The Wealth in our Wallets instead of the Well-being of the World

This afternoon I watched the United States join two nations… Syria and Nicaragua… in being the only three nations in the entire world that are no longer signers of the Paris Climate Accord.

As I listened to the justifications, what I heard over and over again was the mention of a few economic sectors that will be impacted negatively and are disadvantaged because we are choosing to prioritize a different future for the world.  Our President spoke about a drastic and unfair “redistribution of wealth” through the International Green Fund and how instead we need to put America First. His focus is solely on the wealth and wallets of the few, instead of the well-being of the many.

Well, if we are really going to put Americans first, perhaps we should think about all of these ways that Americans will be impacted if we do not make drastic changes to halt climate change.  The link is the official report of the National Climate Assessment and includes data from thirteen different U.S. government agencies.  The impacts include health, agriculture, energy, coastal migration, extreme weather, and are broken down by sector, region, and show the risks if we do nothing.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the argument to withdraw is that we need to stop worrying about other people and focus only on ourselves and what is best for ourselves. And yet, as I understand the Christian faith and my calling to live our the love of Jesus Christ in the world, my duty is to love my neighbor and to set free the oppressed and to care more for the well-being of others than I do myself.  Even if we stick with the idea that we, as Americans, are leaders in protecting the environment, the thought that we can just take care of ourselves without helping to bring others along doesn’t even find a home in scripture.  For as Jesus teaches the disciples in the gospel of Luke, we have been given this world as a gift and we are called to be its stewards.  “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

In this chapter filled with parables, we are called to remember the worth of even the sparrows, to guard ourselves against all greed, to sell our possessions and give to those in need, and to make wallets that won’t wear out.  And then, ironically, Jesus lifts up the fact that the crowds “know how to interpret conditions on earth and in the sky” (12:56).  We know when its going to rain or when a heat wave is coming.  Except, it appears that our government can’t see the conditions on the earth and in the sky.  We refuse to acknowledge our impact on the world around us.  We are willing to put our own personal gain above the well-being of the world.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” – Luke 12:34

Lord, have mercy on us.

The Sweetest Grapes are Closest to the Vine

This spring when I planted my garden, I included some pumpkins for my husband.

Typically, I try to avoid plants with vines, because they tend to take over the entire garden.  I plant bush varieties of cucumbers and squash and beans to keep everything more compact.

But pumpkins don’t come in bush varieties 😉

I planted only four seeds… all together in one mound…

They were planted at the right depth, they were watered and weeded.  And the vines grew.

As the summer went on, the vines took over the garden with their broad leaves and bright yellow flowers.  Stretching the entire length of my garden were glorious vines and the beginning of fruits. The weather was perfect for vine production… maybe not so much for fruit… but definitely for vines. 

But there were some scattered ugly brown vines here and there.  

In the midst of all of the living, thriving vines, some were dying. 

Now… the pumpkins really did take over much of my garden.  And so I had to tread carefully through the chaos to trace those dying vines and find the source of the problem. 

All of them were connected to a single branch… a single shoot off of the main stalk that had been severed from the vine.  Perhaps it was a rabbit or a chipmunk.  Maybe a bug.  Maybe I stepped on it.  No matter what had happened, every vine that branched off from that point was dying because it was no longer connected to the roots and stem that gave it life. 


In our scripture this morning, we are reminded that we will die spiritually… that we are incapable of producing fruit when we are not attached to the vine, when we are not connected to the roots which nourish us.  

And our true vine is Christ… the Christ we meet in worship… the Christ we meet in God’s Word… the Christ we meet in fellowship and in the face of the stranger.


As I studied this scripture, I set aside my paltry knowledge of pumpkins and turned to the world of grapes.  

Did you know that the best and the sweetest grapes are found closest to the vine?  

Nancy Blakely reflects that this is because they are closer to the source, “where the nutrients are the most concentrated.”  In fact, this is why growers of grapes are so diligent about pruning their vines… because the farther away from the vine the grapes are, the bitterer and the smaller they will be.  

But close in, close to the heart of the vine, abiding near the heart, they find the nourishment they need and produce bountifully.  


As we have been exploring a life of discipleship, so far we have explored what it means to be people who worship and people who share in God’s hospitality towards others.

But we also need to be fed and nourished in our work.  As Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John:

“A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine.  Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me… without me, you can’t do anything.”


