Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sunday Sermon- January 27, 2008

“red church, blue church, whose church?”
Matthew 4:12-23; I Corinthians 1:10-18
January 27, 2008
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

About a year or two ago, I went down to Des Moines to lead a class at the School for Congregational Learning. I had prepared long and hard for the meeting and expected several people to show up at the meeting to hear about new church planting. As the time came for the class to start, I waited for people to show up. Well, two people ended up attending the class. Two. And the two who attended were interesting.

The first guy was a pastor of a church in Southern Iowa. As we chatted, I started to realize this person had a reputation of causing trouble in his congregation. At some point he started talking about one the problems with the denomination: ordaining gay pastors.


I remained calm, putting on my best poker face. This was going to be an interesting class.

The second person arrived. It turns out she was a member of the same congregation who had opposed this pastor. The tension in the room was thick. I was wondering what in the world had I done to be placed in the middle of this argument.

I went ahead and did my presentation. I talked about Community of Grace, the church plant I helped start, and how it was a welcoming congregation to gay and lesbian people. In the end we had a good conversation, as good a conversation as you can have under these circumstances.

When the class mercifully ended, the pastor who had complained about gay pastors came up to me and apologized for his remarks. As hard as it was to hear those remarks, I accepted his apology with as much grace as I could.

And I was glad this was all over.

Our culture today is a fractured one. We divide ourselves, by race, or political persuasion. One might hope that the Church would be the one place where there would be a sense of unity. Nope. We are divided on a bunch of issues, from sexuality to inclusive language to well, the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.

Now when Tammy asked me to be part of what I like to call “tag team preaching,” I was expecting to preach only from the Matthew text, but I think God had other plans because the text from I Corinthians kept popping up in my mind. Maybe its because I've been busy all week dealing with an a meeting that took place among local Presbyterians about gay ordination, I don't know. Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and he is pretty upset. He hears that there are divisions among the congregation. People are saying that they were baptized by this person and that and dividing themselves along those lines. Paul comes in and says that the important thing is not who baptized who, but the preaching of the gospel.

He talks about the message of the cross and about the church being in agreement and not division. Does Paul mean that we should all think the same and never argue? No. We are faced with a lot of issues that need to be fleshed out. But I think the unity Paul was talking about was that no matter who baptized who, or what one thinks on gay ordination, or the war in Iraq, we are united in Christ and must be Christ to each other. In the end, the gospel isn't about these issues, but is shaped in the life of Jesus, who lived a sacrificial life that lead to the cross.

When Jesus called his first disciples, he said they would be fishers of people. Their ministry would be one of living for Christ and others, not living for whatever particular issue that comes by.

Disagreements will come. But the question is how will we as Christians handle ourselves? We show each other grace and love and even when we disagree, or will we be just like the rest of the world, thinking of ourselves and not others?

The gospel passage is a passage about discipleship, about following Christ. Paul's letter reminds us that this walk with Christ is one that costs. The way of Cross is not easy, but since Christ has walked down that road, we know we aren't alone.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One Big Happy

So, I am tag team preaching this Sunday.

This is something I regularly do with Tammy, the Associate at Lake Harriet. I do one half of the sermon, and she does the other half. It seems odd, but it works.

Normally when I preach, I preach from the gospel and the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John does have a pull. But I am drawn to the epistle for this coming Sunday: I Corinthians 1:10-18.

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

This verse says a lot about the current state of the church. We divide ourselves on SO many issues, sexuality, war, the economy, inclusive language, that we forget what unites us: Jesus Christ. More often than not, I've learned that while I might not agree with my more conservative brothers and sisters, I do see many of them as seeking to find ways to love and serve God like I do.

I still need to do some thinking on this passage, but I think I know what I will be preaching on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunday Sermon-January 20, 2008

“Hospitality. Enough Said.”
John 1:29-42
January 20, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

In the business world, what makes a company good or bad, what makes it thrive or fold up, is how good its service is.

Several years ago, I was in need of a new car. My 1992 Chevy Corsica was on it's last legs and I needed something soon. On the advice of a friend, I drove down one snowy afternoon with a friend to Northfield to look at cars. We stopped first at a GM dealer and looked around. What was interesting was that no one came out to say hello. Usually in car dealers, someone is there before you even have a chance to look. But the sales staff kept away. Then I went to a Ford dealership nearby and found a car that I like. We went in to start doing the numbers and see if I qualified for a loan. Since I was in school and working part time, I didn't qualify for a loan on my own. Not a problem, I thought, since I had never bought a car before and because I knew that my Dad would co-sign the loan. But I remember that the finance guy was worried. I have no idea why, but he was. I decided to put down a deposit and started writing out the check. At that point, our timid finance guy said the most stupid remark ever. “Will the check bounce?”

