Sunday, April 22, 2012

Adventures in Preaching

This morning I had the honor of leading the worship service. Our pastor is out of town, so I was running the show. This is the first time I've had the opportunity to do this and while there were a few hiccups, it went pretty well! Of course things never run smoothly when the pastor is away. He seems to have the finess it takes to make it all come together. But we did the best we could in his absence.

Every time I preach, I take away an important lesson. Something to do differently next time, or something to pursue further. This morning my lesson was that I should not wait until 20 minutes before the service starts to print out my sermon. The first time it printed, it came out red. Red type on white paper is just about the worst thing ever. So I tried it again and the second time it printed out in 19 point font, much bigger than my usual 14 point. The words were gigantic on the page, which made for a disoriented preacher. Several times I stumbled through sections when I would look from the congregation and back to the page. But hopefully the content of the message spoke louder than the delivery.

I'm blessed to be interning at a congregation full of so many wonderful people. They all have tremendous grace and are kind to me as I learn and grow as a preacher. One of our elders bought a flower arrangement to have at the front of the room and said it was in my honor. She then had me take it home afterward, a gesture that warmed my heart. And then I had the opportunity to eat lunch with a few members, and my deacon insisted on treating me.

These people are wonderful.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Burnet Love

The other night I went to a lecture given by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about stability and New Monasticism. Wilson-Hartgrove is encouraging people to pursue stability by rooting themselves in a community. The idea is that people invest in a community and stick it out through difficult times, resisting the urge to move on.

I was fascinated by this topic, especially since I've moved around quite a bit in the past 8 years and I'm about to marry a man who has never lived in the same place for more than 3 years. We don't exactly have a history of staying put.

My love owns a house which we will live in once married, but we have no idea how long we'll be there. A lot of that depends on what my job situation is like after my residency. I've been allowing myself to imagine staying put for a while. I created a map of places which are good reasons to stay in the house. These are all establishments that I either frequent regularly, or have been to and enjoyed very much.

View Burnet Love in a larger map

Those are just a few good reasons to stay in Austin.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blue Pastures

This week has been a rough, emotional ride. On Tuesday I had to preach a funeral sermon for one of my classes. The case study I was given was for a 6 year old girl who got hit by a car while riding her bike in front of her house. She was baptized in the church and both of her parents were Sunday school teachers. I spent most of Easter weekend wrestling with this task. Here is what I came up with:

It is a tradition for the first graders at our church to memorize the 23rd Psalm.

This year, Alicia and her classmates worked hard on this task. Memorizing a line at a time. Trying to imprint the words in their young minds and seal the message upon their hearts.

They were overjoyed when they were able to recite the entire Psalm. They wanted to share their accomplishment with the adult Sunday School class. So they ventured down the hall and stood in the front of our room. They said those precious words from memory. Many of the adults mouthed the words right along with them. Recalling the time when they memorized those same words when they were children.

When the kids got to the verse about laying down in green pastures, many of us chuckled when Alicia very loudly inserted “blue pastures.” Puzzled by this editing, I asked her mother about it after worship that day. She told me Alicia preferred to think that God would lay her down in blue pastures. Ones full of our beloved Texas Bluebonnets. They were her favorite flower.

Alicia had faith that God would lay us down in fields of our favorite flowers. She understood God’s love, perhaps better than any seasoned theologian. And all of us can learn from her uncomplicated faith.

Today we stand baffled. We ask God why Alicia’s life was cut so short. We wonder why this tragic accident happened. And it was just that. An accident. No one could have prevented this from happening. When her bike lost control, there’s no way that car could have stopped. No way someone could have pulled her back from the street. No one is to blame in this tragic accident. Yet we still stand baffled. Asking those hard questions of God. But we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. We must remember that Alicia’s life was a gift. Her brief life has left a legacy at this church. For she had much to teach us.

In the Gospels we are shown that Jesus has a special place in his heart for children. There are several instances when he scoops up a child, using her as an example to the disciples. Teaching them how to live. He says that “unless we change and become like children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Children are without pretensions. Without status or achievement. They are often overlooked in our society. But in their humble state, we can learn from them. We gain understanding of how it is God calls us to live.

Alicia helped us bear witness to the gospel her whole life. Six years ago, many of us were in this very place, witnessing the baptism of Alicia. As an infant we brought her to this font. It was in that water that she participated in the dying of Christ so that she could experience new life. She put on the garments of Christ. The congregation took vows to nurture and guide her. To help her develop her faith. To be her extended family. That’s not to say that her parents weren’t sufficient. On the contrary, her parents did an incredible job raising her. Their house has been one that is filled with love. Anyone blessed with the chance to visit there can plainly see that. But we know that our faith tradition cannot be practiced in isolation. It is best done in community. We are a covenant people who join together as the body of Christ. Alicia’s faith journey was shaped by everyone gathered here. She was able to believe that God lays us down in fields of our favorite flowers because of this community. Because of what you all taught her and showed her.

The last time many of us saw Alicia was on Palm Sunday, just over a week ago. We had the procession of the children. Waving their palm branches in the air they weaved in and out of the pews. Welcoming Jesus. This year Alicia had the special honor of being the leader of the processional. She took her job very seriously. She held her palm branch high. She bore witness to the celebration of that day. She led us in that worship. Reminding us that our life in Christ is something to rejoice over.

We have been blessed by Alicia’s life. And now we give her back into God’s hands.

In this Easter season, we rest upon the promise of resurrection. Not just of Christ but of us as well. We know that death does not have the final say. It is not the end of the story. In her death, Alicia’s baptism has been made complete. She now rises with Christ into that heavenly kingdom. Joining those who have gone before her. Preceding us who will someday join that place.

Until then, we must continue the task at hand. The task of being the covenant people. We must support one another. Build each other up. We must also focus on the task of nurturing God’s children. Young and old, we must carry on the promise we have made at the font. To teach and love and care for those who have entered into this community through the waters of baptism. For whoever welcomes one such child in the name of God, welcomes Jesus himself. Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Prayer for Those Engaged to Marry

A slightly adapted form from the Book of Common Worship

Almighty God,
in the beginning you made man and woman
to join themselves in shared affection.
May those who engage to marry be filled with joy.
Let them not snap at each other
while completing a 20 mile marathon training run.
Let them be so sure of each other
that no fear or disrespect may shake their vows.
May coming up with a playlist for the wedding DJ
be the least of their worries.
Help them to forgive each other,
even when one rips out a perfectly good shrub in the yard.
Though their eyes may be bright with love for each other,
keep in sight a wider world,
where neighbors want and strangers beg,
and where service is a joyful duty.
Precious Lord, help them survive the wedding chaos;
through Jesus Christ the Lord,