Sunday, September 29, 2013

Making a Living

never-get-so-busy-making-a-living-that-you-forget-to-make-a-life.jpg (600×600)

Making a Living
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
September 29, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

The day after Mike Ditka was fired as coach of the Chicago Bears, he gave a press conference. Ditka was choked up, but he tried to make meaning of the firing. “Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” he said. “This, too, shall pass.” [1] Almost certainly, Ditka was trying to say that this setback, and the accompanying grief would pass with time, and other opportunities would come. “This, too, shall pass.”

However, that’s not in Scripture. It happens all the time, people misquoting Scripture,
or quoting scripture that doesn’t exist. This week’s reading contains one of those frequently misquoted verses, verse ten: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 

Of course, it gets misquoted all the time as a shorter verse: Money is the root of all evil. Pope Francis recently preached about the love of money, and he said “money is the root of all evil.” You don’t expect Mike Ditka to get the Bible right, but the pope…well…

Pope Francis said: “Money sickens our minds, poisons our thoughts, even poisons our faith, leading us down the path of jealousy, quarrels, suspicion and conflict. It drives to idle words and pointless discussions.”[2] I’m not one to quarrel with the Holy Father, at least not THIS Pope, but I think he’d have done better to specify that it is the love of money that is so destructive.

We need money.
We need it in much the same way we need food.
If you are addicted to gambling, or alcohol or drugs, you can give them up. But you can’t live without food, and you can’t live without money. Even people who live almost entirely off the grid need money for certain things. So money is not evil, not in and of itself. Money is useful as a tool, and as a servant. You can use it to get your plumbing fixed, or put gas in your car, and you can use it to buy flowers for no reason, or to see a movie. That’s not evil.

And most everybody trades part of their life for money, through working in order to make a living. Until money was invented, people traded things to each other – cows for cloth, grain for grapes, that sort of thing. The invention of money was a good thing for us, because paper bills and coins are much more convenient to carry around than cows.

Money comes in very handy – how can that be the root of all evil? It isn’t, of course.
The verse says it is the love of money that is the root of so much evil. And every single one of us knows at least one story that illustrates that. You can watch Dateline or some show like that and there will be a story of someone who committed fraud, or even murder, for financial gain. Stock market trickery, Ponzi schemes, swindlers – all about greed and the love of money.

That’s not us – we’re not like Bernie Madoff, or those crooks you hear about on TV.
We’re not in love with money – I get that. But the lure of money is powerful, so powerful that what should be our servant can easily turn into our master.

Maybe it starts out small – not wanting everything, just wanting something better – a bigger house, a better car, a fancier trip, and then we will be satisfied. Maybe the next rung up the ladder at work requires more hours, more demonstration of commitment, and we persuade ourselves that our families will benefit financially, so we give up evenings, and weekends, and we trade our time with those we love for a bigger paycheck. Maybe we tell ourselves that if we just have enough money socked away, we can retire, and live a life of leisure, and then we will be happy, so we keep on working, and working, and working long past the age when we could stop, only to discover we’ve traded our health away for a fat savings account. Nobody sets out to do it, and nobody, at the end of life, endorses the love of money.

Maybe you’ve seen the article that came out a while back, written by a nurse in palliative care. It was titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” – here they are:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. (This came from every male patient)
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.[3]

Notice that nobody said, “I wish I had made more money”
Nobody said “I wish I had spent more time in meetings.”
Nobody said “I wish I had a fatter investment portfolio.”
That’s not what gives our lives meaning, and we know it.
Still, we are so easily lured into chasing after the almighty dollar. The love of money, the pursuit of money, pulls us away from other loves and other pursuits. Like the scripture says: “in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” If you are building an empire of wealth, it will take everything you have. You’ll trade your life on this earth for it.

But what is the answer, then?
How are we supposed to make a life while making a living?
Is it a sin to be well-to-do?

This pastoral letter to Timothy is clear about that: “As for those who in the present age are rich, -- and in our day and age, compared to most of the people in the world, ‘those who are rich’ is everyone in this room -- command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

You can’t be arrogant about what you’ve earned, because you didn’t build it – God provided it! Stake your hopes and your future not on your net worth, but on God. And here’s what to do with your time: “do good, …be rich in good works, [be] generous, and ready to share…”
Get it – the play on words? Be rich, not in money, but in good works.