I was taken a back. I mean, why in the world would I drive 40 miles in a snowstorm, in a car with bad breaks, no less, to write up a bad check? I thought his statement was a bit bigoted. Looking back, if I had my wits, I would have stopped writing the check and left immediately. But I was thinking clearly so I did write the check. That did not bounce, I might add.

The thing about the experience, was that I did not feel any sense of hospitality. I didn't feel like I was welcomed at either dealership and made to feel like common criminal instead of someone who was going to fork over some money their way. It made me not ever want to consider buying a car in Northfield again.

We may not think that hospitality is something that churches should be concerned about, but in reality it is something we might want to start taking seriously. The fact is, bad “service” in a church has negative effects on the church as a whole. In a book called “unChristian” by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group (which does religious research) found at that a large majority of young people aged 16-29 view Christianity with in his words, “resentment, hostility and disdain.”

Here are some the findings about how this group views Christians. 91 percent view the church as anti-homosexual. 87 percent view Christians as judgemental and roughly an equal number view Christians as hypocritical. 70 percent thinks the church is insensitive to others.

None of these numbers are good. In fact, they are horrible.

The gospel has Jesus encountering John his cousin and some of John's disciples. John greets Jesus as the lamb that takes the sins of the world. Two of John's disciples were so intrigued that they came up to Jesus wanting to know more. Jesus responds by saying, “what do you need?” When they answer, he responds, “come and see.” They do and end up staying the whole day talking to Jesus. This propels them to share what they have witness with others who then have an encounter with Jesus.

If you want to know about hospitality and how important it is, look to Jesus. Jesus welcomes these people who have interest in him. He welcomes their questions and his actions have an impact on their lives. Now, they truly knew Jesus was the lamb of God, not because John had told them, but because they had seen for themselves.

Jesus had this knack of welcoming people. He welcomed the Pharaisee Nicodemus who had questions to ask, the woman at the well who was a woman with a shady reputation, and many others. In every case, his hospitality brought these people to truly encounter Jesus. It was the actions of Jesus, not words about him, that made the difference.

Lake Harriet is at an interesting juncture in its life. We are deciding our next steps and what this church will look like down the road. I sadly can't join you this afternoon as you start part two of this process, but I do want to leave you with this message: how hospitable are we? Do we welcome those who might be different from us? Do we welcome those of different races, ethinic groups and sexual orientations? Can we provide ways to actively live that out in our own lives, but also as a community?

This question is just as important as the congregation's financial health or choosing a new pastor. I would say it is even more so. The fact is, many in my generation and the generation behind me, think the church is full of hateful, bigots. Now I know that isn't true, but there are many who have bad experiences and that has colored their whole lives. The only way that can change is by having a group of people who can prove to people that their negative perception isn't all true. That means creating and maintaining communities of inclusion and hospitality that are truly living this gospel out as Jesus did.

During my time with Community of Grace, I was amazed out how many people had a negative perception of Christians. Some people had been treated harshly because of their sexual orientation. But there were other reasons people stayed away from church; a manipulative pastor, a cold congregation and so on. I realized that the church has a big job on their hands: trying to change the perception of a group that is supposed to be about love.

A few years ago, my partner Daniel was looking for a new car. We stopped at a Toyota dealership here in the Cities and met a nice older woman named Nancy. She showed us the car we were interested in and was all around a helpful person. She was well aware that we were a couple and wasn't scared away. What was amazing is that she shared a part of her life with us. She told us of her children and what they were involved in. I was impressed by the experience, and when my friend Erik was looking for a car, sent him her way. He ended up buying a car from her.

When people met Jesus, they wanted to tell others. We who are called the followers of Jesus, encounter people who will not know Jesus unless we are Christ to them. Get this wrong and we lose more than a potential member; we end up becoming an obstacle.

When people darken the doors of this faith community or your own home, they are looking for something. What will our answer be? Will we be like Christ and say, “Come and See,” or will we tell them to get lost?

Hospitality isn't just about manners; it's about the gospel itself. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday Prayer based on texts for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 (1)
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

If you walked past my cubicle at work today
saying, "Follow me, and I will make you a helper of humans,"
would I immediately follow?
What kind of person must you have been, while on earth,
to inspire such decisive action?

Despite our caution, call us every day
to follow again in your way of love,
of justice, of service.
Remind us that our stuff is only stuff
while the journey makes us who we are
and draws us close to you.

Call us today, Lord.

