Lessons for the Journey

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Last winter, my immediate family planned a trip to Hawaii to escape the cold and the snow.  We often like to travel all together, but because of my weekend work responsibilities, the rest of the family took off earlier, while Brandon and I stayed here in Iowa to get through church on Sunday morning and then fly out. 

Our original plan had been to fly out on Sunday afternoon, but about a month before the trip, they cancelled that flight and rebooked us for first thing on Monday morning.  So our alarms were set for 4am, our bags were packed and we were ready to go.  And then the text message came.  Our flight had been cancelled.   There had been storms that weekend in Dallas, flights were backed up and ours was being bumped.  We had been rebooked for Wednesday morning. 

I instantly got on the phone and tried to see if there was any way we could get out of town sooner.  Except the hold time with the airline was estimated to be an hour or more.  Brandon and I live near the airport, so I decided to go and try to get in line and talk with an actual agent at the ticketing counter.  Only, the lines there were nearly out the door.  Everyone was trying to get out of town and no one was going anywhere.   There were no earlier flights to be had.

We decided to make the most of the day and built a fire in the fireplace at home and tried not to grumble.  The next day around noon, we got another text from the airlines.  Our flight Wednesday morning out of Des Moines had been cancelled, too. 

I think I spent about three hours on the phone with the airlines and the soonest they could rebook our tickets was on January 1st.  It would be another two days before it would be possible to get out of Des Moines due to the back up all throughout the system.  I cried.  The good lady from the airlines tried her best to help make something work, but it was a mess.   

I finally asked if the flight from Dallas to Hawaii was still taking off the next morning.  It had been only the Des Moines leg of the trip that had been cancelled.  And sure enough, it was still going to be leaving at 9 am Wednesday morning.  Brandon and I looked at each other, and decided to drive to Dallas.  

We picked up the rental car around 4pm, left Des Moines around 5, and drove through the night.  When we arrived, exhausted, around 4am, we found a quiet corner in the airport to take a short nap, made our flight, and made it to Hawaii to spend the rest of the trip with our family… only three days late.  

 

In our scripture this morning, the Israelites are on a journey as well.  While Brandon and I were trying to escape the cold of winter for a warm, sunny beach, the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt and now they were headed for the Promised Land.  God was leading them to the land flowing with milk and honey.  Only, they didn’t quite know how to get there and they trusted God to lead them.  

This was supposed to be a fairly simple trip, and yet at the outset, God planned to lead them the long way round.  The pillar of smoke and fire was taking them on a journey that would avoid most of the difficulties they might encounter along the way.  But no road is easy and the setbacks they experienced were far greater than a few cancelled flights. If you continue reading through the rest of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the Israelites experienced loss, frustration, bickering, and ended up wandering for forty years in the wilderness.  There were times in the journey when the destination seemed so far away that they wished they were back in Egypt.  And despite the daily guidance and food provided from above, there were even times they forgot God was with them.  Ultimately however,  just like we finally touched down on the rainbow isle and got to spend our vacation with my parents, siblings, and three amazing niblings, the Israelites finally made it to Canaan.

While we might not be on a physical journey, the people of the United Methodist Church and the people of Immanuel are on a journey, too.  John Wesley often talked about how we are going on to perfection and I think part of that means that we as the church should always be working towards the Kingdom of God and growing not only in our personal faith, but we should be transforming the world around us to look more like the “Promised Land” every single day.  As a church, we need a compelling vision to hold in front of us, a picture of the destination we are longing for, so that we can actively work to bring that reality into being. 

But like the Israelites, our journey has been and will be marked by setbacks. Most journeys are.  We, too, have experienced loss and decline.  In fact, I bet some of you in this room can remember when this sanctuary was built in order to accommodate when we had over 500 in worship every single Sunday.  And, there are times of disagreement and disunity.  We won’t always be able to find the best worship times for every person and we won’t all agree on what a faithful Christian response is to some of the toughest conversations of our day.  

Last week in fact, an email came out from a new group that has formed within the UMC called the Wesleyan Covenant Association.  The email contained a video that highlights the three central beliefs of the organization.  That God is good, the Bible is true, and that Promises should be kept.  And yet, how those three very simple statements were defined is not something that all United Methodists agree upon.  So I became part of a group of young clergywomen that created a statement in response, trying to expand and enlarge the conversation.  