And the account you build up is not your bank account, but you are storing up the “treasure of a good foundation for the future.” That’s not talking about some pie in the sky when you die, in the sweet by and by, life after death time. He means your future in this life, on this earth.

Because eternal life doesn’t start after we are dead. It has already begun.
We are living it now.
Eternal life has already begun.
We are called to live it well.

Since I started out with a story about Mike Ditka, I want to wind up now with a couple of quotes from him – just in case the Scriptures didn’t make the case! Ditka said, “The greatest gift we have is the gift of life. We understand that. That comes from our creator. Success isn't measured by money or power or social rank. Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.”[4] Even if you were never a Bears fan, that right there makes pretty good sense.

But wait a minute.
There are some verses we left out of the reading, between verses 11 and 16.
They have something to say about living our eternal lives: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

And then the writer, writing to someone he loves, offers up this beautiful charge for living, at once a prayer and a hymn: “In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time— he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. “

Your eternal life has already begun. Grab hold of the life which really is life, the life we are given in Jesus Christ, the light of light, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Lost and Found Box

Our scripture reading today is from Luke 15:1-10.
I want to set the scene a little bit, so when you hear it you can really listen.
Jesus has been walking around and talking to people, teaching them, and healing them. But he isn’t hanging around with the rich people, or the important people, or the leaders, or the most religious goody-goody people.

In fact, Jesus is hanging around with a bad crowd! These are not nice people. They do bad things. They steal. They cheat. They don’t follow God’s word.

The rich people and the nice people and the religious people are upset about this. They don’t think Jesus should be hanging around with those awful people. They think that if Jesus were a really nice person, he would be spending his time with other nice people – namely, them.

You would think, wouldn't you, that the really good people would be glad that Jesus was helping the really bad people to change their ways. But instead, they are grumbling and muttering about him. Jesus doesn't argue with them.

He doesn't point out how wrong they are. He tells them a couple of stories. One is about a lost sheep, and the other is about a lost coin. Both of them get found. You know how Jesus tells stories, how he wants people to really pay attention, and learn something from his stories. He always says, “Those who have ears, let them hear.” Let’s listen with our hearts to Jesus’ story about losing and finding.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying,
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable:
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus told those stories about being lost and found, and when I turned in my worship material earlier this week, I was picturing a lost and found box – a box with a car key, one purple mitten, a really nice pen, a Cubs baseball cap, one earring, and Lego. I was going to talk about how the items in that box don’t know they are lost. But that’s not the sermon I ended up with. So the title in the bulletin is “The Lost and Found Box.”

But we’re going to have a little contest today – “Name That Sermon.” You can come up with the perfect title after you hear it. The winner gets a free cup of coffee and scone – on me! and of course with me! -- at Air Play. Judges’ decisions may not be fair, but they will be final!

I really like these lost and found stories.
Especially because I find that as I get older, I lose more stuff. I just hate losing things – except for weight! I hate losing my stuff. When I lose something, I get a little crazy. I’ve spent hours hunting for things, just on principle. Not like car keys, that I need in order to leave the house, but the jar of cinnamon that I just KNEW I had bought, or an earring that I wasn’t even planning to wear.

Losing a pet, like a dog, is even worse.
We had a dog once who just loved everybody, so if he got out and wandered away, he’d go with any human who wasn’t scaring him. He once spent two weeks living with a little boy named Johnny, while I was hunting desperately for him, putting up posters, running ads, walking the neighborhood and calling for him. When we finally found him, he was really happy to see us, but I’m not sure he ever knew that he was lost. In fact, that dog was nowhere near as happy to see me as I was to see him. I didn’t throw a party, but I felt like it.

Of course, nobody throws a party over finding a missing dog or locating some lost money. That would be ridiculous. I mean, what would be the point in spending money on party hats and cake to celebrate that you found money you had lost? And what farmer, having located lost livestock, calls the neighbors in for a celebration?

