Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sermon for Kansas City Mennonite Convention

During the Kansas City convention this past week, I was invited to preach a sermon at the contemplative service on Saturday evening. After a long week, full of many different emotions, I felt called to reflect on the consequences of our actions, and the pain in the midst of our church community. Here is basically the text of my sermon.

Sermon for convention
this is a picture of my delegate table. You can see a bit of the back of my head.
Good evening friends, it is good to gather in this service of contemplation and worship this evening.
We have come to the last night of convention. Tomorrow, we return home. Back to the usual rhythms of life, whatever those might look like for you. Janeen did a wonderful job expressing some of the emotions that you may have brought to this space this evening-joy and exhaustion and grief and hope and all the rest.

For me, I'd like to start with a confession. I have wept more this week than I have in any week since my father died 6 years ago. I have felt the pain because of the choices of the church and how we treat one another. So I have a simple prayer for my sermon this evening. I pray that I might not cause any more pain in this service.

So with that, lets turn to the scripture text. We've been working through the story of Luke 24, the Emmaus Road. We've reflected about being on the way together. And Janeen, as she planned this service months ago, thought, since it's the last night of convention, it might be good to reflect on the end of our passage, and to talk about what happened after Cleopas and his friend dashed back to the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus, equally fleet of foot, came to the disciples gathered together in the upper room.

There is much to chew on here-the disciples with their disbelieving joy, the traditional “Shalom Alchem”, “Peace Be With You” greeting, Jesus eating the fish so resonate of the feeding of the 5000, and the nets left by the sea, the scriptures opened a second time to explain the journey that the Messiah had to take. But what caught me when I read this text months ago, and where I want to draw you as well is to the hands and feet that Jesus showed to his disciples. It's an ancient tradition to contemplate the wounds of Christ. To reflect on the pain of our savior.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

SLMF 40th Anniversary Sermon

Matthew 13:52

Good morning friends,
it is good to gather in worship with all of you today!
I hope that this Sunday morning finds you well!
We have a special occasion today-
Today, as you know, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, our little congregation here. It was in January of 1975 that a small group gathered in Edgewood Children's center for the first worship service of a new congregation.

This is the first of at least two events LCG has planned this year to acknowledge this milestone. We're also hoping to invite back parts of our family who have moved away in a more formal weekend of celebration later in the spring.

It's an important part of the rhythm of life to mark these kind of anniversaries, to engage our memories and connect with the things that have gone before, to remember that we are part of something a lot bigger than just a momentary community-we are part of a great cloud of witnesses, part of an institution built before us and that will last beyond us.

Our scripture text this speaks to the value of both remembering our history and claiming our new directions. After telling a bunch of parables, like the one about the farmer who goes out to sow his field, and throws the seed in different kind of ground, and the one where he talks about the weeds in the field that are left until harvest, Jesus asks his disciples who have heard these stories to commit themselves to bring treasures both new and old out of the storehouse.

That I think is the heart of the gospel-to tell an old old story in a new way for a new community. And I think that this is one of the really special things we get to do at anniversary celebrations-these moments like this Sunday give us an opportunity to bring out treasures that are special occasion things-the fine china, the heirloom pieces, and give them a day in the sun. This is an opportunity to turn aside from the novel, and focus on the core things that make us who we are. And in the same way that birthdays or wedding anniversaries give us the opportunity to celebrate those that we love, and in the very act of celebrating them, remember why we love them, so too are we called to remember today where we have been so that we have a better sense of where we are going.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Forgiveness is tricky Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Good morning friends!
It is good to gather in worship with all of you this Sunday. I am feeling pretty energized today-it's been an exciting week! I spent the last two days listening to inspiring preaching and powerful teaching about the structures of racial discrimination and institutionalized violence in our society. It was a stretching experience- challenging both to my way of life that comfortably enjoys the privileges of my whiteness, and also to listen to people who sometimes said things that I really really disagreed with, with some conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific nonsense, but I come away inspired to continue the work of social transformation in a country that has not yet overcome it's sinful and shameful history.
Equally, I had a wonderful time at retreat last weekend, and I hope that those of you who made it out were also blessed by the cool weather, the good company, and Roland Kuhl's reflections on the church as a mosaic and a parable that God is speaking into the world.
We have some work ahead of us, collecting and collating the conversations we have had over the last couple of months and turning them into a direct kind of proposal for the congregation, and that is work we are going to do. But I decided a week or two off from visioning will be good for me, and probably for all of you as well.

Forgiveness is important.
So lets talk about forgiveness. We have before us powerful stories-
Joseph, reunited with his brothers after they betrayed him and sold him into slavery.
Paul, encouraging people at each other's throats fighting over essential theological differences to get along.
And Jesus, encouraging us to forgive seventy-times seven times. (or 490, for those of us who do not have quite as much poetry in their souls).

