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

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. 

The Sermon on the Mount: Lord’s Prayer Lessons

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This morning in worship, we built our entire service around the Lord’s Prayer, using songs and brief meditations to help us focus on the various parts of the prayer itself.  Below are the three meditations:

 

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

 That little tiny phrase is one of the most subversive and radical things that we can say as Christian people. And we say it every week. Too often, we rush over the words, practically tripping over them to get to the end, because we know the Lord’s Prayer so well.

For the last two thousand years, Christians have tried to let God use them to bring about glimpses of the Kingdom on this earth.  If we are going to be daring enough to pray for the kingdom to come on earth – then let us also be daring enough to participate when we see it!

In, “Listening to your Life,” (page 304), Fred Beuchner writes:

“…the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born within ourselves and within the world; …[it] is what all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know… The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”

We are homesick for it and yet it is as close as our next breath. Thy Kingdom come on earth.

Thy Kingdom, Oh Holy Lord, come on this earth and pull us beyond the borders we have artificially made.

Thy Kingdom, Oh Lord and King, come on this earth and root all of our actions in the care of your creation.

Thy Kingdom, Blessed Ruler, come on earth and let us find the boldness to feed and clothe and heal our brothers and sisters without waiting for the government to help.

Thy Kingdom, Glorious King, come on earth and make us uncomfortable. Don’t let us be content with peace in our hearts until your peace truly reigns over the nations.

Thy Kingdom, Ancient of Days, come on earth and turn our allegiance from brand names and politicians and flags and nations … but help us imagine and embody life on earth, here and now, as though you were truly the king of it all and the rulers of this world were not.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

I want to tell you a story about a church here in Iowa that took seriously Jesus’ prayer and the command to forgive. (from Becoming Jesus’ Prayer)  

Farmers Chapel UMC, “was burned to the ground by an arsonist. In the weeks and months that followed, the congregation had to wrestle with how to forgive the person who destroyed their 107-year-old church…. [so, their pastor] wrote an open letter to the unknown arsonist and had it printed in the local newspaper…” (
page 37-38)

He wrote:  “Our worship time is 9:00AM every Sunday. I tell you this because I want you to know that you are invited. In fact, we even plan to reserve a seat just for you. Our faith has a lot to say about forgiveness. Every Sunday we ask God to forgive our sins but only as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. That would be you. So if you would join us for worship, we could practice this kind of forgiveness face to face. I say “practice” for a reason. I don’t expect us to get it right the first or even the second time. Of course we’ll continue to work to forgive you even if you decline our invitation to worship. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of the faith we have inherited. Some people think it is impossible. They may be right. I only know that we have to try. Our forgiveness of you is tied to God’s forgiveness of us. We can’t receive something we are not willing to give others. So you see, if we harbor hatred for you in our hearts, we harbor the smoldering ashes of your arson. If we cling to bitterness, we fan the embers of your violent act. If we fantasize about revenge, we rekindle a destructive flame that will consume us. Forgiveness may indeed be impossible, but for us it is not optional.” (as printed in Becoming Jesus’ Prayer)

That church has been rebuilt and at the focal point of their worship space is a cross that has been built out of the charred timbers of their old building. Every single time that Body of Christ comes together, they are a living witness to the power of forgiveness. And when we pray Jesus’ prayer – when we truly pray it – we are asking… no we are begging for our lives to be changed. We are asking for this church to be transformed and for it to be a place of transformation.

 

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

All throughout the gospels, Jesus shows us what it means to be delivered from evil. 

He teaches about the ways that we should follow and does so with authority and power.

And when the demons show up, questioning his wisdom, he casts them out.

Ofelia Ortega writes that “the forces of evil know of the healing power of Jesus’ word; they are not submissive or indifferent. Jesus’ powerful teaching not only is fresh to the ears of the faithful, but it also disrupts the undisturbed presence of evil. Evil discovers that it is running its course.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, page 312)

All Jesus had to do was speak, and the evil powers of the world started shaking in their boots.

“Be silent.” Jesus commanded. “Come out.” He said firmly. And the spirit obeyed.

I don’t know what to tell all of you about evil, demons and spirits. I have never personally experienced them, although I know people who have. What I can tell you is that I firmly believe that God has power over the evil in this world.