It would be much easier for all of us if Jesus wouldn’t tell stories like this.
These stories don’t make any sense – for two reasons.

First of all, if you want to start a movement that is going to last, you need to establish some vital partnerships with leaders in the community – have a meeting, invite the stakeholders, cast a vision, and mobilize support. Maybe even draw up a strategic plan. Everybody knows that going down to the pub and having a beer with a conman, or having dinner with a prostitute, is not going to get your program going.

Besides which, if you want someone to change their ways, you need to make an obvious point to them. Refuse their invitations. Be polite but curt. Withhold your gifts or assistance unless they shape up. If you attend their social gatherings or go to their homes or join their clubs, you are giving the message that you approve of them. If you want to make someone change, you need to point out to them that they are wrong, then consistently, relentlessly put the pressure on them to change, right? So the Pharisees have a legitimate complaint.

Second, these are ridiculous stories.
Who wouldn’t leave their 99 sheep and go looking for one that is lost?
Everybody wouldn’t!
The percentages tell the story.

You have 100 sheep. Let’s say each one of those sheep is worth ten dollars.
(I don’t know what sheep are worth to shepherds. They are not my sheep so I’m just placing a random value on a sheep.) And let’s remember, if you have 99 sheep, it is pretty darn easy to get more sheep, because, well, where do little sheep come from? Big sheep, right?! So you have 100 sheep, each worth ten dollars. Your flock is valued at one thousand dollars. One sheep goes missing. Do you risk an investment of $990 in order to regain $10?
Of course not!

And then, let’s say you are crazy enough to go out into the night and hunt up this one lost sheep that is worth ten measly bucks. Do you throw a party, invite the neighbors over? Even if you just give them a cup of coffee and some leftover cornbread, you are out ten bucks right there. No percentage in that at all.

Or let’s say that you have lost a check – maybe a check for a couple of hundred dollars. You’ve looked in all the obvious places – coat pockets, purse, wallet, top of the dresser, the kitchen counter mixed in with yesterday’s mail, Finally, you realize that you left it in the pocket of your navy blue jacket.
Which you left on the back of the chair.
At lunch.
In a restaurant.

So you go tearing down to the restaurant,  skid into the parking lot minutes before they close, and sure enough, they found your jacket, and the check is still in the pocket. Score! What a relief! Time to shout out “I found my check! Lunch is on me!” to everybody in the restaurant, right? Of course not! There’s no percentage there – it’s two hundred dollars! Nothing to sneeze at, finding that lost check, but there is no gain in finding it all if you spend it all. No percentage – no party - not a chance!

Jesus has just talked about that, about counting costs, in the chapter right before this story.
He talks about how silly it is to start building a foundation and then not be able to finish, and about a king going to battle without considering that his army is fifty percent of the army of the opposing king. Percentages is what this is all about. You compute the potential gain against the potential loss, and weigh whether the risk to reward ratio makes it worthwhile.

We are a people who understand percentages. We have entire international organizations devised for the entire purpose of computing percentages of success. They have inspiring names: ISO – the International Organization for Standardization. The ISO has standards for quality, the environment, energy, social responsibility, food safety. They help you measure performance.

We “get” percentages, and apparently God does not. Ninety percent is strong. It gets you an A. Ninety nine percent is excellent. Gets you on the Dean’s list, the honor roll.

Maybe you’ve seen the list that goes around sometimes about 99% - how you might be happy with 99% or even 90% from yourself, but you wouldn’t  be satisfied with 99% from others. Here are a few of those 99% statistics – if 99% were acceptable, we would see
114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes per year
18,322 pieces of mail mishandled/hour.
2,000,000 documents lost by the IRS every year.
Two unsafe planes landing at Chicago's O'Hare -- every day.
20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions annually.
12 newborns given to the wrong parents daily.

Ninety percent may be acceptable for a spelling test, but even 99% isn’t very good when it comes to your pilot, or your surgeon.
Ninety-nine percent isn’t acceptable to God, either.

Who wouldn’t leave their 99 sheep and go looking for one that is lost?
Everybody wouldn’t!
Except God.

Who wouldn’t turn their house upside-down to look for a lost coin?
Everybody wouldn’t!
Except God.