© 2008 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Last night, Daniel and I went out on a very, very cold night in Minneapolis to see the movie "Persepolis." Persepolis is based on a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi that tells her story of growing up in Iran during the waning days of the Shah and as the Islamic hardliners took over. Being an animation geek and interested in world politics, this was a movie I was interested in seeing.

And wow, what a movie. The animation is great, but what moves this film is the story. It focuses on Marjane, headstrong girls as she comes of age during some important times in history.

I left the film feeling a lot of what I deal with is not that bad, and that Iran is a lot more complex than the images of people saying "death to America." As Marjane said in a recent interview:

"If you understand that a guy who is dying is exactly like you, who likes to go to the movies, and eat ice-cream and make love to his wife and has a mother and children and hopes etcetera, then it becomes much more difficult. So if this movie can participate in that fact and say 'Hey! It's just a matter of human beings, no matter where you come from, all of use we are human, let's think about that.' Maybe that will be the right question."

One of the last words spoken during the film is that "freedom has a price." You realize that when you see Marjane's story which is probably duplicated millions of times in Iran.

When I was a kid watching the Iranian revolution and the hostage taking of Americans on TV, I believed that all Iranians were religious nuts. Of course, these days I don't believe that, but this movie took that message home. Some want a life of freedom, the freedom we take for granted.

If you have a chance, go see this movie. Now.

Just So You Know...

Well things might get interesting for me in the next few weeks.

Back in December, I got call from Disciplesworld magazine. They are doing a story about gay and lesbian ministers and they interviewed yours truly. It should appear in the upcoming issue. I hope it does good in allowing GLBT Christians to use the gifts God gave them in the church and I hope I don't get a lot of flack for it. Oh well, I am a big boy- and God is with me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Old Man and the Queen

As several denominations struggle with the issue of gay pastors, I am reminded of something that happened to me a few years ago.

I had just graduated from seminary and was doing my CPE at a local nursing home. I was still involved at the church where I was an intern and was asked to serve on the church board. It came to a vote and I was voted in nearly unanimously. I say nearly because one person voted against me. I knew who it was and so did many others. It was an elderly member of the church. He had some idea I was gay and many people assumed that was why he voted against me. After the meeting concluded, he asked me to come with him into another room. He explained that he prayed and studied the scripture on the issue of homosexuality, but his conscience was not swayed in favor. As he said this, he began to cry.

I was and still am touched by this guesture. He did have to speak to me to explain his actions, but he did. He might not approve of who I sleep with, but he did treat me with respect. This wasn't simply about being right for him, but about being loving.

Yeah, I know that his actions were hurtful. Yes, it would have been nice had he voted in favor. But I could respect his decsion even if it was wrong, because he valued me enough to respect me.

Why am I sharing this? I guess because sometimes those of us who fight for justice for GLBT folk tend to paint everyone and anyone who might disagree as evil and backward and not worth listening to. Many pro-gay people think saying anything that is against being gay is hurtful to gays and react strongly to anything that might be hurtful to gays.

But the thing is, there is a difference between words and people that do mean to harm and those that are just not there yet. There are people that truly hate gay people, but not everyone who might have an opinion opposing gay marriage or gay ordination is necessarily a bigot. And the fact is, I'm a big boy-I can handle an old guy.

I truly believe we must work for justice and inclusion in the church. But grace has to be part of the plan. The old man's opposition was tinged with grace and for that reason I could also respond in grace.

I still see the old man-he is now in his early 80s, but still going strong. We are friendly to each other and he still treats me with the utmost respect and even sees me as Biblical scholar (?). And I love his tenor voice-which is still strong after all these years. I have no idea how he feels about me being gay or having a husband. But I do know that he has taken the command of love very seriously and I will truly weep the day this man leaves the scene. He has taught me about grace; and for that I am ever thankful.

Great, now I'm tearing up...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Searching for Home

I've been a busy for a pastor who doesn't have a call. For the past few weeks, I've been doing supply preaching at several Disciple churches as well as one Lutheran congregation. (And I had to turn down an opportunity to preach at Presbyterian congregation because I was already booked.) I like this chance to do preach and meet people from the various churches, many I've known for a few years.

But even though I like the chance to preach, I really miss not having a call. In a way, I feel sort of landless, not really able to put down roots some place and leave my mark. Even at Lake Harriet, where I do a lot of preaching, I have to be careful and respect the Associate Pastor's role and the wishes of the congregation.

At the same time I feel rootless, I am also thinking something big is coming down the pike. I can't say what it is since I don't know, but I think something is coming. All the while I'm still putting feelers out for the new church and I next month I will meet with the Minnesota Conference of the UCC to hopefully get standing in the UCC as well as the Disciples.

