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Daily Devotion – November 29, 2017
11.30.17

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  So he came by the Spirit in the temple.  And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

         

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,

According to Your word;

          For my eyes have seen Your salvation

 which you have prepared before the face of all peoples,

          A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,

          And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Luke 2:25-32

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

While reflecting on this passage, I couldn’t help but feel the familiarity of the passage.  I had a feeling that I had read this recently but in a different context.  Sure enough, in going back through my devotions, I realized I had indeed written a reflection on this passage just a few months ago during the dog days of summer.  The time was different then.  It wasn’t just the time of the year that was different with a different pace and warmer weather, but it was the call to wait in a Christian season that usually calls us to action that was different.  I reflected on how this passage seemed to be out of place because the passage reminds us of the coming of the Messiah, the Christ; a message that we usually contemplate during the season of Advent.  During the season of Pentecost Christ is among us, so the question became what are we waiting for?

Waiting is such a difficult task to sometimes suffer through.   We wait for different reasons.  We wait for physical things like a thinner body or that job promotion that will make our life finally more comfortable.  We wait for prayers to be answered.  We wait for God to hear our suffering and respond.  We wait for news to come that will make things well for us all.  With tremendous anxiety we wait.  The passage encourages us to think about a different kind of waiting and that is the waiting of our salvation.  As with Simeon, we must wait for the salvation of our spirits that will bring us promised peace.  Waiting for salvation to come is usually not at the top of our list especially during seasons like Christmas when we are waiting in lines and trying to get gifts for everybody.  It is also requiring a great deal of work on our part to reflect and discern what God is doing in our lives.  There is no instantaneous gratification in waiting for salvation.   The Baptists have tried with their altar calls but the truth is we must wait.

Waiting, discerning, reflecting and struggling produces hope in us.  We learn to understand, and we learn to see with the eyes of Christ.  In time, when the awaited time comes, and our salvation comes to fruition, we are transformed.  We realize that the long-awaited gift, the longing of our hearts to be loved and to freely love can finally be held.  A moment like this could only bring a feeling of blessedness and peace which is indeed our salvation.  The glory of God and creation is revealed in moments like these.  The scales from our eyes fall.  We rejoice in finally knowing the truth.  We are redeemed, and peace fills our hearts.

Prayer

Grant us the patience to wait, O Lord.  May we take the time to discern and reflect on what it is you need thus to see in our lives.  May we trust in your love and in your desire for our wellbeing.  Be with us.  Amen.  



Sermon: “What’s Not Changing: The Call to Care for the Least of These” (Matthew 25:31-40” [11/26/17]
11.27.17

Sixteenth century nun, Teresa of Avila, summed up today’s Gospel lesson well.  The words are on the cover of the bulletin.  I invite you to join me in reading them.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Service to others is at the heart of who you are as a community.  Observing you, I know you serve, not because we’re commanded to, or out of fear of going to hell…. You care for the least of these because you know that acting the least of these into wellbeing is what brings us closest to God.

As we begin the pastoral transition process, a lot of things will change.  Once Allen and I have moved on, things will really change.  Even amid the changes, though, some things won’t change at all.  We looked at one of those things last week–the call to be generous.  Pastors come and pastors go, but the call to be generous remains.  As does the call to care for the least, which we hear about in today’s Gospel lesson.  If we call ourselves a community of Jesus’ followers, and if we meet Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, ill, and imprisoned, then it doesn’t matter who the spiritual leader is, the number one item at the top of a church’s to-do list is caring for the least of these…acting the world into wellbeing.

Missions outreach already was strong when I arrived at Pilgrimage.  You’d been serving lunch at MUST for years.  There was a Missions Intern program for the youth that was pretty amazing.  I do confess, though, to being startled my first February at seeing construction paper underwear strung up in the entry way.  Undie Sundays was a new experience for me.

In our church’s mission statement, we covenant to grow in service.  Since 2001, we have grown in service by leaps and bounds.  I invite you to name some of the missions projects we’ve engaged in the last 16 years.  (Responses)  The biggest challenge we’ve faced in terms of missions has been limiting what we do so that we don’t spread ourselves too thin.

