Sermon: “Fishers of People” (Epiphany 3); Mark 1:14-20 [1/21/18]

Have you heard about the new appointment in Great Britain?  On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness.  The move came in response to a 2017 report that “more than nine million people in the country often or always feel lonely.”

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” Ms. May said in a statement.  “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

When I saw this report, I did a double-take to see if I had clicked on The Onion instead of the regular paper.  I hadn’t.  The UK’s undersecretary for Sports and Civil Life, Tracey Crouch, is now the country’s Minister for Loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong.  Prolonged loneliness can be devastating–physically, emotionally, perhaps even nationally.  “Government research has found that about 200,000 older people in Britain had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.”  And former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy notes that loneliness brings with it “a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety.”  It’s true.  Loneliness can quickly diminish our quality of life.  It’s even been known to shorten lives.

But can a cure for loneliness be legislated?  Can a government appointment solve a spiritual problem?

On the same day I read the article about the UK’s new Minister of Loneliness, I read this in Psalm 68:  “God creates families for those who are alone.”  (Psalm 68:6)

That rang a bit truer for me…largely because of what I have experienced here at Pilgrimage.  It’s not so much that this church is a family.  Churches that call themselves “family” often become insular and hard for newcomers to feel a part of.  That’s not been the case here.  I’ve seen you be there for each other in every aspect of your lives–through the births and baptisms of babies, through marriages, deaths, and everything in between.  At the same time, you welcome newcomers as if they already are family.  I remember hearing Neil Clark once say this to a newcomer:  “We don’t know you, but we love you.”  That about sums it up.

There is something special about this place.  It’s not just that you’re a church.  It’s not just that you’re ONA.  It’s not just that you’re small enough for “everyone to know your name.”  Somehow, it’s all those things together.  Somehow, somewhere along the way, Pilgrimage United Church of Christ decided to become a community of Jesus’ followers.  You are such a gift to the wider community!  There are so many people who are looking for a community just like this one.

…which is why it’s disconcerting to learn that folks like Trudy and Cathe drove by here for years without knowing who or what we are.  How did that happen?  Who’s driving by right now who would love to participate in a church like this one?  How do we get folks up the hill?

Based on what guests to Pilgrimage tell me, at this point there are two things that work hardest to bring folks up the hill–the website and the sign down by the road, the one that says, “Jesus didn’t reject people; neither do we.”  I’m telling you–when that sign wears out, buying a new one will be well worth the investment.  Just look at who it’s brought up the hill!  Cathe, Carlos and Richard…

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So, how do we—how do you–get more folks up the hill?  How do you let them know that, even though you don’t know them, you love them?  That even though you don’t know them, you do know that God has, does, and will always love them?

Last week, we eavesdropped on Jesus’ call to Nathanael.  When Philip told Nathanael about his encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael cynically responded:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Jesus reached Nathanael by reminding him of some private thing that had happened while he was sitting under a fig tree.  “Before Philip went to call you, while you were sitting under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael immediately responded:  “Rabbi!  You are God’s Own; you are the ruler of Israel!”

Jesus takes a different tack with Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  He goes out to the lakeshore and watches them ply their trade of fishing.  Then he invites them to “Follow me.  I will make you fishers of humankind.”  The minute he says it, the two sets of brothers drop their nets and follow Jesus.

On the face of it, Jesus telling some fishermen, “I will make you fishers of humankind,” sounds like a cute turn of literary phrase.  But maybe it went deeper than that.  Maybe in extending the invitation to “fish for people,” Jesus was inviting Peter, Andrew, James, and John to use their work in helping them to follow Jesus.

How might the work of fishing for fish have shaped their work of fishing for people?

It probably gave them a ready pool of co-workers and clients with whom to share the good news.  Because they were fishermen, they knew how to talk with fishermen.  Because they knew fish, they knew how to talk with people who bought and ate fish.  Their jobs as fishermen gave them specific knowledge of the area, of the people, of the weather, of the economics of the region…  When you think about it, Jesus’ selection of these fishermen as part of his band of disciples probably wasn’t random.  I suspect he knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew that their work life, their unique skills equipped them to do the work of sharing God’s vision for the world.  When it came to acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name, the skills and contacts of the fishermen were going to be crucial.

But of course, Jesus didn’t only call fishermen.  He also called a tax collector, a zealot, and probably a couple of tradesmen.  As Jesus created his community of confidants, he seems to have given some thought to the diversity of gifts and skills of those he was calling.  It’s a theme the Apostle Paul will take up years later when he describes the church as the body of Christ.  We can’t all be hands or feet or eyes or ears.  If we were all feet, where would the seeing be?  If we were ears, where would the smelling be?  We all have gifts to use and skills to employ in helping to build up the body of Christ…and together as the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to use that diversity of gifts and skills to act the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name.

So, what is your gift?  What are your skills?  If Jesus were to watch you at work–or see you engaged in your favorite hobby–how would Jesus call you?  “Follow me and I will make you…what? for people.  Administer?  Write?  Teach?  Code?  Account?  Nurse?  Sing?  Serve?  Organize?  Clean?  Exercise?  Paint?  What are your gifts?  What are your skills?  How might God be calling you to use those gifts and skills to act the world into wellbeing in God’s name?

And how might God use the diverse array of gifts and skills in this community to act the East Cobb area into wellbeing?  How might you as the body of Christ here on Sandy Plains Road communicate who you are so that the people who are desperate to find a place just like this will know you’re here?  How will you use your wide diversity of gifts to proclaim from this hilltop that the community for which so many are longing is right here?

I got most of this sermon written early last week.  By Saturday, it still wasn’t finished.  About midday, Allen asked if my sermon was done.  (He’s a brave man.)  I told him no, I hadn’t finished it.  “I don’t know how.”

I was trying to inject some humor into the process…but late yesterday afternoon as I stared at the blank page on the computer screen waiting for something to emerge, it hit me—I really DON’T know how to finish this sermon.  We’ve gotten far enough in this goodbye process that I really don’t know how you might use your wide diversity of gifts to proclaim from this hilltop that the community for which so many are longing is right here.  Offering a vision of where God might be leading Pilgrimage…that’s no longer my job.  Now that job is yours.  And as I said last week, you’ve already gotten a good start on living into your future as a community of Jesus’ followers…which is exactly as it should be.

