Sunday, June 29, 2008

Look Closer.

On a few occiasions, I've taken to telling people in sermons about my Apserger's diagnosis. After church people have come up to me and basically said that I don't look like I'm affected by autism, since they have met people with Aspergers or Autism and well, I am not like them. They guess correctly that I am probably "higher functioning" whatever that means.

When I went to the Autism/Asperger's Support group last month, it was interesting to note that many of the people in the room were more affected than I was. But the fact is, if you spend time with me, I mean really spend time with me, things start to pop out that show me as a little odd in other's eyes.

I am reminded of the movie "American Beauty" with its tagline, "Look closer." The movie was about life in suburbia and how crazy life was beneath the surface. I want to tell others to look closer and you will see the Aspie inside. Or that they take a trip back in time when I used to rock myself or flap my hands, all classic autistic traits. My partner Daniel can tell people how I tend to lack a common sense that others have and that I tend to like predictability and hate surprises. My good friend Erik can tell you about how I can listen to the same songs over and over and over again, to the point of driving him nuts. Or when we were dating, I would spend hours in front of a computer and not always pay attention to him.

The thing I'm learning about Aspergers and Autism in general is that there is no sterotypical person with autism. Some people are severely affected and can't work or take care of themselves. Some are less so and some seem "normal." But we all have autism and it plays itself out in many ways. When people say that autism is a spectrum, it truly is.

Sunday Sermon- June 29, 2008

“Defying Gravity” Genesis 22:1-14, Matthew 10:40-42 June 29, 2008 Lake Harriet Christian Church Minneapolis, MN

The cell phone rang early on a Tuesday morning. My partner Daniel anxiously picked up the phone knowing the call was from his brother John who lives in North Dakota. The day was here. John’s wife, Julie, was pregnant with their first child and that very morning, her water had broke meaning it was time for the baby growing inside of her for nine months was ready to make their debut.

Daniel was excited. This meant we were heading to Fargo to meet John and Julie and await the arrival of a new niece or nephew. We had just got back from seeing John and his Daniel’s sister and her family the day before. But we were going to make the trip back to North Dakota.

Now, you would think that would make me happy. And at some level, I was. But I was also a bit upset because this was messing up with my normal schedule. Before you think this is because I was being selfish, you need to understand something about me that you might not know. Recently, I was diganosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which is a form of autism. One the characteristics of Aspergers is that we tend to like stability and order and predictability. I. Don’t. Like. Surprises. I was expecting a normal Tuesday where I would go to work as I always do. So, the news that we were going back to North Dakota was messing up my defined schedule.

Later when we chatted with the specialist I am seeing concerning my Aspergers, Daniel brought up my reaction to this. The specialist was understanding that of course, I would have this reaction since this is the way m brain is wired. But he also said that I would be missing out on a great experience if I just chose to stay with the routine. Yes, it was scary, but he noted that Daniel was my greatest resource, and would be with me as I dealt with this disruption to my settled routine.
In the way that I am wired to look at the world around me, I think at times we as the church like to think that God is predictable and tame. But the texts for today show us that God is hardly tame.

The Genesis text today is a hard one to read. After hearing about how God promised Issac to Abraham and Sarah, we now hear God telling Abraham to kill his promised son. Now, some will take this text to talk about religious extremism and get caught up about why a father would so willingly try to kill his son. While I think those are issues that are important, I also think such focus misses the point of the story. The story isn’t telling us to go and sacrifice our children. Nor is it the story of a crazy old man. It is the story of the God we serve, a wild and unpredicible God that promises strange things and sometimes tell us to do some even weirder things.

So the story begins with God telling Abraham to take his son Issacc, his only son Issac, and go up to some mountain and offer up his son as a sacrifice.

Now, most people would have wondered if they drank too much or ate a bad hamburger. God would not as this of Abraham, would he? But Abraham did as told and took Issac to the appointed place. Issac notices that Abraham is bringing things for a sacrifice and wonders, where is the lamb? Abraham tells his son that God will provide. What was Abraham feeling at this time? Was he scared? Did he wonder if God really would provide a lamb? Did he thinking of backing out?

