Rising Strong: Go All In

You know, in churches we like to use words like repentance and transformation – all words for making radical changes in our lives.  But, the truth is, the church is often the LAST place change occurs.  One of my mentors often reminds me that church is often our escape from rapid change that happens in the world… it’s one of the only stable places we can run to.  But sometimes, we just are stubborn and afraid to try new things, to take risks, to do it the way we’ve never done it before.

I firmly believe, however, that God is not done working on the people of Immanuel.  The Holy Spirit and God’s sanctifying grace are always and every day working to make us better and more faithful. To make us stronger because we are people of the resurrection.

In this series, Rising Strong, we are looking at what it means to be children of the resurrection.  What does it mean to let Easter change our lives?

In the first week of our series, Pastor Todd reminded us that we need to be ourselves.  You have got to be you.  But that doesn’t mean that is the you will be forever.  No, as Max Lucado says: God loves you just the way you are… and refuses to leave you that way.

Will you pray with me:  (prayer)

 

What does it mean to live as a child of the resurrection?  What is asked of us?  What will be required?

As Jesus began his public ministry, he calls out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The Greek word that we translate into repent is metanoia…  it is a reorientation or a fundamental transformation in the way that we experience the world and everything that God created.

Metanoia is not simply owning up to past sins – although, that is part of it, because repentance is seeing ourselves fully – the good and the bad –through the power of Christ.   We see the dark parts of our lives, but we also discover gifts and strengths that have been dormant or hidden.  Repentance is a new awareness of who we are and who we are called to be.

As Jesus moved to Capernaum, change started to happen in Galilee.  People began experience their faith differently.

People like Simon Peter and Andrew. People like James and John.  Brothers who were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.

 

I used to think of fishing as a sort of leisure activity – lounging in the sun by a lake, waiting for a fish to come by and nibble.  Until the Discovery Channel began to air their series: Deadliest Catch.

The show follows fishing crews in the Bering Sea as they attempt to bring in the most king crabs during the winter season.  It’s not easy work.  The worst storms occur during crab-fishing season and the waves can be as large as 30 or 40 feet tall!  Add that to the frigid 38 degree water and there is plenty of danger.

In fact, more than 80 percent of the fatalities Alaskan fishermen suffer on the job are due to drowning — either from falling overboard or as a result of a boat accident.

While the Sea of Galilee might not be quite as cold – the temperature averages from 60-90 degrees throughout the year – fishing was dangerous… especially considering that it was done without all of the safety equipment of today!

The Sea of Galilee is known for having violent storms caused by wind funneling down into the valley the lake is located in.  I read about a storm just over twenty years ago that sent ten feet high waves crashing into towns on the western shore.  Try to imagine those kinds of waves on the Saylorville Lake and you get the picture.

Besides being dangerous because of the waters, fishing was also extremely labor intensive.

Nets were tossed into waters by the shore or dropped from boats and then drug to round up the fist. Those nets had to continually be washed and boats kept in repair.  Newly caught fish must be sold immediately or smoked or salted for storage.

Suffice it to say – Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were not lazy young men.  They were hard workers whose families depended upon their labor.

But then Jesus came to Galilee… “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

And he called out to these brothers: Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

 

You know, Andrew and Peter and James and John didn’t just leave their nets.

They left their jobs, they left their families, they seem to have left everything behind in order to start on this new path and follow Christ.   They went all in.  They gave everything they had.  They let the radical, amazing call of Jesus completely transform their lives.

 

So what does it mean to go all in today?

Is this call so powerful that we, too, are called to leave families and jobs hanging in the balance?

 

Thomas Long, a preacher and professor at Candler School of Theology says that in a sense, yes:

“… Jesus disrupts family structures and disturbs patterns of working and living.  He does so, however, not to destroy but to renew.  Peter and Andrew do not cease being brothers; they are now brothers who do the will of God (Matt. 12:50).  James and John do not cease being sons; they are now not only the children of Zebedee but also the children of God.  All four of these disciples leave their fishing nets, but they do not stop fishing.  They are now, in the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, fishers for people.  Their past has not been obliterated; it has been transformed by Jesus’ call to follow.”