So today, we turn our attention towards our spiritual formation, or how we stay connected to the vine.    What it means to abide in God and to remain in Jesus.

Take out the half sheet of paper that describes those various levels of spiritual formation.  

Maybe you are a small bunch of grapes way out there on the edge of the vine.   Many of us in worship today want to know more about God and Jesus and you are curious and getting started.  And that is amazing.    

We have third graders who will be learning today with their bible partners after worship…  but even if you are older than a third grader, its not too late to start.  

All of us should be reading the bible… it is the number one way that we stay connected with Jesus.  And it is a whole lot easier when you are in a safe place where you can ask questions and learn together.

We have been trying to offer Sunday morning bible studies, and I, personally, have been disappointed that more of you have not signed up.  Maybe it’s not the right time… but bible study itself is something that this church really needs in order for us to grow spiritually.

In fact, this is so important to me, that starting in November, I’m going to be leading a bible study every Wednesday night, and I’d love for you to join me.  


Maybe you are a bunch of grapes that is a bit closer in to the vine.  Growing a bit sweeter and bigger and fuller.   Do you regularly spend time reading your bible?  Are you finding other ways to connect with God through prayer or contemplation?

Maybe then your next step is to go deeper with others.  Our life groups have been places where many have been formed and have grown in their faith as they connect with God or each other.  They have made prayer beads, and explored topics like forgiveness and stewardship.  Some of our in-depth scripture studies like Covenant or Disciple have really challenged people to take seriously the bible in a new way.  If you are ready to go deeper… we have resources – either within the church or through retreats like Walk to Emmaus to help you connect more fully to the one true vine.  


Maybe you are a strong bunch of grapes… ripe, sweet, and full… right up there tucked in close to the vine.  Are you in a place where get up every day, ready to connect with God?  Do you not simply wait for the church to offer something, but seek out opportunities to learn and to grow?  

Maybe your next step is to turn your life-giving energy towards others.  Whether it is a partner for our third graders, or a leader of a class or life group, or personally mentoring someone… in helping another person grow, you will grow in new ways yourself.


One limitation of our vine metaphor is that it makes us think we are fixed in and we are not.  

You are not limited by wherever it is you are on the vine.  

If you are a tiny, sour little bunch of grapes way out on the edge, you can take the next step and move a bit closer to God.  

If you are a bunch of grapes that is not yet ripe, but growing… you can take the next step and move a bit closer to God. 

And you can carry the vine itself with you wherever you might go.  This vine is not meant to be stuck in the ground at 2900 49th Street…. We are meant to move and be engaged in the world with Jesus.


Now, there is another category of people who are not listed on this sheet, but who come up in our scripture:  The spiritually wilted and dying.  

Maybe you were closely connected to the vine at some point, but that day has come and gone.  

You know, none of us are perfect.

All of us let things besides God into the center of our lives at one time or another.

Just like my vines were cut off by critters or bugs or clumsy feet, maybe you were disconnected by work or family responsibility, disappointment or doubt.

The troubling part of this scripture for me is always the part about the pruning.  It appears like God the vinedresser simply snips off those dead and wilted branches from the vine, throws them in the fire or compost pile, and forgets about them… just like I did with my pumpkin vines this summer.  

So is there any hope for those of us who aren’t as connected as we would like?


No matter who you are or where you are in your relationship with God, there is always a chance to take a next step and be formed spiritually.

Even if you have broken away from the vine.

You see… the same God who talks about pruning also talks about grafting.

Grafting is a process where a branch can be attached to the trunk and roots of another tree – in many cases, different types of trees and plants are connected together for hybridization and for strength and growth.

In the scriptures, Paul talks not about vines, but about trees… the family tree of God.  The gentiles were grafted on to that tree… brought into the family after some of the faithful branches broke off.  

In Romans, chapter 11, he talks about those branches were broken off because of their own unbelief.

But if God could take us… gentiles who didn’t belong… and graft us on to the tree… then God has the power to reattach the broken branches, too.  

Even the branches that appear to be dead and dying have the ability to be restored by God’s grace.  

This morning, the bread and juice from this table will go to our homebound members who are not able to be physically present with us today, so too do we need to take the vine with us to those who are in danger of being cut off.