We later see Abraham bounding up Issac and getting ready to offer him up to God. Just as the blade comes crashing down, God says stop. He sees Abraham’s faith is strong. Instead of offering Issacc as sacrifice, God gives Abraham a ram to offer as sacrifice.

Yeah, pretty scary stuff.

But again, I want you all to focus on God here. The God that we see here is pretty demanding. He wants Abraham to sacrifice his son. This is a God that seems a little crazy, a little mad and frankly horrible. But this is also the God that we serve, a God that is wild and can’t be tamed. A God asks all of us and has given all for us in the form of Christ.
One wonders if Abraham had become used to having Issac around. The promised son was now a reality. Nothing could happen to him. He expected everything from now would be smooth sailing.

Except it would not be.

God then calls Abraham to sacrifice his son, the promised one. Now he has to give up this son that he had given up everything for.

Why would God do this? Why would God give Abraham a son only to take it away? Didn’t God know how much Abraham loved his son? But the thing is, Abraham did what was asked of him. He trusted this God and knew God was with him.

In our day and time, we tend to want a very tame God. I am reminded of the science fiction book “ A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” where Earth is described as “mostly harmless.” That’s the way we want God to be, mostly harmless. We want a God that doesn’t ask much of us. We pray to God for things, and see God as a cuddly and loving person. God is a grandparent writ large.

But the thing is, God isn’t like that. Look at the Bible and we read of God telling people to do this and that, to leave their homes and follow him. This is a God that tells Paul to go to this place and that and preach about Jesus. This is the God that even allows his only son to die on a cross like a common criminal.

It’s hardly an accident that Aslan, the character in the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis is depicted as a Lion. For many Christians, Aslan is the God figure in Narnia. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver describes Aslan as good, but not safe. He is a lion, of course.

And God is a good God, but God is hardly safe. God calls his followers to do some risky things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, was correct in saying that when Christ bids us to come, he bids us to come and die. In the gospels, Jesus says that only those who love God more than father and mother and even life itself can be worthy of following him.

This past April, we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King, who was educated in some of the leading institutions, could have spent his time being the Senior Pastor of a large African American church in a big southern city like Atlanta or Birmingham. Instead, he chose to work for civil rights, placing his life at risk. When he was felled by an assasin’s bullet in 1968, he was working for the rights of poor sanitation workers in Memphis. He chose to listen to the wild God and was faithful.

Listening to God is scary business. No, I don’t think God is calling us to sacrifice family members, but God might be calling us to do other things that seem risky, which scare us silly.

I think today, God is calling us to leave our comfortable (or not so comfortable) pews to go out into the world and share God’s love in both word and deed. I believe God is calling us to stop worrying so much about our buildings and budgets which we’ve grown so accustomed to, to move beyond mere maintainence and to ministry with God in the world.

That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said that his disciples would have to love him more than they love their families. They needed to sacrifice that love because it could get in the way of serving God.

And so it is with us. As a society, we want it all, and we don’t want to give anything up. But with God, we are called to give up all to follow God. My friends, we have to be willing as faith communities to not be so concerned with the upkeep of buildings and budgets and get on with God’s work in the world.

So about that birth. Julie gave birth to a baby boy named John Luke. Daniel and I came to see the new family and I got to do something I’ve never done before: hold a newborn, a being that had only come into the world a few hours prior. It was an amazing experience and I’m glad that I was able to see it- even if it broke my schedule. May it be with us, as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday Sermon- June 21 and 22, 2008

I preached at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis this past weekend. LCCR is one of my favorite churches. In the sermon, I added that I love the bibilical stories about outsiders, like the Woman at the Well. I also shared my diagnosis of Aspergers with them.

“Felix the Outsider”
Genesis 21:8-21
June 21-22, 2008
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
Minneapolis, MN

This sermon begins with the story of a man and a cat.

About six years ago, one evening, I got a call from Erik, my best friend and of course, a member here at LCCR. He sounded a bit strained and then asked if I could take care of a cat that he had found. As if on cue, the cat meowed. I didn’t know if I wanted to take care of another cat since I just got a cat a few months prior. I told Erik I would meet him at home.

