling as she searched. Sure she could have gotten another one or replaced the coin, but it wouldn’t have been the same. The one she sought was special to her because of what it was and the meaning that it had. She wanted desperately to find the coin not so much because of a monetary value that it held, but because of the sentimental and emotional connection, because of what it was. Because it was special.

Today we continue our 3-week exploration of Jesus’ three parables in the 15th chapter of Luke. If you were with us last week I hope you remember our conversation about the 1 and the 99. We looked at the parable of the lost sheep and the two important messages contained in that story. To begin with we looked at the story from the perspective of the 1 lost sheep and reflected on the love of a God who will seek us out and do anything to bring us back into the fold.

We then looked at the story from the perspective of the 99 and talked about how we as a community of faith are called to provide care for one another and to partner in doing God’s work of seeking lost sheep. Specifically I shared some invitations to be involved in the various outreach things that the church was doing through last week as a means of sharing God’s love with the community and seeking out others.

It was a great week for the church! Monday night there was a good group that gathered to make posters for and decorate the float and we had a great turnout on Tuesday evening for the parade. It was also great to know that people from the church were out at the fair each evening collecting prayer requests for the community, passing out bottles of water, and sharing fans and invitations to join us for worship. It was fun to see people walking around the fair holding and even waving invitations to come and be a part of the things happening here!

Now that we have made it through the fair it is time to turn our attention to preparations for the new school year. As I mentioned earlier I think the two different theories that exist regarding why the woman in today’s parable looked so hard for her lost coin illustrate a part of the reality of our current story as a congregation. I want to make a couple of connections here as we turn our attention to the coming weeks.

There seems to be a growing understanding that part of what we’re called to do as the church is to invite others to come and to experience God’s love and God’s grace in community with us. We are called to, like the woman in today’s parable, search for those who are lost. We need to be careful though and to make sure that we’re doing this searching for the right reasons…

When I was in seminary I served as a Student Pastor at a small little church for a couple of years. I will always remember a conversation I had one day after church with some of the congregation’s leaders. We were talking about a couple of the newer and younger families who had been in worship for a few weeks when one woman said, “It would be really great to get a few more families involved with the church because that would really help our budget.”

Remember the first theory about why the woman searched for the coin so diligently? It was the sheer financial need. It was survival. She wanted to find that coin so that she would be able to pay her bills and feed her family. God does not seek the lost so that churches are better able to fund their budgets. God seeks the lost because that’s who God is and that’s what God does.

This is the good news of God made known to us in Jesus, that God seeks out and takes chances and risks in order to help people connect back to God’s love and God’s grace. Experiencing God’s love in these ways, we are then called to share that love with others.

Which takes me back to the second theory for why the woman searched for her lost coin in the way she did. The woman sought the coin because it had a special emotional and sentimental meaning to her. God seeks the lost because of the emotional and sentimental connections here too. God created us all in God’s image and God wants desperately to have a relationship with us. As Christ’s hands and feet seeking to do God’s work in our world we are to search as this woman did to help others connect to God’s love.

Over the course of the last week I heard one word repeated in a number of different conversations about things in our church – excited. Not only did I hear people talking about being excited, but on several occasions I could sense the excitement in the air.

On Monday morning I came in right about 9 and had just said hi to Susie and Mildred who were there to count and prepare the deposit when I went to put a couple of things in my office. I had just set things down when a mom and her daughter came in the front door to drop off paperwork for the youth trip this week and to talk about using some space in the church for their girl scout troop. While they were in the office talking to Karen another mom and her three kids came in the back door to drop of some things for the fair this week and to check in with Karen on a couple of things. At one point I walked into Karen’s office and she was juggling the calendar and a couple of other things with these two moms and four kids standing around and talking. There was a palpable sense of energy and excitement in the church on Monday morning!

On Thursday there was also an incredible energy in the gathering area as youth and adults gathered to go to Schlitterbahn. As they walked out the door Keith and I had a brief exchange about the incredible potential that exists and how we hope to be able to build upon the enthusiasm being felt and experienced. As the youth all pulled away I smiled to myself and thought, “I can smell the excitement in the air… and it smells a lot like teenagers and sunscreen.”

There is a general sense of enthusiasm about things in this church right now and I hope you feel a sense of excitement about inviting others to be a part of the things happening here. Of course, our ultimate hope is to connect people to God’s love for them. The point is not simply to connect people to the church as an end. The church is a tool to connect people to God’s love.

As we wrap up this morning I want to tell you a story about a young woman named Abby…

Abby had grown up in church, but hadn’t been for years. She had a couple of kids and they kept Abby and her husband incredibly busy. At times Abby had considered finding a church, but had never managed to actually get up and around and out the door on a Sunday morning.

One day a friend of hers told her about the church she attended. Her friend described the energy there, the sense of community, and the good things that were happening there. Abby’s friend asked her if she’d like to come and Abby, though she was slightly interested, was pretty much noncommittal. Weeks and months passed and Abby’s friend occasionally extended an invitation, but Abby never quite got around to going to church.

One Sunday morning, months if not years after her friend extended the original invitation, Abby’s husband was out of town and she had the kids to herself. They were up early enough and she decided that maybe she would go check out this church her friend had been inviting her to. When she got to the front door of the church a friendly person opened the door and greeted her with a smile while helping her get her kids inside.

This kind person introduced herself to Abby and asked if she’d like to put the kids in the nursery for the morning. Abby thought that sounded like a good idea and so this greeter walked Abby all the way to the nursery, introduced her to the nursery workers and helped her drop off her kids and her stuff.

After the kids were settled the greeter showed Abby where she could get a cup of coffee and a little something to munch on before the service started. The greeter introduced Abby to some other people who chatted with her in the moments leading up to worship. As Abby approached the worship space she was handed a bulletin and greeted warmly by a handful of people who seemed genuinely glad to see her.

As Abby sat down in her seat she breathed a sigh of relief and before the service even started she was really glad that she had come.

I don’t know Abby. And I don’t think Abby has been to our church. Yet. But what I described to you as her experience is the vision that I see unfolding for our church based solely on conversations I have had with some of you over the last several weeks.

Donna has gotten excited about the idea of having greeters at the doors who can create a warm and a welcoming environment on Sunday mornings.

We have hired a handful of new nursery workers who are doing a wonderful job of caring for children.

Katie and Teresa have spent a lot of time talking about how to make Connections Café even more than it has been in the past. As it opens in a couple of weeks it will serve as a central point for hospitality through the whole church.

The potential for helping people like Abby connect to God’s love through our church is huge! But we’re all going to have to be involved. I invite you to prayerfully consider doing any of the following in the coming weeks and months:

  • Help set-up or make coffee for Connections Café
  • Bring treats for Connections Café
  • Volunteer to teach Sunday School for a quarter
  • Sign up to serve as a greeter
  • Help coordinate nametags

Again, all of this isn’t about helping people connect to the church for the sake of the church, it is about helping people connect with God’s amazing love through the work of the church. Just as the woman called together her friends and rejoiced when she found the coin that had been lost, we too are called to rejoice. We are called to rejoice with one another and to rejoice with God as we play a part in helping those who are lost be found.

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