Who wouldn’t throw a party when they find what they’ve lost?
Everybody wouldn’t!
Except God.

God won’t leave one single person out in the cold dark night, whether they are on the street corner hustling for a buck or working late at the office putting together the next big deal.

God goes out and hunts for that lost one, and carries them home, rejoicing. God won’t leave even one little coin in the dark dirty corner or down in the couch cushions or in the pocket of the pants that got thrown away. God lights a lamp and sweeps and gets out the attachments to the Hoover and turns out all the pockets of all the britches.

What kind of God would load us all up on a bus and take us on a field trip to the museum, and then, after lunch, when the headcount is short, say:
“Oh well, she made her choice not to get on the bus…she’ll be left behind.”
Not our God.

And even if we are all sitting on the bus, grumbling in the heat, waiting for that lost one to be found, and peeved that she didn’t follow the rules, when she knew what she needed to do, God goes looking for her, goes looking and looks until she is found, never gives up, not even on one little lost lamb.

God isn’t satisfied with 90 percent, or even 99%.
So God sent the Good Shepherd out to look for those lost sheep, out into the dives and the dumps, the slums and the swamps, out to look for them and bring them home.

God’s not satisfied with 99%.
So Jesus comes to us, comes to us in many forms, in the shape of a story, in the voice of love,
in the care of a friend, in the recognition that we are lost, or even in the absence of our awareness of him.

God sent the Good Shepherd out to look for us, the lost, out into the banks and the boardrooms, the venture capital firms and vacation homes. He comes looking for us in the classrooms, and condos, retreat centers and retirement homes.

And when we come home, proud as Pharisees or broken as the lowest junkie, there’s a party. It’s a celebration that welcomes and rejoices and sings and dances, for that which is lost is found. The son which was dead is alive.

God’s not satisfied with 99%.
And that means, if you’ve been in the lost and found, 
and claimed by the one who never gives up, now you are
part of the search party,
part of the homecoming party,
part of the welcoming party.

God’s not satisfied with 99%.
We were lost – all of us, and God is going to keep searching and seeking and saving and welcoming until we all are found – and when we are found, we belong to God – work and vacation time, skills and talents, checkbook and pocket-change, heart and soul and mind and strength, saint and sinner, we belong to God, one hundred percent.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Great Commission: Go. Make Disciples. Teach. Baptize.

Rather than the text of the sermon, this week I'm posting the entire order of worship. Sources are cited wherever we could. The opening song is sung to the tune of "Morning Has Broken," and the words were adapted from the Presbyterian Hymnal song, "Baptized in Water." The James Howell story came from an article he wrote in Christian Century magazine in 2007. Some of the liturgy was adapted from a baptismal article on the website of Reformed Worship magazine.

The acolyte enters and lights the candles.

Musicians sing:
Baptized in water, called as disciples;
we are the lights of Christ our King;
flames of the Spirit light up our pathway
Following Jesus, we joyfully sing.

Person one comes up as the musicians sing, sets the candle on the communion table and lights it, and after the singing is finished, announces, “The light of discipleship.” They stay at the table.

Musicians sing:
Baptized in water, nurtured in scripture,
teaching the world of Christ our King;
we have his promise, he is still with us;
thankfully now God's praises we sing.

Person two comes up as the musicians sing, brings a Bible to the lectern and after the singing is finished, announces, “The book of our story.” They stay at the lectern.

Musicians sing:
Baptized in water, sealed by the Spirit,
marked with the sign of Christ, our King;
born of the Spirit, we are God’s children,
joyfully now God's praises we sing.

Person three carries in a large pitcher and places it at the font, and after the singing is finished, says: “The waters of our identity.”

Each stands at font, table and lectern, then Christina says “People of God, welcome home!”

All Sing:
Surely The Presence of the Lord is In This Place  

Nan: Today is Rally Day, the day when we kick off our fall programs and lift up the teaching ministries of our congregation. Today is the day we call to mind the truth that in our baptism, we begin a lifelong journey of learning and teaching, as part of the baptismal community. Jesus called us to go and make disciples, to baptize them and teach them. This is our calling – to reach out to all the world, and to attend to the spiritual formation and nurture of every disciple. Go. Make Disciples. Baptize. Teach.