When I got home, I found this thin, black and white cat and he was unlike any cat I knew. My other cat, Morris, is a very gregarious cat that always wants to be petted. He craves attention. This cat, not so much. He didn’t seem to want my attention and he had this odd habit of whacking himself against a corner. When I tried to pick him up, he was very squirrley and wanted to get away from me as fast as possible.

Even with all his quirks, I kind of had a fondness for this cat and named him Felix. Felix has always been a bit of a loner and has never really got a long with Morris. When Erik and I, and our cats moved in together, Felix was even more withdrawn.

These days, Felix is still the same standoffish cat, but he has his own way of drawing close to me. Whenever I am at my desk, he comes and hovers by my computer. Whenever I took a nap on the couch, he would get on top me and lie on my stomach. He can come close, but it has to be on his terms.

Felix is an outsider. He always has been and always will be. However, this cat that doesn’t fit in, does have a way of drawing close and affecting my life. Felix reminds me that God loves outsiders, just as much as those who are on the inside.

The Genesis text today is one that has always fascinated me and gave me hope. Abraham and Sarah were told that they would be the father and the mother of a great nation. At their advanced age, they doubted this would really happen. So, Sarah asked Abraham to father a child with one of his servants, Hagar. He did so and Hagar gave birth to a son, Ishmel. After time, Sarah did become pregnant and she gave birth to a son named Issac. It was this child and not Ishamel that would be the promise God made to Abraham.

Flash forward a few years. Ishamel is now about 15, a teenager. The Bible isn’t clear about it, but for whatever reason, Sarah saw Ishamel as a threat and she wanted him and his mother gone. Sarah doesn’t even bother to name them, she simply called them the “slave woman” and “her son.” From the our modern view, it seems that Sarah is rather callous to cast Hagar and Ishamel out into the harsh desert alone.

It was distressing to Abraham. After all, Ishamel was his son. Promise or no promise, this was his oldest son and he loved him as much as he did baby Issac. But God comes to Abraham and told him it was okay to send the two away promising that Ishamel himself would be the father of a great nation. So, Abraham did as God said, relying on God’s promise. Hagar and Ishemel walk into the harsh desert. At some point, the hot weather got to Ishamel. Hagar places her son under bushes to protect him, but she expected the worse. In her eyes she had been cast out into nothingness of the desert with surely not enough resources to allow either of them to survive. She had been used and abused by Sarah and Abraham and now she and her son were going to die.

Then God steps in. God asks Hagar what troubled her and then tells her that her son would be the father of a great nation. Hagar looks up and sees a well of water. The story ends with these words, “God was with the boy.”

God was with the boy. Here is a young man, that was the result of impatience and a lack of faith was still a child of the promise.

It’s interesting, as humans we tend to decide who is in and who is out. Sarah probably thought since Issac was the promised child through which all nations are blessed, she thought that only those within the family would be in the “in crowd.” Since Ishamel wasn’t the promised offspring, he wasn’t blessed by God and was a threat to her dear Issac.

We might look down at Sarah for her fear, but the fact is, we all do this. We decide to keep certain people out of our churches, communities and neighborhoods. We tend to think that persons of color or gays and lesbians or someone who is of the wrong ethnic group or political party are not part of the Body of Christ. If someone doesn’t share our views on abortion, or the war in Iraq or gay marriage, then they are out.

In Genesis 12, we are introduced to Abraham, then Abram, and God tells him that through him all nations will be blessed. Now, when we read that and maybe when Abraham and Sarah heard it, they thought it meant “bloodlines.” But I wonder if that was what God meant. Maybe God meant something totally different. What if God meant that it was through Abraham himself that all nations would be blessed? After all, Abraham is considered a great person to three major relations and we aren’t all from the same bloodline of Abraham.

It seems that with God there isn’t so much as in and out. God welcomed Ishamel even though he didn’t fit into God’s plans.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus welcoming those who were considered outsiders. The unclean, the scoundrels, the traitors, the foreigners and so forth.

The question we have to ask ourselves today, is how welcoming we are to those who are deemed outsiders. There are those who are like Sarah, who misinterpret what God was all about tend to deem those who are in and those who are out and they get busy trying to cast those who don’t belong out.

But God shows that everyone belongs.

