Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Own Brief Statement of Faith

Seminary has been an amazing journey for me, and while I am still, in many ways, the same person I was six years ago, I have also learned much about my faith and the God we worship & serve. While I do believe that the path of Christianity down which I am wandering is the right path for me, I am not arrogant enough to believe that God's plan can be limited by the ways of this world. God loves each and every one of us, and has a desire to be with each of us for eternity--whatever that may look like. I do believe that God can and will accomplish this as only God can. I continue to believe that God's church is for all, and that ordination should be open to all persons whom God calls and who have the support of their local governing body--church or presbytery. I believe that faith is, first and foremost, a gift, and that all of our lives should be lived in gratitude for all that God has done for us. I believe in a loving, merciful God who is pained by the injustices in the world, rejoices with each of us as we rejoice, and weeps with each of us as we weep. It is in service to this God that I am to be ordained, it is this God to whom I give thanks for the many blessings in my life, and it is this God whom I strive to love and worship every day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Heaven on Earth

Do you ever just have one of those days? Not one of those days where you wish you'd never gotten up, but one of those days that you're so very GLAD to be up and alive? That's what yesterday was for me. It was pure bliss! What made it so great, you ask? Well, let me tell you...

First, I woke up and lay in bed reading some more of my new favorite book, Eat, Pray, Love. I drank coffee and read the paper as I listened to the rain turn to sleet. I piled the boys in the car to pick Adam up from a sleepover. Traffic was very light, and the snow started to fall on our way over. I visited with the sleepover mom and enjoyed chatting with someone new.

We ate lunch with my parents, then came home and I spent two hours at my wheel, crafting six new mugs, a vase, and a bowl as the Indigo Girls serenaded me from their 1200 Curfews CD. Joel made it home just in time for dinner--Chinese delivery--at my folks' house. They'd never had anything delivered to their house except pizza, and were quite taken with the notion. I love sharing the little joys of sub/urban living with them. :-) We packed up some leftovers and headed home, enjoying the cold crisp air and the snowmen and women we met along the way. I tucked the boys in, then tucked myself in with more reading. I fell asleep with a book in my hands, and a heart full of gratitude.

Yesterday will carry me for quite a long time, I think.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sermon: Hope Has a Voice

A sermon preached today, January 13th 2007, at the church of my childhood, Henry Memorial Presbyterian, in Dublin, GA. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated!

Isaiah 42:1-9
1Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Matthew 3:13-4:1
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

It’s good to be back here, as always. Since my graduation from seminary, I have enjoyed a luxurious summer being “just a mom,” and in August, began my job as the Presbyterian campus minister at Emory University. We have a small, but faithful group of students who gather for worship each Sunday at Emory Presbyterian Church, and for Bible study and fellowship every Tuesday night.

Our ministry strives to be one that is inclusive, faithful, challenging, and comforting. Together, we seek to discover what God is saying to us and might be doing through us in the here & now. I love it.

My call to campus ministry took me to heaven’s gate last weekend…to Montreat, NC where more than 800 college students gathered together for the annual collegiate conference. I must admit—being there as a campus minister was wonderful. I had the best of both worlds—the energy and passion of youth, without the responsibilities of knowing their whereabouts at every given moment.

We stayed at the mountain home of a dear friend, and enjoyed our time together –preparing and sharing meals and playing games, as well as our time in small groups and larger sessions. The conference theme was Hope Has a Voice, and building on today’s text as well as my experience in Montreat, I have also chosen that as the title of my sermon today.

The lectionary has us at the baptism of Jesus. It’s a puzzling text for many, just as it was a puzzling event for John. Imagine it. John is preaching, doing his thing, by the Jordan River.
We’ve just heard, at the beginning of chapter 3, about John’s unusual wardrobe and diet…camel’s hair and locusts. I can just picture him, can’t you? Lumbering around, his mumblings increasing in volume as he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

Preaching a gospel of social consciousness, he urges those listening to bear fruit worthy of repentance, cautioning that those trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down and burned. “I baptize you with water…but the one coming after me is greater. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire!”

And then…and then…the greater one comes. The greater one comes and asks that John baptize him. John objects. “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” [1]
And we get that. We get John’s objection. Because here is this man Jesus, the SON OF GOD, for pete’s sake. We would daresay that this man, this Savior, would not even NEED baptism, much less by someone like John.

Jesus insists. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it. And the heavens opened up, and the dove-like spirit came down, and God spoke. “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

Then Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted.

Going into the wilderness to be tempted. That phrase has new meaning for me as I minister with and among college students, away from home and the hawk-like parental supervision that most of their parents have doled out.

For you see, as someone who was IN college at one time—for all of the good things that college is—the chance to spread ones wings, the chance to make ones own decisions about many things, the chance to live with and among friends 24/7—for all the good things that it is, it is very much like going into the wilderness to be tempted.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…and ahead of the text.

Baptism. In our tradition, we typically administer the sacrament of baptism in infancy—signifying that we believe God’s call on our lives happens long before we can say yes to God. The “decision” for God, if you can call it that, is typically made by one’s parents. But its not really a “decision” for God as much as it is an awareness of God’s grace and an acknowledgement of what God has already done for us.