One of the places we’ve worried about spreading ourselves too thin is with Family Promise hosting.  We began serving as a host congregation about four years ago.  Back when our involvement was a new thing, we had lots of energy around participating in Family Promise.  Now that we’ve been at it a while, and now that we’re hosting, like, 15 times a year (Aren’t we?  It sure feels that way sometimes. J), it’s been more challenging to get enough volunteers to sign up, especially for overnight hosting duties.

Feeling the very real pressure of these challenges, the Missions Committee asked Council to decide whether or not we should continue hosting for Family Promise.  We didn’t want to commit to something we wouldn’t be able to sustain.

By the time Missions brought their request to Council, I was starting to suspect that the church in Asheville would call me…which left me in a quandary.  Should I encourage you to pursue the idea of continuing to host, encourage you not to host, or just stand idly by?

In the midst of my fretting, God’s Spirit quietly said, “It’s not about you, Kim.  It’s about caring for the least of these.  It’s always been about caring for the least of these.”

So, I called Camilla Worrell, Executive Director for Family Promise, and asked her what kind of assistance we could get, especially in enlisting volunteers.  Camilla told me that Family Promise might be able to help with volunteers, but that the quickest way to add volunteers would be to find them ourselves.  When I asked how to do that, she suggested partnering with groups outside the church with whom we already have relationships.

In the last two months, that’s what several of us have been doing.  Amy Jones has talked with her husband Wade about inviting folks from Wade’s Buddhist group to participate.  Kendra Derby has enlisted folks from a couple of groups she’s involved with.  Deb Loche and I both have spoken with Byron Wells, pastor at Chestnut Ridge Christian Church, about their partnering with us.  In addition to enlisting the help of all these other groups, several folks from Pilgrimage who haven’t volunteered in the past also are stepping up.  It’s been heartening to see how the community has come together to ensure that we can continue hosting next year.

Today’s Scripture is just great—all about caring for the least of these, about meeting Jesus in those we serve.  I know some people for whom Matthew 25 is the Bible.

The thing that’s always puzzled me about this passage, though, is this business about the sheep and the goats.  Why sheep and goats?  Jesus uses them as a metaphor in the story he’s telling, but what point is he making by using those particular metaphors?

Not having a lot of experience either with sheep or with goats, I decided to do some research….on Youtube.

I confess that I spent a lot more time viewing videos of goats than I did of sheep.  Goats are way more interesting, right?  Especially baby goats!  Baby goats jump.  That’s pretty much it.  They jump.  And butt heads with other goats.  Goats jump on anything—boxes, hay, other goats, horses, cows…I even saw one video where a goat jumped on a sheep.  And the sheep just took it.

Yeah, sheep just aren’t that interesting.  They eat, they run away from things, they eat, they run away from things.  How many goat videos do you see on Facebook?  How many sheep videos?  I rest my case.

I remember one of the stops we made in Ireland.  In the next field over, we saw a dog herding sheep.  The dog was brilliant…but most striking was watching all those sheep move as a single entity.  If one sheep moved right, they all moved right.  If one moved left, they all moved left.  It was kind of like that in the videos.  Sheep all eating—together.  Sheep all running away from something—together.

The goats, on the other hand, often were engaged in individual activities—jumping on things, butting heads with other goats, dogs…cats.  The goats did sometimes run together, but they never sustained the herd mentality for long…too many things to jump on.  Too many things to butt with their heads.

This is completely unscientific and un-exegetical, but here’s what I wonder…I wonder if the point Jesus was trying to make in describing disciples as sheep and non-disciples as goats is the penchant sheep have of sticking together.

Do you think Jesus was asking us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned by ourselves?  Can you imagine trying to do Family Promise all by yourself?  Or the Kairos Prison Ministry?  I doubt the program would be nearly as effective if volunteers only visited residents went individually.

There’s something about serving together that makes us stronger, isn’t there?  When I told Mahmooda we were looking for partners for more parts of our hosting for Family Promise, she said they really couldn’t do any more than they’re already doing.  When I asked if they could continue providing breakfasts and lunches, she didn’t hesitate at all—“Yes!  We want to serve with you.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned more about Islam from serving with our friends at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community than I’ve ever learned from any book.

