Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ways of Knowing God: A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

From Holy Trinity Parish, Alberta

Scripture can be found here...

How do we come to know God?

This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real, non-hypothetical, not-necessarily-one-obvious-answer question. For people of faith, it is a highly practical question. For the church that was born in Pentecost wind and flames, it is a burning question, a question that blows right into our hearts and stirs things up.

How do we come to know God?

For me, one of the first and most persistent answers is, we look up.

This takes time. Little babies can’t ‘look up’ right away, because they can’t yet tell the difference between ‘me’ and ‘not-me.’ As a tiny human grows and learns and separates from his mother or father or other intimate caregiver, there comes a time when he sees the moon or a star and he wonders. What is that beautiful, far away thing, and how did it get there? I see it. Does it see me? In order to have an inkling of anyone or anything like God, we have to get to that point where we look up, look around, that point where we can be overwhelmed by a sense of wonder. This is the kind of thing that got some ancient peoples worshipping the stars and the moon, and it makes sense. The sun and the moon and the stars and the sea are so obviously outside the realm of human ability to create or to have an effect upon. So there dawns in the human heart this persistent notion that there must be some other explanation. For many people, the one that soon makes the most sense is that there is or was some great intelligence or force that did the creating.

How do we come to know God? Well, for many of us, the people who first love us teach us about God, whether they are our parents or our grandparents or some other beloved guides or guardians. They sing us lullabies that later we realize were actually hymns. They teach us to pray, as they tuck us in for the night: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Or, “Now I lay me down to sleep” (but please, with the words that don’t scare the poor kid into not sleeping at all).[i] But our caregivers teach us in other ways, as well. When a baby cries from hunger, and someone tenderly picks him up and holds him close and feeds him, he is learning about a world in which we are held and nourished, sometimes, in ways we can’t understand, which later becomes an inkling that God provides for us. When a child is crying because she skinned her knee or because another child was unkind, the teacher who consoles her or the school nurse who applies a bandage with kind words is teaching her about a world in which we are cared for when we are distraught, which later blossoms into the idea of a God who weeps when we are weeping.

Even as adults, it is possible that our own minds can lead us to greater knowledge of God. The person who realizes it would be quite easy to tear up the parking ticket from their Florida vacation, or to swipe the laptop computer that was left unguarded at the coffee shop, but does not do so, may be responding to the pragmatic notion that they could be caught and punished. Or they may be responding to an inner voice that tells them, no, that is not the person you want to be. And at some point they may realize with a start that, the voice did not originate with them, that the voice is not their own, but the voice of some Other.

John Calvin has a name for all these ways of knowing. He called it “General Revelation.” According to Calvin, we can come to some understanding of God through the observation of nature, or through the workings of the human mind, or even through the sense that some mysterious force is directing events. As the psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the divine handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

But, Calvin goes on to say, we need more. And that “more,” for Calvin, is scripture, what he goes on to call “Specific Revelation.” We can’t really get to God, much less Jesus and the Holy Spirit, without the guidance of scripture to open up our minds and hearts and lives.

And I suppose that’s what we’ve been doing since September. We spent nigh on forty weeks with the Narrative Lectionary, the “I Love to Tell the Story” project, sharing the highlights from the story of God and God’s people, from creation through the early church.

We began by hearing stories of God as the one who creates the world and all there is, and who looks upon the human creations and decides to enter into covenant relationship with them. We saw God intervene in history to save the people from their captivity in Egypt, God as savior, and also the One Whose Spirit was present with the people throughout all their wilderness wanderings, who encouraged and sustained them. And we encountered God as the One who forgave and forgave and forgave all the times those same people stepped out on their relationship with the Divine, God as the one who is “kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Imagine. The people of God came to know God as Creator, Savior, and Sustainer… and all before a particular young woman gave birth to a particular baby while on a road trip to Bethlehem, before the Holy Spirit came sweeping in a particular upper room in Jerusalem. All this before Jesus, all this before the church.  And because today is “Trinity Sunday,” the only day the church celebrates a doctrine rather than an event, the church seeks to provide us with passages that allow us a way in to that mystery… but let’s take note. The word “Trinity”, used in relation to Christian theology, is found nowhere in scripture, and seems to have been coined by Tertullian in the third century. And the question persists… How do we come to know God?