Recently, we have heard of the story of a young man and his family being barred from a central Minnesota church because of he is severe autistic. The part of the story that is most distressing is when the priest of the congregation placed a restraining order with the result of police standing at the drive way of the family to make sure they didn’t go to church.

God says everyone belongs, but something still gets lost in translation.

But the thing is, as God told Abraham long ago, all nations will be blessed through this old man. And the fact is, that is true, despite our human intentions. The God we serve is a God of promises, a God that will go to hell and back to make us feel welcome. God is the God who welcomes us as a good man welcomes stray cats and gives us a home, a place to belong, as part of God’s promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


One of the things that I've been doing is taking part in a venture to get a Young Adult Ministry off the ground. It's called Come Thirsty and it's the result of a conversation among mostly United Church of Christ young pastors and myself. It's a joint UCC/Disciples project.

I've been helping out, designing the website and such and there are some good things about it. I would have like this to be a new church start, but that wasn't in the cards, at least with this group at this time, so if I want to do that I need to find others that are receptive to it.

I will see where this leads. Who knows, it might be what I need, though right now it doesn't seem like it.

Anyway, if you are in the area on July 3 or any Thursday in July, stop by!

The Quiet Guy in the Corner

On Saturday night, Daniel and I went to a baby shower for two members of his choral group. Some of the members brought their spouses. One woman brought her husband who we've all noticed in the past as quite odd. As I started to spend the evening just obeserving him. He was very quiet as everyone talked around him and it seemed like he felt a bit out of place. As I kept observing him more and more it dawned on me that this guy has some kind of autistic spectrum disorder. I think my hunch was confirmed when we started chatting and he went from talking about an approaching storm to how a friend is trying to figure out how to channel lightening to his teaching students to learn a certain process. Joseph opened up and started sharing his special subject.

As we left, I felt good that I was able to talk to him. What was interesting is that no one really talked to him before. He just came to events and sat while life happened around him and no one intereacted with him.

I'm beginnging to wonder if that is how most aspies and other autistics are treated in the wider world. Neurotypicals see this kind of odd person and tend to not connect with them. Yes, we can be an odd bunch because we start talking about our passions and not just chit chat. But maybe NTs could learn a thing or two if they were patient and listened.

Even moreso, I think about the church. I know that there have been times when people don't put up with my oddness and passions. But I think as autistic disorders become more well-known in the wider world, churches will need to make more room for us and find ways to include us. We might be in our own world some of the time, but we have so much to give to the world.

I'm glad I met Joseph and hope to chat again. Even if I don't know what in the heck he is talking about.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Here Am I, Send Someone Else.

About a year ago, some of the Regional staff came to Minnesota to talk to local Disciples. At that meeting was someone I had not met before. At the end of the meeting, he came forward and chatted with the Associate Regional Minister and was upset that there was no mission going on in the Region. Where were the new churches? He asked.

In talking with the man, I found that he as Disciple that attended a local UCC congregation. I later sent an email talking about new church plants and if he would be interested. Long story short, he said no, and then went on to say all the Disciple churches should just join the UCC where things are happening.

I thought there were two things wrong with this guy's response. First, he seemed to think that it was the job of the Region to do mission. While the Regional staff could take a bigger role that it has in my mind, the push for mission in a congregational polity lies in the congregation and the individual, not in the Regional staff. It's funny, we Disciples will swear up and down that we don't want anyone telling us what to do, but then get mad when Regional staff doesn't seem to do what we want them to do. We want the freedom, but we don't want the responsibility, thank you very much.

This man is not the first person I've heard talking about the sorry state of Disciples in Minnesota. He is also not the first that seems to do nothing more than bitch and moan about how bad things are and how the Regional staff has to do something about it.

But the fact is, if we want things to change, then WE the people have to make them in partnership with the Regional staff. You might have noticed I am using the word "Regional staff" alot. That's because too often when we use the word "Region" we tend to refer to the staff, not the people. The Region, any Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is made up of people and churches in a given geographical area. However, we act as if it is only the folks in Des Moines. If something is going on, then it's the problem of the Regional Minister, and their Associates, not us. The Disciples who are part of or were part of congregations have detached themselves from the Region, but still expect it to do something.