*Call to Worship (Nan)
Leader: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
People: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

*Opening Songs
Holy Ground              

Prayer of Confession (Christina)
In our baptism, we are called to renounce evil and its power in the world. But all too often, we let the power of evil overtake us. Trusting in the promises of God, we know that we can confess our failings, and be forgiven. Let us pray together:

Gracious God, we are a people formed by your Word in Christ; but we wander away from your truth and fail to trust your promises. Ground us again, O Holy One, in the written wisdom of Scripture and in the living Word which is Christ Jesus. Renew us at the fountain of his wisdom, and make us true disciples, so we may find joy in obedience and freedom in giving ourselves to you. Amen.

Silence is kept

Assurance of Pardon 
Leader: Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. (Romans 8:34)
Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!

Sharing the Peace of Christ (from the communion table)
Leader: We have been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, so let us be reconciled to one another with signs of peace, saying “The peace of Christ be with you.”
People: And also with you.
Leader: Let us share Christ’s peace.

Scripture reading: Matthew 28:16-20 (read by Nan)

Go and Make Disciples (read from the table)
Through baptism we enter the covenant God has established. Within this covenant God gives us new life, guards us from evil, and nurtures us in love. Jesus calls us to go and make disciples. Bishop Will Willimon tells this story of a young disciple named Jeremy.
Once upon a time I went out to a small rural church to baptize a twelve-year-old boy whom a pastor had been instructing in the faith. I was happy to oblige until the pastor said, “Jeremy very much wants to be immersed. Can you do that?”
“Er, uh, sure. I can do that,” I said, unwilling to admit that I had rarely baptized anyone by immersion.
I arrived at the church that Sunday morning, and sure enough, there was the pastor standing on the front steps of the little church with a small boy.
“Jeremy, this is the bishop,” the pastor said proudly. “It’s an honor for you to be baptized by the bishop.”
Young Jeremy looked me over and said only, “They tell me you don’t do many of these. I’d feel better if we had a run-through beforehand.”
“That was just what I was going to suggest,” I said.
We went into the church’s fellowship hall where the pastor showed me their newly purchased font, dressed up by a carpenter in the congregation, surrounded by pots of flowers. Jeremy said, “After you say the words, then you take my hand and lead me up these steps, and do you want me to take off my socks?”
“Er, uh, you can leave them on if you want,” I said.
Well, we had a wonderful service that Sunday. I preached on baptism, the choir sang a baptismal anthem then the whole congregation recessed into the fellowship hall and gathered around the font. I went through the baptismal ritual. Then I asked Jeremy if he had anything to say to the congregation before his baptism.
“Yes, I do. I just want to say to all of you that I’m here today because of you. When my parents got divorced, I thought my world was over. But you stood by me. You told me the stories about Jesus. And I just want to say to you today thanks for what you did for me. I intend to make you proud as I’m going to try to live my life the way Jesus wants.”
Though I’m now weeping profusely (Jeremy asked, as I led him up the steps into the pool, “Are you going to be OK?”), I baptized Jeremy and the church sang a great “Hallelujah!”[1]

