Monthly Archives: July 2014

Great book to check out: “Bless Her Heart”

This quote below makes me lol!!! Anyone who cares at all about church, and especially pastors, should be required to read this lil gem of a book! It was written by young female clergy for young female clergy and is based on too many experiences so many of us girl preachers have encountered. I wish I had it 20 years ago when I was starting. The book starts with a chapter on shoes, sandals, and toe polish – something we get to re-navigate with each congregation! Love, love, love this book!!!
– RevJule

“Let’s be honest: I didn’t mean to scream out, “Come get these damn flowers!” to the elderly parishioner on the phone. It just happened. Most unfortunately, it happened on Easter Sunday. I was completely exhausted. I had led a service every day for the last eight days. My parents were in town and were getting annoyed that I couldn’t find one hour to come have some Easter dinner with them. And I was up to my eyeballs in lilies that had to be delivered to nursing homes across town before I could go home and collapse.”

Excerpt From:
Ashley-Anne Masters & Stacy Smith. “Bless Her Heart.” Chalice Press. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

13 July 2014 sermon — Genesis 25:19-34

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!


13 July 2014 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Click here to read scripture first: Genesis 25:19-34 (NRS)

A few years ago the movie Legends of the Fall was quite popular. Why wouldn’t it be with Anthony Hopkins as the proud old father of three boys – one of whom was played by Brad Pitt back in his early heartthrob days. It was the story of three brothers. The eldest was serious and stern. Focused on the right ways and a little bit reserved because of how others would think of him. The youngest seemed indulged. The apple of all their eyes he was passionate and diligent. His big brothers believed they had to remain in that role of protecting him from his own naiveté. And then there was Brad Pitt’s character: Tristan. If you saw the movie, you know he was the rebellious one. Though no one really cared because of his dashing looks, his easy mannerisms, and his ability to make all the ladies love him. The story starts out blissfully as the boys and their father forge a living on the wide open frontier in the early 1900s in America. Well, everything’s not quite fine as their mother refused to move from her comfortable New England lifestyle to the rugged wild West. Before you know it, a World War breaks out and the boys find themselves embroiled in battle in Europe. It’s almost a metaphor for the days to come in their family, because when the younger one dies in battle, the cracks in their family connection shatter completely. Before you know it, the older two brothers are locked in a bitter divide, which never is fully reconciled. I guess we should have got that from the title: Legends of the Fall. The story of one family’s ugly undoing.

I’ve never had one in my biological family, so I don’t really get it about brothers. What is it about them that such competition can be the norm? And grudges: o, it seems there is nothing worse than one brother who believes himself wronged by the other. I hope none of you know any of this up close and personal. Two or more brothers who no longer talk to each other over who knows what. Maybe one thought mom and dad loved the other more. Or brother number one failed to live up to brother number two’s expectations. Or maybe one of them really did destroy all family harmony. Good reasons may exist for the ice cold chill that has developed between them. It’s just that: they’re brothers! Flesh from the same flesh. With the same parents and home and history.

We could just look to scripture to know it so often turns out this way between brothers. And sisters too, I know, it’s just that the brothers of the bible get a lot more attention than the girl siblings of scripture. Cain and Able are the first two brothers scripture records. We remember what happens to them, right? They are complete opposites, even though they have the same parents. And in a tale that may have grown too familiar to shock us anymore, from the start one of the first brothers kills the other. It’s been said that the first question posed by a human being in scripture is Cain’s guilt-ridden response when God asks where his brother is. “I don’t know,” Cain replies to the God who already is on to the atrocious act committed. Cain goes on to ask: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The rest of scripture is the story in answer to that question. YES! God pretty much says from the start. You ARE your brother’s keeper!

At least we get a little bit of progress in Jacob and Esau. Of course it all seems worse because they’re not just brothers: they are twins! They don’t just have the same parents, they literally shared the same womb at the very same time. The way scripture describes them, they must have been fraternal twins. You know: the ones that are their own eggs and grow in their own placentas. Still there never is a time when the other one was not. Until death, twins never know a moment of life without their co-multiple. Even if one is born a bit before the other, supposedly birth order issues do not play out the same between twins as they do between singletons. Twins share a unique bond that is constant and oh so very powerful. What a gift to have another human being’s life so intricately woven together with your own. Which may be the reason why twins can be so incredibly complex. Once parents make it through the long nights of double feedings and duplicate diaper changes; if they’ve been able to secure the coveted double stroller; if mom and dad have made it out of their twin’s first years of life with the joys of two sets of first steps and two times of first words; with two successful potty trainings and two burgeoning personalities; twins bring difficult parenting decisions. Do you dress them alike or not? Can you curb the comparisons in hopes of reducing twin competition? And as they first make their way out into the world, should you advocate for your twins to be in the same kindergarten classroom? So it went for Isaac and Rebekah because Esau and Jacob aren’t just brothers; they are twins!