I’m beginning to realize that reaching out to others to help us with Family Promise isn’t merely an act of desperation—though it is, perhaps, that.  In reaching out to other groups, in partnering with them to care for families without permanent housing, we are growing deeper in faith.

I heard my friend, Karen, preach several years ago at a church in the inner city of Baltimore.  She said something that’s stuck with me.  She was describing a difference between congregants at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and folks who live in the suburbs.  She said, “The difference between us is this—we know we need each other to survive.  They don’t.”  When we have enough resources to take care of all our needs—and then some—it becomes easy to forget our need for other people.

Watching you these last 16 years, I know that despite any abundance of resources we might have, we know we need each other to survive.  We know that discipleship isn’t a one-person sport.  We know that caring for the least of these isn’t something we can accomplish alone.  Jumping around and butting heads with others, drawing attention to ourselves…that’s definitely more entertaining…but true discipleship, the means by which we are able to draw closer to Jesus, closer to God, is to do what we do together.

To remind us of our call to help each other care for the least of these, I invite us to read St. Teresa’s words again.  This time, though, delete all the “y’s” from the word “yours.”  Christ has no body now but ours.

“Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours. Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Ours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Ours are the hands, ours are the feet, ours are the eyes, we are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but ours.”

Let us use our one body to do something.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Daily Devotion – November 27, 2017

Matthew 25:41-43

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

 

Devotion by Julia Shiver

I think I must be one of those people Pastor Kim mentioned in her sermon yesterday, those that think Matthew 25 is the Bible.  Serving others is the greatest joy in my life.  So I have a hard time even imagining those who turn their back on the least, lost, suffering.  One of the commentaries I read reminded us that Christ was not talking about sins of commission; we are not starving the hungry, denying the sick healthcare.  There is a special judgement waiting for those people.  Christ here is talking about sins of omission, the people who have the resources – money, time, talent, power – to help others, but choose not to.

I’m not sure where I stand on the whole eternal damnation thing.  I’m more of a carrot kind of girl, not so much the stick.  But it would surely be hell on earth for me to see others hurting and not reach out with all the compassion and caring that Christ has graced me with.

 

Prayer

Loving God, thank you for filling me with Christ’s caring and compassion.  May I always use it for the least of Your children.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – November 26, 2017
11.26.17

Matthew 25:38-40

And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Devotion by Lynne Buell

When we show compassion and kindness to friends and family during difficult times, such as death and illness, it is what God expects us to do.  Depending on the circumstances, sometimes we hurt almost as much as the person we are comforting and giving help.

So how should we react when we face a situation with an individual who can be lovable and also very difficult to be around?  Whether it is our closest family members or friends, we need to show mercy and empathy during those challenging encounters.  Hurtful, cruel and spiteful things said can most definitely affect our attitudes and will cause friction pending future gatherings.

It is hard to turn the other cheek and attempt to understand what is going on within a person’s heart.  I believe Jesus wants us to administer patience and mercy, rather than responding and reacting in a negative way.

 

Prayer:

Loving God, help us to show self-control, strength, and patience toward persons who are acting out in undesirable ways.  Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 24, 2017
11.25.17

Matthew 25:34-36

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

This parable without the lines that follow is a puzzle. When was the king hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison? In fact this scripture sounds like it is written the opposite of what it should be. Shouldn’t the king come to the aid of his subjects? And if Jesus is speaking of God, shouldn’t God be helping those in need?

In tomorrow’s devotion, we’ll get to the meaning of today’s scripture. For now though, assuming this scripture isn’t worded wrong, what are we to guess as to its meaning? Maybe God isn’t all powerful. Maybe there are times when God needs our help. And when God needs our help, we should help in an appropriate way to meet God’s need.

Prayer

Dear Lord, open my eyes so that I might see you in times of distress. Help me help You in ways that are truly helpful. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.



Daily Devotion – November 22, 2017
11.22.17

Ezekiel 34:11-12

 

  1. For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
  1. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

 

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

 

I understand that Ezekiel’s message is to the Jewish diaspora in Babylon. The prophet presents the Divine promise of return to their homeland. Yet, I struggle to find any meaning beyond this scripture’s historical context. This past Monday evening, I presented the names of 278 Transgender, Gay, and Gender-nonconforming people murdered simply for living openly and proudly. Where was the loving, Divine Shepherd for these individuals? Many promises in scripture seem hollow when my sisters and brothers suffer familial rejection, unemployment, homelessness, imprisonment, and violent death.