And the Bible is full of these kinds of powerful stories of forgiveness. Jacob, reunited with Esau, The Prodigal Son are all stories of people reuniting with one another. And even more are the stories of God's forgiveness- The Old Testament can be summed up as a story of the people abandoning God, experiencing the consequences, repenting and asking for forgiveness, and being restored to the beloved community. Jesus again and again told the people that he healed “your sins are forgiven”, often without them ever vocalizing the request. And on the cross he asked God, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
So this is something that we have to talk about.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sermon for August 31

Good morning friends!
It is good to gather in worship with all of you this Sunday.
I hope that this day finds you well, and that you are enjoying the three day weekend. Tomorrow I hope that you take time to honor labor day. It is a good chance to remember the value of work, and the meaning it creates in our lives, to remember the struggles of workers through history who have fought for humane treatment from their employers and won things like paid vacation, holidays, and regulated work weeks, to consider the work yet to be done in improving conditions for workers, like better parental leave, and to pray for those who are not able to find work, or are not paid a reasonable wage for their efforts.

This is the last Sunday in our sermon series about visioning, before our retreat next weekend. I'm excited about gathering with all of you to talk about our work together with Roland Kuhl! It's going to be a fun weekend, hopefully not too hot, and filled with good friends and good conversation.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Seven Priorities Results

Hello friends,
I wanted to share with you the results from our conversation last Sunday.
I'll summarize these in my sermon on Sunday, but I felt like our thoughts centered on three subjects, with some great ideas that didn't fit in the larger three. If you don't see your thoughts represented here, let me know.
One thing I notice- we have some energy for the things that we hired Jennifer for, which I find very exciting!
If you have thoughts about how I've grouped these, or what might be missing, I'd love to know

Sunday, August 24, 2014

7 Priorities for the Church

Good morning friends,
it is good to gather in worship with you this morning!
Today we are picking up where we left off a couple of weeks ago, working through some questions of church vision on our way to retreat. By the way, have you signed up for retreat yet? Jennifer has the sign up sheet for this Sunday, and we'd love to get names nailed down this Sunday so that we can get meals formalized!

This morning, we're moving from examination to evaluation, from what is to what might be. For the next two weeks, I'd like to think about what we might want to do differently as a congregation, and the question for you at the end of the sermon today is this: “are there ways you'd like to see us live out our missional priorities better?”
Or, I put it in my original outline, “What are we called to do?”

The vehicle I want to use to help us consider this question is the Purposeful Plan for Mennonite Church USA. Mennonite Church USA over the last several years has been working on it's own strategic plan-a list of what we want to do, and why. I really enjoy this document, and the whole thing is available on the web if you're interested-it's enough for a serious book study. I won't try and go through the whole 25 pages! Instead, there are two parts I want to use for our reflections over the next two weeks. Today, we're going to reflect on the 7 priorities that the Mennonite Church has chosen for itself, the sense of the larger tasks where we ought to be putting our time and energy. Next week we're going to think a little bit about process, rather than content, and look at 12 traits of a Missional Congregation, and reflect on how we live those out in St. Louis. I'm hoping that these tools might help us as we think about what we might want to do together.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Prayers for Ferguson

Good morning friends.
It is good to gather in worship with all of you this morning.
I had a whole different sermon planned for this week, and it's mostly written, but you're not going to get to hear it until next week, when we'll pick up our conversation about visioning. I decided that it was better to talk about the events in Ferguson.

I decided to change directions after one of those odd little God moments that sometimes happen.
On Thursday evening I was here at church, rather than at the protest march in Ferguson, where I really wanted to be, because we hosted a wedding here yesterday, and I was making sure everything was set up for the rehearsal, and I locked up after they were done. I was a little grumpy about it, you know that kind of 'hrumph, I could be doing something socially active and more useful, or at least hanging out at home with Rachel and Jonah' kind of feelings.

But before we got started, the bride, Deneen, pulled me aside, and thanked me for being a gracious host. She said that it had been a hard week, and I asked her why, and she explained that some of her good friends lost a son in Ferguson over the weekend. She wondered if I had heard of Michael Brown.

So I learned that she knows the Brown family well. That she had to shut down her Facebook account this week, because of how much stress it was causing her on her wedding week, and how much she hurt for her friends. And I was reminded that we are connected, in unexpected ways with one another. And it was pretty clear at that point were I was supposed to be for the evening. And I am honored that we all, the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, were able, in our own small way, to be of comfort to someone in need. A privilege we were given because we have been willing to inconvenience ourselves, and open our building to the community where we live, even when it's a bother.

Faced with a world with so much violence and pain, it is important for all of us to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of the Gospel.

So this morning, I want to lift up Ferguson, and the city of St. Louis, and the police departments of our city and our county, and reflect on who we are called to be and what we are called to do in these times of unrest and concern, and to invite God's presence in to our hearts today.