I might not know precisely what direction you’re heading now, but I do know one thing that will help guide you as you discern the way forward.  In both worship services today, we’re baptizing children—Emily and Carson Stoddert at 8:30 and Josephine at 10:00.  We all pledged our support to Trudy and Carlos and Richard to assist them in any way we can to nurture these children into faith until they are able to claim it for themselves in confirmation.  In the simple ritual of baptism, we acknowledged the lives of these beautiful children, welcomed them into this community, and promised to be there for them.

I want to suggest another pledge you might make—not just today, but with every child’s baptism.  Perhaps you might also promise to learn from these children.  As you consider their lives—their futures—what might that say about the future of faith, the future of this community?  One of the Christmas Eve Scripture texts ends with these words:  And a child shall lead them.  What if that’s not just about the Messiah being born, but about all children?  All youth?  Might these children—Emily, Carson, and Josephine…all the children in our midst—might these children be leading you into the future God has planned for you?  There’s only one way to find out….

reallifepastor | January 21, 2018

Sermon: “Listen!” (Epiphany 2; John 1:43-51) [1/14/18]

Lately here at Pilgrimage, there’s been a lot more talk of feeling “called” to do something than of simply filling slots.  Instead of—“Since no one else will do it, I guess I will”–people are saying, “I think God is calling me to do this or that.”  A case in point is our new VP, Trudy Stoddert.  Here’s what Trudy wrote me in an email.

I am super. freaking. nervous. When Matthew started asking about folks being interested, I had a thought to do it, then I was like “You (roller derby word) lunatic. You’re already stretched so thin …you don’t need this.”

Then, every time Matthew got up during announcements and said he was still looking for someone, I kept feeling that pesky tug on my heart that we all know who’s doing the tugging. But I still tried to ignore it. I always over commit myself and I’ve got so much going on; I wouldn’t do the position justice.

Then I stepped down from my chair position with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.  Then a month later I stepped down from my Board of Directors position with Atlanta Junior Roller Derby.

Then Matthew made another announcement and after church I found my feet bringing me over to him and my mouth opening and saying “Hey, I might be interested.” And honestly, I almost slapped my own self right then and there…what the Sam Hill was I thinking?? But then another person overheard me saying that someone would have to take over the communications chair and they poked their head into the convo and mentioned that they might be interested in that…or at least doing some of the communications stuff so I could vacate that position. That was the next sign that this was what I was supposed to do.  So I told Matthew I would think about it over the holidays.

Then I asked Ben to chat with me about what to expect as the VP and then as the prez (gulp).  He offered his confidence in me and offered to help me as much as possible when I become the prez, so that sealed the deal. I emailed Matthew the next Monday.

I have a lot to learn about the UCC in general and PUCC (historically and such) so I can go into the prez position with enough knowledge to be a responsible leader.

And man, am I still super nervous.

When I asked Trudy if there was anything in the statement she’d like me to edit before making it public, she said, “Just tell them you edited it to make it more sermon-appropriate, because we all know Trudy is really an old drunken sailor disguised as a middle-aged mother.”


By virtue of our baptisms, each of us is called by God to use our gifts in the community.  In fact, that’s why we have the gifts we have–so that we can use them to build up the body of Christ.  So, how do we figure out what our gifts are?  How do we hear our calling?  As Trudy’s story demonstrates, if we want to hear our calling, we’re going to have to listen.

Trudy listened to all kinds of things as she discerned her call to the VP position.  She listened to Matthew’s announcements; she listened to the needs of the Pilgrimage community; she listened to her own needs in terms of commitments—and her penchant to over-commit.  The thing to which she listened most intently was the strange stirring inside her, the force that took her feet where she hadn’t planned for them to go.  Our Executive Committee is now fully-staffed because Trudy listened to God’s call in her life.

It’s been a joy to watch you make your plans for the pastoral transition.  It’s also sad and a little surreal not to be involved in that planning…but mostly, watching you plan for Pilgrimage’s future and seeing how engaged you are in that process makes me very happy.  It makes me especially happy that Cathe and Tom will be joining Pilgrimage today.  Who joins a church when the pastor is leaving?  Visionaries….people who are able to see that a church is about so much more than its pastor.  Church is about a community acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name.  Tom and Cathe today are answering that call.

So, by virtue of our baptisms, we all are called by God to engage in the important work of acting the world into wellbeing.  In order to hear God’s call to us, we have to listen.  And while old-drunken-sailor-middle-aged-mom-roller-derby-goddess-new-VP Trudy Grenon Stoddert has given us a terrific example of how to listen to God’s call, it’s not always easy, is it?  Sometimes, there’s so much static on the line, it’s nigh on impossible to hear God’s call.

So what causes static?  What prevents us from God’s call?  For one thing, we might find the idea of “listening to God’s call” strange or hard to understand.  Or we might find our lives too busy to listen.  Or we might not believe ourselves important enough or gifted enough for God to even notice us, much less to call us to some specific task.

There’s another source of static that’s kind of hard to own up to…it’s the thing that gets in the way of Nathanael hearing Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel lesson:  prejudice.

When Philip comes to Nathanael, excited about his encounter with Jesus, in not-so-nice language, Nathanael reveals his prejudice –“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Program note:  I wrote this next sentence before Thursday’s news cycle.)  Nathanael’s regionalism–perhaps even racism–blinds him to the good that might come from the person reared in what he considered to be a backwater of the region.  Jesus persists and reminds Nathanael of something we’re not privy to.  When that happens, Nathanael’s tune changes completely.  ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’  Suddenly, Nathanael is able to set aside his bias and hear Jesus’ call.

The connection between today’s Gospel lesson and this week’s comments by our president couldn’t be clearer.  Old-drunken-sailor words used playfully by a middle-aged-roller-derby goddess is a completely different thing than our nation’s president crudely denigrating entire nations of people because of the color of their skin.  As fruitful as exploring the connection between today’s Gospel lesson and this week’s events might be, I invite us instead to hear today’s Gospel lesson in the context of our life together as a community.

So…what’s creating static in God’s attempts to call you?  Is there any static on the line in God’s call to this community?  Are there biases?  Are there prejudices?  Who have you already written off as a bearer of God’s message to you?  Who in this community aren’t you seeing?  Who aren’t you hearing?

In his short book outlining community life, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer identifies the “ministry of listening” as a key aspect of community life.  Isn’t that great?  The ministry of listening.  (It’s not inconsequential that this section is preceded by one called “the ministry of holding one’s tongue.” J)

Bonhoeffer writes:  “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.  Just as love to God begins with listening to God’s Word, so the beginning of love for the community is learning to listen to its members…”

God is creative.  And playful.  God speaks to us through all kinds of people.  If we write some people off from the get-go, though, it doesn’t matter how loudly God is speaking through them, we aren’t going to get the message.