As we struggle in this war-zone of a society, where is our Divine Protector? I cannot live by faith; Rather, I live by personal experiences which have taught me to hope, to sing, and to pray. My hopes, songs, and prayers center upon a gentle, loving Goddess from the ancient world. Tolerant antiquity hints at a safer future for my community.

 

Hymn to Divine Mother interceding on behalf of Trans Community

 

Goddess Unnameable, of Thee I pray,

Breathe in my sister’s lives, your healing grace.

Hold each close every hour, in this dark, fearing world

Comfort each hurting heart against poison words.

Mother of moon and stars, joys through dark nights,

Sisters and brothers all, live for justice light.

Within our bodies burns, life’s-breath which will not fade.

Your gift no violent hand nor prison can break!

 



Sermon: “(Be) Prepared” (Matt. 25:1-13) [11/12/17]
11.21.17

This is my candidating sermon for First Congregational, UCC, in Asheville, NC.  Happily, after last week’s worship service, FCUCC voted to call me as their next Senior Minister.  

Hypothetical situation.  After two years of meticulous work, a congregation in, let’s say, the Appalachian Mountains, finally has a candidate for Senior Minister.  Hypothetically, said candidate is ecstatic about the prospect of serving the congregation.  She consults the assigned Scripture reading for her candidating Sunday, eager to see through what great story of our faith congregation and minister will begin the process of getting to know each other.  Then she reads it.  A reading from Matthew.

‘Then again, the kindom of heaven could be likened to ten attendants who took their lamps and went to meet the bridal party. 2Five of them were wise, five were foolish. 3When the foolish ones took their lamps, they didn’t take any oil with them; 4but the wise ones took enough oil to keep their lamps burning.  5The bridal party was delayed, so they all fell asleep.  6At midnight there was a cry:  “Here comes the bridal party!  Let’s go out to meet them!”  7Then all the attendants rose and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “Perhaps there won’t be enough for us; run to the dealers and get some more for yourselves.”  10While the foolish ones went to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived; and those who were ready went to the marriage feast with them, and the door was shut. 11When the foolish attendants returned, they pleaded to be let in.  The doorkeeper replied, ‘The truth is, I don’t know you.”  So stay awake, for you don’t know the day or the hour.

 

Do you find this parable unnerving?  I sure do.  Ten attendants await the bridal party.  Five have oil for their lamps; five don’t.  The bridal party is delayed; the attendants fall asleep.  At midnight, there’s a cry:  (Kevin: “Wake Up, Little Susie”) “Here comes the bridal party!  (“Here Comes the Bride”)  Let’s go out to meet them!”  (Kim looks at Kevin.  Kevin shrugs his shoulders.)  All ten attendants trim their lamps.

When the lamps of the five without oil begin to sputter, they ask the five with oil to share.  (Choir: “Give Me Oil in my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning, Give me oil in my lamp I pray”)  Here’s the part I find unnerving:  the five wise ones don’t share.  They send the foolish ones away to buy more oil.  While the five foolish ones are out shopping, the bridal party comes and they miss the whole thing.

All things considered, I like the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 way better than this one.  In that story, a whole mob of people was fed with two fish and five loaves.  In one interpretation, the crowd wasn’t actually fed by so small amount of food.  Rather, that child’s generosity inspired others to share, too, so that, what you ended up with was a potluck dinner like nobody’s business.

In today’s story, those five wise people don’t share anything.  And because they don’t, the other five miss out.  Maybe what unnerves me is this sinking feeling that I’d be one of the ones who forgot her oil.  I don’t want to miss the bridal party’s arrival!  Do you?

Of course, you don’t!  Nobody wants to miss the bridal party!  Nobody wants to miss the arrival of the holy!  Jesus’ word to the wise?  If you want to experience the holy, keep alert.  Stay awake.  Be prepared.  There are many things in this life we can share—food, money… kindness.  What we can’t share is preparation for meeting the holy.  If we want to meet God, we have to prepare ourselves.