When Bishop Bickerton talks about this journey of faith we are on, he knows that it will not be easy.  But he offers a couple of simple lessons that might help us arrive together at our final destination.  As I have thought about the journey of the Israelites,  my own adventures in travel, and the journey we are currently on as a church, I find them helpful.

The first lesson I want to highlight is what my colleagues and I were attempting to do last week as we drafted a response to others in the church.  And that is the see yourselves and others as a work in progress.   I think this faith that we share is not simple, but it is complex and messy and real.  We are always learning and growing and going on to perfection.  Or as Paul put it, “Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face.  Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way I have been completely known.” (1 Cor. 13: 12).  And so that means we should constantly be in dialogue with one another.  We need to admit our shortcomings and leave ourselves open to the possibility that we might be wrong.  We do not need to have it all together or have all the answers… we are still on a journey!

The second lesson relates to that idea.  In the famous words of Vanilla Ice, we need to stop, collaborate and listen. It is often the people we disagree with the most who can help us to get farther on our journey.  We need to collaborate across generations, with our older folks helping out our young parents and our younger folks providing support and care for their elder counterparts.  In his book, Bishop Bickerton shares a story from Zimbabwe and Bishop Nhiwatiwa.  In the Shona language, the word used for the spirit of collaboration is chabadza .  “If you approach a person working in a field, you do not say, “May I plow your field for you?” Instead you say, “May I help you plow your field?”  Chabadza represents a willingness to enter into relationship with someone else on the journey.” (p. 36)   And it is a willingness to let to, let others help, and to let it be done another way.  This is the spirit that we embody here at Immanuel whenever we put the needs of another person above our own and let go of our way in order to let God move us in a new way.  

The final lesson is one that I needed to remember many times on our long journey to Hawaii.  You need to lighten up, loosen up, and have a little fun The journey we are on is difficult, and if we don’t open ourselves up to find the joy in the midst of the journey it will feel like its longer than it actually is.  We need to enjoy the ride, remember that we are loved by God, let the Holy Spirit encourage us every step of the way.  Here at Immanuel, there are so many opportunities to have a little fun as we grow in this journey of discipleship.  You can sing and dance with the kids in Children’s Church.  You can laugh together over coffee in Faith Hall.  You can step out of your comfort zone and make a new friend.  You can stand up and let God move you when the music starts playing.  You can roll with punches and smile more and see where the Spirit will move.  

Above all, no matter where we are on this journey, God is with us, pushing us, pulling us, prodding us, and never letting us go.  Like the cloud of pillar and fire never left the side of the Israelites, the presence of God is in this place and will continue to guide us every step of the way.  Amen. 

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In today’s parable, Jesus is in the middle of teaching his disciples one last time.  He is only days away from his crucifixion in Jerusalem, days away from leaving them, days away from his death.  Jesus wants to make sure they are prepared for life after he is gone.

He is asking these people to live out their discipleship – to follow him, to become like him, to take care of each other and to carry on his ministry in the world

Much like the master in this parable who is going on a long trip, Jesus is trying to put his affairs in order so that his ministry is taken care of while he is gone.

The master, like Jesus, is entrusting an extravagant gift in the hands of his servants.

One single talent was a gigantic weight of money. It equaled 6,000 denarii. One denarii was roughly equal to a day’s wages… so if you do the math, each one of these talents was about twenty YEARS worth of pay.

In today’s terms a talent might be thought of as nearly a million dollars.

Now… this is the kind of money that most people never saw. Especially not at once.

But the Lord and master in this story has eight times this much to divvy up among his servants. One hundred and sixty years’ worth of pay… and he is leaving it in their hands.

This is a lifetime’s worth of money. It is costly. And being given all at once, you wonder what the Lord and master could possibly have left. This could very well be everything that he has.

And we know that in reality, the gift of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was costly.

And this talent, this incredible gift, is placed into your hands.

The gift of discipleship… the gift of a lifetime of following Jesus has been given to you…

What are YOU going to do with it?

 

One of the fascinating features of this story is that not everyone is given the same amount of talents.  The master in this story looks over the skills and abilities of those who are standing in front of them and recognizes they are not the same.