These first disciples came to see themselves in a totally new way.  When Jesus called them to follow, they saw the potential of who they could be.  Not just brothers and sons and fishermen, but a part of the Kingdom of God.

Sure, they were ordinary guys, but they discovered within themselves a new purpose and direction.  They just had to use the talents, abilities and life experiences they already possessed in a new way.  Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John went all in and became disciples… but they never stopped being fishermen.

When we go all in today, we come to see our lives in the light of the resurrection.

We come to understand that God wants us to use all of the gifts and skills in our lives for the Kingdom.

 

While other kids in my class would get stage fright or be wary of volunteering for a demonstration… I was always the kid with my hand shot up in the air waiting to be picked.  Words just seem to come naturally and I was always comfortable talking in front of others.  So I majored in speech and rhetoric communications in college, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to use that degree.

Because, you see, I also love science and math and thought that all fit together if I became a meteorologist.  And not just a t.v. weather girl… I wanted to be one of those people you see behind computers doing calculations and teaching viewers El Nino patterns.

I never imagined I’d be a pastor.  Even after I decided to go to seminary… I thought I would use my skills teaching in a small college and helping students find their way.

Until I finally heart God’s call for my life.  Repent!  Shift your thinking!  Go All In!  You are supposed to be a pastor!

Holy cow, was it scary to think about.  It was overwhelming!

I didn’t know what it would mean for my life – especially how it would impact my future husband.   I wasn’t sure what it would mean to be itinerant in the United Methodist Church and have little control over where God would send me.  I didn’t grow up in the church, how could I ever lead one?

But, when I decided to go all in and give this crazy call a chance, everything started to make sense.

If metanoia is having a greater understanding of the reality that we experience – then I began to see how all of the pieces of my life fit together.  And I was able to embrace my calling and followed Christ.

That doesn’t mean that it has been an easy road– but for now – I truly feel like this is my part to play in the Kingdom of God.

 

I imagine many of you are sitting out there, thinking, well, that’s all fine and good for Pastor Katie or Pastor Todd, but I’m not called to go all in and give everything to God.  I’m a normal person!

Well, really, so am I.  And so were the disciples.

You know, those four in the boat were fishermen before they heard God’s call to go all in.  And God took what they had and who they were and used it for God’s kingdom.

And that same invitation comes to us whoever and wherever we happen to be. A carpenter might hear Christ call out, “Follow me and I will make you builders of people.”  A chef might hear Christ call out, “Follow me and you will feed my hungry people.”

Just like those first disciples – we are called to take the best of what God has given us and use it for the Kingdom of God.  Our act of repentance is not only realizing the places where we have failed in our lives… but also recognizing the gifts and strengths of who we are and how God wants us to use them.

The message of Christ is not “Help Wanted – Fishermen Only!” As one pastor put it, “The point is that you and I were meant to become a part of the tremendous divine plan to bring light to a dark world.”[1]

 

Jesus calls out:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

How are you called to be a part of the Kingdom that Christ has begun?

What does it mean for YOU to be a child of resurrection in the work you do outside this building?

Just imagine what might happen if every person in this room decided to go all in… to give all of your gifts and skills over to God.

In love, service, and in prayer, God could truly change this world.

[1] http://www.lectionarysermons.com/jan24ser99.html

Blogging as a form of Public Theology

I just spent the last couple of days in Washington, D.C. exploring what it means to be a public theologian.

Over the last year, I have been part of the Lewis Center’s Community Leadership Fellows Program.  We have gathered for three day sessions together at Wesley’s downtown campus in order to reflect upon the role of the church, and in particular the role of the pastor, in the life of the community. 

