Monthly Archives: November 2011

11 27 11 Keep Awake!

My sermon from November 27th, 2011 based on Mark 13:24-37.

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Advent. The word Advent comes from a latin word, adventus, that means “coming.” As Christians we celebrate Advent as a time of waiting or preparation for the coming of Christ. I like to think of Advent as this cool time of year when we are making preparations for the coming of Christ following two different paths, paths that are in many ways parallel, but that are distinct from one another. And while they are distinct from one another, I find that often our focus is placed more on one than on the other.

On the one hand Advent is a season that allows us to prepare for the coming of Christ that we celebrate on Christmas, the birth of a child born some 2,000 years ago. It is in this way that I think we most often focus our Advent energy in our preparations and our celebrations. We decorate, we bake, we reflect on the stories of that first Christmas and of other Christmases since. We focus our energy towards remembering and celebrating the birth of Christ as a historical reality of the past.

While this is not at all an inaccurate understanding of Advent, it is incomplete. While we make preparations during Advent to celebrate and remember the birth of Christ that has happened, the season of Advent also offers us the opportunity to make preparations for the time when Christ will come again. These preparations aren’t about shopping and wrapping and baking, they are about reflecting and praying and sharing. These, ironically, are the preparations that are often neglected during the craziness of this season.

As we gather together for worship this Advent we are going to be focusing our conversation around what it might mean for us to prepare for the coming of Christ that will be in our hearts and souls, in our lives, and in the world around us. Today we turn to the 13th chapter of Mark to see how we might begin to make these preparations.

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four and the 13th chapter actually comes quite near the end during the earlier part of what we would refer to as Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth. Chapter 11 records the story of what we refer to as Palm Sunday and chapter 12 records a variety of parables that Jesus uses to teach and to challenge in Jerusalem. The 13th chapter then tells the story of a conversation that Jesus and his disciples have as the disciples are trying to wrap their minds around the things Jesus is saying and about which he is hinting. I want you to hear again these words that Jesus speaks as they are recorded in chapter 13…

32 But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert;for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

 

Jesus uses an analogy here about a master going on a journey and leaving slaves at home with responsibilities to tend to while the master is away. I think the point of the analogy that Jesus is making is great, but my fear would be that we struggle to hear it because of some discomfort that exists (and rightfully so) around imagery of masters and slaves. And so I want to try to illustrate this in a way that might be a bit more accessible in the context of our 21st century lives.

Forget about a master and slaves, and let’s talk about parents and children. I want to tell you this story about the Smith family. One Summer, Sam and Sally Smith decided that they were going to take a little vacation, that they were going to go on a road trip. Now Sam and Sally have two college aged kids kids, Stewart and Suzie. Stewart and Suzie are both home from college for the summer staying with mom and dad, but they’re both working summer jobs and don’t have the free time to go with Sam and Sally on the vacation. Stewart and Suzie, the college aged Smith siblings are going to stay home while their mom and dad, Sam and Sally go on a road trip.

In preparing for their trip Sam and Sally develop a list of expectations and responsibilities for their children. While mom and dad are away Stewart and Suzie are expected to keep up with some routine cleaning, dishes, dusting, vacuuming, etc. Additionally, they are expected to complete some special projects. Stewart is supposed to sand and stain the deck. Suzie is supposed to scrub the tile in and repaint the kitchen.

And while it is clear what their expectations are of their children while they’re gone, Sam and Sally really don’t know how long they’ll be gone. They have the whole summer to travel and are excited about seeing some of the country they haven’t seen before. Sally and Sam could be gone for a few days, for a couple of weeks, or heck for even a month and a half. They don’t know their plans. Their kids surely can’t know their plans.

There will be a time when Suzie and Stewart’s parents return home. When Suzie and Stewart’s parents return home they expect to find things a certain way. Now, if you’re Suzie and Stewart, is this really how you most want to make use of mom and dad’s house while they’re gone…? Suzie and Stewart don’t know when it is that there parents will return and have no way of being certain, but they do know what is expected of them, even if it’s not always what they most want to do.

I don’t know about you, but if I knew Suzie and Stewart, I’d encourage them to stay on top of things, to take care of the big things they needed to do as soon as possible and to stay on top of the little things on an ongoing basis so that when there parents returned they would be ready. I would tell them, just as Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 13, to keep awake!