Oh how easily divisions can arise! Before birth they are jostling around in Rebekah’s womb. One kick here. Another punch there. Twins begin the fight with one another in the womb as they struggle to get the nutrients they need, not to mention enough space for themselves in those very tight quarters. Maybe Esau and Jacob are destined for days of division. After all, the LORD tells a bereft Rebekah that “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples born of you shall be divided. The one shall be stronger than the other; the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Still, don’t you think that the prophecy grieved God to speak it as much as it grieved a mother to hear it of her own sons?

The history of two nations really is played out between Jacob, whose name will be changed by a midnight wrestler to Israel, and Esau, whose hairy red appearance is code in scripture for the Edomites that occupied the land southeast of Judah. The outcry of Psalm 137 shows us the bitterness between the nations founded upon these brothers: “Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!’” (Ps. 137:7). In other words, in exile the children of Jacob want the LORD their God to remember that the children of Esau, the Edomites, cheered Babylon on against the Israelites. After Babylon left, the Edomites (in the current territory of Jordan) supposedly raided the ransacked city of Jerusalem, kinda rubbing in exile even more. They come from twins and throughout their history, these two nations never could figure out a way to get along! Which might just leave us wondering if there’s any hope for those so different from one another. One peek at the nightly news shows us how difficult it is to remember that we ARE brothers – keepers of one another!

Maybe that’s why the rest of Jacob and Esau’s story is so important. Eventually, after living far from his homeland for having swindled his brother out of his birthright, Jacob comes back. A grown man, now of wealth and wives and children; fear of brotherly retaliation still lingers. In Genesis 32, Jacob’s all set to give his brother a whole bunch of stuff in hopes he and the four hundred men coming with Esau towards Jacob won’t kill him and his. In fear, he sends on flocks for his brother and hangs in the back for a little bit more protection, just in case it is with the sword that Esau comes out to greet him. After a restless night – cuz you know Jacob knew he’d get what he deserved if Esau still held a grudge – instead, in the light of day Esau runs in joy to meet his long-lost brother. Kinda like that prodigal story Jesus tells of the welcoming father who sprints out to meet his returning son; Esau opens wide his arms to his brother. And even though Jacob is going to fib him one more time, Esau shows nothing but goodwill unto Jacob. It’s such a grace-filled reunion that Jacob declares: “Truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor” (Gen. 33:10).

Even if the history of Jacob and Esau’s children isn’t going to turn out quite as grace-filled, it’s as if the relationship between these two brothers is hope enough that it can. That somewhere down the road brothers are going to figure out that we are each other’s keepers. In the face of one another it is to be like seeing the face of God. Like knowing the compassionate forgiveness we are to practice among one another. After all, we too are brothers – man and woman alike. Brothers in this one, great big world from whom God hopes for something better.

May we all have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts ready to heed how – with all others – we can be brothers.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)


This week I have risk on my mind. I’ve never been a big one for it. As a child, I was in awe of my older sister Joy. Mom would tell us things like: “Don’t climb on the rocks.” (We lived on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.) And: “Don’t go near that abandoned house.” My sister always would do it — no matter the risk. And she’d always have wonderful tales of it all to tell. Me? I was too afraid. I’m not really sure of what. Maybe that we’d get hurt. Or get in trouble. Or maybe I was just one of those born with that innate sense of not taking the risk of breaking the rules. My sister never seemed to be stopped by it all. Me? It seemed I didn’t have enough courage to take such risks.

My aversion to risk has remained. I realize some may look at my life and think: but you’ve traveled abroad numerous times in your young life and many of those times alone — everywhere from Jamaica to Pakistan to South Africa to Estonia to Honduras to the Holy Land. You’ve stepped out of the expected box of going to college near home. (I was one of two in my high school class to go to college out-of-state.) Though you didn’t know many girls doing it, you studied things like Hebrew and Greek while earning a Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degree. On your own, you’ve bought and sold a home — more than once. And you’ve settled in a part of the country no one you knew as a child EVER even dreamed of visiting. I guess one might say I’ve taken risk after risk after risk. Perhaps I was too young at the time to know I was doing it. Or maybe then it was easier to focus on what I was gaining without thought of anything being lost.