As Rick Elgendy help us define the phrase, we engage in public theology whenever we are reflecting upon the actions of the church in the public (our common life together). Public theology helps us to refine and renew our commitments.  It pushes us onward towards perfection.  It challenges us to do and say and be more. Above all, it reminds us that the Kingdom of God is intimately tied up with the life of the  world around us.

In the scope of our readings and preparation this week, one article really pushed me to think about what it means to be a pastor and a public theologian and how I am called to embody that role.

As Robinson writes in “The Church in the Public Square”:

In the mainline church the pastoral care tradition has so taken over that the one strong traditions of the teaching pastor and the teaching minister have been eclipsed.  We no longer seem to have “preachers,” only “pastors.” We have often neglected a serious teaching ministry in favor of construing the ordained mainly as members of the so-called helping professions…

The message has too often seemed more like “let us take care of you” than asking that people “grow and grow up in Christ.” It is largely up to the clergy to communicate a different understanding of their calling, and thus of the purpose of the church itself: our purpose is not to be caring or to be “like my family” ; rather, it is to grow Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, and to engage the culture as people who are accountable to the gospel…

if people in congregations are to be equipped for a vital role in the public world, such a shift in emphasis and priority is essential.

When I first felt the call to ministry, it was a yearning to help the people of the church better live out their faith in the world.  It was a call to take seriously what was happening all around us: from war and violence, to care for the earth and our hungry neighbors. I probably didn’t fully understand at the time that the church does not always function according to the purpose articulated by Robinson above. 

And I have to be completely honest.  I have been honored and blessed to sit at the bedsides of folks and pray with them as they took their final breath.  I never imagined the holy weight and privilege of placing a hand on the casket as it is lowered into the earth.  Holding on to the hand of someone who is sick or struggling and praying with them is part of my calling I am so proud to live out.

There are so many different functions of a minister that it is not surprising that one or another sneaks up and takes over the rest at various times.  Whether administrative functions, pastoral care, connectional responsibilities…

But the paragraphs from Robinson reminded me that my first calling was not to be a helper or care-giver, but to be a pastor that discipled people.  My call was to help get the church out of the building so they can live their faith.  And a large part of that discipling happens when through teaching and theological reflection about what we are or are not doing out in the world. 

One of our guides this week was Rev. Dr. Joe Daniels.  He lifted up how important it is to form people in the word in the process of sending them out.  We have to teach people what the Kingdom of God looks like.  We have to constantly reflect together about what is going on in our common life and invite the Spirit to guide us into action.  I try to do that in my preaching, but I have been neglecting this very blog as a place where that kind of wrestling and reflection can occur.

I’ve been neglecting this blog a lot in general.

And perhaps it is because I had lost a focus for what I was trying to accomplish here.

Perhaps it is because I’ve become so busy with the other functions of ministry that it felt selfish to spend time writing and reflecting.

What I realized this week is that the sentence above is perfectly rediculous.

My calling is to be a public theologian.

My calling is to help the church think and reflect about how we are engaging with the world and what our faith has to say about our life in the world.

My calling is to model what it means to act in the world and be held accountable to the gospel through precisely this sort of writing.

If this blog can help do me live out that calling… well, you’ll be seeing me here a bit more often.

The Blue Couch #NaBloPoMo

In my sophomore year of college, Brandon asked me to take a road trip with him.  We drove to Madison, where his sister was living, to rescue a big blue couch before it went in the dumpster. She called because she thought it was an awesome couch and couldn’t believe her office building was just going to throw it away.

At first, it lived in his dad’s house in Cedar Rapids, but before too long, Brandon was at Simpson College with me and the blue couch came along, too.  We lived in a co-ed theme house and the blue couch had center stage in our living room. Debates, drinks, friendships, and gamers sprawled all over that couch.  It was our senior year… a time of making decisions, finding new directions, and going different ways.