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he describes ways of knowing God, and ways of knowing Jesus Christ, and ways of knowing the Holy Spirit, that are thoroughly intermingled and difficult to separate. The passage speaks of our being “justified by faith,” but remember, another translation is possible: “justified by [his] faithfulness,” the faithfulness of Jesus.  To be “justified” means, very simply, to be restored to right relationship. So through faith in—or the faithfulness of—Jesus Christ we are restored to right relationship with God. And then Paul describes what that that relationship looks like, boots on the ground.

First, Paul acknowledges something that is no less true today than it was when he was a citizen of ancient Rome: there is suffering. For nearly a month the world looked on as the death toll continued to rise in the collapse of a factory in Bangladesh, settling at last at the staggering number of 1,127 souls. Last Monday a mile-wide tornado ripped up Moore, Oklahoma, killing two-dozen people in the process. Tomorrow, we observe Memorial Day, remembering those who died while serving in the U. S. armed forces. Suffering is a regular feature of life in this world, not only in the life of Christian faith.

But there is always the possibility that out of suffering, something else will be born:
“suffering produces endurance,” Paul says, “and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” This right relationship with God is the foundation for an approach to living, even to suffering, in which all our outcomes are God-infused, the daisy-chain leading from hopelessness to hope in just a few short steps.

I feel obligated to interrupt at this point to acknowledge: it doesn’t always work this way. I’ve spoken to you before of Elie Wiesel, the concentration camp survivor. As a child in Auschwitz, witnessing the brutality of his captors and the deaths of countless other children, his faith in God was annihilated. For Wiesel, suffering produced, for a time, the death of hope. There are countless others whose suffering has produced similar results.

And yet, this same man could write, years later, “… the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of [my] childhood was lost… We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Almighty is the Almighty, the last word belongs to him.”[ii]

The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts, says Paul. And even the unfathomable, the unacceptable, the irredeemable torture that is the Holocaust can, at least for this one survivor, endue his life with meaning and purpose and help him to find again the faith of a child, and to enlarge his biography to include writer, peace-activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

How do we come to know God? From the eyes of a child that are drawn to the moon in wonder, to the eyes of a child that look in horror upon human suffering, we take it all in, we amass evidence, for and against. We are given the witness of scripture, not to replace our human experience, but to meet it in honest dialogue. Scripture doesn’t diminish or dismiss the reality of suffering, but offers instead one possible path, not around it, but through it. And that path is navigated in the company of God, who in God’s innermost nature, values and demonstrates the reality that we are meant to be in community.

Paul describes ways of knowing God, and ways of knowing Jesus Christ, and ways of knowing the Holy Spirit, that are thoroughly intermingled and nearly impossible to separate, not only from one another, but from our own experience. The witness of the church is that the Lord our God, the Lord is one, and at the same time that we know God as Parent-Creator, and as Lord-Savior, and as Sustainer-Spirit. There is a threefold nature to our understanding of God that we refer to as “the Trinity.”  At the heart of that understanding is the sense that God is always in relationship, that God prefers relationship, even within the Divine nature, and that relationship is what God wants for us—relationship with God and relationship with one another.

In the end it may be that this is the “Trinitarian” way through suffering. Suffering produces endurance… maybe because we can turn to one another and say, “I am hurting,” and know that someone else will say “I am with you.” And so we will be able to go on. And endurance produces character… maybe because in community we are able to look around us and see those whose character has been forged in the crucible of their struggles. And character produces hope… maybe because as we find our feet under us once again, after the wind dies down we will see that the helpers have arrived. “Always look for the helpers,” Mr. Roger’s mother told him. And when we see them we know: the community is there, the community will always be there, to help to lift our burden. And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…maybe because, this is how we come to know God. Suffering shared. Hope found. Hearts open to love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Angels watch me through the night,
And wake me with the morning light.
[ii] Elie Wiesel, “Foreword” to Night (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1958), xix.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Glorious Conspiracy: A Sermon for the Day of Pentecost

Scripture can be found here...

You know what it’s like. A whisper in your ear. A story passed along from one to another, or maybe a plan.

Maybe a wonderful plan, a plan for a birthday party, let’s say. A plan for what time to get her there, and how to get her into the room, and who will be waiting… the decorations, the music, the streamers! The shout of “Surprise!” and the laughter and the applause.

It all starts with that whisper in the ear. It’s a lovely conspiracy.

