Altars Everywhere!

Defiant Praise – John van de Laar
There are many doorways to cynicism, Jesus,
Many reasons for despair,
May causes for fear;
But there is no excuse for giving them ultimate power;
Not if we really believe what we claim to believe.

Resurrection is real, Jesus;
We have touched it, and seen it;
Our own lives bear witness to it,
And it constantly reveals itself in our world.
And so, in spite of the fear that nags at us,
In the face of the despair and cynicism that taunts us,
In denial of all that would seek to steal life away,
We offer you our love,
Our devotion,
Our lives,
As an offering of resurrection faith
And defiant praise.
Amen.

Over these past few weeks, we have been talking about what it is like to live in Scare City.
Our fear of not having enough or being enough made us want to build tall towers and make a name for ourselves.
Our fear of the unknown and what lurks around every corner kept us from stepping out in faith.
Our fear of those who are different – who live on the other side of the tracks – caused us to miss opportunities to share our gifts with them or to receive blessings from them.

Fear, scarcity, cynicism… these are all things that limit our ability to fully experience the life God has given us.
In our attempts to cling to what we have, we don’t allow ourselves to take hold of what is truly life.

Our scripture this morning comes from a letter written by Paul to a young minister named Timothy.
Timothy was having a tough time in his work. In many ways, he was living in Scare City, perhaps facing fears that he wasn’t good enough, he was too young and unexperienced; maybe he didn’t feel brave enough for what God was calling him to do.
Or maybe, he was a young pastor, sent to a church where everything was hunky dory and he was having a hard time helping the church to grow – both in numbers and in faith.
So Paul sent this letter as a form of encouragement that young man’s ministry and as a reminder of what was really important… and I’m finding it helpful and encouraging as well.
I think its important for all of us to hear this call to move out of our attitudes of scarcity and to move into a sense of God’s abundant grace and love in our lives.

Because, friends, that is our call.

We are called to dismantle all those symbols of fear and scarcity in our lives so that we can embrace God’s abundant, joyful, overflowing life.
In our worship space this morning, we have literally dismantled the scaffolding that symbolized over these past few weeks the towers we build, the corners, and the walls…
Instead, all of these pieces are now altar spaces of their own… filled with signs of God’s hope and love and mercy that pours out into our lives.
They are symbols of OUR resurrection faith and defiant praise of God in the midst of a world that so often seems scary and uncertain.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was filled with reminders of how he could shed those fears.
The instructions were meant to help him fight the good fight of faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which he was called and for which he made his confession.
Confession isn’t a word that we use every day in our faith tradition.
We confess when we have done something wrong or when we are sorry, but the way it is used here also means to confess what we believe to be true.
Jane Anne Ferguson reminds us that this likely referred to the confession that Timothy made in his baptism.
A confession that he was God’s child.
A confession that he would serve God and love his neighbors.

A confession not unlike the one that we make in our baptisms…

I’ve been thinking about those promises that we in fact made during our baptisms and how they connect with the fears and the scarcity that lurk on the edges of our lives.

[slides for baptism]
So often, the feeling that we are not enough and that we have to build towers to make a name for and protect ourselves… that desire to have more and more and more… well, those are the powers of consumerism and nationalism run rampant.
When our desire to earn and spend and save money becomes idolatrous… when our patriotism blinds us to our kinship with brothers and sisters of other nations… then it is time for us to remember our confession.
Will you let the Spirit use you as prophets to the powers that be?
We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

When our world is filled with jealousy, conflict, abuse, and rumors… when there is a constant state of bickering and violence shows up on our news every single day… when the threats of war and destruction loom over us… then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you turn away from the powers of sin and death?
We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Where there is division and anxiety over those who look different or speak different or come from different places. When we look out in judgment upon those who don’t have the things that we have or when we hesitate to see and name and celebrate the gifts of people we think are below ourselves. When we forget that we, like Paul, are completely unworthy of the love of God for us… well, then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you proclaim the good news and live as disciples of Jesus Christ, his body on earth?
We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

And we do so by going back to the basics. By remembering the faith of our ancestors. By using their struggles and blessings to guide and shape the way that we live our lives. We turn to those pages of scripture, like this letter to Timothy, to remind us of the calling that is at our roots. And so, we make our confession…
Will you receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures?
We affirm and teach the faith of the whole church as we put our trust in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, and in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Like Timothy, we, too, have been called to a different kind of life.
We are called to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) –those fruits of the spirit that we talked about all summer long.
Fight the good fight of faith…
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made your confession.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.

Be grateful.
As 1 Timothy 6:6 reminds us, we are called to a life that combines godliness with contentment,
Gratitude and contentment are key and perhaps the only way we can truly move from a spirit of scarcity to one of abundance.
It is a reminder that we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it.
Paul urges Timothy to remember that those who desire to be rich and to have more get caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. Their lust brings nothing but trouble.
On the other hand, those who have wealth can become so full of themselves and obsessed with their money that it becomes a stumbling block to their faith.
As the Message translation puts it, “a devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God…. If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

Bread on the table and shoes on our feet.
Friends, that is all that we really need.
That is what is important.
These are signs of God’s abundance that will transform this world.

Bread and shoes…

Bread on the table… a sign of the great thanksgiving and a reminder that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
A reminder of the abundant grace that has been given to us.
And a sign of the Body of Christ and how we are all united in this common mission.
And a loaf which is meant to be broken so that not just we… but others may be fed.
Bread symbolizes the ministries of our church where we praise God in our worship and we connect with one another around tables.

Shoes on our feet… because we have places to go!
Just as the first disciples were sent out into the world to baptize and teach and spread the good news, so we have been called to go from this place out into the world. After we have been fed by God’s word, we are supposed to share it.
We are supposed to carry it with us from this sanctuary so that we can transform this world.
Shoes symbolize the ministries of our church in which we teach and share the faith with young and old and in which we go and serve in places near and far.

Today… we have the opportunity to make our commitments for next year.
As a church, we have been deepening our vision and we believe that our love, service, and prayer in this world is meant to make an impact.
Just like bread is meant to be shared and shoes are meant to go out, when we deepen our engagement in this church and when we partner with others out in the world, things are going to happen!
You and me, right now, today, we are laying the foundation for the future ministry of our church.
And it will take all of us, making the commitment to personally engage in just a slightly deeper way for our church to grow and flourish and thrive.

If we are honest with ourselves… the foundation that we are laying today is not for us.
It is for the church of our children and grandchildren.
Some of us won’t be here in 10-20 years as our dreams for this place are being realized.
But for the sake of our children, for the sake of our grandchildren, for the sake of the neighbors all around us who are hungry and yearning for hope… we are called to this work.
We are called to fight the good fight.
We are called to do good.
We are called to carry this worship and word out of this place and bring light and hope and grace and mercy to all we meet.
We are called to be generous and to share.
And when we do so, we will take hold of what is truly life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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.