The reign of God… the Kingdom of God is at hand. And when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, it is a personal prayer and we are talking about God’s authority and power within us. We are praying for God to help us tap into that amazing power that the people witnessed within the synagogue. We are praying not only to be cleansed of our own internal demons – but we are also praying for the power to love others who have their own internal demons.

A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life.

A fight is going on inside me,” he said to them. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandchildren thought about it and after a minute one of them asked, “Which wolf will win?” The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Every time we pray this prayer, we are feeding the wolf of love in our lives.  We are asking God to help us to be imitators of Christ, to be ones who can truly praise God as our King.

Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ Version of the Law

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When we head back home to Cedar Rapids, one of the things that I like to do, as long as the weather is warm, is play disc golf at Jones Park.

We always start at tee 15 – in part because the parking is better there on the hilltop pavilion, and there are bathrooms handy if you need them.  And looking out from that hill, you can see the entire park.  The pond, the golf course, the playground and the pool, and just over the tree tops, you can see Mount Trashmore.

Mount Trashmore is the unofficial name of the city’s beloved landfill.  It is 208 feet tall and takes up 65 acres of land.  That is as much space as 50 football fields!

Now, I mention this, because that heap of garbage reminds me of another dump, which Jesus refers to multiple times in the Sermon on the Mount. 

As we heard our gospel reading this morning we caught just a snippet of this section on the law and if we continue for another 28 verses, we hear about how Jesus believes we should treat one another.  He talks about anger, adultery, divorce, promises, revenge and how we should treat our enemies.  And we’ll get there, but first, I think we need to spend a minute with a little four letter world. 

Hell.

This is how we translate a word that shows up three times in Matthew chapter 5 – Ghenna.

Ghenna is actually a place, the Valley of Hinnom, and it was literally a trash dump… it is a valley of garbage… it is a place for filth and waste… a place to burn and destroy the refuse of our lives. This smelly, disgusting, ugly, awful place is what Jesus is pointing to in our passage today.

Let’s forget, for just a moment, that we have typically read the word “hell” here.   Instead, put ourselves in the shoes of the first century Jews who might have been sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus teach. Imagine you can see that valley of garbage, gehenna, somewhere off in the distance… much like I could see Mount Trashmore from the hill top in Jones Park. Maybe it is just the faint smell of burning garbage that lingers on the air. Maybe it is just the rising smoke from the fires. Maybe you can actually see the heaps of trash, even from far off, just outside the gate of Jerusalem.

And as you look out at gehenna, Jesus tells you what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God. 

It takes love.

That, after all, is the summary of the law we find in Deuteronomy and echoed here in Matthew… love God with everything that you are and love your neighbor as yourself.

And we know, somewhere deep inside of us that this is what we should strive for.

We know, that this is how we were made.

And, we know, that this is where we are headed…

This is the Kingdom of God. Love. Trust. Forgiveness. Honesty. Faithfulness.

And from the beginning, there have been some rules, some laws that God has invited the people to follow to embody that Kingdom.  Jesus tells all of those people, that he is not here to do away with those laws, but to show us what it means to live them fully. 

It is all about the Kingdom of Heaven. Kingdom attitudes, Kingdom witness, Kingdom behavior.

And in this sermon, Jesus wants to talk about the trash that gets in the way of us truly living like Kingdom people. He’s talking about the garbage that has to be cleared out of our lives in order for us to be a part of this community of God.

Jesus is inviting us to let go of the things that hold us back from God’s transformative grace and love. Cut it off, throw it out, put it where it belongs… on the trash heap, out with the garbage, never to be seen again.

He is not talking about eternal punishment in some fiery place… but about what cannot, will not, be a part of the kingdom of Heaven.

If we are not honest about our failings and our missteps, if we are unwilling to clean house and transform our lives, then we are throwing ourselves out with the trash.  By refusing to examine our lives, we live out there in the dump all of our own free choosing.

 

You know, we have this image in our minds of what the Kingdom of Heaven should be, and we look around us and we see a lot of signs of brokenness, pain, and waste in our lives.

There is death and murder. There is violence and anger. There is lust and revenge and envy everywhere.

All of those things that can turn our daily lives into a garbage dump.

And right here, in this sermon to the people, Jesus tackles some of the toughest situations we face in our relationships and in the scriptures: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths and promises, revenge…

In each and every single one of these verses, Jesus challenges us to live like Kingdom people.

Not once does he give us an easy out.