Just a few months ago when I left the perceived job security of an installed pastoral position in order to explore the perceived lack of job security in interim ministry, my Spiritual Director shared words with me that included this: “Awaken your spirit to adventure; hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk” (from “For a New Beginning,” by John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us). These seem like words to describe my sister — not me. Though, I’m pretty sure my spirit needs these words more than hers does! After all, I was the one a few years ago who undertook a daily practice of courage for Barbara Brown Taylor’s doctoral class called The Embodied Word. Every day for a month, I had to do at least one new thing or one thing I was afraid to do. My list included everything from seeing a sci-fi movie, to going through a drive through, to playing my violin in front of about 400 people. Out of that experience of practicing courage, grew a new ministry of taking children from one side of the tracks to be with children on the other — a Practice of Encounter to see how community might grow. I’m left to wonder: will I ever be the kind of person who has learned to find ease in risk?

O’Donohue’s words in “For a New Beginning” end with: “Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, For your soul senses the world that awaits you” (Ibid.). That’s the thing with risk: not risk of staying off the rocks along the shore of Lake Michigan or watching a movie genre you never before considered. But risk of allowing life to unfold as it will. We have no idea what tomorrow holds. We can’t know where the journey will take us or how it all will work its way out. We can awaken our souls to the adventure of it all. Let life bring the great gifts it will; hold on to the hand of dear family and friends as it brings challenges to hard to face alone. Something more awaits. Something yet unseen. Ahh. Can we relax into it and let it be? For, one step at a time, the only way for us to get there is to risk.

What about you? What’s your experience of risk?

And what do you think of O’Donohue’s words?

“For a New Beginning”
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of a beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
~ by John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us

6 July 2014 sermon — Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!

“Who’s Your Mirror?”

6 July – 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Click here to read scripture first:  Matthew 11:16-19 (NRS)

I’m so glad Jesus could recognize in his day one of the biggest traps in our own: expectations. “To what shall I compare this generation,” he’s recorded as saying (Mt. 11:16).  John the Baptist was an extremist among them, eating no food and taking no drink. And what happened? They rejected him because they expected something else. Here comes Jesus among them eating and drinking and enjoying life with those commonly cut off. And what happened? They reject him because they expected something else. That’s the problem with such social expectations. Even if we tried, no one can live up to them. Not even Jesus himself. He called that from the start.

I’m not trying to say we should throw them out entirely. Some expectations are good and helpful. It’s not a bad thing to expect each other to be kind and honest and forgiving. We Christians expect that of one another because we believe God expects it of us. Imagine life together in the church if we all held grudges against each other, and lied, and were as grouchy as could be stomping around here like we didn’t care one bit about each others’ toes. None of us want to be a part of that. Besides, the body of Christ is supposed to be a little bit more like Christ than that. The problem comes when we start living our lives according to the expectations of others. You know what I mean. It can feel as helpless as being chained to a solid brick wall with a hundred-ton train speeding right in our direction. When we look to fulfill all the expectations of others, aren’t we often left like an out-of-control spinning top? Do it one way, the critics never are happy. Try it the opposite, they don’t like that either. We’re left constantly wasting our energy on what others’ think. How they will react. Will they approve of us or not? Will we get their blessing if we try it their way or not? It’s absolutely exhausting!

Perhaps I should couch these thoughts in the reality of human development. We have to remember that it’s part of the natural journey of life that we look to the expectations of those outside of us. It’s the stage of life called puberty. The time when we start becoming more aware that we are being seen by others. Peers are so very important during our teen years because it is only through mirrors that we can see ourselves. In other words, during this stage of human development, we know ourselves through how others see us. We’re in the middle with all eyes on us and we’re looking back at them to see how they see us. If our goofy sophomoric pranks are accepted by the friends around us, we’ll keep at them. If the group around us isn’t impressed, we’re shamed into letting it go. We all experience this part of life. It’s just that we’re supposed to live through that. A healthy self, thanks to this stage of life, will grow into self-definition. Self-assurance, where what others think of us won’t drive how we live our lives as much as it once did because our true selves have emerged. Our internal authority, known in psychological circles as the executive ego, will become our guide.