I'm starting to wonder if God is telling me to hold on. Maybe this feeling that something will happen soon is God's way of telling me to just be patient. I guess until then, I will just keep doing what I am doing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday prayer based on texts for the Second Sunday after Epiphany:

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11 (8)
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

"Come and see," you invited
and they followed, taking a risk--
now we read it as faith,
but maybe at first, curiosity?

Give us curious minds,
listening ears,
walking feet.

Pull us along with your words,
that as we learn more of the Word
in our listening and speaking,
acting and risking,
others will find their own invitation,
piqued curiosity,
and faith.


© 2008 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What On Earth Is Heaven For?

During my Senior year of seminary, I wrote a short paper for my final systematic theology course where I suggested that maybe we should be somewhat agnostic when it comes to heaven. I said that we should focus on the present time and let the future worry about the future.

That didn't sit well with a fellow student who had lost her husband in a tragic accident a few years prior. She had to believe there was a heaven, that there was hope.

A few years later, I conducted my first funeral. It was for a guy my age who had committed suicide. I said preached about hope and the "great gettin' up morning" when all the tears shall be wiped away.

I've come back the conclusion that there is a heaven, and afterlife. I have no idea what it will be like or who will be there, but that isn't my concern; and I don't spend too much time thinking about it.

I think in the past, the concept of heaven has been used to get people to not think about the unjust situations they are living in, and focus on "pie in the sky." But I also know that heaven was also viewed as a future hope where death would not have the last say.

In some way, I see heaven eschatologically; I believe that heaven, whatever it is, is the total fullfilment of the kingdom of God, a place where there is no weeping or crying and dying. We experience some of that now, but will see it in its fullness in the not yet.

So why am I talking about heaven? Adam Walker Cleaveland, has a good post by Brian McClaren about what the kingdom of God means to him. McClaren says the kingdom of God is not about heaven.

Now “the kingdom of God” isn’t the gospel. It’s “the good news” of the kingdom of God that is the gospel. And what is that good news? On Jesus’ lips, it was that the kingdom of God was “at hand” - which was a way of saying it is near, or here, or available, or a live option - something you can reach out and touch. In other words, the kingdom of God isn’t something you simply hope for someday. It is something you come to terms with today. That “coming to terms with” means, for starters, that we repent - we rethink everything in light of this message. And it also means we trust Jesus as the king - so we decide to “take on his yoke,” learn his way, and follow him, so we can be like him.

I would agree to a point, but then I am stuck with this question? Does heaven matter? Is it something that now has to be jettisoned?

Now, following Jesus is a lot more than simply getting to go to heaven. I would agree that we are called to follow Christ. But I get worried that we are trying to solve one problem, focusing on heaven to the exclusion of issues of justice, by creating another one: jettison the message of hope expressed in heaven.

If fundamentalists focus too much on Jesus as someone that takes away our sins to the exclusion of the Son of God who brings good news to the poor, then liberal Christians focus on Jesus as some kind of wise teacher who gave us a new way to live instead of God sharing God's lot with humanity.

I have to have a heaven. Not a place with angels where good people go, but a hope that in the end, God will rule; the Lamb who was slain will reign and where sin will be no more. It is that hope that propels me to do justice; not as fire insurance, as someone I knew once said, but in working with God to bring about a bit of that future hope now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Sermon-January 13, 2007

“Vocation, Vocation, Vocation”
Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
January 13, 2008
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

Me and baptism: we just don't get along.

Baptism should be a time that one remembers as a special time in their lives. And my baptism was- but I still have a tarnished history with it.

Let's go back to the scene of the crime: December of 1976 in Flint, Michigan. I went to be baptized at New Jerusalem Baptist Church. Now there were a lot of good things about the church I grew up at, but one thing they didn't do so well is to explain to a seven year old what in the world was going on. They had me sit in a room with my Dad and I started crying that I was away from Mom. Then I walk down this hallway and I enter a pool (they didn't tell me anything about water) and the pastor says some words and, BAM! I get plunged into the water. Well, when you are seven and plunged into water, you do what any kid does: cry your lungs out. What was supposed to be a good experience was a tad bit traumatic for me.

As I got older, I started to be filled with doubts: was my baptism real? Did I really believe?

When I got into college, I shared these questions with the pastor that led the college fellowship I was a part of. He basically said that I might want to consider getting baptized again, just in case. I shared this with my Mother and she advised that my baptism decade prior was real. So, I didn't get baptized then. The doubts still remained, though.