Response: Servant Song

Teaching Them All I Have Commanded You (Read from the lectern; James Howell article)
Nan gives an introduction about the reading and how it ties in to our commission.
What have I learned from 25 years of this labor? You can’t download theology directly into people’s brains. They think, they love, they question, they are reckoners. If I help them at all, it is by the tone I set, my own observable zeal for the material, and my trust that God is the agent of formation. I create nothing but the space where discipleship might happen if the Spirit blows.
I have learned to worry about technology. Not that technology is somehow inherently evil. But when my staff and I scramble to learn PowerPoint, snazz up the Web site, craft hands-on activities that involve everybody, the unspoken assumption is that theological education will happen if we just get our technique right. I wonder if Christian education isn’t comparable somehow to kissing or even to having sex: it’s not the mastery of technique that is essential; it’s the love. The fumbling, awkward misstep elicits mercy and tenderness, and a profound sense that love is happening precisely in the thick of faltering technique. Do parishioners look at me, at our staff, at the teachers, and think, “There is someone who loves—who loves me, who loves God”?
I remember my sixth-grade Sunday school teacher, Floyd Busby. Mr. Busby would score a flat zero on teaching technique or age-appropriate planning. He was old and had a whiny voice, and his “technique” was to open his Bible and read—for an hour. But I remember Mr. Busby’s name, and the profound moment when he simply stopped reading. We suspected that he had died. But when we looked up, we realized that he was crying—back in the ’60s, when men didn’t cry. We were tempted for a nanosecond or two to poke fun at him—but even as 11-year-olds we knew the moment was to be reverenced. Mr. Busby gathered himself and read further, about how they arrested Jesus, mocked him, beat him, pressed a crown of thorns into his forehead. He stopped again, looked up at us boys with tears streaming down his face and dripping onto his open Bible, and pleaded with us: “Don’t you boys see what they did to my Lord?” I will never forget it. This was my first encounter with someone who was so deeply in love with Christ. Can I teach like that? Can I deploy teachers like Mr. Busby?

Response: Thy Word

The Promises We Make in Baptism (read from the font)
Christina describes the nature of our baptismal promises, and the promise that we have in from God in our baptism – that though we may be drowned in the waters of baptism, we are brought to new life in Jesus Christ.
“Fayette was an African American woman struggling with mental illness and lupus, living on the streets of Detroit. She came to sit on the steps of the church one day, refusing to come in, just listening from outside. It was hot; we had the door open, and I guess she heard the singing. She kept coming...arriving late, and leaving early, and for weeks never coming in the door. But eventually she did come...came in the door, sat at a table, and even joined in our new members class. In the class we talked about baptism, about what it means to be named by God. I told them it was a holy moment, a moment when you could hear God saying, “you are a beloved and precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.” Fayette liked that part. No matter what else we were talking about, she would bring us back to baptism. She'd begin, “When I am baptized I am ...”and soon we would learn to respond:
“You are a beloved and precious child of God and beautiful to behold.”
“Oh yes”, she'd reply, and we'd go on until she brought it up again. The day came. 
The choir gathered around the pool singing, “Wade in the water.” 
Fayette went under, came up spluttering out of the icy cold water, drew in a new breath, looked around , and said, “and now I am....”
And we replied, “you are a beloved and precious child of God and beautiful to behold.”
“Yes!” she cried and she danced around the fellowship hall.

Two months later I got a call at 2:00 am. 

Fayette had been beaten and taken to the hospital. So I went. I could hear her voice long before I could hear what she was saying. But I knew it was Fayette. As I got closer to the room, I saw her pacing back and forth, her hair sticking up everywhere, tears marking her face, bruises starting to form. When I got to the door, she saw me, looked me straight in the eye and declared,
“I am a beloved and precious child of God...”
At that moment, she caught sight of herself in the mirror, turned back to me,  and said, “I am a beloved and precious child of God and (again she looked in the mirror)...and God is still working on me. If you come back tomorrow I'll be so beautiful it will take your breath away!”[2]

Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer


Response In All Things

Prayer of Dedication
Holy God, in Jesus Christ you have called us to you, redeemed us in the waters of baptism, and taught us how to live in your light. Accept our gifts as a pledge of our lives, and help us to live in gratitude. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Litany on the Waters of Baptism
Leader: Many are the gifts of God given to us.
People: Living water to quench our thirst, pure air to fill our lungs
Fertile earth to cultivate our food, passionate fire to warm body and soul
Leader: Many are the gifts of God given to us, and we remember God’s claim on us
By the water of birth we are brought into the world; by the water of baptism we are brought into the church. By water and the Spirit we are brought into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new life.
People: Many are the gifts of God given to us.
Leader: In thanksgiving, we pray. Eternal God, when nothing existed but chaos you swept across the deep water and brought forth light. Through the sea you led your people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a promised land. You sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of the womb, baptized by John, anointed by your Spirit, washed by a woman’s tears, who call us to follow him and to go proclaim the good news to every living creature, making disciples, baptizing, teaching, and remembering that he is with us, has called us by name.
Pour out your Holy Spirit and by this gift of water call us to remember:
People: The gift of grace given to us in our baptism
Leader: Call us to remember
People: The claim upon us to go and make disciples
Leader: Call us to remember
People: To teach your name and your love to everyone in all the world
The people are invited to come to the front, dip their fingers into the bowls provided, and gratefully remember their baptism.