Of course, that word, “conspiracy,” has its negative overtones. Those are the meanings we’re more familiar with. “Conspiracy theorists” are crackpots, we tend to believe, who claim everything from the notion that Apollo 11 never really landed on the moon to the conviction that the CIA is monitoring them through the fillings in their teeth. In the movie “Conspiracy Theory,” Mel Gibson played a cab driver, suffering from paranoia, who believed that his apartment was bugged and that guys in black helicopters were going to come and take him away and torture him. Of course, when he actually becomes the target of the black helicopter guys, he has to figure out which one of his crackpot theories was on target.

That word, conspiracy. It sounds dangerous. But do we know what that word really means? It’s about breath. It means, “breathing together,” in the way that you do when… you whisper with someone, whether your whispers have to do with bringing down governments or throwing wonderful celebrations.

So now imagine with me what it was like to be among the friends and followers of Jesus…and family too. His mom was there, we are given to understand, in that room upstairs, hidden away from the prying eyes of those who imagined conspiracies in them. Imagine them whispering together in those rooms. “On Pentecost they gathered,” we sang a few minutes ago, “quite early in the day. A band of Christ’s disciples, to worship, sing and pray.”

And it is very likely that the friends and followers of Jesus in that upper room were participating in nothing either more or less dangerous than a bible study. Pentecost was the Greek name for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a festival just observed this past week. It commemorates God’s gift of the law to the people. The customary way to celebrate Shavuot is to study Torah, all night long.

And that is how I imagine Jesus’ friends, whispering together, breathing together. And their whispering was all about Jesus. What did it all mean? they wondered as they pored over the scriptures together, their breathed questions causing the candles to flicker. Was Jesus God’s prophet? they whispered to one another, as this verse and then that one was lifted out of scripture. Was heGod’s anointed one, God’s messiah?

They remembered when he stood in the synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted..”

They remembered when he taught them the greatest commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your stength; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And then they remembered a story he told them that burst open their tiny and limited notions of who their neighbor was forever.

And on and on it went like that, all night. Whispering together his words. Breathing in wonder at his miracles. Leaning together in awe-struck silence at his rising, his appearing to them, their recognizing him on the road and at their tables.

And suddenly, it was not they alone who were breathing, but the entire world began to breathe with them: the blowing, panting Spirit of God blew through the room and through every one of their hearts and bodies, extinguishing the small flames of the candles, and kindling the flames in their heads and hearts.  And suddenly their small conspiracy of quiet wondering and waiting became a glorious and noisy one that tumbled out into the streets and took a deep, cleansing breath as the church was pushed out into the world, newborn.

And the chief action of the breath of God that day, the hard and groaning labor of the Spirit was understanding. It was communication.

The friends and followers of Jesus poured out of that room into a crowded Jerusalem filled with Jews from all over the world. They were there for Shavuot, the Pentecost festival. And they had come from Mesopotamia and Elam, and from Judea and Egypt, and from Libya and Rome. They were from distant places with disparate languages, which the largely illiterate crew of Jesus could not hope to know.

But they spoke anyway. They stood up and they told about Jesus. They told what they knew. Peter said no, we are not drunk, and yes, you are hearing words from God, because

In the last days it will be, God declares,
… I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. Acts 2:17-18

And even though Jesus’ friends and followers from Galilee are not language scholars, and even though most of them probably can’t even read or write, what they say is heard, and what they proclaim is understood. The gift of the Holy Spirit is that our breath can be used to unite us with others through our words. The gift that brings to birth the church of Jesus Christ is the ability to give testimony to one another, that the Lord is risen indeed, and our rising hearts and voices bear witness.

The Spirit blows and breathes through us still, in our gentle conspiracies of compassion and commitment. In three different gatherings this week people of this congregation discussed how to support those who are living with illness, how to prepare to travel to another state to rebuild homes and lives damaged by hurricane winds, and how best to use our resources to care for our beautiful sanctuary.

The Spirit continues to blow and breathe through us this very moment, as seven people take the step of uniting themselves to this congregation through the words they will breathe and the promises they will make.

The Spirit has given us this gift, the gift of God’s breath, breathed in and through every one of us as we speak and listen to one another.