As Jesus encourages the disciples to be prepared for a time when the Son of Man will come again he encourages them to keep awake! The same encouragement comes to us today from this text. And so it begs the question, what might it look like for us to prepare for the time when Christ will come again? What might it look like for us to keep awake?

In order to really truthfully answer those questions about what it would look like for us to keep awake in preparation for Christ’s return, I believe it is helpful for us to first ask a related question, what are those things that distract us, that keep us from being prepared, that lull us to sleep and keep us from being awake and attentive and prepared?

I know that, at least metaphorically, I am often lulled to sleep by the sheer busyness of this time of year. This season of Advent offers a chance to and really even invites us to reflect, to pray, to study, to prepare for the coming of Christ again to the world. And in this bizarre and unfortunate, heck even ironic twist, this season is also one of the busiest of the year. Think about how many things there are to do in the next 28 days leading up to Christmas… (give people a chance to shout them out)

  • There is shopping to be done.
  • There are plans to be made with families.
  • Time to be spent with families
  • Time traveling to be with families
  • There are school and community programs to attend.
  • There is baking to be done
  • Special social functions to attend

 

This is an incredibly busy time of year and while we are invited to make special preparations in our heart and soul and lives for the coming of Christ, it’s easy to lose sight of that, to be lulled to sleep isn’t it?

An additional reality that I struggle with this time of year is the cold and the darkness. Over the last decade or so medical professionals have begun to talk about the reality that is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It has been documented that there are increased incidences of depression during this time of year and that part of it is related to the increased darkness during the shorter days and the increased time inside during the colder days. I don’t know that I have ever really suffered from SAD, but I know that on cold winter mornings it is a lot easier to hit snooze and stay under the warm covers just a bit longer.

A few years ago about this time I preached an Advent sermon on John 10:10 where Jesus says that he came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. I remember working on and preaching that sermon and being really smacked upside the head with the reality that I wasn’t living this abundant life that Jesus had promised. I was working too many hours, sleeping too much, eating terribly, and failing to really connect with family and friends. I remember telling myself then that I was going to begin living differently, that I was going to begin trying to really live that abundant life that Jesus offers.

And so you know what I did that year? I made what I called some Advent Resolutions. I didn’t want to wait until January 1st to make changes in my life for the better, I wanted to begin now. And in making those Advent Resolutions I realized that that made a lot more sense than New Year’s Resolutions. And in making resolutions about how I wanted to live that were tied to my working for the coming of Christ in my life and in the world I managed to take them more seriously than I ever had resolutions based on the turning of the calendar to a new year.

And so as we journey together this Advent I invite you to think about those ways in which you might be struggling to keep awake to the good news of God’s love for you. I invite you to be honest about those things that are distractions or that lull you away from who you believe God might be calling you to be. Maybe making some Advent Resolutions would help you in preparing the way for Christ to come again in the world. Maybe some Advent Resolutions would help you keep awake!

As we journey together this Advent I invite you to consider that worship might be one of those important tools to help you prepare the way and keep awake. Next week we’ll look at some of the practical ways that we might prepare for Christ’s coming in the world through serving, by acts of justice and mercy.

On the 11th we’ll look at Mary’s reaction to the news that she would be playing a unique role in the coming of the Christ child.

The 18th is a very special Sunday as we’ll be exploring the ways in which we might prepare the way for the Christ-child in our midst through song. At 8:30 we will have a special service of lessons and carols, at 9:30 the children will present their Christmas music program and at 10:30 the choir will share God’s word through their Cantata.

Plan to be present for worship during this time of preparation. Plan to invite friends or family to join you for this special season. I invite you to keep awake as we prepare for the coming of the one who offers us life and life abundantly!

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November 23rd, 2011 eNote

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

I am writing early this week as the office will be closed tomorrow and Friday for the Thanksgiving Holiday. As I wrap up the short week I want to share a few quick things with you.