And so we baptize infants.

We baptize infants before they are old enough to understand, vowing to nurture them along the way as a community of believers.

We baptize infants and bring them to church as often as we can. We teach them in VBS, we chair committees that oversee their activities, and we marvel as they grow right before our very eyes in the weeks between each children’s moment.

We baptize infants and then send them off to church camp or Montreat when they are in middle and high school, and they have mountaintop experiences.

We baptize infants and then ask them to assume positions of church leadership…youth elder, or serving as a representative on the nominating committee.

We baptize infants, and then send them off to college…to the wilderness to be tempted…where our campus ministries, if they are even present, are suffering—underfunded and all but ignored.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, when we take part in a baptism, we are vowing to nurture that child in his or her faith life for years to come. I daresay that when ANY church baptizes an infant, that church is taking a vow on behalf of the whole body of Christ to nurture that child into a life of faith.

And yet…and yet…when they graduate high school and leave the safety and comfort of their back-home family of faith, we provide little or nothing for them.

There’s just something wrong with that.

Now I know that now is not the time for a soapbox rant, but I can’t pass up the chance to put in a plug for our forgotten college students. Because last weekend, as I sat in the middle of Anderson Auditorium in Montreat, surround by 18 to 22 year olds, feeling simultaneously very old and very young, I was amazed at what I was a part of.

We were all captivated by a student group from Virginia Tech as they shared with us some of their memories and experiences from last April when a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage on their campus.

We heard from Heidi, a young woman who had been shot three times in the leg. She shared with us her journey of pain and recovery. Every day, she wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “hope.” She became the embodiment of hope for many of us.

We heard from Shane Claiborne, a young adult who has ventured into a way of life that is beyond alternative in today’s culture. Ten years ago, at the age of 21, he and several of his friends founded an alternative community in inner city Philadelphia known as The Simple Way.
Here, he lives communally with others, working side by side to embody the gospel for those whom many people would just as soon forget. The students at the conference loved him.

We heard from Ishmael Beah, author of the NY Times bestseller A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. In his book, Beah, now twenty-seven years old, tells his story. “At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered his homeland, rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army. Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. Eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. His story is an amazing one of redemption and hope.” [2]

The students listened in awe and amazement as he closed his address to them with these words. “We are all capable of becoming monsters if the circumstances are there. Likewise, we are all capable of doing good. When the good in a person is nurtured, we can do amazing things.”

Part of what we promise to do each and every time we baptize an infant—or an adult, for that matter-- is to nurture that person. To love, support, and nurture that which is good in that person. It is our job as the body of Christ to do that for one another.

Jesus was baptized, then went into the wilderness to be tempted. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never worried too much about Jesus giving in to temptation. I mean, sure, hindsight is 20/20, but even if I didn’t know how the temptation story ended, I wouldn’t worry too much. After all, he is the God with Us, our Creator God incarnate. Stronger than any temptor’s snare.

We’ve been baptized, just like Jesus was. And just like Jesus, we are tempted in the wilderness. We leave the quiet, calm of our places of our baptisms each Sunday and enter the wilderness that is our violent, hopeless, power-hungry, mixed-up world to be tempted.

We are tempted to lust for power.
We are tempted to desire what others have.
We are tempted by hopelessness and apathy.
We are tempted to respond to injustice in violent ways.
We are tempted to live by society’s values rather than God’s values.
We are tempted to shun those who are different from us.
We are tempted to believe that the problems “out there” are not “our” problems.

But we forget. We forget that we have been baptized into a community of believers. We have been marked as God’s own. We forget that at our baptism, God looked on and said, “This is my child, chosen and marked by my love, the delight of my life.”

Isaiah reminds us what God said and continues to say to God’s chosen & beloved:
6I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

We are baptized and we are tempted, yes. But we have been called in righteousness. God has taken our hand, and has promised to keep us.

What I saw in the eyes and hearts of those 800 college students was the desire to live as if that made a DIFFERENCE in their lives. I saw a renewed passion to live a life of hope, to be a voice of hope. The conversations I heard as I wandered around towards the end of our weekend were things like, “I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but now I’m having to rethink it all.” “I still want to be a (fill in the blank), but I want to find a way for what I do to make a difference in the world.”

Those students left that mountaintop gathering eager to be a light to all the nations. They left desiring to open the eyes of the blind. They left committed to bring the prisoners out from the dungeon. They left with the firm and certain knowledge that hope DOES have a voice, and that the voice of hope is them. The voice of hope is us.

We have been baptized.

We have been and will be tempted.

We have been called in righteousness.

God has taken us by the hand, and has promised to keep us.

We are the voice of hope in this broken and fearful world in which we live.

We are God’s people, Christ’s body, here on earth.

We are God’s children, chosen and marked by God. We—you & I—are the ones in whom God delights.

We are.

The question is…What difference does it make?

Does it make any difference at all?

I pray that it does.


[1] The Message