Fast forward towards 1995. I was living in Washington, DC at the time and decided to join a church in the area. I had known the pastor for a while. He asked me if I was baptized. Even though I had doubts, I said yes. He then asked, “Was it a believer's baptism?” You see the pastor didn't think infant baptism was valid and would rebaptize people. I could feel my stomach flip a few times. The doubts were strong, but I told him that the baptism was official and we went on.

So, you see, I don't have a good history with baptism. Or least I didn't have a good history for many years. These days, I tend have a very different understanding of baptism, but I will get to that later.

In today's gospel, we see Jesus walking up to John the Baptist his cousin. He asks John to baptize him. John is taken aback. I mean, this was the guy whose shoes John was not worthy to even tie. John even told Jesus that he should be baptizing him instead. But Jesus persists and John relents. Jesus gets baptized and we are treated to a light show from God who tells Jesus that he is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.

Why did Jesus get baptized? I mean, he didn't have to get baptized for the forgiveness of sins, because he didn't have any sins to forgive. And yet he insisted that John do this for him. Maybe it was an act of service. Remember that Jesus didn't come to earth like any normal king. He was born to a poor unwed woman and grew up in a backwater village. Maybe Jesus was living out his message of being a servant. Here is our servant-king submitting to one that is considered lesser to him. And didn't Jesus talk a lot about the last being first, and taking up crosses? Well, here is an example of Jesus doing this. His baptism is what kicks off his ministry on earth. It doesn't start with a flashy miracle, but in being the servant that God calls his beloved son.

Some of you sitting here this morning were baptized probably as a young child or 10 or twelve. Some come from other traditions where they were baptized as a baby. No matter how one is baptized, the meaning is still the same: when we enter those baptismal waters we reminded that we are God's beloved, sons and daughters of God. We are reminded of God's wonderful love for us, God's generosity.

Jesus was reminded of God's love for him. And what was his response? He started his ministry where he was a servant to those that were considered unclean: tax collectors and other sundry folk. And his life of service lead him to peform the ultimate act of service: laying down his life for all of creation.

When I was younger, I got the message that baptism is done when you have enough faith or it had to be done the “right way.” Never was I told this was a simple act of love- that is, until I went to seminary. After I heard that this was more about God's love for me, God's grace than it was about doing all the right things, all the doubts vanished. I was confident in God's love. Grace alone.

Our baptism is a reminder that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do about that. In graditude we go from these walls to serve others: our neighbors and strangers in need.

It was Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Disciples, that summed up what baptism is. He said, “baptism is sort of an embodiment of the gospel and a solemn expression of it all in a single act. In baptism, we are passive in everything but giving our consent. We are buried and raised by another. Hence, in no view of baptism can it be called a good work.”

Since I have a lot of Lutheran friends, I tend to go to various worship services. One of my favorite is Easter Vigil. We Disciples don't practice this tradition, but many Lutherans do, as do many Catholics and Episcopalians. People gather on the Saturday before Easter and tell the salvation story from the Creation to Jesus' ressurection. At some point during the service, the pastor takes a tree branch and puts in the baptismal font. He or she then will throw the water into the congregation, telling them: remember your baptism and be thankful.

Now, it's a little hard for my Lutheran friends to remember their baptisms since they were in most cases an infant, but that's not what the pastor means. They mean, remember that it was at these waters that you became part of God's family and that God loves you. And I say that to all of you this morning: remember your baptism and be thankful. Remember that God loves you, that you are a son or daughter of God. And show that thankfulness in acts of kindness to others.

When Katie asked me for a title for this sermon, it was to be called Vocation, Vocation, Vocation. And as you see, I haven't talked much about vocation- or maybe I have. You see, just as Jesus was called into ministry, so are we. We are called to share the gospel the good news in word and in deed. Our baptisms remind us of our calling and also who we are and whose we are.

Peter Morgan, the past head of the Disciples Historical society said this about baptism and I'd like to close with this. By the way, you can find both quotes in the Chalice Hymnal. Morgan said, “We rose from the water to manifest the presence of Christ. We are the laos, the people of God born from the water of baptism into a sacramental ministry, manifesting the presence of Christ.”

Manifesting the presence of Christ. This is our calling as a people born from baptismal waters. Being the presence of Christ in our schools, our places of work, when we give food to the hungry, homes to the homeless and hope to the hopeless.

Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Big Gulp

...and no, I am not talking about 7-Eleven's big ole soft drink.

After a lot of thinking, I've decided to make my move concerning a new church. I've set up a Facebook group for people who are interested in journeying with me or know of people who want to help plant a church.