You are the hands and feet, the branches and leaves of Christ in this world.  And maybe you are the reconnection point for someone you know.  Maybe it is your own son or daughter. Or a friend. It might be a neighbor who hasn’t opened a bible or door to a church in a very long time.

With God’s grace and strength flowing through you, let the love of God that abides in you overflow into your love for them.

This World Communion Sunday reminds us that we don’t do faith all by ourselves.  Every part of the Body of Christ across this globe is a branch of the one true vine.  And parts of this world are broken and hurting, full of anger, pain, and grief.  

But as Kate Huey puts it, “Here, up close to the vine, immersed in [God’s love and peace], we find not only nourishment but also hope and joy, and we let God’s word ‘find a home in us through faithful devotion… ‘ When we remain that close to Jesus, we attuned to him and he to us, the remarkable result is that what we want will be what God wants, and it will surely come to pass.”

And it will take all of us, living together in love, growing deeper in our love and knowledge of God, to truly transform this world into what God desires.  But we aren’t alone. 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Blogging as a form of Public Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My calling is to be a public theologian.

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

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

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

Was John Wesley a Deacon?

Through John Meunier, I was directed to “Four John Wesley quotes everyone should know” by John Pedlar.

They are good quotes, and ones that, as a student of Methodist history and theology, I knew well.

But as John shares, James shares an important insight at the end of his piece.  It is in response to Wesley’s quote “the world is my parish.”

Wesley’s quote about the world being his parish is usually seen as his missional justification for preaching the gospel wherever he was. But he also knew that he was exempt from the parish boundary rules as a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. He had no parish of his own, and was free to preach where he liked

I think for me, that quote from James Pedlar asks the question – are we hindered in our ability to preach the gospel where it needs to be preached BECAUSE of our parish/appointment?

In the context of Wesley’s ministry, territory was everything.  Your parish was a geographical location and your people where those within its borders. I think he’s right that John was free from that because of his academic placement.

So, what would that look like today? Would it be more appropriate to think of John Wesley in today’s terms as a deacon?  As a pastor without an appointment?

The more I think about it, the more I think Wesley would have been a 21st century United Methodist Deacon rather than anything else.  As far as I can tell, he did not regularly administer the sacraments… he encouraged people to go to their local parish congregation and recieve them there.  He was an academic and a preacher, a writer and a teacher, an organizer… and I have a feeling that he would have been very unhappy under the appointment system.

In our world, our “parish” or our congregation can be limiting if we let it. If we stick within the walls of our church and only preach to those who come to us, the gospel is confined. Sometimes this isn’t intentional. Sometimes the demands of newsletters and repairing the roof and worship planning just gets in the way of our ability to be in the world preaching the gospel.

If we were not limited to one congregation – or even two or three or five (in some yoked parishes) – how would the job of ministry change? If the parish were not your primary appointment, but you were still an ordained elder with sacramental responsibility, what would your days look like? The first place I see being thrown out the window is pastoral care, but perhaps that is not fair…

That being said… sometimes Elders under appointment self-limit themselves.  As my bishop reminded a group of young clergy, we are appointed to communities, not to congregations.  The world of ministry around us is far bigger than we sometimes assume.  There are plenty of opportunities to serve outside of our local church communities, also.

The question for me is always one of calling… what are you called to be and to do?

Wesley was called to use his post as a vehicle for transformation of his church and of disciples of Jesus Christ.  He had some freedom to move and travel to enable him to do that.

I am called to deeply inhabit this community to share the love of God with them in every way that I can.  I have some freedom and authority because of my position to do that as well.

Thank God that there are many ways that we can serve!

ding dong, the witch is dead…

I found out that Osama Bin Laden had been killed last night as I was crawling into bed.  It has been a long week, I was tired, and my husband came in and announced the big news.  My husband!  Who normally isn’t all that concerned about world politics/situations.

The first thing I thought of was – “no way!” And then – “hmm… I wonder what that means?”

Today, I had a congregational funeral to deal with.  No time to think about it… although a few people here and there mentioned it and I caught a few clips of stories on NPR.

This afternoon, I was knee deep in reciepts and deposit slips trying to account for donations and reimbursement items from a month of busyness and a couple of youth fundraisers.

And when I got home at 5pm, I really didn’t want to think about it.  I plugged in the headphones, turned up the music, and mowed my lawn for the first time of the year.