Not once does he allow us to justify our actions.

Not once does he say we can ignore the wisdom of earlier days.

No. In every single one of these verses, Jesus takes a simple law and makes it harder.

Don’t just restrain yourself from killing that person… Jesus says – don’t even be mad at them

You’ve been told not to commit adultery, but I say to you – don’t even look at someone who isn’t your spouse with lust.

Divorce has become as simple as writing a letter when the spark has gone – but I say to you unless your spouse has broken the fundamentals of the covenant, and committed adultery, don’t give up on your relationship… and even then give it another try.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t make oaths that are more than just yes and no.

Don’t seek your own revenge but love your enemies, pray for those who seek to destroy you. Turn the other cheek.

And he ends this whole section by saying what I think are the hardest two words in all of scripture: Be perfect.

What?! Be perfect? How do we do that? How can we get there?

There are two main theories about what Jesus is trying to do here.

The first, is that Jesus takes the old testament law and turns it into SUPER law… that to be Christian really requires more morality, more legalism, more demands.

The second, is that Jesus makes the law so hard we can’t live up to it. We can’t do it. We are utterly helpless when it comes to the law and therefore, we need Jesus to save us from our own downfall. So, the law convicts us… and then the law ceases to matter because Jesus is here to save us.

I’ve never been a black and white girl. I’m not a fan of either/or choices. So, I want to share with you today a third option… a both/and.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus pointing to this future Kingdom reality and he’s inviting us to live in that reality now. He knows we are helpless to do it on our own, but he wants us to try anyways.

Be perfect, he says.

My friend Jack works with addicts and one of the things he reminds me often is that the goal of recovery groups is to help you become clean and sober. It is a community of folks who are all seeking the same end goal. Life and life abundant. Perfection. Love.

At the start of the journey, a life of sobriety is almost unimaginable. It isn’t who they are. But they know where they are going. They know who they are seeking to be. And so they try. They hold one another accountable.  They talk about when they get it wrong and they keep going.

Maybe the church needs to be a little bit more like a recovery group. We need to be a group of people, banded together, helping one another get over our addiction to sin and death, and trying to live into the kingdom of God.

And in order to do so, we have to start letting go of some of the garbage in our lives. We have to throw it out… because in the end, it just won’t do in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus calls us in each of these situations to love. Not mushy gushy love – but real, genuine, difficult, honest love. Love that forgives wrongs. Love that seeks peace. Love that refuses to fight back with violence and hatred. Love that is strong enough to overcome.

Is it easy? No.

Will we get it right on the first try? No.

Are we supposed to try anyways? Yes.

Again, and again and again.

We are supposed to try to live our lives here in the Kingdom… and not out on the garbage dump.

Live into the Kingdom of heaven… where love is our first and not our second impulse.

At Conspire worship today, we are going to sing a song during communion called, If We’re Honest.  

And the song reminds us that I’m a mess and so are you… but If we’re honest, it would change our lives.  If we’re honest, it would set us free. If we lay our secrets, our shame, our mistakes, down at the cross then we find mercy waiting for us. 

Today, friends,  I invite you to throw your past and your mistakes and the failings of yesterday on the trash heap.  Let go of them. 

And let the people who surround you in this place, this morning, help you live into the Kingdom of God we all seek.

Sermon on the Mount: Blessed

This morning, friends, you and I find ourselves in a season called “Ordinary Time”

That is the actual liturgical name for this time in the church year: Ordinary Time.

And so, last fall,  we decided to spend this Ordinary Time – this season between Christmas and Epiphany on the one side and Lent on the other to explore a sermon about ordinary things given to ordinary people.

Last week, we talked briefly about the calling of a few of the disciples – ordinary people, fishermen – and how they brought others along to follow Jesus. And they followed Jesus all throughout Galilee, where he taught in synagogues and proclaimed the Kingdom of God and healed people along the way.

And the crowds kept growing and people kept talking and inviting and bringing their friends and neighbors and siblings.

And Jesus looks around at all of those ordinary people who were following him that day – at the crowds of ordinary people – and goes up the mountain just like Moses and sits down to teach them.

 

In what we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about the faith of ordinary people.  In the gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7, we find Jesus using everyday, ordinary language to talk about how we should live out the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures, about how we should treat each other, about how we should share this good news we are finding.  Over the course of these next few weeks, we might not always look at the sermon in the exact order Jesus did, but today we are going to start at the beginning.  