Brandon moved back home and his dad had long since replaced the furniture. So, the couch, our couch, came with me as I made the trek to Nashville for seminary.  It lived in the middle of my living room in my duplex on Poston. It was where we held Jeopardy Style study sessions, where my friend came out as Jewish, where we kept a long-distance relationship alive through phone calls…  And then the couch moved with me to the townhouse I’d share for a couple of years.

Brandon moved to Nashville too.   The couch was there… for the start of my obsession with Grey’s Anatomy… for the conversations with Glen where he kept reminding me I’d make a good pastor… for the night Brandon and I broke up (but just for a night) because we weren’t sure how ministry and marriage wedded together.

And then we did get married. We moved that blue couch into our first, little, one bedroom apartment.

Before the year was up, we moved again. Back home, to Iowa.

My first church, our first real house, and the blue couch.

Oh, and cats. We added some kittens when we arrived home.  And the couch was never the same. Claw marks, stuffing coming out on the ends.

I got up early on Sunday mornings and wrote sermons on the couch. I reconnected with old friends, and we made new ones on that couch.

It moved with us one more time to Cedar Rapids… tattered… grungy… and sat in a room we barely used.

So when the time came to transition again, to Des Moines, we thought about leaving it, for good, in the dumpster.

But that couch still has life in it.  This summer, I bought some new fabric and if I ever find time, I plan to reupholster the whole thing. The cats are declawed now and that couch has too many damn memories in it.

The itch

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Last week, I got into some poison ivy.

First, on the disc golf course as we were looking for a shot that was too long and in the rough. I noticed it after traipsing through.

Then, in my very own backyard.  We had a gigantic bush of the stuff, all viney and spread out everywhere.  I donned my long sleeved shirt and latex gloves and washed everything immediately after pulling the ivy out and tossing it in a garbage bag.

But 2-3 days later, the bumps have arrived. The itchy, red, gross bumps. A streak on my leg.  Both of my wrists, a few fingers and a blotch on the top of one arm.

Last year, I covered myself with this pink itch relief cream, but in reality, it didn’t really help, so I’m toughing it out.

And here is what I have figured out:  If I’m busy with something… if I’m watching television or writing or working out in the garden, I don’t notice the itch.  But as soon as I stop, I can’t stop thinking about scratching!

 

I have had another itch as well.  The itch to get back to work. And that itch has been a little bit stronger.  Any time my mind is clear… as I’m pulling weeds or sitting at the computer waiting for inspiration to hit on the writing or driving in the car, I can’t stop thinking about what I’m going to do when I get back to Immanuel next week.

For me, that itch is much healthier.  It is a sign that I’m doing the work I am called to do.  It is a sign that this has been a good time away where I could clarify and focus on things in a new way.  It is a sign that God has been in the midst of this time and that I need to honor the things I have discovered about myself, my relationships, and my calling when I return.

In fact, I had to make a list on my phone.  Every time inspiration strikes, it goes on the list.

It helps soothe the itch for a while so I can get back to resting and renewing.

2 days, 3 houses, 7 niblings

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This weekend, we made a road trip to spend some time with family.  Since we have moved, it has been harder to make a quick trip over to see our parents or siblings and the kids.

One of my primary goals during renewal leave was to spend more time with family and to re-establish patterns for seeing and communicating with them.  As I shared with my congregation when we announced the leave:

this is a time to enjoy the simple beauty of spending time with those I have been called to love.

I do believe that our families are part of our calling.  You almost never got to choose who they were.  Some of them were around long before you and some have come into your lives as you have grown and changed.  But each one of them are part of your responsibility to care, to teach, to listen, to play, to love.

Since my husband and I are child-free, I have in particular embraced the role of aunt to my niblings. I love their little footsteps pattering towards the door as we walk in to get hugs.  I love the sloppy messes.  I love the silly things they say and their wild imaginations. And as I have watched them grow… including the one who now towers over my head… I have loved to see how kind and responsible they are and to hear all about the things that they now love.