I am a bit nervous about this. I mean, what is going to happen? Will someone respond? Will anyone respond? What happens if a lot of people sign up? I don't know, but I am going to start doing a lot of praying and see what happens.

So, if you know of anyone who has a heart for mission and is interested in trying to start something new, please send them my way.

Tuesday Prayer (on Friday)

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday Prayer based on texts for the Baptism of Jesus:

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29 (3)
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

You got us gentiles started on that trend,
washing for purity's sake
except that you deliberately welcomed the impure--
bacon-eaters, shifty tax collectors, adulterers.
The more we welcome in your name, the more we find
your Holy Spirit has preceded us
and so have you.
Invite and cajole us into an ever-wider
and more daring welcome in your name
so that simple water
will wash the world.

© 2008 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sunday Sermon-January 6, 2008

“Drawn Towards the Light”
Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:12
January 6, 2008
Plymouth Creek Christian Church
Plymouth, MN

In the summer of 1984, I was fourteen. I was part of the cross-country team in high school, and the coach thought it would be a good idea to go up to a state park in northern Michigan to train before school started. I should state at the begginning that I am NOT the world's best runner. I wasn't then, and as I am nearing forty, I can tell you that I am NOT the world's greatest runner now. Anyway, I went with several other team mates to train. During the evenings, we would walk from the campground to the lodge, which was probably a good mile or two away. We would hang out and play pool and listen to the radio. When we were done and headed back, we made our way down a very, very dark road. It was scary, but I knew I wasn't alone, so I could deal with it.

Well, one evening, we were at the lodge and I decided to go to the restroom. When I cam back, my fellow team mates were gone. They had met some local girls and decided to head down to the lake. This was just great, I was no alone and I didn't know what to do. I could try to follow them down the tricky path to the lake, or I could just walk back to the campground. Neither option was that pleasant, but I went for door number two and started walking back to the campground.

Did I say walking? I meant running for dear life. The road was pitch black and I could not see in front of me. I probably did my best mile ever. Here I was running alone in the darkness. I was incredibly scared.

At some point, I saw a light. I felt a sense of relief. I went to the door and knocked. A woman came to door and I franticly explained my situation and asked for ride to the campground. I didn't want to continue on this dark road. For whatever reason, the woman did not offer much help except to say that I was not far from the campground. So proceeded on the dark road. I saw a small glimmer of light ahead that broke through the darkness. I kept running and the light grew and multiplied. I started to give thanks to God as I realized I was nearing the campground. I was finally home and the complete darkness was replaced by the warm glow of a campfire.

Today is Epiphany. It is the time on the church calendar, we remember the Wise Men from the East who came to visit Jesus and present him with gifts.

I have to say that this story of the Magi has always fascinated me since I was a little kid. I loved to sing “We Three Kings,” and there was something interesting in those very biblically incorrect nativity scenes that showed some people that looked like me.

There is something mysterious about these guys. We don't know where they are from, or how the knew about the Christ child. All we know is that they arrive in Herod's palace asking about Jesus and they leave the scene as mysteriously as the came.

Epiphany though isn't about the Magi, but about the revelation of God into our world. As I read today's gospel and the Isaiah text, I was reminded that this passage has a lot to say about those of us who follow Christ and what it means to be light in a dark world.

The gospel text opens up with the Wise Men arriving in Jerusalem. They had seen the star and followed it as far as Jerusalem. These powerful men decided to ask King Herod for help in finding the child. The King, who appointed by Rome to rule over the Jewish lands, was concerned. The Wise Men called this baby the “king of the Jews.” Well Herod knew who was the King of the Jews and in his mind, it was some kid in diapers. He alerts the religious leadership which then goes to work. They find a prophecy that confirms what the Magi said. Herod tells the Wise Men where the baby is and then asks them to bring world of the young king so that he may also go and worship the child. Of course this was a lie, he wanted to get rid of the competition.

The Wise Men find the child and present him with gifts and worship him.

Isaiah seems to be forshadowing this event. It starts off saying, “Arise and Shine, for your Light has come!” The writer talks about how nations will come to this light and how they will worship God.

As I was putting together this sermon, I noticed two things. First, even though the Wise Men are supposed to be the “star” of the passage, in many commentaries, Herod is the chief actor in the story. Many commentators want to focus on the fact that the powers have much to fear from the birth of Jesus. While I agree with that, and Herod is afraid of of the baby Jesus, he is not the main character of this story, nor is his desire to remain in power- it's the Magi who are the main characters, these people who are true outsiders and are drawn to the light. The second thing I noticed is how these passages remind us that many are still drawn to the light and that they are knocking on the doors of churches to see the Christ.