Ministry starts with us, the people. If all I do is sit in my pew and do very little to change the state of missions in the Region, then the fault lies with me, not only with the Regional Minister.

I know something of this, because when I tried to get Community of Grace off the ground, I got a very chilly reception from people. No one wanted to support this church, expecting the Region would do that for them. As the old saying goes, Everybody thought Somebody would do something and in the end, Nobody did anything.

I think that my fellow Disciples need to grow up a bit. The Regional staff is only as strong as the people who support them. We want freedom from the Regional staff, but we don't do anything to uplift ministry and we do even less when it comes to supporting them.

I think what it comes down to is that we don't want the responsibility, that's too much work and it puts us in the position of taking blame. However, it also puts us in the awesome position of working with God in bringing about God's kingdom. But maybe that's too scary; it's safer to sit in our pews and piss and moan.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Disciples, No, Apostles of Christ

The Associate Minister at Lake Harriet preached a good sermon based on the gospel. At some point she talked about how Jesus referred to the Twelve as disciples and then apostles. She reminded me that the word "apostle" means, "One who is sent." The main gist of her sermon is that it can be easy to be just a disciple, a learner and not ever go out and preach the gospel.

Later in the day, my husband, Daniel showed the story of Light of the World Lutheran Church, a new church plant just south of the Twin Cities. I've met the pastor, Deb Stedhlin. She was an associate at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran in Apple Valley, a Twin Cities suburb. They commissioned her to start this new church, paying her salary for a few years. The result is the church has grown from 85 people when it officially launched in December of 2007, to about 200 now.

Daniel shared this for a reason. He was well aware of my own travails in new church planting, except I had to do it with out the two things you really need to get a faith community off the ground: money and people. I joked and said that I was a tiny bit bitter about the whole experience, but Daniel saw right through that saying it was okay to be a lot bitter.

And the fact is, I am. I'm am very bitter about my experience and the state of the Disciples here in Minnesota. Now, I know a lot of my fellow Disciples here and care for them all, but there seems to be such a myopia when it comes to mission. I remember trying to share with members of other congregations about the need to support Community of Grace and for the most part it was met with silence. The cantor of Community of Grace and my dear friend, Dan once overheard at a Regional meeting how people were dissing new churches, saying how they would never make it.

I think there are reasons for such a lack of support- they aren't good reasons, but they are reasons nonetheless. At least in Minnesota all the churches are struggling. They have lost members and are dealing with declining memberships and budgets. That has allowed these churches to become inward focused, looking only at maintaining the church and not pursuing mission and ministry. So here comes some punk whose wet behind the ears and talking about preaching the gospel and they look at this kid like he is crazy. "Can't you see that we are struggling?" they ask.

I also think that the heritage of Disciples being what they are, we don't really live on faith. We are such a cerebral folk that we tend to only look at the "facts" and not at what could be.

But closing oneself off to mission is hardly the way to keep a church alive- in fact, it's the way to kill a church pretty quick. It's interesting that next week's gospel talks about those that try to hang on to life will lose it in the end, but those that lose their lives will gain them.

I think there are many churches hanging on for dear life and wanting to live at all costs. They hope that something, anything will happen to bring back the old days and the money to support the building they worship in.

But that's a good way to kill a church. No one wants to be part of a church just to keep the doors open. Like the disciples of old, they want to be part of an adventure.

It's easy to not have much faith that anything will change. All I can do is pray for a real revival among people. To see the outside world as a mission field and be willing to give all for Christ.

Next weekend, I will be preaching at Lutheran Church of Christ of Redeemer. It's a small Lutheran congregation in South Minneapolis. What has always amazed me is how this small church is sooo engaged in mission. And you want to know the result? They are growing. But they are growing by not holding on for dear life, but by giving it away.

It's time that Disciples stop being just students. We are called to be apostles.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

On Hand Holding

I remember about a decade ago talking to the leader of a well known religious liberty organization. At some point we started talking about employment and he shared the fact of how he didn't like having to hold the hands of employees. His view was either employees knew something or they didn't.

For some reason, I've been thinking of his words in relation to my calling as a pastor and my own employment hassles. For a long time, I felt that someone needed to tell me what to do, or place parameters on me. I wanted someone to help me figure out how to navigate the world and be able to do the best job I could. I had these feelings long before my diagnosis, but looking back what I wanted was someone to handle me as someone with Aspergers.