2012 Budget Draft Available

Last Wednesday evening our Finance Team met for about two and a half hours to draft a budget for 2012. Requests from ministry teams, 2011 year-to-date spending, historical spending trends, pledges from our “Better Together” campaign, and recent giving trends were all prayerfully analyzed and considered in putting together the budget proposal for 2012. The drafted budget was shared at Administrative Council last Sunday and will be voted on and formally adopted at Charge Conference on December 11th. If you are interested in seeing a draft of the budget, copies are available in the office. If you have any questions Corbin Hodges, the chair of our Finance Team, is available to visit with you about them (as am I). I want to thank our Finance Team for their hard work in putting together this budget! It is not an easy task and their faithfulness in the process is a gift to Tonganoxie UMC.

Church Christmas Decorating

This coming Saturday the 26th our Worship Team is heading up efforts to decorate the church for Christmas. Everyone is invited for this time of fellowship and fun as the halls are decked and our space beautified in preparation for the Advent and Christmas seasons. Decorators will be gathering at 9am and will work until the task is complete. This is a great opportunity to meet some people you might not yet know and to contribute to the life of our church family in a fun hands on way. Plan to come out for this fun time!

Advent Worship Help Needed

This Sunday the 27th marks the beginning of Advent, a season of preparation for Christ’s birth that consists of the four Sundays (and all the days in between) leading up to Christmas.  During the four Sundays of Advent we will have special readings and light special candles as a part of both of our worship celebrations.  If you (individual, couple, family, group of friends) are interested in doing one of these readings please email me and let me know which Sundays you are available (11/27, 12/4, 12/11, 12/18) and for which service(s).  I made this same request in last week’s eNote and only heard back from one family.  There are still plenty of opportunities for others!

As I reflect on all of the things for which I am grateful this Thanksgiving, I want you to know that I am incredibly grateful for the privilege of journeying in faith with you and serving as your pastor. These last four and a half months have been an incredible blessing! I hope and pray that you might be especially mindful of all of God’s blessings this Thanksgiving and that you might find some time in the next couple of days to express gratitude to those nearest and dearest to you.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll see you in worship Sunday as we start our Advent Sermon Series, “Prepare The Way.”

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Jeff

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11 20 11 Live Thanks

My sermon from November 20th, 2011 based on Colossians 3:1-17.

Last Thursday morning Heather and Hannah and I flew to Seattle for my sister’s wedding. We left the house at about 6:30 to get to the airport so it wasn’t a terribly early morning, but for some reason I was just off. To put it nicely, I wasn’t functioning as my best Christian self. Let me tell you the story, not to make excuses, but by way of explanation.

I had a long Wednesday the day before and didn’t start packing until I got home about 9:30 following a meeting here. So Wednesday night was a late night tending to all of the final details of packing for a trip. Thursday morning we were up early and out the door and I found myself feeling particularly annoyed by little things and on edge in general. Can anyone else relate to this state of mind? I’m not proud of it, but it’s where I was. And then we got to the airport.

I had checked in for our flight before we left home and even paid the 20 dollar fee for our checked bag. I thought it would be as simple as showing our documents, dropping off our bag, and being on our way. The shuttle dropped us off right in front of a woman at a Frontier counter on the curb, I gave her our bag, showed her our documents… and then she put our bag on a scale.

The scale read 54.5 pounds. I asked her what our limit was and she confirmed that it was 50 pounds. She said we could take some things out to put in another bag, but our carry-ons were packed tight and that wasn’t an option. I asked what our other choices were and she said we could pay a $75 overweight bag fee. I almost lost it… “You mean I could check another entire bag with 50 pounds of luggage in it for $20 or I can pay an extra $75 for the 4.5 pounds that this bag is over?” She shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head to which I said something very elegant and Christ-like, “Well that’s just DUMB.”

After getting things settled with the checked bag we went on inside to go through security. The long story short of my security frustrations has to do with liquids and the places they can and can’t be carried or consumed. I had to dump out my water bottle before going through security and once through security there was no place to fill my water bottle. I could, of course, purchase a bottle of water at an exorbitant price. My frustrations mounted.

As we boarded the plane I told myself I wanted to have a better attitude, to snap out of the funk I was in. Then I got into a very confined space with my squirmy, loud, rebellious, and ornery toddler who spent the better part of the next four hours doing all of the toddler things that she does oh so well. For most of the flight I found myself frustrated and wishing that she would just go to sleep or sit still or be quiet and I kept playing through the frustrations of the morning. Again, I’m not particularly proud of any of this, but it is the reality of where I was last Thursday as we traveled west.