 

And Jesus starts with what we have come to know as the Beatitudes.  

A beatitude, a blessing, declares that certain people – based on their current circumstances, either are or will be blessed.   Eugene Boring writes in his commentary on Matthew that “they do not merely describe something that already is, but bring into being the reality they declare.” (NIB, Vol 8, p 177)  And these words are true not because of anything we have done to be in these circumstances, but because God is acting in the world, because Jesus has said it to be true.  In fact, these are not even virtues or characteristics, like the fruits of the spirit, that we are supposed to strive towards or embody, they simply name the reality of real people.

Today, I want to lead you into a bit of reflection.  I want to invite you, ordinary people, to find yourselves at the feet of Jesus hearing these words.  I want to invite you to close your eyes and imagine yourself hearing that sermon for the first time.  I want to invite you to ask where you are in this story.  (NLT translation + “Blessed are”)

 

Blessed are those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

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

Blessed are those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,  for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are those who are merciful,  for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

Blessed are those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Blessed are you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

Where are you in these blessings?  

Are you the poor?  Are you mouring?   

Are you the humble who are not only content with everything that you have but who are grateful for your abundance?

Are you someone who is hungering and thirsting for justice? Or the person who is showing mercy towards people who don’t deserve it?

Is your heart pure?  Are you working for peace?

Are you someone who is living out your faith in such a way that people in this world turn against you because of that faith?

Then blessed are you.  Blessed by God. 

 

The question is, how are those blessings conveyed?  How do we receive them?  

 

Eugene Boring writes that these are both future promises, but they are also the lived realities of those who participate in the community of Christ.  The mourning are comforted.  Justice is realized.  Those who seek peace find their place in the family of God.

 

And so we are invited not only to see ourselves as the ones who are poor or hungry for justice or mourning or merciful… as the people of God, as the Body of Christ, as the church that anticipates the Kingdom of God… we are also invited to see ourselves as ones who God uses to brings these blessings to others.  This is what discipleship looks like… this is what the Kingdom looks like.

 

And this is why as we near the end of Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus, seated on the heavenly throne, ushering in the Kingdom of God.  And he looks around at those crowds of people, those nations who are gathered once again at his feet.  He looks around for the people who have done ordinary acts of faith and love and care.  He looks around for the ones who have helped to usher in the Kingdom right here on earth.

Come, you that are blessed… for I was hungry and you fed me.  I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was sick and you cared for me, imprisoned and you visited me.

Church, this is our job.  Our job is to be people who share God’s blessing with the world.  Our job is to seek out those who are struggling and mourning, who are in pain and longing for justice.  And we are to remind them they are not alone.  We are to walk with them.  We are to stand with them.  We are to be the living embodiment of God’s will, a walking answer to the prayer that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  You and I, that is our job. 

 

This morning, are you yearning for a blessing? Are you stuck and struggling and seeking God?

Then the good news is you are surrounded by people of faith, who are called by God to help bring about the kingdom.   Thanks be to God.  Amen. 

Transferred into the Kingdom

Over the last two weeks in worship, we have talked extensively about how we should give thanks for one another…  

Because of our differences, we give thanks.

We gave thanks as we broke bread together.

We gave thanks around the waters of baptism.

We should give thanks always and everywhere for the people of this world who help us claim our inheritance, who help us overcome division, and who teach us how to practice what is true and holy, just and pure.  

 

Today, we explore one more of Paul’s letters.

Today, we are reminded to give thanks to God who is the reason we all share in the Kingdom.  

 

Let us pray:

 

This past week, the annual Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University was given by Krista Tippet.  

Many of my Sunday mornings, as I drive in to church, I listen to her broadcast, “On Being,” and I listen as she asks people from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds what it means to be human.  

Recently, I picked up a copy of her book, “Becoming Wise,” and like she starts so many of her interviews, she starts by exploring her own background and faith tradition.  

 

One of the interesting things about Tippet’s story is that she served as an aide to the American ambassador in Germany while it was divided.  

She writes:

More riveting to me in the end than the politics of Berlin was the vast social experiment its division had become.  One people, one language and history and culture, were split into two radically opposing worldviews and realities, decades entrenched by the time I arrived.  I loved people on both sides of the Wall that wound through the heart of the city.