The thing is, people with Aspergers do need some hand holding. It's not that we are helpless or can't do anything, but let's face it, we aren't wired like everyone else. We need someone to help us when we get stuck or have to deal with things that can stop us in our tracks.

In my own world, now that I know what is going on with me, I feel the need more and more to tell perspective churches and employers that they are going to have to make some accomodations to help me be the best person.

Gavin Bollard
talks about his children having an Individual Educational Plan, a learning device that allows kids with learning needs to get a special education plan tailored to fit them. It's the law in the US and in the UK, but for Bollard, not so in his native Australia.

Anyway, I am now thinking that any call to a church would require that they work with me to develop an Individual Employment Plan or Individual Vocation Plan. For me, it means I have to advocate for my own needs, something I am not so good at doing.

In my own little world, I would meet with a prospective church and tell them what I need. I can work well in a position that is defined and ordered. Instructions have to be spelled out and not assumed.

There are probably others, but I can think of them now. But this is an idea I need to think about more and hopefully find a situation where I can be able to do this.

Are there any churches out there like this? We shall see.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Looking for Plan B

After my previous "sad sack" post, I've started to think more about my vocation and what to do next. I know that because of the Aspergers and other issues, my choices are limited. But I do have some choices that I need to discern. Here they are:

  1. Have my current job recognized as a ministry. In recently chatting with my Regional Minister, I wondered aloud if my current job as Communications Specialist for the Presbytery could be considered a ministry. In Presbyterianese it's called a validated ministry. There is one candidate who will be ordained this Sunday. Since he has a background in the theatre, he will be ordained as a minister of drama. He will continue to do his work and be related to a church in downtown Minneapolis. I could do something similar to that. It would mean writing up a job description and having membership in a DOC or UCC church and I would also need to have some blessing from the Presbytery meaning a trip to the local Committee on Ministry. The thing is, I am becoming a resource for churches in the Presbytery as well as within Disciples circles, so why don't I just do make this an official ministry?
  2. Find a congregation that will allow me to do some sort of outreach ministry. I've been toying with the idea of speaking with the pastor of a congregation and asking to do some sort of outreach ministry, such a Saturday night or Sunday evening service. I would love to do this and a fellow pastor who knows of my Aspergers suggested it. The downside, is trying to find a church that won't get caught up in "analysis paralysis."
  3. Young Adult Ministry. I've been meeting with a soon-to-be UCC pastor who has an idea for Young Adult Ministry. I've joined her, in helping shape this joint UCC-Disciples cause, though I haven't always been so enthused with visions of trying to run youth ministries and Community of Grace dancing in my head. But it looks promising. I'm designing the website and want to try to get the local Disciple churches interested.
  4. Restart Community of Grace. Let's face it- CoG was left undone. But it was also dwindling to nothing and I was tired and frustrated. But the idea was a good one. I still have a heart for this, but the downsides to this are way too many. I would need a sociable person to work with me, and I would just need people. In the past, that has always been an issue and I think it still will be.
  5. Create a diaconal style ministry. For some reason, I've always been attracted to diaconal ministry. I sometimes wish I could do seminary all over again and become a deacon. I love the whole concept of bridging church and world and that has been something I've done. I am thankful for the Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics for maintaining a strong diaconate. Disciples, UCC and other Protestants have really diminished the role of deacons to the people who help serve communion or collect the offering. I think it's time to restore this order of ministry to other parts of Protestantism and I would love to be in the vanguard.
So those are my options. But I'd like to have others imput as well. So, please email me your thoughts and musings. Drop me a line at

In the meantime, I will be doing a lot of praying.

Hello, Are You There God? It's Me, Dennis.

Today has me feeling somewhat depressed, pretty much like the rain that is falling outside. I feel like I've made a mistake, and that I am utterly alone. I feel that my passions are going to waste. And most of all, I feel like the wider church really isn't interested in mission and ministry, but being taken care of. The church is either to comfortable or too cynical to really do mission. And I feel like I deal with this in aching silence.