As you seek to use your gifts to build up this community, through whom might God be calling you?  As you as a community discern God’s call for you in the coming weeks and months, through whom might God be speaking?  What might happen if you open your minds and hearts to someone—or someones—you’ve never before considered being a bearer of God’s word?  What might happen if you recommit yourselves again to the ministry of listening?

Listening to you all these last 16 years, God has said some crazy things…

Ric Reitz:  “What about stained glass windows?”  My response:  “We aren’t a stained glass window church.”

Chris Shiver when we were gluing glass to the mosaic cross:  “I could engrave words on the glass.”  My response:  “No.  I don’t think so.”  Ric Reitz, when I told everyone to fill in all the remaining blank spaces with glass on Palm Sunday that year, “But isn’t God still speaking?”

Holly CothranDrake:  “Let’s start a Joys and Concerns page on Facebook.”  My response:  “Oh, no.  I don’t think that will work.”

Julie Binney and Janet Derby at separate times.  (I’m still trying to decide if that was a coordinated effort. J):  “Hey, Kim.  I heard about this great program called Family Promise.  Do you think we might participate?”  My response:  I’d already thrown the Family Promise materials in the trash.

Based on this list, it sounds like you all might do very well if I just get out of the way!  J  Seriously.  You are some of the most authentic, compassionate, creative people I have ever known.  Your gift for hospitality is astonishing.  I have no doubt—no doubt—that God has great things in store for you.  And because I have learned so much from listening to you, I have no doubt that you have much to learn from listening to each other.  God isn’t just speaking TO you, God is speaking THROUGH you to each other.  Want to know how to find the way forward on this next leg of your journey?  Listen to the still-speaking God.  Listen to the tugging inside you that we know who’s doing the tugging.  And listen to each other.  Who knows?  God just might have some more crazy things to say.

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2018

Sermon: « It Was Enough » (Mark 1:4-11–Baptism of Jesus) [1/7/18]

So…our time together is drawing to a close.  We’re about to enter a strange new world–the world where I am no longer your pastor.  February 1, I will start learning a new congregation; you’ll begin the adventure of discerning who God is calling to be your next pastor.  Several of you have told me—I’ve appreciated your candor—“I don’t like change.”  I hear you.  Change is challenging.  Things we thought we always could count on suddenly disappear.  Or, according to some of you, abandon you.   So much of life goes so fast and changes so quickly, it’s nice– and important–to have at least a few things that are steady, dependable, certain.

In the midst of these UN-certain times, what can we do?  How can we navigate this new terrain when we can’t feel the ground beneath our feet?

One thing that helps transitions go more smoothly is good administration.  If processes are outlined clearly and followed, it reduces a lot of anxiety.  In our process of preparing to move, I find that when I get a little overwhelmed by it all, it helps to measure things–furniture, room size…cats.  Or to make charts.  Or to nail down one more detail.  In times of transition, tending to the nuts and bolts is key.  We are blessed by amazing leadership on Council right now.  You can rest easy that they will handle all the administrative pieces of the transition with competence and grace.  And we are glad to have Marie Bacchiocchi, our Interim Conference Minister, with us today.  She will provide administrative oversight from the denomination.

But good administration isn’t only the responsibility of Council and the Conference.  In order for the community to remain strong and do the important work of discernment, it’s vital that every member of the community continue offering your gifts—your gifts of presence, your gifts of service, your gifts of money.  If you pull back, if you withhold your gifts, if instead of being an active participant in the transition, you decide to wait and see how things turn out, the community will suffer.  And–if you sit out the transition–I can guarantee you aren’t going to find the end result of the discernment process satisfying…. because you’ll have had no say in it, right?  If there’s one thing I hope you’ll remember from my tenure here, it’s the understanding that church isn’t something “they” do; it’s something “we” do together.  Even when it’s hard, a church whose full membership is fully engaged is a strong church.  You are a strong church; you’re growing stronger all the time.  Even now.  Especially now.

So, how do we navigate new terrain when we can’t feel the ground beneath our feet?  We tend to administration.  But that’s true for any group facing change.  Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of a resource unique to communities of Jesus’ followers facing change:  our baptisms.

The story is familiar.  Jesus has been born, grown up, and probably worked for his dad.  Then he hears the preaching of his cousin John and something within him stirs.  One day as John is baptizing people in the Jordan River, Jesus comes and asks to be baptized.  John says, “Um, Cuz, I think you’ve got this backward.  I should be baptized by YOU.”  Jesus assures John that he—Jesus—is right.  He is Jesus, after all.  John relents and baptizes Jesus.

It’s as Jesus emerges from the baptismal waters that he hears the words, “You are my child, the beloved.  With you I am well-pleased.”  In a moment, as we do every year, we’ll renew our baptismal vows.  If you choose to come up and receive a blessing, you will hear these words spoken to you.  “You are God’s child.  You are loved.  With you, God is well-pleased.”

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Do you ever have trouble taking those words in?  Do you ever have trouble believing you are loved by God, that God is well-pleased with you?  Yeah.  That’s why we renew our baptismal vows every year.

In a little over a month, Lent will begin.  The Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent will be the story of Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness.  I understand why the stories are separated liturgically, but when read together, they tell a deeper—and fuller–story.  Mark tells us that immediately after his baptism, God’s Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.  So, God says, “I love you!  Now, go out in the wilderness and fast for 40 days.”

Which isn’t as harsh or counter-intuitive as it sounds.  Sometimes, the best way to see what we’re made of is to be tested.  Many of you have shared with me how much you have learned from your own times of testing.  Through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship… You’ve reported that living into your new context gave you tremendous clarity about who you are and where you’re headed.  It was painful, yes.  Excruciating.  But when you emerged on the other side, you knew better than ever before who you were.

That’s what happened with Jesus.  Through his testing in the wilderness, displaced from all that was familiar, Jesus got clearer about who he was as God’s child and Messiah.  Think about it.  When nothing changes, faith atrophies.  If we can trust our context to provide what we need, why trust God?  When the familiarity of our context is snatched away, though—which is about to happen to all of us—when our context changes, we have to find something else to cling to.  When Jesus’ context changed, he clung to God.