A dear friend, who is also a child-free aunt, posted this to my facebook wall the other day and it made me tear up.  I do love my niblings. And this weekend, I got to be that aunt.   I loved their snotty faces and their tears and their shrieks of joy.  I loved hanging out on the floor and putting together legos with them.  I loved writing silly stories with them.  I loved the cuddles. I loved teaching them something new.  I loved listening to what is going on in their world. And, as a pastor, I also love that I can bring the gifts of my work into their lives and can wrestle with questions and be a part of blessing them… literally!

That is what the picture above is… a celebration of new life as we blessed my newest nibbling.  We gathered around him and prayed for the life God has in store for him and for his parents and grandparents as they all love and care for him.

But I also love my brothers and sisters and if an ounce of what I can do and share with and for them makes their lives any easier, that brings me great joy, too.

 

Vision, Mission, Money and Imagination

I love my new ministry as the coordinator for Imagine No Malaria in our conference… but I often have a hard time explaining why.

While there are similarities with local church ministry (which I also love), so many aspects of this position are drawing upon gifts in new and different ways.

But because I am not in the local church, preaching every Sunday, it doesn’t look like ministry to some people.

I think I was having trouble myself with wrapping my head around how and why this was ministry.  How and why a pastor should be in my position.  The job uses my gifts; I get to engage 800 churches instead of just one; I am engaged in the work of transforming the world (a core part of our mission as the United Methodist Church).  I had pieces of the answer, but was still missing something.

Until I read some Nouwen this morning and finally found a missing connection point… the words I need to really claim and explain my work.

Nouwen writes –

Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.  It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission…. We are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources God has given you – your energy, your prayers, and your money – in this work to which God has called us.”

God has called us to this work.  And every day, I get to proclaim the vision of what will be realized when we answer that call.  Every day, I get to send forth the invitation, the call to conversion, that will help us to answer that call with our whole lives.

We are participating in God’s good work and we imagine a world in which children no longer die from a preventable, treatable, beatable disease.  We imagine communities of people working together for healing and wholeness.  We imagine pregnant women who are healthy and can carry their babies to term without fear.  We imagine a global partnership that is able to wipe out death and suffering from malaria.

And not only can we imagine these things, but God has shown us a way to accomplish them.  You and me, working together, bringing the best of ourselves and our gifts.  That is the body of Christ in action.  That is the aim of discipleship.  This is a living and giving ministry.

Yes,  I am a fundraiser.  And yes, I am doing ministry.

And now for something completely different…

The following is the announcement I made this morning at our worship service.

This morning, I need to share with all of you some rather big news. This is not going to be easy to say, so I’m just going to come out and say it.

Starting October 1, I am beginning a new journey in ministry.  I am humbled and honored to have been asked by Bishop Trimble to coordinate the Imagine No Malaria campaign for the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. After a lot of wrestling – with God, with myself, with the larger church, with my husband… I can no longer deny that God is asking me to be a part of this exciting new project.

For the next two years, I will be traveling the state helping all of us, as United Methodists, raise $4 million dollars to help end deaths from malaria.  I will be training volunteers, helping to resource fundraising events, and sharing the stories of what everyday, ordinary people are doing to help combat this global disease.

As excited I am about this big thing that God is calling me to do… I am equally heartbroken to be leaving you.  In fact, one of my biggest obstacles to saying “yes” to this position is that I really do not want to leave you… the people of the First United Methodist Church of Marengo.  Both you AND I have dreamed about years of ministry together in this place.

But sometimes our plans are not God’s plans.

I realized that whether I leave tomorrow or ten years from now, our work together will never be finished… there will always be more to do.

I realized that while I have walked with you this far, there are other people that God is waiting to send this direction to help you grow and thrive in ways I could never do.

And when I prayed long and hard about it, I was finally able to say yes to this position because I know… I trust…  I believe with all my heart that YOU will be okay.  That God will take care of you.  That the larger church will take care of you and will send someone here who can take what we’ve done and help you to shine.

So I need all of you to do a couple of things for me.