I found a few stray plants – an iris that was in the middle of the yard, a few ferns that started growing outside of their beds – so I moved them to better locations.  I raked up the grass clippings and I put them underneath the strawberries. I sprayed some turf builder on the grass until it ran out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that nothing in my life has changed. Probably nothing in most of our lives has changed.

I listened here and there to various stories as I made a quick trip to the gas station for lawn mower gas and then again after I was finished to pick up some spaghetti noodles.  And everyone was talking about how this one guy created so much destruction.

My first thought is – we probably are giving the guy too much credit.  The organization he was the head of is not a one person show.  Yes, he was the face and figurehead of so much terror that has occured in this world, but I’m not going to let one person scare me or turn my world upside down. I’m not going to concede and give him that power.

My second thought relates to that strange mythological status that we have given him.  Kind of like the Wicked Witch of the East… at her sudden death, the people started singing and dancing in celebration.  Suddenly they were freed from the fear and the frustration, the anger and the pent up revenge and hostility… they burst forth in song in relief.
I can’t help but see images and hear audio from those crowds that have gathered to celebrate without transporting myself to Oz.  It is surreal, it is strange, it is funny and yet… not really.
As a Christian, the only reason that I celebrate the death of another person is because I believe in the power of resurrection.  I believe in the grace and mercy of God that takes what is perishable and makes it eternal.  I believe in the new creation.

I don’t believe I have been given the ability to judge another person’s life. It is not for me to determine their eternal destiny.  And… I cannot put a limit on God’s power to transform and renew and restore even the darkness itself.

I find no reason at all to celebrate the death of a man who killed many.  It doesn’t make me happy or feel good.  It doesn’t bring me joy.  It just reminds me that we are mortal.  That our grabs for power and our bent towards hatred and evil are real and that they are destructive.  This reality sinks me farther into the human condition.  We are broken.  All of us.  And we need help.

If we can turn back towards God and seek peace…

If we can remember that justice and revenge are God’s work and not our own…
If we can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…
Maybe then, I might be able to celebrate.

But for now, I’m going to get my hands dirty and plant some irises.

the incredibleness of sms

I think I never realized how SMS really is impacting the world and has transformed how we communicate until I listened to this story a while back on NPR: Mobile Phones Do Much More Than Make Calls

In the phone calls that ensued on the show, people called in about living in a mud hut in Africa, but using a solar charger to keep her connected through cell phone with her daughter 100 miles away in the city. Or fishing off the coast of India and texting to the buyers on shore what the catch of the day was so that nothing went to waste.

I don’t think I realized how different SMS was than regular phone calls until last week when we literally had no coverage because the network was jammed with people stuck on the interstate due to flash flooding, but I could update my facebook status from SMS and people were sending back comments instantly.

There is something about the instantaneous nature of communication that is both really exciting and really troubling. Some of the comments had to do with how health workers were able to finally sync their data and know when outbreaks were occuring and then respond. But then others spoke about how dangerous it was to have locating technologies built into these same devices that made them increasingly vulnerable.

It is an amazing tool that connects us to one another, and yet 140 characters is also especially limiting. It has literally changed the way that we write and speak and SPELL! I am constantly amazed at how “what” is now spelled “wut” in my youth group’s correspondance to each other on facebook or even on papers they turn in to me. I wonder what kinds of hair-pulling frustration their English teachers are having.

There is also an expectation of always being connected – of having instantaneous response. If you send an email or a text message – you often hope the person is right there, ready to respond to get you the information you need. But at least mediums like twitter and facebook (and their SMS applications) have the benefit of responses from multiple directions. As an example – a pastor friend I know who was working on writing a funeral sermon for a tragic death of a young couple in a car accident connected quickly with colleagues to get some really helpful advice. Not everyone needed to respond instantly, but enough did.

But language changes, people adapt, and at the age of 27, I feel almost as if I’m on the brink of being an old-fogie. While I love my cell phone, I’m only just now figuring out how to take it with me everywhere. I’m quickly trying to figure out twitter, I’m staying connected with facebook, I’m building relationships through new medias, so I’m hoping that I have the skills I need to be an adapter and not someone who just grumbles at the changes happening. The key is to figure out what really is valuable about these new technologies (or in the case of SMS – new uses of technology) and still be able to critique the faults of the medium.