As William Herzog notes, the word used here for ability could also be translated as power.  They are given these gifts because of their power, their position, because of what they have already demonstrated they could handle.

In other words, this is not a test.

No master would be foolish enough to use this much money as an experiment.

No, this ruler knows the servants, honestly assesses them, and puts in their hands exactly what they can realistically handle.

One of these servants receives a single talent.  Another two.  Another five whole talents.

What we discover in this parable is that it is not important what your power or abilities or talents are today.  It doesn’t matter how much you are given.  It is what you decide to do with your discipleship that really counts.

 

This past spring, many of you helped our church to honestly assess our ministry and our life together through a really long survey:   the Congregational Assessment Tool.

We have learned a lot of things through this tool and the leadership of our church is starting to wrestle with how to respond to various pieces.

In worship over the next couple of months, we are going to be exploring a few areas that reflect our discipleship as a church.

Now, in these scores, we were compared to 500 other churches our size around the entire country.  So these scores are not the percentage of you that said these things… but how our church as a whole compares with others

  • I work to connect my faith to all other aspects of my life (32%)
  • I experience the presence of God in my life (36%)
  • We do a good job supporting people in ministry by reminding them they make a difference (48%)
  • We prepare our members for ministry by helping them discern gifts (51%)
  • We understanding that we have a spiritual responsibility for life-long learning and formation (47%)
  • We welcome and are enriched by persons from many different walks of life (39%)

 

If I were to name a common thread that I see in these items, it would be that we as a church have abundant, extravagant gifts in our midst… and we don’t know what to do with them.

These results tell me that when it comes to living out our faith, when it comes to our discipleship, we act a whole lot like the third servant in our scripture today…. Both personally, and as a church.

And I think there are two factors at play here.

1)    As a church, we have not taken the time and energy, like the master of the story did, to help one another figure out what our abilities and position and gifts really are.   You need to know where you are starting in order to know what you have to work with.

2)    Even if we DO know what our abilities, skills, and gifts are… even if we have this talent in our hands… we aren’t sure what we are supposed to do with it.  We don’t have a clear sense of how to help it to grow

 

Here at Immanuel, we define discipleship with a phrase we use every single week:  In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer. 

It’s a great, easy to remember phrase… but…

What do we mean by love?  How are we supposed to pray?  Who are we serving?

How do I know if I’m doing it?

And above all… How can I do it better and more fully next week that I did last week.

That’s what today’s parable is all about, after all… taking what you have and helping it to grow.

 

So, starting today, and over the next eight weeks, we are going to break down that vision of discipleship at Immanuel into bite sized pieces.

We are going to explore what this looks like in worship and hospitality, service and generosity, formation and practice.

We’ll start next week with this whole pie and what each area of discipleship looks like at Immanuel, then over next six weeks, we’ll explore how we can take the talent placed in our hands and help it grow.

 

Figuring out where you start is the key to taking the next step.

You may have noticed a bulletin board in the foyer that includes four words:

Exploring.

Beginning.

Growing.

Maturing.

These words are going to help us to claim where we are in this journey of discipleship.

Are you someone who is brand new to this and has no idea what the possibilities are?

Are you someone who is just beginning your faith journey and you are starting to try some things out?

Are you someone who has been working on your discipleship for a while, but you still know you have room to grow?

Are you someone who understands what discipleship is all about and you have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and now you aren’t sure what comes next?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you start on this journey today.

It doesn’t matter if you are the servant in our story who was given one talent or five talents… or the servant that didn’t even get talked about who wasn’t entrusted with a talent at all.

What matters is what you do with what you have.

 

The truth of this parable is that any one of these servants could have been the ones who chose to let fear or ignorance or laziness creep in.  It could have just as easily have been the one who had been given the most who chose to do nothing with his gift.

Here at Immanuel, we are going to try to help one another not only figure out what we have, but what we can do with it.

We are going to help each other take the next step in our discipleship.

You don’t have to start with a lot in order to be faithful.  You just have to choose to do something with it.  Together… we’ll figure out how.

Amen.