Now that our contexts are changing, we too will need to cling to God.  As Sr. Joan Chittister has said, “God is the only lifeline that life guarantees us.”  (8)  There’s no doubt that during this time of transition, we will be tempted…  We’ll be tempted to try to control things ourselves, we’ll be tempted to follow after anything but God, we’ll tempted to let ourselves be overwhelmed by anxiety… Oh, yes.  Times of transition are tempting, testing times.

But if we trust in the one thing that is certain in life—the God of love who wants only to act us into wellbeing—if we cling to our lifeline, if we stay open to learning all we can during our sojourn in the wilderness, if we use this time to reconnect with what is most important, to practice living without things we think we can’t live without but in truth don’t need at all…if we cling to God and stay open to learning, our wilderness experiences will help us gain new clarity about who we are as God’s children and as God’s feet and hands in the world.

So, I understand why the liturgical powers that be separated Jesus’ baptism from his experience in the wilderness.  For this moment of our respective journeys, though, seeing the two events as parts of a single story will be more helpful.  Because what sustained Jesus during his time in the wilderness?  What reminded him of his lifeline to God?  What grounded Jesus when everything changed?

The thing that grounded Jesus, the thing that reminded him of God’s deep and abiding love for him, the thing that kept him connected to his source of strength and life, was his baptism.  Jesus’ baptism was enough to sustain him during his time in the wilderness.  It sustained him through his loneliness.  It sustained him through every temptation.  It sustained him through his despair.

Jesus’ baptism also strengthened him for the work that was before him—the work of revealing God’s hopes for the world, the work of being God’s hands, feet, eyes and ears in the world, the vital work of acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name.

Our baptisms also will sustain us through our times of transition.  Our baptisms will remind us of God’s love for us.  Our baptisms will strengthen us for the vital work—for you here in Marietta and for Allen and me in Asheville—our baptisms will strengthen us for the important work of acting the world into wellbeing.

And so, as we seek to reconnect to our loving God, our source of solace and strength, our lifeline… after a moment of silence, I invite you to join me in renewing our baptismal vows.

Sermon: “Fake Christmas” (12/24/17)

In this era of fake news, “truthiness,” and prevarication counts, I thought it prudent today to do a little seasonal fact-checking.  Christmas:  Is it fake or real?

Let’s start with the date of Christmas–December 25.  Is that what it says on Jesus’ birth certificate?  Date of birth:  December 25, year 0?  Um, no.  In a decree issued by the Roman emperor Constantine, Christmas was first celebrated on December 25th in the year 336.  For us living in 2017 that would be like setting a date retroactively for an event that occurred in 1681.  A few years after Constantine’s edict, Pope Julius I officially set December 25th as the date of the “Christ Mass,” to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

Why December 25th?  There are lots of possibilities.  December 25th is just a few days after the winter solstice…which means that after the “longest night” the days were getting longer again.  The coming of light into the world was cause for great celebration among pagans…which meant there already was a tradition of partying hard at the end of December.  As often happened during Constantine’s reign, setting the date of Christmas on December 25th could well have been an intentional Christianizing of an already established pagan celebration.

So, if the date for Christmas was set for all these other reasons, when was Jesus really born?  The answer is….we don’t know.  The best guess is that it was in the spring or the fall.  It’s doubtful shepherds would have been “watching their flocks by night” in the dead of winter.  Some scholars speculate that Jesus was born during one of the big Jewish religious celebrations– both Passover (in the spring) and Sukkoth (in the fall) would have brought many Jewish people to Jerusalem…which would have been an optimal time for the Roman government to take a census.  Bottom line, though, is that while December 25th might be a good time for a celebration, it’s doubtful Jesus actually was born on December 25th.

Did you know the Pilgrims–from whom the Congregational stream of the UCC descends–outlawed Christmas celebrations?  Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia.

Christmas celebrations in New England were illegal during parts of the 17th century, and were culturally taboo or rare in former Puritan colonies from their foundation until the 1850s. The Puritan community found no Scriptural justification for celebrating Christmas, and associated such celebrations with paganism and idolatry. The earliest years of Plymouth Colony were troubled with non-Puritans attempting to make merry, and Governor William Bradford was forced to reprimand offenders. English laws suppressing the holiday were enacted …but were repealed late in the 17th century. However, the Puritan view of Christmas and its celebration had gained cultural ascendancy in New England, and Christmas celebrations continued to be discouraged despite being legal. When Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, the Puritan view was relaxed and late 19th century Americans widely fashioned the day into the Christmas of commercialism, spirituality, and nostalgia that most Americans recognize today.

So, Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th and many of our ancestors in faith didn’t even celebrate it, thinking it too raucous–and pagan–a celebration.  It’s been officially celebrated in our country only since 1870.  And we haven’t even gotten to the virgin birth, angels singing to shepherds, no room at the inn, or the precise arrival time of the magi.  Based on this quick survey, if Christmas were on Snopes, it would be debunked.

So, what are we doing here?  Why are we having three worship services today?  Why have we been purchasing gifts?  Why will we be gathering with family or friends tomorrow?  Why are we offering gifts to people we don’t even know during this season?  And the biggest question of all–why do people put up all those decorations in their yards…like our across-the-street neighbor who has a big lighted star hung high on a tree or our other across-the-street neighbor who has reindeer made out of tree limbs lit up within an inch of their lives?

There are so many layers to Christmas traditions there’s really no way to make an accounting of them.  And connecting traditions to the actual birth of Jesus?  A lighted star I get, but lit-up reindeer or a blown-up Santa on a motorcycle?  In reading the Advent and Christmas stories in the Bible, I haven’t come across a single motorcycle ridden by a single Santa.

But maybe today isn’t about unpacking the truthfulness–or truthiness–of every Christmas tradition.  Maybe today is about cutting through all the Christmas falderol-de-la-la-la and getting down to the truest, most authentic meaning of the Christmas story.

It begins with Gabriel making his rounds.  In the choir’s anthem, we heard about the angel’s visits to Zechariah—father of John the Baptist—and Joseph.  Today’s reading begins with Gabriel’s visit to Mary.  Gabriel tells Mary about all that’s going to happen–her pregnancy, her giving birth to a son, naming that son Jesus.  When Mary seems overwhelmed, Gabriel tells her that her relative, Elizabeth, also is with child.

Mary quickly heads to Elizabeth’s house.  That’s where she sings her song, which includes these lines:

Your mercy reaches from age to age

For those who fear you.