You know what it’s like. A whisper in your ear. A story passed along from one to another, or maybe a plan. We are part of this glorious conspiracy, breathed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are invited to spill out into our streets and neighborhoods, but maybe we begin in our own homes and workplaces.  We are challenged to find those least likely to understand us, but maybe we start with those with whom we seem always to have misunderstandings and fretful communication. We are inspired to breathe with one another the old and ever-new story of Jesus and his love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Lines That Divide Us: Sermon on Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29

Scripture can be found here...

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” Wow. Do you hear it? The frustration? The passion? The sheer urgency of what Paul is trying to say to the church in Galatia? Again this week we are reading from his letter, addressing these people about one of the fundamental conflicts facing their community, and Paul is past the point of being his pastoral self, being his supportive self, being what we ministers like to think of as a “non-anxious presence.” Paul is raw. He is agonized. He might even be angry, because they Just. Do. Not. Get. It.

The conflict is the same one we spoke of last week. It’s about the dividing line some want to draw about who is in and who is out of the community of Jesus-followers. As Paul summarizes, it’s about “Jew versus Greek,” the opposing positions of whether or not the historic marks of Judaism need to be carried forward in order to follow Jesus faithfully. But it makes me think of so many other dividing lines that we face day to day, in our homes, in our communities, in our culture. So, here, I will share some recent experiences of “the lines that divide us.”

Fat versus Thin. Well, the internet exploded this week when remarks by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch were circulated. Among other things, he said that Abercrombie and Fitch only carries women’s sizes up to 10 because the store doesn’t want its core customers, whom he described as “the cool kids,” to see “people who aren’t as hot as them” wearing the clothes. They carry men’s sizes to XXL because athletes—well, male athletes—are still considered the “cool kids,” even when they’re extra large. He summarized A & F’s marketing strategy by saying, “Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they're about to jump on a surfboard.”

Putting aside issues around health, which we all should take seriously, as well as the common sense notion that every business has a marketing strategy which we may or may not think is a good idea, it’s rare to have someone state so baldly and unapologetically such a nasty and exclusionary world view. Writing for the Huffington Post, Amy Taylor observed,

Mean-spiritedness aside, Mr. Jeffries' comments raise a flag about a bigger, more troubling cultural issue. Pretend, for one moment, that instead of fat chicks, unattractive people or “not-so-cool” kids Mr. Jeffries had said “African Americans” or “homosexuals” or “single moms.” As a society, we would rise up and crucify any brand that flaunted that kind of exclusionary business plan.[i]

Black versus white.  Another news story, even bigger than the one about people who are judged to be too big, was the story of three women and a child who were rescued this week after nearly ten years in captivity in Cleveland. A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, in the middle of eating his lunch, heard pounding on a door and screams for help, and responded by helping to break down the door, releasing a young woman whose abduction nearly ten years earlier had made the national news. When the police arrived, they discovered two more young women as well as a small child. The heroic neighbor was later interviewed, and I’m sure many of you saw that interview on TV or the internet. The interviewer asked him, “What was the girls’ reaction when they came out?” His response was striking. “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

In the middle of being instrumental in helping to save three women and a child, by all accounts a hero, Mr. Ramsey made a profound observation about race relations in this country. That a white woman should see a black man as her helper and rescuer revealed to him the extraordinary nature of the moment. It was, as he said, a dead giveaway.

Christian versus Muslim. I was in a downtown shop when a gentleman came in looking for a particular item, which the owner of the shop promised to help him find. The shopper had been referred by a friend, and as he turned to go, he said, “And you won’t have to wait for me to pay you,” evidently a reference to his friend. We all laughed. And then he said, “You know, no one should make you wait for your pay. There is a precept in Islam, ‘Pay your laborers before their sweat has dried.’”

He went on. “I can’t stand it when Muslims give themselves a bad name. I hate it that Islam has been hijacked by people who have it completely wrong, terrorizing and bombing people. You know what Islam means? It means ‘peace, submission.’ And Muslim means, ‘one who has submitted to the peace of God.’ Muslims believe that Jesus was right when he said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what Muslims believe.” A few moments later, he left, seeming relieved to have imparted a message that was clearly urgent to him.

Like Paul’s message was urgent. There are so many lines we allow to divide us. I’ve named just three. But if we look closer we begin to notice that the lines blur, because, as it happens, larger people like to be fashionable and comfortable, just like smaller people; and in a moment of fear and danger, people come together without regard for things like race but thinking and acting only with regard to helping, and finding safety; and people of different religious beliefs can have core values in common, such as peace, loving God with all you are, and loving your neighbor as yourself. The dividing lines are not so absolute as some would have us believe.