Exercise and Practice

This thought was waiting for me in my email inbox this morning, as I finished day one of working out again:

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Here is a traveler. He has launched out on a long journey. He comes to the first inn, and there he remains forever. His reason? He has been told that many travelers have come this way and have stayed at this very inn; even the master of the house once dwelt here…. Oh soul! All that is wished for you is that you press toward the end…. Only remember this: Do not stop at the first stage.

Jeanne Guyon
Source: Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ

So many times, I have started on this journey and I stop far beyond the journeys end. I give up when weather, a cold, and busyness get in my way. I settle for where I am rather than pressing on.

I think when it comes to fitness and weightloss there is a fine line between loving who you are, as you are, and pushing yourself to take another step. I can accept myself and love myself right now. I just bought a pair of jeans that fit perfectly.  I can embrace my curves and size. At the same time, I climbed a hill this weekend and found myself out of breath.  I know that while this me is okay, that I can also do better.  I need to push myself to the next place without hating myself in the process. 

I wonder if we treat our spiritual lives the same way? Where we are in our life of prayer or service or the eay we love others… it is good and fine and acceptable. And we can stay here for as long as we want. Until one day we notice that we cant find the words to pray or a difficult situation challenges our ability to love someone.  And then we realize that while we might be okay with where we are, that doesn’t mean we can’t grow more healthy and push farther in our spiritual lives. We discover that climb that challenges us and we find the incentive to push on and grow as a disciple of God.

This morning,  I started my journey with some weight lifting and tomorrow I will do some cardio. You can find a thousand ways to get physically healthy.

In our spiritual lives,  there are many exercises we can try, too:
A new form of prayer, journaling, reading the scripture,  serving once a week, worshipping intentionally with others, finding a spiritual buddy to talk with.
All of these flex our soul and strengthen us for what comes next. They challenge us to keep moving forward on the journey.  One step at a time.

Postmodern Church and the Farmlands of Iowa… Part 3

In this installment, I want to talk about some of the “best practices” that I see coming out of emerging, missional, and postmodern churches. Some of these practices are mentioned in Diana Butler Bass’ book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, but they also come from Kester Brewin’s, Signs of Emergence. A few of the “best practices” are ones that I have been introduced to as I have been in conversation with pastors across the country.

First, I think in emergent churches there is a deep shift towards becoming a community of practitioners. Rather than offering services to be consumed, these congregations invite individuals to become a part of a communal pilgrimage. Or as Dan Kimball claims, the emerging church will have to teach people “that they are the church and that they don’t simply attend or go to one.”

Faith becomes “a craft learned over time in community,” according to Bass, as she describes the Seattle Church of the Apostles which takes seriously this communal pilgrimage. Realizing that many in the community had no experience whatsoever with Christianity, they developed a process called The WAY, focused on creating pilgrims rather than members. In the year long journey, “the goal is to help them at their own pace to come into a living relationship with Jesus Christ that takes over the center of their life.”

As I have seen this lived out, on the ground, many emergent faith communities are actually small groups that are connected to more institutional churches.  In some ways, I think of them as that magic 10% of the people who get it and who really want to live out their faith.  As Taylor Burton Edwards has talked about Wesleyan missional groups and accountability groups and class meetings – in some ways he has encouraged people to focus on those people who want to take the deeper plunge. Their journey and witness can become a catalyst for other transformations in the lives of your congregation members and in people completely unconnected to the church. Praxis rather than doctrine rules this shift.
Another “best practice” is that these churches take seriously their location. Kester Brewin describes these churches as adaptable systems that resist standardization. While the modern scientific perspective took something from one context and directly applied it to another, the postmodern realizes that cookie cutter ministry will not work and that each church needs to be authentic to its own location.

For example, Bass describes an Episcopal church that began a Hispanic congregation for new immigrants. In their worship practices, and especially in communion, they felt they needed to pay attention to what it means to be “home”:

Think of the joy of going home to the house you grew up in, with the smell of your mother’s cooking in the kitchen, the tastes of food, the sounds of family. Here, like your mother’s table, the Lord’s table welcomes you home. Here we are an extended family in the Spirit through communion. You are all members of God’s house.