Now, in hindsight, I wish I could tell you a different story. I wish I could tell you a story about the fun conversation that Heather and I had and the way in which we joked around with one another as we packed late into the night on that Wednesday enjoying the first leisurely night of our vacation.

I wish I could tell you a story about our fun drive to the airport watching the sun rise and singing songs together as a family. I wish I could tell you a story about the nice lady who waived the excess baggage fee at the airport. I wish I could tell you the story about friendly TSA agent who helped Hannah get through security with ease. I wish I could tell you the story about the good cup of coffee I bought once we got through security. I wish I could tell you the wonderful story of the miracle of air flight that allowed my family to travel thousands of miles in just a few hours to be with my sister for her wedding. I wish could tell you the story about the pure joy and curiosity and energy of my toddler as she flew in a big girl seat. I wish I could tell you the story about how good she really was on that flight.

And you see I could tell you all of those stories, because all of those things happened. But at the same time, I can’t tell you those stories because I was too busy being frustrated and existing in my own little funk that I couldn’t even experience those wonderful and joy filled stories as they were happening.

Today, on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, it is right that we talk about gratitude and thanksgiving. I don’t, however, want to focus too much on what I might call a Norman Rockwellesque Thanksgiving. Or maybe the contemporary version of that would be a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but I won’t sit down at a table that looks like that this week…

We do, of course, have an incredible amount to be grateful for living in this community in this country in this time. And while it is important to acknowledge our gratitude for all of these things, there is a reality that transcends each of these things; a reality that is far greater than any other for which we are called to be grateful.

This morning’s scripture reading is lengthier than we might typically read in worship, but I thought it important to look at the whole of this text this morning for the way in which it builds a case for living lives of gratitude as people who seek to follow in the way of Jesus. There is a gratitude founded in our relationship with God and the love that God has and does express to us. Let’s take a couple of minutes now to dig in to this text and look at three different sections as we talk about living lives of thanks.

Twice in the first four verses of this passage the author makes a statement about where our focus should be as we seek to follow and to live in relationship with Christ. The author states that we should, “seek the things that are above” and that we should “set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” So what might this mean?

Throughout Christian history there have been times when these sentiments were interpreted to be about a “pie in the sky when you die” theology. The idea that we are to focus on the next life and on things above has often been emphasized to the detriment of care for things here and now in this life.

To read the text in such a way misses an important part of what Christ is about and of what we are to be about as we do Christ’s work in the world. Christ’s life and teaching and resurrection were centered on the idea of reconciliation. To focus on things above, means to focus on reconciliation, in this life as well as in the life that is to come. This is the first of the key themes to pull from this text – life with Christ is a life focused on reconciliation with God and with others both in this life and the life that is to come.

As we seek to be reconciled to God and to others the next piece of this text, verses 5-11, talks about the importance of putting to death the old ways. There are two statements that illustrate well the gist of this: 5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). And “8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”

Often these lists of prohibitions are overly simplified and become nothing more than empty moral prescriptions. I think particularly of the idea that we are to get rid of anger. Is it always helpful to get rid of anger? Simply for the sake of getting rid of anger? Let’s not lose sight of the first point made a few minutes ago, that our primary objective as Christians is to be reconciled with God and with others. If reconciliation is the ultimate goal, how might that frame our conversation about anger (and these other related prohibitions…)? Let’s unpack that just a little bit.

Being angry to the point where you refuse to forgive your parent or your child or your spouse or sibling can be problematic. If we hold on to anger to the degree that reconciliation is not possible because of our anger and our refusal to forgive then this can create a barrier to Christ’s work to reconciliation.

However, anger, what we might sometimes refer to as righteous anger can be a good thing – if a person learns of the poverty and hunger and disease and injustice throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa and then begins to feel angry and then take action to sponsor a child, their anger can be a part of Christ’s work for reconciliation. I believe that the call to set aside these earthly things as we focus on those things above is really a call to set aside those things that separate us from God and keep us from experiencing reconciliation.

Finally, the closing verses of this passage, verses 12-17, words that are amongst my favorite from scripture. Here there are instructions for how we are to live as we seek to follow Christ. “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you…” and then in closing, “…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

As we seek to live lives reconciled with God and with one another I believe this last verse is key, “…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We are to forgive one another and to live reconciled relationships just as we have been forgiven and offered reconciliation with God. And we are to do all of this in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.