And as astonishing as that notion is to us, imagine how it was for the Galatians. “There is no longer Jew or Greek,” Paul tells them.  Which means that there are no second- and third-class Jesus followers, no Christians who are superior by virtue of their religious practices. “There is no longer slave or free,” he goes on. Which means one of the most ancient and rigid societal classifications—who is owner and who is property—has no bearing on who is a member of the community of faith, or what their position is in that community. Just like that. “There is no longer male and female,” Paul insists. Which I am confident his audience finds nearly unthinkable, because many people, many churches of Jesus Christ still have a tough time fully embracing the notion. “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

All of you are one. Which doesn’t, by the way, mean “all of you are indistinguishable from one another,” or “all of you believe exactly the same thing,” or even “there is no difference between any of you.” If you look around, you will see that our creating God loves diversity… no two of us are alike, even if we are twins. We are unique, and uniquely gifted, and the community—the church, the neighborhood, the workplace, the world—needs our unique and irreplaceable gifts if it is to thrive. All of you are one. And all of you are different. And that difference is precious. It is difference that enables creativity, and innovation, and art. It is difference that opens our eyes to the extraordinary—the contrast of purple and orange and green, which seem so opposed, and yet in a garden, sparkle and show one another’s beauty. It is difference that enables blessing to flow, from one to another to another.

And still, and yet, “all of you are one.” It all comes back to blessing. Do we believe that blessings are to be gathered up and stored like keepsakes in a china cabinet, or hoarded like bottled water and cans of soup for an apocalypse? Or do we believe that blessings ought to flow through us, like water in a riverbed? Paul reminds his Galatian church that one of God’s promises to Abraham was that all the Gentiles, literally, all the nations, would be blessed in and through him, through his descendants. We are blessed, not so that we can have yet another dividing line, those who are blessed versus those who are not blessed, but so that those lines will be erased once and for all. We are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. So that in sharing our blessings, we all may truly be one… not identical, not uninterestingly bland and mashed together like so many potatoes, but one in the Spirit, one in the Lord. One. So that the distinguishing mark of being a Christian will be, as Jesus prayed it would be, love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Amy Taylor, “An Open Letter from a 'Fat Chick' to Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie And Fitch,” Huffington Post Women Blog, May 10, 2013.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Belonging: A Sermon on Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21

Scripture can be found here...

UCLA Professor Jared Diamond has written a book called The World Until Yesterday, in which he looks at traditional cultures and examines what they have to teach us. One of his most striking observations is the fact that, until almost 10,000 years ago, every human being on this planet lived in fairly small tribes, of anywhere from a few dozen to a couple of hundred people.  And because of that, it was almost unheard of, nearly impossible, to have an encounter with a stranger. Everybody in your tribe literally knew everybody else in your tribe.

So if you did, unthinkably, run into a stranger, here’s what would happen. You would sit down together, and begin reciting the names of everyone you were related to, everyone in your tribe, until, hopefully, you found someone in common. If you didn’t find that common person, that human thread to bind you together, your options were to run or to kill. Xenophobia, what modern psychologists would describe as “irrational fear of foreigners or strangers,” was the normal state of those for whom the glimpse of an unknown face was terrifyingly out of the ordinary.

From time beyond time, human beings have tried to distinguish for ourselves which tribes we live in. We have worked hard to figure out whether or not we “belong.” And we have fashioned rituals and marks and tattoos and all manner of things to place on ourselves to say, “Here. This is my tribe.”

From ancient times, three thousand years at least, one mark of being a Jew, a member of God’s covenant people, was a mark borne by men on their bodies, circumcision. There were other signs of belonging, of course. Eating according to the kosher laws, resting and worshiping God on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, learning Torah, the law. Many markers… tribal markers, if you will… of what it means to be a member of God’s covenant people. And because Jews and Christians are sprung from the same roots, because Jesus and his first followers were Jews, there was a time when it was assumed that those who would be Jesus-followers, must bear all those same markers of belonging.