That might seem comforting to us who fondly remember what it is like to be gathered around a parent’s dinner table.  But how much more welcoming is it for a community of people who are far from the homes they grew up in.  How much more inviting is that statement for a people who are creating a new home in unfamiliar territory.  When you are disoriented and alone, the reminder that God welcomes us into a wider family is powerful.  The goal is not to market to a specific audience or offer a product; rather the church must look seriously at how the gospel comes alive within the experiences of the people.

In Indianapolis last year, I was able to immerse myself in the Earth House Collective and Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church.  They recognized that their neighborhood was quickly changing and that their dying congregation needed to adapt.  So they transformed their basement into a restaurant and their fellowship space into a coffee shop and they tore out the pews and in addition to Sunday night worship, they host plays, dance performances, movies, and concerts.  Their church became a community center and thousands of people come in through their doors each year. That is not something that I can just transplant into a rural community – but it authentically came from their location near the Indy arts district.

The third thing that I find imporant in these churches is their spirit of discernment. Brewin describes this as creative waiting:

So against our hasty judgment, and in God’s scientific wisdom, before we can experience the transformation that is vital to our survival, we will be required to wait. To be acted on gently, gracefully, and peacefully. Shaped, not crushed; guided, not dragged.

The Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. has adopted the more traditional Quaker practice of open worship.  They are asking what God wants for them as a church by listening together in small groups. They gather to hear the truthfulness of God. There are no speeches, no panel discussions, and no debates here, only the deeply countercultural act of silence… When ready, someone shares… the speaker, who is never interrupted by the group, tries to focus the presentation on God’s presence in the midst of these concerns.

This practice is about deep openness to change rather than the modern church’s resistance to it. Just imagine if a congregation was able to say, “just because we’ve never done it that way before, doesn’t mean we can’t.” Bass reminds us that the Christian story is about metanoia or “the change of heart that happens when we meet God face-to-face.” To deny this, is to deny our calling.

Finally, these congregations live with “both/and.” This is the postmodern notion of being comfortable with paradox and contradiction, yet it is also deeply Christian. When asked what he had learned during his long life about the Christian journey, Elton Trueblood responded with the word “and”:

It is good and bad; it is made up of life and death; it is being close to God and sometimes distant… It is the task of the Christian to live in the ‘and,’ in the ambivalence of life.

All the vital congregations Bass studied lived in this tension. They were “creative and traditional, risk-taking and grounded, confident and humble, open and orthodox.” The church I interned with in Nashville, Tennessee was large enough that some of those tensions were felt.  We were a fairly diverse group of folks – liberal and conservative, traditional and yet also willing to try new things.  A small and powerful worship service began on the fourth floor of the building in an old theater space and I think for a year and a half – the folks who gathered there really lived in that tension of the “both/and.”

These four characteristics are what have inspired me about the praxis and theology of the emergent church.  I find in each of them deep biblical roots and have seen the transformation that occurs when they are allowed to take center stage in communities and congregations. But for the most part – that happened in urban contexts, in population centers, with resources like money and talent and time to help foster them.

What happens when the theology and practice are transported to a small county seat town in Iowa?  Stay tuned…

the Christian journey

How do you understand the following traditional evangelical doctrines: a) repentance; b) justification; c) regeneration; d) sanctification? What are the marks of the Christian life?
Whenever I think of the Christian life, a quote I heard Anne Lamott give (whether or not it actually originated with her) comes to mind: God loves you just the way you are… and loves you too much to let you stay there. The Christian faith journey is just that – a journey, a process of discovering our true selves as created by God. In many ways, these four doctrines are lacking because they don’t acknowledge one that must precede them – God’s prevenient grace that allows us to see our need for repentance. The wonder of God is that the instant we recognize our sinful state is the same moment justifying grace is extended to us; in acknowledging our sin we are given grace by which we can be transformed. This begins a lifelong process of growth and transformation and practice and mistakes and setbacks and return to God for forgiveness and renewal and going on to perfection that makes the Christian life.

We can see evidence of that growth through the three very basic and simple virtues – faith, hope, and love. Working on these papers, a quote was shared with me from Teresa Fry Brown that claims, “Hope hearing the song of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to it.” I would add that love is inviting others to take your hand and join in. We were created for relationship with God and with the rest of creation. Unless we are willing to take a leap of faith and actively participate in the transformative love of God, unless we are willing to have hope in the promise that all of creation will be renewed, we are denying the precious gift we have been given and continue to be in need of God’s grace.