In our world today, there are many like the Wise Men who are looking for Christ, looking for the light. They are our loved ones, our friends and our workmates. Sometimes they come to our churches wanting to seek the Christ. What will they find here? Will they find Christ or will it be a Herod and the priests, who seemed to be more interested in wordly things than in the things of God?

Christ is present in the world. The way most people know of Jesus is not simply the words find in the Bible, but in the lives of Christians. When we publicly live as Christ would have us to live, people are drawn to the presence of God.

The light of Christ is in the world, but it can only be known when those who dare to call themselves Christians are living in the light.

As a gathered community, you are dealing with a time of transition as start to search for a new pastor. You also probably using this time to find out who you are as a congregation. As you go through this time of discernment, please remember that what matters as the body of Christ is not simply how big the congregation is, not the programs, but what impact we are having on the community around us. Are we the light in the distance? Are helping to reveal Christ to the world around us?

All around this church, there are people dealing with homelessness, or poverty, or loneliness. How can we reach out to them in the love of Christ? When you all give food to the hungry, when you walk for CROP or AIDS Walk, when you do make food packets for needy and hungry children around the world, you are revealing Christ to others in this world. Herod and the priest had all the technical knowledge of prophecy and religion, but in the end, it meant very little because their lives will filled with indifference and envy, that which doesn't reveal Christ to others. There are congregations have might have all the best programs, and best preachers, but if the Magi of today walk in their doors, they will not see Christ.

When the Wise Men finally found Jesus, they gave gifts and worshiped him. So it is when today's Magi find Christ, they will give worship to Christ when they see it happening. And they should see that happening in the gathered community of believers called the church.

When I was 14, that light shining in the distance have me hope. When the Magi finally found the baby Jesus they were filled with joy. So should it be when people encounter God's followers. When the encounter a place where they are welcomed and loved; a place where they are fed when hungry, clothed when naked, befriended when lonely.

Arise and shine, for your light has come. Amen.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

A dear friend who is also a fellow pastor and I had a good conversation last night. Just after that, I received some good comments from a friend about my plans for a new church. Both events have left me with questions.

When you go through the ordination track in the Disciples as with any other denomination, you expect to be placed somewhere. For whatever reason, that never totally happened in my case and I don't know why. I can't easily blame race or sexual orientation, so I am left in this muddle.

I've felt called to parish ministry, but there are few congregations here in Minnesota, where I've chosen to live, and they are all in a state of flux as three congregations have had pastors leave. But just because they have open pulpits doesn't mean I can just slide in- all of the congregations are trying to figure this out on their own and not expecting a pastor to make everything right. I appreciate that but it makes me wonder where I fit in.

For some people when parish ministry isn't available or when they grow tired of it, pastors go into chaplaincy. I think it is a good option and a good way to do ministry beyond the doors of the church. But I also know it's not for everyone. I don't think I have the skills needed or the desire to do chaplaincy. I'm not panning those who do, it's just not my cup of tea.

So where does that leave me? What can I do?

That's a question that has been looming in the background for the past few months. I feel at times that several doors have closed on me and I am wondering if there is an open door somewhere for me.

Or maybe God is playing a mean trick on me; toying with my emotions.

I think it's hard for those who don't feel the call the ministry to understand how big a pull this is on you. You get to a point where cannot not do it. And you get frustrated and extremely depressed that nothing will ever change and that this call might have been less from God than that White Castle hambuger you had the night before.

I still feel called to do new church, but as some has said, why does there need to be a new church? I don't have an answer for that, except, why the hell not? When I read the stories of how churches started in the past, there seemed to be more emphasis on faith than on trying to market something to please other churches and denominational execs.

I don't want to paint too bleak a picture though. I am doing a whole bunch of supply preaching a local Disciple churches and I think that is helping me establish some realtionships with the people in those churches. But at some point, I want to put down roots.

My friend wondering if all of this waiting might be that God is preparing me for the new thing that is happening among the local churches. Could be; I just would like God to clue me in sometimes.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sunday Sermon-December 30, 2007

I am continuing to do a lot of supply preaching, which is fun. When I prepare a sermon, I write it out, but I tend not to simply read the sermon, but add things. That's what I did here: I added a quote that is not found in the written sermon, but it is the theme that runs through the sermon. The quote comes from President Harry Truman. In response to the famous saying, "Give 'em Hell Harry!" he responded, "I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell. " With that, here is the sermon.