That’s one of the things I’ve learned from the Benedictines.  For the last ten years, I’ve participated in a program called Women Touched by Grace.  Once a year, several of us women pastors descend on Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, for a time of support, reflection, and prayer.  While at the monastery, we pray three times a day with the sisters.

It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.  Every time we go to the chapel for prayer doesn’t result in some big spiritual “woo-woo” experience.  In fact, sometimes you’re grateful for Sr. Sylvester’s talking watch that loudly declares the time just when you’re about to doze off.

What going to prayer three times a day does do is it prepares you to meet God.  We quickly learned that giving ourselves over to rhythm of prayer sharpened our senses and attuned us the presence of the holy in every aspect of our lives, not just when we were in the chapel.  The practice of preparing for the holy paved the way for actual experiences of the holy.  It wasn’t something someone else could do for us.  We had to do that work ourselves.

We’ve all been in preparation mode for what feels like forever.  Profiles.  Meetings.  Prayer.  Meetings.  Heartache.  Prayer.  Meetings.  Prayer.  Moments of deep joy and gratitude.  Prayer.  Meetings.  You’ve done your work.  I’ve done my work.  All of us doing our not-so-glamorous work has prepared us for what’s starting to feel like a holy moment.

Of course, a better preacher than I could walk in the door any minute (Could someone lock the doors?  Thanks.  J) and sweep you off your feet and convince you to take a vote right then and there.  Or, I could walk into another congregation and they could take a vote right then and there.  Should either of those things happen (the doors are still locked, right?), it likely would be exciting…but would it be holy?  Would it be deep?  The five foolish attendants were wise enough to know something big was happening.  They were all about the excitement.  But they weren’t prepared to experience the holy.

Anticipating today’s service, I got excited.  Oh, man!  I was going to preach it!  Some great prophetic, memorable social-justice oriented sermon that was going to inspire us all to go out and change the world!  Goodness knows the world needs changing, doesn’t it?

But this story of the five wise and five foolish attendants and their lamp oil kept bringing me back to the nuts and bolts of preparation.  If we’re going to have authentic and deep experiences of the holy, we’ve got to prepare for them.  If we clergy are going to find the church God is calling us to serve, we’ve got to prepare.  If a congregation is going to find the pastor God is calling to serve with them in ministry, they’ve got to prepare.

I’d like to tell you about Martin’s preparations during the Civil Rights Movement.  Not the Martin you’re thinking of, but Martin England.  This other Martin was a representative of the Pension Board of the American Baptist Churches in the 1950s and 60s.

For many years, Martin and his wife, Mabel, served as missionaries in Burma.  After completing their missionary service, Martin began working for the Pension Board.  He was the guy who went around getting ministers to sign up for pensions and life insurance.

By 1963, the Civil Rights Movement was going strong.  Death threats against the other Martin were frequent.  While Martin King worked for freedom, Martin England, Pension Board Guy, had other things on his mind.

All through the summer of 1963, Martin England followed Dr. King around the south trying to get him to sign the enrollment forms for Pension and Life Insurance.  The Board wanted to make sure Coretta and the children would receive a pension and benefits should Dr. King be killed.  A benefactor already had paid the premiums; all Dr. King had to do was sign.

Try though he might, the people around Dr. King wouldn’t let Pension Board Martin in.  In Albany, Georgia, in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin England always got the same response:  “Get out of the way.  He doesn’t have time to deal with you!  Martin King is worried about justice and freedom; he isn’t worried about a pension.”

Years later, when he recalled Martin England “showing him a list of the places he had been trying to track down the younger, famous Martin, Dr. Samuel Proctor said, “I couldn’t believe it.  A man born and raised in South Carolina, a white man 65 years old, following Martin King around to sign him up for a pension and death benefit plan.”

“Martin finally met Dr. King in Birmingham after King had been released from prison and had returned to that city.  Martin England relates what happened.  “I told Dr. King, ‘I met a man last night at my motel, drunk or crazy or both, who threatened to kill you.  He may be here in this crowd.’”  King replied that he lived with this kind of threat every day and had decided he could not let fear paralyze him and keep him from his work.