Photo by: Stephen Eastop

the blue couch

In my last post I mentioned really connecting, even if for a short time, with my host in Indy.  And as we talked about some of her decor, we talked about antiques and things passed down, and then she brought up the movie The Red Violin.
I haven’t actually seen it, yet, but she said it’s the story of how this violin traveled through war and love and hat and across continents and the journey that it took.  And instantly, I realized that I had found something that I have been looking for a very long time.
There have been lots of times when I have had to share my autobiography in my ordination and educational processes.  But I realized to really share that story – not because I had to, but as a means of helping other young women know that they weren’t crazy as they tried to figure this whole ministry and calling thing, I would want to write a book. It would include my vocational journey, my relationship with B, my own self-discoveries – but I never could figure out where to start?  How would I do it?  I could just start writing – which is kind of where my blog has sprung out of, but it hasn’t had the focus and direction I’ve wanted.
On this trip I also picked up and read (in one short 35 minute sitting) Becca Stevens, Funeral for a Stranger, and marveled at how she used the one experience to talk about so many different things… it was the vehicle for the rest of her tale.
And then I heard about The Red Violin. And I found it.  I found what I couldn’t figure out.
Brandon and I have this modern, down, cat-scratched, taped, misshapen, used and abused blue couch.  We have dragged it everywhere.  We got it for free from a business that was throwing it out and for 8+ years it has journeyed with us.  And as I’ve made mistakes and gotten things right and said yes and said no and finally ended up as a minister in Iowa, I’ve dragged that couch along with me.
I have a title. I have an outline.  Someday I may sit down and try to actually write the thing.

Lectionary Leanings – Glimmer of Light

January 4
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72, Ephesians 1:3-14, Matthew 2:2-12

While our church year technically begins with the Advent season, Epiphany has always struck me as a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. Perhaps this is in part because of its close proximity to the New Year in the Gregorian calendar. But liturgically, Epiphany has the feeling of a beginning of a journey. A star had risen in the sky and a band of men from the east began an unknown voyage to discover its source. They probably had no idea how long it would take them to get there. They didn’t know what friends or foes they would meet along the way. In reality, they didn’t even know who they were looking for. They set out anyways.

In many ways, our journey of Christian faith is like that of the wise men. In each of our lives, there has been a moment, however small, however insignificant, that has led us to begin this journey. It may have been words of a Sunday school teacher that first caused you to follow Christ for yourself, like the faint glimmer of a falling star. Or perhaps it was a dramatic moment of hitting rock-bottom and having no where to turn but to Christ, like the glimmer of light calling out from behind an eclipse. Perhaps the call to follow has always been there in your life, from the very earliest memory, much like the multitude of stars in the night sky. We may not be able to name the moment or recite the date and time, but at some point in our lives, we began to take steps toward Christ.

Inevitably, there are times in our lives where we have strayed from that path, when we have let the cares of the world or the demands of family or job lead us in other directions. But just like the New Year brings with it a time for making resolutions, the season of Epiphany is a reminder of who we have promised to follow. In the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for your light has come!” The path is still there, the light of Christ still beckons, and now is as good a time as any to begin the journey again.

ABC’s of …

I spent a lot of time in the car last week – having to drive to the hospital in another city and then traveling yet again to meet with my clergy mentor. And as I did so, I kept thinking about how we can really ramp up energy for the fall and then sustain it. What would get people who haven’t been in a while to come back? What would be appealing for those in our community who have never checked out our church? How can we reach out and really start at the basics?

And then it hit me… back to school… back to the basics… what about focusing this fall, beginning with the return to our normal schedule/sunday school/3rd grade bible give out, on the ABC’s?

I struggle with the ABC’s of what… ABC’s of the church? ABC’s of faith? ABC’s of Christianity? So bear with me as I figure that one out… (or if you have suggestions – please comment!!!)

I’m also a fairly consistent lectionary preacher, so in thinking about this, I’ve been trying to figure out how each Sunday, from Aug 31 to Nov 23 (because then we start Lent), fits not only a letter, but also the weekly texts. Some have worked beautifully. Others, not so well. So I’m asking for some help.