I want my life to tell a story of gratitude, not a story of frustration. I want my life to tell a story that is grateful for God’s unconditional love, not bogged down in and consumed by the petty inconveniences of life. I want my life to tell a story that exhibits reconciliation with God and with others. And so I am thankful for late nights and early mornings. I am thankful for airlines and security requirements. I am grateful for toddlers and their energy. I am grateful for today and tomorrow and all of the opportunities that exist to live gratitude and thanks better than I did last Thursday morning on my way to Seattle.

A couple of years ago now a movement of sorts was started to encourage people to really live thanks and to be aware of their blessings and to celebrate them. As we close this morning I want to share a video with you that was put together following this project.


Your life is telling a story. I invite you to be intentional about what story you choose to tell. I invite you this Thanksgiving season and always to be thankful for the gift of Christ’s love and the opportunities that it presents for reconciliation with our God and with one another.  

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November 18th, 2011 eNote

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

I had a wonderful trip to Seattle last weekend and a great time celebrating Hannah’s birthday and my sister’s wedding.  It was a wonderful trip and some much needed time off but it has been great to be back in the office getting settled back in the last couple of days.  I hope that you had a good week and that you are looking forward to a good weekend before the short week and the Thanksgiving holiday.

Advent Worship Help Needed

Advent is a season of preparation for Christ’s birth that consists of the four Sundays (and all the days in between) leading up to Christmas.  During the four Sundays of Advent we will have special readings and light special candles as a part of both of our worship celebrations.  If you (individual, couple, family, group of friends) are interested in doing one of these readings please email me and let me know which Sundays you are available (11/27, 12/4, 12/11, 12/18) and for which service(s).

Administrative Council Sunday – You Won’t Want to Miss It!

This Sunday our Administrative Council will meet over a potluck meal in Hughes Hall following the 2nd service.  Everyone is invited to come and to be a part of the conversation.  In addition to our usual reports we will cover several important things:

  • A very quick recap of the all-church retreat held November 4th and 5th
  • Conversation about formalizing a purpose statement
  • Determining the structure for program ministry in 2012
  • Finance will share a draft of the 2012 budget for review (this will be formally approved on December 11th at our Charge Conference)

I look forward to these conversations as we continue to build on the energy in our church and formalize plans for ministry next year.

Better Together – Final Number Recap

Last week I shared that 56 financial pledges totaling $117,509 had been received as a part of our “Better Together” Stewardship campaign.  While these numbers are exciting I wanted to take a minute to share and celebrate some of the other numbers from the campaign now that I have had a chance to spend some more time looking at them:

  • 79 different individuals made a commitment to regularly pray for our church family.
  • 48 different families made a commitment to regularly be present in worship with the average commitment being to be present more than 3 times each month.
  • 63 different individuals made commitments to serve Christ through the church in various ways.
  • Commitments were made by you to witness to your faith by inviting 91 people to attend worship in 2012.

I am overwhelmed by the response that this campaign received and grateful for your faithfulness as a congregation.  2012 promises to be an exciting year for our congregation!

Again, I hope that you have had a wonderful week and that you have a great weekend.  I missed you last Sunday and look forward to seeing you in worship this week.  As always, it is a blessing and a privilege to serve as your pastor!

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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11 06 11 Celebrating the Saints: Past, Present, Future

My sermon from November 6th, 2011 based on Matthew 5:1-12 and 1 John 3:1-3.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day, a holiday in our church calendar that gives us the opportunity to remember and to celebrate those who have come before us, those whose lives have played such an integral part in shaping and forming us to be who we are. To get us started this morning I want to share a bit about a couple of members of my extended family.

My Grandma Rademaker was an incredible woman who loved her family. My Grandma Rademaker showed her love through food. In an attempt to be polite on one of his first visits to meet my mom’s parents, my dad complimented a carrot dish that Grandma had made. For years to come grandma would insist on making those carrots because she was sure they were dad’s favorites.

When we would go to grandma’s house to visit she would always have our favorite snacks on hand. We would be visiting grandma and grandpa and would go out to eat and we’d all come back to her house stuffed and she’d start offering candy or cookies or ice cream. She showed her love through food. It was actually at Grandma and Grandpa Rademakers’ that our family coined the term, “recreational eating.”