You have shown strength with your arm;

You have scattered the proud in their conceit;

You have deposed the mighty from their thrones

And raised the lowly to high places.

You have filled the hungry with good things,

While you have sent the rich away empty.


It’s clear that in this story, Mary understood the mission of her son to be closing the gap between rich and poor, to making sure the hungry are fed and well-represented in the common life.  It’s clear that the Mary of Luke understands the work of her son to be the work of love.  Jesus was coming to act the world into wellbeing.

            Like the meme that makes its rounds this time every year says:  “Want to keep Christ in Christmas?  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  Exactly.


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At the Blue Christmas service a couple of weeks ago, Trish reminded us that the moment at which we get fed up with all the Christmas folderol-de-la-la-la is the precise moment when Christmas gets real for us.  As Mary sang—and as we know from our own struggles—Christmas becomes authentic when we recognize that God chooses to meet us, not in palaces or festive parties, but in the struggles of life…in the pain and hunger and fear and sadness.  Parties are fine, singing and gift-giving, being with family….all of that is important…but if we really want to experience Christmas, we’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love our enemies, and do unto others as we’d have them do unto us.

Of course, partying and feeding the hungry don’t have to be mutually exclusive activities.  (That loving your enemies business might get a real workout at some family gatherings tomorrow. J)  I’m not suggesting that we not enjoy all Christmas Day festivities tomorrow.

I do think, though, that Mary’s song invites us to look at all the festivities through a deeper lens—the lens of love.  As we share Christmas dinner tomorrow, as we sing songs and open presents, as we party with the best of them, we might pause for a moment to give a thought for those who are hungry or naked or guilty or unwanted or ill.  And in our thinking, we might imagine how we might love the hungry, naked, guilty, unwanted, or ill.  If we imagine how we might act others into wellbeing and, especially, if we actually begin to do it, I suspect that’s when we’ll experience a most authentic Christmas of all.

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017

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

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

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

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!


reallifepastor | November 20, 2017

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

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

Sermon: “Humble Saints” (All Saints, 11/5/17) Matthew 23:1-12

Who are your saints?  Who’s inspired you to live your life with authenticity and generosity?  Who, by their actions and words, has made God present to you?

What do you imagine contributes to their saintliness?  Kindness?  Integrity?  An unwavering commitment to caring for the least of these?  Joyfulness?  Teresa of Avila, 16th century nun, once said, “May God protect us from gloomy saints.”  Yes.  Please.

Who are your saints?  What makes them your saints?

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus isn’t talking about saints.  This is way before the concept even existed.  But in talking about the kindom of God–God’s dreams for the world–he addresses a key characteristic of those most adept at creating God’s kindom:  humility.

What is humility?  Sr. Joan Chittister characterizes humility as a profound sense of authenticity.  It’s having a clear sense of your place in the universe.  You don’t think of yourself more highly than you are, nor do you think of yourself as more lowly than you are.  You simply are who you are.  She writes:  “Humble people walk comfortably in every group. No one is either too beneath them or too above them for their own sense of well-being. They are who they are, people with as much to give as to get, and they know it. And because they’re at ease with themselves, they can afford to be open with others.”

Sadly, I don’t think Sr. Joan is talking about the Pharisees in today’s Scripture story.  Matthew tells us from the get-go the Pharisees tried “to trap Jesus in his words.”  In an attempt to discredit him in front of the faithful—or get him imprisoned…that would work, too—the Pharisees pelted Jesus with manipulative questions.  Finally, an exasperated Jesus asked a manipulative question of his own.  He asked it to show just how manipulative the authorities’ questions had been.  He asked it to shut the others up.  It worked.

THEN, once his detractors have been silenced, Jesus preaches a sermon.  Let’s call it “Beware the Hypocrisy of the Pharisees.”   He proclaims:

‘The religious scholars and the Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers; therefore, perform every observance they tell you to.  But don’t follow their example; even they don’t do what they say.  They tie up heavy loads and lay them on others’ shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to help alleviate the burden.  All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels.  They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues.  They love respectful greetings in public and being called ‘Rabbi.’ 


Back in the day, the role of religious leader came with lots of perks.  The Pharisees liked their perks; they liked their power.  But exclusive power, by definition, “excludes” most people.  For a few people to hold the bulk of the power, the rank-and-file have to give up most of theirs.  This disproportionate divvying up of power created an unjust system, one that was the opposite of what Jesus imagined the kin-dom of God to be.  Here’s how Jesus imagines the kin-dom:

But as for you, avoid the title ‘Rabbi.’  For you have only one Teacher, and you are all sisters and brothers.  And don’t call anyone on earth your ‘Mother’ or ‘Father.’  You have only one Parent—our loving God in heaven.  Avoid being called leaders.  You only have one leader—the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves with be exalted. 


Jesus isn’t just calling for a redistribution of power.  He’s calling for a whole new kind of power, one that isn’t hoarded by some, but rather, is shared by all.

I suspect all our personal saints lived out of this understanding of power–that we’re all in this thing together, that we’re all stronger when we support each other, that lording religious authority over people doesn’t usher in God’s presence nearly as well as loving our neighbors as ourselves.  If we’re grabbing for power, we’re trying to reach beyond who we are.  If we allow others to grab our power, we’re dismissing our own agency in the world.  But when we all simply are who we are, we discover a profound connection to God through our connection to each other.  In short, the kindom of God–the world God dreams of–is created by humble saints.

Since the Catholic Church began canonizing saints, there have been books of saints.  These books chronicle the lives and miracles attributed to each saint.  The thinking is that stories of the saints will inspire the faithful to live even more faithful lives.

Blessed Among Us:  Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses, is a recent book that updates the book of saints concept.  It includes canonized saints like Teresa, Brigid, Francis, and Patrick…but it also includes people who have not been canonized, some of whom aren’t even Christian, people like Anne Frank and Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi and Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer.  Taking in stories of these saintly witnesses, readers are invited to imagine how they might live their lives more faithfully.

About a year ago, I posted something on Facebook about Koinonia Farm.  The farm was established in 1942 as an intentional interracial Christian farming community.  For Sumter County Georgia in 1942, that was visionary.  And gutsy.

A friend from Oklahoma commented on the post.  “My uncle helped found Koinonia Farm!” she wrote.  Clarence Jordan gets most of the credit for starting Koinonia, in part, because he stayed at Koinonia until his death in 1968.  But Clarence started Koinonia with Martin England.  Martin and his wife, Mabel, were my friend, Jo’s, uncle and aunt.