I keep thinking about the division of Berlin… the division of Germany after WWII… and the division of our own nation in this moment.

Especially in regards to our letter from Paul this morning.

 

As Paul writes to the Colossians, Gentiles who lived in what is now modern-day Turkey, he writes to encourage them in their faith… to help them grow into this new relationship they have found with Jesus.

And as Paul talks about the transition, the shift they have experienced in their life by accepting Jesus, he uses this really interesting phrase.  

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  (1:13)

Transferred us into the Kingdom.

As Neta Pringle describes this word – transferred, she writes that:

His image conjures up pictures of refugees, rounded up after battle and taken to the victor’s land, of Israelites marched far from home to live in Babylon – a kingdom so different, so far from home in both geography and style.  Here the rules are different, the ruler is different.  All assumptions about the way in which life goes on – indeed about its very meaning- are different. (Feasting on the Word)

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like those who found themselves on the eastern side of the wall in Berlin suddenly found themselves living in a different country, under different rules.  

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like after an election a nation wakes up to a world where different people are in charge and different priorities come to the front.  

You don’t always have to physically shift your location to feel like the world has changed all around you.  For better or for worse. 

 

Except, Paul is not writing here about a temporary shift in power that comes and goes with various political leaders and world events.

Paul is writing about a cosmic shift…

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  

And not just the people of Paul’s day and time.  Not just the Colossians, or the Ephesians, the Philippians, or the Romans.  

All of us.

We have been rescued from the powers of evil, sin, and death.   

We all have been transferred into the kingdom of forgiveness, redemption, and life.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Today in worship, we celebrate that Christ is King.  That he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. 

We celebrate that through his death on the cross, the blood of Jesus rescued humanity from its captivity to the powers of this world.

In the cross, in the resurrection, Jesus declared victory over the powers over evil, injustice, and oppression.

And friends, in that great and glorious act, we have been transferred into God’s kingdom.  

We have been transferred into the Rule and the Reign of God.

We are no longer merely citizens of this place, of Iowa, of the United States… Jesus is Lord.

Thanks be to God!

 

To emphasize this new reality, Paul continues his letter by breaking out into song.  

While we don’t know the melody, while it isn’t a familiar tune to our ears, these lyrics in Paul’s letter would have been as familiar to the Colossians as Amazing Grace is to us. 

They might have even started singing along.

 

And this song reminds the people in familiar words that when we look at Jesus, we see God.

They remind the people that in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were made.

They remind these new citizens of God’s kingdom that everything… every nation, every King or President, every Prime Minister or Governor, every Mayor and every Councilperson… everything is from God and finds purpose in God.  

From the clouds in the sky to the microorganisms in the dirt beneath our feet, God in Christ holds everything together.  

And Jesus is in charge of it all.  

From beginning to end, Alpha and Omega, this kingdom will never end.  

Thanks be to God!

 

And like any change in leadership… whether temporal or heavenly… the rules under which we live change a bit.

So this letter to the Colossians is a reminder that them and us that we are called to grow in love and faith.

Paul encourages us to bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.

And we are reminded that just because Christ has already won, does not mean that evil death and sin are forever gone.  Paul’s letter, in fact, is full of the reminder that we will be made strong in Christ and is meant to help us endure with patience the trials and tribulations that will come.  

That is why when we gather around the baptismal font and we welcome new ones into our midst we make these familiar pledges:

We pledge to renounce the spiritual forced of wickedness and evil powers of this world.

We repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.

And we must hold one another accountable to the rules of God’s kingdom.  

All because we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior.

All because we promise to serve him as our Lord.

 

When Krista Tippett talks about life in Berlin, she also talks about the day the wall came down.  It was her twenty-ninth birthday.  

She writes that “no one imagined that it could fall or the Iron Curtain crumble…. The wall finally collapsed with a whimper, not a bang, as fear lifted all at once from an entire nation.  I had walked through Checkpoint Charlie hundreds of times, respecting its absurdity as authority.  On the night the Wall fell… the entire city walked joyfully through it.  The border guards joined them. It was truly nearly that simple.”  

 

While we live under the rule and the reign of Jesus Christ, we work and pray for the day when all people will joyfully walk through the walls of division and hatred.  

We work and pray for the day when fear is lifted for all people.  

We work and pray for the moment when the powers of this world that keep us apart let go of their last grasp upon our hearts and we are finally free to simply be in Christ.  