In many ways my mom inherited this trait from her mom. Growing up we’d always have cabinets stocked with favorite snacks. When friends and family would come to visit we would always have ample food on hand and I remember my mom ingraining in me the idea that hospitality, that welcoming someone, that showing care, equated to offering and providing something to eat.

My Grandpa Clinger was an incredible man and a hard worker. He was an incredibly hard worker. In the late 40’s he dug the basement for what would become the family home and they lived down there while he built the upstairs. He built the house while he worked full time. Once the house was completed the hard work didn’t stop. He helped start the volunteer fire department in Rose Hill, KS, and was always active in that and a variety of community activities as well.

I remember going to visit Grandma and Grandpa Clinger. When we would arrive Grandpa would often be working in the yard or the garage. He would often carry on through the project while we visited, my dad often helping him with it. At times their work would be interrupted by a call on the fire phone, but when he returned from the call he would often pick back up where he had left off with the project.

My dad inherited this work ethic from his dad. When I was growing up dad would work long days and then come home to a list of things to work on or to do around the house. He was always working on a project or always engaged in something in the community.

I inherited my love of people and my desire to show care through acts of hospitality from my Grandma Rademaker. I inherited my work ethic and my desire to always be going and doing from my Grandpa Clinger. These are good traits, traits for which I’m grateful. At the same time, when I reflect on it, it is no wonder that for most of my adult life I have had a difficult time with eating too much. When I reflect on it, it is no wonder that for most of my adult life I have had a hard time relaxing and have always been involved in a variety of projects, always going and doing. From my grandparents and my parents I inherited much that is good and foundational to who I am. I also inherited some baggage. And the reality is it is all interconnected.

This August I began a continuing education program that will span over the course of 18 months and include 6 three-day retreats. This week I attended the second of those retreats with the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness. The program is designed as an in depth introduction to and education in Family Systems Theory. Through the program I am becoming acquainted with the thought process behind Family Systems Theory and also exploring how the realities of my family of origin have shaped who I am as a person and a leader. Family Systems thinking is then applied to congregational life and leadership as I strive to most faithfully and effectively serve as a pastor.

This is, of course, a terrible oversimplification of Family Systems Theory, but the crux of thinking here is that we are products of our families of origin in ways more complex than we often realize. This is true for individuals as well as organizations. And the role or more appropriately roles that we played in our family of origin impact the way in which we interact with all of the organizations we are a part of as adults. When we marry and have kids we are impacted by our families of origin. In our work and social relationships, the ways in which we interact with one another are shaped by our families of origin. And in our engagement in a community of faith, we are shaped and formed by our families of origin.

In this model of interconnectedness, dysfunction isn’t so much about the sickness or weakness or problem of one particular individual, rather it is about systems, specifically the anxiety that exists in the systems and the ways in which that anxiety is lived out within the system.

I imagine that each of you can look to your families of origin and name people like my Grandma Rademaker and Grandpa Clinger who have shaped and formed you (in both good and not so good ways) into who you are today.

The same is true for us as a congregation. We sit here where we do today thanks in large part to the faithful witness of so many who have come before us. There is much of us as a congregation that is good and holy and life giving because of the lives of those who came before us. However, I imagine there are also elements of who we are as a congregation today, some of the not so great, that can be traced back to some of those who have come before us and some of the experiences that they had and to some of the systems of which they were a part.

It might be that when it comes to the finances of our congregation and some of the conversations that we seem hesitant to have about our finances, that there is something a generation or two ago in our congregational life that impacts that.

It might be that when it comes to ministry with the children and the youth of our congregation that there is something about our past as a congregation that is being lived out in the realities of who we are today.

Are you beginning to see how this works and plays out from generation to generation? I don’t simply overeat and I don’t simply have work-a-holic tendencies because I am weak or sick or because there is something wrong with me. We as a congregation don’t have places of tension or frustration because we are weak or sick or because there is something wrong with us. We are al products of interconnected family systems.

Conventional wisdom tells us that we are doomed to be who our families of origin create us to be or allow us to be. What I am beginning to understand through my study of family systems theory is that, though we are influenced and shaped by our past, we don’t have to be a victim of it or held hostage by it. I believe that I don’t have to be trapped in those patterns that I learned from my family of origin. I believe that you don’t have to be trapped in those patterns that you learned from your family of origin. I believe that we as a congregation don’t have to be trapped in the patterns that we have inherited from our past.