“I reminded Dr. King that I had followed him around a good bit that summer.  All he had to do was to sign his name.  Standing next to Dr. King was his co-worker Ralph Abernathy, who already had joined the pension plan.  ‘If Ralph says sign, I’ll sign,’ said Dr. King.  Abernathy said, way down deep, ‘Sign.”  So Abernathy bent over and Dr. King used his back as a desk.  I had a stamped envelope in my pocket,” Martin England said.  “I pushed my way out of the crowd, went to the nearest street mailbox, mailed the application, got to the nearest telephone and called the pension office to tell them the paper was on its way.”

Nearly five years later, in April 1968, shortly after Dr. King’s assassination, Mabel accompanied Martin England to Atlanta to see Coretta Scott King about the death benefits and the pension the family would receive.

I suspect most of us have been impatient for this search process to end so we can get on with the important work of living the Gospel here in Asheville.  Our world is a mess.  It needs us to work for peace; it needs us to speak truth to power; it needs us to bind up the wounds of the broken hearted and to care for and speak in behalf of the least of these.  For those of us committed to living lives of justice, attending to all these pesky administrative details—like, I don’t know, a congregational vote—can be annoying.

But, as Martin England knew, administration can be prophetic, too.  Dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “t’s” often is what makes justice work possible.  Preparing ourselves to meet the holy often is what paves the way for actually meeting the Holy.

So, here’s the good news for today—our preparation work is nearly done.  We’ve dotted the i’s, we’ve crossed the t’s.  We’ve met and prayed and met and prayed.  We are ready.  We’re so ready, in fact, I propose we edit the sermon title in the bulletin.  First, cross out “be.”  Next, add an exclamation mark after “prepared.”  Because that’s what we are.  We are prepared.  Thanks be to God!

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reallifepastor | November 20, 2017


Daily Devotion – November 21, 2017

Ephesians 1:15-16

Paul’s Prayer

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

I read this and I thought immediately of everyone at Pilgrimage.  I am always inspired by the love and service I see displayed in our congregation.  Everyone has shown great faith through acts of generosity and compassion. I don’t know how far news of our church travels, but like Paul, I am always grateful for our warm and welcoming church family.  I pray for us as we move into this time of saying good-bye to Kim and Allen.  I pray for them as they embark on a new faith journey.  I pray for individuals who share their joys and concerns each week.  I pray for the missions and service we provide through MUST, Family Promise, the Youth, Sunday School, the choirs, our Deacons, Hospitality, and Parish Life, and many more.  I thank God that I have the opportunity to grow in my faith in such a generous faith community.

Prayer

Creator God, thank you for Pilgrimage UCC and its loving faith community.  May we continue to show your love through generous acts of service.  Amen

 



Sermon: “The Call to Be Generous” (2 Cor. 9:6-15) [11/19/17]
11.20.17

Here’s the first thing I want you to know:  I love you.  I have loved this congregation from the moment I began interviewing.  Aside from marrying Allen, serving with you in ministry these last 16 years has been the greatest joy of my life.  I have grown so much in our time together.  I am deeply grateful to you for helping me to grow.

I’m also grateful for all the ways you have grown these last 16 years.  After taking the historic–and brave–vote to become Open and Affirming 20 years ago, you have lived into your ONA identity with integrity and unwavering commitment.  When I came on the scene in June 2001, your missions outreach already was strong.  Since then–especially through Family Promise–your commitment to service has continued to grow.  You take seriously the call to act the world into wellbeing.  That commitment inspires me.

You’ve also grown in worship.  The idea for the 8:30 service came in 2005 or so, in part, in response to an uptick in attendance.  What started as a need for space has resulted in a weekly communion service that serves as a place of healing and rest for many.  I will miss sharing the holy meal around the table with you each week.

There are myriad other ways you have grown as a community.  I look forward in the coming weeks to sharing together the journey we’ve been making since 2001.

I suspect you’re curious about the place to which I’m going….and the process by which I decided to go there.  Here’s a little background.

The decision to activate my ministerial profile came after a long period of discernment… and getting real about my age.  I’ll be 53 in January.  After doing the math, I realized that, if I were to seek a new call, it was pretty much now or never.