And until then… we live as people who see all things and all people in their true light… as the ones who already belong to Jesus.  

Thanks be to God. 

Lamentations and Investments

I must confess it was difficult to pick just one passage from Jeremiah and in the light of the events of this week, I wasn’t sure that I picked the right one.

I wondered if I should have chosen from Jeremiah 8 and 9:

Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there? Why then are my people not been not been restored to health?  If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.

Or maybe Jeremiah 31:

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and waiting.  It’s Rachel crying for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because her children are no more.

 

And I find it so hard to get back up in this pulpit every week with some new tragedy or terror that must be addressed.  But we have to do so.

We have to speak about the pain and suffering and loss of this world.  To not turn to our scriptures and prayer and ask where God is in the midst of what is happening would be irresponsible.  It is what we should do every moment of every day…  and if I can’t model that for you on Sunday mornings, then I’m not doing my job.

 

It pains me that a world that is so connected… 24/7… on every device at our fingertips… can be so divided and at war with itself.

I look around and see so much anger and hurt.  Here in the United States and all across this world.

#bluelives #blacklives #Muslimlives friends, they all matter. We all matter.  It’s not an either/or.  It’s a both/and.

And yet we take the pain and hurt and anger we feel and turn it back against one another for not being “on our side.”

There is only one side for us to be on.  The side of life and hope and peace.

 

It often feels like we are living in the worst times of human history.  Like things have never been this bad.

I could quote statistics about how violence… especially deadly violence is down in many different categories across this world.  That seems hard to believe, but its true.  But you know what… that seems to trivialize the pain that every death, every particular death carries in this day and age where we collectively witness and experience them.

 

I am in grateful to be preaching from Jeremiah this week because he lived in what the Jewish Study Bible calls “the most crucial and terrifying periods in the history of the Jewish people in biblical times: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon…  [he] grappled with the theological problems posed by the destruction of the nation, and who laid the foundations for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple in the years following the end of the exile.  In the course of his struggles to understand the tragic events of his lifetime, he tells the reader more about himself than any other prophet, including his anguish and empathy at the suffering of his people, his outrage at God for forcing him to speak such terrible words of judgment against his own nation, and his firm belief that the people of Israel would return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem once the period of punishment was over.” (p917)

 

It is strange to say that I feel like I’m living the lives of these prophets this summer, but maybe that’s what happens when you spend time in the scriptures.

So I’m feeling Jeremiah’s anguish and empathy when I look out at you… when I scroll through my facebook feed… when I turn on the news and see the heartbreak and frustration and hopelessness of so many people… in Baghdad, in Medina, in Baton Rouge, in St. Paul, in Dallas…

And I, too, have been crying out to God asking “How long…  how long will you let us turn against one another before you come and do something to fix this?”

Jeremiah turned all of the grief of his people into laments to God… he cried out to God and I think it is appropriate on a day like this,  in a time like this for us to do so.  For us to lament and grieve…

And so I want to invite you into a time of lament with me.  And together we will sing a response that is familiar to many… Oh – Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

O Holy God,  we have come here this morning from many places,

From east and west, north and south,

From pain and disillusionment,

From anger and confusion,

From grief and sadness,

Looking for hope.

We come together for one thing only:

To raise our hearts and voices and very bodies to God,

In the hope that the very act of raising them in lament yet in faith,

We might know the transforming and surpassing power of your love.

 

Oh Holy God, hear us as we cry out to you.  Our pain is more than we can bear alone.

Response: Oh— Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Unable to forget the violence and the loss of this past week, we cry…

Mourning the loss of the innocent, we cry…

Looking for justice where none seems possible, we cry…

Outraged by the actions of those who should have known better, we cry…

Lost, looking for your guidance and direction, we cry…

Weeping with families whose loved ones will never return home, we cry…

Standing with all of those who have sworn to protect us and who gave their lives, we cry…

Desperate for the courage to speak out against racism, injustice, and oppression, we cry…

Wanting to put all this behind us and live in wholeness, we cry…

Looking for the peacemakers, we cry…

( Liturgy of Lament for the Broken Body of Christ, adapted https://www.futurechurch.org/sites/default/files/Liturgy-plan.pdf)

 

O God, in mystery and silence you are present in our lives,

Bringing new life out of destruction, hope out of despair, growth out of difficulty.