About a year or so ago, I discovered fascinating, incredibly freeing research. It is the life work of a social worker named Brené Brown. She tells about it all in the books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Grately. And just in case you’re too busy to read because you’re stuck doing a thousand things expected by others, you could take a mere twenty minutes to listen to it all in her Ted talks at power of vulnerability and listening to shame. As a PhD in Social Work, Brown spent ten years of her life interviewing thousands of people. She was at it not just to make some contribution to human well-being, but more so to find a way to live her own life free from the crushing demands of others’ expectations, which left her constantly striving to fit in – always feeling like she never was or did enough. What Brown discovered through her research is that shame runs rampant in our culture. So many are locked in it primarily because we do not believe ourselves worthy of love. It’s kinda like we’re listening to the wrong voice: looking in the wrong mirror. Brown also discovered something else; something called wholehearted living – which just so happens to be the basis for lives of courage, compassion, and connection. . . . I love Brown’s list of what she found in her research that rang true in her own life. And in the light of Jesus’s words in Matthew’s gospel, I’m pretty sure he’d make the same list. That those who believe themselves worthy of love and belonging – in other words, those who turn to God’s mercy instead of being trapped in the world’s expectations. Those folks live lives brimming with rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, joy, gratitude, and creativity. What a wonderful way to live! . . . Those stuck in shame, who doubt God’s mercy and keep on looking to others for their mirrors, have lives dripping with the drive for perfectionism, always needing to fit in, participating in behavior that numbs themselves, standing aloof in constant certainty, self-sufficiency, and harsh judgment of self and others. Living stuck in that sense of never enough, which we call scarcity (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, Hazelden, 2010, IBooks). . . . The difference in these two ways of life has to do with which direction we turn for our mirror: towards the world, or towards something else. When we stand securely on the truth that we are God’s – all of us. Precious. Valuable. Made in God’s image for connection and ones in whom God’s Spirit dwells. When we know ourselves and everyone else loved fully by God, things like perfectionism, self-sufficiency, and judgment of ourselves and others fall by the wayside. We stop looking to all the expectations of others to define and direct the living of our lives. When we stand secure that we are precious to God, we are free to live courageously – compassionate with ourselves and others, and truly able to connect with God, self, and everyone else.

I think that’s why Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Don’t listen to this generation that won’t accept whichever way you live. Look to me as your mirror – not everyone else. . . . The translation of scripture entitled The Message, puts Jesus’ words this way: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out . . . ? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message, Eugene Peterson, Mt. 11:28-30). Isn’t that beautiful? Free from that heavy burden of looking to everyone else’s expectations about who we are and how we should live our lives. Come to me, he says, because we know very well he constantly ran up against others’ expectations of him. In fact, failing to meet others’ expectations pretty much was what got him killed. No matter. It’s a light yoke across our backs to allow him to be our mirror. To look into the face of one who looks back at us with such love. Such joy. Such pride. Seeing us as faithful disciples who might falter now and again, but who get back up and keep at it. I want that mirror, don’t you? The mirror of our Lord Jesus Christ showing us how to step out from the load of the world’s expectations into the unforced rhythms of such wonderful grace. Learning from him how to live freely and lightly. . . . That’s the promise he has for us: rest. Rest from the world’s crazy demands.

One of my favorite hymns from the new PCUSA Hymnal is inspired by this part of scripture. It’s set to a quiet, folksong-like tune, though I’m not going to try to sing it to you. The words are a beautiful invitation to new life for us all. They go like this: “’Come to me, O weary traveler; come to me with your distress; come to me, you heavy burdened; come to me and find your rest. Do not fear, my yoke is easy; do not fear, my burden’s light; do not fear the path before you; do not run from me in fright. Take my yoke and leave your troubles; take my yoke and come with me. Take my yoke, I am beside you; take and learn humility. Rest in me, O weary traveler; rest in me and do not fear. Rest me in, my heart is gentle; rest and cast away your care.’” (Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal, “Come to Me, O Weary Traveler,” #183).

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)

29 June 2014 Sermon — Matt. 10:40-42

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!

“Who Do You Represent?”

29 June 2014 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Click here to read the scripture first: Matthew 10:40-42 (NRS)

Have you ever had to hire a lawyer? I don’t mean because you got yourself in trouble, though that can be a good time to do so as well. I mean more like you couldn’t be present for the sale of your home. So you hired a lawyer to sign closing documents for you. You expected her to represent you well. Maybe you’ve been put in the tough spot of having to make end of life decisions for a parent or beloved spouse. As their medical power of attorney; for them, you sign the orders regarding palliative care. They trusted you to act in their name. Hopefully we’ve all voted for a State Representative we intended to send to Washington DC. I know cynicism runs high around such things; but when we cast our votes, we do so believing that person will make decisions for us which will positively impact life in our communities. We want them to decide for our benefit. Or maybe we’ve just gotten behind the efforts of the US Soccer Team this summer. Off to Brazil we’ve sent them. Even if we can’t kick a ball, they go in our stead to represent the sporting pride of our nation. Win or lose, we hope they give it their all for us all.