Despite having activated my profile in October of 2016, I still thought about the possibility of staying at Pilgrimage.  As late as Labor Day, that still was an option.  Staying was still option because I love serving as your pastor.  I am energized by the way you live the Gospel here in East Cobb.  I am humbled by the way you love and care for each other.

I also considered staying because the prospect of saying goodbye filled me with dread.  Saying goodbye is going to hurt.  A lot….But through prayer and conversations with colleagues and with Allen, I now know that I am being called to serve another congregation.  After 16 years as your pastor, it’s time for me to move on.

The congregation that has called me to serve as its Senior Minister is First Congregational, UCC, in Asheville, North Carolina.  Many of you have asked about Allen.  The church already has a Music Director, so Allen and I won’t be working together.  In fact, our work here at Pilgrimage may be the last time we’ll have that opportunity.  We offer our profound thanks for the gift you have given us to share together in ministry with you these last 12 years.

FCUCC, as they call themselves…after a while, it doesn’t sound quite so awkward. J  FCUCC is just over 100 years old.  The congregation is a little larger than Pilgrimage.  Because Asheville is something of a retirement Mecca, there are many active retirees in the congregation.  Thirty ordained clergy are members.  Many of those clergy are retired Baptist pastors.  Kind of feels like going home.  J  There are a few families with children.  The church has a strong commitment to growing in that area.

In 2004, the congregation bought a Disciples church in downtown Asheville that was closing.  They’ve been working in the intervening years to update the buildings.

The sanctuary does have stained glass windows, but they don’t cast colors like these do.  I will miss the colors.

FCUCC has a strong commitment to social justice.  In fact, they were the UCC church a couple of years ago that challenged the Supreme Court on marriage equality.  Also, they were the first congregation in the state of North Carolina to install solar panels.  Three years ago, they installed a geo-thermal HVAC system.  They’re also committed to economic justice, housing women without permanent housing in a program very similar to Family Promise.

I know it sounds glamorous to be moving to Asheville, but the Asheville folks experience on vacation is different from everyday Asheville.  Gentrification has taken over Asheville City, which has driven up housing costs.  I spoke with one person who works for Homeward Bound, a nonprofit that works to get vulnerable people into permanent housing.  He told me finding affordable housing for clients isn’t easy.  I look forward to exploring further the divide between tourist Asheville and everyday Asheville and what it means to be church between the two.

There will be time later to share more about FCUCC if you’re interested.  For now, I simply want you to know that I am confident God is calling me to serve with FCUCC, Asheville.  Also know that they are praying for us as we begin this transition.  Having been without a settled pastor for over two years, they understand how hard pastoral transitions can be.

So, now what?  How do we act each other into wellbeing as we begin the process of saying goodbye?  I make a pledge to you not to belabor the goodbye process, especially in worship.  Advent begins in a couple of weeks.  The focus of Advent will be Advent.  We’re still a church; I’m still the pastor….and what churches and pastors do during December is Advent.  So, Advent is what we’ll do.  J

Today and next Sunday, I want to look briefly at a couple of things that won’t change during the transition.  Next week, we’ll look at the call of all followers of Jesus to care for the least of these.  This week, I invite us to look at the call to be generous.

Years ago on the TV show, ER, Dr. Mark Green—the show’s star—was dying of a brain tumor.  He, his wife, and his teenage daughter rented a house in Hawaii for Mark’s final days. The family’s time is tense, not only because Mark is dying, but because his daughter, Rachel, teenager that she is, is being rebellious.

Finally, just before Mark dies, he asks Rachel to come talk with him.  She comes near wearing her ever-present sullen expression.  Mark tells her, “I’ve been wondering what one thing I could tell you before I die…what one thing would I want you to remember about me when I’m gone.  It’s finally come to me.  The one thing I want you to remember is this:  ‘Be generous.’”

Just to be clear.  I’m not dying and you’re not being rebellious.  I’ve not seen even the hint of a sullen expression.  Mark’s word to his daughter, though, feels right for this moment as we begin our goodbye:  Be generous.