We thank you that you do not leave us alone but labor to make us whole.

Help us to perceive your unseen hand in the unfolding of our lives,

And to attend to the gentle guidance of your Spirit,

That we may know the joy you give your people. Amen. (Ruth Duck, BOW 464)

 

Friends, we cry out “How Long…”

But I think the reminder of our scripture for this morning is that God turns that “how long” back on us.

And God is asking… what are you going to do, today, to be the answer?

How are you going to be a witness, an example, a living testimony of the firm belief that though this time is painful and brutal that YOU are on the side of life and hope and peace?

How are you going to personally invest in the future you pray for?

 

Jeremiah found himself in precisely that situation.  As he was proclaiming the destruction of the land he loved…  even as he was imprisoned by the very king he was trying to get to act differently… God asked him from his jail cell to buy a plot of land as an investment in the future of the land.  As a reminder that “houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

The armies are at literally at the gates of the city.  The siege has started.  And Jeremiah is buying property.

He was investing in the future he so fervently prayed for and so firmly believed in.

 

I’m tired of the loss of life in our world.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough.

We have to start investing in the future we long for.

We have to figure out what it means to “buy a plot of land” today.

 

And I think there are a few concrete things we can do, today, to invest in God’s future.

First, we have to invest in relationships with people who don’t look like us.

My friend, Jim, and his wife, Lori, have a son who is seven years old.  His name is Teddy.  And because he is adopted, his skin doesn’t look the same as that of his parents.

Jim wrote to me, “I’m keenly aware that I didn’t really ‘get it’ until I was invested in the life of my son; and all of the fear and trepidation I feel for him as he starts growing up to be a young black man in America.  So I know that compassion and grace towards those who don’t ‘get it’ is necessary because I was one of them in the past.”

The only way that we can ever start to live into a future of peace is to actually cross the street and talk with our neighbors who are people of color or Muslim or police officers or elderly or of a different political party.

We have to invest in personal relationships with people who are not the same as us.

 

Second, we have to practice humility.

We are not better than anyone else. We are not perfect. We don’t have all of the answers. And we need to create space for others to teach us, for others to lead us, for others to speak.

And part of that means that we need to look at all of the ways in which dominate conversations or perspectives and we need to step back and listen.

This past week, as the holy month of Ramadan was ending for our Muslim brothers and sisters, a bomb went off in the heart of one of their holy cities.  And we barely noticed.

We can be so focused on our own lives and our own experiences that we do not stop to let go of ourselves and make room for the pain and grief of others.

 

Third, we need to speak the truth in love.

The first part of that is that we have to tell the truth.

We have to stop spreading rumors or hyperbole. And we need to take a moment and pause and ask about the source and if it is trustworthy.  We have to take a breath.

But, we cannot be afraid to speak the truth when it is in front of us. We have to name injustice.  The only way that evil is overcome is when it is brought into the light for all to see.  So we cannot be afraid to name it. To speak it. To see it.

And we can do so in love.

We can disagree.

We can speak the truth and invite conversation and dialogue.

We can do so with our feet in protest non-violently.

But we should never resort to demonizing or attacking other people because of what they believe.

 

We have to start investing in the future we long for.

We have to invest in living differently in this world.

 

Just a few minutes ago, in the prayer I prayed that:

We come together for one thing only:

To raise our hearts and voices and very bodies to God,

In the hope that the very act of raising them in lament yet in faith,

We might know the transforming and surpassing power of your love.

 

And so I want to invite you in to a prayer with your whole body as we invest in the future God hopes for us:

Touch your forehead:

Put on the mind of Christ, a spirit of humility, encouragement, unity, and love.

Touch your ears:

That in the cries of the oppressed and grieving you may hear God calling you to another way.

Touch your eyes:

Darkened by tears, unable to see past privilege and power, blinded by hatred, that they may be brightened in the light of Christ.

Touch your lips:

Silenced by fear and the shock of news, that you might respond to the word of God and speak justice and truth in love.

Touch your heart:

Broken in pain and uncertainty, disappointment and grief, that Christ may dwell there by faith.

Touch your shoulder:

Weighted and heavy with sadness and sorrow, that your burden be eased in the gentle yoke of Jesus.

Touch your hands:

Wrung in anger and despair, that Christ may be known in the lives you touch.

Touch your feet:

That you may stand firm in faith and hope, and walk in the way of Christ.