I have a confidence in this, in our ability to move into a future defined by the invitation of God’s love and not the baggage of our past, in part because of what I read in today’s scripture readings. The Matthew reading comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount as it is recorded in Matthew. It is one of Jesus’ first public teachings as recorded in this gospel and in it he begins to break down conventional wisdom and begins to talk about the Kingdom of God and what a new way of living can look like.

Conventional wisdom tells us that those with power are blessed. The messages that constantly bombard us tell us that those who are wealthy, and happy, and strong, and filled, and who seem to have all of the answers and have it all together, that these are the ones who are truly blessed. Jesus tells us that this isn’t the case…

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

 

Further, I find great hope in the words read from 1 John this morning, specifically in this statement, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Our full potential is not yet known, but as Christ continues to be made known in our midst and as we continue to grow into Christ’s likeness, we will more and more know what it is that we can be. I believe that, though we are products of our past, we are not inherently doomed to be trapped by that past.

Today we remember and celebrate the Saints of our churches’ past, those people who have lost their lives in the last year, those people who have impacted our lives and our church. It is worth saying again, that both for good and for bad, we are who we are as a church today in large part because of those who have come before us. We have a history that covers 142 years on this corner and today we lift up and celebrate 13 individuals who have passed in this year alone.

Today I also want to lift up and celebrate the retreat that we held Friday night and yesterday morning and the saints who were a part of that. It says a lot about a church that (how many) people will give up a significant portion of their weekend to gather together so that they might worship, laugh, dream, and grow together. The retreat was well attended by a diverse group of people and the energy was incredible. I am excited to see how we as a church we continue to nurture and bring to life various seeds that were planted during the retreat. This work will, of course, be done by each and every one of you, the Saints of the present.

And finally, I want to lift up to you this morning those Saints who are not yet here. Much of the work that we do together as a church in the coming years will not just be about remembering those who have come before us or caring for ourselves, but will be about creating a tomorrow that is healthy and full of promise and opportunity for those saints who are yet to come. There are children in our community and around the world who need to know of God’s love. There are countless un-churched and de-churched in our community who desperately need to know of God’s love. We all need to be reminded of the good news of God’s blessings that meet us where we regardless of who we are and that help us reveal for ourselves and for the world the goodness of Christ.

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November 4th, 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 am in the midst of final preparations for the all church retreat we’re holding tonight and tomorrow as well as for worship on Sunday, but I wanted to take a minute to send a quick note with a couple of updates and reminders.
Better Together Campaign Update and Thanks!
Thank you to everyone who has already made a commitment to support the church’s ministry in 2012 by turning in a pledge card.  To date we have received 47 commitments reflecting an incredible number of families praying for our community of faith, regularly being present with the community of faith, supporting the community through giving and serving and witnessing to others by inviting them to be present in worship.  The financial commitments received so far total $103,104.00.  As a point of reference, the total amount pledged for 2011 was $56,486.24.  Again, a big thank you to everyone who pledged already!  If you haven’t yet turned in a card, know that you can do so this Sunday in worship.
All Church Retreat Prayer Request and Invitation
I am excited about gathering with so many of you for our planning retreat this evening and tomorrow morning.  If you are unable to be physically present with us for this time, please hold us in your thoughts and prayers.  It will be most appreciated!  If you are not yet signed up, please know that you are still more than welcome to come!  We’re meeting at the historical society at 201 W. Washington.  We will begin tonight at 6:00 by sharing a potluck meal.  We will end tonight by 8:30.  Tomorrow morning we will meet from 9-12.  Childcare is available at the church from 5:45-8:45 tonight and from 8:45-12:15 tomorrow.
All Saints Remembrance in Worship Sunday
Worship on Sunday will include a special time of remembering those who have passed from our community in the last year.  We will take time to remember, to pray for, and to celebrate those who are no longer with us.  Our community of faith has experienced many deaths in the last year and I invite you to come and to be present as we remember and celebrate those lives.
I look forward to spending some time with many of you this evening and tomorrow and to being in worship with you on Sunday.  Enjoy this beautiful sunny fall Friday and be well.
Grace and Peace,
Jeff

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