I asked Jo lots of questions about the Englands.  She answered what she could, then referred me to a book written by the Englands’ daughter, Beverly.  The cover of By Faith and By Love: Martin and Mabel’s Journey, contains two pictures—one of Martin and Mabel and a painting of a black man leading a team of horses pulling a wagon behind them.  The first thing Jo told me about her aunt and uncle was the story depicted in that painting.

Martin’s family came from the hills of South Carolina near the Georgia border.  In 1861, Martin’s grandfather, Jasper Wilson, was called up to serve in the Confederate army.  At some point, Jasper was badly wounded on the battlefield.  After several weeks in the hospital, Confederate officers sent Jasper home.  A friend “knew Jasper’s discharge was a bad sign.  It meant the officers thought he was going to die.”  The friend ripped open a seam of Jasper’s coat, filled it with money, and sewed it up again.  “He prayed that his friend would die at home, not on the train, and that his family would find the lump in the coat.

“Jasper’s grandson Martin told the next part of the story:  ‘The train crews lifted my grandfather off one bumpy, crowded train and onto the next.  Finally Jasper got to the village of Walhalla, South Carolina, the end of the railroad.  It was about 40 miles to his home in the mountains.  No one in the family knew he had been wounded; no one knew that he had been sent home to die.  He lay on the station platform in Walhalla two whole days, begging anyone to take him home or to get word to his family that he was there.  Finally a black man, a former slave who had bought his freedom, an old man who hauled freight in a horse and wagon, put Jasper in his wagon and took him the two-day journey home.

“When they got to the little stream beside his house Jasper called to his wife, my grandmother Jeanette, ‘I’m home.  Bring clean clothes and towels and soap but don’t come near me.’  Caked with blood and pus and the lice that spread from soldier to soldier, he warned her, ‘I’m lousy.  Don’t come.  Throw my clean clothes across the creek.’  And my grandmother did just that.

“The old man gently undressed and bathed my grandfather there in the stream, dressed him in clean clothes and took him home.  He carried him across the creek and up to the house in his arms.  My grandmother lived up in the hills and had seen very few black people.  But that sight, of the old black man carrying her husband across the creek, made an impression on her.”

The story of that old man’s kindness to Martin England’s grandfather completely shaped Martin’s life, as well as the lives of his descendants.  Martin and Mabel served as missionaries in Burma before and after World War II.  It was during a furlough from their two tours when they started Koinonia with Clarence and Florence Jordan.  The summer of 1963, when Martin served on the Pension Board of the American Baptists, he followed Martin Luther King, Jr., around the south trying to get him to sign up for a pension and life insurance.  A benefactor already had paid the premiums, all Dr. King had to do was sign.  At the urging of Ralph David Abernathy, who already had gotten his policy, Dr. King finally signed.  The other Martin was among the first people to visit Coretta and the rest of the family after Dr. King’s death in 1968.

In our correspondence, Martin and Mabel’s niece, Jo, talked about remembering the story of Martin’s grandfather’s rescue during the struggle for desegregation in Birmingham, Alabama.  She, her sisters, and her cousins were among the few white students who continued going to school during the unrest.

The story of a freed black man saving a Confederate soldier’s life, traveling two days to get him home, cleaning his putrid, lous-y body, then carrying him in his arms to the arms of his adoring wife has continued to reverberate through the England family….and through their family to the rest of the world.  The stories of your saints, no doubt, have played a similar role in your life.

As I think about it, all these saintly stories do beg the question—In whose saint book might we earn a page?  What story or stories might that page contain?  Once we are gone, will we too be known as a humble saint?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017

Sermon: “Where’s Jesus?” (20th Anniversary of Becoming ONA) [10/22/17]

“Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  It was fun last weekend at Pride to take note of Caesar’s things and the God’s things.

I signed up for Pilgrimage’s booth Sunday afternoon.  I had Allen let me out at 10th and Spring and walked from there to the park.  During the parade.  It took a while.

On my walk, I saw that Caesar was well-represented at Pride.  The city had used garbage trucks to block off streets for the parade.  At each blockade was an armed APD officer.  The presence of law enforcement and those garbage trucks made me feel safe.

I also felt safe as I made my way through the thousands of people lining the north side of 10th Street.  The claustrophobe in me would have preferred a few less thousand people per square inch, but slogging through all those people, I felt perfectly safe.

The only time I didn’t feel safe?  When I approached Peachtree and saw the signs.  “Judgment is coming.”  “All potheads, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, whoremongers, and liars are hell bound.”  “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?”  I saw the street preacher, his face bright red, yelling into the portable sound system.  Yeah.  It was a church group.  I’m guessing Westboro Baptist or a Westboro wanna be.

There at 10th and Peachtree, you know what made me feel safe?  It definitely wasn’t that church group.  What made me feel safe was the presence of the Atlanta police.

And Jesus.  Yes!  Jesus was there, too.  He had long hair, was wearing a white robe, sandals, and, of course, a rainbow stole.  People lined up for selfies with Jesus.  How heartening to see Jesus just chilling, hanging with his peeps, mugging for the camera right in front of those hateful signs and angry preaching.  And how telling that, at 10th and Peachtree, Jesus chose not to be a part of the church.

Finding Jesus in the world today can be a little tricky, can’t it?  I mean, you’d expect to find him in the places that call themselves Christian.  Jesus Christ; Christian churches, right? Sometimes, though, Jesus seems more content to hang out in other places, with other people.

The Pharisees’ question to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson is an attempt to find Jesus…. mostly, so they can put a target on his back.  Matthew tells us the “Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians.”  Why the Herodians?  Herod was the Jewish person appointed by the Roman government to keep watch over the Jewish population on Caesar’s behalf.  Among many responsibilities, the Herodians made sure the Jewish people paid taxes to Caesar.

What the Pharisees are doing here is manipulative in the extreme.  They’re asking Jesus to choose between religious and civil law, to choose God or Caesar.  Choose God, he breaks civil law.  Choose Caesar, he breaks Jewish law.  It’s no-win any way you look at it.

Seeing through their hypocrisy, Jesus calls the Pharisees—appropriately enough— hypocrites, then gives the best non-answer in all of Scripture:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Basically, Jesus tells them to figure it out for themselves.

We’ve been wrestling a lot in the last year over the relationship between our faith lives and our civic lives.  Negotiating those relationships as an individual is hard enough.  Negotiating them as a community is an even bigger challenge.  That’s why we have a special prayer time.