( Liturgy of Lament for the Broken Body of Christ, adapted https://www.futurechurch.org/sites/default/files/Liturgy-plan.pdf)

Pastoral Persona

Pastoral Persona

Format Link

A while back, Verily put out an article:  Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Post Something on Social Media

The basic three questions are these:

  1. Is it useful?
  2. Is it truthful?
  3. Is it fruitful?

I had shared the article with other pastors because I thought that the three questions raised in the article are good guidelines for how we can interact with parishioners and one another online.  In today’s vicious political climate and in the lead up to our own General Conference, I thought these questions would be good to revisit.

On the one hand, these questions help us to utilize social media and our web presence and be truly vulnerable.  But I think they are also guidelines that allow us to be real without oversharing or crossing boundaries.  These questions act as a filter for whatever content we might put forth – from our feelings on a basketball game to our opinion of a candidate to our experience of worship that morning.

Verily doesn’t have a Christian background, so I find it so interesting that fruitfulness is one of the criteria they use. And the very idea of promoting ourselves as a brand seems the very definition of inauthentic.  However, we do have a persona, a public perception, that we are known by – whether as pastors or as church folk or as church bodies in general.  The world sees us based on what we choose to put out there via blogs, websites, tweets, and posts.  So, what are we saying?

Is it useful?

“if I think someone else will benefit intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually from my post, I’ll push it out.”

I think this could also be thought of as relevance.  Is this something that my community should be aware of or are they already talking about it? I’ve long used the Barthian quote about having a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and I think this usefulness question asks us to make connections with the lives of people and the gospel we proclaim. And, I think it invites us to look to the secular world and see where we can find insight that is good for the people of God, too. (like the article I’m referencing!)  One of my hobbies is watching television shows and I am constantly discovering questions, insights, and realities of the human dilemma that we fail to talk about as a church.  So occasionally I try to blog about where I see grace or the human condition or redemption in the media we consume in the secular world.  If we aren’t paying attention to the world we live and breathe in, I think our posts will fail to be useful.

Usefulness also has to do with what we are trying to accomplish with our posts.  Maybe we need to ask if the church will benefit intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually from our posts.  Or, are we simply trying to stir the pot?  Are we trying to build up the church or does our commentary simply serve to tear it apart?  The same could be asked of our national conversations and politics.

Is it truthful?

“Is what I’m broadcasting… an accurate representation of who I am personally and professionally?”

While this item does have to do with actual facts, and we shouldn’t ever promote or share things that simply aren’t true, this point for me really is about whether something accurately represents me.  I post about sports and food and family and friends because it is who I am.  Yes, I am a pastor, but I am also a real, normal human being, just like others are.  If my online pastoral persona is all about the church or if it is all about ministry, then I am painting a false image of what it means to serve God.  I don’t create space for others to live their lives AND serve God, too.

The flip side of this is that ministry is a high calling and we commit to living according to higher standards.  And as a colleague noted, perhaps as pastors we give up the right to a “private” life when we take on our calling.

Or perhaps, a different way to say it is that our lives as pastors are always under the microscope of public opinion.  What we do, even in our private time, reflects our profession (whether we want it to or not).  I hang out with a lot of non-churched people.  They are at my house every Friday night, playing board games and ping pong.  Even in that little microcosm of personal life, they don’t forget that I am also a pastor.

And so, if I can’t say it in front of colleagues or in front of the church, maybe I really shouldn’t say it… or at the very least not say it online.   I find it much harder to remember this when I’m at home watching a basketball game and my team is down by 35 points.

Is it fruitful?

“Will what I’m sharing create something bigger or make an impact, whether in the form of an online debate or dollars for a charity?”

My colleague, Deborah Coble Wise, noted that this definition of fruitfulness is sometimes part of the problem:  “When everything because a ’cause’ or a debate… does it lose the possibility of authentic relationship?”

How we, as the church, define fruitfulness is very different from the rest of the world. Sometimes, yes, it is about numbers and getting people on our side (if our side is the Kingdom).  We could ask how this post could help make disciples of Jesus Christ and how it will help to raise money for a project we are working on.

But we also define fruitfulness in a lot of un-quantifiable ways.  Will this post help us transform the world?  Will it bring hope to someone?  Will it spark a conversation?  Will it create a deeper relationship or community?  Will it impact the life of a youth?