1) I need you to remember that these past five years have not been about what I have done – they are about what YOU have done.  You showed up.  You took chances.  You recommited yourselves.  I helped to steer along the way, but nothing that we have accomplished together would have happened without you.  You are stronger than you realize.  You are more amazing than you give yourselves credit for.  Whoever might stand in this pulpit is not the church…. YOU ARE. And it is up to YOU to continue this work… work that started long before I ever showed up and that will last long after the youngest of us gathered here is old.

2) I need for all of you to feel comfortable coming and talking with me over the next few weeks about whatever it is you are feeling.  Whether you are angry or upset or disappointed or overjoyed… please come and talk to me.  This is sudden, and surprising, and it is not easy for any of us to digest.  Whatever you are feeling – it is okay.

3) I need you to work with our District Superintendent.  He has promised to work his hardest to help bring a pastor to this church who is the right fit as quickly as possible.  I know that there have been times in the past when you have felt like the black sheep and the neglected step child.  But now you know who you are and what you are about.   I believe you are a resurrected and thriving church and an example for small congregations all across Iowa.  You are not going to let you stumble. And over the next month, he is going to need your help and support as he gets to know the church better in order to help bring the best possible person to be your pastor.

4) Last,  I need you to pray.  I need you to pray for me as I begin this crazy new adventure.  I need you to pray for one another.  I need you to begin praying right now for your future pastor. I need you to surround that person – whomever they might be – with love and support and grace.

 In our sermon this morning, we were reminded that we are a living church – not a dead one.  We are a church who has shown the fruit of mercy and compassion in our lives.  God is here and will sustain you.  Thank you for letting me be a part of the journey for this leg of the road.

foolish vigor

While I might be young, I’m also a bit daring. I have found myself in recent events at the front of the room instead of the back. Maybe it is my naiveity, but even standing at the front or on a committee, I wonder where the hope has gone. I wonder where the risk has gone. This isn’t even a commentary on my denomination, the United Methodists… I have had many ecumenical conversations recently and I am sideswiped by “we can’t do that, or get away with that” comments.

It sometimes feels like the church has lost its foolish vigor.  We have neglected St. Paul’s call to forget the ways of the world, forget success by earthly standards, and to just take a chance and stand with the cross.  We have neglected the call to take up our cross and to follow Jesus – because we are scared of where the cross takes us. It isn’t just fear, or temptation to suceed, sometimes it is just down right laziness and the tedium of daily tasks that keep us from diving in.

I think I’m able to keep going, because in the midst of all of the “safe” choices and the call to “increase numbers” and the forms I have to fill out… I hear about a few folks are taking risks.
A local presbyterian church held a Christmas Eve service this year at a bar in town. They took the risk and were invited back for next year. It wasn’t a success numerically – but they were out there, in the world, and if even one person thought in a different way, they were successful.
A group of young pastors gathered in Washington, D.C. for an event I attended.  We gathered in the chapel at the capital building and prayed and sang.  We have found some courage from one another to try new things, to apply for grants, to start programs and to ask questions.  We are putting ourselves out there – and we do so knowing that there is a small community of support to help us.
Congregations in Cedar Rapids are responding to the changing communities around them and are throwing open their doors for native African congregations to meet in their midst.
The churches who have joined mine for the Co-Missioned transformation process are all taking risks and trying to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to be and do.  We have had to let go of some things in order to embrace this time of listening and waiting.  It is hard, and it is scary to let go of what we think works for us.  But every time we do so, we have been blessed by God’s movement.

I want us to be more foolish. To be more daring. And to trust where the Spirit calls us. Don’t be afraid to step out there.  Don’t let your head tell you “no” when your heart is screaming “yes.” Don’t get caught up in this world’s definitions of success – numbers and money and power… just go where God tells you, wipe the dust off your feet if people don’t respond, and then go to the next place.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  Don’t worry about looking stupid.  Take up your cross, with foolish vigor, and follow.