Jesus’ Caesar-and-God statement reminds us that the relationship between our faith lives and our civic lives is dynamic–which means that each informs the other.  Sometimes, as citizens, it’s necessary to speak out and take action to preserve and protect the rights of people of faith.  And sometimes, what’s going on in the world cries out for people of faith to pray, discern, speak out, and take action as people of faith.

That’s what this congregation did 20 years ago.  In 1993, in response to a play at Theater on the Square that referenced a gay character, the Cobb County Commission passed the so-called  Family Values Resolution.

In response to that civil–and unjust–action, this congregation began the process of becoming Open and Affirming.  December 7, 1997, the vote was taken and Pilgrimage UCC became the first UCC congregation in the state of Georgia to become Open and Affirming.  Cobb County might reject LGBTQ people and families, but this congregation of Jesus’ followers would not.

When I interviewed to become your pastor in 2001, the Search Committee–chaired by Frank Hyland, who I still miss–said very clearly, “We’ve voted to become Open and Affirming.  We want our next pastor to help us live into that reality.”  That’s what we’ve been working on together for 16 years now.  I am so proud to have been part of this work with you.

So, what’s next?  Where is Jesus now?  In the mid-90’s, Jesus was in the process of discernment, then of voting to become ONA.  The last 20 years, Jesus has been in the process of living into our ONA identity.  Where is Jesus leading us in 2017?

Might it be to mentoring other congregations as they become ONA?  Chestnut Ridge Christian Church at Post Oak Tritt and Johnson Ferry has just voted to become ONA.  Might we partner with them?  Might we become more active with other ONA UCC churches in the Atlanta area, like Decatur UCC and Kirkwood?   I’ve heard that when the new legislative session begins in Atlanta in January, a new version of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill will be back in play.  Might Jesus be calling us to some sort of action in response to that?

Twenty years of living into our ONA identity is terrific.  It is appropriate to celebrate, to renew our ONA covenant, to eat cake.

But then what?  What might it mean for us to continue living into our ONA identity?  Where is Jesus now?  How do we follow Jesus now?  How do we act others into wellbeing in Jesus’ name now?

I had another experience of Caesar’s finest this week.  As you know, my mom was in the hospital last weekend.  I had to go down to get her out of the hospital and get her settled at home.  She’s doing very well now.  Thank you for all your prayers and good wishes.

For those who don’t know, my mom lives in Gainesville, Florida.  It was an interesting week in Gainesville.  Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer spoke there this week.  Wanting to prevent what happened in Charlottesville from happening in Gainesville, a large law enforcement contingent convened in Gainesville last Thursday.  The cashier at the Burger King at I-75 where Mom and I had breakfast (She was tired of hospital food.) said that since she’d arrived at work that morning she’d seen at least 200 law enforcement vehicles from all over the region drive by.  Once again, I found Caesar’s contingent reassuring.

As you’ve probably heard, protesters outnumbered Spencer’s people by a large margin.  As I left Gainesville on Friday morning, all was well again.

In reading about Thursday’s events in the national news, I got an unexpected glimpse of Jesus among the crowd of protesters.  I’ve begun to wonder if that glimpse of Jesus might give us a glimpse of where to find Jesus as we continue living into our ONA identity.

A short video focuses on Randy Furniss of Idaho, head shaved, t-shirt covered in schwastikas, blood trickling down his chin from a blow just received from a protester.  In the video, an African American man in dreadlocks, approaches Furniss, hugs him, then asks:  “Why don’t you like me, dog?”

Aaron Courtney, is a 31-year-old high school football coach in Gainesville.  He said he wanted to show Furniss some love.  “I could have hit him, I could have hurt him . . . but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love.’”  The hug may have been a small act, but Courtney thinks it can speak volumes.  “It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple,” he said.

Courtney hadn’t originally planned on attending the protest.  But when he received a state of emergency notification on Monday ahead of Spencer’s planned appearance, he decided to do some research.  “I found out about what kind of person he was and that encouraged me, as an African-American, to come out and protest.” Courtney said.

After almost four hours, Courtney was about to leave when he saw Furniss causing a scene in the crowd.  “I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?’ ” he said.  Courtney repeatedly asked Furniss for an answer, only to be met with silence and a blank look.

Exasperated, Courtney asked Furniss for a hug. He was initially reluctant, but as Courtney reached over the third time, Furniss reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Courtney. Courtney said, “And I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life.’ ”

“Why do you hate me?” Courtney asked Furniss one last time. “I don’t know,” came the response.  For Courtney, that was a good enough.  “I believe that was his sincere answer.  He really doesn’t know,” Courtney said.  (Washington Post, October 21, 2017)

Where is Jesus in 2017?  Where is Jesus leading us as we begin our third decade of being an Open and Affirming congregation?  Whose lives might we change simply by loving them?

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017

Sermon: “A Covenant of Love” (Gen. 9:12-17) [9/24/17]

When I was 8, an area near where we lived in north Florida flooded.  Distressed by it all, I asked Mom, “But didn’t God promise never to let a flood happen again?”  She reminded me that in God’s promise after the flood in Genesis, God promised never again to destroy the whole earth and all living creatures by flood.  That didn’t mean localized flooding might not happen.

Even as a youngster, that sounded like “spin” to me.  I’m not sure of the exact route of the conversation, but we quickly got into a discussion of free will and the sovereignty of God, though we didn’t use those words.  We talked about whether people are just puppets doing whatever God wants, or if we have freedom to make our own decisions.  Mom opted for not- puppets.  That made sense to me.

I’m not sure, but that conversation might have been the starting point of my call to ministry.  The questions we were wrestling with felt big and real.  So big and real, in fact, that I’m still trying to work out precisely what God’s promise in Genesis 9 means.

I wonder how many 8 year olds in Texas or Florida or St. Martin or Puerto Rico this week are asking their parents about God’s promise never to destroy the earth or its creatures by flood.  Or how many people in Mexico are questioning the love of God in the rubble of buildings destroyed by two earthquakes in as many weeks.

Harvey.  Irma.  Maria.  Earthquakes.  Monsoons.  Mudslides.  Where is God in all this environmental upheaval?  Where are we in the midst of all this environmental upheaval?