According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus closes his charge of discipleship with an important reminder. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). He might have well just given them a list of summer camp rules. If you’ve ever worked with the youth of the church, then you might know that this frequently is done. We send them off reminding them to be on their best behavior because not only are they representing themselves and their parents and our church; they represent Christ. In essence he says: “It’s me they see when they see you. So, holding your chin high, head out into the world in my name!”

I’m not sure we think about that enough. That it’s Christ we represent in our lives each day. Like the lawyer who signs for us or the team that plays in our name, those who have said yes to the vows of Christian baptism (and confirmation), no longer live for ourselves. Instead, we bear Christ’s name in the world. On days when we feel like it and days when we don’t, we represent Christ. Our words and our actions are speaking for him – every day of the week, every place that we go, not just Sunday mornings here. The question is: what message about Christ do we send?

Recently I read an interesting reflection by a pastor I know. I think she actually was quoting a tweet she read at our General Assembly in Detroit. The quote was: “If I hang out at your church, will I actually meet people who are like Jesus? Or will I just hear about him?” She went on to write: “Imagine walking into a church building and seeing people who remind you of Jesus. What would that look like?”  (, 18 June 2014).  It’s how it’s supposed to be. For each other and for the world, we represent Jesus. What do they see? Do they see in us the kind of compassion, kindness, peace, and care he exuded? Do they witness the clarity, generosity, and joy he was about? When in our presence, is it for others like being in the presence of one so centered in the Spirit of God that he always was ready and able to attune to the one in need before him. To offer the space for the other to become even better than they were before they met him. That’s how Jesus went about his life on this earth. And to those who have vowed to be his followers, he’s now given us that charge so that we know it’s not us that is welcomed along our journey of service in his name, but him: Christ.

If you’re familiar with Saint Benedict, then you might already know and practice this rule. It’s safe to say that Benedict is a giant in monasticism – at least for those covenanted communities that still live according to the rules he established in the Sixth Century. It’s not all things like poverty and servitude. For Benedict, life was to be a celebration. The balance between prayer and work and play; all of it, ways to encounter the Spirit of God living in, among, and beyond God’s marvelous creation. To this day, Benedictine orders have a porter. One author writes, “Quite simply, the porter is the one who opens the door to the monastery when someone knocks” (Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2014; Martin Copenhaver, p. 22). I’ve experienced the classic warm welcome of Benedictines, but I never knew that such monasteries have a porter with the specific responsibility of sleeping “near the entrance to the monastery so he can hear and respond in a timely way when someone knocks. Then, as soon as anyone knocks . . . the porter is to reply: ‘Thanks be to God!’” (Ibid.). The author explains that: “before he even knows who is on the other side of the door. Before the porter knows who that person is or why he or she is there, he is to praise God for that person’s presence” (Ibid.). You see, it doesn’t really matter who’s on the other side of the door. The porter knows whoever it is, it will be Christ. And the porter knows that whoever it is, he himself represents Christ for them. Thanks be to God! Try muttering that the next time you hear your doorbell! The next time a guest shows up among us for worship, try practicing Thanks be to God – not because we might have a new member to add to our numbers as we suck them dry of their time, talents, and treasures. But thanks to be God! In the guest, we welcome Christ among us! And to the guest we represent Christ.

There’s a story of a little church that fell on hard times. You may have heard this one before. They were down to just four members, who were angry and anxious and not always all that nice. The leader was sent to seek guidance from a wiser one. The wise one told the leader: “I’m not really sure how to turn your little church around. All I know is that Christ is one of you.” The story goes that the message struck a chord in the hearts and minds of those four remaining members. Just in case it was true, they started treating each other better. Welcoming one another with the grace and excitement one might have in welcoming Christ. They went about their worship and their service together with a bit more care; just in case Christ really was one of them. They paid attention to every little detail of their space and their lives together; in the off chance that Christ really was one of them. Because, of course, they wanted to be and do their best for him. Over time, word spread. People stopped in to see if Christ really was there in that little church. They discovered such mutual respect, such genuine affection, such gracious attention that they started to stay. The four became fourteen, then forty, and then four hundred. All of them living with each other as if one of them was Christ.

We do represent Christ. And o for a world full of us! A world of us ready to welcome one another as speedily and as graciously as the Benedictine porter welcomes at the first knock. A world living as patiently and as attentively as four church members who believe one of them is Christ. . . . I know there will be days we do better at it than others. Days when we need a little reminder from one another – like some sort of signal to get us back on track when we slip: “Oops, Pastor Jule! You’re representing Christ to us right now!” Or “Oops, one another: take care for the message we’re sending. For we represent Christ even now to each other!” . . . No longer for ourselves alone, in all we do and say; we represent Christ. May that which is shown be “Thanks be to God” each day!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)