Song (as people come forward) You Are Mine

The Blessing
Leader: Child of the covenant, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.
People: Alleluia! Amen.

Sent Out In Jesus’ Name

[2] Posted by Bedford United Church in Sermons by Rev. Ann Corbet on Sunday, January 8. 2006 12:00;

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Unbound and Set Free

Luke 13: 10-17
September 1, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

It has been said that where you stand depends on where you sit.
That’s not a controversial saying – most of us can agree that our position on a given matter depends a great deal on our own personal situation. This is a story about standing up straight, about being unbound and set free. It is always a temptation, when we hear a scripture story like this, to identify most strongly with the character whom Jesus seems to like best. We tend to see ourselves most often in the person who is healed or forgiven, to hear ourselves in the voice of the one who says the right thing. We want to maybe be, not the hero, but at least the one who is doing what Jesus would do. I want to invite you as you hear this story to put yourself in the place of the omniscient observer – the one who is above the fray.

Pull back from the story and try to see these individuals and their interactions without putting yourself in any of their locations just for now. In other words, stand apart from the story for a moment. To help you with that, I’m going to interject some ideas about how to hear this story, as I read it. You may wish to look it up in your Bible and follow along. Now let’s listen for what this scripture might have to say to us today.

We start with a panorama, the view of the location:
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 

Next, the beginning of the drama – the entry of this woman:
11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 

Jesus sees her, so we assume he interrupted his teaching.
12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 

It may have taken her a little bit of time to come to him when he called her, but the healing was immediate – he laid hands on her, she stood up, and she praised God.
14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 

So it’s not just one of those miracle healing stories – now there is conflict introduced. The leader of the synagogue is not interested in the woman, or how she has suffered and is now free. He is interested in the rules about what is appropriate on the Sabbath.
15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 

Jesus isn’t having any of it. Hypocrite! You wouldn’t keep your animals tied up on the Sabbath! How can you not do the same for this daughter of Abraham?!
17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

The scene is set for further conflict with those whom Luke calls “his opponents,” but for the moment, the crowd is rejoicing along with the woman who is healed.

It has been said that where you stand depends on where you sit. Let’s stand in some different locations, this Sunday morning. We’ll start with those Pharisees, who love the Sabbath, and want to honor the day, as God commanded.

[This section was preached from the lectern, on the far right side of the chancel platform.]

“We’ve lost Sundays.”
A friend of mine said that to me at a Christian Education conference. It was fourteen years ago, and I had just begun paid work for a church. In the three years that followed, I learned just how true his statement was. Sundays were lost to us as a cultural artifact, an oasis of rest and Sabbath, observed by everyone. It was within my lifetime that blue laws existed – laws that required businesses to close on Sundays. That law sounds archaic now, doesn’t it? Why on earth would there be a law that says you can buy groceries but not a t-shirt, just because it is Sunday? Many of us remember a time when Sundays were a day set apart. There might be professional sports on Sunday afternoon, but no one would have dreamed of scheduling a swim meet or soccer game for elementary age children on Sunday morning!

I miss those days.
I miss the era when children’s ministries could count on all the kids being there on Sunday, in part because there wasn’t anything else to do. I lament this shift in our culture with my colleagues, and with our church leadership. I miss the good old days. And then I read this story, and I hear this Pharisee saying, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”  And I agree. Because I really do want it to be all about me, and about my plans and programs, and my church.

Jesus says I’m a hypocrite. And he’s right.

I really do want to figure out how to get people to show up on Sunday. And I do think we lost something, when we lost Sunday. But I don’t think the worst of that is about what we lost in attendance.  I’m thinking about the fact that we lost a day of rest. We lost an observance of the holiness of rest. And the working poor lost the chance at a day off. Because back then, whether or not you went to church, you could at least count on one day when you didn’t have to work, or compete, or open your shop, or commute, or anything. Even the plowhorse and the donkey need a break now and then. So especially on this Labor Day weekend, I want to be unbound from my own ambitions and desires, I want to stand up with Jesus about the importance of Sabbath – to let the laborer bent over with work stand up and stretch, and have a free day, a day to rest.