Matthew 2:13-23
December 30, 2007
Plymouth Creek Christian Church
Plymouth, MN

1977 was probably the best Christmas Day ever-at least for me. I was SO excited to get up and open presents-and that's what I did- waking my poor parents at 4:30 in the morning to open presents. My parents rebuffed my desire to open all my gifts, so I tried to get back to sleep-emphasis on the word- tried. I got up again at 6 to wake my parents. No dice. But my grandmother who was living with us at the time was willing to listen to her crazy grandson and got up with me to open presents.

Later that day, my Uncle Pablo, Aunt Cherry and their kids came by. My three cousins, Juanita, Felicita and Pablo Jr. were like siblings to me. We played with my new train set and had a great time. As I said, it was the best Christmas ever-or so I thought.

About a week later, Pablo showed up. He told us that Cherry had left him and took the kids. That began a four year battle that was really hard on the kids. In 1982, Pablo's ex-wife took the children and moved to California, and Pablo wasn't able to see children for several years.

The best Christmas ever.

Today's passage hardly seems like a Christmas passage at first blush. But the fact is, it is Christmas- in this world.

The passage starts with King Herod finding out that the Wise Men have avoided him. We didn't read this passage today, but the Wise Men, leaders from the East, came to see that which was called the King of the Jews. They went to ask Herod if they knew anything about this baby. This troubled Herod since he, of course, was the King of the Jews, appointed by Rome to rule over Israel. In his mind, this baby had to be a threat to his regime. He calls the Wise Men and told them to find the child and let him know where the child was so that he could also give honor to this King. But Herod wasn't interested in honoring the Christ child- he wanted to get rid of the competition.

The Wise Men were told in a dream not to go back to King Herod and they went another way. King Herod was angered by this, so he devises another plan. To go into Bethlehem and kill off all the male children under the age of two.

But God had other plans for the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Joseph was warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem and escape to Egypt. God was able to protect the Christ child from the wrath of a homicidal ruler.

Merry Christmas!

So, what in the world does this passage have to do with the Christmas story? It seems so incongruous. I mean, we sing songs like "Silent Night" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem." during this time. But there is nothing silent about this passage, and Bethlehem is not so still and peaceful. What we see here is state-sanctioned infanticide. That doesn't seem very Christmasy.

Or is it?

Christmas is the time we remember God coming to earth in the form of a helpless baby to bring salvation-healing to all of creation. We celebrate that fact, but we forget that the world Jesus comes to is this world, a broken place full of sin and injustice. A world where marriages end, where rulers still oppress and kill without thought, a place where people have to flee for their very lives.

Christ comes to bring salvation to all of us-good and bad. But sometimes people don't see salvation in Christ's coming- what they see is a threat to their way of living. Christ came to bring salvation to everyone, including Herod. But Herod could not see that. Instead, he thought this meant he would lose his power as ruler and saw Christ as a threat to that. As someone once said, Christ brings good news, but that news doesn't always sound like good news to everyone.

The Christ child would not be greeted with cheers by everyone. As Jesus would grow up, the theme remained the same- Jesus would bring good news, but not everyone wold hear it that way and they would respond accordingly.

As Christ's followers, we share a similar fate: Christ's message of love will not always be accepted by everyone. Those Christians like Martin Luther King who believed that we are all equal were not always greeted with applause.

But even when Christ's message is not received favorably, we are reminded that God is with us. God moved Jesus away from Herod's schemes. Jesus doesn't live a safe life, but God is always with Jesus through the good and bad.

Christmas is about light, but that light is more about a candle shining in the darkness, than in the Christmas lights that festoon our trees at this time of the year. The darkness is still present, but the light is still shining and it refuses to be extinguished.

For my Uncle Pablo, Christmas was a time of dealing with the loss of a relationship. For others, it is a loss of a loved one or living in a war zone, or living out on the streets with no home. The story of Herod reminds us that even though Christ comes into the world to and that changes everything, there is still hurt and death and disease- for now. But there is also hope.

Christmas is not about happiness, but about hope. Hope that the powers that try to destroy us will not last forever. Hope that salvation is on the way whether we like it or not.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Tuesday Prayer

Another Tuesday prayer from Erik. Again, if you are interested in using these prayers, please email him.

Tuesday Prayer based on texts for the Name of Jesus

Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8 (1)
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

You're blessed and brought into the covenant today, Lord;
circumcised according to the tradition
your name, "God is salvation," suggested by an angel.
all this as you wail in pain
just a baby, but so much potential too.

You have brought us, too, into covenants and promises.
Life of the world, hold us in your saving grip.
When we wail in pain, comfort us as you were comforted
but also help us grow in grace and love
that your intent for us and for the world
may come into being.

© 2008 Erik Doughty. Permission to reproduce this work is granted only when the author is credited.