1) Am I trying to hard to make this concept work?
2) Suggestions for the letters that have no direction yet (B, H, I, L)

Here is what I have so far:

A: Alpha/Omega or I AM

focusing on who God is, using the burning bush scriptures from Exodus, and combining this and the previous week’s gospels – Mt 16:13-28

B: Body of Christ, Blessed, ?

scriptures for the week include teaching on how to reach when someone offends you in the church, the institution of passover, and in Romans, the call to love and call to prepare for salvation by putting on Christ. Sidenote: after reading a sermon recently on Psalm 119 – I really was thinking about using “Bible” for my B… so that may be an entirely different direction

C: Care, Compassion, Community

scriptures include the law of forgiveness, the call not to judge one another, and the parting of the sea in exodus. Originally when I thought about this series, I really wanted to focus on care during this week – and to emphasize our role as a community to care for one another, and my desire to care for them. I’ve noticed that people don’t call me or tell me when something happens in their lives – like if they have to go in for surgery or suddenly end up in the hospital – which may be simply that they aren’t used to telling their pastor these things. I want to talk about how together we are supposed to care for each other.

D: Disciple (but I was really thinking about Doubt too)

scriptures: Paul’s exhortation to live lives worthy of the gospel, the parable of the landowner and the wages for workers, and if I went the doubt route – the manna and quails and the people grumbling in the wilderness

E: Emptying

I really wanted to use Kenosis for K… and then realized that the Christ Hymn fell on the E Sunday – which is perfect! (since its the same concept)

F: Faith (and maybe Fear also) ooo… maybe Fall?

This is also World Communion Sunday – so I was stuck a bit. The scriptures for the week don’t fit really well with the scope of world communion Sunday and I was stretching trying to make fruit work. Scriptures are supposed to include the parable of the wicked tenants, the 10 commandments, and the example of Paul – I press on toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ. I could use the wicked tenants and the 10 commandments to talk about the Fall, and our place before God – why we need the law. But another idea is to actually take the readings from August 10 and use them here: Jesus walking on the water (faith and fear) along with Paul talking about faith and the idea that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all. (which I think works much better for World Communion Sunday). Thoughts?

G: Grace

This would be a great time to talk about grace from the Wesleyan perspective. I think the three main readings can help illustrate prevenient grace (the sinners invited to the feast), justifying grace (moses interceding after the golden calf), and sanctifying grace (stand firm, help one another, rejoice from Philippians)

H: Holy, Holy Spirit, Humility

I’m stuck here. Readings include Jesus call to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, as well as the pharisees trying to trap Jesus in questions; Moses having the chance to encounter God’s presence, but not being able to look at God’s face; and Paul giving thanks for the Thessalonians who received the gospel with power and the Holy Spirit. Could go lots of different ways.

I: ? Instruction? Idolatry?

Again, stuck here. Readings include the greatest command – to love, the death and burial of Moses, and Paul assuring the Thessalonians that he comes to bring them not only God’s word, but also their true hearts (you are witnesses to how blameless our conduct was towards you)

J: Joy, Journey, Jordan River

All Saints Sunday – which fits in PERFECTLY. Joshua is leading the people across the river Jordan where they remember the promise of God and leave 12 stones for remembrance, Paul gives thanks for witnesses, and Matthew warns against trying to be better, but that we should all be servants – what a great day to celebrate the saints among us who have passed before us?

K: Kingdom of God/Heaven

parable of the 10 bridesmaids (the kingdom of heaven will be like this!), choose this day who you will serve (Joshua)

L: ? (Lord, Light, Love, Law, Life, Lord’s Prayer, Logos)

readings include the parable of the talents; Paul claiming that the Lord will come like a theif in the night – so we should be children of the light; and simply the introduction of Deborah as a judge – not even the full story. Part of me wants to switch this week with the greatest command to love scriptures (week I) – which would mean going a different direction with week I (could they just be flip-flopped?)

M: Messiah

Christ the King Sunday – Readings include the sheep and the goats, Christ as the head of the church, and Ezekiel’s description of the shepherd who seeks the lost.

That brings me to the first Sunday of Advent – which I want to focus on in its fullness.