Let’s move across the synagogue now to join the crowd.
[This section was from the front pew on the left side]

I like sitting here with the crowd, where I can be anonymous. That way I don’t have to take any personal responsibility for this woman. She is bent over, unable to stand up straight. She has been that way for eighteen long years. It must be very painful for her, to be bent over like that. It is probably the result of poor choices she made. Maybe she dropped out of school. Probably she doesn’t eat nutritious foods. She looks pretty unhealthy to me.

And I suppose she doesn’t get good medical care. This is too bad, isn’t it? From where we sit, we in this crowd, we are sympathetic. And we are at a comfortable distance, comfortable enough to avoid facing our responsibility for women bent over so badly by life in this world. If we don’t go very close to her, and bend down and look in her eyes, maybe we won’t feel the need to do something besides feel sorry for her. Maybe if we sit here in this crowd and wait for Jesus to help her, we won’t have to stand up and address the institutional structures that keep women bound in our world. We won’t need to speak out against an economic system that disadvantages women, especially women of color, and older women. The inequality of women’s pay won’t be our issue, either. Or the social stigma of the unmarried mother, or the woman who needs social services like food stamps and free lunches so she can feed her children, or the woman who is in an abusive relationship and thinks she has nowhere to go. Over here with the crowd we can stay at a distance from all that.

But Jesus isn’t going to let that happen.
He calls the woman to come to him, and I think he knelt down and looked her in the eye.
He named her as a daughter of Abraham, a child of the covenant, a woman made in God’s own image. Then she could stand up straight. And I want to stand with her, to be in solidarity with her. I want to stand up for her, and for other women like her, women bent double, in agony for years, women who need to be unbound.

Now that we are so close to her, let’s put ourselves in her place.
[At this point, I walked to the center pews, and stood, bent over, as I spoke.]

Let’s stand where she is standing, bent over as if she has been carrying a heavy load, carrying it for eighteen long painful years. Wherever she goes, she is looking down, down at the dirt and weeds and rocks, at people’s feet and the hems of their garments. Wherever she goes she is reminded of her condition, and she cannot stand, cannot rise up. She is bound by her situation as if she were in chains, as if some cruel villain had tied her down. Jesus has only to speak: Woman, you are set free.

[Here, I stopped, and went up into the chancel behind the communion table.]

Do you see him?
Can you hear him?
It depends on where you stand.
Have you become so focused on the keeping of the law, on the rules and expectations of life, even on the ten commandments, that you are unable to see God’s children suffering?
Jesus is speaking to you – you are set free.
The Sabbath was made for us, to rest and renew.
Jesus invites you to come and rest.

Do you see him?
Can you hear him?
It depends on where you stand.
Have you gotten caught up in the crowd, carried away by popular opinion, or do you hide out in plain sight, where you are just another face, not responsible, not involved, just an onlooker. Jesus is speaking to you. You are set free from the bondage of conforming to the world. Stand up for what you believe. Stand up for those who suffer. Stand up with the one who binds up the broken-hearted and unbinds the gospel to set it free to work in the world and in the hearts of those who stand on the sidelines. Jesus invites you to come alongside him in his work of healing.

Do you see him?
Can you hear him?
It depends on where you stand.
Have your worries and troubles, your sorrows and pain bent you so low that you cannot see him? Have you shuffled into the presence of God, looking down at the floor, doubled over by the weight of your life? Jesus is speaking to you. Stand up.  Raise your arms up, dance in praise, turn and look around you. You are set free from your affliction. You are a child of the covenant.

Do you see him?
Jesus is here, here where we stand, speaking to us.                    
Can you hear him?
Jesus is here, here at this table, speaking to us with boundless love and free grace.
He invites us to stand up, unbinds us, calls us to account, freely offers us the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant. He is speaking to us, saying,
“Stand up. You are unbound and set free.”
You are set free.