If you guessed that I am thinking about my call to ministry yet again, then you are correct.

Part of this stems from coming to the realization that I can really do ministry at the church I attend. I can do things like preach and help with worship, but until a pastor is called, I can't do much more and when a pastor is called, I will probably have to leave the congregation to let that person be able to do their ministry. Of course because of the training and probably because of the Aspergers, I keep wanting to want to be helpful. In my mind, I think, I have the skills and want to be helpful. But I really can't do that there for the reasons stated above. It makes sense, of course, but it still hurts to know that you can't use your skills and calling at a place you care for.

I have sent my profiles to other congregations, but have been turned down. That makes sense too; because over time I've discovered that I can't be an effective solo pastor. I'm good on a team, but terrible running the show. But again, it hurts. My skills are not needed there.

Then comes a desire to start/re-start some sort of new ministry. There are a lot of things that I would love to do that aren't being done in other Disciple congregations in the area and I would love to do it with others, but the fact is, there are no others. I've shared this idea with friends who were involved in Disciple churches and others and some have express interest, and then you never hear from them. Many of these people seem to complain that the church isn't really living out mission, but when given the chance to help create something, they do nothing but complain as if bitching will automatically change things. The only thing that will change things is when people want to change things and get their hands dirty. So, again, I feel hurt. My skills aren't need here, either.

All of this has me asking: where in the world am I needed? Where can I live out my call? Is there no place to go? Did I make a mistake in going into the ministry? Should I join the countless others who have left the ministry and just close the door on this?

I do wonder if this has all been a mistake. Other pastors have people who have mentored them in ministry; who have helped them as they discerned the call and who support them after ordination. I really haven't had those people in my life. I don't feel like I have a community where I can discern God's will. I've always felt on my own with this; it hasn't even felt like God is around at times.

Yes, I know, I am bitching here. I am probably not supposed to be doing this on a public blog. I should be talking about some cool website or this cool picture I took. I should put my best face forward, but frankly, I just don't do that. If I'm feeling bad, writing is a way to describe the feelings.

What I long for is a sense of belonging. To be in a place where I can put my skills to use and where I am spiritually and emotionally supported. This isn't about getting a full time call with pension; this is about finding a place where I can do ministry and not be told I am not needed.

I have to have hope that things will change. But hope is hard to come by these days.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday Sermon- June 8, 2008

"And A Little Child Shall Lead Me"
Gen. 12:1-9 ; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
June 8, 2008
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

About a month ago, Daniel (my partner) and I were in Grand Forks to visit his brother and sister. We stayed at his sister's house in Grand Forks and decided to take her kids, our nephews, Alex and Issac to breakfast. Daniel took Alex in his Smart Car and since that car is a two-seater, I borrowed his sister Christine's car and drove little Issac.

On the way back, Issac was excited, telling me about the new house they were going to move into. He wanted to show me where the house was. I was a little wary, since I didn't think a five-year old would know how to get to this new place. But I relented and decided to listen to him, knowing that if he couldn't figure it out, I knew Grand Forks well enough to get back to their current house.

So, I listened and allowed a five year old in a booster seat in the back give me directions. "Turn here," he would say, I would do as told. "Turn here." Within a short amount of time, he said "Here it is!" Lo and behold, we were in front of the new house and he began talking about where his new room would be in the house. I was amazed that this little kid had been paying attention so well, to be able to tell his near 40 year old uncle how to get to his future home.

His mother and father now have an organic GPS system, at least until said system turns 18.

What was so interesting about this little adventure is that I basically placed my life, or at least that little spec of my life, in the hands of someone that hadn't even entered kindergarten yet. I had no idea where we were going and if we were even going to get our chosen destination. It was truly a journey of faith.

Today in Genesis, we are introduced to Abraham. Here was this "mature" person, living in somewhere in or around modern Iraq. He has a wife and is just living normal life. Then out of nowhere, he hears the voice of God who calls him to pull up stakes from his comfortable life and move to a new place where God will make him the father of a nation.

Did I mention that has 75 years old and his wife Sarah was no spring chicken either.

The thing is, he does what God tells him. He leaves all that is familiar and moves to where God tells him to go. A man in his mid-70s begins a journey of a lifetime, at time when most people think the journey is over.