A man whom we first met several weeks ago, when we heard the story of the first martyr, Stephen, was instrumental in changing all that. You might remember the man named “Saul,” a minor character in that episode, who was watching over the coats of those who were heaving rocks at Stephen until he was dead—(“run or kill”). Saul approved of all that, and he describes himself later as “zealous for the traditions of his ancestors.” Which, take note, is not necessarily a good thing. Saul is a case study in how ‘zeal for the traditions of our ancestors’ can place us in opposition to what God is doing. All this went on until, a little while later, when God pulled back the veil, and Saul had a face-to-face encounter with the Risen and Living Christ. Saul’s entire life was turned upside down. From that point on, that persecutor of Jesus-followers—the one who, by his own admission, was violently trying to destroy the church—became a Jesus-follower himself, became the author of much of what the church continues to find, well, authoritative. We know him as Paul.

And we know him as the author of the scripture passages we’ve read today; they are from a letter Paul wrote to a church in Galatia, an area of the region still called Anatolia, part of what is modern day Turkey. Once upon a time in Galatia, Paul tells us, a dispute was roiling about the issue of “belonging” within the tribe of the Jesus-followers What is the marker of belonging to the community that has sprung up around Jesus, what we call the Church? What do we have to do… do we have to keep kosher? Must the men and boys bear that particular sign of belonging to the tribes of Israel on their bodies? Worship on Saturdays, perhaps? How do we know we belong?

We belong to the family of God, as it turns out, not because of what we do, but because of what God does. “We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,” Paul says. Well, sort of. The new Common English Bible translates that phrase, “the faithfulness of Christ.” We belong to the family of God… we come to have our own faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer… not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done.

This is one way of understanding how and why many churches, including ours, baptize babies and children too young to be able to profess their faith in Christ. This beautiful, smart-as-a-whip child was baptized today, not because she has come to an understanding that Jesus is her savior, although, maybe she already has inklings in that direction. She has been baptized today because of a Divine nudge in the hearts of her mom and stepdad. God decides these things, and then we cooperate; that is how it works in the world of Jesus-followers. And Beloved Child, by being baptized today, “belongs” to us, here at Union Presbyterian Church, the same place where her mama and stepdad were married not too long ago. But really, this is so much bigger than us. Beloved Child belongs to the whole church of Jesus Christ, and it belongs to her… wherever she goes, the church will be there for her. Not because of anything she did or did not do, but because of what God did, what God does, and what God will continue to do for her, throughout her life, and beyond her life in this world.

Baptism, we are told, puts a mark on us. Today it has put a mark on this Beloved Child, telling her and everyone who knows and loves her that just as she belongs to the family of her mama and daddy and and stepdad and sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles and grandparents, she also belongs to the family of God that takes its name from Jesus Christ. The faithfulness of Jesus has reached out to touch her, and claim her, and bless her, so that one day she will be able to say, for herself, in her own words and actions, “Christ lives in me.”

So welcome Beloved Child of God. Welcome to this family of God, and welcome to this communion table. The mark of our tribe is simple: Jesus invited you, and we welcome you. We cannot wait to see what Jesus does in your life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday Five: May Play Edition

"Mois de Mai", Tres Riche Heures du Duc de Berry

It's May! And it smells so good outside. I can close my eyes and remember the golden hours after dinner as the days grew later and later, and we got to play outside until called home. It makes me want to go outside right now and play!

Of course, not all of us are in the northern hemisphere... plenty of RevGals and Pals are experiencing a season that is turning cold and blustery.

So to all of you, wherever you may be, how will you (or would you like to) play this month?

1. Tell about your favorite outdoor play

I am a baseball/ softball girl. There is nothing like the feel of a bat connecting with a ball in that sweet spot that sends it flying... I have incredibly fond memories of being covered with that red clay dust at the end of a great softball game.

2. Tell about your favorite indoor play

I love word games, and of those, Scrabble must be my favorite. In recent years I discovered the game Cathedral, and have spent many happy hours at that.

3. Tell about a game you (or your friends) created

When I was 5 my friend Mary Kate and I created the Pixie game. We created Pixie dust, sprinkled it all over ourselves, and tried to fly by jumping down a flight of stairs. (Too bad the Pixie "dust" was made of flour, sugar and water.  Mom wasn't too happy about that.)

4. Tell about a game that is new to you

I love "Words with Friends," but, sadly, my  aging computer won't load it any longer. New Favorite: "Draw Something."

5. Tell how you would like to incorporate play into your workday

My friend Janet has tons of little mechanical toys on her desk. I think this is a great idea... a little stress reliever, something to laugh with when folks drop in, and decorative too.