If Mark had been a pastor, he might have invited Rachel to read part of today’s 2 Corinthians text.  I invite you to hear a portion of the text in the context of this new moment we’ve entered.  What will it mean for us to be generous in the coming days and weeks?  Hear again a reading from 2 Corinthians:

Keep this in mind:  if you plant sparingly, you will reap sparingly, and if you plant bountifully, you will reap bountifully.  You must give according to what you have inwardly decided–not sadly, not reluctantly, for God loves a giver who gives cheerfully.  There are no limits to the grace of God, who will make sure you will always have enough of everything and even a surplus for good works, as scripture says:

 

‘God scattered abroad // And gave to poor people; // God’s justice endures forever.’

 

The One who provides seed for the planter and bread for food will also supply and enlarge your store of seed and increase your harvest of justice.  You will be made rich in every way for your generosity, for which we—for which I—give thanks to God.

 

If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the living word of God. Thanks be to God!

It feels appropriate to begin our goodbye process on Thanksgiving Sunday.  What better way to frame the next nine weeks than giving thanks for all we’ve shared together?

Our Women Touched by Grace gathering next April will be led by folk singer Carrie Newcomer.  Yeah, I’m stoked.  In preparation, we were sent Carrie’s latest CD.  Two songs on the CD have been especially poignant for me as I begin this moment of transition.

The chorus of A Shovel Is a Prayer, describes the experience of my call to FCUCC:

“For all your searching, there’s nothing to do. What you’ve been looking for is looking for you.”  Especially in the last month, I’ve had the strong sense that FCUCC worked as hard on their discernment as I worked on mine.  It really does feel like we’re being called to serve together.

The other song that’s helping me, especially as we begin our work here at Pilgrimage, is You Can Do This Hard Thing.  Wednesday, I listened to the song three times in a row.  After that, I decided that I might be able to do this hard thing…unless it’s listening to You Can Do This Hard Thing three times in a row.  J

Tending well to goodbyes is a hard thing.  It’d be so much easier to skip over the painful parts of the process…or to check out of the process all together.  I want to encourage us all to stay with it.  If you’ve ever had to grieve a loss, you know that skipping over or rushing parts of the process doesn’t help.  By staying with it, we can feel the pain, then move on—a little stronger and a little wiser—to whatever comes next.  That’s my prayer for all of us.

The song is long, but I want to play it for you.  (No worries.  I’ll only play it once!)  May it remind us all that we can indeed “do this hard thing.”

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Daily Devotion – November 20, 2017

2 Corinthians 9: 10 – 12

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

 

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

In today’s sermon Pastor Kim shared a story with us about a man who was suffering from a brain tumor. He had moved closer to his daughter so she could care for him, while he lived out the final days of his life. One evening they were talking and his daughter asked him how he wanted to be remembered. He turned to her and said, “If there is one thing I want you to remember after I’m gone, it’s be generous.”

I thought about those two words. Thought long and hard about them. They kept running through my mind, as if they’d taken up permanent residence. They are with me now as I write this devotion. ‘Be Generous.’ There are many ways we can be generous. We can be generous with our love, our friendship, our talent, our benevolence, our compassion and the list goes on until one gets to the word ‘money.’

Even I had to stop. Money is the great equalizer in many ways. I mean, one needs money to live, to enjoy life, to pay bills, buy a house or a car, groceries, a college education for your son or daughter, and the list goes on but the money doesn’t. It is finite. Yet, the scripture is asking us to give and give generously.

So, as I wrestled with this thought, as I’m sure many of us do, I was drawn back to the sermon and the man who shared his dying wish with his daughter. It is from this thought I began to draw some perspective. I read the scripture again. “If I give and give generously,” I said to myself, “give with the thought that my generosity will reap more than I could ever imagine and I will be enriched, not monetarily, but in thought and deed, in knowing that my gift helped someone or many and they in turn created something everlasting, ever present, ever a part of those who are touched today and tomorrow and in the years that I will cease to be a part of this earth, what more could I ask for.”  “Nothing,” was the response.

“So, Be Generous,” I said once more to myself, “because the gift of today becomes the future of tomorrow.”

Prayer:

Dear God…help me to be generous. To give of myself, to give of my time and my money when I’m compelled to withhold. It is with this thought I close my prayer to you, “be generous.”                                  Amen