When I was younger, I remember hearing about this story and about what a great example Abraham was. When God called, he just took off and did what God said. I have to say that bothered me. I didn't like this view of Abraham (still don't) because it wasn't real to me. I didn't understand how one could marvel at someone who never questioned or doubted if this was the right move or even wondered what in the world he was doing. I mean, if I were in his shoes, I would have some questions. Here I am at an advanced age, being asked to move to some place I've never been and expected to be the father of a nation when my wife is way, way past childbearing age. To paraphrase Dickens, I would be wondering if this was all the result of undigested food.

I have no idea how Abraham responded, but we know he listened to God. He took a step of faith, not knowing how everything was going to turn out, but trusting God's promises.

In our Gospel reading, we encounter two examples of faith. Matthew the tax collector, who was called by Jesus to follow him and the woman with an issue of blood, who believed that if she just touched Jesus; garment, then she would be healed.

All of these stories give us insight into what faith means. We hear that word a lot in our culture, but in many cases we really don't know what it means. In some cases we think faith is something we possess, meaning if we have enough of it, everything will be okay. For others, faith is about adhering to certain doctrines or creeds. If we believe in this doctrine or that creed, then we have faith. But in today's stories, we don't see either example of faith. What we see here is people who are trying to trust God, step by step.

The other thing that is notable is that for Abraham, faith isn't a one-time event, but a process, a journey. It's a journey where there will be setbacks and wrong turns, but it continues. It's a journey where we follow God, step by step, even though we don't have all the answers.

Our own journey of faith is one where God is calling us out from the familiar and into new territories. And we will make wrong turns, but the journey of faith continues on. When I was in college, faith was presented to me as having the answers to all of life's questions. I don't know if I ever believed that. Faith isn't about certainty or having all the answers. Instead, it is about believing even though you have questions. It's about even living into those questions, knowing that God is with us every step of the way.

Faith is not only taking those uncertain steps, but it is also acting as if we have nothing left to lose. I want for you for a moment to look at the illustration on the front of your bulletins. To me, if there is an image of what faith is, then this is it. You see a picture of a hand reaching towards a man. His back is turned to the hand, he can't see what is happening behind him. You can feel that there is a sense of desperation behind this person's hand. It looks as if the person has nothing to lose in the way the hand is reaching out.

This picture is showing us the story of the woman in today's gospel. The woman has spent years spending money and going to doctors to be healed. And now she hears of this rabbi that can heal people. She doesn't even want to face him, since she is considered unclean. All she wants to do is simply touch his clothing. She believes if she can do this, she will be healed of her sickness. In Matthew, she doesn't even get that far, when Jesus turns around and says, her faith has made her well, and you know what? It did.

Faith is about taking journeys and about taking risks. If we expect faith to be safe, then it isn't faith.

For the past year, this congregation has been on a journey. It seems at times that we are walking without a map and we wonder if we will ever arrive. But maybe, being on the journey is the point. Maybe we are to have faith that God will do something with this small band and not be so concerned "arriving," whatever that means.

To follow Jesus doesn't mean that we have arrived. We haven't. Instead, what it means is that day by day, we take step by step, not knowing where God will take us, but knowing that God will be with us and changing us more into God's likeness.

I am reminded of a song I heard nearly twenty years ago. The song is called "Sometimes Step by Step" and it's by the contemporary Christian artist, the late Rich Mullins. Many churches have made the chorus into a song in and of itself and it has been sung in churches far and wide. The chorus goes like this:

Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

Step by step. That's what faith is all about. We take one step, not sure of where God is leading us. And we take another and another. And like Abraham, we will get off course at times. We will stumble. But because of the grace of God, we can get back on track and follow God, step by step, learning to follow the ways of Jesus, learning to be in relationship with God and with each other.

When I was younger, I believed faith was something that you had to have in massive quantities. I was always worried that I didn't believe enough. But in the end, faith is not about believing enough, it's about trusting God and acting like there is nothing to lose, because God is with us.

It's ironic that the person leading me around Grand Forks, was named Issac, the name of the promised child of Abraham. It was by placing trust in this little one that made the journey interesting.

May it be so with us. Amen.