So–climate change.  As the daughter of a scientist, I hold firmly to the fact that current upheavals in climate are the direct result of human activity.  Even so, I’ve been thinking about the argument some make—that, yes, climate is changing, but if you look at things across the eons, climate change is a constant.  From earth’s beginning, there have been ice ages and warming atmospheres, floods and droughts, earthquakes and hurricanes.  Everything is cyclical.  What we’re experiencing now is simply part of the evolutionary ebb and flow.

As an evolutionist, I like that argument…especially when you incorporate into the natural unfolding of evolution the evolution of the human brain, which has dreamed up things–the mass production of automobiles, for example– that have directly affected the environment.  When you think about it, the evolutionary argument makes a lot of sense.

Less satisfying, though, is the realization that, while climate change might be the result of a naturally unfolding evolutionary process, that process often has resulted in mass extinctions.  And dinosaurs were a much heartier lot than we human beings are. The earth might do just fine without us, but I’d like to see the human race continue for a good long while.

So now I’m beginning to wonder if the tack I’ve been taking in my own thinking might have been a little off.  For myself, and in my work as pastor, I’ve been focusing on caring for creation for creation’s sake, to love creation for itself, because creation is part of our family.  We’re all siblings, equally-beloved progeny of a loving, Creator God.

That approach certainly is theologically sound.  Living in a symbiotic and mutual relationship with creation is a key part of a vibrant faith.

The more I think about it, though, the more convinced I become that for people of faith–as much as we love creation–the more important reason to care for it, the most important reason to do everything we can to work for the mitigation of climate change is Jesus’ call to care for the least of these.  I’ve become convinced that we care for creation because we love people.  Caring for creation is a crucial way to act the least of these into wellbeing.

The devastation in Texas and the Caribbean have shown just how quickly people can be displaced by fiercer storms and rising sea levels.  Overpopulation is putting severe strains on reserves of potable water for much of the earth’s population.  In Africa, places where farming was once common, the ground no longer can sustain crops.

We’ve heard a lot about refugees the past couple of years.  Eleven million from the war in Syria—6 million internally displaced, 5 million who’ve fled the country.  In the last month alone, 415,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled genocide in Myanmar.  As severe as the current refugee crises are, another is coming that will dwarf all others—the climate refugee crisis.

Jeff Joslin, who volunteers with the Citizens Climate Lobby, also is a pilot.  He offered his services last week to help evacuate people from St. Martin after Hurricane Irma hit.

While waiting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to fly people to Atlanta, Jeff was able to speak with crews who had been in St. Martin right after Irma hit.  He writes, The crew that flew into St. Martin reported devastation on a scale they’d never seen before. Most of the buildings in the vicinity of the airport were destroyed or heavily damaged. People were sleeping in tents. Boats unnaturally rested in places only a storm would carry them. Despite a high need for evacuations, they said they had flown out with nearly 2/3 of their seats empty. Law enforcement personnel were only letting those with the proper paperwork into the airport…and many had lost passports or other documents in the storm. The flow of evacuees slowed to a trickle.

On board our flight to the States, some passengers said they left not knowing when or if they will ever return home.  That’s the statement that hit me in the gut, Joslin writes. Some of these folks have lost nearly everything . They were leaving their homes, loved ones, and pleasant memories for a future of uncertainty, recovery, and a leap into the unknown. 

Over the next few days, Joslin writes, it dawned on me that I had carried part of a whole new generation of climate refugees. Survivors from the Caribbean and Houston were joining with displaced people worldwide fleeing drought, storm-related natural disasters and low lying islands succumbing to rising seas. They joined the 65 million refugees who have fled their homes, living day to day as trauma survivors in search of the basics: safety, food, a warm, dry bed, and hope for their children’s future.

As people of faith, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the world’s needs.  Sometimes, wouldn’t you just like to turn off the world, like you turn off your TV?  With 24 news access, sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to do just that.

And sometimes, as President Teddy Roosevelt once said, we have to “Do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”  A couple of weeks ago, the message outside read:  “The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise.  Help your neighbor!”  The saying puzzled me at first.  What’s the connection between the rainbow as a sign of God’s promise and our helping our neighbor?  As I reflected on it, I realized that when God made the rainbow promise, already God was depending on us to help fulfill the promise.  The first version of the “Do what you can” quote I pulled up on the internet imposed the quote on top of a rainbow.  Exactly!  “The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise.  Help your neighbor.”  “Do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”

What's your favorite way to reward yourself? #dothybest #selflove

In her newsletter article this month, Christy Stanley wrote this:  At the end of each worship service, we’re reminded that Jesus has no feet or hands on earth but ours. We are the body that carries out his love. We feed those of his flock who are hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the lonely, and we house the homeless. I have to believe that Christ could handle all of these things on his own, but he uses us. That is because serving others does just as much for our souls as it does for the people we help. By becoming Jesus’ hands and feet, we become closer to him.  With that as her introduction, Christy went on to invite all of us to experience nearness to Jesus by helping out with Family Promise.

We’ve had lots of conversations recently about Family Promise.  We’re a relatively small congregation; we wondered if we have enough volunteers to make it work.  It’s a legitimate concern.  To help address it, I’m in the process of talking with some other faith groups in our area to see if we might enlarge our pool of volunteers.  You might know of others who would like to help serve.  I’m hopeful about that initiative.

Hosting Family Promise requires close attention to LOTS of logistics.  It’s important that we know what our resources are and offer only what we can realistically give.  In some of the conversations I’ve had this week, though, I’ve come to recognize that logistics are only a small part of our participation in Family Promise.  Camilla Worrell, Executive Director for Family Promise of Cobb County, has said two things about Pilgrimage’s participation.  First, she’s said that the diversity of our congregation is a real gift to the rest of the Family Promise network.  Second—and this is something she’s said from the beginning—“When guest families talk about Pilgrimage, they always say, ‘When we go there, we know we’re loved.’”  Until talking with Camilla this week, I didn’t realize that among congregations in the Family Promise network, we are a leader…not in our facility or other resources, but in love.  We lead with love.  Which is kind of the whole point of the Jesus thing, right?

I had a conversation this week about what “preaching the good news” entails.  I know naming the world’s troubles doesn’t often feel like good news.  In fact, it often leads to despair.

Here’s what I’m starting to wonder, though.  I’m starting to wonder if the good news isn’t so much something we proclaim as something we live?  Have you ever thought that maybe WE are God’s good news?   Maybe it is our actions, our service to others, our hospitality, and our advocacy, that proclaim God’s good news to the hurting world.  Maybe we are God’s best hopes for the world.  Are we God’s good news?  If so, “Start spreading the news…”

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017